“But That’s What The Bible Says”

by Kristen Rosser cross posted from her blog Wordgazer’s Words

I have written extensively on this blog about why “But the Bible clearly says” isn’t necessarily a very good defense for certain traditionalist positions.  I’ve written a lot of posts that analyze certain texts which are supposedly “clear,” but which maybe weren’t intended by the original writers (or understood by the original audiences) to mean what seems so “clear” to us today.

This isn’t one of those posts.  Today I just want to write a few things from my heart.

I came across another Internet discussion this week that was all too familiar.  A Christian writer said some general things about why having women in all areas of church leadership was a good idea.  He talked about how women’s perspectives, women’s voices, are part of the myriad wisdom of God, and how the church is unbalanced when the only voices it listens to on Sunday mornings are male ones.    How women’s leadership might be the key to societal and world-wide healing and change in areas that most affect women, such as sex trafficking and spousal abuse. How Paul praised women leaders in his epistles and valued their labors for the gospel.

And as is so often the case, the responses of women who thanked the writer for empowering them were nearly overwhelmed by the voices, both male and female, insisting that this was all against God’s clear commands in the Bible that amount to “Women can’t and must not.”

Women can’t.

Women must not.

Exactly how much, and in what ways, women are to be restricted is never agreed upon by these voices.  It’s a song where some sing verses that say, “Complete silence.  Keep her head covered and don’t let her even pray or read scripture aloud.”  And others sing verses that say, “No, she can speak and even teach, as long as she only teaches children or other women.”  And others sing, “Just keep her from saying anything while standing behind the pulpit.  Let her speak from the floor, not the podium.”

But on the chorus they all join in.  They don’t agree on how much, they don’t agree on where or when or which– but “Restrict her!  Keep her under male authority!” they sing in unison.

And the reason is always the same.  “We have to uphold what the Bible clearly says, no matter what.”

But what does it actually mean, that a woman must be restricted, under male authority?  Why must she be?

“Because she’s more easily deceived,” some say.  “Because Adam was created first, woman second– and therefore he was created to lead and she to follow,” say others.  And others simply say, “Neither of these, but it doesn’t matter.  Who are we to question God?”

But if God designed things from the beginning of creation so that woman must be restricted, kept under male authority, then one of two things is going on.

Either women are not equal to men, because God created them with a certain lack of authority over themselves, or ability to lead others, that men do not lack.  And this lack is intrinsic to womanhood, while any lack a particular man may have in the area of leadership, is simply an individual characteristic, not intrinsic to his manhood.  This makes women, in their essence as women, inferior to men.

Or women are equal to men, but God simply decided that women, because they are women, despite lacking nothing that He gave men for authority over themselves or leadership of others, may not use that authority or leadership.  In other words, they are to be under male authority even though God did not design them or create them to be suited for being under male authority.  This makes God, in His essence, arbitrary and unjust.  He makes rules without good reasons.

But those who restrict women today don’t generally ask why.  They don’t think about what it means, that women should be restricted.  They don’t believe women are inferior, and they don’t believe God is arbitrary.  “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it,” is enough for them.

And this is the sad thing.  That we’d rather live with cognitive dissonance, believing that women are somehow equal but yet somehow lesser– or that they are to be restricted for no reason, but that God is still just– than to believe it’s possible we’re misreading our Bibles.

We’d rather restrict women and have the Bible be “clear” than admit that we just might be wrong.

Certainty is more important than female humanity.

Because here’s the thing.  To consider women lesser is harmful to women.  It exposes them to ways of being treated that are only appropriate for inferiors.  It leaves them perpetually in a state of dependence from which they can never escape.  In a very real sense, it renders them less human than men.

But to restrict women even though they are not lesser, is to restrict them without good reason.  And this, too, is harmful to women.  It says, “It doesn’t matter how skilled or gifted you are.  It doesn’t matter if you’d be better at this task than 99% of all the men in your church.  You are forbidden anyway.”  And this leaves women in a perpetual state of living with injustice and arbitrary, senseless rules.

Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  He said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  And He said, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.”  And these words, most will agree, represent the overarching message of the New Covenant.

Surely, if a text pulled from the Bible to support a certain doctrine, results in something contradictory to these truths, there is something wrong with the way we’re reading that proof-text?

Even if it seems completely “clear”?

How much of a “truth” can it be if it does to a woman what a man would not wish done to him?  If it puts her in bondage rather than setting her free?  Or if it makes the Father look totally unlike the Jesus who championed the woman caught in adultery, who spoke as an equal to the Samaritan woman at the well, who told Martha that her sister’s choice to join the men in training for discipleship was a better thing than women’s traditional labors?  The Jesus who, resurrected, appeared first to women and sent them to preach to the men?

In Matthew 23:23 Jesus found fault with a myopic view of the Bible that focuses on “tithing mint, dill and cumin” but neglects “justice, mercy and faith.”  It’s true that Jesus didn’t tell the teachers of the law to stop tithing– but what might He have said if tithing, as practiced, were actually against justice, mercy or faith?  Should the practice of a “clear” passage of scripture result in active violation of justice or mercy?

Surely not.

And yet isn’t this what “Women can’t, women must not” actually does?

This is why sometimes I want to cry when groups of commenters on the Internet rush to uphold “the Bible,” when what they’re really upholding is, “what the Bible looks to me like it’s saying, and I know I can’t be wrong.”

I want to cry because it’s easier to say, “women can’t, women must not” than “maybe we’ve missed it.”

I know that those who believe the Bible restricts women usually don’t think about it this way.  In their minds, it’s God’s will, and if it’s God’s will, it must be good.  I know it’s hard to question what looks like clear scripture.  And I know there’s pressure from other Christians not to question, so as not to come under suspicion of not being “one of us.”

And I know some women don’t mind being restricted.  I know some women are happy to be under male authority and to live with “I can’t; I must not.”  But I can’t help wondering if they’d be even happier if they ever came to truly believe they could follow Jesus and love God without these requirements.  That they are free to let men lead if and when that works for them (and for the men), but there is no law telling them this is the only way.

But the way I see it, there’s something wrong with the way we look at the Bible, when we read a small set of texts in ways that jar with its overarching truths.  There’s something wrong with holding the nature or treatment of women, or the character of God, hostage to a verse.

There’s something wrong with righteously standing on obedience to the Bible while treating fellow human beings less than righteously.

And there’s something wrong with clinging to the confidence that we’re so very right in doing wrong

 

[Editorial Note: This article is intended for those readers who have chosen to accept the Bible as authoritative for faith and practice. If you are not one of those readers, please be understanding of the intended audience and refrain from commenting on the assumptions on which it is based. Please refrain from this pertains to all Christians everywhere and show some respect for the writer please. For more info on the site please visit - Is NLQ an Atheist Website?]

Comments open below

Read everything by Kristen Rosser!

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Kristen Rosser (aka KR Wordgazer) blogs at Wordgazer’s Words

 

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce

 

About Suzanne Calulu
  • gimpi1

    “This is why sometimes I want to cry when groups of commenters on the Internet rush to uphold “the Bible,” when what they’re really upholding is, “what the Bible looks to me like it’s saying, and I know I can’t be wrong.”

    This. So much this. I have several times tried to point out to people I have discussed such things with that they are, in essence, claiming to speak for God. They are saying that the interpretation they have, of much-translated words, words they can’t read in the original, words taken out of context, words taken with no understanding of the culture they were written for, can’t be mistaken. And, in the same breath, they will claim humility, and accuse me of arrogance for questioning them.

    It takes some big ones, in my opinion, to pull that one off.

  • Kristen Rosser

    Thanks, Gimpi! Along those lines, you might be interested in my post “You’re Not Arguing With Us But With God”:

    http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com/2013/06/youre-not-arguing-with-us-but-with-god.html

  • http://iamchristianiamanatheist.blogspot.kr/ Christian Kemp

    It was only yesterday that a friend of mine said “Islam is not a good religion for women.” My response was, “all religions are not good for women.”

