22 Aug 2004

Bible encourages women to be subservient

Submitted by theshovel
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Essentially, when I read the passages in the New Testament, it seems to encourage women to be submissive, meek, and, quite frankly, subservient. While one could argue this is an overreaction of someone reared in a postfeminist-era, I would differ. Even when I simply step back and examine the passages, trying to take off my cultural blinders in the process, I find the passages troubling. Will

I do believe our cultural misunderstandings play a very large role in how we view any biblical writing, though more importantly I suspect that our biggest hangups occur when we try to make freedom in Christ equate with freedom as learned in this world. In this same vein we also have problems with Paul’s seeming unconcern over the whole slavery issue or government’s control over the everyday lives of those set free in Christ. Though we consider our culture to have achieved more and more freedom we too easily turn a blind eye to the more modern forms of subservience that have replaced the old forms of oppression. Don’t get me wrong for I truly enjoy many of the effects of these freedoms. I’m just not going to pretend that we haven’t made a lot of ongoing sacrifices in exchange for our form of freedom.

Remember when Jesus spoke to the crowd about freedom in John 8? One of the big reactions was that bogus assertion about being Abraham’s children and never having been enslaved to anybody. I think we also hold a similar delusion about our societal freedom so that we easily condescend toward those not as enlightened as we. Know what I mean? The fact is that some of these less enlightened cultures enjoy certain freedoms that we end up spending our entire free lives trying to purchase.
One of the big issues from which early Americans sought freedom was “Taxation without representation”. I heard a guy ask the question, So what do you think about taxation WITH representation?  :) Yep, always a trade-off when it comes to our temporal freedom.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:34-36

The freedom of the world may include certain aspects of liberty, but it is a freedom of another kind that only mimics true freedom. This can only come from Christ for it deals with a true freedom in the real man … not a freedom that must be continually enforced from the outside. And yes, this has everything to do with answering your question! haha! :)

Essentially, when I read the passages in the New Testament, it seems to encourage women to be submissive, meek, and, quite frankly, subservient.Will

As I’ve already hinted, the same can be said about men toward the governing authorities and of men in regard to their position as slaves in this world. Not only that, but in Ephesians 5 where Paul says that a woman is to submit to her husband he also says that the husband and the wife are to submit to one another. In Corinthians, where Paul addressed the issue of slaves seeking freedom he was all for it if such freedom was truly a viable option. You see while we balk at a freedom that can exist in the physical realm where one is subservient to another Paul had an overriding urgency that all recognize their TRUE freedom in Christ … for when we are truly free we are free no matter what position we hold in this world. This is not a justification for the often appalling abuse that some will put others through by such a position, instead it is the truth of life in the midst of the so-called freedom by which this world would demand that we are not free.

The freedom that Paul declared is a freedom that the world cannot and does not understand … nor lives by. It cannot, for it needs an incentive to keep in line. We understand this very well, don’t we? And this is a reality that is openly declared all around us on a daily basis by those who profess how free they are. I find that rather revealing.

The freedom of the world has insisted to us that differences in function or design must be broken down or removed in order to have true freedom. But true freedom is not the doing away of design or the removal of one’s position as found in this world, it is having been removed from the world itself. Living physically in it … but not of it. It is our conformity to this world that causes most of our problems when dealing with any issues of freedom. And it makes no difference if one conforms to an outward legality or to an outward rebellion, it is the same. We just perceive it as being opposite extremes.

Even when I simply step back and examine the passages, trying to take off my cultural blinders in the process, I find the passages troubling. Will

Understanding cultural differences - especially when considering the context of certain aspects of life written about 2000 years ago - is not merely a matter of taking OUR cultural blinders off … but in adopting THEIR cultural blinders for a bit. In other words, how did they approach women? how did the people at that time react to these heralds of freedom regarding THEIR approach to women?

Remember Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman? Just for him to even address her as he did broke 2 protocols of standard, accepted behavior. For she was a Samaritan … and she was a woman. She openly reacted to the first offense because according to everything she had been raised to believe Jesus shouldn’t have been talking to her whether she were a man or a woman. The disciples, on the other hand, seemed to be more offended by the fact that he would have been speaking with a woman. They probably figured it was bad enough that the person was a Samaritan … but a WOMAN?

Therefore the Samaritan woman *said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) John 4:9

At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?” John 4:27

This may represent a small thing to us, but it colored EVERYTHING in the eyes of those who heard Jesus. He truly respected women as way beyond anything these people could understand as his treatment of them came from outside the context of their perceptions. And this was not the only run-in he had with women. Consider his sparring with the Canaanite woman that is often regarded as a total disrespect toward women.

Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and {began} to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and {began} to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once. Matthew 15:21-28

If we criticize Jesus for how he handled this situation we’re going to miss what really happened here, and how he purposely dragged this whole thing out for the benefit of both the woman and her daughter as well as for his own disciples who wanted Jesus to send her away. At first Jesus ignored her - which was the fully expected reaction from any good Jew - though I have no doubt that he had every intention of giving her what she came to ask of him. I think it was the responses that tell the real story because here was a Canaanite woman — a “dog” — toward whom the disciples felt truly justified in judging according to the Law … and according to the lawful purpose of the Messiah. I think Jesus forced the situation to escalate so that the unworthy woman’s cry would end up judging the harshness of those who judge by what seems right. Jesus did this so often that it seems he took great delight in proclaiming great faith in those deemed unworthy according to the Law. Though the Jews had built their assumptions upon what they read in the Law they had been shown up time and time again - directly from the book that they had misunderstood.

