Biblical Women Part I

Vision Forum (a homeschool publisher and major Christian patriarchy advocate) teaches that daughters are to obey their fathers and accept their authority over them until they marry, and that they are then to do the same with their husbands. Vision Forum claims that God speaks to a woman through her male authority, and that her male authority is her protection. Finally, Vision Forum teaches that a woman’s sphere is in the home, and not outside of it. And Vision Forum claims that these teachings are Biblical.

At first glance it appears that Vision Forum might be right. In Old Testament law women are little more than property. Similarly, woman’s very creation in Genesis 2 as a helper to the man who was God’s primary creation simply screams patriarchy. Yet there is one problem with this line of reasoning. The fact is, the women actually discussed in the Old Testament do not conform to these patriarchal norms. In fact, the example of essentially every single actual woman mentioned in the Old Testament – women praised, not derided – seems to run counter to these teachings. Let’s take a look: Rachel stole her father’s idols without telling her husband, so that she could sell them because she felt that her father owed her and her sister more inheritance money. She is never condemned for this. Tamar dressed as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law, Judah, after he refused to wed his youngest son to her. Her son by this intrigue was a direct ancestor of King David. The seduction was her idea, and she did it without the permission or knowledge of her father. (Genesis 38) Zipporah heroically – and without checking with her husband – cut off her son’s foreskin with her own hands in order to save her husband from death at God’s hands. (Exodus 4:24-26) Miriam helped her brother lead the slaves out of Egypt and wrote one of the most lovely praises in the whole Bible. Miriam is treated as an equal alongside her brother Aaron, both of whom serve as assistants to Moses. There is no mention of Miriam being under the authority of father or husband. Rahab worked as a prostitute and harbored two Israelite spies. There is no mention of her husband or father. Through her devotion to the Israelite spies, she saves the lives of everyone in her house (does this perhaps refer to her brothel?). Deborah was a well respected female judge who literally ruled Israel. She was also a prophetess. Her husband is mentioned only once, and is only identified as her husband. She does not consult him when making decisions. (Judges 4) Jael killed Sisera, an enemy general, by inviting her into his home, letting her eat and shelter and sleep there, and then driving a tent peg through his head while he slept. Her husband is mentioned, but she doesn’t check with him before killing Sisera and he plays no role in the story.  Finally, Jael personally goes out to the Israelite general to tell him that his rival is dead. (Judges 4) Hannah prays to God for a son, and personally vows to give any son she might have to God as his servant. She doesn’t check with her husband before making this vow. God honors her request and she turns her son over to the temple. Her husband does not interfere. (I Samuel 1) Naomi acts on her own upon the death of her husband and sons, traveling across country, setting up a new home, and helping her daughter-in-law Ruth win the affections of a wealthy eligible bachelor. Ruth refuses to return to her father’s house after her husband dies and instead follows her former mother-in-law Naomi to a foreign country. There she provides for herself and Naomi by working in the fields. She then acts proactively to gain the affections of a wealthy and powerful man. Abigail went behind her husband’s back to bring David and his men supplies and food, thereby saving the lives of her entire household. God honored her action by striking her husband dead and allowing her to marry David instead. (I Samuel 25) The Proverbs 31 woman was a business manager, trader, and artisan. Her husband is mentioned only as an elder at the gates, and there is no indication that she asks him for permission before making each decision. In fact, the passage seems to indicate the opposite. She is capable, intelligent, and respected. Esther defied her husband’s rules to save her people. Not a lot of obedience going on there. When I read the Old Testament, I don’t see women staying under male authority and never leaving the house. Rather, I see women who put their own common sense and God’s commands first, women who step out into the world to save their families or bring in extra money. These women don’t fit Vision Forum’s ideal very well at all. In fact, they seem to contradict it completely. Interestingly, these women also seem to buck the patriarchal teachings of the Old Testament law. Tomorrow we will take a similar look at women of the New Testament.
Note: As an atheist, it seems to me that the Bible contains such a huge body of diverse material that Christians can come to the same book and come away with very different interpretations. For example, patriarchal Christians and feminist Christians both have the same book, they just emphasize different parts and interpret it differently. And there is something there for each – the official Old Testament Law definitely endorses patriarchy while the women of the Old Testament seem to back up the feminist line. From an atheist perspective, seeing the Bible as a completely human book complete with contradictions, this makes perfect sense.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Anonymous

    I'm in the middle of writing a post that is somewhat about this same subject, though with a Catholic twist. My parents are catholic, but their beliefs about daughters and women are right in line with Vision Forum's beliefs. The thing that I find so ironic now is that we were always being ecouraged to imitate bibical women and canonized saints–but guess, what, I'm feeling pretty hard pressed to find either a bibical woman or a catholic saint who's life looks anything like one that someone who holds to Vision Forum beliefs would want his daughters to emulate. I don't know much about about Protestant women heroines, but I would guess it would be more of same. Most women of God are strong women who follow their own hearts. kateri @

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Funny you should bring up the Catholic saints, Anonymous. I am not Catholic but I traveled in Italy and learned medieval art history, so I became pretty familiar with a lot of the saints. My favorite was Saint Catherine of Alexandria. Her story is that she was a scholarly noblewoman and Christian convert during the Imperial Roman period who spoke out against against the Emperor about his persecution of Christians. He sent the Empire's greatest philosophers to try to argue her down but none of them could do it–and she managed to convert all of them, along with the empress. Finally, she was causing so much trouble, he had her executed. In paintings, she is almost always shown with a book and a pen to indicate her learning.So yeah, a brainy, educated woman with a talent for debate who spoke out against tyranny and oppression to powerful men and refused to shut up! Try squaring THAT with the ideal of meek, submissive, uneducated womanhood.And glad you mentioned Esther, Libby. She is celebrated on the Jewish holiday of Purim and she was an early feminist hero to me when I was little. :-) I agree with you that the Bible (since it was written by many people at different times) has very contradictory messages about women and femininity. But the tough girls are there, even though some would rather forget about them.