Why I’m an Advocate for Women’s Equality

I grew up in a home where male authority was the norm. My father learned from his father that men are supposed to be “leaders.” The denomination my father was raised in also taught that men alone should teach and lead in the church. When I first embraced Christianity, I faithfully attended a “complementarian” church. Like my father, they taught me that men should be leaders, and that women should submit to this leadership. They not only taught this verbally, they lived it every Sunday. Only men could teach and preach from the pulpit. Only men could be elders. Only men could be ushers. Only men served communion. I was asked to lead Bible studies; not because I knew the Bible (I didn’t), but because I was male. I was also encouraged to pursue a career in “ministry.”

I was taught that men are supposed to be “servant-leaders.” Feminists, I was told, simply didn’t understand that men were actually serving women by providing them with godly leadership. In a strange kind of way, this seemed to make sense. I was encouraged to guard my faith against the “sinful ways of the world;” namely, “women’s liberation.”

So why in the world do I now advocate the equality of women in the Christian faith?

It all started at a leadership conference I attended with representatives from churches all across Canada and the United States. It was big. One of the speakers challenged us to respond in faith and obedience if we believed God was calling us to full-time ministry as pastors. Many young men went to the front of the auditorium to answer this call—along with one young woman.

What I saw that day made an impact. The young men at the front actually began yelling at her. She was accused of heresy and rebellion for daring to think that God would call a woman to be a pastor. In her defense, she mentioned something about a verse in Galatians that said there is neither male nor female in Christ. She was asked to provide the exact chapter and verse number, and when she could not, she was mocked for her lack of Bible knowledge. She left the conference in tears, and I never saw her again.

What in the world was I witnessing? I couldn’t help thinking of a Bible story concerning a woman caught in adultery and the crowd of religious men who wanted to stone her to death. The woman at the conference, however, simply wanted to obey God and preach the gospel! The religious men in the Bible story were rebuked by Jesus. What would he say to my male friends and colleagues who shouted accusations at this women, mocked her, and drove her from our meeting? I began to wonder.

Shortly after this troubling experience, I went to Bible College. Here I met dozens of women who claimed that they had received a call from God to lead and/or teach in the church. Some women felt called to be pastors; one felt called to be a priest. They shared their stories and pointed out passages in the Bible where women were clearly depicted as prophets, teachers or leaders. One of these women explained to me that a woman named Junia was even an apostle! She further explained that hundreds of years after the New Testament was written, translators began to change this female apostle’s name to a man’s. I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t believe it. My church taught me that the inerrancy of our English Bible had been providentially preserved by the sovereignty of God. My church certainly wouldn’t lie about something that important; and they couldn’t possibly be mistaken, could they?

I became troubled. Firmly believing that we should bring our troubles to God in prayer and ask him for guidance, I did just that. I told God that I was bothered by what I was seeing and hearing. I asked him to help me understand his heart for women, and sort through the conflicting messages I was getting from other Christians.

In answer to this prayer, I believe God responded. At first, it seemed that he asked me if I really wanted to know the answers to my questions. He seemed to be saying that I would find the answers difficult. Not knowing what to expect, and truly wanting to learn, I said, “Yes Lord, please teach me.”

There are two large universities close to my home. Each has a number of church colleges and/or a seminary on campus. I felt compelled to access the library resources there concerning the Bible, church history and women.

I’ll never forget what I found, or how I felt when I first discovered it. It began with a review of what the early church fathers said about women:

”For it is improper for a woman to speak in an assembly, no matter what she says, even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is of little consequence, since they come from the mouth of a woman.” (Origen, 258 A.D., Fragments on First Corinthians)

“What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.” (Saint Augustine, 354 – 430 A.D., De genesi ad litteram)

I then read similar comments from Protestant Reformers, who were strongly influenced by the church fathers who came before them:

“[A woman] is formed to obey; for gunaikokratia (the government of women) has always been regarded by all wise persons as a monstrous thing; and, therefore, so to speak, it will be a mingling of heaven and earth, if women usurp the right to teach.” (John Calvin, commentary on 1 Timothy 2:12).

“The word and works of God are quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes.” (Martin Luther, Works)

Then I came across a historical book that continues to haunt me. It contained court transcripts of all of the women killed by men, acting on the authority of the church, during the Inquisition. It had their names, and the charges against them. Many of the women were found guilty of “witchcraft;” specifically, something called “love magic.” This meant that a man had allegedly been so bewitched by a woman that he couldn’t help committing adultery with her, or perhaps even raping her. Sexual sins committed by men were blamed exclusively on their female partners or victims. I read hundreds of names, maybe thousands. I lost count. I became dizzy. I didn’t realize it at first, but I had stopped breathing. I felt like I was going to die. Something inside me broke.

