In most cultures today women are viewed as second class citizens. And this has been reflected in many churches. I have reacted against this in my journey of faith. But after hearing a few RZIM speakers refer to the value/esteem of women in the Christian world view, I am on a journey to understand this. So starting at Leviticus 12. Why would women be unclean for 7 days after giving birth to a boy, and two weeks after giving birth to a girl?
That is such a good question. And, I don’t think I ever realized the difference. I did a little reading. Check out:
@evewp Great question - I had this same question while rereading the Bible through recently.
One reason mentioned in the article @Keldon_Scott that I had also run into is that boys had to be circumcised on the eighth day - so 7 days was the most that could be waited. Personally, I think the reason for the difference in days of uncleanness is difficult to nail down.
But what I think is crucial is in Leviticus 12:6 - “And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter…”
The offering presented for both boys and girls was the same - they both had the same value in the eyes of God. So while we may not understand exactly why the days of uncleanness were different - the fact that the offering was identical speaks to the fact that their value is the same in God’s eyes.
What I think is also crucial is that the text itself nowhere makes a distinction in value between boys and girls - that is something commentators read into the text. The text is unclear as to the reason for the difference in days of uncleanness - so whether it was circumcision or something else we cannot be certain.
But what we can be certain of is that God values both the same - the offering presented for both is identical.
It is also helpful to zoom out and see how God shows His mercy / faithfulness to women like Esther, Ruth, Rahab and Hagar - and how God chose women as the first witnesses of the resurrection of Christ. Moreover, God used women like Priscilla to further His Church and Jesus regularly showed compassion for women far beyond cultural norms.
As you are on a journey to understand the gender dynamics of the Bible, I think it is really important that you spend time trying to understand the gender dynamics in all neighbouring societies concurrently. The comparison will also shed some light on the topic for you. Let me know if you have trouble finding resources to that end
I will look into it and shout if I struggle. Thanks.
First let me welcome you to the forum. You will have many traveling companions here who also are seeking to grow in their faith journey. I am going to take a slightly different approach to your question not to avoid answering your Leviticus 12 treatment of woman but to share with you what I have learned that has helped me to better understand “purity and pollution” in the Bible. I like David deSilva’s treatment of this subject in his book HONOR, PATRONAGE, KINSHIP & PURITY Unlocking New Testament Culture. This is not the only book on the subject.
Purity codes are a way of talking about what is proper for a certain place and a certain time (however one’s society fills in the content). Pollution is a label attached to whatever is out of place with regard to the society’s view of an orderly and safe world.
deSilva, D. A. (2000). Honor, patronage, kinship & purity: unlocking New Testament culture (p. 243). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
The question is important and I don’t want to detract from the main point but if you are striving to understand you will have to dip into the world of the ancient near eastern culture. I will add one more except from the book that might help you see the importance of this:
We cannot hope, however, to understand the early church’s radical reconfiguring of the Jewish purity system unless we first understand that system. Moreover, unless we can gain some sympathetic understanding concerning why purity, as even Leviticus conceives of it, would be worthwhile or important to people, the Jewish opponents of the Jesus movement and of the early church will continue to appear incomprehensible, shallow and legalistic. Perhaps the greatest loss, however, would be our inability to appreciate the new contours of purity and pollution that continue to be forces guiding, shaping and providing boundaries for the early Christians, for whom these concepts were vital elements for understanding the world in which they lived.
deSilva, D. A. (2000). Honor, patronage, kinship & purity: unlocking New Testament culture (pp. 240–241). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
I hope this is helpful in your journey.
Thank you. Yes I think it is probably something that I don’t really understand. And a good starting point for me.
@evewp Here is a link to a post I made earlier with some resources for studying women’s role in ministry and many of the passages that have been misused to subjugate women in Church contexts.
I think these resources provide good food for thought when contemplating questions surrounding women in the Bible.
As a woman I’ve given this considerable thought in my faith walk as well. We’re born with an innate sense of what is fair and one doesn’t have to look far in the world to see where it isn’t. Here’s where I am with my thinking.
We don’t fully understand what the hierarchical dynamics would have been between Adam and Eve without the fall, and I guess it’s pretty much a moot point since the fall did happen. Looking at the consequences in Genesis 3:16-19, parts of the curse are specifically addressed to the serpent, to Eve, and then to Adam.
