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Women Are To Be Silent and Submissive!

Yesterday I started this thread on the understanding of sex and gender in the ancient world by pointing out how the entire Bible starts, with the creation of the world and both men and women, the woman being created “out of” the man – so that she was secondary to him, dependent on him for her existence, and brought into the world both to keep him from being lonely and to help him out.  For most feminists, this would not seem like a very good start.

The story of women in the Bible is long and complex, and I’m not going to go into every relevant passage.  That would take years.  But I do want to point out how the creation story from Genesis ended up affecting the later Christian tradition.

It is no mystery that Christianity has a very long history of insisting that women should not exercise authority over men, both in the church and in the marriage relationship.  That, of course, was, in broad terms, consistent with most social views and policies of broader society for the whole of human history.  But I’m interested in the question of the Christian approach to the issue, which in modern times – say, since the end of the 19th century especially – has had to be asserted with some force since some – now most — women have insisted that the views are not merely unjustly patriarchal but completely dated.

The Christian views ultimately …

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Christian Pastors Who Have Lost Their Faith
Why Women Are To Be Subservient to Men



  1. Avatar
    Mannster  October 30, 2019

    Growing up in a fundamentalist evangelical church, I was always conflicted over the role of women given the contradiction between their participation mentioned in Acts and Paul’s prohibitions (along with scores of others). Glad I finally “saw the light!” It’s a shame the generations of women adversely affected by continuing those old traditions.

    • Avatar
      ShonaG  November 2, 2019

      Is it just women affected or is this just as detrimental to men or perhaps even more detrimental?

  2. Avatar
    AstaKask  October 30, 2019

    So did the author of this letter think that a barren woman could not be saved? Or one who died before giving birth (always a possibility in a world without modern medicine)? Harsh.

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    Salmonguy  October 30, 2019

    It’s hard to figure out your opinion here…

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2019

      About whether women should be silent and submissive? Absolutely NOT!

      • Avatar
        flcombs  November 1, 2019

        Your wife must read your posts…. 😀

        • Bart
          Bart  November 3, 2019

          Never does, in fact. But I’m prepared if it ever happens…

  4. Avatar
    jenelleplett  October 30, 2019

    I greatly appreciate your attention to this subject matter. As a former fundamentalist Christian, I could never find a satisfying answer to whether or not a Christian woman could be a leader — or at least equal — in any sense. I was stuck between my desire to be valued as an individual with career aspirations and a deep intellect, and my desire to fulfill my godly duties as prescribed by the New Testament (i.e. putting my pride aside). I agree that 1 Timothy is “unsalvageable”, and because of this passage I have faced much discrimination from the church for furthering my education, making positive career decisions, and striving for a truly satisfying equality within my marriage. The words of 1 Timothy caused me to look deeper into the scriptures as a whole and eventually lead me to your work, Dr. Ehrman. I am no longer a believer and have found great freedom in shaking off the guilt and shame that I grew up feeling simply for being a woman. Through extensive counselling and re-training over the years, I now live comfortably with a better understanding of my intrinsic value within a secular humanist worldview – one that pursues true equality. This issue is not what caused me to lose my faith in the end, but it was the first step in that long process. I do not share this story with friends and family who are still professing Christians, as it is quite easy for them to brush it off as the consequences of a woman not knowing her place – so I share it here.

  5. Avatar
    Stephen  October 30, 2019

    I’ve heard apologists claim that 1 Tim 2 should be read as the author addressing a specific situation in a church and not a general pronouncement about women’s roles. In context , is there any way the Greek will bear such a reading?


    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2019

      Not really — notice, *all* women, for this author, are like Eve. He’s speaking about women in general (even if a specific incident sparked his comments)

  6. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  October 30, 2019

    Orthodox Christianity enshrines its doctrines and freezes in an age of profound ignorance. There is no room for new knowledge, no room for new discoveries about the world or human nature. It’s a dinosaur. An extinction event is overdue. Something new is required– desperately! Unfortunately, I can’t imagine anything short of an end of western “civilization” as an adequate extinction event. We can just hope that more and more people will view Christianity, in its orthodox form, with a critical eye. We don’t necessarily have to have an end of Christianity, (or western “civilization”) just a new and more rational, evidence based, living, evolving, form of it. Something with the ignorance stripped away.

  7. fefferdan
    fefferdan  October 30, 2019

    Bart, you say Paul “has received a rather unfair rap as one of the world’s great misogynists.” I agree that 1 Tim. is rightly rejected as not actually Pauline. Either here or in a future post I hope you will give your view on the misogynist passages in authentic letters of Paul. [For example 1 Corinthians 14:34 “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.”] Do you think such verses were inserted by later editors, or what?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2019

      Yes, I think it’s a later insertion. I’ll post on it soon.

