Stop reading the Bible like a car manual
This is inevitable when there are still so many Christians who read the Bible like a car manual or a science textbook, rather than the collection of historical writing, poetry (and, dare I say it, fiction) that it is. There are many intelligent people of faith who would never dream of reading a poem or even a newspaper, thinking that what they’re reading is 100% empirically true then and forevermore; yet when it comes to the Bible they throw all their God-given interpretative faculties out the window, because they believe that scripture is divinely inspired in such a literal way that it’s as if the ‘truths’ of the Bible have been dropped out of heaven, completely intact and written out word-for-word.
I too believe that the divine spirit guided the writers of the Bible, so that indeed it has special weight and resonance for humanity, but not so that this wipes out the influence of each of the individual writers’ contexts, personal circumstances and struggles. What we read in the Bible is the story of profoundly human writers who are all on a journey, often a tortuous one, towards a greater understanding of the entity we call God – a journey that we can learn from and is probably all the more useful for being unfinished.
Part of this learning is being prepared to acknowledge that parts of the Bible are hugely misogynistic, not because the men who wrote the words were particularly bad guys, but because they were writing in contexts such as first century Judea in which women were not simply discriminated against, but downright brutalised. Seen in this light, the passage above (written by the Apostle Paul) that contains the phrase ‘women should learn’ becomes actually quite revolutionary given that the instruction was issued within a society which didn’t educate women.