Women and Slaves -- By: William E. Hull

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 18:2 (Spring 2004)
Article: Women and Slaves
Author: William E. Hull

Women and Slaves

William E. Hull

William Hull is a professor at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. This article apperared previously in EthicsDaily.com and the newsletter of Mainstream Alabama Baptists

This watercolor by Francis MacNair titled “A Pond” belongs to a private collection. The image—published in the book Great Women Masters of Art, ed. Jordi Vigue, (New York: Watson-Guptil, 2002)—is used with the permission of Gorg Blanc.

Boundary markers are important to fundamentalists because they need enemies to energize their cause.

In the so-called “conservative resurgence” currently seeking to divide Baptist loyalties, the initial “line in the sand” was the inerrancy slogan, which was dropped when it proved too ambiguous to define and enforce. In its place as a litmus test of loyalty was put the subordination of women, first in the home and then in the church, in the form of a 1998 family amendment and 2000 revision of the Baptist Faith & Message.

Is there scriptural support for such “doctrines,” which have never before been a part of Baptist confessions of faith? Supporters are quick to cite the passages on male headship (1 Cor. 11:3-16) and on the duty of women to be submissively silent in church (1 Cor. 14:34-36; 1 Tim. 2:8-15). But why stop there? In the Old Testament, a woman was ruled over by her husband (Gen 3:16), who could nullify even her religious vows if he disapproved (Num. 30:3-15).

Clearly one finds plenty of biblical passages in support of femail subjection. But the key issue is whether these verses proclaim the deepest insights of scripture on gender relations or merely reflect the cultural practices of the ancient world—such as polygamy as practiced by the patriarchs, which even the inerrantists would not view as authoritative for today.

Before answering that crucial question, it is helpful to look at what the Bible says about slavery, since the same kind of hierarchical thinking applies. Here, as with women, the testimony of scripture seems clear. The godly Abraham held slaves (Gen. 12:5; 14:14; 24:35-36; 26:13-14), a practice later incorporated into Israelite law (Lev. 25:44-46). The apostle Paul counseled the obedience of slaves to their earthly masters (Eph. 6:5-9

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