1. Texts Which Have Been Used to Keep Women in an Inferior or Secondary Status
Discussions in the evangelical tradition about the role of women in ministry, in the family and in culture more generally tend to revolve around a set of five texts/issues. These are:
- The meaning of the Greek work kephale (head) in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and Ephesians 5:21-33
I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you. Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head-it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice-nor do the churches of God. 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church- for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery-but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:21-33
- The meaning of the Greek word authentein (to have authority over) which is used in 1 Timothy 2:12
I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing-if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. 1 Timothy 2:8-15
- The interpretation of the Genesis 1-3 narratives and their meaning for male-female relationships
- The relevance of biblical narratives about women, the interaction of Jesus with women etc.
- The meaning of ‘submission’ and ‘silence’ in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and it’s relevance or lack thereof to current circumstances.
women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
It is way beyond the scope of this course to do a full examination of these texts. Our interest is limited to the way in which these texts have been used intentionally or unintentionally to justify abuse, to support social conditions which make abuse possible and to make it difficult for victims of abuse to get help. For a brief introduction to interpretive issues I recommend:
- Women in Ministry by David Scholer
- Headship Madness by Jamin Hübner
- The Cultural Context of Ephesians 5:18-6:9 by Gordon D. Fee
- [pdf] What Does ‘Submit in everything’ really mean? The Nature and Scope of Marital Submission by Steve Tracy
Many other relevant articles are available at Christians for Biblical Equality
2. Texts That Have Been Used to Provide Unqualified Support for Parents
“Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death. Exodus 21:17
Each of you must respect his mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:3
If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head. Leviticus 20:9
If a man curses his father or mother, his lamp will be snuffed out in pitch darkness. Proverbs 20:20
“The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures. Proverbs 30:17
Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ Matthew 15:3-4
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”-which is the first commandment with a promise- “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:1-4
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Colossians 3:20
3. Texts That Have Been Used to Support Physical Abuse of Children
He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him. Proverbs 13:24
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him. Proverbs 22:15
Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death. Proverbs 23:13-14 18
If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard.” 21 Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid. Deuteronomy 21:18-21
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:7-11
Again, a thorough examination of these texts is not possible here. Some starting points include:
- Spanking Hurts Everybody by Robert R. Gillogly. (Theology Today Vol 37, Issue 4, pp. 415-424. 1981.)
- Guarding the Parents’ Honour–Deuteronomy 21.18-21 by Anselm C. Hagedorn, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, no 88 Je 2000, p 101-121.
4. Texts That Have Been Used to Support a Passive Response to Abuse
Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. Peter 2:18-20
All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. 1 Timothy 6:1
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Ephesians 6:5
Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive. Titus 2:9-10
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Matthew 5:10-11
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:24
You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. Matthew 5:38-40
Some starting points:
- Domestic violence in the church and redemptive suffering in 1 Peter by Steven R. Tracy. Calvin Theological Journal, 41 no 2 N 2006, p 279-296.
5. Texts Which Have Been Used Against Abused Persons
Don’t even think about this stuff
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8
Is this about ‘positive thinking’, ‘looking on the bright side’? Or would you emphasize the “whatever is true” part? Is it excellent and praiseworthy to pay attention to and tell the truth about abuse?
The encouragement to forget
Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14
Does this mean ‘forgetfulness is a virtue’ or does it mean ‘moving past the arrogance, the judgmentalism and the self-righteousness which dominated my past life makes it possible for me to make progress’?
The ‘goodness’ of all things
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
Does this mean ‘abuse is one way God brings about good’ or does it mean ‘in spite of the evil of abuse God is always seeking ways to do good’? Does it mean “all things work for good to those who love God enough”?
The glorification of suffering
Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 1 Peter 2:18-20
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:2-4
Does this mean ‘we should be happy when we are abused’ or does it mean ‘we are happy that in the process of recovery we can see good things come into our lives in spite of the abuse’?
The obligation to forgive
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” Luke 17:3-5
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins Matthew 6:14-15
Does this mean ‘forgive now or else’ or does it mean we should persist in the struggle to forgive?
The obligation to bless
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Romans 12:14
Does this mean merely ‘have a good attitude toward those who have hurt you’ or could ‘blessing’ include telling the truth, reporting to authorities, having robust boundaries etc.?
The obligation to stop being angry
“Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Ephesians 4:26-27
Does this mean ‘stop being angry before you go to bed — your affect could create a foothold for evil?’ or does it mean ‘keep the light on this, don’t let this issue slip into the darkness — keep telling the truth about this because ignoring it could create a foothold for evil’?
6. Texts Describing Violence/Rape of Women or Children
The concern here is quite different from the above texts. These are not texts which abusers typically abuse, nor are they texts which have been used against people who have been abused. The issue in these texts is whether such texts reflect such a hostility toward women and children and/or an indifference to the concerns of the abused that they contribute to a climate/culture that makes abuse possible.
- Hagar, the abused slave woman of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 16:1-16; 21:9-21)
- Jephthah’s unnamed daughter, who is killed by her own father as a human sacrifice (Judges 11:29-40)
- The unnamed concubine who suffers gang-rape and murder by the men of Benjamin (Judges 19:1-30)
- The rape of Tamar (2 Samuel 13:1-22).
- The rape of Dinah (Genesis 34)
- Abraham and Isaac in Moriah (Genesis 22)
- Potiphar’s wife and false rape charges (Gen 39:1-23)
- God as an abusive husband? (Ezekiel 16 and 23)
- The attempted rape of Susanna ( Daniel 13) This chapter does not appear in the Hebrew text but it does appear in the Septuagint.
Some starting points:
- Old Testament Story and Christian Ethics: The Rape of Dinah as a Case Study by Robin Parry (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2004) 1-84227-210-1
- Disturbing Divine Behavior: Troubling Old Testament Images of God by Eric A. Seibert (Fortress Press, 2009)
- Dinah’s Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation by Joy A. Schroeder (Fortress Press, 2007) ISBN-13: 978-0800638436