  8. Avatar
    Zak1010  October 30, 2019

    Again human writings claiming to be God’s word. ( Genesis 2— 1 Timothy )

    Social views of women globally is Cultural not Religious. We sometimes attribute cultural practices to religion………. ( worse… we attribute it to God, the Creator of his creation )

    God devotes and directly addresses women proclaiming that all human beings, men and women, are born in a pure state and equal. The goal is to preserve this purity by shunning evil tendencies and beautifying their inner being with virtuous traits.

    Cultural influences or personal interests disenfranchise women, they also go against the clear guidelines laid out by God regarding the treatment of women. Therefore, their practices go against the liberties and entitlements which God empowers women with.

    God says they were given rights, fairness, justice, and were held in high esteem. Almighty God orders proper treatment and deference to women.

    “Fear Allah through whom you demand your mutual (rights) and (revere) the wombs (That bore you): for Allah Ever watches you.” …… God reminds men that if they transgress against women or their wives in particular without justification, then He, the Ever Most High, Most Great, is their Protector, and He will exert revenge on those who transgress against women/wives. So take heed is what is inferred.

    • Avatar
      flcombs  November 1, 2019

      Unfortunately, just like in Christianity some elements in Islam have taken an extreme view and try to enforce it. It seems most religions can be used or distorted for good or bad.

    • Avatar
      Scrutinizer  November 2, 2019

      Zak1010, I think the Arabic word “Alarhaam”, in the verse An-Nisa (4.1) you quoted, means “ties of kinship” instead of “womb”. Remember, Arabs ask each other by Allah or by family ties. Example: “By Allah I’ll take care of it” or ” By my father’s life I’ll take care of it”. Now the English translations are divided between both meanings but I see kinship ties more fitting in context. You know that one of the great sins in Islam is severing family ties. This verse is telling people to revere Allah, whom they ask each other by, and family ties too.

  9. Avatar
    mgagnon  October 30, 2019

    Hello, Mr. Ehrman. First of all thank you for your continued contributions in this blog and the books you have written. They have caused me to reflect much on my faith and the origins of religion (more specifically Christianity). In reading your post I’m struct with how much weight 1 Timothy has been given in the Christian canons and shaping its orthodoxy. Here is one individual as shown in the passage you quote that instructs on how ‘he’ sees things and how ‘he’ interprets Genesis: ‘I desire…’, ‘I permit…’ Genesis does not say that women should keep silent as a result of being deceived. And I’m not aware of any of Jesus’ teachings that promote this view either. In modern times, many readers reading this passage would likely raise an eyebrow, but I suspect in early christian times this would have barely raised any concern because as you have posted, societies were largely patriarchal.
    My faith journey seems to be leading me down a path where I recognize there are some underlining messages in the Christian faith (and many faiths, for that matter) that promote a code of conduct based on love and empathy to ensure our species’ survival. Were these divinely inspired, I cannot say. However, I believe they are self-evident and it is quite possible elders in ancient societies recognized this too and imparted their wisdom through oral history that eventually arrives to us today in written form. It is unfortunate that during this time various people have likely ‘mangled’ this wisdom (either through ignorance or for self-serving purposes), which resulted in many deaths and suffering and continued strife today in many parts of the world.

    Thank you again, and I look forward to your next post.

  10. Avatar
    Thespologian  October 30, 2019

    And let’s hope there’s another way to save women other than having babies as we so indifferently approach the 8 billion mark.

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    fishician  October 30, 2019

    Isn’t it odd that people recognize that we have more knowledge, experience and expertise in every area of life compared to any generation before us – until there is something that runs contrary to certain 2000 year-old texts? (Or 1400 years in the case of the Quran.) Yet most people accept that the earth is round and there is no firmament holding up the stars, but the role of women, or the nature of gender identity and sexual relations – that is immutable. Go figure.

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    jhague  October 30, 2019

    “Using ancient guidelines for ethical conduct, when these are based on premises that no thinking person today accepts, is kind of like following ancient medical texts to perform surgery.”

    The odd thing is that a normal, intelligent, thinking person today will believe that these ancient guidelines are meant for the 21st century. They are thinking people except when it comes to infomation from the Bible.

