Reading the scriptures without a male bias

Reading the scriptures without a male bias

In the beginning God made male and female.  Together they were to do God’s work on earth but unfortunately the fall happened and their work done together as equals was challenged by the man who took the sole rule for himself.  Society became strongly patriarchal, and men were seen as the only ones who were capable of speaking for God and interpreting his word.  But without the female complement working together with the male, some scriptures took on a decidedly male bias that is foreign to the context.  For example, look at 1 Timothy 2:9 to see Paul’s instruction given to godly women.

1 Timothy 2:9  Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments,

1 Timothy 2:10  but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.

We can note from 1 Timothy 1:2 that Paul is writing to Timothy.  In chapter 2 Paul gives a standard for godly women to show their Christian maturity from the inside out.   Women are to adorn themselves modestly and discreetly as is proper for women who make a claim to godliness.  This is where some veer off into male bias.

The male bias reads a sexual temptress instead of godly women into this passage.

John MacArthur gives the interpretation that Paul is referring to women who are acting indecently.

Now back to chapter 2.  In this passage we learn that not only were women having problems with purity, not only were they turning aside to Satan, breaking pledges they had made to Christ, being led around by their own diverse lusts, but here there were some of these women who were acting indecently.  That is to say bringing these improprieties, impurities and immoralities into the worship of the church.  And under the pretense of coming to worship God were flaunting themselves and desecrating that worship by the dress and demeanor that betrayed an evil intent rather than a heart of worship.

John MacArthur continues his interpretation making these women as ones who are coming to the worship service to sexually attract men.

The second subject that is in his mind is the subject of worship.  And the worship was being polluted by women who saw it as a way to flaunt their wealthy, to demonstrate their beauty, to put on a sexually attractive demonstration to men that would draw their focus away from the living God to things not fitting in a worship environment.

…the tendency of a woman might be to be preoccupied with her outward adornment so that she would abuse the worship service.

…Now in that particular culture then the woman of the world, the woman who wanted to flaunt her wealth and flaunt her beauty and call attention to herself and attract everybody’s interest and sexually allure someone was the woman who was overdressed,k over-made up and over painted in every sense…To have the women in the church who are supposed to be the epitome of godliness appear like prostitutes or gaudy showy women trying to call attention to themselves, or to have the come with the intent of alluring other men and making them discontent with their own wife, or even worse, to allure them into a sexual relationship would be to blaspheme the intent of the church, certainly when it comes together to worship the living and holy God…And so they would come dressed in clothing that was not modest, clothing that demonstrated sensuality, passion, lust, desire, that was intended to allure and attract.  And thus with those lustful purposes did they betray and desecrate the spirit of worship.

Is Paul’s concern in this passage all about sexuality?  Is Paul talking about “abusing the worship service”?  These things are foreign to the text.  Rather than this passage being about flaunting sexuality and women acting like prostitutes coming to the church to allure the men, Paul’s words inspired by the Holy Spirit show a far different meaning.  Paul’s focus is on the attitude of godly mature Christians.

Women who are professing godliness should not try to create an air of respectability for themselves by making a show of costly garments, accessories or hair arrangements, but should show their mature Christian faith by their good works.

The modesty that Paul is desiring is not an issue of sexuality.  Paul is concerned that women make a statement about who they are as followers of Christ through their good works instead of making a statement about who they are through the cost of their outward adornment.  Paul isn’t saying that costly pearls or gold and elaborate hair-dos are ways of seducing men.  There is also nothing in the passage that has Paul referring to seductive clothing.  This is a male bias bringing something into the text that is not there.   Paul is concerned about women’s overstated, expensive adornment because he does not want women to try to earn respect by their dress.  Respect is to be earned by one’s maturity in displaying godly works and a godly attitude.  Overstated expensive clothes and expensive adornment can be a hindrance to showing forth the true adornment that comes from within.  Peter repeats the same points about outward adornment as Paul does and we can note that his words have nothing to do with sexuality.

1 Peter 3:3  Your adornment must not be merely external–braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;
1 Peter 3:4  but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.

So how can we as a church work on reading the scriptures without a male bias?  For one, we can ask for the understanding of scripture passages from godly Christian women.  We can use and appreciate the gifts that God has given the entire body of Christ through our sisters in Christ.  Any other suggestions?

14 thoughts on “Reading the scriptures without a male bias

  1. I think J MacA should go into the automotive business. He gets an astounding amount of mileage out of vapors!

    A footnote on the passage by classical Greek scholar Ann Nyland states that the grammar here indicates it means “to give orders to someone, or to proclaim by authority. It was also a technical word for teaching any form of wisdom for pay… Women were attested as synagogue leaders (and thus teachers).” She translates vs. 10 as “which is fitting for women while they are giving a convert to Judaism instructions…”

    So it’s quite possible (with much more than J MacA’s vapors for support) that these women were leaders, and as such were to live on a higher standard in every respect, just as the men were.

    Katherine Bushnell lamented the lack of educated women allowed on Bible translation committees as one of the reasons for male bias. We must strike at the root to make real progress. That means getting the Bible lexicons up to date, especially on the meanings of idioms and other forms of expression. Then accurate translations need to be made, and then teachers need to throw away the old quarterlies and start serving “meat” instead of Twinkies to Sunday School students.