    Actually maybe in retrospect I should have said “all religions are not good for any person.” Great Post :)

  • NeaDods

    I lost my religion when I realized that even holy texts were proof texted so people could have a way of legitimizing their prejudices and desires as not just right but righteous.

  • Vaughn Ohlman

    >>Editorial Note: This article is intended for those readers who have chosen to accept the Bible as authoritative for faith and practice. If you are not one of those readers, please be understanding of the intended audience and refrain from commenting on the assumptions on which it is based.

  • Vaughn Ohlman

    >>But the way I see it, there’s something wrong with the way we look at the Bible, when we read a small set of texts in ways that jar with its overarching truths. There’s something wrong with holding the nature or treatment of women, or the character of God, hostage to a verse.

    But, unfortunately for the above article, these small texts, far from jarring with the overarching truths, support and define them. You are quite wrong we don’t think about it, or that we dismiss the seeming dichotomy easily. But you are also wrong that God given heirarchy fails to represent the God given truth.

  • http://iamchristianiamanatheist.blogspot.kr/ Christian Kemp

    Noted. I will refrain from stopping by :)

  • Kristen Rosser

    I think hierarchy is a part of human thinking that is being superimposed on the texts. http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com/2012/01/bible-and-human-authority-part-3-great.html

    And if those small texts, the way you read them, support and define overarching truths, then they are “truths” I want nothing to do with.

  • gimpi1

    Thanks for the link, Kristen. I’ll check it out!

  • gimpi1

    In your opinion, Mr. Ohlman. In your opinion. Opinions differ. Others have looked at the same text and come up with very different interpretations. That is the author’s point, I think. And, unless you have some kind of proof that you are incapable of error, she’s got one.

  • gimpi1

    Why? You feel free to comment about the lives and choices of those people who don’t choose to accept the Bible as authoritative. As long as no one wants to pass laws regarding your rights to live as you choose, why can’t others comment on your publicly stated beliefs and choices?

  • Vaughn Ohlman

    gimpi will note that I am not the editor. I was merely copy/pasting what she said.

  • gimpi1

    Noted. Thanks.

  • Vaughn Ohlman

    Actually the author seemed to be making the point that there was an objective truth, taught by the inerrant Scriptures, that women should be treated in such and such a way, and that many of us failed to see this objective truth; indeed that we contradict it.
    It is, therefore, in the spirit of her post, which seemed to focus on objective truth and inerrant Scriptures, for me to say that I believe she is objectively, concretely, wrong.
    Unlike most who have posted here, I actually fall under the guidelines of those the editor has said may speak:

    “This article is intended for those readers who have chosen to accept the Bible as authoritative for faith and practice.”

  • gimpi1

    Interesting. I got a totally different meaning from her article. Well, I guess that just shows how different people can read the same thing and see different meanings.

    It would be a boring world if we all saw things the same way.

  • mayarend

    Actually, the author’s point seems to be that we MUST have read it wrong because:
    1. Women are equals to men (as in different as individuals but not with definite inferiority as a class);
    2. God is Just;
    3. The Bible is inerrant.

    So, if God is just, he can’t treat equal people inequally. And since the Bible can’t be wrong, the only answer is that we must have read it wrongly.

    Not that I agree with the Bible, but I think her point is very well made and very valid for people who believe the Bible.

  • Trollface McGee

    It’s convenient that Jesus came and made the laws of the Old Testament no longer apply – except when it came to oppressing women, gays, starting “holy” wars, and pretty much any political position that one comes to support. A tax on iPhones? I’m sure there’s a Bible verse you can twist for that!

  • Vaughn Ohlman

    Yes, I think that is pretty close to her point. You will note that it relies on her own, and not God’s, idea of what justice is.

