Does the Bible really teach gender equality? Why has gender inequality been the norm?
Gender equality is a state of being in which men and women are treated equally by being given the same social rights, same social responsibilities, and same access to social goods and opportunities as each other. Gender equality ensures that both males and females have access to the same rights and are viewed as equals by society at large.
It can be challenging to determine whether or not gender equality exists in a society or what steps should be taken to bring a greater level of gender equality to a society where inequalities do exist. Even in societies where people have seemingly equal rights and opportunities, there are geographical and genetic factors which may affect how people are able to respond to the opportunities they have. Things like height may play into a person's ability to become a professional basketball player, for instance—this is a physical factor that cannot be changed.
Since each person is an individual with uniquely special talents, it is nearly impossible that even when given the same opportunities people will be able to take advantage of all of them in the same ways. The goal is to do what we can to provide both men and women with equal opportunities, assuming that they will pursue the ones that mean the most to them and will be able to achieve an equal quality of life.
Unfortunately, there are societies which discriminate purposefully against people of certain genders, races, religions, and social classes. This sort of behavior is condemned in the Bible, which states that we are one in Christ: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Salvation is offered freely to all people with no exceptions. The saving grace of Jesus Christ is equally available to all, meaning that all are viewed equally by God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
In the beginning God created man first, but it was determined that it was not good for man to be alone; then God created woman (Genesis 2:18–25). Some people argue that because man was created first that men are more valuable than women; however, the fact that God found it unhealthy for man to be alone should prove that women are of equal importance. Both men and women were created by God and in the image of God, meaning that they are of equal value in His eyes (Genesis 1:27).
There are people who assert that the Bible does not advocate for gender equality. Certain Old Testament passages or laws regarding the treatment of women leave an unsettling first impression. Passages like Deuteronomy 22:28–29 and Exodus 22:16–17 at first glance seem to require a woman who is the victim of rape to marry the man who raped her. The reality of these passages is a bit more complicated. What they really mean is that if a man had sex with a single woman, making her ineligible for marriage to someone else, he must marry her upon paying the appropriate bride price and would never be allowed to divorce her (Deuteronomy 24:1–4). It is important to mention that the woman would not be forced to marry the man, but he would still be forced to pay the bride price. The purpose of these laws was to punish a man who unlawfully took advantage of a virgin and also to protect the victim of his crimes from any further exploitation.
A lot of the biblical laws regarding women were in place because they lived in a society in which women were viewed as less valuable than men. The laws were made to protect women from some of the complications brought about by cultural gender inequality. If we look at Jesus' life, we will notice that Jesus Himself treated all people as equals, regardless of social status or gender. It is important to note that Jesus treated women as equals, counter to the cultural norms at the time. For example, His first miracle was done at the request of His mother (John 2:1–11). He revealed Himself as the Messiah to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:25–26). When He rose from the dead, He first showed Himself to the women who had come to His tomb (John 20:11–18; Matthew 28:1–10; Mark 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–12).
Many of the laws that were put into place in the Bible, or even laws that have been established in more modern times, have been established for the purpose of reducing sin and mitigating the effects of sin. Every society is made up of sinners. From the fall onward, the relationships between mankind and God and between men and women have been strained, pitted against each other. Adam blamed Eve for getting him to sin, and Eve blamed the serpent. Both of them experienced shame in their relationship with God (Genesis 3; see verse 16 specifically in regards to relationship between the genders).
Sin leads people to be selfish. Selfishness is what causes people to view themselves as better than others due to any number of factors, including but not limited to gender. Therefore, it is safe to assert that the root cause of gender inequality is sin. If gender inequality is rooted in sin, gender equality is something that is worth working for.
It is important to mention that gender equality is not the equivalent of gender sameness. God created both males and females and He has given them different yet complementary strengths and roles to fill within the family and the church (Ephesians 5:21–33; 1 Timothy 2:12). Our differences are not related to our equality. Rather, they showcase God's creativity, power, and wisdom. God pours out His Spirit on men and women alike; He makes no discrimination (Acts 2:17). He has designed men and women to operate in this world as equals, even if some of their functions are different.
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