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  What Do Our Neighbors Believe?  

CHRISTIANITY Islam | Judaism
What does the religion teach about how men and women should relate to each other?

by Kendra Hotz

The first book of the Bible, Genesis, contains two accounts of creation that provide the theological basis for equality between men and women.

The 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).

Eve, 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.

The 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.

For 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.

Accordingly, 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.

Historically, 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.

Copyright ©2006 Kendra Hotz

Kendra 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).

Excerpts 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.


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