What does the Bible really say about women?

Published 10:29 am Saturday, February 22, 2014

In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to graduate from a medical school in the United States. In 1850, Harriet Tubman becomes a leader in the Underground Railroad, leading hundreds of slaves to freedom. In 1881, Clara Barton founds the Red Cross. In 1898, Marie Curie discovers radium, furthering X-ray technology. In 1900, golfer Margaret Abbot becomes the first woman to win an Olympic medal (gold). In 1920, women across the United States win the right to vote. In 1932, Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to complete a solo transatlantic flight. In 1951, Bette Nesmith Graham invents White-Out. And in 1983, Sally Ride becomes the first female to journey into space.

In just over 150 years, women have made incredible advances in our society, changing the way we think and function. Few of us can imagine a world without X-Rays and White-Out, female doctors, Olympians, or pilots. We see evidence each and every day that women are an incredible gift to our world, equally created in God’s image alongside men.

The only problem is for many years, the church has not given this same impression.  When we look at the Bible, we find passages like, “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection” (1 Timothy 2:11). Or “to the woman God said…’Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you’” (Genesis 3:16). There are still churches today that do not allow women to speak in worship, let alone preach. Others compel women to believe they have no place outside of the home, raising children.

Now this is not to say that all churches act this way, or even most. And it is not to say that it is wrong if women choose to stay at home and raise children. It is simply to say that this is the impression that people have of the church and the Bible. But is this really what the Bible teaches?

In the beginning of the gospel of Matthew, before the story of Jesus’ birth, there is a 15-verse description of Jesus’ family tree on his father’s side. It lists all of the men from whom Jesus has descended, going all the way back to Abraham. For most of us, this lineage looks boring, overwhelming. So we just skim past it and get on to the more appealing stories of Jesus’ birth and life. But in doing so, we miss something subtle but essential to Jesus’ ancestry.

You see, in between the names of all of patriarch’s in Jesus family, five women are listed. This was not typical practice in Jesus’ day.

The first woman listed is Tamar, a courageous widow who stood up against a family who tried to abandon her. Next is Rahab, a brave woman who helped the Israelite people conquer Jericho. Then there is Ruth, a kind woman who exhibits the ultimate measure of faithfulness to her mother-in-law, Naomi. After Ruth is Bathsheba, the wife of the great King David. And finally, there is Mary, the mother of Jesus, a woman who put herself at great risk in order to bear God’s son.

Now none of these women are by any means perfect. Indeed, some have had rather blatant character flaws. But they are listed because they impact who Jesus is and foreshadow who he will become. Jesus’ own bravery, courage, faithfulness and self-sacrifice are reflected in the

women who came before him.

But if the Bible didn’t value women, why would any of these stories be included? Why include the names of such strong female characters if God believes that women should simply subject themselves to men?

The only possible answer is that, of course, the Bible doesn’t feel this way. God does value women. Indeed, God loves women and sees just as much worth and potential in women as God sees in men.

The only question is, will we?

That’s why this Sunday, at Courtland United Methodist Church, we’re going to be teaching on “What Christians Believe about Women” as part of our “What Christians Believe” sermon series. We’re going to look closely at some of the teachings about women in the Bible, how we’ve misinterpreted them, and what God is truly trying to teach us. We’ll also hear a testimony from one of the first female pastors in the Methodist Church in Virginia, her struggles and how God was able to do great things through her in the face of those challenges.

Because, the truth is, for many years, Christians have gotten it wrong when it comes to the Bible’s teachings on women. But it’s not too late to learn and embrace what God really says.

So may you re-examine what the Bible truly teaches about women. May you see the value of the female figures in your life, and all women in this world. If you’re a woman, may you remember that God’s plans for you are just as great as those God has for the men around you. And someday soon, may we all embrace the fact that “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

BRANDON ROBBINS is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or pastor@courtlandumcva.org.