Conspiracy theories are heavy on intrigue and light on facts. I love intrigue and speculation. My husband has been my counterbalance, because he hates both. He is Mr. Rational to my Mrs. Conjecture. So, I’ve been ambivalent about posting this question, because it smacks of conspiracy. And Mr. Rational has trained me to suspect those.
So, lets look at the facts. Then, I’ll speculate on the intrigue.
Is our understanding of Scripture on gender skewed because historically, interpretation and commentary has been written by men?
Again, my disclaimer: Neither gender is superior to the other; God judges character – heart motivation evidenced (to us) by persistent behavior.
By questioning the history of traditional Bible interpretations favoring men does not mean women would have done a better job than men. But, women would have brought different arguments to the gender discourse because they would also have been vested in the outcome. Instead, the men had no checks and balance by a female “opponent” when it came to questionable translation or interpretation. The school of Biblical study through the years (until the last century) has been dominated by men. Naturally, a one-sided bias would emerge.
Historically, why haven’t women contributed to Bible interpretation?
- Education. Throughout history, men have been educated in greater numbers than the women. This led to more men having the ability to read and comment on Scripture.
- Priority. Throughout history, women have cared for the home and family; not necessarily because of sexism, but to survive. A woman simply had no time to spend in prolonged study, even if she had an education to wield. Women had to care for the children, a 24 -7 job that had no time off. Without a woman, a house would have no regular meals, no water, no basic necessities of life. The Mosaic law did not require women to fulfill a set of worship laws due to these reasons. She was needed more at home , since home and family(without all the modern conveniences) would die without her.
- Might makes right. Men are physically stronger than women. They can physically do battle to achieve their desire, and squelch those who thwart them. Women war with words and subtlety, a weak substitute in the previous cultures of violence. It is common knowledge that the majority of societies valued women as inferior to men. Threats of harm kept women in their proper place.
- Prejudice. Throughout history, men have not allowed women to expound on Scripture to men. So, even if a woman overcame the odds to become a scholar, no man would listen. Even today, women who propose various translations or interpretations are accused by some as either usurping her place, a rebel; or sadly deceived into disregarding the “clear” word of God. So they are censored by being villainized or marginalized.
- The winner writes history. If you’ve taken an advanced history class, this is one principle you have heard. The winner of a war writes the history books; which means the loser’s story is lost. We can only study the view of the winner. The view of the loser is silenced. We have little historical documentation from a woman’s point of view.
- Elusive Objectivity. Another related principle is that there is no such thing as objectivity. A history student learns to take the author into account as she studies the historical record. Because, it is the natural course of humans to imprint their viewpoint on everything. If you are the one with the power, or the one who survives, or the one with the ability to record information, you will transcribe according to your self-interest. True objectivity is rare and hard to achieve. A man would have to first realize his tendency toward bias, then secondly want to overcome it. Historically, because of the rampant belief that women were inferior, this would be an absurdity.
Historically, has there been a tendency for male scholars to adjust Bible teaching to favor men?
Here is where I must enter the realm of speculation. An in-depth look at this subject would make for marathon-like study. Alas, I have just decided to run. So, indulge me as I tickle your brains with two examples that lead me to suspect an affirmative answer to my question. These examples are from God’s Word to Women, by Katharine Bushnell.
Luther once said: “No gown worse becomes a woman than to be wise.” Luther only held the prevailing views of his day as regards women. Such men could not easily perceive when Scripture expressed a different thought on the subject. Proverbs 14:1 says, in Hebrew, “The wisdom of woman buildeth her house,” but not being able to appreciate the advantages of female education, men rendered it: “Every wise woman buildeth her house,” that is, the woman who devotes herself to housewifely duties is pronounced “wise.” But this is not the thought; rather, wisdom itself, in woman, will build her own (not her husband’s) house- elevate her to a place of honor. Every time there has been an opportunity for the use of option in translation, use has been made of that option, by this or that man of learning, to build up one sex and to depreciate the other, and so the result, through the ages, has been cumulative, and that without actual intention. (Katharine Bushnell, God’s Word to Women, para 619.)
More hints of gender bias can be found in a favored reference to women: “A virtuous woman, who can find? Her worth is more than rubies.” The Hebrew word that has been translated virtuous is chayil. It doesn’t mean pure or chaste, which is what you’d think by reading the English translation. It means strength, might, efficiency, wealth and army. It’s sense is a display of valor, especially in warlike situations. It is a manly word. Elsewhere it is translated with variations of army, man of valor, riches, and power. But in the three instances in Proverbs where it is used to describe a woman, most English translations deny the true meaning and alter its strength. Why? Try replacing virtuous with any of the true meanings. The implications might be hard for some men to swallow. A strong, efficient and warlike- a- man- of- valor- woman is worth more than rubies?
The Times, they are a changing.
Today, great lengths are being taken to re-evaluate our English translations with regard to gender bias. I applaud this work. I doubt the 2011 NIV will get it all right, but it does offer a course correction to the prejudices against women of past cultures.