God Behaving Badly 3

God Behaving Badly 3 May 25, 2011

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?

The sin of Genesis 3 makes the woman look bad, but the man probably looks look worse — standing there doing nothing, naked and all. The man looks bad, too.

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.)

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  • “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” is right in there with “It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food ”
    It’s God’s “Dang! I hate when that happens.”

    It’s not sexism when she packs the suitcase for a 3-week vacation and he has to carry it. It’s just the say it is.

    Bring on Rev. 21.

  • Tim

    The problem in the OT is not so much giving honor or respect to women (as understood in an ANE context), but rather treating them as property – though granted property you do have obligation to. Passages like Deuteronomy 21:10-14 makes this very clear.

  • Susan N.

    I gained tremendous insight on women “created in God’s image” through Carolyn Custis James’ book ‘Lost Women of the Bible: The Women We Thought We Knew.’ James’ explanation of the term “ezer” as being precisely defined as “strong helper” or “warrior” (as opposed to the popularly understood “helpmeet”) shed a new light on my purpose and potential in God’s plan for me. In relation to men (marriage/home, church), the ideal would be seen as a “blessed alliance.”

    I like this thought: “We are called to diminish the fall’s implications (epidurals and harvesters) and not indwell it.”

    Interestingly (to me), in my current church which is open to women in leadership — in fact, a woman was associate pastor prior to our attending there — I don’t sense any tension at all surrounding authority/submission, between the genders. There’s a general atmosphere/attitude of mutual respect, and of valuing all people — male/female, young/old, rich/poor… Where complementarianism is the rule, I think the issue of authority/submission and gender differences is needlessly raised to a level of importance that causes friction and puts people on both sides on the defensive. It’s good to break free from that artificial constraint and just be able to accept myself as a beloved child of God and find a place among a healthy, diverse body of believers. I want that for my daughter in a church, too. For that matter, I want my son to grow up in this faith environment!

  • Joe Canner

    “epidurals and harvesters”: Priceless! Now my day is complete.

  • John W Frye

    Susan N (#3) clarified for me a serious (pastoral) weakness in the complementarian view–headship and submission take on a status and dominance inappropriate for kingdom of God definitions of authority. This weakness creates an uneasy dance with men and women who desire to follow Christ stepping on each other’s toes. The question is “Who is being obedient?” rather than “Who is serving?” Christian women in the complementarian view either “submit” happily believing that they are being obedient to God. Who wants to be disobedient? Or women feel the constraits of complementarianism and begin to explore more egalitarian views. If they do this, they will be viewed as stepping “out of bounds” of God’s will. This seems like such an unnecessary tension. So, it’s not just texts that get flayed open, but male and female relationships take on an edge that may generate needless suspicion.

  • Tim #2. That’s a great point about women as property. It’s a huge problem, and one that I would have liked to discuss and would have if I had more than 1 chapter on the topic of sexism. I focused on the first few chapters of Genesis because that’s where a lot of the problems first appear and much of the debate centers on those chapters. I also think Gen 1-3 establishes a foundation for understanding everything else Scripture has to say about gender.

  • Scott Eaton

    Considering the patriarchal world of the Bible, I’ve become absolutely amazed at how much women actually DID in the Bible. I think the church overlooks this.

  • scotmcknight

    Scott, that is precisely why I used the acronym WDWD? What did women do?

  • John W Frye

    I will venture a guess that when we read in Deuteronomy that women are viewed as “property,” we are reading a modern definition of property into the concept. In the ANE a man’s possessions were his property–wives, children, flocks, herds, slaves, etc. We need not define property as simply “things” or “objects.” We might even say that more properly they were the man’s investments — what gave him social weight (glory) in the community.

  • “Women, David says, are the “second draft” and the second draft is better than the first draft.”

    What a silly statement.

    God did not make woman as a “second draft” as if somehow man was a trial run and He got it right with women. Woman was made from man as a helper for him and that creation order is critically important to understanding the purposes and roles that God intended for the genders (and news flash, they are different by design). God’s purpose in making woman was not to try again and see if He could improve on His first attempt, it was to create a helper fit for man who was created intentionally incomplete. Women don’t supplant or improve upon men, they complement them (thus the term complementarian). This notion that we have become so enlightened in our understanding of gender that we can sit in judgment and declare the Bible (and therefore God Himself) to be infected with what we have labeled “sexism” is ludicrous on its face.

    Instead of declaring the Bible “sexist” (at least the parts you don’t like) perhaps the better method would be to examine where we are in rebellion against God and repent of that. It certainly seems to be the safer route to assume that where our opinions and God’s Word differ, the guilty party is probably us and not Him.

  • Tim


    I don’t think you are imposing artificial constraints on the “modern” sense of property. For instance, my dog is property. My dog is not a “thing.” It certainly is a member of my family. The law limits what I can do to my dog – in other words, it has rights. I can be subject to criminal prosecution if I abuse or neglect my dog. But the dog is still my property, and I am its master.

