In the past, bible scholarship and interpretation was heavily influenced by the surrounding culture. Eventually, some might even say "glacially," a push to understand the scriptures through scholarly research grew during the nineteenth century.
Today, “there may be a general consensus that scholarship should always proceed objectively, not depending on faith (or anti-faith) commitments, but absolute objectivity is simply impossible. At best, scholars debate their conflicting interpretations and help keep each other honest.” (James D. Ernest, "How Has New Testament Scholarship Changed over Time?")
Several years ago, I became aware of an influential group of men and women evangelicals, “disturbed by the shallow biblical premise used by churches, organizations, and mission groups to exclude the gifts of women.” They organized in 1987 as Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE). Their statement, "Men, Women, and Biblical Equality," laid out the biblical rationale for equality as well as its application in the community of believers and the family. I became a member of CBE, and appreciate how it reviews and promotes resources on gender and the Bible from an egalitarian perspective.
More traditional churches and individuals tend to cling to their view of the superiority of men.
The #ChurchToo movement has recently brought a spotlight on the damage this dynamic can cause. When I chose to divorce my previous husband, I experienced patriarchal attitudes and condemnation from certain conservative Christians that left me reeling. Since then, I’ve discovered such books as Divorce and Remarriage in the Church, What Paul REALLY Said About Women, Discovering Biblical Equality, and Jesus Feminist.
Other organizations and scholars continue to contribute to the evolution of understanding the bible in egalitarian terms. Bible scholar Margaret Mowczko writes in her May 24, 2018, blog post, Gender Roles & Gendered Activities in the Old Testament, “Though patriarchy is the backdrop of the Bible, it is not the message of the Bible. … There is no teaching or rule that says men must do certain jobs and women must do other jobs, apart from the priesthood which was open to an exclusive group of men. Any indication of gendered activity, excepting the priesthood, appears to be the product of biology and culture rather than bionically mandated.”
I can imagine Cady Elizabeth Stanton and the twenty-six women who contributed to the Women’s Bible, upon hearing those words, shouting from their graves, “Hallelujah! Amen!
There are a number of Protestant churches these days that have been influenced by these studies and become more egalitarian. However, there is more progress to be made. Personally, I belong to a very open non-denominational church. We have some women in leadership, but, unfortunately, we do not have any women pastors. There are a few of us who are working to change that. What is that saying … ? Oh, yes, “A woman’s work is never done.”
Do you have a favorite study resource on this topic? Please share in the comments below.
Next week’s post, Why Divorce Was Declared an Unforgivable Sin.
Instone-Brewer, David. Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities, Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2007
Bristow, John Temple, What Paul Really Said About Women, Harper Collins, 1988
Pierce, Ronald W. ed., Groothuis, Rebecca Merrill ed., Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy, IVP Academic 2005