The Things We Know That Aren’t So

Mark Twain said, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.” I’ve seen a lot of things said about gender that just aren’t so and we should discuss a few of them.

Something that needs reframed quickly is that that story of the fall is not a story about marriage. It is relevant whether you’re fifteen, or thirty-two and single, or forty and married ,or seventy and widowed, whether you’re a man or a woman. It’s a story of the three ways we can respond to God. We can trust His definition of good and evil, meaning we obey and follow His guidelines. We can be deceived, like Eve, and sin. Or we can disobey, like Adam, and rebel against God’s commands.

The story is not there to show us that if women would just let their husband’s decide everything then things would work out fine. Adam disobeyed on purpose. Clearly the Bible shows us that men are not more likely to follow God’s commands than women are. This is not a story that teaches us that men shouldn’t listen to their wives. The Bible is full of stories where God speaks to the woman or teaches men through women (Deborah, Huldah, Jochebed, Samson’s mother, Priscilla, and many others). Maybe we could learn not to talk back to animals though.

This story, and the continuing story of the Bible, reveals that we are constantly confronted with these options. Will I let God decide what’s good? Will I be deceived? Will I disobey?

Before I quit Twitter last fall I saw a poll that showed more than half of respondents (mostly evangelicals) believed that women were more easily deceived than men. Most people that believe that would cite 1 Timothy 2:14 as the reason. The problem is that the verse only says that Eve was deceived. (There were other creation myths in that culture because of the worship of Artemis. Paul clarifies what the story of the Bible is.) That verse never says that all women are more likely to be deceived, just as no part of the Bible says that men are more likely to be in rebellion against God’s commands.

Not only that but in 2 Corinthians 11:3 Paul cautions the entire church against being deceived as Eve was. He warned them not to be led astray in their thoughts from a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” This is a warning for all believers. He goes on to say later in that same chapter that “even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (14-15). The enemy is a deceiver. He is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). Being deceived isn’t an extra problem for women; it’s a problem for humanity.

The story that women are more easily deceived is the basis for all sorts of things, mainly why men are in charge. You know, because the rebels should be put in charge. I’ve always been concerned about the logic on that one.

Not only does the Bible not say that women are more easily deceived, we have to twist other parts of Scripture to tell that story. All believers receive the same Spirit of God. That Spirit is our teacher. He is the one who leads us in truth (John 14:16-17, 26; 16:7). 1 John 2 also talks about the connection between the Spirit and truth in verses 20 and 27. If we sit in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, we realize this new spiritual understanding is a gift of God given by the Spirit. We all have the mind of Christ. God promises wisdom to those who ask (James 1:5). Men do not get more of the Spirit than women do. It’s also worth noting that there is no recorded story of a woman encountering Jesus when He was on earth and not recognizing Him as the Messiah.

I’ve also heard many people teach that men are in charge because they are going to answer for the family or because they are more “spiritually responsible.” (By the way, there’s no way to define “more spiritually responsible.”) I cannot find that in the Bible. Instead I find verse after verse that states that each one of us is going to answer for ourselves. We will each stand before God, not to answer for our spouses or our children or anyone else, but to answer for what we have done. See 2 Corinthians 5:10, Romans 14:12, 1 Peter 1:17, Romans 2:6-11, Revelation 20:12-13; there are more.

Teachers have said that men being priests were a sign that men (specifically husbands) were more “spiritually responsible” than women (specifically their wives). This is also problematic logic. All men couldn’t be priests. The priest was not the husband/father of each family. Priests were the Levites between a certain age (Numbers 4:23, 30,35, 47) and they could be disqualified from being a priest because of certain physical disabilities (Leviticus 21:16-23). They also lost their physical land inheritance because they were Levites (Joshua 13:14). They did not sanctify the people; God did. It is a significant theme through the end of Leviticus that it is the Lord that sanctifies the people (Leviticus 20:8; 21:8, 15, 23; 22:9, 16, 32).

