There are instances where certain Bible verses have been misunderstood or misinterpreted by some feminists to argue that the Bible is sexist. It’s important to consider the broader context and teachings of the Bible to understand the true meaning of these verses.
The creation of woman
According to the biblical narrative in the Book of Genesis, the woman (Eve) was created after the man (Adam). This is described in Genesis 2:21-23: “So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.'”
The Bible presents this order of creation as a narrative account rather than a prescriptive statement on the inherent worth or superiority of one gender over another. The creation order serves to illustrate the intimate connection between man and woman, highlighting their complementary nature and their shared humanity.
It’s essential to note that in the Catholic understanding, both men and women are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27), which affirms their equal dignity and worth. The creation account emphasizes the unique roles and responsibilities of men and women while upholding their fundamental equality before God.
Unequal Punishment for Eve
In the biblical narrative of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, God pronounced consequences for both Adam and Eve. It is important to approach this account by recognizing the theological and symbolic nature of the text rather than focusing solely on the concept of fairness in human terms.
According to Genesis 3:17-19, God addressed Adam after he ate from the forbidden tree. God said that because of his disobedience, the ground would be cursed, and Adam would experience toil and hardship in his work. He would have to labor and sweat to produce food from the ground, and ultimately, he would return to the dust from which he was formed.
In comparison, God addressed Eve in Genesis 3:16, stating that her pains in childbirth would be increased, and she would experience difficulty in bearing children. Additionally, the verse suggests that her desire would be for her husband, and he would rule over her.
It is crucial to understand that these consequences were not a matter of punishment but rather the natural outcome of the broken relationship between humanity and God due to their disobedience. The biblical narrative portrays the profound impact of sin on creation and the subsequent struggles and challenges that humanity faces.
Regarding the comparison of the consequences, it is not appropriate to evaluate them in terms of fairness as understood in human terms. The consequences were specific to the roles and responsibilities assigned to Adam and Eve within the context of the narrative. They highlight the different ways in which sin affected their lives, including their relationship with God, each other, and the world around them.
In Catholic theology, it is important to recognize that God’s justice is rooted in divine wisdom and love. While the consequences may differ in nature, they ultimately serve as an opportunity for growth, redemption, and restoration through God’s grace and mercy. The Church emphasizes the need for reconciliation with God and each other, promoting mutual respect, love, and cooperation between men and women in light of their equal dignity as children of God.
The wife is the property of the husband
In Exodus 20:17 the verse states: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
The commandment does not state that a wife belongs to her husband. It is important to clarify that the language used in the commandment, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,” does not imply ownership or objectification.
In its original context, this commandment was given to the ancient Israelites as part of the moral and ethical guidelines provided by God. It addresses the issue of desiring or coveting another person’s spouse, highlighting the importance of faithfulness, respect, and the preservation of the marital relationship.
In Catholic teaching, marriage is understood as a sacred and equal partnership between a man and a woman, where both spouses have rights, responsibilities, and a shared commitment to love and support one another. The Church recognizes the equal dignity of husband and wife, emphasizing the importance of mutual love, self-giving, and respect within the marital relationship.
It is crucial to interpret the commandments and biblical teachings in light of the broader message of love, respect, and human dignity that permeates the entire biblical narrative. The Catholic Church upholds the inherent worth and equality of all individuals, regardless of gender, and encourages healthy, loving, and mutually respectful relationships between spouses.
This commandment serves as a reminder to respect the sacredness of marriage and the commitments made within that covenant. It prohibits desiring or harboring inappropriate thoughts or intentions towards another person’s spouse, emphasizing the importance of fidelity, commitment, and the sanctity of the marital relationship.
The Catholic Church teaches that this commandment calls for individuals to honor and respect the marriage bond, cultivate purity of heart, and foster healthy relationships based on love, faithfulness, and mutual respect. It encourages individuals to value and protect the dignity and well-being of others, including spouses and families.
Mosaic law says women are unclean
In the Old Testament, the Mosaic Law provided specific regulations regarding purification rituals for different genders. These regulations were intended to maintain ritual purity and symbolic representations within the religious practices of the ancient Israelites. It is important to understand these laws in their historical and cultural context.
The Mosaic Law outlined different periods of purification for women compared to men. One example is the purification period after childbirth, as described in Leviticus 12:1-5. According to this law, a woman who gave birth to a male child was considered ceremonially unclean for 40 days, while if she gave birth to a female child, the period of uncleanness extended to 80 days.
These regulations were not meant to imply inequality or superiority of one gender over another. Rather, they reflected the ancient cultural practices and symbolic significance associated with childbirth and the offering of sacrifices in the Tabernacle or later in the Temple. The extended period of purification after the birth of a female child was likely connected to the idea of the future possibility of conceiving another child, whereas the shorter period after the birth of a male child may have been seen as a symbolic representation of the continuation of the family line.
It is important to note that the Mosaic Law, including these purification regulations, was specific to the historical and religious practices of the ancient Israelites. With the coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the New Covenant, Christians believe that the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law have been fulfilled and are no longer binding. In the New Testament, we see Jesus and the apostles emphasize the moral and ethical principles of love, justice, and compassion, which are applicable to all people, regardless of gender.
Leviticus 15:19-30 provides detailed instructions regarding laws related to menstrual impurity. It’s important to understand that these regulations were specific to the ancient Israelites and their religious practices. They were meant to symbolically represent the importance of ritual purity in approaching God and the sacred space. However, in Christianity, these ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law are no longer observed, as Jesus Christ is believed to have fulfilled the requirements of the Old Covenant and established the New Covenant.
