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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. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  October 30, 2019

    Great article. Bouncing off what I said yesterday about some rather dangerous ideologies being set in stone and becoming immutable, this article I believe clearly demonstrates that.

    You said “There are feminist scholars who try to salvage the Bible from patriarchy and I *completely* agree that it should be, as much as possible. But there are some passages that, at the end of the day, strike me as unsalvageable.”

    With that in mind let me attempt a relevant question. In the early first few centuries of Christianity did the same tension, or dichotomy, exist then between those who adhered to conservative or progressive view of these scriptures? I know these are modern concepts I just couldn’t find any other way to say it. Today there are many ideologies such as women’s rights and LGBT rights as an example that scholars and progressives liberal Christians try to salvage from what exists in scripture. Where there similar struggles in the early Church?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2019

      No, not like that. Very different kinds of struggles back then.

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    rgriggs  October 31, 2019

    Hi Dr. Ehrman, thanks for all you do! These two posts were very interesting. Related topic: I wondered if you might share your thoughts on the matter of head coverings for women as taught in the Bible (I Corinthians 11)? Do you think this passage is requiring women’s heads to be covered with something? If so, any insight into the nature of this covering?

    Background: I grew up around churches where the women placed lace doilies on their heads at the beginning of each service, then whisked them off again after the final prayer. Those pastors insisted that the covering spoken of in I Corinthians 11 referred to something placed on the woman’s head (not her hair) that must be worn in order to be properly adorned/prepared for worship.

    Best wishes!

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2019

      Ah, not sure I’ve ever posted on that particular issue. I need to! Short answer: yes. Jewish women were to have their heads covered in community prayer. The Corinthian women were saying they were equal wiht men and so didn’t need different rules for prayer. Paul is trying to reign them back in.

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        jrhislb  November 2, 2019

        Did Jewish men have their heads covered or is the wearing of kippahs in synagogues a later development?

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    ShonaG  October 31, 2019

    You haven’t covered what this does to men. Women as property have to remain in a state of innocence until their married, men don’t. To paraphrase Tolstoy his wife got to remain innocent, he was taken to brothels and gambling dens as a teenager, he had his innocence stripped from him. He never learnt to relate to women as human beings only as objects that are there to fulfill his desires. That means when he married he doesn’t know any other way of being, no matter how vile his behaviour is, he can’t change it. He can’t be uncorrupted any more than anybody can be deconverted. Tolstoy would argue that it stops men ever being able to become Christian and strips them of their innocence and childhood.

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    ShonaG  October 31, 2019

    Also because this corrupts, women and children end up being the only ones that can be Christian, that can be holy. In Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’ Sophia (Holy Ghost) is a prostitute, but she isn’t the one corrupted, her father who drinks all his money and lets his children starve is corrupt. This leads Tolstoy to Christianity being found only outside the church, outside its dogma and doctrines.Which is where the early Christians are starting from, far from being continuous its a cycle that corrupts itself.

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    GeoffClifton  October 31, 2019

    Thanks Dr Ehrman. Very illuminating. I particularly liked your last paragraph about ‘following medieval texts to perform surgery.’ I think Aristotelian science may have played a part too (and I think that you may have referred to this in one of your books or Great Courses). Aristotle thought that woman was an inferior version of man and this view may have persisted, even among some mainstream scientists, until well into the 19th century. The Vatican probably still subscribes to it today. My alternative to your ‘medieval texts/surgery’ analogy would be to say that it is like allowing the Flat Earth Society to design our Satnavs.

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    veritas  October 31, 2019

    This topic is sure to stir up women and feminist alike.I agree with all that you speak of women being subservient to men in ancient bible stories.You look today,in Saudi Arabia women were allowed to get their driver’s licence just recently and I would guess it stems from biblical beliefs.I attended a Mormon church for a few years and even there you get a sense that men are the head of the family and really in charge..Women are accepted equal to men in creation but subservient to men in practice..For instance,women have positions of authority related to some lower ranks of the church assembly but cannot become bishops,in their quorums,or stake presidents of the church.Those higher up positions are strictly reserved for men.Oddly,most women seem comfortable in their roles .I know some women have been ex-communicated when voicing their opinions on these matters.There are some churches,like Church of England and United and Anglican churches who are accepting women more and more as ministers and priests.Gretta Vosper is one who comes to mind,not only was she accepted as minister but she is also an atheist.Go figure.Maybe Bart one day you will be allowed to preach in Christian churches.Would you accept if the opportunity arose?I think it would be a welcome change to hear both sides of the story.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2019

      I do get asked on occasion to preach in churches, e.g., in connection with talks I’m giving there. But I refuse to talk from the pulpit. Some people would be offended, and I just don’t feel it’s right.

