Teshuqa Turnings – Rabbinical Roots of Desire

Teshuqa Turnings – Rabbinical Roots of Desire

In all English translations, Genesis 3:16 says that “…Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” The word that is  translated as “desire” in today’s English Bible is the Hebrew noun teshuqa. It’s meaning underwent a transformation over the centuries from “turning” in the Greek Septuagint to “desire” in today’s English translations. (Read more) This change of teshuqa can be traced to the Jewish Talmud by following the influence of Jewish scholars on Bible translators, notably Jerome.

From Rabbi to Latin (app. 4th century CE)

The Rabbinical teaching  found in the Talmud and other Midrash was being formed and compiled only after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE. Originally, the Rabbis passed their teaching along orally . This oral tradition became the foundation of Jewish religious law, called the Mishnah. Rabbis continued to debate and make legal judgement from the Mishnah, and this commentary formed the Gemara. Together, the Mishnah and the Gemara form a Talmud. The most influential Talmud was the Babylonian Talmud. Scholars point to 200 CE as being the earliest  date for the first completed Talmud, but most point to a later date in the 4th century.

Many of our Christian “traditions” regarding the creation of humans are first found in the Talmud or the extended teachings on the Talmud (Midrash). It is in the Talmud that we first hear of Adam’s “rib” as opposed to his “side,” and we are taught that Eve was a temptress. Here we find much imaginative and explicit exposition about the sexuality between Adam and Eve…and yes, even the serpent. It is also here that we find that teshuqa has been re-defined as “urge,” and the battle of the sexes is born. The all-male Jewish rabbis filled volumes with their ideas about women and women’s behavior.

The depiction of the woman’s creation leads the Rabbis to inquire into gender differences and the nature of the female sex, all through the eyes of the male Rabbis. They discuss woman’s different temperament, her mental maturity, her habits, the physical shape of her body, her behavior, and other aspects of female existence. Tamar Kadari

It is only after the compilation of the Talmud that we see a different definition for teshuqa than “turning” in translations from the Hebrew. Jerome, arguably the most influential Bible translator on early English translators, spent 35 years studying alongside Jewish scholars, and his Bible , the Latin Vulgate, is known to display rabbinical influence in its translation. And we see it pop up in his translation of Genesis 3:16. “Thou shalt be under the power of a husband.” Centuries later, English translators followed course and the original meaning of teshuqa was lost.

From Hebrew to Greek (app. 2nd century BCE)

Let’s back up a bit further.

During the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, seventy-two Jewish scholars convened in Alexandria to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Koine Greek for the Alexandrian library. They translated teshuqa as “turning.” Jesus, his disciples, 1st century Rabbis, even Paul, all used the Septuagint as evidenced by its quotations throughout the New Testament. Genesis 3:16 said that “Eve’s turning was to her husband” in every Greek Scriptures, and other notable translations from that time.

Now understand, the Rabbis, called Sages at that time, were teaching all during the five hundred years from the translation of the Septuagint (132 BCE) until the Talmud was compiled in approximately the 3rd century CE. So, I’m sure their ideas of Eve’s teshuqa as desire was commonly taught in synagogues and academies. When they pulled out their Hebrew Torah, they could have expounded on teshuqa as desire. But, if they pulled out the most widely accepted Greek Scriptures, they would have read “turning.”

teshuqa-illustration Where did the substitution with desire occur?

The Ten Curses of Eve

The Talmud tells us of Eve’s Ten Curses. (Babylonian Talmud, p 2684,  Eiruvin, 100b)

“R. Yitzchak bar Avodimi [Rabbi Isaac Abdimi] taught that Chavah [Eve] received 10 curses.”

  1. “Greatly multiply” (blood of mensuration and virginity)
  2. “thy sorrow/pangs” (pain in child rearing)
  3. “thy conception” (pain of impregnation)
  4. “in sorrow shalt thous bring forth children” (childbirth pain)
  5. “thy desire/urge shall be unto thy husband” (the heartache felt by a woman when her husband sets out on a journey)
  6. “and he shall rule over you” (the distress of woman, who desires intercourse only in her heart, while the man can explicitly demand it )
    [In Eruvin ,there is a break here as the student declares: “But that’s only seven!” I guess ancient Jewish disciples can’t count. I can’t seem to make sense of the numbering. This is my best guess.]
  7. “the woman is garbed like a mourner”
  8. “she must cover her head”
  9. “she is banished from the company of all men” (She may not be married to two men. She is forbidden to all men other than her husband, whereas a man can have two wives.)
  10. “and she is imprisoned” (since she is always at home)

Additional points: “She grows hair like a Shed [Lilith]. She sits while urinating, like a mule. She is a pillow to her husband [she is underneath during relations].”

