This a follow-on to my last post which featured Ten Things the Quran Actually Says Out Loud about women. A friend whose opinion I respect challenged me to compare my rundown of Quranic statements with the view of women reflected in the Bible. Clearly, entire books have been written on this subject so anything I try to do in a blog post will be inadequate! But I wanted to at least summarize why I feel the Bible values and affirms me as a woman.
If you’ve heard that the Bible demeans women, you might find this freeing.
1. All Men and Women Are Made in God’s Image
Genesis 1 summarizes the creation of the human race in a couple of verses.
Then God (Elohim) said, “Let Us make man (adam) in Our image, according to Our likeness”… God (Elohim) created man (adam) in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male (zakar) and female He created them. (Gen 1:26-27)
So, a little fun with words. Adam is not only the proper name of the first man; it is also the general word in Hebrew for man. It is not the same as the word that specifically denotes male, although it is sometimes used that way. So when we run across adam, it may mean the first man, or all men, or all people. So which does it mean here? Who precisely is created in God’s image?
The best way to interpret scripture is with scripture. Gen 5:2 states, “He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man (adam) in the day when they were created.” So here it seems to me God has made a point of making it clear that in the creation account, the word adam included the entire race.
All people are made in God’s image.
Doesn’t the Quran also tell the story of Adam and Eve (Hawwa)? Yes, but while the Quran version reflects the older Biblical account, there are important distinctions. The Quran specifically denies that any human, either man or woman, is made in God’s image. And the story that Hawwa was made from Adam’s rib is presented as evidence that women are by nature crooked and deficient. (To be fair, men are adjured to treat them kindly on account of this, but the Prophet’s concept of kind treatment included beating wives “lightly” and not in the face.)
2. Men and Women Are Designed for Profound Interdependence
The Genesis narrative goes on to explore the creation of humanity in more detail.
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable* for him.” (Gen 2:18) (* or corresponding to)
Up to the point where God creates man, the Bible states six times that “God saw that it was good.”
The first thing God sees in His entire creation that is not good is Adam, alone. Adam needs a “help” that corresponds to him.
The word “help” here, ezer, is from a root meaning to surround, protect or aid. While in English the word “helper” can imply a subordinate assistant (as in “the help”), this word in the Hebrew clearly does not have that implication. The Bible even uses it to refer to the Lord Himself (Hos 13:9: “…you are against Me, against your help.” Ex 18:4: “… the God of my father was my help.”)
After the Lord creates Eve as the precise “help” that corresponds to Adam, scripture decrees,
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. (Gen 2:23-24)
Back to the theme of “made in God’s image,” the word for “one” in “one flesh” is also a word used to describe God Himself, signifying the interrelatedness of the persons of the trinity. (“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” Deut 6:4.)
Let’s take a deeper look at the word Elohim. This is the name the Hebrew scriptures use for God throughout the creation account, as well as in thousands of other places, and it’s fascinating. It’s actually a plural word—the –im is the plural ending in Hebrew. But it’s generally used with singular pronouns and verb conjugations. So from the very first sentence in scripture (“In the beginning, Elohim (plural) created (singular)…” Gen 1:1), God tells us that He is somehow a compound unity—a fellowship in a single being!
The Bible is a bit mysterious as to exactly what it means that we are created in God’s image. What aspects of our nature precisely reflect His? There are varying ideas on the subject but I’m convinced this is part of it:
In the diversity of masculine and feminine there is also a compound unity that reflects the image of Elohim.
Humans are defined by our interrelatedness! As is Elohim Himself. And we are specifically defined by the interdependence between male and female.
“A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” No one seems quite sure who coined the phrase, but it was popular graffiti when I was a young woman, um, a few years ago.
But God’s truth is that neither sex is complete without the other. Preeminent Bible commentator Matthew Henry stated it this way:
“Women were created from the rib of man to be beside him, not from his head to top him, nor from his feet to be trampled by him, but from under his arm to be protected by him, near to his heart to be loved by him.”
Just a thought that occurs to me. Would you rather be created from dirt, as Adam was, or from your partner’s very flesh and bone?
3. Jesus Defied Convention to Reach Out to Women—Even “Nasty” Women
Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)… The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” John 4:9, 25
And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner…. She brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. Now when the Pharisee… saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.”… Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:37-39,48-50
A woman trapped in a sinful lifestyle anoints Jesus’ feet. He praises her act of devotion and forgives her sins.
And a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and could not be healed by anyone, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped…. And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” Luke 8:43-44,48
[Jesus] said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”… Those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8:7-11
Jesus had a heart for women and was not hesitant to associate with them. By contrast, here’s what Mohammad had to say to a group of women. (This is recorded in the hadith Sahih Al-Bukhari, which is considered a “strong,” or canonical, hadith.)
