Challenge: God Is Sexist

Posted: November 1, 2011 by Amy Hall in Do the Right Thing, God Has Spoken, Weekly Challenge

Here’s a question from David, one of our readers:

I was wondering if you could answer the accusation that Christians many times get, which is that God and the Bible are sexist. I guess there are lots of verses and examples which may seem like it is. But one that I was recently asked was, why did God choose all the major prophets in the Bible to be male, and why were all the apostles men?

Although I was wondering if you could address God’s sexism in the Bible in general, maybe you could answer some specific examples also. I know there is one verse which says that women are the weaker vessel, women should remain silent, why was it the woman Eve who first sinned, and so on. I would really appreciate any help you can give me.

It might take too long for Brett to cover all the specific examples, so we’d especially like to hear how you’d respond to David on those. I think the answer to the overall question is rooted in how men and women were created (i.e., their different gifts and weaknesses in general) and in the key idea that different gifts and roles do not indicate different value. And since I’m a girl, I can say it, and now you all have permission to say it, so go for it. We’ll hear from Brett on Thursday.

  1. First and foremost, all humans, male and female, are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). THIS is the starting point for how we think of other humans. This is the most fundamental aspect of us. We are all equal in dignity, value, and worth because we’re in God’s image. How we treat people of the opposite sex can be polluted by making other verses, like “it’s shameful for women to speak in the church,” fundamental in our minds.

    I always took the “weaker vessel” verse in 1 Peter 3:7 to be talking about a woman’s physical strength. While there may be exceptions, women tend to be physically weaker than men. I’m sure it was just as true back in the first century.

    Paul says it’s “shameful” for women to speak in the church in 1 Corinthians 14:35, but earlier in the letter, Paul seems to assume that women are praying and prophesying in the church and only says they should have their heads covered (11:5, 13). It seems to be a very contextual and cultural thing. Not all cultures will have women covering their heads or men with short hair only.

    Was Eve the first to sin? Not so sure about that. When she took the fruit and ate, she gave some to her husband, Adam, “who was with her. . .” (Gen. 3:6). Adam had dominion over the animals, so he could have told the serpent to stop spreading its lies, but he didn’t. He passively the serpent deceive Eve and willingly sinned himself. When God walks in the garden, he calls the man first (Gen. 3:9), which seems to put the initial responsibility on him. Paul does have some things to say about Eve in 2 Corinthians and 1 Timothy 2:14, but he puts plenty of responsibility on Adam as well elsewhere.

    The Bible is also has female leaders (Deborah in Judges 4) and portrays many women positively (Ruth, Mary(s), Priscilla, Phoebe, Rahab, Sarah, Abigail, etc.) Many of these women weren’t portrayed as perfect individuals, but were portrayed as having many Godly traits.

    That’s what I got. I look forward to seeing other responses.

    • Jack says:

      The whole man/women concern is really a non-issue to me, both are equal and complimentary to each other. Thank God we’re not the same.

      I couldn’t let Kyles comments about the serpent go past though so here’s my 2c. Adam didn’t have dominion over the serpent in the garden because the serpent was not an animal. Genesis says that “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made.” it doesn’t say ‘other animals’. And same thing after the fall when the ‘serpent’ was being cursed by God “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals!”. So Satan, the serpent, was cursed ABOVE all animals does not suggest to me that it WAS an animal. We REALLY need to get past this idea of ‘Talking Snake’, the ‘serpent’ is an analogy for the spirit Satan and if you read through Genesis 3 and the ‘dialogue’ between Eve and the serpent you might recognise the thought patterns that occur in your own mind. Since the fall, our natural minds are after our natural father, the devil, Jesus and the Bible are quite clear about this. Ok that’s fairly contentious but you either see that or you don’t so it’s not something I’m going to argue too hard. Our natural minds like to reject that little truth quite strenuously. (But if you can find me a talking snake that eats dust I recant. 🙂 )

      The other problem I have with Eve getting all the blame is that she was NOT told by God about avoiding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Read genesis 2, God told Adam before Eve was created so then it makes sense that Adam would have relayed that message to Eve. So it’s easy to see how she was deceived by her own mind just as we are. “Did God ‘really’ say that?” 🙂

      Anyways, going a bit off topic now, but hey women are great, I married a women and she’s the best. 😉

  2. Amy Hall says:

    Why would Jesus choose male apostles? And why would Paul call for male elders? I’m not sure what direction Brett will go in, but as a woman, I want to throw my two cents in. Especially since we only have two takers so far!