Adapted from PROPER CONDUCT REGARDING RELATIONS, ERUVIN 100, prepared by Rabbi Pesach Feldman

Inbar Raveh, in  Feminist Rereading of Rabbinic Literature (p 42-46), explains this midrash-teaching on the punishment of Eve as having two parts: biological and social. The social curses were designed to do the very thing God prophesied in Genesis 3:16: control  women. Eve’s teshuqa was recast as sexual desire and then harnessed with the words of Curse #6: “and he shall rule over you.” A woman will feel desire, but may not act on it. She is cursed to repressing her sexual desire to the man’s. To a man’s mind, there is nothing so punishing as resisting a sexual urge, right? The Curses of Eve were designed to control the most important aspect of women from a man’s point of view: her sexuality. And since Rabbis were all men, they had no correcting female voice to balance the veracity of their ideas of what Eve’s teshuqa really was.

Ironically, Raveh points out that there are many cracks in the Rabbi’s reasoning which might reveal the true motive behind the redefining of teshuqa to sexual lust; mainly, that “a woman’s desire for her husband is not, in fact, self-evident…Thus, in between the cracks of the midrash there seeps a pervasive anxiety concerning feminine ambivalence toward the heterosexual monogamous institution of marriage whose ultimate aim is childbirth.”(p. 46)  Could the transformation of teshuqa from “turning” to “desire” be nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of the all-male Jewish Rabbis?

Perhaps the Rabbis connected the dots back from childbirth to intercourse, and then assumed this was the intent of the word teshuqa? We get that impression from another midrash found in Genesis Rabbah, which is a verse by verse Jewish commentary on Genesis. In this portion on Genesis 3:16, a glimpse at teshuqa‘s original meaning is seen, indicating the original meaning of “turning” was not lost on the Jewish Rabbis. Notice too, the connection the woman in labor makes with the act that put her in such agony, and the Rabbi’s commentary taking the authority of God’s Voice in insisting her “desire” will “return.”

Another interpretation of “And thy desire shall be to thy husband”:

When a woman sits on the birthstool, she declares, ‘I will henceforth never fulfil my marital duties/ whereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, says to her : ‘ Thou wilt return to thy desire, thou wilt return to the desire for thy husband.’

Genesis Rabbah 20, 7-8 (p 166) [emphasis mine]

Who knows? This might be the passage that teshuqa‘s meaning crossed over once and for all into the land of desire?

Rabbi says!

The rabbinical understanding of women and the role of women is disturbing in parts of the Talmud. Their attitude is summed up in the notorious prayer of Jewish men thanking God for not making them a woman. Equally so, is Jerome’s outright scorn of anything female, which highly influenced the medieval church’s position on women. How heartbreaking that these men have defiled Eve’s teshuqa, transforming women into sexual effigies and creating centuries of misunderstanding and stigma and justification for male domination.

We cannot allow them the last word on Eve and her daughters. Instead, let us turn to the Great Rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. When faced with the chance to scorn and judge woman’s sin, to exaggerate or berate her wrong choices, to expound upon the weakness of women and justify male dominance…  he simply says,

“I do not condemn you.”

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The Tri-une God and Motherhood Part 3

The Tri-une God and Motherhood Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Why is it important that we start the discussion of God’s mother-love with an understanding of the Trinity? Because God IS love only in the community of His person. This love births a family to participate in His communal love. Mothers know a little something about loving others.

Metaphors of God

Jesus uses parables to describe his intimate knowledge of the invisible God. His parable of the “prodigal son” introduces one of the most important metaphors of God. God as Father is so pivotal to Jesus that he uses it to title the person of God that remains mysterious and unseen to His creation. The most important information about God as Father is that He is UNLIKE ANY FATHER this world has ever known. Jesus breaks all stereotypes of fathers in the ancient world by portraying a father who acts more like a mother than a father.  In what way? Social norms of that time required fathers  to be the disciplinarian, firm and aloof.  Yet Jesus describes his father as tender, compassionate, heartfelt, quick to overlook wrongs, not concerned with discipline but with hugs and kisses (Luke 15:20).

