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Why Women Are To Be Subservient to Men

This past Friday I gave a talk at a Pride Event in Chapel Hill, in connection with our Homecoming for alumni interested in LGBTQ issues (we beat Duke the next day in one of the weirdest final five minutes of a football game I’ve ever seen).   The title of the talk was “Sex and Gender in the Bible” and the overarching questions were “what does the Bible actually say?” and “how much of it is relevant to a modern situation?”

The questions matter because the Bible, in many ways and in many passages, does not actually say what people think it says, and the reason for raising the question of relevance is not exactly what most people imagine (though it’s related).

I had planned for the talk to focus on “homosexuality” and “same-sex relations” (which are the same thing) in the Bible, but I started out by explaining the biblical view(s) of the relationship of the genders, since the question of same-sex sex is closely related to it, in ways most people do not know and would not anticipate.  I’ll do a few posts on the matter here, starting with the gender issue.

The first thing to be said is that unlike views becoming widely (though not universally!) shared in 2019 America, in the Bible there were two genders, male and female, and that’s it.  Adults were men.  Or they were women.  Other options are not explored.

And for virtually the entire Bible the relationship of the two is constant: women are …

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Women Are To Be Silent and Submissive!
Can My Undergraduate Students Continue Believing the Bible is Inerrant?



  1. Avatar
    Salmonguy  October 29, 2019

    It appears you left no stone unturned here!

  2. sschullery
    sschullery  October 29, 2019

    Are we to assume that man tried having sex with all of the animals and found them all lacking in that department? Or, was the problem that none of them could, or would, cook?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2019

      Yeah, nothing about sex there. Just needing someone to help around the garden.

    • Avatar
      Bewilderbeast  October 31, 2019

      . . or not sex, but conversation or companionship? If the dog had been domesticated already – or heaven forbid, the cat – there might have been no woman!
      Personally FWIW (own theory!!) I think the writers who were inventing the Bible and all had womenfolk (at the very least mothers), were tired of their women being smarter than them and decided when making up the creation story to ‘put them in their place.’

      • Avatar
        TGeiger  November 4, 2019

        My own theory. Men would typically be the hunters and protectors due to physicality. Women were the mothers and protectors of the children, meaning they would stay with them while men were out hunting. I think ti was perception that maybe the men were superior because of the inherent danger they faced from both animals and other men while out. Again, just me thinking out loud.

  3. Avatar
    Forrest  October 29, 2019

    Great article. It demonstrates why the Bible should not be the sine qua non for modern mores, morals and/or ethics.

  4. Avatar
    crucker  October 29, 2019

    Do you believe Paul was fairly egalitarian? Assuming of course you’re only looking at his undisputed writings.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2019

      In many respects. I may need to repost on this.

      • Avatar
        Ruven  October 30, 2019

        Is 1. Timothy the only reason Paul gets a bad rap when it comes to equality?

  5. Avatar
    jscheller  October 29, 2019

    Since you are getting into the analysis of scripture based on human sexuality questions, I would like to get your take on the relationship between David and Jonathan, particularly what is said in 1 Samuel 18:1-4, and 2 Samuel 1:26

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2019

      I don’t have a lot to say. It certainly looks like an intimate relationship, but I can see how it could be read differently.

  6. Avatar
    AstaKask  October 29, 2019

    I read that women can’t serve as priests in the RC because they are meant to be stand-ins for Jesus who, of course, was a man.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2019

      That’s part of it. Another part is in today’s post.

  7. Avatar
    fishician  October 29, 2019

    In all my years in the church I don’t think I ever heard a discussion of how strange it was that God expected Adam to find a suitable mate among the animals. Perhaps they were embarrassed by the implications, like bestiality? Regardless, it’s a shame that the Genesis 2 & 3 version of creation came to define the woman’s role; at least in the chapter 1 version she appears to be created equally with man, in fact, in the image of God along with the man.

    • Avatar
      roy  October 31, 2019

      wow, an omniscient god not realizing the animals would not be a suitable mate, who would have ever thought???

  8. Avatar
    Todd  October 29, 2019

    Very interesting and enlightening analysis, however, I think I we’d all be better off it God just gave Adam a nice sweet puppy dog. 😁

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2019

      Yeah, maybe so. But of course then we wouldn’t be here….