This notion that women must be subject to men had nothing to do with God, the gospel, servant-leadership, or the love of Jesus Christ. It was born of fear, hatred, and a felt “need” for control. It was prejudice, and it had led to subjugation, oppression and even mass murder.

“Now do you understand?” I felt the Spirit of God say to me. I was speechless. “Teach what you have learned.”

Since those early days, I have learned that many of the church’s most influential theologians had a profound prejudice against women. It shows itself in their commentary work, and even in their Bible translation. Old Testament passages have been changed by the addition of vowel marks. Verses that once condemned excessive taxation now criticize the leadership of women (c.f. Isaiah 3:12, LXX vs. Masoretic Text). Greek words used to prohibit violence or murder now prohibit women from “exercising authority” (c.f. 1 Timothy 2:12, “authentein” in New Testament Manuscripts & “authentas” in the LXX vs. English translations). Phoebe, a woman who was a “leader” in the early church (prostatis), is now referred to as “a good friend” (Romans 16:2, Good News for Modern Man). “Junia” the apostle, or “Julia” according to the earliest Greek manuscript, became Junias—a man. Commands such as, “Wives submit to your husbands” (Eph. 5:22), are not found in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. They are only found in later manuscripts and today’s English translations. In the earliest manuscripts the only command in this passage is addressed to all Christians, regardless of their sex: “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21).

Today’s complementarian theology is built on a legacy of fear, control and prejudice. Terms like “servant-leadership” have a pleasant sound to them, but Jesus did not use them. Rather, he told all of his followers, “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ” (Matthew 23:10).

The young woman at the leadership conference, who said “yes” to the Lord’s call to be a pastor, was right: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

My male friends, who mocked and shouted at her, were wrong. More to the point, I was wrong. I had unknowingly been influenced by the patriarchal norms of a prejudiced and fallen world. These norms had found their way into my home as a child, into our society, and yes even into the church. Paul wrote to the church in Rome concerning this very influence: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

Why do I advocate women’s equality? The love of Christ compels me.

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A Call to End the Justification of Racism and Sexism through the Abuse of God’s Word

In South Africa, the white leaders of Apartheid, who called themselves “Christian,” defended “white authority” by claiming that it was “God-ordained”:

“According to the theocentric way, which is our church’s way of thinking, the human being receives what is justly his when God gives him his God-ordained share … The rights and privileges of people [are] very different according to God’s free will … Justice in the world does not depend on whether each and every one is treated equally but on whether one is treated according to what God has ordained for him in the light of the inequalities which He Himself has created…”

These white leaders also claimed that they were obeying God by acting as the benevolent “guardians” of other people groups:

“Whether we like it or not, we are the guardians of the coloureds and the natives too, and we shall have the right to give reckoning to God about our guardianship.”

Appealing to the United Nations for equality among people of all races was described by these leaders as “an outrageous transgression of authority.”
http://smu-facweb.smu.ca/~wmills/course322/14aReligion_natm.html

The white leaders of Apartheid also denied that they were claiming a position of superiority over other races: “Say not that we are superior and they are inferior, but simply that we are different…” http://www.projectcensored.org/unfinished-revolution-interviews-white-south-africa/

In his book entitled, “Southern Slavery As it Was,” a complementarian writer for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Doug Wilson, defends the institution of slavery by saying that it produced “a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War or since.”

He also claims that the institution of slavery was clearly supported by the Bible:

“And nothing is clearer — the New Testament opposes anything like the abolitionism of our country prior to the War Between the States. The New Testament contains many instructions for Christian slave owners, and requires a respectful submissive demeanor for Christian slaves.” https://timfall.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/prominent-pastor-defends-slavery-as-being-good-for-black-people-in-america/

In Doug Wilson’s mind, to advocate for racial equality and the abolition of slavery was to ignore the authority of the Bible.