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      dynamis878  November 1, 2019

      Veritas, I have been studying this a great deal and the LDS church has had quite an interesting and similar process to Christianity for having institutional power. At the beginning, women had quite a bit of power and independence (in the form of a parallel power structure), but this was quickly lost as they became dominated and by male leaders.

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    mkshehab  October 31, 2019

    I think it’s man that easily falls for temptation not the woman. In his drive to satisfy his relentless sexual desires, he is willing to compromise a few things. Then when the fire is put out, he starts blaming the woman for seducing him and making him do things he didn’t want to do. The devil must have used her to get to him. Of course, it’s never his fault. Since men wrote the story of Adam and Eve, Eve had to be the instigator and the one that easily got tempted by the snake/devil. So men, unable to control themselves, tried to control women by putting all kinds of restrictions on her from dress code to behavior to keeping them silent and inside their houses too.

    Speaking here as an ex-Muslim, the Quran states that the witness of two women equals the witness of one man, so that if one of them forgets, the other can remind her. This was contradictory to my experience. For I know that women do not forget anything. Down to the smallest details. So of course I interpreted the meaning differently in my mind back then. I think in Judaism, a woman’s testimony is not even accepted (Correct me if I am wrong). In the Quran, the devil in the form of a snake, tempts both Adam and Eve together and as such, both were equally guilty. However, that didn’t help the woman get any break. The man rules her and his wishes are her desires.

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    hankgillette  November 1, 2019

    Adam was not deceived, but Eve was? At least Eve was deceived by a talking snake, who may or may not have been Satan. Adam ate the fruit simply because Eve offered it to him. Plus, he then blamed her when God asked him if he had eaten the fruit.

    If the serpent had really been crafty (as the Bible says), he would have suggested to Eve that she eat from the Tree of Life first (which wasn’t even on the forbidden list). Think how much chaos that would have caused!

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    santiago.torres3  November 1, 2019

    A very timely series of posts Prof. Ehrman, considering the recently concluded Amazonian Synod conducted by Pope Francis and the hysteria it caused among conservative Catholics for daring to even discuss married priests and female deacons.

    Even the question of deaconship has been denied to women in the RC Church. The argument is that, while the role of women in the early church is acknowledged, the word used for “deacon” is ambiguous and may not convey the same meaning that “deacon” means today. So therefore, female deaconesses of Jesus’ time cannot be used as an accurate precedent for allowing deaconesses today. Its hard to find this argument convincing since it applies a criteria rarely used to other aspects of Church practice that certainly developed historically.

    Maybe some posts about the development of deacons in the early Church would be a good idea. Thanks!

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    Akaoswald  November 1, 2019

    I know most of your work is regarding the New Testament however I would really like to hear your comments on Leviticus 20

    • Bart
      Bart  November 3, 2019

      I’m not sure I’ll have much to say, but what are you interested in about it? (I’ll be saying a few words about that part of Leviticus in a post either this coming week or next, when I get to same-sex relations)

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      Kirktrumb59  November 4, 2019

      For one thing, Henry VIII used verse 21 to justify his getting rid of his 1st wife, this years AFTER the pope had OK’d the marriage, from which Henry sired a daughter (Mary I).
      It’s good to be da king.

      • Bart
        Bart  November 5, 2019

        But when it comes to Henry VIII, not so good to be da queen….

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    clairemcdougall  November 2, 2019

    A word of caution about blanket claims that patriarchy has been ubiquitous throughout human history: Earlier societies that were built around the notion of the earth as female (e.g.Pictish, pre-Christian Celtic, and even as recent as Native American) had no such notion that men were “better” in any sense. Once “the warrior” became the cultural icon, things began to shift. Pictish culture, for instance, was matrilineal, and this is partly the reason that when Christianity seeped into those geographical areas, it quickly eliminated the native religion. Early explorers of America recorded that what they were encountering in Native American tribes was matriarchal. The Indian Chief icon came about because the Christians would only negotiate with a man. It was up to the council of women to elect male leaders and up to their discretion whether they stayed in power. The prominence of women in Native American culture is true to this day.

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    kurtruthann  November 2, 2019

    I am a Bible-believer though I do not consider myself a Christian. I think we should stand the patriarchal vs. matriarchal problem on its head and look at it another way. We live in an almost post-modern era with women almost completely equal in all things with men, yet the family is almost eradicated in the western world and many people are still worried about a “population explosion” and the children are raised as “little emperors” that don’t know how to work and are very entitled in their attitudes. Men are running from marriage and sometimes form or join women hating clubs such as MGTOW. Women are still not happy with the situation though they have received practically everything they could possibly want from government laws and resources.
    All world religions build and maintain families while their government institutions destroy families either accidentally or on purpose. The Bible teaches human nature. The things mentioned in the Bible generally keep the father with his family and, yes, produce more children which usually will be trained properly before being released to society.