  • Tim

    …first sentence should be: “I think you are imposing artificial constraints on the “modern” sense of property”. The word “don’t” shouldn’t be there.

  • I gained so much insight taking Dr. David Scholer’s last class before he passed away after a prolonged struggle with cancer, “Women, the Bible, and Ministry.” Just for clarity: there is no single passage in Scripture prohibiting the ordination of women. The most quoted by Complimentarians is 1 Timothy 2:8-15. But again, that passage is not about ordination. Nor does a Complimentarian seriously think that women are saved by childbearing. Actually, the practice of ordination is more derived from Church traditions than scriptural warrant.

    Scott, was wondering what your thoughts are on that passage?

  • scotmcknight

    James, I wrote a book called Blue Parakeet and in that book discuss that passage. I agree with David, though, that nothing about ordination here.

  • One of the most important things for me over the past 40 years has been learning to see the difference in what the Bible describes and what it proscribes … what God does as intention and what God does that mitigates consequences of sinful human action.

    As long as we are not seeing God as The Interdependent Three, modeling mutual submission to a singular will that chooses to describe itself as a love that looks out for the best interest of the other, our perceptions will be off and our observations and conclusions will be faulty.

    In making Adam and Eve as parts that need each other, centered in relationship with God, to be whole — God has brought humanity into a personal experience of the Triune God. It is not about Adam by himself or Eve by herself or even their relationship to each other. It is Adam with God and Eve together realizing the will of God as interdependence. It is Eve with God and Adam, interdependent.

    Once God gets bumped out of the middle, then it quickly becomes some form of Adam dominating Eve out of guilt and shame and perhaps even revenge … or Eve manipulating Adam out of guilt and shame and perhaps even fear. But this is not what God wants.

    When God is allowed to have place in the center — as the source of connection between man and woman, then the focus can be on the will of God — which is always working for the best interest of the other. It cannot be man’s will or woman’s will that is sought, but always God’s will.

    …and so when humans twist scripture to make it look like hierarchy is God’s will, then it all goes down hill from there.

    The power in the mystery that is the Trinity is in the interpenetrating mutuality with one will, not three competing wills. And until humans understand that the Body of Christ is to be joined with that One Will, we will continue to struggle.

    Indeed, that struggle is the journey of being transformed into the very image of Jesus Christ. The journey is one of being crucified with Christ so that his life lives in me. Yeah … very tough journey, that.

    As long as people are looking for scripture to support their efforts and their methods and their attitudes, it will be found supporting dependence and dominance rather than interdependence and mutual submission.

    Human history and human experience are very difficult to change … and it is only in the power of the Holy Spirit that we have any hope or experience that transforms.


  • Fish

    Arthur (#10):

    Does not the evidence of your own eyes show you that females in general act more loving and Christ-like than men?

    If God did not design them that way, who did? Random chance?

  • Jon G

    Arthur #10 –

    I think something was lost in translation between Lamb’s book and Scot’s review. Lamb isn’t seriously making the case that women are superior to men when using the 2nd Draft analogy. He’s simply saying it isn’t right to say they are inferior to men (later in the chapter from the draft quote he says this). His main thrust is that women are “like-opposite” men. In other words, they are the 2nd half of a puzzle…both sides are puzzle pieces, both have equal value in completing the puzzle, but still, they are not the same.

  • Katie

    Peggy –

    “When God is allowed to have place in the center — as the source of connection between man and woman, then the focus can be on the will of God — which is always working for the best interest of the other.”

    YES!! When women are not being valued as equals within the church, many will resort to a refusal to serve men, as a sign that we don’t HAVE to serve. Let’s not focus on ourselves and our own sex, but work on always serving the interest of the other – men for women, women for men.

  • Dana Ames

    Fish @16,
    I appreciate the spirit. However, this argument is of no help for women. First, it’s not true. Second, it’s still putting women on some kind of a pedestal, making them “more different” than other human beings.

    Again, appreciate David’s spirit; simply think “second draft” is an unfortunate choice of expression. Inviting us to seriously think about these issues requires more precision with vocabulary.

    Startling for me to be confronted again with the reality that some people confuse the text of scripture with interpretation of that text – not only about this topic, but over on the Chan video post as well.


  • I was raised as a Catholic. I abandoned the faith in my late teens after I discovered the horrible crimes committed by the church in the name of God. I turned to Protestantism for roughly a decade where I discovered that the horrible crimes committed in the name of God went right back to the beginning of the bible. I looked at other religions and found their mythology laughable and in turn their mythology made Christian mythology equally laughable. What was not so laughable was that other religions seemed equally as guilty of evil in terms of violence, brain washing and cultism that I experienced within the churches I attended. I don’t claim atheism just yet though, I’m still holding out for the idea that a singular consciousness is interconnecting everything and that one day we will evolve to tap into it a will and make the universe a better place.