5 Ways the Bible Supports Feminism

Examining God’s design for how both men and women should be treated.

A popular children’s rhyme says boys are made of “snips and snails and puppy-dog tails.” The poet and historian Robert Southey expresses a much higher opinion of girls: “sugar and spice and everything nice; that's what little girls are made of.”

In truth, none of us are animals or angels (i.e., boys don’t have tails and girls don’t always act nice). God made us humans, and little has gone well in human relationships since our first ancestors disobeyed God. Scripture and history testify that we no longer live in Paradise (Romans 3:23). Conflicts are rife in our homes and communities. We have only to watch the news to see global violence and poverty affecting vulnerable people, usually women and children.

Evangelical feminists look to God’s word to make sense of what has gone wrong in human relationships affecting the world. Although the Bible does not explicitly refer to “feminism,” it speaks to justice issues that have bearing on present-day feminist concerns: What is true of God’s design and purposes for humans? How does sin play into human brokenness and wrong ways of treating others? What hope is there for change, healing and restoration? What is necessary, practically, as Christians pursue gender reconciliation?

To start, Christian feminists look to foundational truths about creation, the fall and redemption.
 

1. God designs females and males with equal dignity.

“Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion” (Genesis 1:26).

Male and female equally reflect God as unique persons; neither is superior. When we treat others with dignity, we value God’s image in them. 

You and I have dignity because we bear God’s image as humans (Genesis 5:1-2). Male and female equally reflect God as unique persons; neither is superior. When we treat others with dignity, we value God’s image in them. Mistreating others is mishandling God’s masterpieces.

2. God assigns important work to all humans.

In one breath, God expresses mutual purposes for male and female: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28).

Although different physiologically, God intends male and female to complete each other in a unity; children are the fruit of a couple’s union. Scripture also points at important work of single people and those who do not have children (1 Corinthians 7:8-9). Jesus never married, after all.

Clearly, God’s assignments include a range of possibilities. The Hebrew words for subdue and have dominion point at taking care of, serving, guarding, watching over, preserving and caring for others and the world. When we honor each other’s unique callings, we build God’s realm. 

3. God intends male and female to contribute their unique strengths to benefit each other and the world.

God orchestrated a parade of animals to show the first man he could not possibly do all the work alone (Genesis 2:19-20). He was half a community without someone to help.

In Created in God’s Image, Old Testament scholar Anthony Hoekema explains that the man couldn’t reflect the plurality of God alone. The description of the woman as “a help” is the same word used to describe God and military protectors and allies (19 out of 21 times in the Old Testament). God only declared humanity “very good” after completing the masterpiece. We do well to honor the strength of women working alongside men.

4. Humans are sinful, and Christians are called to fight injustices.

“Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: Rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, inciting revolt and oppression” (Isaiah 59:12,13).

The Old Testament traces what happens as a result of humans abandoning God’s purposes. To this day, many experience less-than-human treatment, especially women and children. Attitudes of superiority play into devaluing others through stereotyping, minimizing, competitiveness, withholding resources, dominating, etc.

Sin is the belly of sexism, racism, classism and other forms of systemic inequality resulting in inequitable education/training/opportunity/pay; harassment; domestic and sexual violence; pornography; sex trafficking; slavery; and other crimes. As Christians, we are called to fight for justice in these areas (Isaiah 1:17).

It can be easy to criticize the way some people have gone about fighting for justice in various women's issues, but Christians should respond to even misguided justice efforts graciously in Jesus’ name.

“Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone” (Colossians 4:5-6).

God orchestrated a parade of animals to show the first man he could not possibly do all the work alone. He was half a community without someone to help.

Three main branches of second-wave feminism take differing approaches to overcoming gender inequality. Radical feminism, associated with deep hurt and anger, emphasizes female jurisdiction and overcoming evils of patriarchy. Liberal feminism, known for valuing androgyny, seeks reform through education, equal political rights and economic opportunities, and exploring terminology and values. Marxist feminism pursues economic opportunity, freedom from racial and gender oppression and prosperity to all.

Time does not permit critiquing each one, biblically, but we can be sure Jesus would not "throw stones" at secular feminists (John 8:1-11).

5. The spirit of Jesus can restore broken, divided humans to wholeness and unity.

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me” (John 17:22-23).

In the words of Henri Nouwen, Jesus brings divided humanity to a new unity. The world pays attention when we treat each other in the ways we want to be treated (Matthew 7:12).