This same author for the CBMW also claims that women “need” men to function as their providers and protectors (i.e. guardians):

“The best thing in the church for the women is for the men to be men. For a man to teach the word of God with authority (and not as the scribes) is not withholding anything from the women at all — it is a gift to the women. Godly women are grieved by usurping women, and annoyed by effeminate men. They are fed by men who teach the Bible with boldness. They need that sort of provision and protection, and they know that they do. We should know that also.” http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/brothers-we-are-not-sisters/

Though women are depicted as dependent upon male provision and protection, Wilson claims that this does not make them “inferior,” but rather “different”:

“To say that one thing is not another thing is not to register a complaint against either. To say that the sun is not the moon is not to criticize the moon, and to say that the land is not the sea is not to file a complaint against the sea. God establishes differences in the world with the intention of them complementing one another, and not so that his variegated world would try to melt itself down into one great indistinguishable mass.” http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/brothers-we-are-not-sisters/

Another CBMW author attempts to rationalize the subordination of all women to male authority using similar language:

“God said in his word that there are two institutions in which the man is to be the leader. One is the home, and the other is the church. Friend that is not chauvinism, that is not sexism, that is not fundamentalism, that is Bible. Now having said that ladies, let me reiterate a previous statement. This does not mean and it does not imply that women are inferior to men. Paul not only gives the picture of authority, he defends the practice of authority. He reminds us…men and women are different.” http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/the-way-it-is/

In all of the quotations cited above, some men are claiming the right to rule over others on the basis of their race or their sex. Further, they depict their right to rule over others as a “gift” or a benevolent “service” to other people groups, who are portrayed as dependent upon this kind of protective “guardianship.” How do they justify such outrageous racist and sexist beliefs? They claim that they are found in the “Word of God.”

For millennia, human beings have attempted to rationalize injustice and oppression by claiming that they have the support of God.

God does not agree:

“To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice” (Proverbs 21:3).

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you” (Psalm 89:14).

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18).

”There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Not only did God extend salvation to Jews, Gentiles, men, women, slaves and free, but we are told that the salvation we have in Christ must be made known through our actions and by the transformation of our thinking:

“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers” (James 2:8-9).

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). Paul wrote these comments to a patriarchal culture that was sustained by slavery.

God stands against those who misrepresent his words to justify evil:

“How can you say, ‘We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD,’ when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?” (Jeremiah 8:8).

“Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar” (Proverbs 30:5-6).

If you are using the Bible to justify racism, sexism or any other form of injustice, you should know that God wants you to stop. He wants you to admit to yourself the error of your ways and humbly ask him to help you change. He wants you to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” He wants you to follow the example of the one you claim to serve:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”
(Philippians 2:5-8)

If you do not listen to what God has to say about racism, sexism or any other form of oppression; and if you continue to misuse the Bible to rationalize doing harm to others, you will one day stand before God to give an account: “And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me’” (Matthew 25:40&45). The way you treat your neighbor–and every human being is your neighbor–is the way you treat God.

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7 Examples of Women Exercising Authority or Teaching in the Bible

Example 1: Queen Esther

So Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, along with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter concerning Purim. And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews in the 127 provinces of Xerxes’ kingdom—words of goodwill and assurance— to establish these days of Purim at their designated times, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had decreed for them, and as they had established for themselves and their descendants in regard to their times of fasting and lamentation. Esther’s decree confirmed these regulations about Purim, and it was written down in the records. (Esther 9:29-32, NIV)

Note: Esther’s position of authority as Queen significantly contributed to Israel’s salvation from Haman’s genocidal plot.  Her authority also instituted the celebration of Purim.

Example 2: Eve

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth.” God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it! Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground. (Genesis 1:26-28, NET)

Note: Contrary to what some commentators say, Adam and Eve shared authority over the animals in the creation narrative found in the book of Genesis.

Example 3: Deborah

Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. (Judges 4:4-5, NIV)

Note: Deborah was a prophetic leader and judge in Israel.  Her judgments carried authority over all of Israel, women and men alike.  She issued commands to men, including military leaders, as God’s spokesperson.

Example 4: Wisdom Personified

Out in the open wisdom calls aloud,
she raises her voice in the public square;
on top of the wall she cries out,
at the city gate she makes her speech:
“How long will you who are simple love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
Repent at my rebuke!
Then I will pour out my thoughts to you,
I will make known to you my teachings.” (Proverbs 1:20-23, NIV)

Note: The Wisdom Literature found in the Greek Septuagint Bible frequently refers to Wisdom and the Holy Spirit of God as a woman.