Then [Mohammad] passed by the women and said, “O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women).” They asked, “Why is it so, O Allah’s Apostle?” He replied, “You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you.” The women asked, “O Allah’s Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?” He said, “Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?” They replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn’t it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?” The women replied in the affirmative. He said, “This is the deficiency in her religion.” (Sahih Bukhari 6:301)
4. A Woman Can Excel in Many Walks of Life
I learned when I visited Israel with my family that the word translated “excellent” in this verse is chayil (say the ch like an h, but with a little phlegm). It means to have whatever resources it takes to get a job done—whether in force of arms, wealth, virtue, efficiency, valor or strength. The same word is translated elsewhere as “able” (“Moreover, you shall provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God: men of truth, hating unjust gain…” Ex 18:21), “valor” (“Joshua chose thirty thousand men, the mighty men of valor…” Joshua 8:3), “wealth” (“Naomi had a kinsman of her husband’s, a mighty man of wealth…” Ruth 2:1).
The Proverb goes on to applaud this woman of valor for her business acumen, for her administrative skills, for her teaching ability, for her diligence, for the care she takes of her family and for her charity in her community.
Yes, she exercises many of these wonderful gifts in the context of her home and family, but in Bible times most households were engaged in some form of cottage industry. And shouldn’t all of us—men and women—give first priority to the needs of our families?
In fact, in the Bible, Godly women are courageous queens, righteous judges, successful merchants… even prophets of God.
The Proverb ends with the statement:
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.
Give her the product of her hands,
And let her works praise her in the gates. (Prov 31:30-31)
So a Godly woman should receive the recognition she deserves for her good works before the entire community.
It is a tradition for a Jewish man to recite (or sing!) this passage over his wife every Friday evening as Shabbat begins, to affirm to her how deeply her contribution is valued.
Proverbs 31 praises “a woman of valor” using the same language applied to Joshua’s “mighty men.” Here is Hebrew script for the phrase.
5. There’s Perfect Equality at the Foot of the Cross
The world’s system has always evaluated people’s worth based on externals: race, position, wealth, gender. But our Father in Heaven does not. We all have the same status at the foot of the cross.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. Gal 3:28-29
God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. 1 Sam 16:7
Yes, there are some of those. I had hoped to cover that, too, in one Ten Things the Bible Says… post, but as you see even this Five Things post got to be much too long.
So, it seems this will be the second of a three-part series :). Please check out my next post in this series—I promise I’ll tackle some of the tough stuff!
But let me lay a little groundwork first. While of course Biblical scholarship leaves room for different views, mainstream Christian scholars believe that God operates in human history according to covenants He created. God does not change and His covenants are eternal, but not all covenants are in force at all times for all people.
The Mosaic Covenant was a detailed system of laws given to Moses on Mount Sinai—Jewish scholars have enumerated 613 distinct commandments. These commandments applied in the context of the theocratic Biblical nation of Israel. When Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, came, He offered a “new covenant” (Jer 31:31) that extended to the entire world (John 3:16). In this new covenant, we “worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23) rather than through ritual. This “Law of love” (Rom 13:10) is “written on our hearts” (Jer 31:33) through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Many—but not all—of the “problem passages” for women are part of the Mosaic covenant, which the vast majority of Christian believers agree does not apply today.
Muslim scholars have a concept called “abrogation” (naskh in Arabic). It is not the same as the Biblical concept of dispensations or covenants, but the effect is similar. Suras that came later in Mohammad’s career nullify those that came earlier.
But here’s the difference. In the Bible, Jesus’ law of grace (Eph 2:8-9) fulfills and supersedes the more prescriptive Mosaic code (Matt 5:17). In Islam, abrogation works the other way. “Kinder gentler” suras that are cited to demonstrate that Islam is a “religion of peace” with “no compulsion in religion” are the ones that are abrogated by later material that directly contradicts them.
Here’s an excerpt from an explanation by David Bukay, a lecturer in the school of political science at the University of Haifa:
That there is no compulsion in Islam and that Islam is a religion of peace are common refrains among Muslim activists, academics, officials, and journalists. In an age of terrorism and violent jihad, nowhere, they argue, does the Qur’an allow Muslims to fight non-Muslims solely because they refuse to become Muslim. Proponents of Islamic tolerance point to a number of Qur’anic verses which admonish violence and advocate peace, tolerance, and compromise.
But not all verses in the Qur’an have the same weight in assessment….
During the lifetime of Muhammad, the Islamic community passed through three stages. In the beginning from 610 until 622, God commanded restraint. As the Muslims relocated to Medina (623-26), God permitted Muslims only to fight in a defensive war. However, in the last six years of Muhammad’s life (626-32), God permitted Muslims to fight an aggressive war first against polytheists, and later against monotheists like the Jews of Khaybar. Once Muhammad was given permission to kill in the name of God, he instigated battle.
Chapter 9 of the Qur’an, in English called “Ultimatum,” is the most important concerning the issues of abrogation and jihad… Commentators agree that Muhammad received this revelation in 631, the year before his death, when he had returned to Mecca and was at his strongest…. Coming at or near the very end of Muhammad’s life, “Ultimatum” trumps earlier revelations. Because this chapter contains violent passages, it abrogates previous peaceful content….
For many Islamists and radical Muslims, abrogation is real and what the West calls terror is, indeed, just.
If anyone’s still with me… 🙂 I know this has been a lengthy post and I’m grateful you’ve hung in. I applaud your fortitude! Please check out Does the God of the Bible Favor a Gender, where I tackle some of those “problem” Bible texts on women.