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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
    MikeAT  October 30, 2019

    “the serpent tempts the woman to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which both she and the man were forbidden by God to eat (there are roughly 823 theories about the proscription) (it is not called an apple by the way). And they are kicked out of the Garden of Eden and their life is made miserable. No more luscious low-hanging fruit: the man has to scrounge to eat by the sweat of his brow; and no more idyllic existence for the woman either: now she will experience horrible pain bringing forth children…”
    Dr. Ehrman, would this be another etiological explanation from the author for all the hardships and suffering that life held at that point in history?

  2. Avatar
    Thespologian  October 30, 2019

    I was always curious about the serpent — the one creature that could apparently communicate with humans.

  3. Avatar
    timcfix  October 30, 2019

    “First I think of a man, I take away reason and accountability and wallah” Jack Nicholson, As good as it get.
    “This made many of the women feel unsafe, and one of the groups described a situation to me in which ‘big hairy men’ would come in and have to be accepted into the women’s shelter even though it made the women in the facility very uncomfortable,” Ben Carson, Secretary of HUD.

  4. epicurus
    epicurus  October 31, 2019

    Non Calvinist Christians often like to talk about God’s foreknowledge of knowing who would choose Him, but apparently in Genesis He couldn’t foreknow man would need another human partner.
    Also interesting that having direct fellowship with the ultimate being of the universe and living in a paradise is not enough to be happy without interaction with other humans.

  5. Avatar
    mkshehab  October 31, 2019

    It’s a whole different thing when God himself orders you vs. someone telling you God Orders you to do so. Eve did not get a fair judgement in my opinion.
    Another point. Where was Adam when this whole episode between the snake and Eve went on? Can’t be far since she ate from the fruit and gave some to her husband who was with her and he ate it according to the story. How come he wasn’t involved in the discussion?

  6. Avatar
    santiago.torres3  November 1, 2019

    Very interesting post Prof. Ehrman! I’m always amazed by how many Christians invoke the Adam and Eve story in a very literal way to explain aspects of reality and what it means to be human, despite the paradoxes and unbelievable aspects of the story.

    My only contrary point is that the Roman Catholic Church does not really cite the Genesis story in their defense for not ordaining women priests. The defense is based on the male gender of Jesus, the gender of his apostles and his relation to the Church. Its a obtuse metaphysical argument that boils down to whether the gender of Jesus was a divine intention of God or a historical contingency of the life and time of first century Palestine (the liberal view).

    Perhaps you can delve into this issue of Jesus’ gender in a future post. Thanks!

  7. Avatar
    mombird903  November 3, 2019

    I can’t resist the snark. You mention the Catholic Church and why women can’t be priests. Oh lordy, lordy, they hate women so much that they’d rather be celibate and diddle the children rather then soil themselves with women. I can’t express my hatred for them enough. The damage religion has done to people is just abominable.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2019

      Yeah, I get it! Though I’m not sure that “they” do. But certainly some of them do!

  8. Avatar
    tbone  November 6, 2019

    In Robert Alter’s “Genesis: Translation & Commentary” he suggests the Hebrew word that the KJV translates as “help meet” is more accurately “sustainer” – the Hebrew word connotes something much stronger than mere helping. He published his life’s work “the Hebrew Bible: Translation with Commentary” last year!

  9. Avatar
    Matt2239  November 7, 2019

    Adam and Eve started out unaware of their nakedness like all the other animals. Then they transformed after eating an apple. That made them aware of themselves and subsequently caused the woman to experience extreme pain in childbirth. This sounds suspiciously like human evolution. As the size of the human brain grows, its functioning expands too, causing a need for clothing, and the increased size of the average brain causes extreme pain in childbirth.

  10. Avatar
    Saleem-Egan  December 17, 2019

    Are there any translation issues that might give a favourable modern view of man and womans creation? Can I also ask you as a side question if it’s more accurate to read the Old Testament from a Hebrew Jewish Translation (and if so what would you recommend – Psalms 2:12 is a point of contention for example with the “kiss the Son” vs “Take homage to purity”) rather than the other main translations out there? Also I think you recommended the NIV for new testament if I remember rightly?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2019

      I’m not sure what you mean by your first question; all translations are different, with some stronger than others. My preferred translation is not the NIV (which I think has been affected too much ty the translators’ evangelical views) but the NRSV.

      • Avatar
        Saleem-Egan  December 18, 2019

        Thanks for replying so quickly. So I came across this site about the role of women from a Jewish perspective which has many quotes from the Old Testament supporting a ‘separate but equal’ view of men and women. It mentions words such as ‘built women’ as opposed to ‘formed the man’ which meant that women are endowed with a greater degree of “binah” (intuition, understanding, intelligence) according to Rabbis. Translations of single words can potentially alter the meaning. http://www.jewfaq.org/women.htm

        Thanks for clarifying your preferred translation of the New Testament. Do you use the NRSV for the Old Testament as well or do you have another preference? I ask as I want to read the Old Testament but want a reliable translation (see my comment about Psalms 2:12 as Jews would translate this very differently to Christians).

        • Bart
          Bart  December 19, 2019

          Yes, for the OT. NT I usually just read in Greek, but the NRSV is teh one I use with students.

  11. Avatar
    kennwrite  January 18, 2020

    It is hard to accept that women are subservient to men in light of Galatians 3:28, … neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female … you are all one in Christ Jesus.

    However, I Timothy 2: 12-15 does say that … I don’t permit a woman to teach or assume authority over a man; she should be quiet … Adam was formed first, then Eve … Adam wasn’t the one deceived … woman are saved through childbearing.

    I think is was in one of your books, Bart, that I first learned that Galatians is one of the most, if not the most, historically accurate letters written by Paul in the sense that Paul actually wrote it, and that Timothy is suspect because it contradicts the general respect that Paul ascribes to women as leaders in the early church, e.g., Priscilla in a few letters.

    This argument is hard to refute.

  12. Avatar
    McLeod  April 3, 2020

    Hi everyone. Here in South Africa, a woman Judge lost her position due to stating that its in the African culture for a man to abuse his wife as they learn it from religion. Mmm… Because the world has lost Common sense, what is abuse and what is not now á day? Since white man introduced christianity in Africa, the Africans have made their own add-on to it in the literal thousands of different denominations. Eish!!

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