Does the Bible Demean Women?

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In the United States of America, women have great freedoms and influence. Women are in influential positions all over our society; we even have women justices on the Supreme Court and a female elected as vice-president. It is often assumed in our culture that for women to have equal rights, they have the right to do anything a man does. So when they read the Bible, many people in our culture see the Bible as sexist, demeaning toward women. So let’s look at four passages often taken as demeaning toward women.

Before we view these passages, let me ask you a question. Are you opposed to women’s suffrage? My daughter, Melissa, is a school teacher, and she often asks this question and frequently gets a response of yes, that they are opposed to women’s suffrage. Then they find out that the term means a woman’s right to vote. So if you are opposed to women’s suffrage, that means you are opposed to a woman’s right to vote! But some people misunderstand the term, because “suffrage” sounds like “suffering.”

Now, if English-speaking Americans can misunderstand a term in our own language, don’t you think it is possible that English-speaking Americans today might misunderstand something written in Greek and Hebrew to a different time and culture in the Bible? So let’s take a fresh look at four major passages that are often described as demeaning to women.

Genesis 2:18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Eve was created as Adam’s “helper” (NIV “suitable for him,” HCSB “as his complement”). This has often been distorted as if it means the woman is the man’s servant to do whatever he commands, but the Hebrew word is translated well in the HCSB as “his complement.” That is, she completes him. He has a role, she has a role, and the marriage and family meets its full potential when the woman and man function together.

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

Man is the head of the woman. Greek word for head, kephale, when used metaphorically means “source, origin,” unlike the English word head which can also mean “chief, ruler.” So yes, it says that woman came out of the man and he leads her, but in the original Greek, the word “head” does not imply the domination that it does in our language. Remember, the man may be the head of the house, but the woman is the neck, and the head cannot turn without the neck!

Ephesians 5:22: Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.

There is no verb in verse 22, and the verb is implied from verse 21, where we are first told to be in mutual submission to one another. Thus a wife’s submission only comes when the husband also has a humble and sacrificial attitude toward his wife. Notice as well that Ephesians 5:25 tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and Christ died for the church. Rarely does a wife have a problem submitting to a husband who is willing to die for her.

1 Timothy 2:12: I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.

The point here is that men lead the church. This is why we do not call a woman as pastor. However, this does not mean that women can never teach men, or else Priscilla would have been wrong to teach Apollos in Acts 18:26. Also there are references to women prophesying in both the Old and New Testaments,and these prophesies were sometimes directed toward men. For example, Deborah was a prophetess and judge over Israel who commanded the man Barak to take up arms against the oppression of his people (Judges 4:4-7). So the point is not that women can never speak God’s word in church and community, but that the leadership role of pastor in the church is reserved for men.

So as we study these verses, we see that while they do give a leadership role to men, they are not nearly as negative toward women as often portrayed. As we can see, these verses do not justify abuse of women at all. However, they do teach a distinctions and differences in the roles of men and women. In our culture today, we have been conditioned to think that if there is any difference in the role, there is a difference in their value. But that is not what the Bible teaches, at all.

Genesis 1:27: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

This verse teaches that men and women are created equally in the image of God.

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

This teaches that men and women are equal in Christ.

Sharon James, writing in The Apologetics Study Bible, uses the Trinity to illustrate how equality does not mean sameness and submission does not mean lesser worth. She points out that the three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are equally God, but have different roles. Likewise, men and women can have different roles and still be equal in value.

She also points out that Jesus, the Son of God, submits to God the Father. Likewise, wives who submit to their husbands are not worth less just because they are submissive.

Sharon James goes on to say that the different gender roles show how Eve was made as a complement to Adam: Masculine strength can be for protection and provision, while feminine sensitivity to relationships are useful for nurture and care.

The Bible does not put down women at all; it lifts them up! Historically, wherever Christianity has spread, the status of women has improved. Those countries where women are most exploited today are those with the least exposure to the gospel.

About Bob Rogers

Hospital chaplain in Mississippi. Adjunct history professor (online). Formerly a pastor for 33 years in Mississippi and Georgia. Avid cyclist.

Posted on May 15, 2012, in Apologetics, Books and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Perry Lassiter

    In the context of that day, no society would have expected anything else from a woman. The radical concept in Ephesians is the command for husbands to love their wives. Few other ancient writers even suggested this, rather wives were close to being treated just a bit over slaves. The command that husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church is still radically strong!

  2. The. Bible says that women are the lowest of the.low. the low.rung on the totem pole. God.first, men next…….women dead last. How can anyone justify the terrible things says about women. That they are to be slaves.of their husband/master. That he basically owns her. Slavery seems to be alive and well in bible.

  3. AJ, please go back to my blog and read my explanation of 1 Corinthians 11:3, and you will see that the Bible does not say women are the “the lowest of the low.” Also, nowhere in the Bible does it equal wives with “slaves.” Read Proverbs 31, and you find a wife who is praised by God for being a leader in her home, taking care of business decisions, and teaching her children!

    • My understanding is that in that first century, no one in any culture would have thought twice about a woman submitting to her husband. The radical command is for husbands to love their wives. According to one commentary, no where else in the ancient world are husbands expected to love their wives, especially as Christ love the church!

  4. If we can get these wifey websites to shut up their anti women jargon. then maybe men would act right. These wife websites teach men to disrespect women.

