It wasn’t too long ago that I was awakened to the world of women’s equality. As you can imagine, it’s changed my life. It is an overwhelmingly liberating world, specifically for those of us who feel called to actively participate in the advancement of God’s Kingdom.
For me, growing up Latina came with its particular patriarchal hurdles—like dealing with “machismo,” or exaggerated masculinity that is so prevalent in many Hispanic cultures. Machismo teaches that men are to be “protective” and even possessive. The sad part is that Bible is twisted in such a way as to affirm this kind of behavior.
Before I learned how to study the Scriptures, I believed “man” when he told me I couldn’t do everything, just some things. I continuously wrestled with, “But what if I not only felt a deep and relentless calling from God, but was gifted in the very things ‘man’ told me I couldn’t do?” Thankfully, the deeper I studied God’s Word, the more it showed me that I could actually do all that God has called me to because at Pentecost the Spirit was unleashed on all peoples—both men and women—to partake in the up-building of the Church and the advancement of God’s Kingdom.
When it comes to interpretation, part of the problem is that many people have been trained to believe that their interpretation is the only and the right one (most of these interpretations coming from 16th-19th century White European colonialists).
Now, different interpretations aren’t the problem; what is problematic and particularly dangerous is when certain interpretations disempower, silence or oppress people.
When it comes to women in particular, most people who claim ‘women can’t lead’ believe Paul said women shouldn’t “exercise authority” as a universal truth for all people at all times. Yet, most of these same people also believe women no longer need to listen to Paul’s instruction (which is in the same passage) concerning head coverings or braided hair because these instructions don’t apply anymore.
What many people fail to see is that picking and choosing what to obey from a text is in itself…an interpretation. A deliberate decision was made when coming to this conclusion—a decision to choose what is cultural and what is not from one given text. Needless to say, I think it is of utmost importance to understand that NO ONE comes to Scripture without their own cultural lenses and biases. Considering this, I argue that the cultural lenses through which most of these texts have traditionally been built upon are patriarchal in nature. In order to get to the root of this, we must first understand its implications.
Patriarchy is a social system that has impacted every culture in which men prevail according to their family line. It literally means “the rule of the father,” and refers specifically to inheritance, in which the first-born sons are considered the crown prince of the family. We see this every day in simple things like last names being carried on by sons instead of daughters, etc.
While patriarchy bears much weight on Western society, its fullest effects are seen in many parts of the non-Western world, particularly in places where women are not even allowed to show their faces in public, or in other places where infants are aborted when found out to be female.
To know if patriarchy was God’s good, original plan, it’s important to start at the beginning. In the first two chapters of Genesis, God creates male and female to rule Creation together. Initially, Scripture doesn’t show humans ruling each other. Men and women were created to be a reflection of God—to speak and act for him—equally.
Looking closely, we see that patriarchy is nowhere to be seen in the Creation narrative.
The most significant implication of this is found when Scripture says, “for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife” (which is echoed again in Matthew).
This fundamental instruction for husband and wife found in the second chapter of the Bible (before the Fall—before sin entered the world) is significant, as it is a statement completely opposed to patriarchy. You see, in patriarchal systems, women leave their families to become their husband’s property.
In a sinless world, God’s plan is the opposite—showing that a husband is to leave his family to join his wife.
It isn’t until the Fall—until sin enters the narrative—that human’s outward rule is turned laterally toward one another and patriarchy is introduced, creating the rule of men over women.
Unfortunately, many people in the West miss the radical implications of anti patriarchy in Scripture, but lets not forget that if we lived in cultures where women are still sold for a bride price, we’d feel the weight of Genesis 2, as well as stories like that of Ruth or Esther, and more significantly, Jesus.
Jesus interacts with women in a way that violates how things typically worked in patriarchal systems.
This can be seen in things as simple as Jesus having public conversations with women.
The story of Mary of Bethany offers a great example of Jesus going against the grain, as she is praised for sitting at His feet, namely, being his disciple. It’s hard to get excited about this text in a culture where women are able to go to the university and become professors, but imagine what it’s like to hear this message if you’re a woman in a culture that doesn’t allow women to do these things. Many women in non-Western cultures run the risk of getting poisoned or having acid thrown in their faces if they attempt to go to school. Imagine how liberating it is for them to hear of Mary being affirmed by Jesus for receiving an education from him.
The Gospel is liberating for all peoples. And sometimes, putting on the lens of someone else can help us see it more clearly.
The Bible comes alive when we look to see how God is revealing Himself and how people’s stories show His love empowering them to do His work in the world.