Does the Bible demean Women?

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During a discussion on sexism in Islam on a Facebook forum, I rebutted the claims of a Muslim who claimed Islam respected women.

To soothe his bruised ego, he sent a list of Bible verses into my box to “prove” that the Bible also demeans women. They were, of course, copied from an atheist website.

I’m very much familiar with how insecure Muslims desperately run to atheists for their anti-Bible arguments the same way their prophet ran home to his wife screaming “Cover me! Cover me!!” I guess it’s a part and parcel of being a good Muslim too.

Here, I will be responding to some of those passages as the atheist wrote them.

1. Burn the daughter!

“And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father; she shall be burnt with fire” (Lev. 21:9)

A biased, ignorant reader would think this was a punishment reserved only for women but an informed person sees a different picture.

Just 22 verses earlier, it says: “If a man marries both a woman and her mother, it is wicked. Both he and they must be burned in the fire, so that no wickedness will be among you” (Lev. 20:14).

In Joshua 7:15, when Achan stole some of the plunder from Jericho, the penalty was destruction by fire, along with all his belongings. This punishment applied to both men and women.

Today, the only burning taking place in modern secular societies are the scalding to death of preborn babies (mostly females) by saline abortion with full consent of the law. But atheists would rather talk selectively about ancient punishments.

2. Cut off her hand!

“When men strive together one with another, and the wife of the one draweth near for to deliver her husband out of him that smiteth him, and putteth forth her hand and taketh him by the secrets; then thou shall cut off her hand, thine eyes shall not pity her” (Dt. 25:11-12).

The atheist writer says this was done to amputate “the hand that fondled the genitals!” This is profoundly ignorant, given that it was actually a penalty on anyone who injured a man’s reproductive organ and rendered him impotent.

Dake’s Reference Bible has this to say: “This shows how serious it was for one to be denied the power of reproduction and suggests that God was not in sympathy with the making of eunuchs which was so common in the East.”

3. Female births get penalty

“Speak to the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child; then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean” (Lev. 12:2).

Verse 5 says if she gave birth to a female, she would be unclean for 14 days. Under the OT, there were certain things that could make people “unclean” e.g eating unclean foods (Lev. 11:43), touching carcasses of dead animals (Lev. 11:26), infectious skin diseases (Lev. 13:3), bodily discharge (Lev. 15:1-3) and menstrual discharge (Lev. 15:19).

These ceremonial laws were given only to the nation of Israel, not to any other nation either since then or now.

The differences in the period of “uncleanness” with regards to male and female infants was either because Jewish culture required that females be taken care of longer than males or the males were circumcised on the 8th day (Gen. 17:12).

This purification didn’t have to do with physical impurity and the rituals prescribed for both males and females were the same.

4. Female inferiority

“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3)

The word “head” (Gr: kephale) here doesn’t mean inequality but differences in roles and responsibility.

Jesus Christ was subject to God the Father (He is the Head) in a sense, but He is equal to God in another sense since they both have the same Divine essence. Jesus was subject to Joseph and Mary as a child, yet they were creatures and He was Deity. His submission didn’t make Him inferior in that sense.

There’s no justification for the conclusion that being the head means domination or submission implies female inferiority. Headship in marriage is for the purpose of order, just as there can’t be two drivers in a car.

The husband is the head of the wife and he is mandated to love, nourish and cherish her (Eph. 5:28-29). This is patterned after Christ’s love for the church, His body. Therefore, a Christian man who mistreats his wife is mistreating his own body.

5. Jesus will kill the children

“Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he who searches the reins and hearts; and I will give unto everyone of you according to your works” (Rev. 2:22-23)

Where is the oppression of women here? This was a warning given to the church in Thyatira. Jezebel had been dead for centuries, but her name was used here because the Jews understood her sin.

It’s also possible that a specific woman with the same name was being referred to.

In any case however, the text indicates that the stated judgement applies to both men and women as Jesus says: “I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”

A person who uses this as a “proof text” of male chauvinism ought to be laughed out of an elementary class debate.

6. Kill the Witches!

“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. Whoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death. He that sacrificeth to any god, save to the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed” (Ex. 22:18-20).

Just four verses later, the death penalty is applied to men only (vs 22-24). Leviticus 20:27 says “A man or a woman who is a medium or spiritist” must be stoned to death.

Every Bible student knows that under the OT, death or other severe penalty applied to both males and females involved in divination, false prophecies, sorcery, necromancy, wizardry and idolatry (Dt. 18:10-12, Rev. 21:8).

7. Rape my daughter

“Behold, here is my daughter a maiden, and his concubine; them I will bring out now, and humble ye them, and do with them what seemeth good unto you; but unto this man do not do so vile a thing” (Judges 19:24).

The Bible records people’s sins and many evils which it also condemns e.g incest, rape or murder. We don’t reject even historical accounts on such basis. Therefore, that something “is in the Bible” doesn’t always mean it’s good. One must always interpret each verse in the light of its context.

