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Are Women Human Beings?

Edith Neumaier June 12, 2018

Are woman human beings? This was the question sixty-three Catholic bishops tried to answer in 584 AD during the Council of Macon which was held in Lyons, France. After a lengthy debate they decided by one vote that women were human. What made these sixteen bishops decide that women were not human?
Even though women were considered human by seventeen bishops, this did not change in any way how women were treated in the church from that time forward. Matter of fact, women continued to be discriminated against in the church and were treated as second class members.
What was the cause of the belief that women were not considered human beings? Where did this idea originate? We can not find this in any of Jesus’ or Paul’s teachings.
However, many of the early converts to Christianity were strong followers of the Greek philosophers, Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle. These philosophers believed that women were not human beings and the Greek culture treated women accordingly. Women were considered a “breading machine” and were not to be seen or heard in public. This Hellenistic thinking influenced not only the Greek Empire but also the Roman Empire. The Greek philosophers were considered scholars during the Roman Empire. Many of the leading converts to Christianity were such learned men and they did not renounce their believe in these philosophers. In the opposite they tried to merge Greek philosophy and Christianity.
One such person was St. Augustine of Hippo. He is considered the “Father of the Catholic Church.” He lived about 150 years before the Counsel of Macon. He was very instrumental in shaping the theology of the Catholic Church. St. Augustine also remained important to Marin Luther and Calvin and even today he is considered a very spiritual man by many Evangelical scholars.
However, because of his allegiance to the Greek philosophers, St. Augustine also had a dark side. He also believed that women were not fully human beings made in the image of God. He wrote in Regius, “woman was merely man’s helpmate, a function which pertains to her alone. She is not the image of God but as far as man is concerned, he is by himself the image of God. Woman does not possess the image of God in herself but only when taken together with the male who is her head, so that the whole substance is one image. But when she is assigned the role as helpmate, a function that pertains to her alone, then she is not the image of God. But as far as the man is concerned, he is by himself alone the image of God just as fully and completely as when he and the woman are joined together into one.”
This supposedly godly man made a vital mistake in misinterpreting or rewriting Genesis 1:27 which says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Fortunately, the NIV Bible correctly translated the Hebrew word ha adam as humankind and made it very evident that humankind was created male and female and not only male. St. Augustine was so dedicated to the Hellenistic tradition that he did not notice this serious mistake and neither did the Jews before him or the theologians after him.
This belief, that women were not made in the image of God is clearly the result of the believe that a woman is not a full human being which was taught by the Greek and later Roman philosophers continuing with the classical philosophers of the Medieval time. This false belief now was applied to the scripture.
In my book, The Mystery of Adam, I recognized that the first human being was not a man or male being. The original Hebrew text in Genesis one uses the word ha adam for the first creature God created. This word was translated as anthropos in the Greek Septuagint which was the first Greek translation of the Old Testament. The word anthropos means human, human being, or humankind. Thus the NIV Bible translated the word ha adam correctly. Martin Luther also recognized the original meaning of the this word and translated it Mensch in the first German translation of the scripture. Mensch again means human being.
These scholars knew that the first being God created was a human being, but because of the Hellenistic view that women are not human beings it was easy to assume that this first human being was a man or male being.
The Hellenistic view influenced the Jews very much after their return from the Babylonian captivity (Shaye Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah). One can claim that Judaism was hellenized. And just like the early Christian theologians were rooted in the Greek philosophers, so were many of the Jewish religious leaders. After being hellenized it was easy to accept that the woman was not a human being and thus she was treated accordingly even in the Jewish culture.
It was also easy to assume that the first human God Created was a man, after all, the woman was not a human being. This false assumption became ingrained into the thinking of the Western World. And even at the time of the first translation of the Bible into the English language, it was easy to use “man” as a translation of the word ha adam. We all know that the word “man” can also mean humankind and I am sure the translator was aware of this fact. He could have used the word humankind, but he did not and so confused and distorted the truth about the first human being even more.
