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. Similarly, 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. Yet we found in Part I that the example set by women of the Old Testament does not seem to live up to the book’s patriarchal injunctions or to Vision Forum’s ideal of the patriarchal family. But what of the New Testament?
The New Testament states that husbands are to love while wives are to submit, that the man is the head of the woman just as Christ is the head of the man, and that women are to be keepers at home and keep silent in the church. But like my perusal of Old Testament women, the example of essentially every single actual woman mentioned in the New Testament – women praised, not derided – seems to run counter to these teachings. Let’s take a look. God appeared to Mary, not her father or her betrothed, to announce that she would bear the Messiah. Though only a young girl, Mary assented to God’s will that she bear the Messiah without first consulting her father or her betrothed. Her parents and betrothed were shocked and angry, but Mary’s boss was God, not them. (Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-19) Mary Magdeline was the leader of a group of female disciples of Jesus, and followed him around Galilee listening to his teachings and serving him. There is no mention of Mary’s husband, if she had one, or of her father. While Martha spent her time cooking, her sister Mary sat listening to Jesus. When Martha chided Mary for not fulfilling her womanly role, Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the better place by choosing to listen to him rather than fulfilling her traditional female role. (Luke 10:38-42) Furthermore, Mary and Martha themselves sent for Jesus when their brother Lazarus was ill, and Mary poured a jar of expensive perfume over Jesus feet against the desires of his disciples and Jesus praised her for it. (John 11:1-2, Matthew 26:6-13) Joanna was the wife of one of Herod’s officials. She left her family and home and followed Christ around Galilee ministering to his needs. (Luke 8:3 and 24:10) Rather than returning to her father’s house when she was widowed as a young woman, Anna lived at the temple, worshipping God and prophesying. (Luke 2:36-38) Tabitha/Dorcas, a wealthy Christian disciple, spent her time in charity work and making garments for the poor. She was so admired that when she died her follow Christians sent to Paul for help, and he came to her and raised her from the dead. Her husband, if she had one, and father are not mentioned. (Acts 9:36-42) Lydia was a wealthy and independent merchant, a seller of cloth, who converted to Christianity after hearing Paul’s teachings and afterwards offered him her hospitality and gathered other believers in her home. There is no mention of Lydia’s husband, if she had one, or of her father. (Acts 16) Priscilla worked alongside her husband Aquila to spread the gospel. Of the seven times she and her husband are mentioned, her name is listed first five times. The two are always listed as coworkers and are both treated as equals by Paul. (Acts 18) Junia was an evangelist and apostle praised by Paul as “outstanding among the apostles.” (Romans 16:7) Note: Some Bibles have converted Junia into a man, but Junia was actually a common female name at the time and the invented name, “Junias,” was not a name at all. Pheobe was an early Christian who was very involved in the church. Paul instructed the Christians in Rome to give her any help or aid she might ask of them. Her husband, if she had one, is not mentioned. (Romans 16:1-2) Nympha single-handedly ran a house church in her home. Her husband, if she had one, is not mentioned. Nor is her father. (Colossions 4:15) Euodia and Syntyche evangelized at Paul’s side and are listed as equals alongside fellow evangelist Clement. Their husbands, if they had any, and fathers are not mentioned. (Philippians 4:2-3) Stephana and her household were the first Christian converts in Greece. Stephana devoted herself to God and gave Paul needed assistance. Paul urges the other believers to submit to her leadership and praise her. Her husband, if she had one, is not mentioned, and nor is her father. (I Corinthians 16:15-18) Note: Many Bibles have converted Stephana into a man, but in the actual Greek the name Stephana is a feminine form. When I read the New Testament, I don’t see the fundamentalist churches of today, with their male leadership and submissive female flock. I don’t see women who are silent in church or confine themselves to the home. I don’t see women who are pushovers or simply submissive to their husbands. I also don’t see the stay at home daughter, obeying her father and then her husband. I certainly don’t see the female role Vision Forum advocates, with its insistence on a woman’s obedience to her male authority. Instead, I see strong women following Jesus independently, making their own choices, and being praised for it.
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.