Father is a strong metaphor for God, but there are many others. Rock, bread, water, fire, baby sheep, bird. Jesus likened himself to a mother hen in Luke 13:34. His imagery mirrors an Old Testament metaphor of God in Deut 32:11 as a mother bird guarding and feeding her young.

God has no gender.

If you are unused to hearing God described in feminine imagery, it might startle you. Remember, God is Spirit, not gendered (John 4:24). In Hosea and Numbers, God says specifically that he is God and not a man (Num 23:19, Hos 11:9). So we mustn’t take any gendered imagery or metaphor too far. The Father title is modified as Heavenly to distinguish it from a too literal a meaning. We must be careful and on guard not to make God after our own image as male or female.

God is three persons, not one person acting in three different roles; such as the role of begetter or begotten. God is three persons, not one person acting in different capacities; such as judge or advocate or helper. God is three persons, one of whom took the form of a male human, but in whom all the fullness of diety dwelled. God is three persons who are more than unified  – they are perfect oneness. Yet, because He is three persons, He can interact with each other – they glorify each other, they praise each other, they LOVE each other.

It is this Love amongst the godhead that birthed a family…something we understand as a uniquely mother experience.

Next up: Part 4 explains the motherly metaphors of God.

 

References: Wade Burleson. Missing Metaphors Makes Men Mad.  http://www.wadeburleson.org/2012/12/missing-metaphors-makes-men-mad.html

Here I lay my Ebenezer

We sang “Come Thou Fount” this morning in church. They skipped the Ebenezer verse. Boo. So, because I’m plagued with a condition called Earworms, I’ve been humming that vacant verse all morning.

Here I raise my ebenezer,
Hither by thy help I’ve come.

Eben-ezer

Before Ebenezer was Scrooge, it was a place. Eben, in Hebrew, means Rock or Stone. Ezer means help. The history behind the location of this helpful rock is found in 1 Samuel 7.

When the Phillistines gathered to attack Israel at Mizpah, Samuel asked the Lord for help in defeating them.  This wasn’t a case of needing an extra hand to finish the job. The Israelites were facing death without help. They didn’t just need assitance in winning the battle. They needed rescuing.

10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites.11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.

To bear witness to God’s help, Samuel erected a standing stone. Standing stones were common in the ancient world. They marked a place to be remembered. They said to the locals, “Something happened here.” The what would either be remembered through oral tradition, or in the case of Samuel, eventually written down and preserved long after the stone’s spot eroded away.

Stone of help. Here is the place where God rescued us.

Ezer me, please!

It seems when we are in need, we are receptive to God’s presence. The Israelites were terrified of dying at the hand of the Phillistines, and they cried out for Ezer! They recognized they could not go it alone against the foe. They needed rescue.

So did Adam. Although created good, he was not. He was alone. He needed help. Not an assistant. Not a personal aide to prop him up. He needed something more than that. He was in severe danger. Without help, he would fail. He needed ezer: rescuing help.

Genesis 2:20 says, “adam matsa ezer.” The man found not help. Maybe he could find that missing something somewhere in God’s creation? But, among all the animals the man called, the man found not help. Because God had not formed her yet.

For Samuel, God brought ezer in the form of a storm. For man,  ezer was his own form, but stood face-to-face to him (the Hebrew word kenegdo found in verse 18). It was wo-man, God’s rescuing help for man.

 

Why Twelve Men?

I don’t accept that because Jesus picked twelve men, he was excluding women from church leadership. So, why twelve men? Honestly, I don’t know for sure. My tendency is to look to history for answers. Here’s my guess.

The significance of  Twelve Jewish Men

There is more to the Twelve than their role as foundation pillars of the church.  (Notice, I do not call them apostles because I don’t wish to confuse the fact that there were more than twelve that were called apostles. So I will distinguish Jesus’ chosen twelve apostles as the Twelve.) To teach that the Twelve were only the founding leaders of the church is to miss their prophesied purpose to Israel.

Although they hold much responsibility in birthing the church, the significance of their number and gender is found looking back to the Old Covenant, not forward to birth of the Church. These men were chosen to mark the END of Israel’s time, and to be an eyewitness to the finale of God’s promise to Israel: the fulfillment of Messiah who will bless the entire world. Hence, there is a gender and numerical  symbolism at play. As twelve Jewish males, they were symbolic for the twelve tribes and their patriarchal heads. In this role, their number and gender is not an example for the new church to follow, but indicative of the closure of the Old Covenant.

