Don’t apply modern feminism to the scriptures

This is a guest post by Idealist at Large, a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who loves the scriptures, and especially enjoys reading Isaiah, Moses, 2 Nephi, Moroni, and Paul’s letters. Her blog is Peaceable Treasures, where she writes about Gospel topics and life matters. She lives in Queensland, Australia, and is currently working on a project to help parents counteract the radical theories their kids are learning at school. 

It often gets said that women are largely ignored or forgotten in the scriptures; that it’s all about men, because they’re all written by men. This seems to be mainly the result of applying feminism to the scriptures, more than properly understanding them – their purpose and context in history.

Most histories that we have were written by men, for a variety of reasons, including that what ‘we’ know is largely from European and British culture, that men most often held overt positions of power, and at certain periods of time, were more likely to receive an education that included writing. They were also the ones who generally held administrative positions in literate civilisations, so they would either be directing or making official records. Moreover, we might consider that the writing of scriptures was a priesthood responsibility – revelation meant for a nation or church group was given to priests and prophets, and recording it was commanded. The scribe might have been male or female – I don’t know enough to say, but I think we often assume. Even if they were usually male, it doesn’t affect the meaning or applicability of what was recorded.

We should also consider that most records have probably been lost; we retain only a portion. And while men often held the overt positions of power in societies, historically, it doesn’t mean that they were the only ones with power. This is really an obvious fact: we know, from histories we do have, that there were many women exerting influence over the affairs of their nations or cities. And we know, from experience, that women have particular kinds of influence – men are always influenced by them, in various ways, whether obvious or implicit. Does it matter who is acknowledged for it, when the influence has actually had effect? What’s often being looked at is masculine forms of power or influence, which is naturally going to be limited to men, or to women who act like men. Meanwhile, feminine forms of influence are discounted – ironically, doing the same thing to women that men and ‘society’ are being accused of in this view.

So, the first correction to this misleading view is to understand that what we have is a portion, and that whoever has recorded it, or is recorded as interacting with God, is not indicative of who it’s meant for, or who matters more.

The second correction is to look at how women are spoken of in the scriptures, and instead of relying on how often they’re spoken of, use this ‘how’ as a pattern for understanding the greater truth of who God is and how He regards and treats with His children.

Here’s a short list of a few situations in the scriptures which reveal how women are regarded. I haven’t taken the time to look through the rest of the Old Testament for more instances, and there are more mentions of women in the New Testament; this isn’t a scholarly or comprehensive study of any sort. It’s just a selection I’ve made for illustrative purposes.

Genesis 1:26-27: Let us make man in our own image, and let them have dominion over…

man’ means ‘mortals’ – male and female. Both were, of course, made in God’s image.

Genesis 2:20-24: … but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him… And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

The reason a man and a woman shall ‘be one flesh’ is that they originally were: woman was taken out of man, symbolically, and they are both made from the same basic materials. It is the natural way, and probably a symbol of the reunification of our souls with God’s presence. We have been taken from Heaven and placed on earth; our journey takes us back to God’s presence and favour.

As a basic interpretation, ‘help meet’ implies one who is equal (‘to meet’) and a help. There are more detailed interpretations of its meaning, which are good to consider as well.

The first name Adam called Eve was ‘Woman’, because it literally described her at that time – her origin – and was based on Adam’s current understanding. Later, he had gained greater understanding, after eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and knew that her name should be ‘Eve’. It nicely reflects their growing journey of discovery, like each person’s on this earth. We increase in knowledge, better understanding ourselves, our relation to God, and our place in His plan. Remember that everything in the Creation stories is representative of the temple endowment – it’s like a play that guides people through the purposes of mortality, the correct relation of man to God, how to make and keep covenants with God, and so on.

(From “In God’s Image and Likeness: Creation, Fall, and the Story of Adam and Eve”, Jeffrey M Bradshaw, pp. 272 & 274, using Moses 4 as the text).

Luke 1:28 – the angel’s greeting to Mary is, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured [(French: ‘thou to whom a favour/honour/mercy/gift has been given’)], the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women”.

Luke 7:27 – this woman brought expensive ointment to use for the Saviour because she had felt or desired His infinite love and forgiveness, which he gave to her, knowing that she was sincere. What a beautiful example of Christ’s saving grace and merciful love, which we each can experience in our lives.

