Women and the Bible
BY JOEL NEDERHOOD
I Corinthians 11:3-10
William Manchester, an analyst of cultural trends, recently writes in an article in U.S. News and World Report, "The erasure of the distinctions between the sexes is not only the most striking issue of our time, it may be the most profound the race has ever confronted."
If what Manchester says is true, and I believe it is, then it is equally true that the development of feminist theology is among the most profound the church has ever seen.
Feminist theology is based on the principle that the Bible is a time-bound book that is no longer directly useful for us who live in the modern world. Affecting virtually everything going on in most churches today, it has succeeded in doing what centuries of liberalism were not able to accomplish: namely, the destruction of the authority of the Bible.
The damage this feminist theology has brought to the church can be characterized by the following:
1. A negative evaluation of men.First of all, feminist theology is like feminism in general in that it begins with a negative evaluation of men and their role in society. Modern feminism is an aggressive movement that seeks to achieve complete equality for the sexes within society, and the basis for this movement is the conviction that men have long suppressed women and mistreated them.
Writing in The Washington Post, novelist and reporter Sally Quinn have this to say about the National Association of Women: "The truth is that many women have come to see the feminist movement as anti-male, anti-child, anti-family, anti-feminine." One encounters similar negative statements about men among some of the most influential feminist theologians.
A frequently used term among feminist theologians is hegemony, specifically male hegemony. Hegemony is rulershipand feminist theologians view the Bible as something that was written in order to establish male hegemony over women.
2. An evolutionistic view of the Bible.The second element of this theology is an evolutionistic view of the Bible. That is essential if feminist theologians are going to establish their position, which contradicts the Bible at many points.
Such a view sees the Bible as a product of the evolutionary development of the human race. This view declares that the ability to use symbols and create myths grew within our race millions of years ago, and along with that, certain books were produced that represent this religious element of humanity. The Bible is a part of this mythological record. It is simply one expression of the human religious spirit among many others.
This view contradicts the truth that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is, in fact, the authoritative Word of God.
3. Interest in religious sources other than the Bible.This brings me to the third characteristic of feminist theology: a deep interest in religious books other than the Bible. The feminist position rests to a significant degree on a body of writings that were produced one to five centuries after the New Testament books of the Bible were written. They are what we call Gnostic writings.
The Gnostics believed in many elements of Christianity, but they developed into an anti-Christian movement that was rejected by the early church. Feminist theologians lean heavily on these writings because these writings elevate women in the religious community.
Early in her theological career, Rosemary Reuther, who is among the founders of modern feminist theology, examined many extra-biblical sources and concluded that there had apparently been a golden age of religion sometime before the New Testament era. In that golden age goddesses had been the central figures in religious life.
4. A rejection of biblical descriptions of God.All this leads feminist theology to reject the exclusively male designations of God found in the Bible. These are viewed as attempts on the part of the biblical writers to establish male hegemonymale powerby using the strongest possible arguments, such as this: If God is a male, then, obviously, being male is superior to being female.
Anyone the least bit acquainted with the Bible knows that God has chosen to reveal Himself in male terms. We should understand that God is a spiritual being and that sexuality, as we know it and experience it, is not a part of God's being. But in His sovereignty God, who is always beyond our comprehension, has chosen to ascribe attributes to His being that relate to the male element of the human race.
Think, for example, of Jesus' reply to those who asked Him for instruction in the way they should pray. He told them to address God as "Our Father in heaven". The gospel of John emphasizes the fatherhood of God and the sonship of Jesus throughout.
Whether we like it or not, the Bible cannot be understood apart from a recognition that God has revealed Himself as a Father God and has arranged the lives of His people so that the male element would have important significance. We cannot understand the plan of salvation unless we understand the special inheritance rights that first-born sons had among the people of Israel. In the New Testament, all believers, female and male, are viewed as firstborn sons of Godthat is, they receive the rights of inheritance in God's family.
Devastating ChangesBecause it finds biblical religion to be unsatisfactory, feminist theology is causing great changes within the church. And within the church this movement becomes very devastating. One of the most striking changes that feminist theology wants to see implemented is that we learn new language for Godfeminine language.
The power of this attack upon masculine language for God is so great that at least one seminary that I am familiar with, one that was within the conservative camp in the Sixties, has been thoroughly captivated by this movement, and today its students, both men and women, argue that you can call God anything you want, so long as what you call Him makes you feel comfortable.
These are by no means innocent changes. It is the most devastating, anti-biblical movement ever to come down the pike.
I also know of a religious publishing house, which considers itself to be very conservative, that has announced it would play down the masculine side of God in its regular writings so as not to make women feel uneasy with the Christian message.
These are by no means innocent changes. It is the most devastating anti-biblical movement ever to come down the pike. It is in fact a return to the very religions which the Bible has steadfastly opposed.
The Biblical view. This brings me to what the Bible says in I Corinthians 11. This passage is strange, in a way because it contains elements that are difficult to understand. As a result, the importance of the passage is often down-played. But the passage is important because it conveys the Bible's rejection of pagan feminine types of religion. God says in verses 3-10:I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her headit is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head.As I said, part of this passage is hard to understand, but the principle that dominates this material is one that makes biblical religion totally different from non-biblical religion. When we think of God, we must think of Him as the Creator. And God's creation did not come about through sex.
Genesis 2 records that man is a creation from the dust of the ground, and woman is a creation from the rib of man. It locates all origins in a divine power, and that divine power created man first. That man was created first is a primary element of biblical religion.
Many who believe that what I have just said is true are afraid nowadays to declare their obedience to the Scriptures because they have been intimidated. Feminist theologians wield unusual power. Clergy who have been influenced by their positions are entering the churches by the scores. Seminaries report that gradually their census is swinging in the direction of a majority of women.
Because of the influence of feminine theology these days, the church is in grave danger. Everything about traditional biblical religion is up for grabs. In fact, everything must now be reinterpreted in terms of the ideas and insights that have come from sources that are unworthy of our trust. Unless this trend is reversed, we can expect God's judgment to come upon the church. o
Dr. Joel Nederhood is radio minister on The Back To God Hour. For broadcast information, write to 6555 W. College Drive, Palos Heights, IL 60463.
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