Paul’s many comments about the lack of distinction between male and female in Christ simply flew in the face of everything his world had come to believe about the proper place of women. As you read through the account of his travels in Acts he treated all with equality … and this is a huge thing! The only criticisms he had were leveled against the self-righteous. Once again, that he would have even taken the time to speak to the women instead of seeking out the men, as he did in Thyatira, was a breech in proper social behavior.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus Galatians 3:28

Paul’s message of freedom was not merely radical in the spiritual sense, it totally turned their world upside down, especially in relation to how they thought of and judged one another according to recognized distinctions. To insist that in Christ the distinctions between Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, were removed was something they had never even conceived before … and it is still something unknown to our modern world despite all the hype and especially the laws that are supposed to guarantee such freedom.

If Paul had been mean-spirited or disrespectful toward women in his actual dealings then I could easily read his comments about submissiveness in that understanding. But that is not the case. Instead, all his writings find their meaning against the backdrop of non-stop on-the-edge radical love and freedom.

While we might peer back into 2000 year old documents trying to compare them to our perceptions we’re forgetting that everything he said constantly bucked all their inhibitions and rules and protocols and judgments. We’re looking at the bare words trying to figure out how and why he could have or would have said such-and-such all the while judging it according to our more enlightened viewpoints of freedom. And yet, though in form we may hold to some very high and noble ideals, even deluding ourselves that we actually believe them, in our own lives we’re still often judging those around us according to the flesh.

What I’m suggesting is that instead of hearing Jesus, Paul, etc as projecting a derogatory view toward women that they heard them in terms of a radical new life. We may think Paul was giving women new Christian rules by which to hinder their equality with men, but I suspect they heard his comments as answers to their questions as to whether this freedom means that the relationship between a man a woman could possibly also be negated. In other words, are the interconnections dissolved as well?

And to this, Paul upheld his appeal to union in answering this reality. The reality of this new union in Christ displays itself between husbands and wives in the same way as between God and Christ, and as between Christ and the church (or the body). The same spirit, though different functioning.

But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:3

It is not simply the fact that the man’s authority and leadership are emphasized, but the fact that women throughout the Bible seem to be urged to find their life through men, either as wives or as mothers. Even in the spiritual realm, there is a definitive ladder descending to women.Will

But what if in fact we do find our lives through one another?

For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. Therefore the woman ought to have {a symbol of} authority on her head, because of the angels. However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man {has his birth} through the woman; and all things originate from God. 1 Corinthians 11:8-12

Now, this is taken from the much-debated section on the head-dress of women, and there has been much contention and crazy traditions regarding its meaning, though I suspect most of it is lost on us because we’ve been caught up with form instead of life. Here is the interconnectedness between man and woman where neither is independent of the other even though one was made for the other. Whatever the significance this covering played in their culture, Paul’s whole meaning is wrapped up in the reality that they had been disregarding the reality of union through their logical conclusions (which is of course the main thing Paul was revealing through his whole letter to the Corinthians … for they had been boasting of their freedom in Christ while attaching themselves to men of importance). I mean, if men and women are truly free and without distinction in Christ then wouldn’t it follow that we need to do away with the difference of function and relationship between them in this world? Paul demanded that they were missing the point. Later in that same letter he wrote:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7

Here is the reality of union, that even in the midst of differences, those distinctions do not make for any kind of inequality. And this was at the core of the Corinthians confusion. For they had been snookered into the idea that a higher ranking according to the world was a higher ranking in Christ, and that is an absurdity. Even though the logic of man constantly struggles with this bondage, the function one plays does not translate into any kind of superiority, but instead in Christ one is truly equal though all the world defies it. We struggle with this only when we try to define our freedom according to the world’s view of freedom.

Even in the spiritual realm, there is a definitive ladder descending to women.Will

Only if you think the ladder between God and Christ was a descending one! hehe! :)

While I do believe we are designed differently, I want to believe in a God who sees women as our equals. If I were married, I would not want to coexist with a subservient child, kowtowing to my every whim. While it is the nurturing side of women that I adore, I am also drawn to their strength - I like strong, independent women, even within the church. Abandoned to God, able to discern for themselves, and conscious of the abuses of the institutional church, can hold a conversation with me as an equal - essentially, the same things I respect in persons in general - tough love amid a humble attitude - are the same things that I find attractive and admirable in a women.Will

It is the Christian religion - in other words, the conforming of the natural mind to the precepts and outward form of Christ - that has presented women as subservient children who kowtow to man’s every whim. This institutional mind has reformed some letters written by the apostles of Christ into instructions and principles of Christian living for us, and in so doing have forced us to consider them according to the logic of the world. In trying to justify our freedom to the world’s logic we have attempted to show that we are modern, but we are under the delusion that the freedom we’ve learned in this world is truly free. But the world’s freedom is solely attached to the outward.

Okay, so what do you think? :)

Jim

New Testament: 

Comments

Excellent article!

 

As I sent to you on our personal communication, it is only the natural philosophies of the world that would teach us about life and Godliness. The world has a myriad of ways on how to SEEM good, but is only self serving at best.

 

Love,

Adam

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