Recently, a blog article titled “I’m a Christian Girl and I’m Not Feminist Because God Did Not Intend for Women to Be Equal” was read by hundreds of thousands and endorsed by a large number of Christians.
The article claims men and women “were not created equal.”
The Bible says the opposite, though.
I. Genesis Says Men and Women Were Created Equal
Genesis describes the creation of mankind (all humans, women and men) as equal in all respects.
Genesis 1:26-31, for example:
“God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. … And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.”
And Genesis 2 says God will make a “help meet” or “a helper suitable” for Adam. Some people assume “helper” signals a subordinate or submissive person, but it does not. Walk up to a police officer—there to be a helper to you—and declare the officer is your subordinate and must be submissive to you. Good luck!
Indeed, all occurrences in the Old Testament of the Hebrew term translated help or helper are about “assistance that one of strength offers to one in need (i.e., help from God, the king, an ally, or an army). There is no exception,” per Dr. Linda L. Belleville, a highly respected professor of religion. In other words, Eve is a helper but not one who is subordinate or submissive to the one being helped. Dr. Belleville notes most of the uses of ezer is about help God alone provides, obviously not subordinate.
Genesis 2 closes with explaining that husband and wife are “united” and “one flesh.”
And God indicates in Genesis 3 that Adam ruling over Eve was not how they were originally created. After sin entered the world, God said to Eve that one of the things that would happen is Adam “will rule over you,” just like God said to the snake that one of the things that would happen is that Eve’s offspring “will crush your head and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15-16). It will happen sometimes, but it is not how they were created.
Thus, Genesis describes women and men as equals, both made in God’s image, both told to rule, both given the same thing, and as one.
II. The Bible Says Order is Not Key
The article says creation “order is key” evidence that men and women were not created equal, Genesis does not say creation order is key or that men and women were not created equal, as seen above.
Also, nowhere does the Bible say that the first person in a creation or arrival order is greater than the second.
The Apostle Paul tells us that the second is sometimes greater than the first. He explains that the “first man,” Adam, is less than the “second man,” the one who “did not come first,” Jesus. (1 Cor 15:45-49)
And John the Baptist tells us that the “one who comes after me” (Jesus), “the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:27)
And Jesus, referring to those who came later, tells us that “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matt 20:16).
Sex-Discrimination Interpretations of 1 Tim 2 Contradict the Bible
A single sentence in a letter to Timothy about how to conduct himself in Ephesus around 2000 years ago mentions creation order. But it does not mean one is greater than the other.
It and the sentence before it have been interpreted in a way that contradicts large swaths of the Bible.
The type of interpretation used to interpret 1 Tim 2:12-13 to require or permit discrimination against women is the same type of interpretation used in arguing for the Curse of Ham (that God wants white persons to be the authority over black persons) and to argue God is against mixed-race marriages, integration, etc.—- (a) Choose a small number of verses, (b) interpret them to have God endorse giving supremacy to some group of people (race, sex, …), (c) ignore multiple Bible passages that teach the opposite of that interpretation, (d) claim that the “more specific” discriminatory interpretation should be given precedence over the rest of the Bible, instead of interpreting the small number of verses at issue to be consistent with the rest of the Bible, and (e) claim that in engaging in the discriminatory interpretation, you are doing what God asks (rather than coming to grips with that you are simply going along with a tradition without thinking about it or defending the tradition out of group or personal pride or loyalty or because you prefer it).
That type of interpretation is how Genesis 9:18-27 was and still is used as the “Curse of Ham” to justify insisting that white (or European) persons have authority over black (or African) persons and not vice versa, including for slavery and white supremacy.
That type of interpretation is how 1 Tim 2:12 and 1 Cor 14:34-35 are used to justify insisting that male persons have authority over female persons and not vice versa.
God Asks Women Throughout the Bible to Teach and to Have Authority Over Men
1 Tim 2:12-13 say “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.”
But God continuously asks women throughout the Bible to teach and to have authority over men. There are 20+ Bible passages in which God does so.
Women are not to teach?!—no teaching high school or college, no writing books that men might read, no writing blog articles that teach men about feminism (wait a minute …)? Women are not to have authority over a man?!— no serving as police officer, supervising men at work, no serving in government, no voting, …? The Apostle Paul even says that singing hymns is a kind of teaching (Col 3:16) — so no singing in church, either!
Paul obviously does not mean that women can’t teach at all or have no authority at all over men. What does he mean?
Reading the Bible in Textual and Historical Context Shows 1 Tim 2:12 Does Not Refer to All Types of Teaching and Authority
Flip one page back in the Bible to the opening paragraphs of the letter, where Paul says what kind of teaching and authority he is talking about.
Paul tells Timothy, “… stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer …. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work … Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.” (1 Tim 1:3-7)
So Paul is not referring to all types of teaching and authority in the first couple of chapters of Timothy. He is talking about the kind that teachers of the law do (authoritative teaching) but that is of false doctrines, done without knowing what one is talking about, and that breaches the peace (causing controversial speculations). He is talking about a kind that involves usurping of authority (seizing something one is not supposed to have, in a domineering way).
Nearly All of Christianity Realizes 1 Tim 2:12 Does Not Refer to All Teaching or Authority
Only about 3-4% of Christianity completely prohibits women from teaching men in Sunday School and from reading scripture, leading singing, etc., in the assembly. Much of that 3-4% has never really thought about what they are doing, but have been just going along with it.
Paul Was Giving a Message for the Women of Ephesus
Paul then says “For Adam was first formed, then Eve.”
That does not seem like a reason to ban women from teaching men and having any authority at all. Plus viewing it that way contradicts other parts of the Bible, as mentioned above.