Twelve men will judge the twelve sons of Israel.

These chosen Twelve men fulfill Isaiah 1:26.

“I will restore your judges as at first.”

Jesus confirms this purpose in Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:30.

“Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

“…you may…sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

What did they judge about Israel?

Acting as “justice” for Israel involved the transitioning of covenants from the nation of Israel to a global priesthood of believers. As judges, they passed sentence on Israel by initiating the transfer of the Holy Spirit to all nationalities. Their ministry ended Israel’s unique connection to God. Their preaching also warned of coming catastrophes. They watched the signs of the time as Jesus instructed and warned the Jewish people “Judgement was near!”(Matthew 24) For Israel, the final judgement or “the end of the age” was the Roman dispersion of the Jewish people, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

The Twelve may also have a future role in passing sentence on Israel at the final judgement… but I’m not sure what that looks like.

The Twelve are linked to Israel and the fulfillment of the patriarchal Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was designed around promises to men, the service and sacrifices of males, and would be fulfilled by a future coming male Messiah. This is why there were twelve; why they were Jewish and why they were male. This is also why Judas Iscariot was replaced quickly after his suicide. Because twelve was important symbolically to Israel. Yet, when James died 10-15 years later, he was not replaced. It was the end of “times.” The chosen Twelve and their message, “Judgement is near, but Salvation has come for everyone!” concluded the Old Covenant in the transitional period preceding the destruction of the temple in 70 AC and the explosion of Christianity to the Gentiles thereafter.

Twelve was no longer an important symbolic number to the Gentiles, neither were the patriarchal promises to the sons of Israel.

What counts is the new creation. (Galatians 6:15)

The Chosen Twelve condemned/judged/ended the old era of Israel, but their teaching also built the foundation of the Global Church. But in this role, their number, nationality or gender is no longer significant. How can I say this beyond a shadow of a doubt? Because the old was gone, and the new has come. Jesus insists we don’t pour our new wine back into the old wineskins. (Matthew 9) The church is new wine, folks! Patriarchy and male-based religion based on circumcision and exclusion is an old wineskin, and we must burst those weak constraints.

The Chosen Twelve men were tasked with judging Israel. But, “Do you not know,” Paul says, “that the saints will judge the world? Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (1 Cor. 6:2-3). All believers will fulfill this role as judge at the end of our “age.” Our covenant is not only with a chosen few, but with all who will believe. Our sphere of justice is not one nation, but the whole globe. Our temple is a personal and intimate indwelling of the same Spirit, and our priesthood knows no restriction to heritage, nationality or gender.

The example of Twelve Jewish Males is not for the new Church, but a dying symbol of Old Israel.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

The Twelve were male.

The title has been given as a reason why women can’t hold leadership in the church of Christ. Jesus picked twelve men. That automatically disqualifies women from church leadership.

Yep, the twelve were male.

So what?

They were also circumcised, Jewish and rather dense. Shall we make these qualifications for church leadership as well?

God does not have favorites.

Click on that link and contemplate the liberties found in the New Covenant. My next post will be why I think Jesus picked 12 Jewish men.

Problem Passages: 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 (Part 2: Head Coverings)

This post is a part of the series comparing the teaching on various gender passages in the Bible. Read more about the series here.

1 Corinthians 11:3-16 says,

3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

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. 10It 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. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the churches of God.

Summary of Disagreements:

Although there is a lot of disagreement about what the individual verses mean; the main arguments, that refer to gender, center around three points.

  1. What does head mean? And how does that affect women in worship? (Part 1)
  2. What is the principle that can be applied in our culture? Women may pray and prophesy, but should they cover their heads in those activities today? What kind of covering is required – spiritual or literal? (Part 2)
  3. How should verse 10 be translated? As authority on the woman’s head or a symbol of authority on the woman’s head? (Part 3)

This post will detail point #2, what is the principle of head coverings?

Culture of wearing head coverings

Fashion, what we wear, indicates time and social constructs. Of course, there is much variety in fashion over the centuries and cultures. What was Paul’s culture at the time? Does it matter to us today? Do we imitate Corinth culture or find a principle to apply in our own way? These are the questions that drive the debate about head coverings.