    Please note that everything I’m about to say is a generalization. There are men and women all across the spectrum—that is, while it’s a generalization to say that women tend to have Trait A and men have Trait B, there will be some men who are more A than some women, and vice versa. However, I think there’s something to be learned from generalities. I draw these from decades of observation, and they’re not at all politically correct. But I think they’re true, and I always like to deal with reality rather than pretend it doesn’t exist.

    Secondly, I apologize for the length of this, but I hope you’ll make it through everything I have to say. As a woman, I’ve probably spent more time thinking about this than most men have.

    1. Men tend to emphasize standards for groups (seeing first the macro situation), women tend to emphasize compassion for individuals (seeing first the micro situation).

    As the saying goes, “hard cases make bad law.” Good governing requires that one sees the macro situation first and foremost. As soon as you start catering to single individuals (as a governing body), things start going wrong. And while women can work on this, men do this much more naturally.

    In general, women are uniquely suited for individual relationships, and men are uniquely suited for group leadership (keep reading for more on what I mean by this). Again, there are men and women individuals across the macro/micro spectrum. I’m speaking in generalities, as was Paul when he recognized all these things and made men the elders as a rule.

    (And let me just say here that God interacts with us in both of these ways. Think of Yahweh as the King who governed over Israel, and Jesus as He spoke to the woman at the well. There is a proper place for both macro and micro interactions with people. And while God is excellent at both, men and women have their respective strengths and weaknesses. Both are needed.)

    2. Men emphasize maturing others, women emphasize nurturing others.

    How many times has a man told you that his mother coddled him for too long, protected him too closely, and did too much for him? That he needed his father to make him grow up? Men need other men to push and mature them. Think of what’s happening in schools, where the leadership is increasingly dominated by women. Risks are being banned and more emphasis is placed on current self-esteem than future growth and maturity. For example, dodge ball is banned, baseball games aren’t allowed to keep score (or not allowed to exceed a certain score), competition is discouraged, and corrections aren’t allowed in red pen because it might make a child feel bad. (I’ve seen news stories about all those things.) As a rule, kids are made happy right where they are, not corrected, pushed, and stretched so that they strive for something better. This isn’t good for building men. Men need male leaders. And on that note…

    3. While men can respect and honor women, they prefer to take orders from and be accountable to men.

    I learned a long time ago that you can try to fight against this and make things more difficult for yourself, or you can work with it. Men have a natural authority about them that both men and women more easily respond to. Who was it that did most of the disciplining in your household? How many single mothers have you heard say their children need a father because they’re out of control? The kids shape up when dad comes home. That’s just the way it is.

    4. Women adapt themselves to others.

    Have you ever noticed that women tend to take on the views of the men they marry? Why is this? I think it’s because we’re gifted in being able to see things from others’ perspectives, then we identify with those perspectives. This helps us deeply connect with others. I think this is by design and is intended to create a more unified home and nourish good relationships between individuals.

    But what if men and women were both like men and no one had the gifts of women? Much would be lost. But at the same time, imagine how the gifts of women would play out in a situation for which they weren’t designed. What if these gifts were wrongly used in governing a brand new, developing church? How would the treasure of our doctrine have fared?

    Our (women’s) God-given, useful, and good desire to see from others’ perspectives and to please others doesn’t make us the best standard holders. This obviously doesn’t mean we can’t hold standards, it just means that overall, you are less likely to have a standard held by a leadership of women than by that of men. When women are in charge and make the rules, they tend to cater to individual exceptions rather than what’s right for the group as a whole, and they tend to change standards (and doctrine) to include more people and make them feel better rather than focus on upholding the truth and enforcing discipline.

    You can see all of this playing out in mainstream churches today. In denominations where more and more women are involved in governing, doctrinal and behavioral standards are dropping. And as the church becomes more interested in helping people feel good about themselves, men start dropping out. The truth is, men don’t respond well to any of the results of feminine-style leadership.

    Regarding the weaker vessel question: Women want men to protect them. You men make us feel safe. Sometimes we get emotional (it’s true) and need a man to be strong and tell us everything is going to be okay. Sometimes we would rather make sure everybody is happy than make sure discipline happens, or make sure a doctrinal stand is held to. In all these ways, we’re weaker. But what you have to remember is that every weakness is a flip side of what is a strength when it’s properly used in another context. In the same way, every strength of a man becomes a weakness when it’s expressed in the wrong context. One time I saw a man command a group of crying girls to “Stop crying!” His strength as a leader who matures others, who stays strong emotionally in the face of difficult circumstances, and who upholds discipline, was a weakness when it came to interpersonal relationships at that moment.