But it is a reason that resonates with the women of Ephesus why they should not presume to seize (usurp) authority in a domineering way and engage in teaching of false doctrines in a way that breaches the peace.
In Ephesus, some women then felt superior to men based on the women’s worship of a goddess, Artemis, who was born before her twin brother and helped deliver him. Telling them that Eve was born after Adam helps communicates to those women that they should not feel superior to men and that they should not seize authority and domineer men because their source of unjustified pride (Artemis was born first and women were thus superior) is contradicted by reality (Eve was not formed first).
In other words, it is highly likely that Paul was giving the Artemis-worshiping women a message that they shouldn’t use birth order, like they were used to doing, as a reason to feel superior to men, rather than as a reason that they should not teach men in the assembly at all or have any authority at all over men.
Thus, it does not make sense that God would, after asking women to teach and have authority over men lots of times, in one sentence ask women never again to teach or to have authority over men, giving creation order as a reason. But it does make sense that God would ask the Artemis-worshiping women not to try to domineer men like they might be inclined to do, giving the fact that one of their reasons for feeling superior (creation order) is the opposite way in their new religion as a reason.
III. “I’m a Christian Girl …” Leaves Out Ephesians 5:21—-Submission is a 2-Way Street
The article claims wives “are to submit to their husbands.
But the article neglects to mention that the Bible also says husbands are to submit to their wives.
Ephesians 5:21: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
This is one of the most common strategies of those who advocate submission for women. They start with Ephesians 5:22.
But if you read the whole passage in context with Ephesians 5:21 coming first, you can see that (a) the husband loving and dying for his wife is a form of submission, (b) the husband being the “head of the wife” is a metaphor for a physical head—-not “head” as in the head of a company—-to get the husband to see that he and his wife together are one body, which he should love and care for, just like we and Jesus are one body as the church, as the church is both us and Jesus’s body. When you read starting at 5:21, you can see that Ephesians 5:22-29 is not about hierarchical authority of man over woman but is about mutual submission and effort and being one.
Try reading Ephesians 5:22-29 by itself, without reading Ephesians 5:21, and then read Ephesians 5:21-29, starting with 5:21, to see the difference.
IV. “Christian Girl …” Uses the Wrong Definition of “Head”
Second, our modern minds tend to read “head” and think about a hierarchy, but that is not how it is used in the other “head” passage, 1 Corinthians 11:3.
“Head” (kephalē in Greek) in 1 Cor 11:3 could mean (a) source (as in headwater), (b) first representative of (non-hierarchical) (as in head of a line of kids at school), (c) authority over (as in head of a company), (d) a physical head (as in the head on your body), or have another meaning.
Reading 1 Cor 11:1-17, you can see Paul is trying for some analogy, metaphor, and word-play using heads (he’s talking about being the head of and shaving heads and dishonoring your head and …. And image of and glory of …. “).
It is highly likely that head in 11:3 means (a) source and/or (b) first representative of (non-hierarchical) because the textual context strongly suggests it.
#1) You can see in the rest of 1 Cor 11 that Paul is talking about (b) representation (the glory of, dishonor, etc.) and (a) source, not authority. Here is the passage with an (a) or (b) after each time (a) source or (b) representative is mentioned; some are both but I marked only one.):
“5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head (b) — … 7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God (b); but woman is the glory of man (b). 8 For man did not come from woman (a), but woman from man (a); 9 neither was man created (a) for woman, but woman for man (a). 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. [v. 10 is a mystery and translated 30 different ways; notice Paul uses the actual word for authority here, indicating if he meant authority in v. 3, he could have used the word for authority, not head.] 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man (b), nor is man independent of woman. (b) 12 For as woman came from man (a), so also man is born of woman (a). But everything comes from God. (a) …”
#2) Paul uses the normal word for hierarchical authority in 1 Cor 11:10, just 7 verses later (exousian). If he meant such authority in verse 3, he could have easily used that word. Instead, he used kephale, indicating he meant something different.
#3) Verse 10 is unclear but may mean a woman is to have hierarchical authority over her own self; just that she’s not independent of man like man is not independent of woman.
#4) Interpreting head as hierarchical authority over here is inconsistent with Ephesians 5:21 (“Submit to one another …”) and 1 Cor 7:4 (as to sexual relations, a husband ‘does not have authority’ over his body—his wife has authority over him) and others.
#5) Defining “head” here as hierarchical authority over raises Trinitarian questions. God is the “head” of Christ in an authority over/hierarchical sense that people claim for man-woman here? But Christ is God. That suggests a source/representative meaning, not hierarchical.
Be a feminist or don’t be a feminist.
Seek a spouse who will take charge or don’t.
But claiming that God did not create women and men equal or that God intends for women not to be equals with men is claiming something the Bible does not say.
And don’t forget Galatians 3:28 — “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Regarding “help meet,” ezer, Dr. Belleville’s analysis, etc.: See Steve Gardner, “Does Helper in Genesis 2:18 Imply Women Are to be Submissive and Suborindate to Men,” AuthenticTheology.com (March 8, 2018).
On 1 Timothy 2:12, Artemis, Ephesus, and related matters: Steve Gardner, ” … 1 Timothy 2:12 …,” AuthenticTheology.com (May 30, 2018)
Only about 3-4% of U.S. Christianity completely prohibits women from teaching men in Sunday School and from reading scripture, leading singing, etc., in the assembly: It appears that the Churches of Christ is the only denomination of size that does so. Amish, Primitive Baptist, some conservative Mennonite, some Independent Fundamentalist Baptist, and Plymouth Brethren appear to as well. Most of the dispute in other areas is whether to ordain women as pastors, not whether to prohibit them from speaking altogether.
Picture by GDJ.