John 4 – Jesus teaches a Samaritan woman precious doctrine, and she believes. He doesn’t first teach it to men, or to the whole village, but to this one woman – the one who needed it most.

John 8:2-11 – the woman “taken in adultery”. Jesus treated her with mercy and kindness/compassion. He knew her heart and cared that she should repent and be whole. This is how He responds to each of us who come to Him with a broken heart and contrite spirit: God’s aim is not to punish unreservedly, but to save, if He can. It depends upon our desires. Sin must be punished, but the goal is forgiveness.

Acts 9:36-41 – Peter heals Tabitha/Dorcas, and raises her from the dead. Meaning, he cared enough to do this, the Lord knew she was needed and important enough to give this miracle, and it was recorded – and therefore, considered of enough importance.

1 Corinthians 11:11, 12 – A lot of attention is given to the culturally-specific advice in this chapter, but amongst the other verses dealing with Greek custom, these are the key.

Hebrews 11:35 – Paul mentions women of faith among his list of faithful saints (as to be emulated).

Galatians 3:28, 29 – All are included in this promise of salvation to those who accept Christ and are blessed through the Abrahamic covenant with God (the Gospel of Jesus Christ and its saving ordinances).

2 Nephi 9:21 – “He suffereth the pains of all… men, women, and children.” All are included. None, whether male or female, is more loved or important than another.

Alma 32:23 – “God giveth his word unto women also”.

2 Nephi 26:33 – The Lord invites all to come unto Him:

“For [the Lord] doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

These divisions that we make between people – because humans are a judging, ranking species – are largely artificial. They’re based very much on current conditions, and usually on incomplete information. I’m not talking here about the difference between male and female – this is biological and spiritual fact. I mean the divisions artificially made between the importance or ranking of men and women, and other similar divisions. Men and women don’t have to become similar in order to have value or receive fulfillment. Women don’t need what men have, in the sense of becoming or having it themselves. Men don’t need to become more like women in order to be good people.

The scriptures relate a certain, small, portion of God’s dealings with man. They are instituted by God, and preserved under His direction. But they are man’s writings of His word, and of attempts by people to live (or reject) it. They teach and prove necessary things. They’re not meant to be a comprehensive history of mankind, or say everything about how God works with human beings. There are many, many stories that will never be written down in scripture form, and that never have been. But it is these stories that are most meaningful in our lives; they are our personal experiences with God. And in them, we know that He knows and cherishes us. He truly does love and invite all to come unto Him, and blesses all accordingly. We know that personally.

The scriptures are a guide; it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a man or a woman portrayed in a particular story, or written about more. They’re guides for us as mortals, and should be understood and applied in that spirit.

4 thoughts on “Don’t apply modern feminism to the scriptures

  1. Thanks, Ojiisan. I’m glad you found it so. I get frustrated with what seems to me a view of the scriptures/God and women that’s snagged on a low branch, which obscures the real panorama. It really is applying modern feminism to something far better, older, and more expansive than it.

  2. Modern feminism reminds me of the animosity from Cain against Abel. Because Cain improperly gave sacrifice he was told to repent and do it right, like his brother. Instead of doing the correct sacrifice, he gets angry and kills Abel in a fit of rage and wanting what his brother has. For his actions of murder Cain is cursed to wander the earth with no real home; only anger and lashing out.

  3. It really begins with how we regard God, doesn’t it? If you believe or know that He is, actually, God, and your God, then you trust that whatever He commands is right, no matter whether you understand it or not. You’ll probably understand it better as time goes on, but even if you don’t, or if there’s still more to understand about it, obedience is the only correct response to something God commands – and loving Him, and believing that His purposes are good.
    The attitude that because it doesn’t align with contemporary, human-designed views, which have been thought up very recently, the things God has decreed for His children here are wrong and should be fought against, is extremely arrogant. Which leads to the realisation that this is something (if it wasn’t already obvious) instigated by the Adversary, because it encourages enmity towards God.
    Of course, people also take these commandments or acts of God, and use them as an excuse to go too far, as with how women were viewed by the Catholic church (so different from the way the Lord and His early disciples viewed and treated them) due to interpretations of the Fall, which led to a lot of harm and deeply wrong attitudes.

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