Throughout time, people have misunderstood the Bible. At times, individuals have deliberately misconstrued the teaching of Scripture for their individual agendas. Even the apostles dealt with the misuse of Scripture in the early church.
As Peter wrote when referring to Paul’s writings, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16).
However, some people are ignorant of the Bible and fail to understand the context of verses. Many points of criticism spring up because someone has misunderstood the meaning of God’s Word.
One issue that some critics have with the Bible is that they believe it is sexist. As Christians, we will likely hear comments from people who say that Scripture demeans women as a misogynist text.
We should learn how to respond to these false claims but also prepare our hearts to answer criticism gracefully and lovingly.
In this article, I will include ways to correct common misinterpretations of Scripture and how to do so in a way that glorifies Christ.
1. Point out Misinterpretations
Verses that critics claim are sexist are usually taken out of their proper historical, cultural, and textual context. Those who insist that the Bible is sexist argue that many events in the Bible promote sexism and devalue women.
However, we need to recognize that just because the Bible records events of sexism does not mean it is advocating for misogyny.
For instance, in the last chapter of the Book of Judges, Scripture records that the men of Israel instructed the tribe of Benjamin to abduct young women since they did not have enough women to marry (Judges 21:15-24).
The Bible records this event as part of the moral decline of Israel. The writer of Judges even includes the ending statement, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 21:25).
In this case and others, Scripture is showing the effects of sin and what happens when people turn away from God.
Other instances of proposed sexism in the Bible stem from the culture of the time. Patriarchal culture reigned during biblical times, and women were not seen as equal to men.
In many ways, they were seen as mere objects in the ancient world. Hence, many men in the Bible are recorded as having multiple wives and concubines (Genesis 4:19; 1 Samuel 1:1-2; 1 Kings 11:4-5).
However, God said from the beginning that marriage is between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24). The Bible is not supporting a demeaning view of women. Instead, it shows how sinful man has corrupted relationships.
Finally, many of the criticisms of Scripture stem from misinterpretations. For instance, many people who are against the Bible claim that it urges the subordination of women. Their argument is based on misinterpretations of verses like Ephesians 5:22.
Scripture encourages wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. However, a godly marriage involves mutual submission and husbands loving their wives as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:21, 25). Wives are not subordinate or less than their husbands.
Furthermore, Ephesians 5:22 is about marriage, not about how women relate to men generally. The verse says nothing about women submitting to men in a general sense, but wives submitting to husbands lovingly within the limits of what God teaches in His Word.
2. Emphasize that Salvation Is Offered Equally to All People
Critics argue that the Bible favors men and promotes a patriarchal society. To them, Scripture is a book meant to oppress women and keep them in subordinate positions. Despite these claims, the Bible teaches that women are equal to men and can freely receive salvation.
When God created humankind, He created people with equal worth. As Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
In addition to equality, Scripture says that salvation is offered to all people. Critics point to verses like 1 Timothy 2:15 to argue that a woman does not receive salvation like men.
However, the Bible plainly teaches that all people are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Jesus died for everyone, including women (2 Corinthians 5:15).
Furthermore, God invites everyone to trust in Him. His Word says that anyone who believes in His death and resurrection will receive salvation from sins and eternal life (John 3:16; Romans 10:9-11).
In addition to receiving salvation in the same way, Scripture also says that there is no distinction of worth among believers in Christ.
Paul describes this oneness in the Body of Christ, “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).
Therefore, when addressing people who claim the Bible is sexist, Christians should emphasize that men and women are equal, and salvation is offered to everyone without distinction.
3. Discuss the Worth Jesus Gave to Women
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He often went against cultural and societal norms. He did not follow ungodly practices in culture because He never sinned (1 Peter 2:22).
One of these wrong practices in the patriarchal society of New Testament times was that women had no social or legal standing.
Also, it was not normal for Jewish rabbis to talk to women or teach them. However, Jesus regularly spoke to women, taught them, and allowed them to support His ministry (Luke 8:1-3). He affirmed the value of women when it was not widely acknowledged by others.
Radically, Jesus healed a woman with a severe bleeding problem, although the Mosaic Law taught that such women were unclean (Leviticus 15:19-23). He even called the woman “daughter,” displaying His loving concern for her (Luke 8:48).
He spoke to the Samaritan woman despite social boundaries and taught her spiritual truths (John 4:7-26). Likewise, Jesus taught Mary along with His male disciples when He visited Bethany (Luke 10:39).
When He was resurrected, Jesus appeared first to the women, who were the initial ones to tell others the good news that He is risen (Matthew 28:8).
Religious leaders during New Testament times were shocked by Jesus’ behavior. They condemned His actions in breaking down social barriers, claiming He was a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:19).
Despite their reactions, Jesus was acting as He always had in eternity past. God has always valued women.
He worked in the lives of people like Deborah, Rahab, Ruth, Esther, and Abigail. We should not be surprised, then, that He chose women, such as Mary, Martha, Lydia, Phoebe, and Priscilla, to spread the gospel and make disciples.
Even though the worldly cultures throughout time have oppressed and subjected women to abuse, God highly values women as people who are created in His image and for His glory (Isaiah 43:7).
4. Respond with Grace and Love
When responding to people who decry the Bible as a sexist text, we need to remind ourselves of our main goal. We are not trying to win arguments or display our intelligence. Neither should we speak derogatorily to others or resort to name-calling.
Sadly, people have often cast a shadow on the gospel because of the way they approach differing views or criticism. Instead of getting irritated, we should remember that everyone needs salvation, including the person who thinks God’s Word demeans women.
Scripture encourages us to “let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6). We need to respond with grace instead of condemnation or hatred.
Speaking truth without love is not effective or helpful (1 Corinthians 13:2; Ephesians 4:15). Our purpose in conversations with critics should be to display Christ’s love to others, not to fling words or prove ourselves. Love is what disarms and impacts people.
Why Does This Matter?
We need to show critics that they are wrong in their evaluation of the Bible. God’s Word is not sexist. The criticisms raised against specific verses can be explained by proper interpretation within context and acknowledgment that the Bible records events that occurred.
Just because Scripture includes accounts of sexism does not mean that it condones these actions. Also, some practices recorded in the Bible are products of the surrounding ancient cultures, such as polygamy, which is not supported by the Lord.
The Bible affirms the equality of both men and women. Jesus died for all people, and salvation is offered to everyone by grace through faith. Scripture affirms the value of women and men, something the Lord has always done. We need to tell critics the truth about the Bible in love and grace.
For further reading:
Why Do Misogynists Use the Bible Out of Context?
Are Traditional Gender Roles Created by God?
How Did Jesus Treat Women in the Bible?
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/hyejin kang
Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. She holds a BA in Ministry, a MA in Ministry, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing to develop her writing craft. As someone who is passionate about the Bible and faith in Jesus, her mission is to help others learn about Christ and glorify Him in her writing. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.