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Reading the Bible with a Masculinist Bias

Samson's mother

Excerpt of The Annunciation to Manoah’s Wife (1555–1558) by artist Jacopo Tintoretto (Wikimedia)

Pastor Norman and Samson’s Mother

I was at a church meeting this week, and a man—let’s call him “Norman”—was retelling the story of the time the Angel of the Lord visited Samson’s parents with the news that they would have a special son (Judges 13). I was amazed that throughout his entire narrative, Norman did not once mention Samson’s mother.

The Angel, Samson’s father, and Samson’s mother are the main characters in the story.[1] The mother features prominently in the story; however she was completely overlooked by well-meaning but short-sighted Norman, a retired pastor.

Like many men, Norman reads and teaches scripture from a masculine perspective. And, like many men, he is unaware of his bias. Norman actually believes himself to have affirmative and supportive views about women in ministry.

Samson’s father is named in Judges 13, his mother is not. It was not unusual for women to be nameless in narratives written during patriarchal times.[2] Yet, while the Bible narratives were mostly written within a patriarchal frame of reference, reflecting the culture of the time, no Old Testament writer minimises the roles of the women mentioned in the national and spiritual history of Israel. (Deborah, Miriam, and Huldah are examples of women who played important roles in Israel’s national and spiritual history.)[3]

It is not the biblical authors, but rather the mostly male ministers, teachers, and commentators who seem to overlook women in Israel’s history—ministers like Norman.[4]

I am aware that I have a feminist bias when reading the Bible. I am overly conscious of the many women mentioned in the Old and New Testaments, the named and unnamed.[5]

I am especially interested in the women in Acts and the New Testament letters who made valuable contributions to the fledgling Christian church. Many of these women were ministers, some were even leaders. These women are also frequently overlooked, or their ministries downplayed, by people reading the Bible with a masculinist bias. Sadly, it seems that many church leaders make restrictive rules about women’s roles in the church without fairly recognising and considering these early female ministers and leaders.

My hope is that the church, as a whole, will move beyond the centuries of blue-lensed biblical interpretations and biased masculinist teachings. My hope is that the examples of Bible women will be more fully appreciated and that many more women today will be accepted by churches as interpreters and teachers of the Bible.

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[1] The Bible says that the Angel of the Lord initially visited Samson’s mother, not his father, twice. And the Angel safely entrusted the special instructions on rearing the child to the mother, not, initially, to the father.

[2] God tolerated patriarchy in the past, and he still does. However, neither old-fashioned patriarchy or the newer idea of hierarchical complementarianism are God’s ideal.

[3] More about Deborah, Miriam, Huldah, Samson’s mother and other spiritually savvy Bible women, here.

[4] I do realise that there are many male Bible scholars and Bible teachers who are supportive and affirming of women in leadership ministries. Conversely, I am also aware of women who are very much against other women being church leaders.

[5] Women being ruled by men is one of the effects of the Fall (Gen 3:16). It is because of the Fall that we have patriarchy. This has made it easier for men to be ministers, especially in Old Testament times. But Jesus came to overturn the effects of the Fall.

Explore more

The Portrayal of Women in the Bible and Biblical Inspiration
Bible Women with Spiritual Authority

The ‘Shame’ of the Unnamed Women of the Old Testament
Galatians 3:28: Our Identity in Christ and in the Church 
Partnering Together: Paul’s Female Coworkers
All my articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 are here.
All my articles on 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 are here.
All my articles on 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 are here.
The ESV Bible’s Men-only Club
Prominent Biblical Scholars on Women in Ministry

8 thoughts on “Reading the Bible with a Masculinist Bias

  1. He must have been reading the MGTOW forums.

  2. Hi George,

    No, Norman is just a regular, well-meaning Christian man. And like most Christian men (and women) they are unaware of the masuline bias in much of the church’s teaching.

  3. Marg, from what you wrote it sounds as if “Norman” did not intend this oversight, it might therefore be helpful (if he does not regularly read this blog) to point it out to him. Unless we are helped to spot such bias it is more difficult to avoid it.

  4. Hi Tim, “Norman” is a kind, retired minister, and, yes, I am sure he did not intend this oversight. He actually is supportive of women in ministry in theory; but I think he regards himself as much more open-minded and supportive on this issue than he actually is. 😉

    I’m pretty sure he doesn’t read my blog. I’ve only met him a few times and it can be hard to get a word in. I did point out another oversight of his. He mentioned that Paul and Aquila were tent-makers. I said that Priscilla was also a tent-maker. My little statement caused a bit of confusion. After a few seconds of silence, the conversation changed tack. (I do realise that the word “tent-maker” may not describe precisely what the three friends did for a living.)

  5. Thank you, Marg. I shared your post on FB. It really resonated with me as I have long been fond of Samson’s Mother. A few years ago I wrote a small story showing my admiration for this couple and the calm confidence I see in this woman. Can’t seem to link it here, but it is at annaver.blogspot.com under “Women”. Love your blog!

    1. Hi JoMae, She certainly was a spiritually astute and level-headed woman, especially in comparison with her husband.

      I managed to get the link to your article:

  6. Yes. I’ve thought of this issue many times. One of the biggest reasons I think the equality of men and women has always seemed obvious to me through the pages of the Bible is because I have always read it as a women. I have always assumed that all of the Bible is applicable to me. Whereas men, making the same assumptions about themselves, find it harder to see the gospel, justification, adoption, sanctification, etc., in all it’s glory and details as applicable to women. They may given lip-service to women being included in these great doctrines, but do not see of feel the implications.

    1. That’s interesting, Kathryn.

      I always assumed the Bible is fully applicable to me too.

      Along somewhat similar lines: When I read the Bible I often imagine what it would be like to be the main character whether its Gideon, or David, or Paul, or a woman.

      But I wonder if men ever put themselves in the woman’s shoes, so to speak.

      I remember suggesting the book of Ruth for a Bible study once, and was me with the protest that it was a “girl’s book.” 🙁

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