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Ann Naffziger Answers:
The Bible, like any written document, betrays the cultural context of the authors. In the case of the Bible, we are dealing with not one book, but with many books and thus many authors, all of whom wrote about 1,900 to 3,000 years ago. These authors were members of patriarchal cultures that had different views about gender roles, rights, and responsibilities than we do in the United States today. For example, in the ancient Hebrew society, women were considered possessions more than individuals in their own right, so there are laws in the Hebrew Scriptures dealing with the ownership of women passing from their fathers to their husbands at the time of marriage.
In the New Testament, Paul objected to women speaking in church, among other things. If the culture understood women as “lesser” human beings than men, it is more understandable that the biblical authors could make statements that seem “mean” to us today. (The same can certainly be said of writers entrenched in a pre-Civil Rights era who wrote what we now consider outrageous statements about African Americans.)
On the other hand, we can’t lump all of the biblical writers together as being unilaterally “mean” toward women. There are sections in both the Old and New Testaments in which women are upheld as brave, faithful, courageous, strong, and generous, as well as many who were committed disciples of Christ (ex: Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene, the women of Luke 8:2-3 etc). Also, it should be pointed out that Jesus treated women with a respect and dignity not usually proffered to women of his time and culture. Sometimes the dignity he showed them was so counter-cultural that he had to defend himself against nay-sayers who didn’t believe women deserved the respect he showed them (ex: Mark 14:3-9, Jn 8:3-11) Yet Jesus persisted, refusing to treat women with the “meanness” that we might interpret as the cultural norm of his time.