  • Paul might have been referring to a Corinthian custom of pagan worship when he gave these  instructions about shawls, hair and baldness.
  • He might have been addressing  the Jewish worship customs of prayer shawls and clothing traditions.
  • He might have meant these apparel instructions are important for ALL men and women regardless of culture.
  • Theologians and historians don’t agree. We just don’t know for sure.
  • What we do know, is that most ancient cultures used veils, shawls and cloaks more commonly than we do today in the western world. It was as common for them as a hoodie is for us today.

Either way, we have been influenced by the fashion of the Corinthian culture. The custom of the western world  to remove hats for prayer or for witnessing a solemn ceremony  comes from this passage.  Traditionally,  women did not remove their headwear. Today, this is changing. The Armed  Services require men and women soldiers to bare their heads in respect. But in most churches, men are bareheaded and women keep their hats on.

Complementarian’s application of head covering

Complementarians are divided over the application of head  coverings.

Because Comps believe this passage details an authority hierarchy (verse 3), all Comps agree the principle Paul is teaching is that gender distinctions are important in worship for all time and cultures. Why? Because of the order of creation – man was created first-  and also because angels, who are the guardians of the worship of God, want women and men to act appropriately when they worship.

Where Comps disagree is to what extent they apply the woman’s head covering literally.

  1. Some ask their women to wear hats or kerchiefs (which literally means to cover the head).
  2. Some say long hair is a sufficient covering.
  3. Others have abandoned hear gear and the long hair debate entirely as a cultural reference, and say the principle is that as long as a woman prays or prophecies under a man’s spiritual authority (or covering), she is okay.

All Comps agree that if a woman prays or prophecies on her own authority, she is disgraced.  That is not God’s will for women. For instance, Beth Moore believes she may teach men because she is under her husband’s and pastor’s authority or spiritual covering. Some teachings call this an “umbrella” of authority.

Because Comps believe gender distinctions are important in worship, they  have differing interpretations of what it means to prophecy. Since Paul allows both men and women to pray and prophecy, they  limit what prophecy means. Comps believe 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 limit (or silence) the voices of women in church. Some veer away from the speaking aspect of prophecy, even if the woman is covered. Some say prophesy is a spontaneous word from God which should be applied today as Scripture reading. Women may read Scripture aloud, but not prepare a lesson from it. Others believe a woman teacher is allowed as long as the responsibility or authority for her lesson is given to a man. Comps are a little vague and varied on what exactly that means.

Further Reading:

An article that advances the metaphorical spiritual covering of man’s authority over women: http://www.beingvirtuouswomen.com/cms/about_bvw/quill_penfaq/husbandfather_covering_his_wifedaughter.php

An article that teaches a literal head covering and refutes the common arguments against the literal covering at all times: http://www.biblicalresearchreports.com/headcovering-today.php

Egalitarian belief about head coverings

This passage, to an Egalitarian, is not about whether a woman should wear a head covering, but how Paul gave women freedom to pray and prophecy the same as men.

Egals interpret Paul’s words to emphasize the relationship between the sexes, not the authority structure of gender. Egals believe that Jesus forbids His followers to excercise authority over another; even to call a human your authority or your leader. (Mat 20:25-27; 23:8-10) Jesus does not want us to follow the worldly model of top-down leadership. Instead, Jesus presents a bottom-up model of servanthood to all people. Because Egals believe so strongly in this “upside down” model, they interpret the principle of headcoverings as this:

Our actions (apparel even) in worship should bring honor to the Lord Jesus and each other, not shame. 1 Corinthians 10:32

In our modern western culture, even unbelievers consider it shameful to limit a person based on gender, race or nationality. Egals believe limiting a woman’s ability to speak (pray and prophecy) simply because she is a woman brings shame, not honor.

Verse 11 – 12 says,

Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

Egals believe these verses are the great equalizer for worship in churches. As Christians, man and women find their origin not in Father Adam or even in their female mothers…but in God himself. In the Lord, we are interdependent on each other.  God is every Christian’s head (source/ origin).

