Does the bible support male superiority?

Before we go into this, it is very important to understand that the scriptures were translated to English, they weren’t originally written in English. Translations also come at a price; for instance; the direct interpretation of the Yoruba name “Babajide” is “father woke came”, or even better; “father woke up and came”. However, none of these translations accurately captures the real meaning which is “the dead father’s spirit has come to life again”. Translations are also affected by the culture, thinking, experiences and bias of the translator, often subconscious. This is why there are various versions of the English bible. Also the bible was not initially written in chapters and verses; those were introduced later, hence reading certain verses without reading the whole chapter or preceding verses or even the whole book will mean to take things out of context. Now that we are on the same page, let’s get into it.

Genesis 1:27 : So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Galatians 3:28 : There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Both male and female were equally created in the image of God, and even if that was not the case, it has been rectified in Christ Jesus as stated in Galatians 3:28. But this doesn’t take away the bible verses quoted time and again or the popular statements that seem to promote male superiority and female subservience in Christianity. Do these verses say what we say they mean or have they been misunderstood? Let’s look at these verses and statements one after another.

1. “Eve was created after Adam and she was created to be his helper, this must be proof that God intended Adam to have authority over Eve”

If creation order determines hierarchy, the lions and goats must be superior to mankind. since they were created before mankind. Actually, the opposite is the case, the sophistication of God’s creation increased with each new creation. The creation order of Adam and Eve shows oneness not hierarchy. Eve was drawn out of Adam’s side and when Adam saw her, he knew that she was his bone and his flesh. They were one and the same.

The same word in the old testament used to describe God as our rescuer was the same one used to describe Eve as Adam’s helper. The “helper” in this case does not denote domesticity or subservience, it denotes, competence and superior strength even. Eve was instrumental in rescuing the man from being alone, and enabling him become with her the oneness God wanted to establish through their union. Eve was not made because Adam was bored neither was she made to complement Adam as aide de camp, rather she was created to rescue him into oneness (community) with her as God intended.

2. So how about, 1 Corinthians 11: 7–11

7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels.11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman.

Verse 11 sweeps aside the preceding text with the very confirmation of equality in the lord. By stating that men and women are interdependent on one another in the new covenant. Verse 12 goes further to explain the interdependence by explaining that man also comes from woman (mother) and states God as our mutual source

1 Corinthians 11:12: For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

3. But 1 Timothy 2:11–14 blames woman for the transgressions of mankind, hence places her in the position of subservience

11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

It’s funny how we still think the “blame game” is an attribute of the new covenant. One word gives us a clearer understanding of what this verse means.

The word “authority” in 1 Timothy 2:11–12 is a translation of the Greek word authentein, which is found only here in the entire New Testament. The very fact that it is used only here should cause us to pause and question why that would be the case. It certainly indicates that Paul is not addressing the normal exercise of authority in the church.

If Paul were addressing the normal exercise of “authority” in the church, he would have used the Greek word exousia, which he and other New Testament writers use over 100 times. That Paul uses this strange Greek word that neither he nor any other New Testament writer ever uses is a clear sign that he is addressing a unique and local situation in Ephesus, and is not giving instructions for all churches everywhere.

Since the word authentein is used only here in the New Testament, it has been necessary to examine ancient Greek literature to see how it was used. Its use from around 600 B.C. up to the time of Paul carried the meaning of “gaining the upper hand” with connotations of control, dominance and even violence. In one case, it was used of a murder. The murderer was said to have committed authentein against the victim.

Like I said earlier in this article, interpreting some verses individually would be taking things out of context. Let’s look at the context: The context suggests that authentein was the appropriate word for addressing the unique situation Paul and Timothy are confronting in Ephesus. It is clear from 1 Timothy 1:3 (3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer) that the purpose of this letter is to encourage and instruct Timothy in his unpleasant task of confronting false teaching that is being spread in the church at Ephesus. In this passage, Paul reminds Timothy how he (Paul) had urged him to remain in Ephesus to continue confronting this false teaching.

It is also clear from this passage, and others such as 1 Timothy 5:13–15, that the false teaching is having a particular effect on the women of Ephesus and causing them to act in ways unbecoming of a Christian. Paul’s use of authentein is obviously the appropriate word for addressing what is happening in Ephesus at the time.

In other words, Paul did not write I Timothy to lay out a church order for all churches of all times. He wrote I Timothy to encourage Timothy in his difficult assignment of confronting false teaching that had infiltrated the church in Ephesus.

Also the fact that Paul addresses the women (plural) in I Timothy 2:8–9 and then changes to “a woman” (singular) in vss. 11–12 may indicate that he has a particular woman in mind who is responsible for propagating this false teaching.

The specificity of the admonition is borne out also by the phrase in 2:12, I do not permit, which, in the Greek, is in the present, ongoing sense and literally reads, “I am not permitting.” This seems to point to a restriction specific to the current situation in Ephesus, with the meaning, “I am not permitting at this time”.

