Women, The Bible And Interpretations
It’s tough for women in the Bible. Men take all the good roles. God is male, the savior is a man and so too is the baptizer. All the great prophets, warriors, rulers and lawgivers are men. In fact, the first man was a man. Women can’t even break into the top 12 when it comes to the names of Israel’s tribes or Jesus’ disciples.
There are no good parts left in the Bible for women to play. Yes, there are virgins, whores and prostitutes, but women can play these roles without religion. Women instead are the targets of blame, criticism and ridicule.
* God thinks animals make better companions for men than a woman (Gen 2:18-20).
* She doesn’t listen to God and is turned into a pillar of salt as a result (Gen 19:26).
* God stops the sacrifice of a son (Gen 22), but causes and accepts the sacrifice of a daughter (Judges 11:29-39).
* Women bring judgment upon themselves because they engage in gossip and idle talk and have turned to follow Satan (1 Timothy 5:11-13).
* Women are not allowed to teach men; but should be silent and submissive instead, for a woman brought sin into the world (1 Timothy 2:11-15).
* Women are the weaker vessel (1 Peter 3:7).
But all problems begin with men — menstrual cramps, mental illness, menopause — and a rereading of the very same biblical passages from a different perspective reveals positive views of women and less complimentary ones of men.
* God’s original plan that man be alone was not good, nor was the second plan to find him animal friends. It is only with the creation of woman that the ideal companion is found (Gen 2:18-20).
* She is the salt of the earth (Gen 19:26). Lot’s wife was turned into salt because her husband and sons-in-law delayed in heeding God’s advice to leave Sodom and had to frantically rush away as a result. According to one Jewish tradition, while her husband hightailed out of Sodom, Lot’s wife only looked back to check if her daughters were following.
* A noble daughter willingly gives herself up to save her desperate father from his rash promise (Judges 11:29-39).
* Men-led churches won’t help certain women, so women must take the responsibility for themselves to determine their own fate and be active in the community helping others (1 Timothy 5:11-13).
* Women can engage in sexual activity to facilitate salvation (1 Timothy 2:11-15).
* Men need to be told to treat women with kindness and respect (1 Peter 3:7).
There are thus multiple biblical passages providing different perspectives on a host of issues, yet many will insist there is only one right answer.
How can this be accounted for?
There are several explanations for this, but here are two brief ones:
1) Religious scriptures are time-bound, not timeless. Ideas, values and beliefs conveyed in these writings are intended for the time period in which they were written. To apply an ancient scriptural text to a modern issue is to take the text out of its historical context. Since context affects content, a change in context may mean a shift in content.
For example, the Bible condemns divorce but condones slavery — whereas our society (thankfully) does just the opposite. Values that truly are timeless are not bound by scripture, but can be found anywhere, at anytime and by anyone. Hope, faith and love are good examples.
2) All reading is interpretation. Thus, tell me what you read and I’ll tell you what’s in your heart. Religious writings can support any bias or prejudice one may have.
This explains why the most intolerant, prejudiced people tend to be religious; yet some of the most accepting, loving people tend to be religious as well. Scriptures of the world’s religions do not cause love or hate, but satisfy the same psychological need to express them.
There is thus a scriptural passage, verse or reference somewhere that can be extracted and interpreted in such a way to provide legitimacy for one’s views, whatever they may be. One need only look for it, even if it’s only in one’s mind.
Some, therefore, will hide their bigotry and prejudice behind God or religion and preface their biased statements with, “According to scripture …” or “The Bible says …” in a blatant attempt to give legitimacy to their ill-informed views.
Don’t be fooled. They do injustice to their god and religion by claiming their intolerance or sexism is divinely sanctioned. Fundamental truths and universal values — kindness instead of killing; giving instead of stealing; compassion instead of cruelty — can stand on their own apart from any religion or scripture. Intolerance and fanaticism cannot.
Yes, it’s tough for women in the Bible, but it’s tougher for bigots and chauvinists without it.