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Tips for women reading the Bible

Tonight a girl from our Melbourne church asked me how a feminist can read the Bible. In particular, she wondered why the Bible treats women so negatively, as the ones who do the wrong thing.

I thought it was a good question and it expresses what I think is a common perception of the Bible. For that reason, it’s worth reflecting on more. I said to her that I’m not convinced that the Bible does have a negative bias towards women. Here’s why.

Selective reading

My friend could name the story of Sarah laughing when God said she would bear Abraham a son, after which she gives him Hagar as an alternate wife. She was less familiar with the story of Abraham lying to protect himself at his wife’s expense. I started at the beginning of the Bible and talked about the failure of Cain, Noah and Ham, Jacob, etc. Sure the Bible presents women as doing the wrong thing, but we are often more familiar with these passages that we are with the ones that show men failing. I don’t think the Bible is negative about women so much as pessimistic about humanity, both men and women. We need to read stories of both women and men if we are to understand how the Bible views women.

Missing the point

Even when we do read the whole Bible, we can emphasise something other than what the text is getting at. Take Samson and Delilah. How many of us have heard a sermon about not being swayed by the evil temptress? Sure, the warning’s there, but Judges is actually about an evil people and their failed rulers. God uses the judges for the benefit of his people, but that’s an expression of his grace, not an endorsement of their behaviour! To focus on Delilah is actually to miss the flow of Judges. It’s tempting to focus on the characterisation of one woman but we must let the message of the whole text inform our thinking.

Choosing an interpreter

The negative view of women may stem from seeing Eve as the first sinner. Yet, that’s not how the Bible views the situation. Adam is the first to be held accountable for the eaten fruit and Romans 5 talks about sin coming into the world through Adam. Similarly, though we might hear about Sarah’s lack of faith, the Bible remembers her as a holy woman worth imitating. We need to let the Bible interpret these women’s stories and use that as the basis for our understanding of them.

But if the idea of reading the Bible is just a little too overwhelming, why don’t you start by checking out some of my favourite stories about women in the Bible? There are courageous women like Deborah and Jael; clever women like Abigail; vindicated women like Hannah; and wise women like Manoah’s wife. I could go on! There are stories of subversive plots, valiance in the face of mortal danger, and real grit.

Or if you want to see how God treats women, check out how Jesus interacts with them, defends them, heals them, and empowers them.

Categories: Bible Woman Written by Tamie

Tagged as:

Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

6 replies

  1. Very interesting points,

    One should also mention the material in the gospels (in particular Luke), which often present female characters and followers of Jesus in a better light than his male followers or figures. Whereas Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, failed to believe the angelic message brought to him (Luke 1:18-20), Mary is presented as one who humbly trusts in the power of God (Luke 1:34-38). Whereas the male disciples are nowhere to be seen after Jesus’ death, we read about his female followers making their way to the tomb to honor him (Luke 24:1). In addition, he revealed himself to them, but their account was disbelieved by the disciples (Luke 24:11). And have a look at John 3 and 4: Nicodemus’ response to Jesus’ words is left ambiguous, but the Samaritan woman – after some doubt – embraces him as the Christ. These kinds of passages can be used to supplement a different kind of reading of women in Scripture.

  2. Great post Tamie,

    You could add to Scott’s points that the OT often focuses in on a woman to demonstrate godly responses to God’s character and purposes. Miriam’s song (Ex 15), Hannah’s song (1 Sam 2) and Ruth’s determined loyalty (ruth 1) come to mind.

    But your point that the bible is generally pessimistic (realistic?) about humanity puts it well.

  3. The bible states that women are slaves to men, they are unclean, they should never teach, and so on and so on. The bible clearly hates women. I don’t know how anyone can say it doesn’t. To submit is to yield to someone else in everything. So any women who believes in the bible is not free.

  4. Hi Julius, thanks for stopping by! I think you raise some really valid points and I’d be happy to chat more about them. Do you think the Bible only says negative things about women or are there positive statements that add to the picture?

  5. I think the bible is comletely negative with respect to women. Whoever wrote the bible clearly hates women. It says they should be slaves of men in marriage. Whoever says that the bible advocates equality for women and men are crazy. Submission does not equal equality-it is a dominant to submissive relationship, which means the power is all one sided. Because of these hateful, filthy verses, I have to let the bible go-for my own sanity and self-esteem.

  6. Hi Judy

    Sounds like there’s a fair bit of pain going on for you – I’m sorry.

    It sounds like any sort of discussion about the Bible would just be more painful for you so I won’t add to it with counterpoints to your arguments. I do hope you are able to find healing.

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