    My claim would be that, first, there are not equal people of any stripe. We are all fundamentally unequal. Secondly, that God makes no bones about having created some of us for one purpose, and some for another. It is therefore just for us to act according to the purpose we were created for.

  • http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/ Retha Faurie

    Unbelievers are welcome on this site. There are only a few articles where they are limited from one particular type of comment.

  • http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/ Retha Faurie

    Vaughn, you can’t make up your own definition of “just.”

  • Nightshade

    ‘We are all fundamentally unequal.’ So your god plays favorites?

  • Kristen Rosser

    No, my view of justice is actually rooted in the Scriptures. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is one of Jesus’ primary statement of justice. The concept of justice in the Scriptures is tied up with the way we treat others. See for instance Matthew 1:19. It says that because Joseph was “just” man, he didn’t want to expose Mary to public shame but planned to divorce her quietly. Not because he was a “compassionate” man, but because he was a “just” man. “Justice” as conceived in the Scriptures includes the concept of mercy, of “do unto others.”

    Paul says that God is “not a respecter of persons” — that is, that He doesn’t have special rules for how He treats one person over another. He does choose people for certain callings, but no, the Bible doesn’t teach that He calls an entire half the human race to be able to treat the other half as they would not want to be treated themselves.

  • Vaughn Ohlman

    It would be interesting to examine what Scripture says about justice, gender roles, (national roles, if it comes to that). Perhaps some day on my blog :)
    But my point above was merely that you weren’t quoting Scripture. Scripture treats men and women very differently, from the beginning (Adam vs Eve) to the end (Christ vs the Church) and all the way in between. One could find literally thousands of differences. I wrote a series on this you are welcome to respond to, but I won’t post the link without permission.

  • Kristen Rosser

    I also have researched and written extensively on so-called “gender roles.” It’s not as if I have never examined this.

  • Kristen Rosser

    We are all fundamentally equal. Made alike in the image of God. Mr. Ohlman is confusing what logic calls “necessary” traits with “accidental” ones. Our accidental traits – those not intrinsic to our basic humanity – are unequal. But our necessary traits – those that make us human as opposed to some other kind of creature – are equal.

  • http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/ Retha Faurie
  • Nightshade

    I understand (mostly, at least :) ) and certainly respect your position, it’s Mr. Ohlman who seems to think some people are favorites of his god, who apparently doesn’t care what happens to everyone else.

  • Guest

    No, you do not tell us that an article isn’t intended for us. Christianity, and the way it is practised affects believers and unbelievers alike. When your kind of thinking makes its way to public laws and imposed on us, it affects us. So no, I will not refrain from commenting because you don’t want a sinful atheist sullying your “Godly” articles.

  • Vaughn Ohlman

    Trollface will note that I am not the editor. I was merely copy/pasting what she said.

  • Kristen Rosser

    I was saying both things, actually. There is more than one interpretation, and no one can say, “I’m not interpreting the text, I’m just reading it ‘straight.’” But I don’t think all interpretations are equal, but that some do a better job of getting to the intended meaning of the text than others. I think my interpretation does better because it doesn’t end up with a God who “plays favorites” and doesn’t care what happens to the rest of the people God created– as Nightshade insightfully points out above is the result of Mr. Ohlman’s view.

  • Kristen Rosser

    This is not about a “sinful atheist sullying ‘Godly’ articles.” I value everyone’s point of view and I certainly hope atheists will chime in with comments about the points I am making in my article. The only request being made is that no one say, “Since Christianity is bogus and reading the Bible is a waste of time anyway, this whole conversation is useless. Why are we even bothering with it?” Which ends up silencing the writer rather than addressing the points being made.

  • gimpi1

    So do you object to those of us who don’t necessarily share your views regarding Scripture commenting on your article? What I got from Mr. Ohlman’s answer to me it that he believes you don’t welcome such comments.

    I enjoy your writings, think you make some good points, but don’t regard the Bible (or any other holy writ) as inerrant. I don’t grant overriding authority to any text. Does that mean you would rather I not comment? Or do you welcome comments from us outsiders?