After stating that he didn’t permit a woman at that time to have authentein over a man, Paul brought in the example of the first sin. Eve was less prepared for the tempter, since she wasn’t yet created when God instructed Adam about the forbidden tree. Despite, her disadvantage she was forward and went ahead to boldly engage the tempter and she then sinned. So, in 1 Timothy 2: 11–14, Paul appears to be talking about a particular woman who wasn’t meant to be preaching at that time. Not because she was a woman, but because she had not learnt enough to prepare her for teaching or preaching, just like Eve was less prepared for the tempter. The result of Eve’s action from ignorance was very bad, so was to be the result of the false teaching by under-prepared teachers and preachers.

Isn’t it weird that Paul who encouraged female ministers under him, and even acknowledged the female apostle Junia in Romans 16:7 will now restrict women from participating in the preaching of the gospel?

4. So, how about I Corinthians 14:34–35?

Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.

There are several immediate and glaring problems with this passage. First of all, it is out of character with what we know of Paul from Acts and his other letters. Secondly, this passage is also out of character with what Paul has said earlier in this same letter where women are allowed to pray and prophesy if, for cultural reasons in Corinth, they wear a head covering. Thirdly, what “law” is being referred to in this passage? There is no such law in the Old Testament that demands female silence in the public assembly.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for taking this passage at face value is the fact that it is a part of a larger dialogue about Spiritual gifts and, in typical Pauline fashion, inclusive language is used throughout the discussion. In I Corinthians 14:23, for example, Paul speaks of the potential of the whole church coming together and all speaking with tongues. Then in vss. 24 & 31, he speaks of the potential for all to prophesy. In vs. 31 he says all may prophesy that all may learn and allbe encouraged.

In no way does Paul imply that all does not mean both men and women in these verses. If he had wanted to exclude women he could have done so by using gender-specific language, but he doesn’t. Verse 21 in the KJV has Paul saying, In the Law it is written, with men of other tongues and other lips will I speak to this people. “Men,” however, is not in the Greek, but was added by the translators. The NRSV got it right by translating the Greek phrase as, By people of strange tongues .

There have been various attempts to explain this, Some bible scholars have even gone as far saying Paul didn’t write this verse. The answer to this dilemma comes to light when we recall that, in this letter, Paul addresses doctrinal questions that have been posed to him by the Corinthians in a previous letter written to him. He, no doubt, also addresses issues brought to light by members of the household of Chloe who brought him a negative report about the Corinthians and their behavior (I Corinthians 1:11). Therefore, throughout this letter Paul is responding to doctrinal questions or slogans of the Corinthians for the purpose of correcting them.

A clear example of Paul responding to the Corinthians is 7:1 where he says, Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is not good for a man to touch a woman. There is wide-spread agreement among New Testament scholars that the part of the phrase, it is not good for a man to touch a woman, is a statement made by the Corinthians in their previous letter to Paul. He repeats it here as a means of introducing the topic and refuting their stance on the matter.

Another example is 12:1 where he says, Now concerning Spiritual gifts, an indication that he is now addressing questions they had posed to him about Spiritual gifts. Not only in 7:1 and 12:1, but in other sections of the letter, such as 1:12 and 3:4, Paul quotes or alludes to things the Corinthians themselves have said and then responds to their statements and slogans in order to correct them.

There is strong textual evidence that in 14:34–35, Paul is quoting what the Corinthians have said for the purpose of refuting it. This is indicated by Paul’s use of a tiny Greek word at the beginning of vs. 36, and immediately following the statement about women being silent. It is the word η, which is sometimes used in Greek as an “expletive of disassociation,” such as the English, “Nonsense!” or “Rubbish!” or “Certainly not!”

Although the word can have various uses, depending on context, this use was not uncommon in the New Testament era. It is, in fact, used several times in this manner by Paul in this letter. Unfortunately, in most English Bibles, the η has been either left untranslated or translated by a simple “or,” which serves to diminish the forceful manner in which Paul is using it.

One example is 6:1 is where he mentions the propensity of the Corinthians to take one another to pagan courts rather than submitting their contentions to fellow believers. He responds with η (Nonsense!) and then says, Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? Another example is 9:8 where Paul confronts their suggestion that he is speaking on his own authority with η (Nonsense!) and then says, Does not the law say the same also?

This use of η to refute a previous statement is confirmed by the massive Greek-English Lexicon by Liddell and Scott, which gives a definition of η as “an exclamation expressing disapproval.”

This means that in I Corinthians 14:34–35 Paul is quoting what the Corinthians have said about women being silent and then replies with “an exclamation expressing disapproval.” He says, “η,” meaning “Nonsense!”

Paul then uses η a second time in vs. 36. After the first η, in which he rebuts their notion of women being silent, he asks the Corinthians, Did the word of God originate with you, and follows that question with anther η, or “Certainly not!”

Women and men are both equal in Christ. They have equal accessibility to the gifts of God and the gifts of the spirit. They are not to be subjected to marginalization in their Christian life because of barely understood verses of scripture. A full life is God’s plan for all women and men. In subsequent articles, I’ll be going in on other verses that have been used in the marginalization of women in the church and why this is detrimental to not only the spread of the gospel, but the quality of life of Christian women and men alike.

Some of the writing in this article are direct excerpts form, Please check it out too.