The New Humanist advertisement campaign is an illustration of quote-mining at its ugliest. The sad thing is that in a culture that does little critical thinking of its own, these sound-bites may prove to be effective in showing that Christianity is inherently sexist, or worse yet, misogynistic.
Forgive me for my use of bullet-points. Here are just a few things to consider in light of the rest of the Bible and Christian history about the role of women.
- Deborah was a judge of Israel, a prophetess and warrior as described in the book of Judges.
- The Bible has two books named after women. Esther’s bravery stopped the genocide of Jews in Persia, and the Jewish festival of Purim is annually held in her honor and is still celebrated to this day. Ruth was a convert to Judaism, the great-grandmother of David, a foremother of Jesus.
- Jesus revealed himself to first to women after the resurrection, so in one sense, women were the first evangelists. Women’s testimony in this time of history was not even accepted in court.
- In a proclamation of equality in light of Christ’s redemption, Paul says in his Letter to the Galatians that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
- Jesus’ disciples, showing the sexist attitude of the time in the Jewish nation, questioned why Jesus was talking at the Samaritan women at the well when the returned with food in John 4. He ministered graciously to her and she was responsible for bringing her whole city to faith in Christ.
- Peter quoted the prophet Joel in his inaugural sermon in Acts 2, which states that your sons and daughters would prophesy. Phillip the evangelist had four daughters that prophesied in the 21st chapter. To prophesy is to speak with inspiration, and could entail preaching.
- In Romans 16, Paul speaks of Phoebe as a helper of many. The Greek word translated “helper” in this verse is prostatis and, according to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, means “one who presides” or “a woman who is set over others.” The evidence seems to point to the fact that Phoebe functioned in a leadership role similar to what we would call pastoral ministry.
- Paul in the same chapter refers to Priscilla and Aquila and the church that is in their house. Priscilla and Aquila are always mentioned together in Scripture, which indicates that they worked and ministered together as a team. This is confirmed by Acts 18:26 where both Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos aside and both explained to him the way of God more accurately.
- In verse 7 of the same chapter, Paul sends greetings to Andronicus and Junia who are of note among the apostles. Junia is a feminine name and so we have here a woman who is recognized by Paul as an apostle. The early church father, John Chrysostom, commenting on this verse, said, “Oh how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle.”
- In more modern times, the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel is the 2nd largest Pentecostal/Charismatic Christian denomination in the world, and was founded by a woman, Aimee Semple McPherson in 1927.
Regarding the passage quoted in the ad, I propose this hermeneutic in light of the rest of the rest of Christian scripture. I’m not dogmatic about it, but I think it makes good sense.
- 1 Timothy is a personal letter, written to an individual, not to a church, indicating that Paul is addressing personal issues related to Timothy and his unique situation. He is not addressing universal issues.
- Ch 1. vs. 3 indicates that Paul is addressing a particular problem in the church in Ephesus and what he writes regarding a local situation.
- The word translated “authority” in vs. 12 is not the normal Greek word for authority and is found only here in the New Testament, indicating that Paul is not addressing the normal exercise of authority in all churches, but is addressing the unique problem.
- Paul comes to the passages in question he suddenly switches from addressing “women” in vss. 9-10 to addressing “a woman” in verses 11-15, leading some scholars to decide that he is addressing one particular troublesome woman.
These biblical facts are radical in light of the first century context in which both Jew and Roman alike shared a rather low view of women. Aimee Semple McPherson and also other female evangelists in the early part of the last century also faced a tremendous amount of persecution, with much of it finding its root in sexism.
The Humanists should take some more thoughtful care when presenting what “some believe”. By acting like they have the moral high ground, all they show is their willingness to use any tactic to discredit Christianity because of their own intolerance.
On a personal note, I would like to also add that some of the best sermons I have heard in my life came through tremendously gifted and godly women. I still go over many of these messages to this day. I have not found Christianity to be sexist, but rather an exalting of both sexes to their rightful and equal places of love and honor found in God.
*See also Ravi Zacharias‘ excellent response to a university student’s question regarding atheism, feminism and the Bible.