To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.”
So there are some interpersonal dynamics changes after the fall. Is the curse a punishment? Is it merely the consequences of having knowledge of good and evil? I would expect both. Is Adam given the lead because he did not step up and stop Eve–so now he’ll have eons to make up for it by carrying a heavy load? Does Eve’s curse reflect the fact that she took the lead on the disobedience–and now she is relegated to following? That’s all above my pay grade, one thing I can say is that God is sovereign–He’s God and I’m not. Our reality is that Israel was a patriarchal society, but that does not diminish God’s infinite value of women.
When I consider the full spectrum of God’s love revealed in his word, I do not feel lower in esteem or value. All creatures are under authority. There is a hierarchy. Though cultures have equated value with rank, that’s not how it works in God’s economy. God equates responsibility with rank. The higher your rank, the greater the responsibility and consequences. Paul’s greatest warnings concern preachers and teachers that mislead the people.
Every man who feels/felt like he is/was “king of his castle” is/was a serf to somebody. I think sovereignty and authority are tough concepts for democratic American’s to embrace without chafing. But when I started truly grasping the idea of “Lordship” my natural inclination to rebel against authority (male or otherwise) diminished. I do desire gender fairness and justice, but I now see it as yet another thing that sin has warped in this world–and not something inherent to God’s design. Jesus reminded us of that when he turned our idea of rank inside out and upside down…the least shall be the greatest.
God’s word calls for his people to care for and protect widows and children–those who are vulnerable. Those in authority are admonished to never abuse power and lead from love–valuing others over themselves. Jesus incarnate was born of a woman. The resurrected Jesus was first revealed to a woman. Some of Jesus most vital teachings and intimate moments were with women–I’m thinking of the woman at the well, the sinful woman wiping Jesus’ feet with her tears and ointment, Mary and Martha at Lazarus’ death. It was these women who truly recognized deep truths about Jesus. Jesus elevated women.
Sadly, it is true throughout much of history that men have abused authority in society and in the church. I’m certainly grateful that I live in a time where I am being taught the fullness of God’s love for all his creation. Whenever it seems that humans and/or the church fall short (and we all do), look to Jesus.
The link you posted was very interesting and Thought provoking. Thank you.
@evewp Glad they were helpful. This is a topic that is important to me due to family history and I wish the Church would spend more time really deeply studying and teaching rather than simply digging their heels in on certain positions.
I found this, by Robert Deffinbaugh, to be an interesting analysis of the text:
Let us return to the great and pressing problem which confronts us in all of these chapters on the clean and the unclean: Why is a person declared unclean and caused to suffer for something for which he or she is not responsible? Further, why, in some cases of uncleanness, was a sin offering required when no specific sin was committed by the one making the offering?
I would begin by suggesting that these questions are precisely those which God intended the Israelite to ask, and to meditate upon, as they suffered the consequences of their “undeserved” uncleanness. The demands of the Law of Moses, summarized by the Ten Commandments, demanded or forbade specific actions. The violation of any of these commandments would have been evident, and no one could question the consequences which befell the Israelite for disobedience. But why would God bring the curse of uncleanness upon an Israelite for suffering from a condition for which he or she was not responsible? Can an Israelite woman be blamed for bearing a child, or for having a monthly period? Is this a matter which falls under her control? I believe the answer is an evident “No!” How, then, can some conditions result in suffering for an Israelite, and even require a sin offering, as though a wrong was committed?
The answer to the question, “Why must the Israelite suffer when no wrong has been committed by the individual,” is answered by this principle: The fall of man, as recorded in Genesis 3, has brought chaos and suffering to all creation, including mankind. The fall has rendered man inherently sinful from birth. Thus, man sins because he is a sinner. So, too, he will suffer in life because he lives in a fallen world where the consequences of sin cause chaos and suffering.
The laws of uncleanness were instructive tools, by means of which God taught the Israelites those truths fundamental to their religious faith. One of those truths was what we now call the “doctrine of the depravity of man.” Man is born a sinner, by virtue of being a child of Adam. When the Israelite asked himself (or herself), “Why should I be unclean for a condition I did not cause?,” the answer, contained in the first chapters of Genesis was, “Because of the sinful condition you inherited from your forefather, Adam.”
