It’s very important to say first and foremost that Yahweh’s word in its original form is inerrant. But the translators that translate the scriptures into other languages are not. No matter how hard they try, their bias and presumptions will always influence them. Now whether that bias is by intent or even dishonest is up for debate. A translation will always be just that, a translation, so in other words it’s just a group of individuals endeavouring to convey the meaning of the original text.
- So how did so many in the church start going the wrong way when it comes to women and their position in the church?
The Early Church
One classic early example is Jerome (347 – 420AD) who translated the original manuscripts into the Latin Vulgate. He was universally known and respected and therefore his writings and his misinterpretations of scripture were widely read during the middle ages. Jerome was very inconsistent in his views about women and inevitably his writings damaged a woman’s position gravely for centuries to come.
From the above link:
In the story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39, where she attempts to seduce him, the original Hebrew text narrates the story in a straightforward, non-judgemental way. The woman says to Joseph ‘Lie with me’, and the Hebrew says simply ‘and he refused’. Not so Jerome. ‘And he refused’ becomes ‘by no means agreeing to this wicked deed’. In the course of the next few verses we have more condemnatory words introduced, for example stuprum which is a very strong word for vile behaviour. It is as if Jerome cannot somehow tolerate that Holy Writ does not emphasise that the woman is wicked, and feels he must do so. The quite significant changes thus made in biblical narratives are likely to have had some effect on the preaching from these texts in the medieval pulpit.
A very important alteration is made by Jerome in Genesis 3.16. God has been addressing severe words to the serpent in the garden and he finishes his warning to Eve with the words: ‘Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you,’ While ‘he will rule over you’ makes clear the husband’s predominance over the wife, the impact is softened somewhat by the other half of the verse, ‘Your desire will be for your husband’, the Hebrew word for ‘desire’ here having sexual content. In Jerome’s version, however, that half of the verse is changed to ‘You will be under the power of your husband’ and ‘he will rule over you’ completes the verse. Complete subjection and subordination of the woman is now laid down.
The cultural bias of the day towards women influenced Jerome to write the following:
“Woman is the root of all evil.”
Sadly this type of attitude towards women was now becoming prevalent in the church. Any chance of women having a position of equality in the church was seriously damaged for centuries to come as his work influenced so many.
Quotes From The Early Church Fathers
Below are just a few quotes from theologians throughout church history who were patriarchal and misogynistic. To see a more extensive list of quotes go to my resource page: Women & Misogyny Throughout Church History.
”And do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: ~ Tertullian
“Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman…the consciousness of their own nature must evoke feelings of shame” ~ Clement of Alexandria
Quotes From The Middle Ages
‘Woman, together with her own husband, is in the image of God, so that the whole substance is one image, but when she is referred to separately in her quality as helpmeet, which regards the woman alone, then she is not in the image of God, but as regards the man alone, he is the image of God as fully and completely as when the woman too is joined with him in one.’ ~ St Augustine
Bob Edwards writes …St. Augustine once said that when he became a Christian and tried to make sense of the Bible, it was very difficult for him. It came across to him as almost nonsense. And so, he read from a number of books written by philosophers that followed the train of thought begun by Plato, and went as far as to say that this helped him to make sense of the Bible. So in other words, the work of Plato and later Plotinus, became the lenses through which Augustine made sense of the Bible.
Women Erased From The Text
- Did you ever learn in Sunday school or in church that there was actually a female apostle called Junia? Or that Priscilla was the leader and teacher in the Ephesus Church?
I never did! I only found out via sources on the internet.
The early church believed that both were women – even Jerome wrote about them – that’s why I mentioned earlier that he was inconsistent about his views on women! But by the 13th century their names had been changed to male names – Junias and Prisca as women couldn’t possibly have roles of leadership in the church according to their misogynistic worldview. Source: P46 presented Prisca and Junia as men by Richard Fellows. I’ll write more on the biblical roles of the church in relation to the gifts of the Holy Spirit in a later blog post. But for now let’s keep focused on gender equality and carry on into the period the 15th Century …
Quotes From The Reformation Period
Luther believed that the subordination of women resulted from sin and was not part of the original creation as it was a punishment rather than being part of Yahweh’s original plan.
Eve has been placed under the power of her husband, she who previously was very free and, as the sharer of all the gifts of God, was in no respect inferior to her husband… Rule is now entirely the concern of males … The woman … is like a nail driven into the wall. She sits at home, and for this reason Paul, in Titus 2:5, calls her an oikourgos … This punishment too springs from original sin…the wife should stay at home and look after the affairs of the household as one who has been deprived of the ability of administering those affairs that are outside and concern the state….In this way Eve is punished.” ~ Martin Luther
“On this account, all women are born that they may acknowledge themselves as inferior in consequence to the superiority of the male sex.” ~ John Calvin
“Women are weake, fraile, impatient, feeble and foolish.”…”unconstant, variable, cruel and lacking the spirit of counsel and regiment” …”woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man.” ~ John Knox
Quotes From The Modern Day
As we read some of the quotes below we can see that many in the modern day church still hold to these misogynistic beliefs. They don’t want to acknowledge that Jesus died on the cross to restore equality for women that Eve experienced before the fall. They don’t want to study the original text and the position of co-rulership that women took in the New Covenant. The language may not be as direct but the message behind it is still the same from the biblical manhood and womanhood advocates who influence so much of the church today.
When John Piper was asked “should you use bible commentaries written by women?”
Here is a truth. A woman saw it. She shared it in a book, and I now quote it, because I am not having a direct, authoritative confrontation. She is not looking at me and confronting me and authoritatively directing me as a woman.”
The majority of quotes from disgraced Pastor, Mark Driscoll were just too crude, vulgar and misogynistic to place on my blog.
“If women become pastors and heads of homes then hell looks like a good place because at least a man is in charge.”
“Women will be saved by going back to that role that God has chosen for them. Ladies, if the hair on the back of your neck stands up it is because you are fighting your role in the scripture.”
Their Purpose as Image Bearers
There is nowhere in Genesis 1 or 2 that says that Adam was to hold authority over Eve, nor to protect or to lead her.
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.
Nowhere does it say that a man’s role is to lead and that a wife has to submit to that leadership
Sin Places Women Under Men
Yahweh’s express instructions to Adam were to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But when both of them ate from that tree the consequences of sin were that their joint ruler-ship would instead become male dominance and authority – part of the curse.
To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.”
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life. “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.” ~ Genesis 3
- Today we don’t refuse painkillers to women while giving birth. We don’t say – well you just have to put up with the pain because this a result of the curse – just blame Eve.
- Today we don’t tell farmers or gardeners that they are not allowed to use weedkillers as they have to leave thorns and weeds to grow. Or that they can’t use machinery to plant and harvest their crops. We don’t say – you’ll just have to leave the thorns and weeds to grow and you’ll have to expect tough physical work to produce food as they are results of the curse – just blame Adam.
- Today why do we accept in so many church denominations that ‘he will rule over you’ when it’s a result of the curse?
Domination, oppression and exploitation have been painful experiences for many women emotionally, spiritually and physically. But Yahweh’s original plan before the fall was for male and female co-rulership of the earth. Their mandate was firstly to rule over Eden and then beyond Eden. Not for one to rule over the other.
For an in-depth reading on the topic I’d suggest reading this from Bob Edwards and his fascinating discussion on the origins of male authority in the church.
- If the New Covenant/The New Creation was brought in by Jesus as said in Galatians 1:4 “who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” how is it that in the 21st Century we’re still continuing on the same route by keeping women in the church under one section of the curse?
We need to change direction and start to accept the restored equality of women through the redemption in Christ.