Early this week, I was approached by a female (Christian) college student who had some questions about the Bible, and specifically how she, as a young woman, ought to feel about some of the anti-woman passages the Bible contains, especially those in Paul’s writings in Corinthians. I was deeply flattered that she came to me to ask for my take on some of those scriptures. I am not at all an authority on the Bible, or on theology, or on scriptural interpretation. But this particular young lady is well acquainted with my personality, and knows that I consider myself something of a low-level feminist, in addition to a Christian. I’m not sure how much of a scholarly response she hoped for, but I am certain she wanted my opinion, and that I have in abundance.
As a woman who was raised from birth in a godly home, I too have had these questions and these struggles along the course of my faith journey. Crafting my response to this query was something that required me to revisit some of my own questions, doubts, and even frustrations with what sometimes feels like an incompleteness in Scripture. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have Jesus-in-the-Flesh so I could ask questions like this when they come up. But then I remember how, every time someone in the Bible has a question for Jesus, the riddled answers he gives leave the recipient just as confused as he was before he asked, if not more so. That Jesus was one tricky fella.
Still, though, coming up with a response to the question of how to approach anti-feminism in the Bible forced me to think through some of these things again, and it made me wonder how others handle it. So I’ve decided to share, in its entirety, the response I drafted and sent, in the hopes that some discussion will be generated. I’m deeply interested in other people’s thoughts on the matter. Keep in mind, I don’t have a degree in anything even close to religion, theology, or the Bible, so my thoughts are more ‘Audra’ than they are ‘educated.’ If you disagree with something I’ve said, that’s fine. I’d love to hear from you. I only ask that you please not be rude.
One final note: I wrote this response without actually looking up the Corinthian scriptures. I probably shouldn’t have done that. Still not having looked them up, I now wonder if what my response addresses is actually contained in Paul’s letters, or if it possibly belongs to a different New Testament writer. The bulk of my response addresses the scriptures that talk about how women don’t have a place in church participation and/or leadership because, when I hear someone talking about the Bible being anti-women, these are the first scriptures I think of, and they are the ones I myself have personally wrestled with the most. I won’t pretend to know off the top of my head what book they come from. Perhaps, though, at a later date, I’ll examine things more thoroughly and find I have more to say. If so, I’m sure you’ll hear from me.
That being said, following is the full, verbatim, unedited text of my original response:
Hey, got your text. Had a much longer answer than could be contained in a text message, or than I wanted to use Swype for. So here we are.
Your question is rather loaded, but I find the answer to be fairly simple, at least for me. First off, it’s important to remember how highly contextualized the Bible is. The books were not really meant to be passed down thousands and thousands of years. When I say “meant,” I am of course only speaking of the authors’ intentions. No author of Scripture intended for his words to be read in 2013, and certainly not adhered to as gospel truth.
It is my opinion that if Paul or any other writer of any other book of the Bible – especially the New Testament books – came back today and saw the way that Christians and the church misapply his contextual words, he would both laugh and cry. And then he’d probably write a letter to the new world, chastising us for being such incompetent fools that we can’t even take the spirit of Scripture and figure out how to apply it to our own contexts.
Now, (*Obama voice*) let me be clear: I think the Bible is important. But there are contextual details in Scripture that do not apply to the world we live in today, and how could they? It’s just not possible.
When I read Scripture that feels misogynistic or seems to disagree with the world I’m encountering (this includes the anti-homosexual scriptures too), I run it through the Greatest Commands filter:
1) Does this scripture – beyond the surface – speak to Jesus’s command to love God? If so, how can I apply it in that way? Loving God does not mean not being who you are (as a woman, in this case; as a gay person, in other cases; as a myriad of other things in a myriad of other cases).
2) If the answer to the first question is no, then it should be yes here: Does this scripture – beyond the surface – speak in some way to Jesus’s second-greatest command to love others? If so, how can I apply it in that way?
The writers of Scripture were human, and they were not without sin. Paul contradicts himself a zillion times. Some of this is because he has different things to say to the different towns/churches because they have different problems. What’s true for Galatia is not true for Corinth, and vice versa. Otherwise, he could’ve just written one document for everyone. Paul wrote from prison, trying to put out specific fires in specific communities. I highly doubt he had any concept or inkling that his writings would survive thousands of years and be taken at total face value in 2013.
Those who chose and compiled the canon were also human, and not without sin. I’m not saying that I don’t believe the Bible is inspired by God; I do believe God inspired Scripture; but I AM saying that I don’t believe in the concept of inerrancy of Scripture, at least not in the literal sense. Especially when the versions of the Bible we have today are so doctored and transformed from the original texts. It blows my mind when someone dissects a paragraph for me and explains all the various meanings that could be meant by one Greek or Hebrew word. The difference is too vast for me to say that my NIV, modernized, Anglicized, translated-into-American-English version of the Bible is totally without error or fault.
When I memorize Scripture, I don’t find it important to memorize the potentially divisive ones that are so highly embedded with contexts and cultures that are dead today. I find it important to memorize the ones that transcend context and culture, such as the one I tattooed on my arm, Philippians 4:12. Oppression of women does not transcend context and culture, but trusting God enough to be “content” (wherever the various nuances of that definition may take me) in any circumstance – that does transcend. It’s a totally timeless concept, as are the two commands to love God and love others.
If the anti-women scriptures are that important to you, dig into their history and find out why exactly that view was important enough to Paul to write it down. And find a way to prove why it’s irrelevant today. Heck, find a way to reapply the Scripture so that the word ‘woman’ isn’t what’s important. Why did he not want women leaders in the church? I doubt very much it was because they were women. Today the application of that Scripture might be more along the lines of, “Hey. Don’t let someone who hasn’t studied up on theology lead your church.” Back then women were not allowed to be scholars. So should they have been leading congregations? Probably not. Today, should someone who has never studied the Bible, or its culture, or its history, or the ancient languages surrounding it, or any type of theology whatsoever, be leading a congregation in a significant way? Probably not. Saying ‘women’ could have been an easy (albeit, lazy) way to say that the uneducated person should not lead the church. I don’t know. I haven’t dug into it myself.
I’m really glad this question and consideration has become important to you. We serve a good God, and we serve a God who made both of us, and called it ‘good.’ Love God; love others. Not easy concepts; but simple. Also, this is the tip of a pretty contentious iceberg, so good luck and be careful digging in!
PS I mentioned this conversation to a friend, and he recommended a couple of resources. The first takes an open perspective and theology on the importance of both genders and God’s original intent for both men and women (the most important detail being that the inequality is a result of the fall, and of a broken world).