The Old Testament Law required that the unclean could never come into the presence of the Holy God, and yet the Holy One, the Messiah, Jesus Christ took upon Himself human flesh, and He dwelt in the midst of men. In His ministry he avoided the self-righteous, who thought themselves clean, and He sought out those who were regarded unclean. The barrier that the Old Testament Law and its sacrificial system could not break down, the New Covenant in the person of Jesus Christ did. The cleansing which the Law could not perform, but could only pronounce, was done, once and for all by the atoning death of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Repeatedly, the New Testament writers speak of the cleansing which the Christian has received…
What Bob’s comments reminded me of is this passage in Galatians 3:23-29:
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on 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. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
The uncleanness rituals of the Old Testament, then, provided a regular, intensive, and even generational experience of our separation from God and one another. This was preparation for the coming of Christ. And what was the liberation from sin? It was also the liberation from our uncleanness. And that also leads to the equality of all people. When sin is ended, the curse is broken, and God’s purposes for humanity are restored.
This is very well-thought out and thought provoking @Jennifer_Judson. Thanks for expounding on it. I want to add one thing - though it goes along with what you are saying fairly well, especially being thankful that we live on this side of the cross .
The topic of Genesis 3:16 is a difficult one, and the way it has always been taught and translated has created a situation where women cannot comment against the commonly accepted translation without appearing to be doing exactly what it describes. In other words, it precludes any objection by women because…well, they have a vested interest in arguing against it, therefore, anything they say is suspect.
However, I’m happy to say that there are good men re-thinking the translations, and questioning the authenticity of the “way it’s always been taught.” Here is a link to a blog called My Only Comfort, written by Pastor Sam Powell, which I wholeheartedly agree with, and which explains what I have come to believe on the topic.
I no longer agree with the translation, or the explanation, that part of the curse is that our (women’s) desires would be contrary to our husbands. And I truly believe that this long-standing teaching of the church is responsible for a great deal of damage in marriages, families, communities, and society as a whole. It mis-identifies the curse and sets the stage for men to go into relationships with a mindset geared for conflict and domination, prepared to “rule over their rebellious, sinful wife” and force her into her proper place. It bolsters the prideful inclination that some men already have to “dominate” women and use them for their own desires, and it feeds the idea that men who are kind, loving, faithful, and steady are weak and submissive. It puts women into a place where, if they are godly, they are afraid to speak into their husband’s lives with genuine influence, and robs them of a voice and ability to speak up, establish boundaries, and resist abuse.
In all honesty, I don’t know of a single woman who has the tiniest desire to “dominate” her husband. Or who is looking for a man to dominate. Every one I know went into their relationship looking for a best friend, a companion, a “soul mate,” a partner, and protector who finds them beautiful, valuable, and precious. Read a romance novel, watch a “chick flick,” - women buy into them by the millions. Look at what women really desire. The idea that her desire is to “rule” to her husband isn’t based in reality at all, that I can see. Instead, I see women longing for a pre-fall relationship of value, dignity, partnership, total and absolute oneness and love, and unfortunately, Eve is the only woman who ever experienced that. Men cannot give us what we long for - only Jesus can. And the most difficult part of the curse is that our husbands not only cannot fully meet that need - they are instead inclined to rule over us. The partnership is lost. The perfect oneness is broken. A friend once said to me “Before you’re married, the loneliness isn’t so bad. There’s always the hope that your soul mate is out there somewhere. After you’re married, the loneliness is devastating, because it’s permanent. There isn’t hope for anything better. You begin to realize there is no such thing as a soul mate.”
What if we stopped enabling and encouraging those who are inclined toward abuse? What if women were taught that Jesus is the only soul mate that can fulfill us, and that we should look to him to fulfill our greatest needs, not men? What if we stopped teaching men that they are mandated to “rule” in their homes, but to serve as Jesus served? What if we stopped teaching that this bitterness and conflict is a godly concept? What if Christian marriage really was something to be held up and cherished, a picture of wholeness and companionship like that in the Song of Songs, as a light to the rest of the world? What if our counselors and pastors spoke into marriages and families in this way, instead of emphasizing conflict? I think we’d begin to see a difference.
