Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Reading the Bible with a Masculinist Bias

blue tinted glasses

I was at a church meeting this week, and a man – let’s call him “Norman” – was retelling the story of the time the Angel of the Lord visited Samson’s parents with the news that they would have a special son (Judges 13). I was amazed that throughout his entire narrative, Norman did not once mention Samson’s mother.

The Angel, Samson’s father and Samson’s mother, are the main characters in the Bible narrative;[1] yet the mother was completely overlooked by well-meaning but short-sighted Norman. Norman, like many men, reads and teaches Scripture from a masculinist perspective; and like most men, Norman is unaware of his bias. (Norman actually believes himself to have affirmative and supportive views about women in ministry.)

Samson’s father is named in Judges 13, his mother is not. It was not unusual for women to be nameless in narratives written during Patriarchal times.[2] Yet, while the Bible narratives were mostly written within a Patriarchal frame of reference, reflecting the culture of the time, no Old Testament writer minimises the roles of the women mentioned in the national and spiritual history of Israel – women such as Deborah and Huldah.[3] Rather, it is the (mostly male) theologians and Bible commentators who seem to overlook or ignore the women in the Bible.[4] Likewise, the unnamed mother of Samson had become invisible and insignificant to Norman.

I tend to have a feminist bias when reading the Bible. I am overly conscious of the many women mentioned in the Old and New Testaments, the named and the unnamed.[5] I am especially interested in the women in the New Testament letters who made valuable contributions to the early church. Many of these women were ministers, some even church leaders. Yet these women also are overlooked, or their ministries downplayed, by people reading the Bible with a masculinist bias. It seems that many theologians and church leaders make restrictive rules about women’s roles in the ministry without fairly recognising and considering these female Early Church ministers and leaders.

It bothers me that we continue to have discussions and debates about women’s roles in the Church as though women are in a separate and distinct category and class from men. Much of the Church’s attitudes towards women are a legacy from the time when most people, including Christian theologians, assumed that women were intellectually and morally inferior, as well as more spiritually gullible than men. Discrimination and debate is perpetuated, however, by the common misconception that the two New Testament injunctions for silence from women, written to two troubled churches, were intended as universal and timeless.[6]

I am glad God does not have a masculinist bias against women.

I am glad God does not view women as inferior or unsuitable for significant ministry. Indeed, he has trusted and used many women in his service.

I am glad for the stories and examples of ministering women in the Bible.  (Let’s not overlook them.)

I am glad God has poured his Holy Spirit out on Christian women and men so that both may prophesy and minister (Acts 2:17-18).

I am glad the Holy Spirit endows his ministry gifts without apparent regard for gender (1 Cor. 12:4-12).

I am glad that men and women are “one” in Christ (Gal 3:26-38). Not only are we one,  an important part of the “glad tidings” of the Gospel is that redeemed, New Covenant men and women are equal.

My hope is that the church, as a whole, will move beyond the centuries of blue-lensed Biblical interpretations and masculinist teachings and embrace this “good news”.


[1] The Bible says that the Angel of the Lord initially visited Samson’s mother, not his father, twice. And the Angel safely entrusted the special instructions on rearing the child to the mother, not, initially, to the father.

[2] God tolerated Patriarchy in the past, and he still does; however 0ld fashioned Patriarchy (and the newer idea of Hierachical Complementarianism) is not God’s ideal.

[3] More about Deborah, Huldah and Samson’s mother here.

[4] I do realise that there are many male Bible scholars and Bible teachers who are very supportive and affirming of women in leadership ministries.  Conversely, I am also aware of women who are very much against other women being church leaders.

[5] Women being ruled by men is one of the affects of the Fall (Gen 3:16). It is because of the Fall that we have patriarchy and thus many more men in minstry than women, especially in the Old Testament. But Jesus came to overturn the affects of the Fall.

[6] I have written about 1 Timothy 2:12-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. See below.

Related Articles

The Portrayal of Women in the Bible and Biblical Inspiration
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority

The ‘Shame’ of the Unnamed Women of the Old Testament
New Testament Women Church Leaders
Galatians 3:28 – Our Identity in Christ and in the Church 
1 Timothy 2:12 in Context
Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
The ESV Bible’s Men-only Club
Prominent Biblical Scholars on Women in Ministry

Posted May 7th, 2011 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

15 comments on “Reading the Bible with a Masculinist Bias

  1. He must have been reading the MGTOW forums.

  2. Marg says:

    Hi George,

    No, Norman is just a regular, well-meaning Christian man. And like most Christian men (and women) they are unaware of the masuline bias in much of the church’s teaching.

  3. Linda Troy says:

    In Genesis, we clearly see that God created men and women equally in the image of God. I do not agree with your point number 5 above, that until women were redeemed by Jesus they did not “minister officially” in the OT. Women AND MEN were redeemed by Jesus. Both genders suffer from sin and are redeemed by Jesus. It is the sinfulness of men that keeps women out of leadership roles in church and society in general and in servant roles.

  4. Marg says:

    Hi Linda,

    Yes, I take your point. I know what I was thinking, but I’ve expressed it very poorly. Thank you for pointing this out. Of course both men and women were affected by the fall and both are in need of redemption. I’ve now edited endnote 5.


  5. Tim Bulkeley says:

    Marg, from what you wrote it sounds as if “Norman” did not intend this oversight, it might therefore be helpful (if he does not regularly read this blog) to point it out to him. Unless we are helped to spot such bias it is more difficult to avoid it.

  6. Marg says:

    Hi Tim, “Norman” is a kind, retired minister, and, yes, I am sure he did not intend this oversight. He actually is supportive of women in ministry in theory; but I think he regards himself as much more open-minded and supportive on this issue than he actually is. 😉

    I’m pretty sure he doesn’t read my blog. I’ve only met him a few times and it can be hard to get a word in. I did point out another oversight of his. He mentioned that Paul and Aquila were tent-makers. I said that Priscilla was also a tent-maker. My little statement caused a bit of confusion. After a few seconds of silence, the conversation changed tack. (I do realise that the word “tent-maker” may not describe precisely what the three friends did for a living.)

  7. Thank you, Marg. I shared your post on FB. It really resonated with me as I have long been fond of Samson’s Mother. A few years ago I wrote a small story showing my admiration for this couple and the calm confidence I see in this woman. Can’t seem to link it here, but it is at annaver.blogspot.com under “Women”. Love your blog!

  8. Yes. I’ve thought of this issue many times. One of the biggest reasons I think the equality of men and women has always seemed obvious to me through the pages of the Bible is because I have always read it as a women. I have always assumed that all of the Bible is applicable to me. Whereas men, making the same assumptions about themselves, find it harder to see the gospel, justification, adoption, sanctification, etc., in all it’s glory and details as applicable to women. They may given lip-service to women being included in these great doctrines, but do not see of feel the implications.

    • Marg says:

      That’s interesting, Kathryn.

      I always assumed the Bible is fully applicable to me too.

      Along somewhat similar lines: When I read the Bible I often imagine what it would be like to be the main character whether its Gideon, or David, or Paul, or a woman.

      But I wonder if men ever put themselves in the woman’s shoes, so to speak.

      I remember suggesting the book of Ruth for a Bible study once, and was me with the protest that it was a “girl’s book.” 🙁

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