These last couple of months in the world has been charged, to say the least. It’s not uncommon to turn on the news, Twitter, or Facebook now and hear someone accused of being a racist, a bigot, an idiot, a liar, or worse. One of the segments of society that currently seem to find themselves under attack is women, particularly feminists as they are usually called.
A presidential candidate labelled his opponent a nasty woman because she spoke out against him. A senator was silenced during a trial for wishing to read a letter from a respected civil rights leader and was told that she had been warned and persisted anyway as an excuse for her censure. Others have been derided as feminazis, lesbians, or sluts for their views on women’s equality or other issues.
Many Christians have defended this abuse of women as being a biblical or Christian view of the world. After all, wasn’t Eve created to serve Adam and doesn’t the Bible tell women that they should be submissive to their husbands and let him be the head or ruler of the family? I wanted to take some time and move through scripture and explain how that view is fundamentally wrong and why it needs to be adjusted, and why we Christian men have some apologizing to do to our Christian sisters who have been forced to live with these type of statements for far too long.
Let’s start with Genesis and the account of the creation of women. You’ve all read the text; you know how it goes. God decides it’s not good for the man to be alone and after some trial and error he creates Eve from one of Adam’s ribs. Adam is delighted by this, exclaiming, “Bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.”(Genesis 2:23) I have a friend who likes to call this an early form of “I Do”; it’s apparent that Adam recognizes Eve as perfectly suited for him as a companion and helper in his work and is so grateful and happy to be presented to her.
Some have looked at this account and taken it to mean that God decided that man needed a servant so he created Eve to do all the stuff that Adam didn’t want to do, like wash his dirty underwear. This position is usually bolstered by pointing to the words of God when making Eve as they are translated in English, notably that she will be a helper to Adam (Genesis 2:18). People point to this translation saying that woman was created to be a “helper” not an equal; that men are superior to women because women were designed to “help” or serve them. This, unfortunately, doesn’t really get the central meaning of the text quite right.
The Hebrew word we often translate “helper” is the phrase ezer k’nedgo. The term ezer is much more nuanced than just a helper. In fact, in scripture the ezer is most often applied to God. When the Psalmist asks where his help comes from in Psalms 121, he is asking who his ezer will be. When Moses names his second son Eliezer it is because Elohim — God — had been his ezer against Pharaoh in Egypt (Exodus 18:4). Ezer is a word that implies not someone who is there to do your laundry and cook your meals but someone who is there to aid you in battle, a protector, someone to watch your back. Woman was not created to be man’s slave or servant; she was created to be his partner and protector. She is the other half of the image of God, according to Genesis revealing something that was incomplete in man. She should be treated with holy reverence.
At this point someone will usually point to Genesis 3 and say but God says that men are supposed to rule over women. Indeed, in the chapter God does indeed say that her desire will be for her husband and he will rule over her. However, you might want to look at the context. Context is always important; in this case, God is handing out curses for the sin they had committed in the garden — the Fall of Man. He’s already told the serpent what his curse will be, and now he has moved on to Eve and will finish with Adam. The important thing to remember here is that these are curses and are not the original plan of God for creation! Jesus came, in fact, to specifically overturn these curses, along with the ultimate curse of death, a work that will be complete when He comes again. So if in the Kingdom these curses are being lifted from us, and they are, then shouldn’t we stop pointing to them as guides on how to live and instead provide the world with a foretaste of what is coming by moving beyond them as much as we can in the here and now?
The Bible is replete with stories of women of God who take up this calling to be man’s helper and protector, women who fearlessly follow God and at various points even lead God’s people both in the Old and New Testament. Jesus himself is considered a radical for His treatment of women as equal to His other followers (outside the 12 disciples) and even commends them for stepping outside societal norms at times.
It is a woman who anoints Jesus and is blessed for it, a woman who sits at Jesus’ feet to be taught and is commended for it, a woman who begs for a miracle and is told that she has more faith than any in Israel, a woman who gives two shekels but is declared more righteous than a Pharisee and it was a group of women who will decide to go to the tomb of Jesus and will be the first to see the resurrected Savior.
The early church would carry on that example of Christ. The pages of the New Testament bear tribute to women like Priscilla, Chloe, and Dorcas who are considered pillars of the church and able teachers. One woman, Junia, is even declared by Paul to be an apostle (Romans 16:7), a title reserved for the elite among those called to preach the gospel. In fact, the number of female followers of Jesus is so large that detractors of the faith such as Ceslus use it as a point of mockery. This Jesus movement attracts all the nasty women who would want to be a part of what they are doing.
This does not mean there were never problems in the church involving women. In fact, from the letters of Paul, we know of several situations where ill-meaning women put the faith at risk and where Paul dealt out some harsh restrictions to deal with them. But yet we never see the idea of limiting women put forth as a general principle by Paul. Instead, he focuses with both men and women with acting as Christ would by treating each other as equals. For husbands and wives, he exhorts wives to submit to their husbands but only to husbands who would treat them as Christ treats the church, being willing to die for them and putting their needs ahead of his own (Ephesians 5:22-33). The image presented is one of both sides bowing to the other in love, not one side ruling over the other. For all other matters, he declares that it doesn’t matter whether one is male or female because in Christ Jesus the distinction doesn’t exist (Galatians 3:28).
Yet as I write this I’m reminded that for time immemorial the church has never gotten this right. Swayed by the culture of the world, and by our own sinful natures, we have chosen continually to denigrate our sisters in Christ and “put them in their place”. We have told them that any courageous women who stand up for what they believe are nasty women or sluts or any other number of such slurs. We have told them that good girls find a husband and have babies and that nothing else is acceptable as a calling for them. We have told them that only conniving shrews or others would want a position of authority within the Church. We have limited them and told them their gifts should be used in a limited capacity to make men feel better or give them better positions. We have told them to sit down, shut up, and be quiet and listen to men because men know best. We have told them to endure abuse from men because they must deserve it or have invited it on themselves in some way.
Brothers we have sinned against the women of the Church, against the other half of the image of God and they deserve more than an apology (though we owe them that too). They deserve our full-throated support as they use their gifts to further the Kingdom to the best of their ability, no matter where that takes them. They deserve our compassion, they deserve our protection, they deserve our love, and they deserve our admiration. They deserve to have us look at them and utter with Adam “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” as we dance with glee at the perfect partners God has provided for us. May we find ourselves as men of the Kingdom doing that more and may we find our sisters as daughters and heirs of the Kingdom rising on the wings of eagles. In God’s eyes, they are more than just nasty women; they are the princesses of the Kingdom of Heaven, co-heirs with Christ Jesus, and His beloved children just the same.