“Misogyny” refers to an ingrained prejudice against women. Does the Bible have this? It seems to, starting with the first woman. Eve is deceived by the serpent, and while both Adam and Eve are punished, Paul names Eve as the responsible party: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Tim. 2:13-14). Paul uses this connection to caution Timothy about women in leadership.
Other passages that could be seen as misogynous include Levitical laws regarding menstruation and childbirth, a law that allows a man to “test” his wife for infidelity by having her to drink a potion prepared by a priest (Num. 5:11-31), Abraham’s exploitation of Sarai/Sarah by passing her off as his sister, David’s abuse of power with Bathsheba, Solomon’s use of women as political pawns, Pauline directives for women to be silent, Peter’s household code, and even Jesus’ exchange with the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7).
The evidence seems to tip in favor of biblically endorsed misogyny.
That’s why we Reformed Christians need to look more deeply at these texts in particular and at Scripture as a whole. We are readers who have been trained to look at passages and ask, “Who wrote this? To whom? When? In what language? In what genre? What did these words mean to the people who first heard them?” Reformed Christians must be willing to wrestle with individual texts within the larger narrative of Scripture.
What we’ll discover is that Eve is addressed as an equal to Adam in Genesis 3 and is punished just as he is. The Levitical laws honor the role of women as life-bringers to the community and help with postpartum care and hygiene. Abraham, David, and Solomon are all punished for their treatment of the women mentioned above, and much ink has been spilled over Paul’s and Peter’s advice about women.
But the most compelling witness against biblically endorsed misogyny is Jesus. Jesus welcomes women, empowers women, is funded by women, and teaches women. Even the awkward passage in which Jesus seems to insult the Syrophoenician woman is radical because Jesus the Jewish rabbi not only permits a Gentile woman to speak to him, but gives her the last word.
Women are drawn to Jesus. They anoint him and wash his feet. They are last to leave the cross and first at the tomb. What women see in Jesus is what they have longed to see in the world around them but haven’t.
Women were drawn to Christianity because they were valued there. They joined the early church in strong numbers (and were praised by Paul for their leadership in Romans 16). Celsus was a second-century Greek writer who attacked the church for its welcome of women: “(Christians) show they want and are able to convince only the foolish, dishonorable, and stupid; only slaves, women, and little children” (Cels. 3.44). While the general population at the time was two-thirds men and one-third women, Christian communities were two-thirds women and one-third men.
Women were drawn to the church as a community in which they mattered and their gifts were celebrated. In a world that still wrestles with misogyny, the Bible calls us to live differently.
What an amazing community to be part of.