    • Avatar
      Bewilderbeast  November 2, 2019

      My thing (my ‘trouble’?) is I haven’t just liked the women in my life; I’ve also admired them; They have very often been the wiser, more steady, dependable adults around me; starting way back before I was born with my mother and the midwife who was single and ran a maternity home outside town. I was soon taught to HAR HAR And think men are cleverer, stronger, all the usual stuff. But clever at maths isn’t wise, and stronger at throwing stuff isn’t courageous. I’m just a genuine admirer of women, I guess. I honestly do think they have been the ‘stronger sex’ in my life.
      And come to think, the men I admired were different: They didn’t BLAH BLAH pat sayings; they listened, thought, asked questions and then spoke quietly. I try to be that way.

  9. Avatar
    ShonaG  October 29, 2019

    Women are Ministers in Church of Scotland and have been for a while as are Gay men and women. It is up to the congregation to choose their minister and nobody can take that power from them.

  10. Avatar
    mathieu  October 29, 2019

    When God created the animals, were they all male? Did he create female animals after he created woman?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2019

      Ha! Good question. Text doesn’t say. But it’s usually assumed they were male and female animals. Maybe God thought, hey, I could do that with Adam too….

      • Avatar
        Bewilderbeast  November 2, 2019

        Of course! He was single, after all. So it wouldn’t have occurred to him necessarily. Until Adam started kvetching. Also that proves Adam was Jewish . .
        We’re unraveling Bible mysteries fast here. Soon we’ll have it all figured out . . (ri-ight! . . . )

  11. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  October 29, 2019

    Excellent post! I personally feel that this blog entry demonstrates the dangers of scripture when we take beliefs and ideologies from ancient cultures, attribute them as if they’re “what God says” making them written in stone and nearly impossible to change. With old ideas written in stone they become immutable keeping us locked into beliefs of the past where new data and information are not allowed. We’ve seen this demonstrated throughout history as societies have struggled to change in the face of outdated religious based dogma.

    Okay, off my soapbox.

    I was directed to this website that states the word “homosexual” was not used in earlier translations of the Bible (in many languages and cultures not just English) and didn’t begin showing up until modern translations of the 20th century.

    Is this true?


  12. Avatar
    Kevin@CoJCoLDS  October 29, 2019

    Is it your sense that earliest Christianity and Paul began to support women as leaders in the new faith and then there was a retrenchment and crackdown to put women in their place as proto-orthodoxy began to develop?

    It was great to meet you and have dinner with you in Chicago!

  13. Avatar
    forthfading  October 29, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    I get how this thinking is at the heart of Judaism and then Christianity, but are you aware of how the ancient Greeks and/or Romans felt concerning a woman’s role in regards to man’s?

    Thanks, Jay

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2019

      Oh yes, that itself is a very complicated story, and can’t be answered in a sentence, in part bacause there were many different views and attitudes in different times and places. (In 2000 years if someone is looking back on the entire history of America and asked, “How did they view women?” I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to say!)

  14. Avatar
    fedcarroll77  October 29, 2019

    Trivial thought…… have you considered that God never told the Woman about the tree? Nowhere in Genesis ch2 it says the Woman knew about the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Makes me scratch my head in puzzlement.

    Then on another side note I could never understand the Christian idea of the ultimate sin that doomed humankind from the Genesis account. It to me doesn’t fit into the story. Unless one reads it into it. Again makes me scratch my head.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2019

      Not so trivial. That’s been pointed out before. And she also indicates that he said something about the fruit that he didn’t say!

    • Avatar
      timcfix  October 30, 2019

      If each chapter is taken as a stand alone story that would fit, but the first chapter states “ he made them man and woman”, so Adam was there and so was Eve when the prohibition against the fruit of the tree of good and evil. My problem is, who has a child and does not child proof the kitchen. Clearly reason, responsibility, and accountability were not Godly traits at that time.

