By Dan Barker
In April (1997), Annie Laurie Gaylor and I were guests on the Richard Randell radio show in Colorado Springs, primarily to discuss her new book, Women Without Superstition: "No Gods - No Masters." Quoting such verses as, "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection," Annie Laurie showed how scripture has been used to keep women subservient to men.
One of the women who called into the show claimed that she feels blessed to be under the loving authority of her Christian husband and that the actual Greek words used in the bible imply more of a partnership than a master-slave relationship. After Annie Laurie gave numerous historical and biblical examples of religion's harm to women, an impatient male caller asked, "What are the qualifications of this lady in spewing her venom against the bible?"
"I think it's the other way around," Annie Laurie countered. "The bible is pornographic when it comes to descriptions of women. It talks about 'God' raping women. It talks about . . ."
"But I want to know what your qualifications are."
"I am a feminist and a human being who has a right to judge this book," she responded.
"Have you read the Greek? Do you know the Greek?" he pressed, in a paternalistic tone. "There is nowhere it says 'be subservient.' I don't know where you all got that wording."
"Well, 'subjection' is the word," Annie Laurie continued, "and it means the same thing."
"Oh, no, no, no," he insisted. "See, you need to go find your Greek, my dear. Go find the Greek word, and then you will know what that word is."
"What is that Greek word?" I asked, jumping in.
"I don't have the Greek word in front of me," he said, unfazed, "but if you want to be that critical, before you attackle [sic] the enemy, first learn what the enemy knows."
"I think before you talk about the bible," Annie Laurie suggested, "you'd better read Women Without Superstition and read the writings of fifty women who have analyzed religion from the woman's point of view, or otherwise you do not have the authority to talk about it."
"I wouldn't read your trash," he snorted.
His message was clear: how dare a mere woman judge the bible for herself, disagreeing with millennia of male scholarship! Women should be thankful to find their rank in society, happy to learn where they fit into the "Father's" plan, fulfilled in their role as supporters of men who, as "heads" of women, have more responsibility.
I didn't have my Greek text with me, so I wasn't able to look up those verses on the air, but when I got home I did a little research. I am no great Greek scholar, but I had taken two years of New Testament Greek in preparation for the ministry, so I can plow through the text.
The main New Testament word that shows the relationship between women and men is hypotasso, which means "submit" and "obey." Judge for yourself whether the bible's use of hypotasso (identified by the boldface words below) indicates woman's subservience:
"Let your women keep silent in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church." (I Corinthians 14:34-35)
"Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." (I Timothy 2:11-12)
"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church . . . Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing." (Ephesians 5:22-24)
"Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord." (Colossians 3:18)
"Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands." (I Peter 3:1)
"That they [aged women] may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed." (Titus 2:4-5)
W. E. Vine, in An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, writes: "HYPOTASSO, primarily a military term, to rank under (hypo, under, tasso, to arrange), denotes (a) to put in subjection, to subject . . . "subdue" . . . (b) in the Middle or Passive voice, to subject oneself, to obey, be subject to . . . See OBEDIENT, SUBMIT."
The American Heritage Dictionary defines "obey" as: "1. To carry out or fulfill the command, order, or instruction of." It defines "submit" as: "1. To yield or surrender (oneself) to the will or authority of another."
This hardly suggests partnership! Nowhere in the bible are men told to "hypotasso" to women.
We don't need to look outside the New Testament to see that hypotasso means total subservience:
"Exhort servants [slaves] to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again." (Titus 2:9)
"Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully." (I Peter 2:18-19. "Froward" means "stubbornly contrary and disobedient; obstinate." AHD)
"A bishop must . . . rule well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)" (I Timothy 3:2-5)
"Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme, Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers." (I Peter 2:13-14)
"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. . . . Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation." (Romans 13:1)
"Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates." (Titus 3:1)
"Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder." (I Peter 5:5)
"The Lord Jesus Christ . . . is able even to subdue all things unto himself." (Philippians 3:20-21)
"For unto the angels hath he [Lord] put in subjection the world to come." (Hebrews 2:5)
"And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name." (Luke 10:17)
These verses all use hypotasso: to put "under." Women are told to submit to men with the same Greek word used to direct slaves under masters, youth under elders, subjects under kings, criminals under the law. What could be worse? Could there be any stronger evidence that Christian women are meant to be subservient?
The New Testament gives a vivid example of how women should submit:
"For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection [hypotasso] unto their own husbands. Even as Sara obeyed [hypakouo] Abraham, calling him lord." (I Peter 3:5-6) How exactly did Sara obey Abraham? Without objecting, she allowed herself to be pimped to King Abimelech, passed off as Abraham's "sister." (Genesis 20:1-11)
That word "obey" (hypakouo) is used in many other New Testament verses, such as "Children, obey your parents in the Lord" (Ephesians 6:1) and "Servants, obey in all things your masters" (Colossians 3:22). Are these examples of a "partnership"?
Not all of the callers to that radio show were hostile. Foundation member Jan Brazill phoned in to say, "I've been one of the lucky ones to have already started reading Annie Laurie's book, and it is great. I'm struck by the fact that these women, way back, were fighting against the servitude, and everything that the bible commands of women, speaking out in public and all that. Now we have a group such as the Promise Keepers who are advocating the very same thing."
"What worries me," Jan continued, "is that women are not suitably worried about this. They seem to just go along and take everything for granted. I do think that reading the book that Annie Laurie Gaylor has edited--reading all these writings of women in ages past and the battles that they had to fight--that should inspire us, that we need to be vigilant."