This is something the atheist or Muslim seldom does because it doesn’t fit with their playbook. A Bible scholar succinctly explains this incident:

“The second incident deals with the moral corruption of Israel at the time. In terms which paralleled the account of Lot’s visit to Sodom (Ge. 19:5), local Israelites of the tribe of Benjamin attempt to homosexually rape a traveller in the town of Gibeah, before raping a woman instead, who dies from the shock of the attack. The woman in question was the concubine of a Levite” (Alister McGrath, NIV Bible Commentary, Hodder and Stroughton, 1996, 95).

8. Stone the woman

“If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her. Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die…” (Dt. 22:22, 24).

Notice that the heading didn’t match the Bible verses given. How on earth is this “against women,” since both the man and woman were to be stoned for the sin of adultery?

Under the Law, a married woman was expected to scream for help during such assault or it was ruled as consent.

If the Bible was all about men doing whatever they wished while punishing women for the same, as radical feminists claim, why then were most of the laws in the Pentateuch directed at men who wanted to have sex with everyone except their wives (see Leviticus 18)?

9. Virgin’s worth

“If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silvers, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days” (Deut. 22:28-29).

Just three verses earlier, the law stated that if a man raped a betrothed lady, he alone is to be killed (v. 25). On the other hand, if she wasn’t betrothed, the man would pay her dowry and marry her. In ancient cultures, a violated woman was considered unfit for marriage.

The atheist writer seems to have a problem with the idea of dowry paid to the lady’s father, probably because he expects ancient Jewish culture to follow the norms of the West in the 21st century where “liberated” women are seen as sexual playthings men can use and discard like garbage if deemed undesirable.

10. Wives, submit yourselves!

“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church; and he is the saviour of the body” (Eph. 5:22-23).

Verse 25 says “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

A Christian husband must love his wife to the point of laying down his life for her and caring for her by making her presentable (vv. 26-27). Alister McGrath explains:

“The word ‘submit’ is used several times in this section (5:21-6:9), not with the sense of ‘obeying an earthly superior,’ but rather with the meaning of ‘discovering and accepting God’s intentions’ … The mutual relationship between a man and woman in marriage is defined in terms of love and submission that is, the same quality of self-giving love which took Christ to the cross for his church and the same committed willingness to be faithful to the demands of a relationship” (NIV Commentary, p. 352)

The Old Testament shows the respect women are given. Elizabeth Achtemeier, a Professor of Bible and Homiletics wrote that:

“Women are found serving as prophets (Exod. 15.20; 2Kings 22.14-20), judges (Judg.4-5) and queens (1 Kings 19; 2Kings 11) in preexilic Israel. They are never excluded from the worship of God (Deut. 16.13-14; 1 Sam. 1-2).

Women are sometimes honored as models of wisdom (2Sam. 14: 20.19-22). The honor of mothers ranks with that of fathers in Israel’s basic laws, the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20.12; Deut. 5.16). The family rights of wives and mothers are protected by law (Ge. 16.5-6; 38)” (The Oxford Companion to the Bible, eds. Bruce Metzger and Michael Coogan, Oxford University Press, 1993, 806).

In the New Testament, we see Jesus set aside a long racial barrier by speaking with a foreign woman in public (Jn. 4:27). He ignored all structures of ritual impurity attached to women (Mk. 5:25-34, 35-43). He taught women and even gave them an equal rank with men as daughters of Abraham (Lk. 10:38-42; 13:10-17).

In John 8, He saved a woman from being stoned for adultery. Women belonged to the inner circle of His disciples (Lk. 8:1-3).

Women with great courage were present at His crucifixion, while most of the male disciples had fled in terror. Women were the first witnesses of the resurrection and were at the forefront of that event while the men were slow to believe.

The fourth Gospel account begins and ends with the testimony of a woman to Jesus (Jn. 4:29; 20:18). Women were not excluded from the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17; 5:14). When persecution broke out against the early church, women too suffered imprisonment (Acts 8:3; 9:1-2).

We read about Priscilla teaching along with her husband, Aquilla (18:26) and Philip the evangelist whose 4 unmarried daughters prophesied (21:9). In Romans 16:1-7, apostle Paul listed women who were ministers in the church. If they weren’t honoured why would he include them in his letters? This same apostle taught that there is no male or female in Christ (Gal. 3:28).

But hostile critics prefer throwing around “500 evil verses in the Bible” leaving all these passages out because they don’t go with the grand plan and… that may make Christianity a bit reasonable to their readers. May it not be! So ignore the contexts, goodbye exegesis and farewell rudimentary hermeneutics.

When I sent my responses to the Muslim critic, his reply was like “Good, keep on.” That’s it folks, his nimble mind is already made up, don’t confuse him with the facts!

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