I am often asked if I believe patriarchy is responsible for spousal abuse and domestic violence. To a large degree, the answer has to be yes. But I believe the real question(s) should be, "Is the God of the Bible a male-chauvinistic God? And is the Bible itself a sexist book?
All ancient cultures were patriarchal cultures, and many cultures today still are, but it seems the Bible is singled out and blamed for many of the past and present prejudices and mistreatments of women simply because the Jewish culture, chronicled in the Old Testament, was also a patriarchal culture. Bible Definition of Patriarch In the Bible, the word "patriarch" is used only 4 times—all in the New Testament and all translated from the same Greek word, Patriarches, which literally means male ancestor or progenitor. Biblically speaking, the word patriarch encompasses no greater meaning than that.
The dictionary (secular) definition of patriarch is: The father and ruler of a family or tribe, a venerable old man, a bishop of the highest rank in the early Christian church, and patriarchy is defined as: a form of socialization in which the father is head of the family and in which descent is reckoned in the male line—the children belonging to the father's clan.
Feminist's view patriarchy as inherently oppressive and discriminatory towards women, i.e., male-chauvinistic and sexist, and rightly so, as historically, in practical application, that view has been well validated.
Women in the Genealogical Records: The Jewish culture, which is the culture the Old Testament of the Bible primarily chronicles, was a patriarchal culture. We see that the Jewish genealogies are primarily patriarchal—almost 100%. But they deviate from time to time to include women in the genealogical records. Although there is no law or command found in the Bible concerning family record keeping, it is obvious that the human race, as portrayed in the Bible, quickly turned from reckoning family lines through female kinship to the patriarchal method of socialization. Katharine Bushnell maintains genealogy was originally reckoned through female kinship, and she makes a good argument for female kinship and how and why it was overthrown.
Is the Bible a sexist book?
Definition of Chauvinist: The dictionary defines a chauvinist as one who puts his or her own gender on a pedestal, an irrational advocacy and love for one’s own sex, the minimization, status declassification, putting down, and belittling of the opposite sex as a whole. Sexism: A sexist is someone who advocates for and endorses chauvinistic thought and policy, implementing actual discrimination against the opposite sex.
Sexist discrimination is the culmination of chauvinistic thought, so logically, chauvinism leads to sexism. Do the scriptures put the male sex on a pedestal? Do the scriptures put the male sex on a pedestal and irrationally advocate for it while at the same time minimizing, putting down and belittling the female sex? The answer to that question is, no.
The Old Testament example is that women were not only equally citizens of the commonwealth of Israel just as men were, but were also well able and permitted to handle the responsibilities of leadership. Women are still afforded respect and opportunity in that culture. Deborah Golda Mier was born in Russia, grew up in America, and became the second female Prime Minister of Israel. The first was the Deborah we read of in the book of Judges.
In Deborah, we see an ancient example of a woman who held three major positions of authority in Israel. She held these positions simultaneously. Although she had a husband, she was the one who was Prophet, Judge (equal to our modern day heads of state) and Commander in Chief of the armies of Israel. Under her administration Israel lived in peace for forty years. In how many ancient patriarchal societies, besides the Old Testament Jewish culture, do we see a woman held in such high esteem that she serves as head of state, Commander in Chief of the army while also being recognized and deferred to as prophet to the nation? Look around the world today and count the number of women leaders in comparison to men. Even though, at this present time, there are more women in leadership than at any previous time in history, the worldwide ratio of men to women in leadership is still poor. Women are still not permitted to vote in many of today’s cultures. They are counted as citizens of their countries only in terms of possession but not in privilege
God Created Men and Women Equal The Bible itself (aside from how it is interpreted and taught by traditional role religionists) supports the fact that God initially created male and female as equal in status. The Bible says that both men and women are created in the image of God. The discrimination we still see today, even in these modern and “enlightened” times, is a consequence of sin being introduced into God’s creation. Although God himself, in the third chapter of Genesis, predicted that oppression of wives by their husbands would be one of the consequences of the woman’s sin, Genesis 3:16 does not imply, nor can it be inferred, that authority over their wives has been bestowed by God upon all husbands. But this remains the popular interpretation of the verse.
The fact is, there are many examples in scripture that refute this interpretation and prove that God is not a chauvinistic God, and that the Bible is not a sexist book, but in spite of the weight of scriptural evidence against it, most theological arguments concerning male authority ultimately lead to Genesis 3:16 anyway.
Women in the Bible: Would a sexist book include books named after women—books which memorialize their praiseworthy and heroic actions? Would a sexist book include women in genealogical records? In scripture, there are repeated instances of praiseworthy and heroic actions of women being recorded. The record is there of women in ministry. These things cannot be denied. We read of women functioning as deacon, apostle and teacher. The first person to see Jesus alive and to preach the gospel was a woman. We see women in the highest positions of leadership in the Bible. The most dramatic, of course, is Deborah, but we see others as well.
Huldah, the wife of Shallum, was a prophetess. Although she was married, there is no indication that she was required to consult her husband when she served the Lord as prophet to the nation of Israel. That placed her on the same authoritative plane as Nathan, who was prophet to Israel during the reign of King David. The same goes for Deborah. There is no evidence that she was required to consult with her husband as she carried out her leadership responsibilities as Judge, Prophet and Commander-in-Chief. Some may argue that Deborah is the only example in the entire history of Israel of a woman holding that position, but the fact is, there were only two men in the entire history of Israel who held all three positions simultaneously, and these were Moses and Samuel. So we see that Deborah's leadership position superseded that of every male in the entire Old Testament with the exception of the two she held equal rank with.
A chauvinistic-sexist book would never have carried the stories of Huldah and Deborah. It is the biased interpretations of traditional role religionists that has given the Bible a bad reputation as a male-chauvinistic and sexist book. To read more of articles on this subject, please visit the Woman Submit Blog.
Jocelyn’s next book: Woman this is WAR! Gender, Slavery, & the Evangelical Caste System, is scheduled for release on July 20, 2010 to coincide with the 162nd anniversary of the second day of the historic Seneca Falls Women's Conference held at a Methodist church in Seneca Falls, New York. It was a decidedly Christian event.