Jesus’ treatment of women
Jesus elevated women during his time in various ways, challenging the cultural norms and attitudes towards women prevalent in the society of that era. Here are a few examples:
- Valuing Women’s Dignity: Jesus consistently treated women with respect, compassion, and dignity, contrary to the prevailing cultural norms. He interacted with women directly, addressing their needs and concerns, and recognizing their worth as individuals. For instance, he engaged in conversations with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42) and defended the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11).
- Inclusive Ministry: Jesus welcomed women as active participants in his ministry. Women, such as Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, traveled with Jesus and the Twelve Apostles, supporting them out of their means (Luke 8:1-3). Jesus also taught women directly, as exemplified by his interaction with Mary of Bethany, who sat at his feet to listen to his teaching (Luke 10:38-42).
- Healing and Restoration: Jesus demonstrated care and compassion for women who were suffering physically, emotionally, or spiritually. He performed miracles of healing for women, such as the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:25-34) and the woman bent over for eighteen years (Luke 13:10-17), restoring them to health and wholeness.
- Resurrection Witnesses: After his crucifixion, Jesus chose women as the first witnesses of his resurrection. The Gospel accounts highlight that it was women who discovered the empty tomb and were entrusted with the task of proclaiming the good news to the male disciples (Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-10, John 20:1-18). This elevated the role and testimony of women in the pivotal event of the Christian faith.
Jesus’ actions and teachings demonstrated a radical inclusivity and regard for the worth and equality of women. He challenged social norms, emphasizing their inherent value as individuals and affirming their capacity for faith, ministry, and discipleship. The Catholic Church, following Jesus’ example, upholds the dignity and equality of men and women, promoting their active participation and service within the Church and society.
But Jesus called “dog” to the Canaanite woman
This incident is described in the Gospel of Matthew 15:21-28. A Canaanite woman approached Jesus, crying out for help because her daughter was tormented by a demon. Initially, Jesus did not respond to her plea. The disciples urged Jesus to send her away, but Jesus explained that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.
The woman persisted and knelt before Jesus, asking for his help. Jesus then responded by saying, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
The woman, displaying great faith and humility, replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Impressed by her faith, Jesus praised her and granted her request, healing her daughter.
This passage has been the subject of interpretation and discussion. It is important to note that Jesus’ response needs to be understood within its cultural and linguistic context. During that time, it was not uncommon for Jews to refer to Gentiles, like the Canaanites, as “dogs” as a metaphorical expression. However, Jesus’ use of this term was not meant to be derogatory or demeaning but was intended to highlight the priority of his mission to the Jews.
The woman’s response demonstrated her deep faith and understanding of Jesus’ power and compassion. Her humble persistence moved Jesus, and he commended her faith, granting her request.
From a Catholic perspective, this encounter serves to emphasize the universality of God’s grace and the inclusivity of his salvation. Jesus’ initial response to the woman highlights the importance of his mission to the Jewish people, but her faith and humility demonstrate that God’s love extends to all who believe in him, regardless of their background or ethnicity.
The Catholic Church acknowledges this encounter as an example of Jesus’ willingness to respond to sincere faith and as a reminder that God’s grace is available to all who approach him with humility and trust.
Paul is sexist! Wives submit to your husbands
Ephesians 5:22-24: “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” This verse is often misinterpreted as advocating for female subservience. However, it is crucial to read it in conjunction with the following verses (Ephesians 5:25-33), which emphasize mutual love, respect, and sacrificial behavior in the marital relationship.
Women are not able to speak
1 Timothy 2:11-12: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” These verses are sometimes taken out of context to suggest that women cannot hold leadership positions within the Church. However, when understood in light of the overall teachings of the Bible, it becomes evident that these instructions were specific to the particular cultural context of the early Christian community.
The Catholic Church is “machista” from early stages
The early Christian movement witnessed the conversion of both men and women, and women played a significant role in the spread of Christianity. Historical accounts and biblical references provide insights into the involvement of women in the early Christian community.
The book of Acts and the epistles of the New Testament further highlight the involvement of women in the early Christian community. Phoebe is mentioned as a deaconess in the church at Cenchreae (Romans 16:1-2). Priscilla, along with her husband Aquila, played an active role in teaching and mentoring Apollos (Acts 18:24-26). Lydia, a businesswoman from Thyatira, became one of the first converts in Philippi (Acts 16:11-15). These are just a few examples among many.
Early Christian writings, such as the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, mention the contributions of women to the growth and vitality of the early Church. They participated in worship, prayer, acts of charity, and the proclamation of the Gospel.
It is evident that women played an integral part in the early Christian community. Their conversion to Christianity, along with their active involvement and witness, contributed to the spread and establishment of the faith in various regions.
Christian communities provided a sense of belonging, support, and fellowship, which may have been lacking in pagan societies. The inclusive nature of early Christian communities, where women were actively involved and valued, could have been a significant draw for pagan women seeking a sense of community.
The Catholic Church values women
The Catholic Church recognizes and values the significant role of women in the early Church and continues to affirm their important contributions in various ministries and leadership roles within the Church today.
It’s important to approach the Bible with an understanding of the cultural and historical context, as well as an awareness of the overarching message of love, dignity, and equality that is present throughout the Bible. The Catholic Church holds the dignity of all human beings, regardless of gender, and teaches that men and women are equal in worth and value before God.
But!!! In the Catholic Church, women are not allowed to become ordained priests The Catholic Church is known for its patriarchal structure.
We will discuss this topic further in a future post. Stay tuned.