What does the religion teach about how men and women should
relate to each other?
by Kendra Hotz
first book of the Bible, Genesis, contains two accounts of creation
that provide the theological basis for equality between men and
first creation account, found in chapter one, teaches that men and
women were created in the image of God. After everything else had
been created, God “created humankind in his image, in the
image of God he created them; male and female he created them”
(Gen. 1:27). A second account of creation, found in chapter two,
clarifies that the relationship between men and women is to be one
of companionship. In this account, God creates the man, Adam, first.
In all of creation, no suitable companion can be found for Adam,
and so God causes the man to fall into a deep sleep, removed one
of his ribs, and created a woman from it. Adam rejoiced to meet
his new partner, saying “This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of
man this one was taken” (Gen. 2:23).
the woman, is called Adam’s helper, but this term does not
in itself signify any kind of subordination since the same term
is sometimes applied to God. This vision of an original equality
and partnership between men and women is understood to have been
shattered by human sinfulness. God declares that because of sin
the man will rule over the woman. This declaration is not a description
of how God intends men and women to relate to one another; it is
a description of how that relationship has in fact become distorted
because of sin. Nevertheless, some Christians have come to believe
that women ought to be subordinate to men.
confusion in Christian communities about the status of women is
due in part to ambiguity within the Bible itself.
On the one hand, the Bible was produced within an ancient, patriarchal
culture, and many elements of that culture find expression in the
text. On the other hand, one often finds stories in the Bible that
place women in positions of leadership that upset cultural expectations.
example, in his epistle to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul writes
that “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through
faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed
yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is
no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for
all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26-28).
This baptismal formula was often pronounced over new members of
the church, signifying that as one enters the Christian community
old markers that differentiate status are discarded and new life
in Christ begins.
one finds accounts of women like Junia and Priscilla who are leaders
in the early church; yet one also finds Pauline proscriptions on
women speaking and teaching (I Cor. 14, I Tim. 2:9-15). Early Christianity
also offered women a radical new option. They were free to remain
unmarried; their status within the Christian community did not depend
on their relationship to a man through marriage.
Christianity has sometimes succumbed to cultural pressures to reinforce
patriarchy and has, at other times, offered a liberating vision
of equality for men and women. In the modern period, many Christian
churches have become intentional and systematic about proclaiming
the equality of men and women and affirming the gifts of women for
ministry and leadership in the church. Nevertheless, the role of
women remains a disputed issue among Christians.
©2006 Kendra Hotz
G. Hotz serves as Adjunct Professor of Theology at Memphis
Theological Seminary. She formerly taught at Calvin College. Hotz
is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and coauthor
(with Matthew T. Mathews) of Shaping
the Christian Life: Worship and the Religious Affections
(2006) and coauthor of Transforming
Care: A Christian Vision of Nursing Practice (2005).
from What Do Our Neighbors Believe?: Questions and Answers on
Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Howard Greenstein, Kendra
Hotz, and John Kaltner are used by permission from Westminster John
Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. The book will be available for
purchase in December 2006.