“Ask a Priest: Is the Bible Sexist?”

Q:  From my limited knowledge of Christianity, it appears to me that the Bible is heavily misogynistic and patriarchal throughout history. It seeks to enslave woman to be servants of males in countless cases. Is my understanding true? That the Bible might be written with ill intentions of males? – J.Z.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Before addressing the point about the misogyny, or hatred of women, it might be good to mention a few points.

First, the Bible is not one book. It’s a collection of books, written over many centuries and in various contexts. It has very different styles, and all the books of Scripture cannot be read as simple moral textbooks.

There is, in fact, a lot of objectionable behavior recorded in the Old Testament, everything from fratricide and adultery to the use of mediums. But just because something is mentioned in Scripture doesn’t mean it is OK to do. Scripture sometimes recorded the prejudices of the culture within which it took shape, without necessarily approving of such prejudices.

Second, Christianity is not synonymous with the Bible. The Catholic Church relies on Sacred Tradition along with Scripture for its teachings. Sacred Tradition is the oral teaching passed down from Christ and the apostles. It helps us understand the Bible correctly.

In practice, this means that the Church interprets the Old Testament in the light of Christ and what Our Lord taught and did.

And how did Jesus treat women? He treated them with respect. He was merciful to the woman caught in adultery. He cured women who were ill. He praised the widow who gave two small coins to the temple treasury. And he entrusted his immaculate Mother to intercede for us.

In a word, Jesus treated women with a dignity equal to that of men. He treated them as daughters of God. He certainly was no misogynist – on the contrary, he loved women deeply.

That is the stance that the Catholic Church embraces.

For more reading, see Pope St. John Paul II’s Letter to Women and his apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem.

So, even though there might have been ill-treatment of women recorded in the Old Testament, that wasn’t God’s perfect plan for the world. Jesus showed us what God really intended.

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