Christianity is often accused of being a vile, evil religion, in part because of the perception that women in the Bible are seen to be treated as less than men . But nothing could be further from the truth. In this post, I am going to address some common myths around the status of women in the Bible.

1) Women were considered property.

This has risen from two points; first, because the tenth commandment lumps women together with slaves, home and livestock. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.(ex 20:17)

To covet means to have a burning desire for. Moreover as one preacher described it the commandments go like this, do not kill Do not commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie and DON’T EVN THINK ABOUT ANY OF THE ABOVE.

Jesus taught that if a man lusted after a woman he had already committed adultery with her in his heart. And that is what is at the root of thou shalt not covet.

Secondly, some like to point out that when a man married a woman, he paid a mohar or bride-price to the father. But the mohar was to be put away and kept by the woman in the event that her husband died without leaving any heirs or if he divorced her, she kept the mohar as a kind of “alimony”.1, 2

2. Because women were to be subservient, the Bible condones spousal abuse.

False again. Man by nature is often rebellious against God. But what does God say in Malachi 2:14 “You ask ‘why?’ It is because the LORD is acting as witness between you and the wife of your youth because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant. Also, if men are supposed to have authority over their wives, what does this mean? “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave”. (Matt 20:25)

3 Women could not own property.

Numbers chapter 27 tells the story of Zelophedad’s daughters. Zelophedad had five daughters, but no sons. The people of Zelophedad’s clan did not want the women to inherit their father’s property as it might be passed on to another tribe or clan (Note that when God divided the land among the Israelites, he made it so that the inheritance always stayed in the same tribe and no one could inherit the land from two different tribes. So inheritance was always reckoned through the father) The clansmen were concerned that if the daughters inherited the land and married someone from another clan, then tribal land could be transferred to another clan. Also, notice that initially the five daughters approached Moses themselves. (They did not have to have men do it for them, thus demonstrating that women had accessibility to the legal system). A mutual agreement was reached and they women were allowed to inherit the property so long as they married someone from within the clan. Had they chosen to marry outside the clan, they would have forfeit the inheritance and the daughters seemed content with this.

4 What about Jephthah’s daughter.

Judges 11 tells the story of a man who was successful in battle and thus made a vow to God that he would sacrifice to God the first person to come through his tent door. And, Jephthah’s daughter was the first person to come in and greet her father and so she was chosen to be the sacrifice.

Jephthah made several mistakes here. First the Bible says never to make a foolish vow before God. Secondly, the Bible also said that God abhorred human sacrifice, and thirdly all animal sacrifices to the LORD were to be male. So, Jephthah put himself in a position where no matter what he did was going to be some sin. There is no evidence in the Bible that God approved of or condoned the sacrifice and it can be universally agreed on that what Jephtah did was really, really stupid.

5. If a woman gets raped, she has to marry her rapist. Deut 22 :28-29 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her, He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

I covered that in a post to an atheist’s blog. I’ll repost it here.

1. There is more to this than what is shown by just the “bite” we have here.
First look at the preceding verses Deut 22:25-27 “But if out in the country a man happens to meet a girl pledged to be married and he rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die. Do nothing to the girl. She has committed no sin deserving death “. Also, we have at least 4 instances of Biblical marriages that I can name off the top of my head And I find no precedent for a forced marriage (Isaac & Rebekah, Jacob to Rachel & Leah, Ruth to Boaz) Genesis 24 recounts the story of Abraham’s servant going to find a wife for Isaac, after the servant follows the girl home to her family, he gives her and her family gifts, and then after discussing whether Rebekah should go back with the servant, they say “Let’s call the girl and ask her about it. So they called Rebekah and asked her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ ‘I will go,’ she said”. (Gen 24:57-58) After this, we have the story of Jacob with Leah and Rachel, and although we get the story of Jacob asking Laban (the girls’ father) there is nothing to indicate that either of them was forced into a marriage she did not want (although there was the deception of Laban and Leah) Finally, look at Ruth chapters 3-4. Finally, I know very little of Hebrew or Greek, but here is a link that discusses the variation in the translation of the word “rape” in different passages and how it applies here.


2) Jewish Marriage in Antiquity, Satlow, Michael L Princeton University


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