@evewp I have no Scriptural support for this idea, and it might be a little to much information for a public forum, but I think it’s worth considering the idea that perhaps the time was doubled for a baby girl because the baby girl could also be considered unclean. From what I understand, it is fairly common for a newborn girl to have vaginal bleeding and discharge for 8-10 days after her birth as she adjusts to the hormone changes after being separated from her mother. Just a thought…
This discussion is a great one and I’m learning a lot. Thanks to all for your posts and extraneous links.
Jolene, thanks for pointing me to the posts by Sam Powell.
First let me say that I was married long ago. It was an utter mess filled with pain–for both of us. So I make only the claim that I am no expert on marriage.
In a Sam Powell post that was a link to the one you posted where he states: Before the fall, before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve served God perfectly. They did not live for themselves; their desires were not to have power over each other, but they both lived as they were created – as one flesh, in perfect unbroken harmony.
I agree with that quote and I still believe this to be God’s plan for marriage–a Christ centered one. Husband and wife devote themselves to one another and both are in submission Christ. I see plenty of marriages at my church where couples strive for that, although I’m sure there are many challenges along the way.
I can’t speak to the accuracy of the translation one way or another–I simply do not have the requisite knowledge or scholarship to challenge anything on that level. But we can see through history that the fall changed everything. Look at all human struggle and you see conflict over (or oppression through) who is in charge–who is the authority we submit to (willingly or unwillingly). Even the history of the church is filled with this struggle.
Whether men claimed authority due to a stronger physical body (greater ability to provide protection for people and livestock, till the soil, hunt, etc.) or other reasons, the outcome and/or consequence of the fall is that men gained a step in the hierarchy. Was it God ordained? Was the curse a punishment or an explanation of the consequences now that they have the knowledge of good and evil? I don’t know. It just was. If the translation is wrong and rethought and we come to a greater biblical understanding, wonderful, but it won’t change the past. The church has come (and is coming) to grips with rethinking issues of racism and are also doing so with women’s issues. Gratefully we are in the midst of change.
I appreciate your honesty in the following statement, but that has not been my experience.
I can name a few women in my acquaintance that wanted pretty complete control over their husbands. I’m making no claim that they were Christian marriages, just pretty miserable ones. For most marriages I’ve seen that struggles come when we (male and female) want our own way, and we seek ways to bring that about. Some men seek their own way through power or a claim of authority, some women through demands, tears, or other passive-aggressive versions of manipulation (yes, these are stereotypes but not untrue–just examples). This circumstance is always contrary to God’s plan for the union between a man and a woman.
I feel both men and women desire to be loved. Fully. Wholly. Unconditionally. We will only find that in our relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If we are fulfilled in that, then we may be mature enough to submit ourselves wholly to another in a Christ-centered marriage. Since many marry at an age when that maturity is not yet realized, the marriage can be a struggle until and as they find out who they are and whose they are, and how they are called to live and love.
Learning so much here. And considering what the biblical view of unclean really is. I seem to be ok with the idea of sin causing the whole problem. But I so struggle with my reactions to some being unclean and others not. Physical defects pose the same problem for me.
…Anyone who has something wrong with him must not serve as priest. And he must not bring sacrifices to me. These people cannot serve as priests: blind men, crippled men, men with damaged faces, deformed men, hunchbacks, dwarfs, men who have something wrong with their eyes, men who have an itching disease or a skin disease or men who have damaged sex glands.
Leviticus 21:18, 20 ICB
I am grappling with it, but I have such a reaction to what I feel is unfair.
Would you agree that we all have roles to play? That we are called to fulfill a purpose planned for our lives?
As we grow in knowledge of God and His Word and His Spirit, we are challenged to understand through godly eternal eyes, rather than our own earth-bound temporal eyes. Humankind has a pretty consistent track record of valuing persons based on a set of criteria: what do you do? how much do you make? are you attractive? do you speak well? are you intelligent? and so forth. We discount and marginalize those who do not measure up. Even as a Christian it is hard not to do this, it’s pretty baked into our culture. It is the “economy” of the world.
It is not God’s economy. In my initial reply I said that God does not equate value with rank…but responsibility with rank. Similarly with God, our role is not the indicator of our value. We are all created in His image. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in our Mother’s wombs by our creator. Even those with imperfections. No one is valued any less than another, but we were created for different roles.
