All opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Gender, feminism, women’s rights, and the patriarchy are some of the most fervently discussed topics in the modern Western world. The decades-long struggle for total gender equality prevails in the forms of deconstructing stereotypes about women and men, raising awareness about continuing gender discrepancies, and constructing new narratives that empower both sexes. These crucial tasks are championed by secular and spiritual individuals alike. However, many Jews and Christians are branded as old-fashioned in regard to the gender revolution, due to the fact that many members of these religions maintain that males and females are created inherently unique from one another. Affirming that there are legitimate differences between men and women is not a popular stance amongst many organizations fighting to eradicate sex-related assumptions and limitations from the public ethos.
Ironically, while modern Jewish and Christian people may struggle to find their voice in gender-role conversations, gender equality is firmly rooted in Judaism and Christianity. The household codes of the New Testament, which are in line with Old Testament societal principles, are some of the earliest sources to challenge the correctness of hierarchically structured societies in which rights and powers were determined by class and gender.
According to Greco-Roman standards, women, children, and slaves were second-class citizens. Based on Aristotlian philosophy, women were said to be naturally subordinate to men because they biologically lacked the deliberative capacities of their male counterparts. In line with this view, women were expected to function under the leadership of men, who were thought to possess the exclusively male virtue of “practical wisdom”. Cultural norms in the Greco-Roman world insisted that men had the capabilities to lead and rule— abilities that were thought to be missing in women. For this reason, women were considered subordinate to men, and they were expected to submit to their authority in political and household matters.
The New Testament household codes found in the books of 1 Peter and Ephesians called for a reform of Greco-Roman gender and class relationships. While women were still called to submit to their husbands in Christian sources (Ephesians 4:22), this submission was not one-sided. All people— females, males, children, masters, and slaves— were commanded to submit to one another (Ephesians 4:22), and males were specifically instructed to love, serve, and respect their wives (Ephesians 4:25-30, 1 Peter 3:7). Although the differences between the Greco-Roman and Jewish-Christian models for gender and class relationships are often overshadowed by the seemingly offensive language of female submission to their husbands, it is important to understand the truly revolutionary nature of biblical household codes.
Greco-Roman society, like the numerous patriarchal societies that came before and after it, envisioned power structures in homes and cities like a ladder with men positioned firmly above women, and both positioned above children and slaves. Biblical commentary on gender and class challenges people to adopt a totally different scheme for communal structures than what the majority of the world promotes. Instead of separating genders and classes by levels, biblical codes uphold a circular or web-shaped model for society, in which all people groups are equally called to serve and submit to one another with no one gender or class ruling over another. Biblical theology liberates women, slaves, and men, establishing that all people are free in Christ and that all people are equally called to build one another up and serve each other.
Gender equality, and equality among people in general, originated in the Jewish-Christian world. Jewish and Christian ideas about gender originally went against the grain of larger patriarchal, hierarchical societies such as the Greek and Roman Empires. In the current Western climate this is not the case; rather, gender equality is of foremost concern. Although the past decades have brought about enormous victories in gender equality, the biblical word on gender and class roles has not lost any of its radical significance. Jewish and Christian people must continue to involve themselves in conversations concerning gender and class roles, living out and promoting the ancient ideals of mutual submission that can guide the continuing efforts to stamp out gender and class related injustices and prevent the scales from tipping so that males, females, or any people group are disparaged.
Learn more about ancient gender roles:
“Aristotle on the Deliberative Abilities of Women,” by. Joseph Karbowski. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274299646_Aristotle_on_the_Deliberative_Abilities_of_Women
“Woman’s role in New Testament household codes: transforming first-century Roman culture,” by Shi-Min Lu. https://www.cbeinternational.org/sites/default/files/pp301_04culture.pdf