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  Wikipedia: Christian views of women

Wikipedia: Christian views of women
Christian views of women
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Christian views of women have varied considerably throughout the last two millennia, evolving with the societies in which Christian people have lived. Christianity, which inherited much of its scriptural material from Judaism, canonized many of these ancient Jewish materials as the Old Testament. It also was heavily influenced by the writings of Saint Paul, a Jewish citizen of the Roman empire who initially persecuted Christians viciously but had a dramatic change of heart after a spiritual experience with Jesus.

Paul combined Jewish ideas with Roman ideas and the Gospel in his many epistles to the growing church, and it was he who wrote about women keeping silent in church, covering their heads, and "subjecting" themselves to the rule of men. Some recent Biblical scholarship suggests that Paul has been partially misunderstood, particularly his infamous quotation from 1 Corinthians which demands that women be silent in church. Based on textual evidence, some scholars have argued that Paul is quoting part of a letter from the Corinthians to him, and refuting their anti-woman arguments in the subsequent passage. Other scholars, however, disagree, and feel that this is an attempt to rehabilitate Paul's image and reduce feminist criticism of the New Testament.

Some Christians look upon these passages as an accommodation to the times and culture (much as Moses in allowing divorce, and God allowing a king to the Israelite demand), pointing to the trend through Scripture and history, from ancient times when women were chattel, to the ultimate redemptions when all relationships are reconciled. There is neither Jew, nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, you are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:28-29)

Christianity, in all its variations, relies on the Bible as a guide, if not always the sole source of divine revelation. Therefore, the basis for many long-held beliefs about women in Christianity can be found in the Bible. For all the quotations below, it must be remembered that there are multiple scholarly traditions surrounding their interpretation, and that many denominations deny the applicability of some of these verses to modern-day Christians.

The following quotations are from the Bible. Curiously, those who oppose Christianity and Fundamentalist Christians tend to focus on these (without regard to context) verses which seem to deny women equality. For a Wesleyan/Holiness/Pentecostal emphasis which contrasts sharply, see below.

Old Testament verses about female slaves

And seest among the captives a beautiful woman,and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife; Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house, and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife. Deuteronomy 21:11-13
Aparently the woman has no say in who marries her.

If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days. Deuteronomy 22:28-29
So a woman rape victim has to marry her rapist. She cannot be divorced and presumably must have further sex with him whenever he as her husband wants to. This looks like a barbaric way to treat women.

So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and for an homer of barley, and an half homer of barley. Hosea 3:2

See also Genesis 19:8, 29:24, 29 / Exodus 20:17, 21:7, 8 / Deuteronomy 5:21, 25:5 / Judges 1:12-13, 5:30,14:1-3, 15:2, 19:22-30, 21:7, 10-12, 14, 20-21, 23/ Ruth 4:10 / 1 Samuel 25:44 / 2 Samuel 12:11,13:1-22, 20:3 / Esther 1:7-22, 2:2-4 / Jerimiah 6:12, 8:10 / Amos 4:1

Some interpreters view the two verses from Deuteronomy as casting women in an unfavorable light, especially when compare to the status women enjoy in modern Western democracy. American Christians no longer believe that it is proper to force a war captive into marriage. Likewise, if a modern American were to seduce or rape a female, Christians would now say that he should not be rewarded by gaining a bride. On the contrary, Christians would strongly support punishing rapists with imprisonment, or even (in some cases) the death penalty.

Others see these ancient Jewish scriptures as elevating women from the status of chattels. Some historians believe that in ancient times, men used their superior strength to force themselves on women to whatever the degree their physical or power permitted. Rather than being entitled to have his way with a slave endlessly, an ancient Hebrew man was required to marry her, thus forcing himself (under Jewish custom and law) to treat her according to the obligations a husband has to his wife, and not the much less stringent restrictions on the way a master may treat his slave.

Old Testament scriptures about stoning a woman

If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour's wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you. Deuteronomy 22:23-24

This verse could be interpreted as punishing the woman for not yelling loudly enough when resisting a rape. It takes no acount of the fact that women can be prevented from screaming, eg if the rapist has a knife to her throat. Even as late as the 20th Century, the attorney for a man charged with rape might defend him by claiming "the sex was consensual" on the grounds that no one heard the woman protest.

On the other hand, this verse specifies not just any woman but one who is engaged to be married; such a betrothal might be considered halfway to marriage. Also, this verse does not permit the man to get away with anything: he is to be stoned to death, too. Another verse from the same book exonerates the woman if the incident takes place outside the city walls; the reasoning is that she might have screamed, but no one could have heard her.