Of course, the man is a human being as well, but is there any evidence that this first human being was a man or male being? In Genesis 1 we read that this human being was male and female and in Genesis 5:1-2 the Bible tells us, “When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind”[a] when they were created.” God called both of them Adam. Not just the man. The distinct form of a man and a woman did not appear until the woman was taken form the first human being.
Philo Judaeus, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher and Old Testament commentator, who was a contemporary of Jesus and Paul, confirmed that the first human being was made in the image of God yet this being was very different from the distinct man and woman which later was formed by God. Unfortunately, he was also very much influenced by the Hellenistic view and believed that the woman does not have equal standing with the man. He writes in “Questions and Answers to Genesis“, “The woman was formed or build from the rib of Adam in the first place in order that woman might not be of equal dignity with man. In second place, that she might not be of equal age with him, but younger, since those who marry wives more advanced in years than themselves deserve blame, as having overturned the law of nature.” Notice that the “Law of Nature” can not be found any were in the Bible and it was introduced by Aristotle. Thus it is evident that Philo was influenced by this Greek philosopher in regards to the belief about women and he used this believe when commenting on Genesis and thus influenced many Jewish and Christian theologians.
So why is this information so important? Does is really matter? Do we really want to get to the bottom of all these false interpretations regarding to women? Do we really want to find out why even today, the church is still accepting misogyny and the demeaning of women? Why are women still treated many times as second class citizen in the church? Do we really want change?
Jesus said build a house on a solid rock. If we do not build equal rights of man and women on the fact that they both were created “One” in the beginning, we will never win this war.
God created the man and the woman ha adam. He said it is not good for this ha adam to be alone, I will make him a helper. The word “him” does not exist in the original text and should have been translated with it, because this original human being did not have a specific gender. So God wants a helper for both of them. A helper not an assistant which is suitable for the man and the woman. Then he takes the side of the whole human being and closes the opening and the man was completed. After that he adds a finishing touch to the woman. Not until that time did both have their distinct forms. The word rib is a false translation and should have been translated as “side”. God took the whole side of the first human being. Therefore God tells the man to leave father and mother and cleave to his wife in order to become one flesh again (Genesis 2:24).
It is important to note that the NIV translators were not consistent in translating Genesis 2. They changed the translation of the word ha adam from humankind to man which again is misleading the reader to believe that this first human being was a male being. The Septuagint and and the German translations continued to use the correct word which is human being.
Humanity was not only denied to women by the Greek philosophers and their followers, but also by the first man himself. Even though God called both of them Adam which means human being, the first recorded action of the man after the fall was renaming the woman. He gives her the name Eve or mother of all living. He steals humanity from her and makes her into only his wife and child bearer. This restriction and violation of women was done from the beginning and only reached its ultimate crescendo during the Hellenistic period which shaped strongly Jewish and Christian theology. Matter of fact, Paul was not immune to that and some of his strange statements, which can not be found in the Old Testament, may have been influenced by these Hellenistic, Jewish teachers like Philo.
My question is, how long will these translators mislead us into believing that this first human being was a man? How long are we allowing many misguided theologians to build their false believes about women on the lie that the first human being was a man and therefore has special privileges? Are we willing to stop this nonsense of arguing with these false theologians? Are we willing to go to the bottom and acknowledge that God created men and women as One and uphold the teaching of Jesus and Paul that neither the man nor the woman has authority over the other?
Of course, today the church believes that women are full human beings. However, without knowing it, many believes about women are build on the assumption that women are not fully human beings. Therefore they are still treated as children and second class members of the church. They have not received equal rights. Even though the Holy Spirit has been equality pored out on men and women alike and they can receive the same gifts, women are still restricted to use certain gifts as a benefit for the whole body. Unfortunately this restriction is done not only against women, but mainly against the Holy Spirit.

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Edith Neumaier

Edith Neumaier

Edith Neumaier is a licensed professional counselor. Before opening her own private practice, Edith had worked . . . read more

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