Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Do women have full access to God?

Tertullian, 160-220 AD
The other night I was facilitating a Bible study for women in addiction recovery and something shocking happened in the room. For a few moments, it was as if all the air was sucked out of it.

In this study, I talk a lot about Adam and Eve, and how their sin and rebellion led to our sin and rebellion. How things are broken, and how ever since that time, God has been reaching out to set our relationships right again. Our relationship with him, and our relationship with others.

I explained how in the Old Testament times, God set up a sacrificial system--people would bring animal sacrifices to atone for their sinfulness before a holy God, with the help of priests. But that all changed, I said, when Jesus came and became the sacrifice. Now the Bible says we can all be priests, we can all approach God directly (see 1 Peter 2:9)

At that moment, a young woman looked up and blurted out: "Women, too?"

Yes! I said, more loudly than was necessary, as my heart plummeted to the ground. 

An author I respect, Sarah Sumner, wrote: "Church tradition says that women are by nature lower than men. Indeed, most of the church fathers promoted this traditional belief." And then she proceeds to back it up.

Tertullian, the man who coined the word "Trinity" in the history of Christianity and defended the doctrine of original sin, said this to women:
And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert—that is, death—even the Son of God had to die.
Unfortunately, many other church fathers perpetuated the same nonsense. Augustine did not believe women were made in the image of God, but they could reflect his image...if they married. Thomas Aquinas said that women are dominated by sexual appetite and men are ruled by reason. And so it goes.

So, is it any wonder, centuries later, that a young woman sits down and says "Women, too?" when taught that we can approach God directly? Is it any wonder that she does not, at face value, accept what God has said in Genesis 1:27, that both men AND women are made in the very image of God? Is it any wonder that she, too, believes Eve singlehandedly ushered sin into the world? (Where, exactly, was Adam in all of this?)

Is it any wonder that she sees the female image-bearer of God as subpar, as dangerous, as someone who holds an inferior brain and a much inferior heart? It's no mystery why she believes these things, as they have insidiously trickled down through our churches, through the very people who confess to following and obeying Christ.

It's no mystery. But it is a shame. And it's high time to set the record straight. God's intention, when creating male and female as equals who would be his representatives on earth, was that all humans might share full access to him, a full relationship with him. We screwed that up, through sin, but Jesus offers a way to make it right again. He loves us, pursues us, and empowers us to service in his Kingdom--whether we are an Adam or an Eve. Blessedly, there is no double standard with God. Ladies, we have a full access pass.

(Quotes from Sumner, Sarah (2003). Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian Leadership (pp. 40-41). Intervarsity Press. Kindle Edition.)

Self-test: do you somehow feel that women are inferior to men in the Christian faith--even if you know the Bible says differently? In your opinion, what should the church do to help women see themselves as God sees them?


  1. My husband and I talked about this *just* last night and I've been blogging about this issue over at
    As a woman in conservative evangelical circles I have sturggled and struggled and struggled with this. In a desperate cry last night I told my husband that I feel like something is WRONG with me because I can't accept how those scriptures about women submitting are traditionally interpeted. He responded by saying that men and women ARE equal, and that God does love us and women have no less share in the kingdom than men.

  2. HI there EC, and thanks for commenting. I want to encourage you that there a growing # of women in conservative evangelical circles who are with you in this struggle. And that they are defined by many different labels. I have a passion to see us all come together for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of loving as Christ loves us. It sounds like our husbands would get along nicely, by the way. Appreciating your journey and am adding your blog to my reader. If you'd like to have an offline discussion about depression (a topic I have personal experience with) or anything else, feel free to email me at suzanneburden @

  3. Thanks for this overview, Suzie. I've appreciated Sarah Sumner so much -- and she is so very gracious in person. I think I need to re-read this book...

  4. Oh, I can feel the knife twisting in my own heart as I read your blog and EC's comment... and I'm fighting the urge to wail out loud, with the grief of it all. Suzanne, your YES can never be too loud!! Please keep telling that young woman, and so many more, the YES of the truth -- as loudly, and as often as possible!!

  5. Suzie, This is a message (Bible story if you will) that we have to keep telling and retelling particularly because it has been told in error in the past. Women need to hear the truth about who they are in Christ Jesus and they need to walk in that truth. I thank God for students of the Bible who do not take what anyone has taught them at face value. Walk in boldness as you continue to encourage, uplift, and teach the truth of God's word. Love, Natasha

  6. Yes to Pam, Brenda, and Natasha: The truth will set us free!

    Let's keep telling and retelling the story, until the whole world hears, and women and men around the world are set free to make God's Kingdom a reality here and now. Thank you for joining in the conversation!

  7. It is difficult to speak "loudly" and with confidence when so much of the evangelical church disagrees and they have the platform, the degrees, the stature, etc. You've written eloquently. Thank you. I struggle with these things because my gut tells me one thing and the Church another. And write about them on my blog as well.

  8. Just to play devil's advocate, those who hold that women must defer to the final authority of their husbands when it comes to decision making, as well as those women who do not believe women can be pastors or even speak in church, would not say that they consider women inferior. They would say that women are equally important, but God has called them to other roles, e.g. not leadership roles. Arguing that women are made in God's image just like men would not hit at the heart of the complementarian belief system.

    By the way, I thought you should know that this lady has linked to your blog to argue that some of your statements are libel against the church:

  9. Daniel: Did you see anything in the above post that stated that I was an egalitarian or a complementarian? Truly, I don't fit in the categories. I am talking about an insidious creep that has filtered down through the centuries...I and other women have noticed how the church fathers' teaching affects us today, and so we are commenting from the place in which we stand. I am not interested in libel against the church, but in speaking truth in the name of Christ and for the sake of His Kingdom.