If we equate the “measurement” of a person with their value, then it seems absolutely right to read the scriptures you are referencing and feel a tremendous unfairness. But if we look at it from a more eternal perspective where we are all infinitely valued and assigned roles by a sovereign God, then we can see something different. What was the role of those beings that were categorized as fitting the “perfect” description? It was to be a sacrifice. With the animals it was a blood sacrifice, with a priest it was an entire life consecrated and wholly dedicated to take the sins of his people and stand before the altar of God–a very perilous assignment. With that rank they carried the greatest responsibility of all–they were a sign of THE perfect one to come, who took on the sins of the whole world.
This system also embodied the message that God is Holy, that half-hearted, double-minded worship before the altar would never measure up. It was never a meritocracy. The tribe of Levi (Jacob’s 3rd son) was set aside to serve in the Temple. All priests were to be direct descendants of Aaron (of the tribe of Levi). First born and without blemish. Roles were prescribed and assigned by God. He had delivered His people, He was graciously providing them with the law so they could remain His people, and He was commissioning them as a nation to be his chosen people through whom the whole world would be saved. A thread through all the Bible is that God has a plan. Consistently through the story you see “through one, many.” Humankind came through Adam. Through Abraham–the nation of Israel and then all the nations. Through Aaron–the priesthood of Israel. Through Christ–the royal priesthood and eternal life. And even in our continuing story, through Peter–the church.
There have been plenty of times when reading the word I felt things didn’t sound right. Either they seemed backwards or unfair or inconsistent with who I understood God to be. Just like you have done in this discussion I learned to seek more information. Some from persons I trust, some from commentaries and study guides. Certainly prayer–asking for wisdom and guidance in understanding the truths in the word. I came to recognize not to trust “feelings” but to use them as a jumping off point for a deeper understanding. I gained confidence in knowing that God honored my inquiring mind, that it wasn’t sinful but wise to examine my faith and grow my understanding. It’s a rich and rewarding part of any relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Thank you for starting this discussion. We are all on a journey to understand and what a wonderful opportunity we have to bless one another at RZIM Connect. You have been a blessing to me. God bless us all on our journey to understanding and embracing truth while we live in His grace.
Fast forward to Jesus’ day and understand that all the purity laws that seem unfair to you still applied then. What I want you to focus on is not the physically broken people that Jesus ministered to, but the way Jesus was treated for touching and showing compassion on these very broken people. He was condemned not for the making whole of broken people, but he was condemned for the touching the unclean eating with the sinners, working on the Sabbath and ignoring the fe.
Then notice that this Jesus with his Holiness would make the un-whole broken person whole both physically and more importantly spiritually by the forgiveness of sin. Look closer and you see that Jesus by his every act is/was doing, there and then the work of the King as prophesized in the scriptures of old.
I know this will not fully address your uneasiness about Leviticus, Number and Deuteronomy but you will always have difficulty trying to apply 21th century values to culture 3000 year ago. This does not in any way suggest that it was wrong, but it was Gods way of setting the boundaries between that which was Holy and that which was unclean. I think it is safe to assume that people today attribute purity codes only to the God of the Bible but for contrast here is an example of pagan purity codes:
Entrance to sacred shrines required that the visitor obey the purification requirements specific to the shrine. Without a centralized cult, these tended to vary considerably. Giving birth, sexual intercourse and contact with a corpse rendered a person impure. Persons with pollution of such kinds might be instructed to wait a full day or two before entering the sacred precincts, and all might be required to perform certain ritual washings of their hands, feet or whole bodies. Some shrines might even prescribe clothing and the way hair was to be worn. Not all such purity requirements were external. A law in Lindos stipulated moral purity for those who would enter a temple: “It is of primary importance that those who enter be pure and sound in hands and mind and have no guilt on their conscience.” Those who functioned as priests—that is, the mediators between gods and people—had more intense rules governing the purity they were to maintain for their service in sacred places.
deSilva, D. A. (2000). Honor, patronage, kinship & purity: unlocking New Testament culture (pp. 251–252). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Keep in mind that this was not The God of the Bible but the gods of the Greeks around 450 BC right about the time the last book of Old Testament was believed to be written. Again this is not a definitive answer but I hope that it demonstrates that what you see as unsettling in the Bible would also be seen in the culture at large.