While we’re here, let’s consider the topic that only men were priests. The Bible does not say why this is and our suggestions should be framed in light of that. Remember, all men could not be priests. Men needed priests as well as women. And perhaps, just perhaps, women weren’t priests because their menstrual flow was ritually impure (watch this video for more information on this), pregnancy and birth would have disrupted their service, and really, who’s more likely to be hauling big animals up onto altars? Men. We can always consider the alternative that God isn’t oppressing women (actually read that in a commentary) or excluding them from His service, but simply being kind to women because of the good way He designed them.

Another story I’ve heard is that men have authority over women. This also typically comes back to 1 Timothy 2:12. I have several concerns. First, the meaning of the word “authority” in this passage. This word isn’t used anywhere else in the Bible and means “one who with his own hands kills another or himself; one who acts on his own authority; an absolute master; to exercise dominion over one.” This behavior would be wrong for anyone. Second, even if it were the normal word “authority,” it does not say that therefore a man has authority over a woman. And we know it doesn’t mean that because of Jesus’ words in Matthew 20:25-28. Exercising authority over others is something that people who do not know Jesus do. It has no place in the kingdom of God where we seek to be servants.

On the other hand, there is one spot where authority is mentioned in marriage. 1 Corinthians 7:4-5 states, “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer…” This is mutual and equal authority.

Sometimes people try to say that men are charged with providing for the family. I’ve seen Genesis 3:17-19 cited as evidence of this, but to be convincing there one would also need to prove that only men die. The other passage is 1 Timothy 5:8. 1 Timothy 5 is talking about caring for widows so that the church is not tasked with providing for them. In the Greek, the verse has no male pronouns. It means “anyone” just like it says at the beginning at the beginning of the verse.

This also has clear problems when looking at the world. All over the world, women “provide” for their families even if we are only talking about the actual financial paycheck. But why is that the only thing we are considering? I personally do a massive amount of work that provides many things for my family. That’s the reason I do that work: it provides things that my family needs. Women are also the only ones reported as providing for the earthly ministry of Jesus (Luke 8:1-3).

There are still people who like to say that men image God more than women do. I’ve brought up this problematic thinking and gotten the “well, God is a Father” response. The Bible states that men and women are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27, 5:1-2). God is God who gives birth (Deuteronomy 32:18), likens Himself to a woman in labor (Isaiah 42:14), and comforts His people as a mother (Isaiah 66:13). Yes, Jesus was a man; but He got here through a woman and the Holy Spirit. There is no gradation of image-bearing between the genders in the Bible.

I understand, especially in 2019, why we want to distinguish so clearly between male and female. There is male and female; that’s how God designed us and I made a statement about that in the last post . But we do not get to release the tension that is in the Bible because it fuels our position. While we are male or female, we are all becoming like Jesus. The personal characteristics we are becoming are the ones of Jesus. They are not divided up by gender. The fruit of the Spirit? Everyone. Meekness? Everyone. Submission? Yes, even that is for everyone. We will dive more into that later. If you want to be a biblical woman, you will learn Jesus and let the Holy Spirit transform you to be more like Him. If you want to be a biblical man, you will do the same.

Women and men are distinct or “recognizably different in nature” while also equal or “considered the same in status or quality.” The equality is how we can work together while the distinction provides the why. We all bring something different to the table and it is all needed. That applies to gender, race, ethnicity, language, and even personality. We are each distinct. We are each equal. And it is good.

Part 1: Why is this conversation necessary?
Part 2: The joint mission of the sexes
Part 4: Tracing marriage through the Bible
Part 5: A woman’s place and the implications of our theology

 

2 Comments

  1. Thanks for your posts, Lisa! I am enjoying looking up your references and learning to challenge some old ways of thinking. I noticed you did not address Ephesians 5. This is where I personally got the idea of men being the ‘spiritual head of the household’ [what I think of as being “spiritually responsible”]. If the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head of the church, doesn’t that imply a measure of authority over her? Granted, this is talking specifically of marriage and not of men and women in general. Maybe you are going to address this in a future post, but I wanted to bring it up in case.

    • Janelle,

      I’m so glad that you are looking up the references! And next week I will be talking about the Ephesians 5 passage; thank you for bringing up the idea in case I wasn’t planning on it though!

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