    I know where my weaknesses are, and I have to work extra hard to make up for them. For example, moderating the comments on the STR Blog was a huge emotional drain because I had to be the bad guy, confront people, and kick some people out—I had to maintain discipline rather than just connect with them. And yes, I did it, but I had to fight against my own nature, and it took its toll. I’m much happier now that someone else is doing it and I can focus on using my unique gifts that I was designed to use.

    Regarding the “women must be silent” question: Kyle said, “Paul says it’s ‘shameful’ for women to speak in the church in 1 Corinthians 14:35, but earlier in the letter, Paul seems to assume that women are praying and prophesying in the church and only says they should have their heads covered (11:5, 13)….”

    I agree with Kyle—it does seem that the women were speaking appropriately (see also 14:23, 26, 31), so what’s going on here? Check out the context. The section in question is about confusion in the church—too many people speaking in tongues at once, prophesying at once, etc. Paul is giving instructions for keeping order. For example, look at 14:28 where it’s talking about speaking in tongues: “[I]f there is no interpreter, he must keep silent in the church” (see also verse 30). That’s not a blanket “silent in the church” statement—Paul is speaking only about this particular instance of disorder. Perhaps later in the service the tongue-speaker will appropriately pray and prophesy, even if his tongue-speaking is silent.

    Now look at the verse that comes right at the end of this section: “The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves.” It seems reasonable to interpret this as also being a verse about keeping order, preventing people from doing things out of turn that will cause distractions and confusion. Now ask yourself, who chats in church inappropriately, men or women? Who would need to be admonished not to do so? It would seem that, like those who speak in tongues, the women are being asked not to speak inappropriately, out of turn. So perhaps they will also pray and prophesy appropriately later in the service. (We know there were women prophets—see Luke 2:36 and Acts 21:9.)

    Paul repeatedly thanks women who are fellow workers with him for Christ—he valued them (e.g., Romans 16). And Paul is very explicit about the fact that men and women are equal in Christ—not second class citizens (Galatians 3:28). Peter says men and women are co-heirs of the promises of Christ, and that any man who mistreats his wife and fails to show her honor will not have his prayers answered (1 Peter 3:7), for as Paul says, the man is supposed to love and care for his wife as he would his own body—just as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25-29). There is simply no woman-hatred here.

    And finally, what’s wrong with hierarchy? If it’s good enough for Jesus to submit to the Father and fulfill a different role though they’re perfectly equal in value, it’s good enough for me to submit to male leadership where it is prescribed.

    This doesn’t even begin to address everything, but it’s a place to start. Here are a few more posts I’ve written on this subject:

    Where Would We Be without Men
    An Argument for Hierarchy
    What Does Biblical Hierarchy in Marriage Look Like?

    And if you’re interested in hearing more about the differences between men and women, you might be interested to hear a secular discussion of these things by a woman who I’m pretty sure is not a Christian, but who knows men and women well.

    And here are Greg Koukl’s thoughts on 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

    • Sam Harper says:

      Amy, you may be right about all the differences you say there are between men and women, but none of them are among the reasons Paul gives for why the roles of men and women should be different in the church. In the one place where Paul does give his reason, this is what he says:

      “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (1 Timothy 2:12-14).

      So the only reasons Paul gives us for why women are to remain quiet and why they are not allowed to teach or exercise authority over a man is because Adam was created first, and Eve was deceived first. That’s it. It’s about as politically incorrect as you can get, but there you have it. I would like for you or Brett to respond to this question: Do you think Paul’s reason for why women should remain quiet and not be allowed to teach or exercise authority over a man is a good one? Why or why not?

      • Amy Hall says:

        I didn’t explicitly connect the verse with my explanation, but I do think that women are more easily swayed in their views (for reasons I explained above), which I think contributed to Eve being deceived, as it contributes today in some denominations to compromises in doctrine. But what’s important to note is that I think that this weakness is really the flip side of a strength wrongly used in a situation for which it was not intended.

        And as Adam was created first, he has the greater authority, and I think that’s God-given. As I said, men still naturally have an authority that is more readily accepted than women’s.

        So I meant for my answer to address both those ideas. I think Paul’s answer is connected with realities about who men and women (generally) are today, not just a judgment for which the only reason is what happened on that day with the individuals, Adam and Eve. I think Adam and Eve illustrated what can happen with men and women today–Adam failed to use his strength, and Eve gave in to her weakness.