  5. Jean, where in my post above does this website teach men to disrespect women? Your pejorative language is what is disrespectful, not my comments above

  6. Sorry, I was so quick to anger, that I did not preface my comment to explain, that, I am speaking of two to three specific websites that I have skimmed thru on the Internet that suggests that women to submit, even to an abusive husband. Some of their doctrines are rather hard to swallow. They tear women down and do not build up or encourage women. But much of their information is giving men encouragement and suggesting that the sins of the husbands are caused by the wives.
    You, are totally opposite of their approach. You speak with a gentle and kind approach, which I (and others, I am sure ) appreciate and enjoy.

  7. I don’t want to be lead by a man. It makes me feel lowly and inferior. It’s because of these Bible versus that I lost my self esteem. I’ve become depressed over it. No matter how it’s explained, what I hear is I’m not fit to debate with a man and I have high amounts of estrogen so I should shut up. Testosterone will always rule over estrogen. This probably sounds overly emotionally charged, but it’s what I’ve been feeling for a long time and I can’t cope with it.

    • Ash, I’m sorry that you feel this way. I cannot tell you how to feel, but I would like to clarify any misunderstanding. You said you are depressed over the message you hear that you are not fit to debate with a man. If you heard that from this blog, please know it is not what I tried to communicate. The Bible says Priscilla and Aquila took a young preacher aside named Apollos and explained to him a more correct understanding of scripture. (Acts 18:24.) Both Old and New Testaments talk of women who prophesied. I hope you hear this affirmation from God.

  8. As a female I’ve struggled with Christianity and its misogyny and I admit defeat. . I’m letting the shackles of Christianity slip away from me after a lifetime of trying to square my belief in the dignity of women with being a Christian. The two are mutually exclusive. The male God of the bible has no love for women. 1 Corinthians 11:7 says it all – women should cover their heads because they are not the image and glory of God, a man must not cover his head because he is the image and glory of God. Women were created for men – only men were created for their own sakes. (Hence why men should lead women, women can’t teach men because an inferior in the created order cannot presume to inform a superior etc.) This verse is the deal-breaker for me – can’t get beyond it. In 19th century England the Church fought women’s admission to the Universities on the grounds that higher forms of knowledge should be restricted to men who were fully representative of God’s image in a way women were not. By allowing women access to higher education they would usurp the proper authority of men and despoil the image of God. I just hope more and more young women today keep away from the poisoned chalice of religion and not spend a lifetime of chasing shadows as I’ve done.

  9. I’m a woman and an atheist. I was raised a Christian and sexism in one of the reasons I left when I was old enough to walk away and I haven’t looked back and never will. Let’s face it, the bible and every other religious book were written by men for men and church is by men for men and religion is created by men so let the men have it. Women need to walk away. (Actually women are doing just that, the largest group leaving religion behind is younger women.)

    • kjh, thank you for commenting. I was wondering if you read the article that I wrote, and if you had any responses to the particular verses and issues discussed in the article?

  10. Yes, I read the article. The verses discussed were written by men in the bronze age and are Jewish/Roman laws of that time just like versus condoning slavery were the laws of the time.. I certainly don’t agree with them. Women in that time period were considered non-citizens and chattel and subordinate to men in all things, just like slaves were considered subordinate to their masters. I’m not religious so it doesn’t matter what I think. Churches have the right to believe what they want as long as they don’t force it on others but said churches will/are losing people, especially young women who are walking away from such doctrine.

  11. Hi Bob,

    I’m currently learning about religion again. I come from a very relaxed Christian background, and I’ve considered myself an atheist for about 7yrs, but seeing my boyfriend’s confidence in his faith (Catholicism) has gotten me curious about Christianity again. I’ve read the Bible twice before, but I’ve decided to be as generous to the faith as I possibly could this time, and focusing only on the positives… but the topic of women and the Bible continues to be a major roadblock for me.

    Historically, the Bible has been used to put women in a subservient role to men, and to keep their voices out of major societal decisions. It could be argued that those who pushed these ideas didn’t read the Bible correctly and manipulated the book to their own ends, but I don’t see how this “complementarian” view of the sexes doesn’t leave the door wide open for such a perspective. I mean, even if you look back to early Catholics like Thomas Aquinas, you see idea of woman as “misbegotten man” being cemented into the interpretation of the Bible. If so many proponents of the Christian faith can easily make these arguments, would it not be a reasonable thing for a woman to think that the Bible was created to demean her?

    What’s more, (this isn’t a problem with the Bible so much as it is with its followers) Christian proponents have a major problem with implying that the greatest thing a woman can strive to be is a mother. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that motherhood is an amazing and difficult task to take on. The women who do so have all my respect. My problem, though, is that Christians act as if that is all a woman can bring to the table. They don’t really push other narratives for female action beyond this. I see this a lot with Christians putting a ridiculous amount of emphasis on “wifely submission.” This is fine on its face, but I have to question why they don’t bring up other biblical roles such as these:

    It seems to me that the complementarian view of the sexes falls into naturalistic claims very quickly, and sometimes in ways which contradict the Bible’s own teachings. And, if this view falls into the naturalistic fallacy, I don’t think it’d be in a woman’s best interests to follow it. What do you think?

    Thanks for reading; looking forward to your response!


  1. Pingback: Does the Bible Demean Women? | Go Fish Ministries, Inc

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