Does the New Testament bring promises of new dignity and of
larger liberties for woman? When thinking women make any criticisms on their degraded
position in the Bible, Christians point to her exaltation in the New Testament, as if,
under their religion, woman really does occupy a higher position than under the Jewish
dispensation. While there are grand types of women presented under both religions, there
is no difference in the general estimate of the sex. In fact, her inferior position is
more clearly and emphatically set forth by the Apostles than by the Prophets and the
Patriarchs. There are no such specific directions for woman's subordination in the
Pentateuch as in the Epistles.
We are told that the whole sex was highly honored in Mary being the mother of Jesus.
Surely a wise and virtuous son is more indebted to his mother than she is to him, and is
honored only by reflecting her superior characteristics. Why the founders of the Christian
religion did not improvise an earthly Father as well as an earthly Mother does not clearly
appear. The questionable position of Joseph is unsatisfactory. As Mary belonged to the
Jewish aristocracy, she should have had a husband of the same rank. If a Heavenly Father
was necessary, why not a Heavenly Mother? If an earthly Mother was admirable, why not an
earthly Father? The Jewish idea that Jesus was born according to natural law is more
rational than is the Christian record of the immaculate conception by the Holy Ghost, the
third person of the Trinity. These Biblical mysteries and inconsistencies are a great
strain on the credulity of the ordinary mind.
From the inauguration of the movement for woman's emancipation the Bible has been used
to hold her in the "divinely ordained sphere," prescribed in the Old and New
The canon and civil law; church and state; priests and legislators; all political
parties and religious denominations have alike taught that woman was made after man, of
man, and for man, an inferior being, subject to man. Creeds, codes, Scriptures and
statutes, are all based on this idea. The fashions, forms, ceremonies and customs of
society, church ordinances and discipline all grow out of this idea.
Of the old English common law, responsible for woman's civil and political status, Lord
Brougham said, "it is a disgrace to the civilization and Christianity of the
Nineteenth Century." Of the canon law, which is responsible for woman's status in the
church, Charles Kingsley said, "this will never be a good world for women until the
last remnant of the canon law is swept from the face of the earth."
The Bible teaches that woman brought sin and death into the world, that she
precipitated the fall of the race, that she was arraigned before the judgment seat of
Heaven, tried, condemned and sentenced. Marriage for her was to be a condition of bondage,
maternity a period of suffering and anguish, and in silence and subjection, she was to
play the role of a dependent on man's bounty for all her material wants, and for all the
information she might desire on the vital questions of the hour, she was commanded to ask
her husband at home. Here is the Bible position of woman briefly summed up.
Those who have the divine insight to translate, transpose and transfigure this mournful
object of pity into an exalted, dignified personage, worthy our worship as the mother of
the race, are to be congratulated as having a share of the occult mystic power of the
The plain English to the ordinary mind admits of no such liberal interpretation. The
unvarnished texts speak for themselves. The canon law, church ordinances and Scriptures,
are homogeneous, and all reflect the same spirit and sentiments.
These familiar texts are quoted by clergymen in their pulpits, by statesmen in the
halls of legislation, by lawyers in the courts, and are echoed by the press of all
civilized nations, and accepted by woman herself as "The Word of God." So
perverted is the religious element in her nature, that with faith and works she is the
chief support of the church and clergy; the very powers that make her emancipation
impossible. When, in the early part of the Nineteenth Century, women began to protest
against their civil and political degradation, they were referred to the Bible for an
answer. When they protested against their unequal position in the church, they were
referred to the Bible for an answer.
This led to a general and critical study of the Scriptures. Some, having made a fetish
of these books and believing them to be the veritable "Word of God," with
liberal translations, interpretations, allegories and symbols, glossed over the most
objectionable features of the various books and clung to them as divinely inspired.
Others, seeing the family resemblance between the Mosaic code, the canon law, and the old
English common law, came to the conclusion that all alike emanated from the same source;
wholly human in their origin and inspired by the natural love of domination in the
historians. Others, bewildered with their doubts and fears, came to no conclusion. While
their clergymen told them on the one hand, that they owed all the blessings and freedom
they enjoyed to the Bible, on the other, they said it clearly marked out their
circumscribed sphere of action: that the demands for political and civil rights were
irreligious, dangerous to the stability of the home, the state and the church. Clerical
appeals were circulated from time to time conjuring members of their churches to take no
part in the anti-slavery or woman suffrage movements, as they were infidel in their
tendencies, undermining the very foundations of society.
* * * *
Bible historians claim special inspiration for the Old and New Testaments containing
most contradictory records of the same events, of miracles opposed to all known laws, of
customs that degrade the female sex of all human and animal life, stated in most
questionable language that could not be read in a promiscuous assembly, and call all this
"The Word of God."
The only points in which I differ from all ecclesiastical teaching is that I do not
believe that any man ever saw or talked with God, I do not believe that God inspired the
Mosaic code, or told the historians what they say he did about woman, for all the
religions on the face of the earth degrade her, and so long as woman accepts the position
that they assign her, her emancipation is impossible. Whatever the Bible may be made to do
in Hebrew or Greek, in plain English it does not exalt and dignify woman. My standpoint
for criticism is the revised edition of 1888. I will so far honor the revising committee
of wise men who have given us the best exegesis they can according to their ability,
although Disraeli said the last one before he died, contained 150,000 blunders in the
Hebrew, and 7,000 in the Greek.
But the verbal criticism in regard to woman's position amounts to little. The spirit is
the same in all periods and languages, hostile to her as an equal.
There are some general principles in the holy books of all religions that teach love,
charity, liberty, justice and equality for all the human family, there are many grand and
beautiful passages, the golden rule has been echoed and re-echoed around the world. There
are lofty examples of good and true men and women, all worthy our acceptance and imitation
whose lustre cannot be dimmed by the false sentiments and vicious characters bound up in
the same volume. The Bible cannot be accepted or rejected as a whole, its teachings are
varied and its lessons differ widely from each other. In criticizing the peccadilloes of
Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel, we would not shadow the virtues of Deborah, Huldah and Vashti.
In criticizing the Mosaic code we would not question the wisdom of the golden rule and the
fifth Commandment. Again the church claims special consecration for its cathedrals and
priesthood, parts of these aristocratic churches are too holy for women to enter, boys
were early introduced into the choirs for this reason, woman singing in an obscure corner
closely veiled. A few of the more democratic denominations accord women some privileges,
but invidious discriminations of sex are found in all religious organizations, and the
most bitter outspoken enemies of woman are found among clergymen and bishops of the
The canon law, the Scriptures, the creeds and codes and church discipline of the
leading religions bear the impress of fallible man, and not of our ideal great first
cause, "the Spirit of all Good," that set the universe of matter and mind in
motion, and by immutable law holds the land, the sea, the planets, revolving round the
great centre of light and heat, each in its own elliptic, with millions of stars in
harmony all singing together, the glory of creation forever and ever. fi