Is the Bible Sexist?
This past week’s headlines included many variations to: “The Defense Department Training Material Declaring The Bible, Constitution And Declaration Of Independence All Sexist.” Let’s address the Bible.
I found these headlines very sad, but they reinforced my calling to do something about a growing problem. I recently wrote a book called, “The New Testament Challenge.” The goal is to walk through The New Testament with people in a year. It is a system of study that helps people understand the true meaning of the Bible, by understanding some basic ideas about the original author, audience, culture and context of each book. I wanted to write this because of the need for such a book. You can’t read the Bible correctly, unless you play by the rules. The main rule is; the Bible is filled with conversations between two parties and often times we only see one side of the conversation.
I will illustrate this point by telling you a story. Imagine you live in a major trade city on the Asian Coast many years ago. The worship of a female fertility goddess is the touristic draw to the city. The local economy is largely centered on the production and sales of miniature statues of the idol. The leaders of this cult are women priestesses who dominate men sexually. Traveling men are drawn to this type of worship because they are away from home and believe no one will know. Hometown men are drawn to this type of worship for sexual reasons as well. Women are drawn to this because they get to be in charge. They have power, in a time when women didn’t have any power or influence.
When the Apostle Paul came through this city, we learn through the Bible that enough people were being converted and questioning the status quo that it created a stir and Paul had to leave. Now many of the new believers in Ephesus had to work through their old worldview to follow Jesus, and they continued to have to work through it long after Paul was gone.
The Temple of Artemis was no small temple, and this cult was very influential in the Mediterranean. The Temple is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. When Paul needed to influence this church from a distance, he wrote them letters. We have some of his letters in the Bible. He communicated especially with Timothy the young pastor he installed there.
When Paul left this church, there were many problems, much of which stemmed from the new believers in this area wanting to hold onto their old ways. The women of this area learned how to assert themselves and dominate the men. Men by contrast had learned to let this happen. It was causing major problems in the church. To say the least, the church was a hospital sent to heal and rescue this culture for Jesus Christ. Something needed to be prescribed as a remedy to the local sickness. So if you were the Apostle Paul and you had to deal with this conflict from a distance, you would probably write something like this:
8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. 11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet (I Timothy 3:8-12).
The above verses address the following:
Verse 8 – Unity
Verse 9 – Artemis worshippers didn’t dress modest (especially the priestesses). The hair, jewelry and clothes were all a part of that.
Verse 10- Show off your good deeds instead of getting attention for the way you dress.
Verse 11 – Women had to redefine their role in the new system. They were not to take on authoritative or teaching roles in light of the fact that they were discipled in the ways of Artemis and before meeting Jesus only understood a perverted type of leadership.
Paul’s heart was to bring godly order to a disorderly situation, while the Gospel was breaking into this influential society. That is why when he is writing to other people in other places we see a different type of instruction. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).”
Sadly, just like our Defense Department and so many others who want to deface the authority of the Bible, many have quit seeking after truth. Jesus said, “seek, and you will find (Matthew 7:7b).” This is a promise. All of us seem to settle when we are comfortable with a point of view or an answer. So, the next time someone uses these verses to tell you the Bible is sexist, ask them to seek truth with you. Tell them, If Jesus is real we will find answers if we truly seek Him.
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