Egals believe the English translations have suffered from patriarchal bias, and make these following points:

  • Verse 2 : Paul describes the practices he taught the Corinthians as traditions. This word describes a set of precepts passed along from person to person. Some Egals believe headcoverings should not be applied to us because it is not an issue of sinful consequence, but of cultural practice. And as Jesus said, it is better to keep God’s commandment if it is in conflict with the tradition of men. (Mark 7:9) Egals believe God has gifted women equally as men. To limit a woman’s sphere because of gender, not by ability and giftedness, is following a tradition of man.  Egals believe literal and metaphorical headcoverings is a tradition of non-consequence for us today.
  • Verse 13: Paul asks us to judge for ourselves the propriety of a woman praying to God uncovered. Egals believe the judgement is affirmative. It is proper for women to pray uncovered.  Because a woman brings glory to her man, why should that glory be hidden? Jesus says let your good works show so it will be bring glory to God. (Matt 5:14-16) A women brings glory by being seen, not by covering up.
  • Verse 14-15: Nature teaches us a man’s hair and a woman’s hair will grow the same, unless cut.  Egals stress the Greek sentence  structure and lack of punctuation in this verse. There is controversy whether this verse should ask a rhetorical question. Instead, Egals claim it is a statement that hair is a suitable head covering, and prefer this translation:

Nature itself teaches you neither that it is disgraceful for a man to have long hair nor that hair is a woman’s glory, for hair is given as a substitute for coverings. (ISV)

Egalitarians use this passage to not only to dismiss the idea of women needing a special covering, but to show that Paul encourages
women to pray and prophesy along with the men. Women should not be silent as that ancient patriarchial society practiced. Does this contradict Paul’s statements 3 chapters later? No. Egals believe it only proves Paul gave specific instructions for an incident that was occurring in the Corinthian church (chapter 14), but is not an indictment for all women since he instructs them to speak here, in chapter 11.

Further Reading:

A verse by verse article on this passage: http://www.cbeinternational.org/?q=content/1-corinthians-112-16

Is short hair a sin for women?

My verse by verse explanation: Jewish worship customs of prayer shawls

1 Corinthians 11:3-16

Egals Believe… Comps Believe…
Head means source or origin. means authority or leader.
Head Covering Principle Honoring relationship is important in worship. Our clothes or behavior should not bring shame. Gender distinctions are important in worship.
Head Covering Applied Paul explains a woman’s hair is sufficient covering. Her glory should not be hidden. Women should either cover their heads literally with a hat, or metaphorically by being submissive to a male authority.

Moses’ Misogynic Law?

Question

When my friends tell me the Bible is misogynistic, they’re not talking about Genesis or New Testament stuff, but stuff in the Old Testament where God wanted women stoned if they were raped, or have them married to their rapist. Women are unclean and segregated because they’re on their period? This is the sort of thing that shows Christianity to be misogynistic moreso than other stuff, I think.

General Answer

We must keep in mind what Moses’ law was intended for. It was not intended to make Israel into God’s perfect, ideal nation. It was intended to keep them from sliding into the ways of the pagans around them. It was not an elevating force, it did not make them better…it was a check. Like Paul says in 1 Tim 1:9-10, the law is not made for righteous people, but for those without rules and the disobedient.  The law makes nothing perfect, only Christ can. Heb 7:19

I always thought these verses meant that it was impossible to KEEP the law, but if you could somehow achieve that, then you’d be perfect. But that is not what it means. Moses’ law was NOT perfect. We know this because Jesus amended it. He made it stricter in parts and more lenient in others. Jesus also said that unless a person’s righteousness is better than the Pharisees, who prided themselves on keeping the law, he could not enter heaven. (Mat 5:20) Moses’ law is not the full will of God.

So what is it? Katharine Bushnell describes it like this:

Let us show the province of legislation by the aid of a homely illustration: A heavily loaded cart is being dragged, laboriously, by a man, up a hill. That cart will represent human progress. The man pulling, will represent moral and religious instruction, including such means of grace as God has put forth for our help, such as conversion, etc. Only one step is gained at a time, and there are many pauses, in other words, the progress of the human race has interruptions. Now human legislation, as aid to human progress, may be compared to a stone, which is being used by a boy (the body of legislators), as a brake, so that when the pull ceases the cart will not run backward down hill again. At each pause in front, the boy pushes his stone close up against the wheel behind, and so he greatly helps the man in front.