Evangelical feminists believe there is hope for redeeming communities from age-old conflicts (Ephesians 2:4-9). God has given us power to incarnate Jesus. Doing so enables rising above attitudes of superiority that result in stereotyping, minimizing, competitiveness, withholding resources, dominating, etc. And it enlivens us to oppose structures supporting inequitable education/training/opportunity/pay, harassment, domestic and sexual violence, pornography, sex trafficking, slavery and other crimes. Ground is fertile for bringing light, hope and wholeness to lives and communities in Jesus’ name.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”

Recommended Reading

You Might Also Like

Created in God’s Image, by Anthony A. Hoekema

In the Beginning, by Henri Blocher

Beyond the Curse, Women Called to Ministry by Aida Besancon Spencer

The Locust Effect, Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, by Gary A. Haugen and Victor Boutros

What’s Right With Feminism, by Elaine Storkey

Top Comments

Adam Brewster

16

Adam Brewster commented…

6. Subjugation of women under men is part of the curse, not the inaugurated kingdom of God.

great article!

loved it.

Jeremy Jones

48

Jeremy Jones commented…

This is really great and fully accurate. I noticed on the FB post that some were confusing radical feminism with traditional. The Bible teaches traditional feminism which is basically equality for genders.

19 Comments

Steve Andrews

4

Steve Andrews commented…

I begin by saying this is a worthwhile piece, but I do have two comments on the negative side.

The first is simply this, if you have to explain away not being a part of one of four other groups who use the term, maybe you should just pick a different term. Feminist is a very loaded word, and the vast majority of conservative Christians will first think of one of the things you have mentioned, rather than what you are writing about. In fact, even including it in the title likely biased greatly who clicked, and who didn't.

The second is in response to something you didn't say directly, but have left open, and which a commenter named Adam seized and the people have flocked to like it. That women are under men is not part of the Fall. Indeed, God created Adam first. Notice, when God comes to seek out Adam after the Fall, He seeks out Adam first. The blame is first cast upon Adam because he was responsible for his wife, and he failed to care for her. This is echoed throughout Scripture, with Adam always being held responsible for the first sin of mankind. But greater than that, it is an outright rejection of the Scriptures themselves to say there is no hierarchy, that it is a bad thing. There is a hierarchy in the Trinity itself, and we would not dare say that is a bad thing. Please do not mistake me, I'm not saying anything negative about women, and I fully agree that they have unique gifts and roles to contribute to the advancement of God's Kingdom. However, if you were to bake a recipe and it called for a cup of sugar, would you get the same result by using a cup of flour? Of course not. They are equal in volume, but not in substance. Men and women are equal as well when it comes to our salvation at the foot of the cross. But He has made us differently. Paul articulates this beautifully in Ephesians 5, using the old bait and switch trap. He lures men in by saying what wives are to do, and then gives the men an even harder role, that is, to die for their wives. There is beauty in God's design, in the headship of the male and female relationship that has been distorted, even crushed by the Fall. That's the reference in the Genesis 3 account of the punishment for our sins. That woman would "desire" her husband is not a sexual thing as many assume. It is the same Hebrew word as when the Lord speaks to Cain in the very next chapter and warns him that sin is crouching at his door, desiring to overcome him. In our fallen state, women seek the role of the man in creation. And then the conclusion, that the husband would rule over the wife is the opposite then, that rather than loving her and leading her as Christ does the church (Eph. 5), he will seek to rule her with an iron fist, to keep her in her place. That is the brokenness of the marriage relationship. For a husband to truly love his wife, her submitting to him is not the iron fist rule. It is to value her wisdom, input, and guidance as his helper. To deny her input, to deny her influence, then, is to deny her the very function for which God made her. To deny her "help" is to deny her identity as God designed it.

Amy R. Buckley

51

Amy R. Buckley replied to Steve Andrews's comment

Hierarchy in the Trinity was rejected by the early church. The Arian Controversy demonstrates this through the writing of the Athanasian Creed. Please read on this in the book "The Trinity and Subordinationism" by Dr. Kevin Giles. The big idea: The Three-In-One members of the Trinity--all being God--represent a mysterious dance (perichoresis). A chain of command would require modalism and inequality, which divides the persons of God (in hierarchy), a theological heresy.

Deborah Henry

2

Deborah Henry commented…

I believe a woman was created to be a helper to Man in the context of marriage. Today, the word "Feminism" is more about empowerment, equal rights, and social justice. There has been a long battle for equal rights; especially with employment and equal pay. Every woman deserves to be treated with respect and to have dignity. Radical feminism can be extreme to the point where it creates change; but often time with negative consequences. Feminism has come along way "baby"; but because it's definition has been redefined so much; it is often deemed as rebellious or outlandish or not-woman-like. Feminists are still harshly judged in much of the world. The bottom line is that women were created as precious and beautiful creations by God. They are not to be abused or considered less than man. God, our creator, knew what He was doing when He created Wo-man. For a man to think less of a woman; disrespect or abuse her; is despicable behavior and evil. God can use women (and has done so) in ways that He cannot use a man. God created women with gifts that men do not have. A Woman of God has feminine value that is to be appreciated. I agree that the Feminist Movement has become more of a "Power" game in recent years and is not always pleasing to see or hear. But at the heart of the subject; when feminism is displayed for the right reasons; it deserves gratitude. Those right reasons are usually God's way of using her gifts to accomplish His work on this earth.

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