The females were then less esteemed, but not so in Christ; for in Christ Jesus there is neither male nor female, Gal. 3:28.
Recently a friend of mine was reading through Leviticus in her daily Bible readings. As she finished the book, she came across the valuations in chapter 27:
“Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘When a man makes a difficult vow, he shall be valued according to your valuation of persons belonging to the Lord. ‘If your valuation is of the male from twenty years even to sixty years old, then your valuation shall be fifty shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary. Or if it is a female, then your valuation shall be thirty shekels.’” (Lev. 27:2-4, NASB)
She asked me what I thought of the passage. Like me, she is a Reformed Christian woman who affirms inerrancy and the primacy and sufficiency of Scripture. We also both believe that Scripture affirms the value and inherent worth of women. So, what do we make of a passage that seems to suggest women have less monetary value than men?
Sometimes we have to wrestle with difficult passages of Scripture. As the Westminster Confession says, “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all.” Everything we need to know in order to be saved is clearly taught in the Bible. But some passages are harder to understand than others. This is especially true when dealing with the Old Testament laws.
When wrestling with a passage, we should ask ourselves a series of questions. What do these verses mean? What significance would they have had to the original audience? Do other passages help give us context? How have others interpreted these verses? What do these verses teach us about God? How does this passage point us to Christ?
As we read, Leviticus 27 is about what to do “when a man makes a difficult vow” (Lev. 27:2). God’s people in Israel could vow or promise someone or something to the Lord. We see an example of this in 1 Samuel 1:11 when Hannah asks God to give her a son and vows to give that child to God in return. Several passages show that vows made to God were serious and not to be made rashly. For example, consider Jephthah’s hasty and tragic vow (Judges 11). As Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 warns, “When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.”
Commentaries give different interpretations of what exactly Leviticus 27:2-8 is addressing. Some say that the Israelites wouldn’t have been expected to give people to the Lord but are instead expected to give an equivalent amount of money. The valuations, then, are how to determine what to pay the priests in fulfillment of the vows made. Others say that the passage is about what to do when someone makes and then regrets their vow. In this view, the valuations are the payment and penalty assessed for not fulfilling their vow. Either way, we’re left with our original question about why women and men are given different valuations.
In the passage, the valuations reflect both the age and gender of the person vowed. Young children were valued at 3 shekels for girls and 5 shekels for boys. From ages 5-20, girls and boys were valued at 10 and 20 shekels respectively. Women and men ages 20-60 were valued at 30 and 50 shekels respectively. Those over 60 were valued at 10 shekels for women and 15 shekels for men. In each age category, females were assessed a lower valuation. So why the gender difference?
The most common answer is that the differences, both in age and gender, are based on the average value of work a person could perform in an agricultural society. This would explain why men in the prime of their working lives have the highest valuation. But it doesn’t really explain the difference between male and female babies. Maybe male babies have greater earning potential as they mature? It’s hard to say.
The Old Testament laws are challenging to interpret. While all of the Bible is good and beneficial for us to study, we have to be careful how we apply the law to our lives today. There are three types of law in the Old Testament: civil, ceremonial, and moral. The civil laws, which governed the nation of Israel, and the ceremonial laws, which governed Old Testament worship and the priests, were fulfilled in Christ (Heb. 10, Acts 10:9-16, Gal. 5:2-6, Rom. 13). The moral law, which is rooted in God’s character, continues to teach us how to live and serve God.
Because the valuations in Leviticus 27 are part of the ceremonial law governing worship and temple/tabernacle offerings, they too have been fulfilled in Christ. What does the fulfillment of the law in Christ teach us about a woman’s worth?
Our inherent worth as human beings is established in our creation. From the beginning, men and women were created equally in the image of God. As believers, our worth is found in Christ. Through His life, death, and resurrection, He has secured our adoption as sons of God (Eph. 1:5). All believers are now sons of God and heirs with Christ:
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. (Gal 3:26-29)
In the Roman world, sons were the one who inherited. To be a “son” is to have all the rights and privileges of sonship. Christ has torn down the walls that divided us. Jews and Gentiles are descendants of Abraham. Slaves and free men are all free from slavery to sin and death. Women, as well as men, are sons of God and co-heirs in Christ. Jesus and the New Covenant change everything for us.
Our worth isn’t determined by our society or culture. It’s not found in our gender or our family background. We aren’t valuable because of the work we do or because of our potential. Our worth is found in our relationship with God and our standing in Christ. We are women and men made in the image of God and united to Christ. Because of these truths, we are worth so very much. Male or female, young or old, poor or rich, sick or healthy, our worth is secure in Christ.
“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God,” (1 John 3:1a).
The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.7
The Westminster Confession of Faith 19.3-5.