Example 5: Phoebe

And I commend you to Phoebe our sister — being a ministrant of the assembly that [is] in Cenchrea — that ye may receive her in the Lord, as doth become saints, and may assist her in whatever matter she may have need of you — for she also became a leader of many, and of myself. (Romans 16:1-2, YLT)

Note: The words used of Phoebe in this passage are typically translated as “minister” “deacon” “leader” or “ruler” when they refer to men.

Example 6: Junia

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. (Romans 16:7, NIV)

Note: Centuries after Paul commended Junia for her outstanding apostolic ministry, scribes and translators in the church changed her name to the male form, Junias.  Now that it has been well established that Junia was in fact a woman, some attempt to say she was simply “well known by the apostles.”  Both modifications of the text attempt to squeeze these words of Paul into a patriarchal worldview.

Example 7: Priscilla

Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.  He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.  He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. (Acts 18:24-26)

Note: Priscilla was teaching Apollos, a Jewish man, “the way of God more adequately.”  She was teaching a man spiritual things.  She was doing this in Ephesus.  This location was the evident destination of Paul’s first letter to Timothy.  This letter has been wrongly translated to suggest that women may not “teach” or “exercise authority” over men.  This translation occurs first in Erasmus’ 16th century Latin Bible.  It became the basis for traditional English translations from the King James to today’s ESV.

Does the Bible permit women to teach and exercise authority in the church and in the world?  Women are not merely permitted to lead, their leadership and teaching abilities are repeatedly celebrated.  They are gifts of God.  On International Women’s Day, I invite you join with me in celebrating alongside our Creator.

 

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A Woman in Authority, Who Refused to be Silent: In Celebration of Purim

Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will give ten thousand talents of silver to the king’s administrators for the royal treasury.”
So the king took his signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. “Keep the money,” the king said to Haman, “and do with the people as you please.” (Esther 3:8-10)

This is the biblical account of Haman’s plot to perpetrate genocide against the people of Israel while they were in exile. He was unsuccessful.

God used a woman in authority, Queen Esther, to stop him. She exposed the evil machinations of Haman to her husband, King Xerxes:

Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated.” (Esther 7:3-4)

Up to this point, the King had been unaware that it was the Queen’s own people that Haman planned to destroy. When Xerxes learned the truth, he was outraged:

King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?” (Esther 7:5)

The Queen named the would-be murderer, and the King promptly ordered his execution.

This is the deliverance of Israel that is celebrated during the feast of Purim, underway across the world even now. And who instituted this celebration that is still observed? Once again, it was Queen Esther, exercising her “full authority”:

So Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, along with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter concerning Purim. And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews in the 127 provinces of Xerxes’ kingdom—words of goodwill and assurance— to establish these days of Purim at their designated times, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had decreed for them, and as they had established for themselves and their descendants in regard to their times of fasting and lamentation. Esther’s decree confirmed these regulations about Purim, and it was written down in the records. (Esther 9:29-32)

I’m thankful to God that he raised up Esther, a woman, to a position of authority; and that she had the courage to speak on behalf of her people. An unthinkable tragedy was averted as a result of her courage and God’s intervention.

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Plato’s Spectacles: How Greek Philosophy has Distorted our View of Women in the Bible

The following presentation was shared at Emmanuel Bible College on March 3, 2015:

Plato’s Spectacles

To view the presentation, please click on the link above.  You will need Powerpoint (or a compatible program) installed on your computer to view the file.

If you would like Bob to share this or similar information at your church, group or organization, please feel free to send him a message on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bob.edwards.letmypeoplego.

May God use this information to enlighten and encourage!

P.S. For those who do not have Powerpoint, I have added this PDF version of the presentation.  You can view it using Acrobat reader.  Hope that helps!

Plato’s Spectacles

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A “Biblical” View of Men and Women?

According to the “Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” (CBMW) the English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV) presents an “unapologetically biblical stance on God’s gracious plan regarding the complementary roles of men and women” (http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/literary-esv-is-unapologetically-complementarian/).

In the eyes of this Council, the biblical role of men is to be leaders, whereas the role of women is to submit to this leadership. Female leadership in the church is bluntly described as “unbiblical” (http://cbmw.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/50Q_contents.pdf).

The following passage from the ESV translation seems to support this viewpoint:

“My people—infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your guides mislead you and they have swallowed up the course of your paths” (Isaiah 3:12).

It appears from this passage that God stands opposed to female leadership. If women usurp male authority, God’s people may be led astray.