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    Matt2239  November 3, 2019

    Whether a culture is governed by matriarchy or patriarchy is often decided naturally. We see in nature all sorts of odd things, including female spiders that kill and eat the male after they mate with it. Similarly, wild horse herds and remudas are always run by an older female horse, known as the lead mare.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 3, 2019

      I’d agree. But there aren’t too many *human* cultures where that happens. (Look around the world!)

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    mannix  November 3, 2019

    When I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s I heard constant bellyaching from the pulpit about lack of “vocations” to the priesthood…apparently oblivious to the fact the Church disqualifies half of its followers from entering! The explanations for such an exclusion are not limited to the Eden Event (EE), but are nonetheless equally unconvincing. Gary Wills delves into this in Ch. 7 of his “Papal Sin” book.

    If EE were the sole argument, the Church could simply declare it allegorical and permit female clergy…the problem is, EE is the basis for the doctrine of Original Sin, without which the remainder of the Bible is without foundation.

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    mombird903  November 3, 2019

    Religion, always putting women down. To my mind it just shows how insecure many men are about themselves. First they call us the weaker sex, the stupider sex, then they victimize us, then they abuse us all the while deceiving themselves that they are somehow justified. Honestly, the human male can be so beastly like a rutting bull, all brawn and no brain. They always have to know it all, and lord it over everyone. Every time I hear a priest or preacher talking to me about God I just snigger and consider how very bloated and foolish they seem. It happens to be 2019 and I wonder what it is in the human psyche that still allows this type of thinking to continue. ugg thanks for the rant Bart.

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    thebookguy  November 9, 2019

    I’m still deep within evangelical circles and whenever I get a chance to crack the whip my go to is genesis and 1 timothy. When the unease among my female listeners and fellow unbelievers is palpable, only then do I remind them the word of god is inerrant and true, and that these words are not my own but from gods lips to our ears. As visceral emotions are stirred by the holy texts found in 1 timothy and genesis, I ask them to bow and prostrate themselves before the almighty and repent for their lack of humility, arrogance and pridefulness, especially the ladie folk. Nothing ensures the steady production of female atheists as well as a thorough moral lashing brought to you by the holy text itself.

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    sksinks  November 16, 2019

    Eve was not created second! Eve was created when Adam was created, that is why Eve was not acknowledged until pulled from Adam and not a second creation. Adam and Eve together were created as androgenous both in the same created body. Adam apparently got tired of talking to himself/herself and asked God to separate himself. So, to debase a woman is to debase yourself if you are a man. When God separated Adam and Eve he separated qualities for each side of themselves to complement them as a whole.

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    hsh678  November 25, 2019

    I am looking forward to having your explanations on 1 Corinthian 14:34 and other similar passages such as 1 Corinthian 11:3, 8~10.

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    Saleem-Egan  January 27, 2020

    What about Ephesians 5:21-33, was that written by Paul? I’d imagine Paul would be patriarchal just as his contemporaries would have been?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 28, 2020

      No, I thnk Ephesians was written by a later follower of Paul who was simply claiming to be Paul; I discuss it in my book Forged, explaining why that’s a common view.

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    JBarruso  February 2, 2020

    But there is another view – that man and woman in Genesis has nothing to do with genitalia. They are instead spiritual identities. Certainly, Jesus isn’t suggesting that a woman must change her sex to enter the Kingdom of God as described in saying #114 of The Gospel of Thomas? And it wasn’t woman who brought the fall but man who did. Not very becoming of men I’d say.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 4, 2020

      The problem is that they were made out of material objects, not spiritual.

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        JBarruso  February 4, 2020

        Understood. But Jesus was abundantly clear that our material self matters little as compared to our spiritual self. Is it possible Jesus spoke only about spiritual matters (1 Cor 2:14-16), not material ones because what matters most in this life is the spirit behind our actions? The spirit that animates a material object. Could it possibly be either a “man” spirit or a “woman” spirit – regardless of gender. Could this be the spiritual meaning of the events in the garden of Eden? That the man spirit should lay down his life for the woman? Which Adam failed to do and instead blamed her. In this way Adam was disobedient versus Jesus who was obedient – even unto death. Maybe Jesus was motivated by a man spirit?

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