    • Avatar
      mkshehab  October 31, 2019

      I think the idea is that the woman takes her orders from the man. So God tells the man who in turn tells the woman. That was the ancient mentality. The story of Adam and Eve the way I see it is to make a point that women seduce men to doing things they wouldn’t otherwise do. The Arabs call a woman ” the night whisperer”. A man makes an agreement with another man, goes home and by the next day, both men already changed their minds. Who’s to blame? The wife, the night whisperer who talked him into changing his mind. This is the view of women in ancient times and in some cultures till today. Another point the story makes is that when a man listens to his wife, he pays the price dearly just like Adam did. Women were blamed for a lot of things. A woman is cursed by calling her a witch but men are not cursed by calling them a wizard. Women are the weak link and so the snake talks to her. SHE eats the fruit and SHE gives her husband some to eat. Here God talks to the man first because he should know better. The he curses the snake then the woman then lastly he says to the man: “You listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree, although I commanded you, ‘You must never eat its fruit.’. So the message here is that man should rule over the woman and not listen to her. This whole story is to justify the ancient tradition going on back then. It’s the way God ordained it and women just have to live with.

  15. Avatar
    timcfix  October 29, 2019

    As you pointed out earlier from bible scholar Bruce Metzger, we are just talking about myths in Genesis 1-3. I like the way the stories blend. When God created Adam, mankind as I am told, He created ‘male and female’ forgive me, but this is still one being in his image. I was told by a Rabbi that everyone should have a Rabbi. So here we are with a male and female in God’s image. Now it is getting complicated because this image was not a man and man in God’s image or a woman and woman in God’s image, this was a man and woman in God’s image but not a woman and a man in God’s image. A Rabbi will tell us, or should I say told me, that a rib had nothing to do with this ‘myth’, it was the side the woman came from and where did she go from there. And why was his side covered with flesh? What was there before what ever was removed was removed? Eve? I’m reminded of the words of the former president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when asked about the the rights of homosexuals in Iran. He answer “we do no have that phenomenon in Iran”. Perhaps we can safely say the that the writer, rewriter, polisher, editor, uncounted copyist and redactors did not have this phenomenon either.

    • Avatar
      Pattylt  October 30, 2019

      One of my favorite scenes in the comedy Soap was a Texas woman talking to the gay character played by Billy Crystal where she learns he is gay and says, “ We don’t have Homos in Texas…least not live ones”.

      Your comment reminded me of that type of denial so, Thank You!

  16. Avatar
    Charlene  October 30, 2019

    Coming from a church which followed the literal interpretation of scripture, I think I can speak from experience. Long hair up, no make up or jewelry, always skirts, no TV, no sports, or sporting events, not even my children’s, and women should be silent in the church. I submitted to this for 38 years, and raised 6 children, some of which still remain, my husband a minister. How was I able to free myself? I was so devoted to Truth and concerned with suffering that the Bible began to speak to me from another level. I went through “ The dark night of the soul” for several years because I lost everything I thought I had acquired, but I eventually learned this was the death of my ego. There is no turning back once you know, but its truly amazing, and a journey worth taking.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2019

      Wow. Thanks

    • Avatar
      apaclady  October 30, 2019

      What a great post, Charlene. I very much relate to the “dark night of the soul.” Still going through that journey. At 49 years of age, I still suffer from fundamentalist orthodoxy and the damage it did to my whole being – my soul – the very thing many claimed they were “saving” with their dogma and literalism. I am slowly finding the light, but it is always a challenge and it seems like I still have those plunges back in to the dark night of the soul. Just wanted to let you know that your post spoke to me. Thank you.

    • Avatar
      roy  October 31, 2019

      so glad you were able to free yourself from this self imposed prison, I will never understand why women in particular become so entangled in such a false doctrine

    • Avatar
      Bewilderbeast  October 31, 2019

      Well done. Amazing courage. Best of luck to you!

    • Avatar
      jhbaker731  November 3, 2019

      With you brother… as Science Mike says I think, “It was my pursuit of God that led to my loss of God.” Hang in there man… I’m with you

    • Avatar
      Donutbaker  November 11, 2019

      I enjoyed reading your post, Charlene. I imagine it was frightening (to say the least) to challenge your identity. I have a parallel life-experience, not about a faith, but about my “place” in my family of origin. Had to work through thoughts of God / the universe striking me down for daring to question the order that had been set for me. There was also grief as I was “cast out”, not because my family won’t speak to me or deal with me anymore, but because I just don’t fit in their world, any longer due to how my thinking has changed.

