When I was asked to speak on ‘Is the Bible sexist?’, I was rather surprised. I thought, 'Sexist? But I think it’s actually quite positive about men!' Oh ok, I’m not going to get away with that. I guess you’re here because you think the Bible is sexist in being down on women in some way rather than men. You probably have questions about roles, and if you’re in the arts or social sciences your lecturer or seminar tutor has probably at some point voiced the assumption that the Bible’s sexist when you’ve been discussing a text, film or aspect of political history. Well, at university we don’t want to swallow assumptions unquestioningly, so if we’re going to make claims about the Bible, let’s look at the Bible to examine them.
I won’t deal with specific examples in the Bible because we need to get its big picture first – so I expect that you'll have questions about particular things in the Bible, to ask in the question time after I’ve spoken. In fact, I’m going to propose that the Bible doesn’t cause sexism but explains our sexism and judges our sexism.
First of all: the Bible explains our sexism.
Let’s go to the very beginning of humankind: Genesis (beginnings) ch1. The opening has a rhythm to it:
God spoke, 'Let there be...', it was, it was good, that was day 1;
God spoke, 'Let there be...', it was, it was good, that was day 2;
and so on, right up to halfway through day 6.
On day 6, God spoke, 'Let there be living creatures, according to their kinds,' it was so, & it was good. But that wasn’t the end.
God speaks again – and he doesn’t just say, 'Let there be...' but he converses,
"Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground."So right at the beginning, God decided to make creatures unlike all the others, to reflect him, able to know him, to relate, to communicate with him and each other. He made them male and female, reflecting him in relationship, equal in dignity and honour because unlike the animals, they were created in God’s image, to rule over the rest of creation. They together were given this rule, together were given creation to enjoy, together were commissioned to work – 'Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it.' They obviously had different roles in that filling the earth bit at least: but they were given the work together. Together they were made to know and honour their glorious creator. They weren’t identical: God had his plan of beauty in diversity and made not just a tribe of men with asexual reproduction or a tribe of females but a man and woman to complement each other. (Not 'You’re lovely Adam' 'So are you, Eve!' but they fit together.)
So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
They were equal in dignity and personhood, because they’d been made in God’s image. They were together with no shame, and God had said it was really good.
So what happens? That'd be for the next post.