  13. Avatar
    ShonaG  October 30, 2019

    That’s just scriptures that would become the bible, I don’t think its accurate of the situation or it wouldn’t have been written – if women were just sitting there saying nothing and doing nothing why would it be written. Whatever they were doing it was obviously intimidating. I thought the reason many women converted to early Christianity was it freed them to go do things other than have babies. Also Eve the hebrew is more complex she isn’t tempted she enters at state of deep contemplation when the serpent tells her to eat the fruit – Eve is the original thinker.

  14. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 30, 2019

    Great series of posts. Keep going.

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    Apocryphile  October 30, 2019

    Wow! – I almost said “Boy!” or “Man!”, but then thought better of it. 😉

    There is so much material here, you could write volumes on it (and volumes *have* been written on it, I suppose). Just to take one topic, however, I was wondering what you thought of the Lilith (Adam’s “first” wife) story in the apocryphal Jewish literature and how this story may have impacted Christian theology, if at all? In medieval Jewish lore, she became a succubus who drained men of their life energy and was blamed for infant deaths.

    I think it’s fair to say that Judaism is patriarchal all the way back, but like all religions, has an important (if largely subconscious) feminine devotional element to it. In ancient times, Yahweh had his “consort”, Asherah, who was later transmogrified into the Shekinah of medieval Kabbalistic thought and literature. Christianity has the Virgin Mary, of course, who fulfills a similar psychic functional role in giving expression to our seeming trans-cultural need for a divine mother figure.

    As I said, a rich and inexhaustible mine of stuff here – proceed with caution!

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2019

      I’m not sure it made much of an impact on Christian theology per se. But it’s an amazing story.

  16. Avatar
    doug  October 30, 2019

    Is there anything in Genesis or the OT that explains why an all-knowing God would not have known beforehand that Eve (and Adam) would eat the forbidden fruit? Or didn’t people use to believe that God was all-knowing?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2019

      The text is frustratingly and intriguingly silent on the issue. My guess is that the author was not thinking about omnipotence in his anthropomorphic deity.

  17. Avatar
    flshrP  October 30, 2019

    Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. Voltaire.

    That’s the real horror of the Christian fantasy.

  18. Avatar
    godspell  October 30, 2019

    As you already know, this was a prevalent attitude throughout most of the civilized (and uncivilized world) then, and it’s pretty damned prevalent now (probably more so, on average, in countries where Christianity never got much of a foothold).

    But I have noted that in all cultures, pretty much without exception, you see indications that women are not content to be silent and submissive, and often successfully buck the currents of patriarchy, which is precisely why you’re reading all these rebukes at their uppity nature, in innumerable languages, across many centuries. The rebukes are themselves evidence of rebellion.

    Even in ancient Gaelic–the Tain Bo Cuailinge, a heroic epic set in the first century (well before the first Christian missionaries came, though the surviving manuscripts are much later), the principal nemesis to the hero Cuchulainn, is Queen Mebh, quite the formidable foe indeed, and her tongue is even deadlier than her sword. She is thwarted (not vanquished) by the end, and a character remarks that herds led by a cow (these are cattle-herding tribes raiding each others stock) are usually scattered and destroyed.

    And in the Old Testament, I seem to remember that Judith and other women of Israel were neither silent nor submissive. So again, take it at least in part as a reaction to women failing to shut up and sit down, and they are still refusing to do so.

  19. Avatar
    timcfix  October 30, 2019

    “The fault dear Brutus is not in the stars, but in ourselves, we our underlings”. Some religions you have to be born in to survive, it is a shame that all of the major religions are in this group (1.6 billion Roman Catholic, 1.8 billion Muslins, 600 million Protestants). We are taught all from childhood and are firmly entrenched by 10 years of age. As adults we make sense out of nonsense. We rationalize the irrational. We dare not challenge the deemed authority. I have listen to sermons that have no bearing on scripture except in a misrepresented interpretation. The rules about women of Christianity were made by men in a men’s only club and it shows a great deal of Roman influence. Women were to make and keep the house a home. Men were to produce means for that home, giving their life if need be. Where do we find that in the Bible.

  20. Avatar
    fedcarroll77  October 30, 2019

    I totally get the post and all….but I’m left with the reason why the writer of 1 Timothy understood Genesis 2 in the way he/she did. Why think of it in a subservient way? I read it as “…God crested a helper..”. To me a helper doesn’t mean a servant, but a partner you could say. And partners share the burden, share the work, no one leads in front of the other, both walk side by side. I guess that’s why the Bible is a book of multiple interpretations.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2019

      I think most people with patriarchal views have seen it in patriarchal terms! Patriarchally tinted glasses maybe?

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