Lalitha: (reading an article) Only the Sikh faith has no gender differentiation between men and women where all are equal.
Me: True, but so also in Christianity.
Lalitha: No. In the Bible if a woman made a vow and the husband or father disallowed it, it would not stand. They are not equal, but under the authority of the man.
Me: That is the culture of the time, and not the Bible teaching in gender.
Lalitha: That way you can prove anything.
Is there cultural accommodation in the Bible? When Jesus said “It is because of the hardness of your heart that Moses gave this command” does it mean that the Jews interpretation was wrong because of the hardness of their heart, or this command was given because of the hardness of their heart? I prefer to see it as a wrong interpretation by the Jews, but many see it as a cultural accommodation in the Mosaic Laws to culture. On the other hand, the laws on slavery and concubines are clearly an accommodation to culture, since these are not what God wanted at any stage.
So what is the teaching on gender in the Bible? Firstly, they are clearly different and so roles are different. However, the first role indicated in the Bible for women was to be a helpmeet. The word used here is ‘ezer’ which means help or succour, or one who helps or succours. This word is used 21 times in the Bible – Genesis 2:18, 2:20, Exodus 18:4, Deuteronomy 33:2, 33:26, 33:29, Ps 20:2, 33:20, 70:5, 89:19, 115:9, 115:10, 115:11, 121:1, 121:2, 124:8, 146:5 Isaiah 30:5, Ezekiel 12:14, Daniel 11:34 and Hosea 13:9.
In the 19 instances outside Genesis 2, 16 refer to God helping Israel. In 2 instances it is of a more powerful nation sending its armies to help Israel. In one it speaks of no one to help Israel. From this it can be concluded that the primary meaning of ‘ezer’ is of a more powerful person helping a weaker person. Just like Jesus said in Matthew 19:4-6 the text in Genesis 2 shows the original intention of God that there should be no divorce, I would say that this was meant to be the original position of woman in relationship to man. However, due to culture, Jesus says in Matthew 19:8, that Moses permitted divorce. Hardness of heart led to the fallen culture. This same fallen culture has led to the inferior position of women in the world, and their suppression, instead of women being God’s power for man.
In the New Testament, while we see many signs of liberation for women, (in they being among Jesus’ disciples) there is no attempt to over turn the state of affairs. The approach taken through the Bible is to curtail the negative effects of a fallen culture, rather than try to force a divine view on people who cannot understand. Hence we find that slavery, concubinage are referred to without condemnation, when laws are made to curtail abuse of victims.
To Paul our testimony to those who do not know God was more important than setting right these injustices for the present. He felt that if we did try and set these right, it would affect the testimony of the church. This has been Paul’s theme in 1 Corinthians, not to do anything, even if it is right in the sight of God, if it will turn people away from God.
In the New Testament, with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit where we should be able to understand the divine will, these cultural aberrations need to be set right within the church, to the extent where it does not spoil its testimony. Unfortunately for the church, these aberrations are being forced on the church as the will of God, and the Biblical teaching, so that education is proving the liberator rather than Jesus. The world seems to be moving ahead of the church.