Does the Bible Oppress Women?

By: Mike Bishop
*originally published on March 24, 2021

Christians With Questions

In this series, I want to help you get “unstuck” with common questions that seem to regularly cause Christians to lose sleep or their faith. These are questions that have been posed to me through email or in conversation with real, live “Christians with questions.”
Question: In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve’s fall, God punishes Eve by saying that she will want to be in charge but will be ruled by man. But, if this was a punishment for sin, then it wasn’t God’s original design or intent for women, right? Why has the Bible been used so often as a reason and an excuse to oppress women?
You are absolutely correct in saying that it was not God’s intent for women to be subordinate to men. In fact, in Genesis 1, this is very clearly stated:
“Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground. So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:26–27
God does not make any distinction between male and female being made for separate purposes. It’s clear that his intention was for both to act as “imagers” — literally idols of God — and our task was to reign over the earth and its creatures.
Now, Genesis 2 tells this story in a different way, highlighting some of the differences between men and women. But this is where things have gotten off the rails over the centuries. People have read Genesis 2 as a story about subordination and forgotten about Genesis 1. Genesis 2 is a story about God’s unique design for the holy relationship between a man and woman in marriage and his intention for this relationship to be foundational to our task to reign over the earth.

Note in Genesis 2:18, God recognizes that Adam (which literally means “earth” or “dirt”) needs a partner to do the work he has given him to do. God creates animals, which the human names, but these were not adequate for the task at hand. It’s only until God gives him woman that the relationship as God intended is completed. The story of the rib is illustrates the true nature of a marriage relationship — and really life itself— we act as one person.
Back to your question. You stated, “God punishes Eve by saying that she will want to be in charge but will be ruled by man.” Let’s look carefully at the scripture:
“Then he said to the woman, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” Genesis 3:16
The only punitive measure here was the bit about pregnancy. The other part seems to be more cause-and-effect. “You will desire to control your husband.” This is a breakdown in the original design for the marriage relationship. Instead of ruling and reigning together, now there is a need to control. Fear and suspicion have entered the picture. The result, which is the harsh reality of sin, is that men will assert their dominance.

So why have men consistently throughout the centuries (even up until today) used the Bible as justification for their oppression of women? This is not the only way the Bible has been misused for evil and oppression. It’s the same reason why verses about how masters should treat their slaves became justification for slavery! It’s terrible Biblical exegesis. And it’s wrong.

In the Old Testament, women are consistently placed at the center of the redemptive story. Eventually, these signposts find their culmination in Jesus. A young, brave woman is given the greatest secret ever told: “You will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus…his Kingdom will never end!” Women help organize and finance his ministry. And they are the first to witness his resurrection.
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians‬ ‭3:28‬ ‭NLT‬‬)
The Biblical story answers our modern longings for words like “justice” and “equality” and “love”. Unfortunately, we often refuse to accept the fact that the Bible is an ancient book deserving careful, thoughtful attention and patience. Ultimately, we want it to say what we already believe to be true about the world. But the Bible, and God, will not let us get off that easily.
Author: Mike Bishop
Microchurch Coach

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