What the CBMW does not seem to make clear is that this translation of the Bible is based on the work of Jewish scribes from the 7th-10th centuries A.D. known as Masoretes. One of the jobs of these scribes was to add vowel marks to the Hebrew text, which originally consisted only of consonants (https://theorthodoxlife.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/masoretic-text-vs-original-hebrew/).

Depending upon which vowels were added to Isaiah 3:12, “infants” could be translated “extractors,” and “women” could be translated “extortioners.” Which translation is accurate? This is an important question.

Is God opposed to women ruling in Israel…or extortioners? A much older version of Isaiah, translated from Hebrew, is found in the Greek Septuagint of the 2nd century B.C.. Please note that the writing of this translation predates the oldest available copy of the Mosorete’s text by roughly 1000 years. This version (the Septuagint) was also quoted directly and extensively by the writers of the New Testament (including Matthew, Luke, John and the apostle Paul) (http://www.bible-researcher.com/quote01.html).

How did the Septuagint translate Isaiah 3:12?

“O my people, your extractors πράκτορες strip you, and extortioners ἀπαιτοῦντες rule over you: O my people, they that pronounce you blessed lead you astray, and pervert the path of your feet.”

A much older version of the Bible, frequently quoted by the New Testament authors, says nothing about “women” in leadership.

In fact, in the Old Testament we see that God himself appointed Deborah as a judge, leader and prophet of Israel. She did not lead God’s people astray:

“Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment” (Judges 4:4-5 NIV).

The CBMW also claims that female leadership is prohibited by the New Testament passage found in 1 Timothy 2:12:

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man…” (ESV)

What the CBMW doesn’t seem to clarify is that this translation of the passage is based upon Erasmus’ Greek/Latin version of the Bible from the 16th century A.D.. Specifically the notion that women may not “exercise authority” over a man comes from Erasmus’ Latin “auctoritatum” (Wilshire, 2010, Insight Into Two Biblical Passages). The Greek word he was translating was “authentein.” It is used only once in the New Testament, so it is difficult to grasp its meaning…unless we once again look to the Septuagint for assistance.

In the Septuagint Book entitled “The Wisdom of Solomon” the word “authentas” is used to refer to those who engage in pagan sacrifices to idols (12:6). The “authentas” were parents who sacrificed their children to a false god. What does this word actually have to say about women in leadership?

Absolutely nothing at all.

In fact for hundreds of years leading up to the New Testament era, the word “authentein” nearly always referred to perpetrating or supporting violence, murder or sacrilege (Wilshire, 2010). Not surprisingly, ascetic cults in Ephesus, the destination of Paul’s letter to Timothy, had a long history of performing violent ritual sacrifices involving men. Diodorus Siculus, a historian from 30 BC, explained that one of these cults originally sacrificed male children to their goddess, Cybele. In the New Testament era, male genitalia were offered to the goddess (an idol) during an annual ritual. Men not willing to participate in this ritual were perceived as “unclean” and therefore unfit for spiritual service. Is Paul really writing about “women in authority” here? Not if we look to the Septuagint to help us understand his language, and not if we take the religious history of Ephesus seriously.

So, is the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood correct in saying that the leadership of women in the church is “unbiblical”? No, I don’t believe they are. In fact, older manuscripts of the Bible strongly suggest that scribes and translators later distorted God’s message with their own sexist bias.

“‘How can you say, ‘We are wise, for we have the law of the LORD,’ when actually the lying pen of the scribes has handled it falsely?” (Jeremiah 8:8)

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Modesty and the Lust of Men

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard countless sermons on the importance of modesty. Typically, these sermons are addressed to women. Women are told that if they do not conceal their femininity adequately, they will “cause” men to fall prey to the sin of “lust.” Usually, the preacher will then attempt to support this admonition by quoting from the following Bible passages:

“I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God” (1 Timothy 2:9-10, NIV).

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You Shall Not Commit Adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28, NIV).

There you have it. Women should dress modestly or they will cause men to look at them lustfully and commit adultery. Right?

Wrong.

What is the author of 1st Timothy concerned about? “Elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, expensive clothing.” Nowhere does the author of this passage talk about covering up so that men will not lust. Evidently, the concern here is related to displays of material wealth.

In the book of James, we see similar concerns about discrimination in the body of Christ on the basis of wealth and social status:

“Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:2-4, NIV)

God does not play favorites on the basis of material wealth, and neither should we.

Similarly, quotations of Jesus’ comments related to lust and adultery found in Matthew 5 have a disturbing tendency to leave out verse 29: “If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” (NIV).

