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A Full 3D Experience of the Bible

We each bring our life experiences to reading the Bible. The church needs to hear interpretations and insights from people with diverse experiences in order to fully understand God's word.


When women don’t preach or teach, the whole body of Christ misses out on what God gave them to share. Seeing both the male and female interpretations of Bible stories gives us a fuller view of God's word. Both male and female Christians can see the Bible from both male and female viewpoints


elephant
https://www.pexels.com/photo/elephant-standing-under-water-jets-15741532/

Have you heard the story of five people describing an elephant to a blind person? One says it's round like a tree trunk. One says it's thick like a rope. One says it's flat like a piece of paper. One says it's course and strong like a brick wall. One says it shoots water like a fire hose. Who is right? We need all points of view to get the full, 3D picture.


People who have gone through divorce have studied biblical passages on divorce in depth.

People overcoming domestic abuse or religious trauma have deeply investigated biblical passages that have been used against them.

People who have suffered from a chronic illness or degenerative condition bring their experiences and insights to biblical passages on suffering

People who have grieved have looked deeply into comfort in hard times and what to do when bad things happen.

Christians who discover they or someone they love is LGBTQ review and rethink what the Bible says about same-sex orientation

People who have been enslaved and found freedom have different perspectives from those who have never been restricted or limited in any way.


Let's take a look at how male and female Bible interpreters may bring different experiences to their understanding of Bible passages.

 

1.       Eve's Desire


"Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." (Genesis 3:16 NRSVUE)

 

The traditional (male) view is that Eve has an evil desire to control Adam like the desire of Cain's anger against his brother. "Sin is lurking at the door; sin's desire is to rule you but you must rule sin (Genesis 4:7). Male interpreters have equated Eve with sin, essentially thinking 'Eve is lurking at the door; women's desire is to rule you but you must rule her.' This idea is closer aligned with a typically male desire to conquer, win, and control others.

 

A woman (or an egalitarian Christian) may relate Eve's desire to her own desire to make peace or avoid confrontation. Adam blamed Eve for their disobedience to God. When blamed in this way, a woman will often want to reconcile her relationship. Unity is restored in Genesis 4:1 when they knew one another and bore a son. Eve praises God for this restored harmony, saying "I have produced a man with the help of the Lord." This idea fits with my experience as a female after a dispute, wanting to make peace, reconcile, and reunite. Eve had a desire for her husband, but God warns her that her husband's desire is to rule over her.


Katharine Bushnell
Katharine Bushnell, evangelist, translator, author

The biblical scholar, translator, and interpreter Katharine Bushnell wrote that this verse is not about Eve’s desire, but her turning towards the male, away from God, even though God warns her that turning towards the man will result in him ruling her. Bushnell goes further to say that it is not God who multiplied Eve’s sorrow and toil, but a snare (the snare of the Serpent). In the phrase “he shall rule over you”, the verb “he shall” is supplied by the translators and changes the meaning to an imperative. The true translation would be a simple future tense, warning the woman of the consequences of her action.


Similarly, some of Paul's simple statements have been translated as imperatives. For example, the word-for-word translation of Ephesians 5:33 is advice to a husband to love his wife in order that she might respect him. The imperative translation is a command to a wife to respect her husband.   

 

Resources on Katharine Bushnell:


2.           The Concubine


"Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing. Here is my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them, but against this male guest do not do such a vile thing... the man seized his concubine and put her out to them. They wantonly raped her and abused her..." Judges 19:23-25


"In the morning the man got up, opened the door and there was the woman, his concubine, lying at the door of the house with her hands on the threshold." Judges 19:27


The traditional (male) view is that the concubine in Judges 19 is a symbol with the main idea to instruct men about Israel’s disastrous state and motivate them to do something. Homophobic interpreters may say this passage shows that giving a woman to be gang raped was more acceptable (less vile) than giving a man to be abused or passive against dominant same-sex abuse. Some interpreters suggested the concubine must have deserved the abuse and death; they may say she had been an adulterer. The traditional interpretation has today’s teachers discussing the horrors of the past while ignoring the horrors of today. It may also be seen as a biblical reason to blame rape victims today or suggest they did something to deserve it. The moral of this interpretation is that women who tempt men deserve to be abused, or that the woman is an object lesson teaching men to stop men from abusing men.


Josephine Butler
Josephine Butler had a heart for prostitutes

A female Bible reader might reject the idea that it was not vile to abuse a woman and note that the text does not indicate the concubine was an adulterer or deserving of abuse. The text indicates that the concubine was running away from an abusive master to her father's home (Judges 19:2). Four months later, the man found his concubine, ate and drank with her father, and took her home by a risky, dangerous route.


The female biblical interpreter Josephine Butler saw the concubine as a woman God loved, deserving of care and compassion. Butler saw Jesus in the woman, knocking on our door, using the parallel image of Jesus knocking at the door in Revelations 3:20. Butler said the passage calls passive Christians to take care of prostitutes and rape victims, just as Jesus calls us to visit those in prison and help those who are sick kor hungry in Matthew 25:31-46. She applies the story to correct the behaviour of her listeners in the 1800s. The moral of this interpretation is that God is with the concubine, and we are guilty of not opening the door to her and showing love and compassion to her.