 It requires some skill on the part of the boy, in order to give the utmost help to the man in front. So the genius of the statesman consists, largely, in his gift of divining public moral opinion,  in other words, in knowing the precise moment when, and the precise point at which, to apply legislation. The stone will do no good if placed too far behind the cart; in fact, it will do some mischief, for when the cart pauses, its action will be reversed for the want of a stay, and the cart will run backwards, and perhaps gain such momentum as to over-ride the stone entirely, and plunge to destruction. This is the sort of mischief which results from lax laws. Good laws may not make men good; but bad laws certainly demoralize men. A legislative enactment is “good,” not necessarily because it is ideal,  it may be far from ideal but when it precisely meets the need of a brake, and prevents a nation from backsliding. And that law keeps “good” only as it keeps pace with the progress of the nation. (Katharine Bushnell, God’s Word to Women. para 567-570)

Moses’ law was written for the Israelites immediately after they spent a few centuries in slavery. Consider what kind of people they were. Uneducated? Dependent? Childlike? Irresponsible? And the women usually fared worse than the men in slavery.  Like children, they required many rules to keep them from killing themselves, and each other. “These commandments indicate the lowest level, not the highest, for the foundation of character.” (Katharine Bushnell. God’s Word to Women. par 580) Also note the world they lived in. Most historians I’ve read agree that Moses’ law was more humane to women than even Hammurabi’s which makes little provision for justice regarding women as either the victim or the perpetrator.

All that to say… Moses’ law is not God’s law for all people, for all time. It is hard to look down the hill from where we’ve progressed (farther along in kingdom) and judge it fairly. The fact that we’ve come a long way from it is precisely what God intended. Christians, compared to the Israelites, are like adults… with the Spirit of God to guide us. His TRUE law is written on our hearts. Christ came to fulfill the law… He showed us what God’s law truly was. Jesus altered and course-corrected Moses’ law.

So, it may be possible to look at Moses’ Law and conclude it was unfair to women. But, that law was not God’s eternal ideal. It served to stop the Israelites from sliding into even worse behavior that was normal for that day and age.

Specific Answer

Specifically about rape and menstural cycles, I think a thorough reading will show the law is fair.

  • Sure, women were unclean while on their periods, but men were also unclean if they had any discharge…semen, blocked bowels, blood (STDs). (Lev 15) The first part of the chapter covers men, the second half the women. The law is fair. The law also takes the health of the woman into account by regulating marital relations in this way.
  • The repercussions of harming a woman is the same for harming a man. Eye for eye. Tooth for tooth. (Ex 21:20-27) *Notice the husband serves as witness before the court for the harm inflicted to his wife and child. This is not a case of fined reimbursement for destroyed property as in verses 30- 36.*
  • Maligned wives are protected under Moses’ law. If her husband lies about her, she is to live with her parents yet remained married and not disgraced. Her husband provides for her still. (Remember virginity was important  because lineage was figured through the man’s line, and the only way to insure a child had a certain father was to guarantee the faithfulness of the wife or the virginity of the bride. See my post on female lineage to understand this concept better.) These laws erased illegitimacy. (Deut 22:13-21)
  • In cases of rape where consent is questioned, the law is again fair. If a woman screams or fights back or there is no one near to hear her, the man is charged. If there is no sign of struggle or its obvious they both agreed, both of them are punished. (Deut. 22:22-27)
  • In cases of rape where a virgin maiden is involved, marriage is required. Why? A “spoiled” woman was a drain on her father’s income because she had no way to provide income as an umarried woman, and it was hard to find a husband for a non-virgin. So the rapist is required to provide shelter and provision for the woman he stole. He is never allowed to divorce her. Remember, this was a hand-to-mouth society. A woman not under protection of a man, has no way to support herself. Happiness is not a factor compared to staying alive. The law provides a just solution for a horrible crime that destroys her chances of marriage, shelter, children and even food. The law was written to protect the virgins by preventing rape , not to harm them by requiring them to marry their rapist. (Deut 22:28-30)

Here are some other ways Moses’ law elevates the plight of Israelite women.

  • God gave women their father’s inheritance and allowed them to earn their own income. Number 27
  • Single or widowed ladies could marry who they wanted within their own tribe (probably due to economic reasons). Number 36:6 and 1 Cor 7:39
  • Maidens gave their consent to marriage patterned after Rebekah’s choice in Genesis 24:57-58.
  • You shall not commit adultery is another way to reinforce God’s ideas about marriage: one flesh/unity. (Exodus 20, Genesis 2) In ancient times, this protected the wife since a roving husband was a danger to her well being. It also protected children from illegitimacy and being a societal outcast.

Yes, this ancient law was primitive. It could have done more to lift the position of women. But compared to the laws of the land of the time, Moses’ law revealed that God cared for justice for women and children as well as the men.