When it comes to women in the Bible, or when it comes to potential indications of sexism in the Bible, some people want a clean slate in the Bible. What they want is a Bible that fully affirms women and that has no traces of sexism. That Bible doesn’t exist because that kind of world doesn’t exist, and the Bible isn’t into describing idyllic conditions. Apart from Genesis 1-2, all you get is the human condition warts and all.
It is that kind of Bible that David Lamb, in his excellent book, God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?, examines with this question: “Sexist or affirming?”
He begins at the beginning, as we ought to do — and a striking feature of his study of Genesis 1-2 is that he sees women as Godlike. Made in the image of God, that means women are Godlike. From that idea the Christian cannot budge. (Men are too, but as David says, men already knew that.) Women, David says, are the “second draft” and the second draft is better than the first draft. He backs down from saying women are superior, but he makes it emphatically clear that women are not depicted as inferior.
How can we talk about what the Bible says about women and both admit some ancient sexism, know its impact on women in history and in the church, and yet also call out the positive and affirming texts? What are you doing? Do you encourage women to do in your church what they did in the Bible?
On the “curse” of Genesis 3 David and I don’t completely agree. He sees submission but not oppression; he doesn’t see a general human condition but a specific Adam-Eve thing, but he does permit generalization, which lands us back with not just a specific thing. The man’s curse is more severe; Eve receives an important promise (not one for Adam).
But here’s where we completely agree: the condition of Genesis 3 is not what God wants. I have pushed harder on this one than David, but what he says I totally agree with. We are called to diminish the fall’s implications (epidurals and harvesters) and not indwell it.
David examines some texts about women in the Bible — and observes that women are held in honor much more often than criticized; Lot’s actions with his daughter is not approved; the rapist laws were part of a redemptive trend; Deborah and Abigail and the woman who anointed Jesus (more Mary, David).
So his posture is this: Women are made in God’s image, they are Godlike. So listen to them, honor them, respect them. Affirm women, and talk and write about sexism — and observe it and call it out. (He tells a good story of this.)