    Since I like your writing, I don’t want to butt in if you don’t want my input.

  • Vaughn Ohlman

    I, personally, find it kind of odd when atheists ‘chime in’ on discussions predicated on presuppositions they not only don’t share, but actively oppose. It would be like me going to a Nazi party meeting and helping them figure out the best way to kill the Jews, all the while saying and believing that Jew killing was a very bad thing.
    If following the Scriptures is a bad thing, then why do Atheists want to help us do it better?

  • Kristen Rosser

    Bringing Nazis into the conversation is an Internet faux-pas, btw. The person doing it is generally perceived to have lost the argument. See “Godwin’s Law.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law

    But I value it when atheists review what I write on its own terms and point out any inconsistencies they see in it. The only thing that doesn’t work (because it tends to stop the conversation in its tracks) is stating that the whole conversation is pointless to begin with.

  • Kristen Rosser

    For purposes of clarity I’ll repeat a response I made to someone else below: I value everyone’s point of view and I certainly hope atheists will chime in with comments about the points I am making in my article. The only request being made is that no one say, “Since Christianity is bogus and reading the Bible is a waste of time anyway, this whole conversation is useless. Why are we even bothering with it?” Which ends up silencing the writer rather than addressing the points being made.

  • gimpi1

    Makes perfect sense, Kristen. Thanks.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Christ himself treated women as equals in His life so my inference from that is that men and women are equals.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    We post that warning merely so there will be no bashing of the author for holding Christian views. It’s not all sniggering and pointing at Christians here. It’s exposing the hateful harmful lies of the Quiverfull life.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Speaking as an ethnic Jew, when people bring up Nazis or Hitler so casually in an argument it demeans and devalues the millions (not all Jews either) that died at the hands of the Nazis. Lazy uneducated mans debate cliche.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Please stop by! We like having readership/commenters from all points of view.

  • Madame

    Most people commenting on here have something to do with religion (mainly Christianity) and have been hurt by it in some way. Some are questioning the nature of God, some have walked away completely, but most share one thing: we were hurt by patriarchy and quiverfull ideals in some way. I appreciate Kristen’s posts, even when I don’t always agree with her interpretation and I have great respect for her continued study of the Bible.

  • Vaughn Ohlman

    Well, Christ makes it every clear that his teachings will bring great division and pain.

  • Madame

    I know the article is mainly about women and our role in the Church, but this spreads out to many other topics.

    My questions to those who uphold the “The Bible says” are:
    - Why do you want to silence them/ have them obey? (in the case of women)
    - Why do you need to beat them into submission? (in the case of children)
    - Why do you seek to have authority and leadership over others?

    Whenever I’ve had a discussion regarding the Bible and human authority in the home and church, I always have to think about the passage where Jesus tells his disciples that the one who wants to lead should be the lowliest servant. Leadership is serving. Authority is something one “wins” by serving.
    I may be wrong in my interpretation, but it seems to make sense. Jesus spoke with great authority, yet he served and died for the one we call his bride.

    There is a lot of talk about authority and leadership in the church, but those who are seeking to teach should be focusing on serving and building up those they claim to want to lead. You don’t see people arguing over who gets to serve. Maybe we are getting the whole issue of leadership wrong.

    There is a lot of talk about authority of the husband in the marriage, and there is always the “tie breaker” argument. But if marriage is about unity, and if relationship is more important than accomplishing a ton of things in this life, is it not more important that a marriage work towards more unity than for the man to pull out his authority card to make things move faster?

    All this ramble to say: maybe we are missing the point because we are ignoring the essence: what is church all about? What is marriage about? What is leadership? Who has authority?

    I’m rambling now…

  • Kristen Rosser

    This should not be used as a cover or excuse for churches to spiritually abuse their flocks, or for ministers to compel, control or coerce church members. That is not what Jesus was talking about.


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