It’s a big accusation and a common accusation, that in the Bible, women are worth less than men. And one of the go-to Bible passages is Leviticus 27. The accusation arises because of shiny shekels. Women are valued at less shekels!
A woman, in her prime is only valued at 30 shekels. A man of the same age is valued at 50 shekels.
Shekels were like our Aussie dollar or the English pound, they were a unit of value for the ancient Jews.
In Leviticus 27 if someone, a man or a woman, makes a special vow and they want to dedicate a person to the LORD then they pay a dedication in shekels. And here is where it seems like women are worth less. A woman, in her prime, between the age of 20 and 60 is only valued at 30 shekels. While a man of the same age is valued at 50 shekels.
It seems that women are worth less. There you have it. The smoking gun in the last chapter of Leviticus. God’s word says women are worthless. In two verses of Leviticus we have all the proof we need. Let’s throw out the Bible.
Yes, let’s. For if we don’t we might keep reading just a few more measly sentences. And there we’ll discover we have a problem. For it isn’t that simple.
young boys and very young boys are valued 20 and 5 shekels.
old men over 60 are only valued at a mere 15 shekels.
Yes, in each age group the valuation placed on males is higher than women.
But if the actual issue was that men are more valuable than women, why are women in one age group valued higher than young boys or old men? If being male was simple more valuable then surely every male, no matter their age, would be valued above women.
God values the poor … They are valued at what they can afford.
This is the problem with reading in context and thinking. Now we’ve got questions to answer. But thankfully there are answers in the next couple of sentences:
If anyone making the vow is too poor to pay the specified amount, the person being dedicated is to be presented to the priest, who will set the value according to what the one making the vow can afford. (Lev 27:8).
God values the poor. It says so again and again in God’s law. But they are valued at less! How much less? They are valued at what they can afford. They have less money so a lower burden is placed on them to make the very same vow. It is because God values them, they pay less.
This Turns Things Upside Down
This turns things up and down. The lower valuation of women, the old and children is an act of kindness reflecting their capacity to earn money or even have any wealth in a pre-industrial/agricultural society. Women are to pay less not because they are worthless but to put a lower financial burden on them or on their families.
God wants the poor, the children, the old and women to be dedicated to him. For he values them highly.
But the joy for accountants isn’t over yet. The shekels shine in one more place that shows the value of both genders before God. When a census of the nation is taken a half shekel is to be paid for every person, without exception, male or female, young or old. For each person is an equally valued member of the nation of Israel and each one must pay a half shekel to make atonement for their lives. Exodus 30:12-17.
It’s not about the Shekels but Being in the Image of God
But enough about shiny shekels. The real issue is images. The very first chapter of the Bible makes it absolutely clear women are of infinite value in God’s eyes. Women are made in the image of God. As are men:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:26-27)
It is humankind who are blessed by God and are to multiply and fill the earth.
Notice the last line: he created them. Both male and female are equal—both being made in the image of God. The image is not an isolated individual or just men—it is male and female together. Don’t be distracted by man in the first lines of verse 26 or 27. The context shows that this means humankind. For it is humankind who are blessed by God and are to multiply and fill the earth. No, I’m sure it couldn’t be referring to just men. You need a man and a woman for all that multiplying (see verse 28).
Now, if the first chapters of the Bible were written to justify and create patriarchy, making men more valuable than women then the writer of Genesis really muffed it. In the very first chapter of the whole Bible, creating the framework for all that would follow he made men and women equal in value, dignity and worth before God.
Jesus is the Proof that God Values Women
And this is why God treats women so very kindly. Every time Jesus engages with a woman he treats her with respect and dignity—no matter her standing in society: prostitutes, demon-possessed, old and shunned, young and vulnerable. All were treated with dignity, respect and even love by Jesus in his life. And also in his death. He died for them.
And women are shown to be his most faithful disciples. In Mark’s Gospel, it was women along with a Roman centurion who bravely stayed to watch Jesus die. It was women who risked being associated with Jesus to see where his body was laid. It was women who so valued Jesus, they came to embalm his body, and discovered there was no body to embalm. It was women who were the first to discover and hear, ‘He has Risen.’
Women are not worth less in the Bible. They are worth more than we understand.
First published at risenchurch.org.au