Josephine Butler and the concubine story:

 

3.       Woman’s view of the Woman at the Well


"You are right in saying 'I have no husband,' for you have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!" The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet." (John 4:17-19)


A Traditional (male) interpreter may see the woman as an immoral adulterer. They may focus on today's negative view of separation and divorce or assume that the woman caused the divorce by her infidelity or immorality. They may believe that coming alone to the well at noon can only mean that she is ashamed or rejected by her community. The moral of this view is that women are terrible sinners, but Jesus even speaks to them.


A female interpreter may see the woman as a victim, abandoned by her husbands and rejected repeatedly for reasons outside of her control. Normally, divorce could only be initiated by a husband and women would not have food or shelter if she did not have a husband. There could be many reasons why she came alone to the well at noon. After Jesus reveals her past, he does not condemn it or tell her to stop sinning. When he reveals her past, he reveals himself to her as a prophet. Immediately she asks theological questions and has the largest recorded conversation with Jesus of any conversation in the Bible. She gives evidence to her friends and neighbours that Jesus is the Messiah by saying "he told me everything I have ever done!" (John 4:29). Her community listens to her, respects her and many come to believe in Jesus because of her (John 4:39). She is strong and resilient in the face of difficulty, and Jesus sees her and speaks to her. The moral with this view is that women must be resilient in the face of rejection, but deserve answers to tough theological questions, and Jesus educates them and equips them to go out and spread the word.

 

4.       Male language

A Traditional (male) interpreter may see the word “you” or “us” in the Bible and think it refers to men. For example, where Paul calls us to be bold, to speak out, to teach and admonish one another (Colossians 3:16-17). Paul writes to us to stand firm in the faith, act like men, and be strong (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).


A female Bible reader may see Paul's letter is addressed to all of the congregation and believe it refers to male and female readers. The ‘us’ refers to all believers, men and women. The instructions to 'be a man' as a call to be an adult, grow to maturity. Kristen Kobes Dumez had written effectively about male interpretations that encourage toxic male behaviour, honouring bravery and machoism at the expense of honouring all male and female believers to be kind, gentle, and self-disciplined.


5.       Women Will be Saved Through Childbearing       


"Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control." (1 Timothy 2:15 NRSVUE).


The traditional (male) view of 1 Timothy 2 is that a woman (or women) is domineering and inappropriately usurping a male leadership role. They may see this passage as a command to women to obey men. Traditional interpretations of the final verse of the chapter are:

  • women must bear children; that is their role in God's design; Traditional interpretations use this passage to say God blesses women who focus on the role of giving birth and being a mother.

  • women are saved through the childbirth of Jesus; it is a symbolic reference to childbirth; They may teach that Eve caused the Fall and Mary giving birth to Jesus preserves women from Eve’s guilt.

Even biblical literalists may say this passage is not about physical childbirth or a woman's fear of death in childbirth.

When the pronoun changes from 'she' to 'they', the male interpretation is that the writer is talking about the salvation of women, meaning women will be saved if women continue in faith, love and self-control. They may deny that the writer may be telling wives and husbands to both continue in faith, love, and self-control. The result of this interpretation is that women must be silent, not have any authority over men, marry and have children.


A female Bible interpreter may be more quick to see the fear of being saved physically during childbirth. Present-day biblical interpreter and scholar Cynthia Long Westfall sees the woman in 1 Timothy 2 as terrified of dying in childbirth and needing comfort that God will be with her. She and her husband will be brought safe through the childbearing experience if they both remain faithful and self-controlled. She is less likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth if her husband is gentle and patient, less demanding of her during the pregnancy. It is an instruction to her husband to be self-controlled and patient to handle her fears; then she will not be afraid to get pregnant and give birth.


Nobody's mother
Sandra Glahn's book cover

Sandra Glahn was motivated to research how women are saved through childbearing when she found she was infertile. That's when she realized God did not command that women have babies. That's when she realized 1 Timothy 2 is not telling women they're saved by having babies. In her book, Nobody's Mother: Artemis of the Ephesians in Antiquity and the New Testament, Sandra Glahn notes that Artemis, worshipped in Ephesus, was a goddess for virginity and safety in childbirth. Artemis carried pouches of potions to keep women safe through childbirth. Artemis advocated virginity and celibacy. A wife in Ephesus may have been teaching other women they would not be safe if they turned away from Artemis towards Jesus. This wife may have been domineering or bullying her husband into celibacy.

The result of this female interpretation is that men need to comfort women, relieve them of fear and pain in childbirth, and husbands need to be self-controlled with pregnant wives. Female believers, like male believers, must obey God, not men. All believers are saved through God’s grace, not through having children.


Views on1 Timothy 2:

 

These five examples show that a traditional male interpretation provides only one perspective. We each read and understand the Bible from our own frame of view. Listening to female Bible interpreters provides a more full, 3D experience of the Bible.


Likewise, listening to Bible interpreters of different ethnic or cultural backgrounds and diverse physical abilities or experiences provides a deeper, fuller, wider understanding of God's word. We need to look at the Bible from all views to get the full picture.



 


Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with Christian fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include:




 

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