Does Jesus tell women to cover up so that they will not “cause” men to commit the sin of adultery? On the contrary, he uses a dramatic metaphor to encourage men to say “no” to temptation.
Once again, the book of James provides some helpful insight into this topic by describing how temptation can turn into sin:

“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:13-15, NIV).

The temptation to sin comes from within a person, not from without. It is also important to recognize that we can always say “no”: “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NLT).

If a man notices a woman and finds her attractive, even in a sexual way, he has not sinned. He has experienced what psychologists call “attentional capture” along with an initial, involuntary emotional response. At this point, he may be tempted to behave in a manner that is sinful, but he does not have to. He can choose where to focus his attention, and he can choose what kind of attention it is that he directs towards another person. The apostle Paul, for examples, tells Christian men to think of women as “sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1, NIV). Referring again to psychology, the process Paul is advocating would rightly be called managing one’s “cognitive appraisal.”

Sadly, many men have never been taught to distinguish attraction from action, impulse from choice, temptation from sin. In fact, we have often been told that “sexual desire,” in and of itself, is the very definition of sin. Historically, this notion originates in the work of a 4th century Bishop named Augustine. In his mind, sexual desire was a manifestation of “indwelling sin.” A genuinely Christian man would have all such desires crucified and replaced with other-centered, non-sexual inclinations from the Holy Spirit. That sounds very “holy,” but it is frankly not human. Neither is it actually biblical. St. Augustine derived these views from his study of ascetic philosophy. He shares this openly in his book of Confessions. Sadly, his views on sin were adopted as orthodox theology by some notable Protestant reformers. This view of alleged holiness continues to be taught in many churches today. In my experience, these churches inevitably preach sermons on the importance of feminine modesty, so that a glimpse of the female form will not “cause” men to stumble. The author of this brand of holiness, St. Augustine, insisted that women be veiled in public.

Should women be sure to “cover up” so that they do not “cause” men to sin? Not according to Jesus or the authors of the New Testament. Rather than attempting to control women, I believe men should develop a more accurate understanding of human sexuality, and with the help of God’s Spirit learn how to say “no” to choices and actions that would truly be sinful.

Concluding thoughts:

The blaming of women for male sin tragically goes beyond concerns about “lustful looking.” In many years of clinical practice, I’ve worked with victims and perpetrators of sexual crimes. It is often the case that a man charged with a sexual offense will claim that a woman’s beauty “caused” him to assault her. In this way, a woman is doubly assaulted. First, her sexual boundaries are violated by a man’s actions. Then she is held responsible for them. Typically, we refer to this as “blaming the victim.” This problem is not isolated to sexual crimes. Male perpetrators of domestic violence often say that a woman’s tone of voice, words or actions caused him to physically assault her. Sometimes the man will allege that the woman was not being sufficiently “submissive.” Sometimes church leaders will agree.

Another troubling message from some church leaders suggests that Christian men will fall prey to infidelity if their wives do not keep them sexually satisfied. Once again, women are made responsible for whether or not a man chooses to sin. Ironically, two of our most influential New Testament figures were apparently single—Jesus and the apostle Paul. They did not depend on women to “keep them holy.” Both set an example of yielding themselves fully to the Holy Spirit so that their lives would be characterized by love and kindness. Contrary to what is suggested by theologians like Augustine, this does not render one’s humanity inert. It does, however, give us the strength and inclination to say “no” to temptation and “yes” to God and love.

The issue I’m attempting to highlight is not confined to the Christian church. Other cultures also encourage what psychologists refer to as an “external locus of control.” This concept refers to the process of attributing one’s choices and actions to “external” or outside forces. Men who feel guilty for sexual feelings, or who do not know how to manage their sexual impulses, may blame these internal issues on external factors (e.g. a woman who is perceived as attractive). Viewing the perceived attractiveness as a threat to their moral and spiritual health, some men have been guilty of disfiguring women in a fit of rage. Leaders of some religious communities even encourage this kind of violence, in the alleged service of the public good.

All of these examples have a common thread: women are made responsible for the actions of men. If women are responsible, then the man is not. Rather than managing his own inner world and outward behaviors, this man will attempt to control women.

Jesus Christ did not teach women to take responsibility for men’s behavior. He did not teach men to control women. Sadly, many mistake this kind of co-dependent functioning for Christianity. It is my sincere hope that this article will provide some clarity. We may choose to dress in one way or another for various different reasons. The fear of “causing” someone else to behave sinfully need not be one of them.

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