    There is no reason why the average Christian cannot be expected to study in such depth. The status quo has a vested interest in keeping to the shallow waters, because only the uneducated are controllable. This is just as true for believers as for the world. They have sold us the lie that most people are too stupid to grasp what Paul was saying or consider the time and culture in which the NT was written. We feed them baby food and then have the audacity to wonder why they never grow.

  2. Context of a passage is crucial.

    The (natural-only) pearls of the 1st century were more costly than gold and most women could afford neither.  Paul is discussing rich women who might naturally assume they were to be leaders in church as they were in society.  Braided hair was also a sign of wealth, as were fine clothes.


  3. Theosebeia is a term for a proselyte, a new convert.  It is quite likely she/they were converted from the Ephesian Artemis cult, as this dominated Ephesus.

    So we have a rich recent convert who has been deceived and Paul ask Timothy to make sure she learns the truth.  And not to worry about impressing people with her wealth (part of the truth).

  4. Yes, reading sexuality into this is ridiculous. But, we do have the exact same problems today with outward adornment. This is an area that is touchy because it can get into legalism real fast. But, I do get weary hearing some of the conversations at church about name brand stuff. At my former mega seeker church the conversation  was about how many different fur coats some women had. It was considered cool to have one to wear with jeans to go shopping in. (sigh)

    I can relate a story about my mom which I think fits this scripture. My dad would periodically buy my mom very expensive clothes which she was uncomfortable wearing. One Easter he bought her a beautiful Chanel suit. She explained to him why she could not wear it on Easter Sunday. She was upfront as a choir director and did not want to make the women who did not have new clothes feel bad. She felt like she would be flaunting them. Some would call that legalism. But I knew her and knew that she really wrestled with this.  She liked to look nice but JC Penney nice. Know what I mean?

  5. As I ponder current egal/comp issues here on the homefront, I sorely  needed a good laugh today and Paula, your comment on the qualifications of a certain gentleman for the auto business per vapors did it!  🙂

    Yes, we do need updated lexicons for this business of reading the bible without bias.

  6. Everyone has a worldview which is used to fill in gaps in text with defaults.  But it is quite revealing what MacArthur’s defaults are.

  7. Glad to help, TS. 🙂

    And glad to see you posting again. May the fleas of a thousand camels infest The Comp-ound until it is deserted!

  8. Paula,

    I think J MacA should go into the automotive business. He gets an astounding amount of mileage out of vapors!

    My husband liked this one so much, he already can figure out ways that he can use this saying!

    I also believe that the women spoken about in 1 Timothy 2:9, 10 were women leaders in the congregation.  This makes their demeanor & the statement that they make by their dress all the more important for Paul to comment on.

    Then accurate translations need to be made, and then teachers need to throw away the old quarterlies and start serving “meat” instead of Twinkies to Sunday School students.

    I am all for serving “meat” to the body.  So many are starving for the real meat of the word after being force-fed whatever lite version of whatever is popular today.

    Good comments about the rich and leadership.

    When I read (or hear) John MacArthur’s view taking modesty to mean sexuality, I cringe.  Is that all some men think about?  Certainly in this day and age, inappropriate clothing can be a sexual issue, but in Paul’s day women covered up completely.  No baring of anything was in order for them. Even a bare ankle was considered a no-no and Jewish men would not follow behind a woman lest they see her ankle when she walked and it caused them to lust.  It is absurd to import today’s dress into bible times.  Paul made it very clear what kind of “modesty” that he was talking about – it was modesty in regards to expensive outward adorning.


    Everyone has a worldview which is used to fill in gaps in text with defaults.  But it is quite revealing what MacArthur’s defaults are.

    I could not have said this better myself.  It is time that we just allow the scripture to speak for itself instead of importing all kinds of fanciful additions that have no basis in reality.


    May the fleas of a thousand camels infest The Comp-ound until it is deserted!

    You are turning out to be our own in-house comedienne!

  9. Thank you so much for this, Cheryl!  I must admit that because of male-oriented interpretations of this passage re: modesty, I was also reading sexuality into it.  🙁    I see your excellent points regarding the true focus of this passage.

  10. Perhaps John MacArthur would prefer that female congregants above a certain age wear some kind of Christian burqua to worship services?

  11. Looking at the Greek for the word modesty, it’s even more clear that Cheryl’s interpretation is correct and that implied sexuality is indeed absent:

    1Tim 2:9  In the same way also, I desire that women adorn themselves in decent clothing, with modesty (G2887)   and sensibleness, not adorned with braiding, or gold, or pearls, or costly clothing, KJV

    kosmios; from G2889; orderly: – proper (1), respectable (1).

  12. Victorious,

    I am glad that you were able to see outside the traditional “male” box.  It always struck me as odd after reading a lot in the Talmud, how Christian leaders could take the view that Paul was talking about a “sexual” modesty.  After all the examples of modesty have nothing to do with sexuality.  In reading the Talmud, it is very clear that women were kept covered so there was not an opportunity in that day for sexual dress as we know it.  In fact, the standard of that day was that a woman must not even bare her forearm as she was using her distaff. 

    Since Paul is talking about women who have a claim to godliness, it is utterly ridiculous in my mind for men to force into the text women who are coming to church wearing tight burquas 🙂 in order to seduce men.  I think a simple “show me that in the context” is in order.

  13. I also think that those who think that Paul is talking about women who are coming into the church wearing “sexy pearls” and “sexy gold” are likely in the same class as those who attributed their lustful thoughts to women who in the mere act of walking, happened to show a part of their ankle.  It is a form of prejudice.

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