By Gerard Flanagan, news writer and photographer, Office of University Communications
CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – What has been the role and view of women over the course of 2,000 years?
Dr. Joe Early’s ninth book, “Because of Eve: Historical and Theological Survey of the Subjugation of Women in the Christian Tradition,” examines how the church and Christian men have sought to define women and the roles women must play within the church, home, and society for more than 2,000 years—from the Old Testament to the present day.
Early, professor of theology at Campbellsville University and director of the university’s Quality Enhancement Plan, recently spoke about the book on campus.
About his book, Early, who has served at Campbellsville University since August 2009, said, “It demonstrates how men have done everything possible to control women in home, church and society and make sure that they’re subordinate.”
Five years of research, one year of writing and one year of peer-review and editing went into the book.
“It was a daunting task,” Early said.
On the creation accounts in Genesis, Early said, “There is nothing in the order of creation that says that women are inferior to men, but somehow that became very prominent all the way from Tertullian to what’s written today.”
Tertullian was an early Christian theologian who played an important role in shaping the ideas of Western Christianity.
“Somehow, Eve gets blamed for everything,” Early said. “Many Church fathers and scholars from the second century until today go so far as to maintain that the serpent approached Eve because she was mentally inferior to Adam.”
“There’s no evidence that he went to her because she was weaker-minded. Really? Where does it say that in that in the Bible?”
Early noted Adam was next to Eve when the serpent tempted her.
“Why didn’t he say, ‘Don’t do that. Don’t eat that?’” Early said. “And then he takes it, and he knows what it is. She shouldn’t have done it, and she shouldn’t have given it to him, but let’s be honest, he could’ve refused.”
According to Early, the subordination of women in Christian tradition also has roots in Greek philosophy.
“The great philosopher Plato said a male was superior in all things except taking care of the home,” Early said. “He said women act on a lower level of the soul and were animalistic. Plato’s concept of women had a huge influence on several early Church fathers with Augustine being the most significant.”
Early noted Augustine had “a lot to say about women” and was also influenced by Plato.
“Augustine went so far as to maintain that women were not in the full image of God unless they were married,” Early said. “The man completes her image.”
Meanwhile, Aristotle, another Greek philosopher, said, “Males were born perfect, and females were inferior,” according to Early.
“If a woman gives birth to a baby boy, the man has a superior soul, and the masculinity dominated,” Early said. “If a female baby was born, then the female had the stronger soul, and the man was inferior.”
According to Early, Aristotle’s thinking significantly influenced St. Thomas Aquinas, whose writings have shaped modern Catholic theology more than any other theologian.
During his ministry, Jesus treated women with respect, according to Early.
“Jesus prayed over women,” Early said. “Jesus loved women. Jesus showed compassion over women. Jesus asks them to be around them. He used women as examples in his parables.”
Early said the Apostle Paul is difficult to figure out regarding his views on women.
“In Paul’s earlier writings, such as Galatians 3:28, my favorite verse and what I sign every one of my books with, he says, ‘There is neither man or woman, slave or free. We are all Christians,’” Early said. “But something happens later on, where he changes his tune in pastoral epistles. Now, he’s like, ‘Women, be silent and do this and do that.’”
Early discussed Ephesians 5:18-23, focusing on verse 22, which reads, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.”
“The older manuscripts, however, do not contain the word submit,” Early said. “The word appears only in later editions. Earlier manuscripts, the text implies a continuation of the mutual submission as noted in verse 21. It was added later.”
According to Early, translating this verse has been a major point of contention among scholars. Some scholars maintain the verb submit should be understood as implied, Early said.
“That’s the main way most people do it, and if you choose to interpret it that way, there is nothing wrong with it,” he said.
The Middle Ages saw women become identified as witches, according to Early.
“Later on, some bad stuff started happening,” Early said. “Crops started going bad, and children were stillborn. Guess who was always delivering the children? Women. Men became impotent. That was because of witches. Someone had to be blamed, and it was women.”
In 1484, two Catholic Jesuit monks wrote a book popularly known as the “Hammer of Witches,” which became the handbook for Catholics to seek out and punish witches.
Early also discussed fundamentalism and evangelicalism, which both popped up in the 20th century.
“It got really bad in the 1960s because women were able to control their own bodies for the first time sexually with the birth control pill,” Early said. “It made evangelicals nuts because women now had a say whether she wanted to have a baby.”
Strict complementarianism has taken over many evangelical denominations over the last few decades, according to Early.
“It basically says Tiffany and I are husband and wife, and we complement each other,” Early said, “but I’m the boss. In egalitarianism, we’re both bosses, and that’s where we are. She’s strong in some things, and she takes the lead. I’m stronger in some things, and I take the lead.”
Complementarianism has proven dangerous at times, according to Early.
“Complementarianism can control women to the point where it’s abusive,” Early said. “Certainly not in the majority of complementarian marriages, but it has occurred quite a bit lately.”
By the late 20th century, Early noted, “Most mainline Christian denominations had embraced a more egalitarian position, and women enjoy equal status in all aspects of the Christian life.”
“Even the Catholic Church has opened avenues for women that just a century ago would have been unimaginable,” Early said.
Evangelicals, however, have tightened their beliefs in complementarianism.
“In reality, each denomination has its own way of looking at the nature, purpose, and role of women and each believe their interpretation is correct,” he said.
Early said some women find safety and stability in complementarianism, while others find the egalitarian position more beneficial for their marriage.
“Both can make a biblical case for their position, and both can find love if they realize they are both subordinate to Christ,” Early said.
Early has also written two manuals and numerous peer-reviewed journal articles. “Because of Eve” and Early’s other books are available for purchase to Amazon.
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