  17. Avatar
    Ruven  October 30, 2019

    Posts on gender issues in the Bible are actually one of the things I was hoping for when I subscribed to the blog. I’m very much looking forward to the further posts.
    How does a Pride event in the Bible Belt go down? As a queer person, I’m glad to be on the side of the world from your neck of the woods, but maybe I’m imagine it all wrong and it went down smoothly?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 30, 2019

      In my part of the South, it goes down extremely well. But move five miles outside of Chapel Hill in a particular direction, and it don’t go down well at all!

      • Avatar
        apaclady  October 30, 2019

        Like Greensboro? Whoa. I moved here from Dayton, Ohio, three years ago and let me tell you – I had no idea how “South” North Carolina was – it has actually been very difficult for me in this new culture. I worked for 15 years for the University of Dayton, which is a Catholic university (and I am not Catholic) and it was such a community and culture of diversity and love – what I find in NC is that “bless your heart” really is not a nice thing for people to say! It’s hard to find my place here – like-minded people – seeking and open to discussions. I see very little of Jesus in what is Christianity today. Okay. Off my soapbox.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 1, 2019

          Ah, right, “well bless you!” Ha! Lots of nice things are not nice in NC! But I love it. The hardest part for me, moving from New Jersey, was realizing my sarcastic and cynical humor was NOT FUNNY down here. But, then again, I think I’m a better person for it. Oh my god, I’ve become a southerner….

          • Avatar
            dsink4@triad.rr.com  November 1, 2019


          • Avatar
            tarobe  December 28, 2019

            When you start saying “over yander” THEN you will be a North Carolinian.

          • Bart
            Bart  December 29, 2019

            Yup, still learning the ropes, 31 years later….

      • Avatar
        shannonf  December 20, 2019

        It works pretty well here in Raleigh! 😉

  18. Avatar
    Zak1010  October 30, 2019

    That is the product of Human writing books claiming it to be God’s words.

    — O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of GOD is the most righteous. GOD is Omniscient, Cognizant.

    — “I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female – you are equal to one another.”

    — “The submitting men, the submitting women, the believing men, the believing women, the obedient men, the obedient women, the truthful men, the truthful women, the steadfast men, the steadfast women, the reverent men, the reverent women, the charitable men, the charitable women, the fasting men, the fasting women, the chaste men, the chaste women, and the men who commemorate GOD frequently, and the commemorating women; GOD has prepared for them forgiveness and a great recompense.”

    • Avatar
      Scrutinizer  November 1, 2019

      These are three verses from the Quran. Looks like the Quran treats men and women equally when it comes to punishment and reward. Does the Quran grant both men and women equal rights in this world too?

      • Avatar
        Iris  April 5, 2020

        I respect the Bible but I don’t worship it. My creation story is that somewhere along the way, humanoid species, maybe Neanderthal or Denisovan began to recognize motives and actions as being right or wrong. Genesis 1 & 2 are just one story told over centuries to suit one tribe or group.

  19. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  October 30, 2019

    You’ve got to wonder about this God– there’s Adam, with an obvious anatomy, and God is looking for a help mate and companion. So he creates a slime mold. No? Gee, how about a nice tuna? No, well, this lobster looks pretty hot– still no?? Choosy aren’t you? How about… an elephant! NO!? An amoeba! Maybe you like ’em petite! NO? NO? Well, how about… and this goes on and on through hundreds and thousands of species, from diatoms to bacteria (all created), and insects, and spiders, and so on. Fundamentalists believe this, apparently. The Bible says it! It must be true! You really have to wonder what these people are worshiping.

  20. fefferdan
    fefferdan  October 30, 2019

    I have been intrigued by the theory of Harold Bloom in “The Book of J,” that the author of the J sections of the Pentateuch was a woman. He points out that these verses deal with women’s stories and issues to a much greater degree than either E or P. Bloom admits that J was no feminist in the modern sense. However, J’s women are indeed strong, determined and effective in achieving what Bloom calls “The Blessing” by any means necessary. In that he is certainly right. And I suppose we do have to admit that even if J was not a woman him/herself s/he was strongly influenced by a Jewish mother [actually Israelite], unless – and Bloom in fact suggests this – the author was a princess descended from Solomon through one of his foreign wives. [for Bloom this explains why J’s deity favors younger sons and, sometimes, younger or foreign wives.] The book includes a wonderfully rich translation of J by David Rosenberg, isolated from E and P, which I found very useful.

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