It must be noted, however, that no similar verse condemns a betrothed man who "lies with" a woman in the city--many take this as the Bible implicit agreement with the double standard that men may be promiscuous and women may not. Others suggest that there is an implication that men would be held to the same standard, and that certainly there is no open statement that men are allowed to be promiscuous (numerous verses in the Bible denounce extramarital sex on the part of men and women).

New Testament scriptures about stoning a woman

Jesus encountered a group of people who were preparing to stone to death a woman "caught in the act of adultery". He persuaded them to stop by two means: he suggested, "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone" and he bent down to write something in the sand. The Bible does not record or even comment upon what he wrote. Some people think it was evidence of certain embarrassing sins, because one by one the people slunk away, finally leaving only the woman before Jesus. Noting there was no one left to "condemn" her, he told her to "go and sin no more".

To those who regard admonishment as more favorable treatment than death by stoning, this represents an elevation in women's status.

Verses claiming that women must be submissive to men.

Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home:for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. 1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Ephesians 5:22-24

In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. 1 Timothy 2:9-15

But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. 1 Corinthians 11:3

But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman tohave power on her head because of the angels. 1 Corinthians 11:5-10

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Colossians 3:18

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered. 1 Peter 3:1-7

See also Numbers 30:3- / Deuteronomy 22:5, 23:17-18

Biblical passages that promote equality of women

The verses above are often quoted by Fundamentalist Christians to justify a separate role for women, especially in not allowing leadership of women within the church. The Wesleyan tradition and the Holiness and Pentecostal movements which draw from it have increasingly accepted women as leaders on an equal footing with men. The following are just a few of the scriptural references that are interpreted to allow this:

  • 1. Jesus said very little about the roles of men and women, but the way he acted speaks volumes. In John 4:7 we find him talking to a woman, something no Jewish male of that day would lower himself to do. He talks with the Samaritan women at the well, and treats her with respect, though her own neighbors obviously treat her with disdain. In the rabbinical literature of the day, women were regarded as simply property. They were denied any education beyond the tasks of housekeeping. Men were considered defiled if they touched a woman. And there was no public respect; women could not be witnesses in government proceedings as they were said to be "all liars."

  • 2. In Luke 8:13 and several other passages, we see that Jesus had women disciples.

  • 3. Jesus calls a woman, Mary Magdalene to be the first witness to carry the good news of the resurrection. This is incredible, in light of the fact that all women were considered liars by the rabbis, and were not allowed to be witnesses in any legal procedings. Many women ministers have held this to be the main justification for their equal calling.

  • 4. In Acts 2:14-18, in Peter's sermon at the initiation of the modern church, he quotes the prophet Joel about the pouring out of the Spirit in the last days. Jesus had promised the Holy Spirit, and said that He would guide us into all truth. The benefits of the Spirit are shared equally by men and women. In fact, both sons and daughters will prophesy. (Prophecy here is not so much a foretelling of the future, rather the primary meaning is to speak for God, in other words, preaching.)

Two passages, which do not specifically mention women, are seen to also support any person who does Christ's work. In Mark 9:38 the disciples report to Christ that someone is casting out demons in Christ's name. They said they forbade him, because he is not "one of us." Christ tells the disciples to leave him alone. Those who are not against us are for us, he says. Even a cup of water given in Christ's name should not be opposed and will have its reward.

Similarly, in Phillipians 1:15-18 we see Paul commenting on those who preach the gospel out of false motives. Some are preaching Christ, but doing so to try to stir up trouble for Paul. He says, no matter, whoever preaches Him and whatever the motive, as long as Christ is preached that is the good thing.

Christians believe women are examples worthy of imitation

Christians also see in Mary, the mother of Jesus the prototypical Christian. She was the first to hear the Good News of Jesus' coming, the first to say "yes" to God and literally invite Jesus inside her during her pregnancy as other Christians figuratively invite Christ to dwell in them. She is one of the very few of Christ's followers present at his crucifixion. Thus it is a woman who is most imitated among Christian saints. Every pregnant woman is seen in the Orthodox church as an icon of Mary pregnant with Jesus.

Similarly, much of the biblical imagery of the Church depicts the Church as a bride, with Jesus Christ as the bridegroom. Therefore, every woman is in some sense an icon of the Church. Men are also encouraged to live as icons of Christ, but to imitate Christ's humility and laying down of his life, rather than attempting to imitate Christ's lordship. See Ephesians 5.

The modern feminist movement, while having moved far from its roots, began in Methodist Christianity in 1848 at a conference in Seneca Falls, New York where 100 men and women signed a declaration that "all men and women are created equally." Early leaders were Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. This group worked to end slavery and give women equal rights. Slavery was officially ended in 1863 by the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War. When the United States finally recognized women's right to vote in 1920, only one person of the original 100 was still alive to cast a vote.

See also

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