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Those Puzzling Puritans and the Image of God

Image credit: George Henry Boughton, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Editor’s note: Nancy Pearcey is one of several Discovery Institute Fellows featured in the Museum of the Bible’s yearlong exhibit on “Scripture and Science: Our Universe, Ourselves, Our Place” in Washington, DC. Pearcey was asked to address the topic of the image of God and how it answers the questions, “What makes me human?” and “What we can accomplish?” You can watch an edited version of her comments on the Museum of the Bible’s Vimeo channel. Since the exhibit could feature only short segments of Pearcey’s recorded comments, Evolution News invited her to offer her full comments in a series here for our readers. This is Part 5 in the series. Look here for Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4. Pearcey is a professor and scholar in residence at Houston Christian University. Her comments are adapted from her books The Soul of ScienceLove Thy Body, and The Toxic War on Masculinity.

The Puritans brought a biblical view of marriage to the American colonies. Few historical figures are as badly misunderstood as the Puritans. Many people picture them as cold, stern, strict, fanatical, and authoritarian. But history tells a different story. Surprisingly, the Puritans actually taught that women were spiritually equal to men. 

For example, the Puritan minister William Secker pointed out that Eve was created from Adam’s own flesh, not from an inferior substance — which, he said, implied her “Equality.” In his words, Eve “is a parallel line drawn equal” with Adam. Secker compared husband and wife to two instruments making music, two streams combining into one current, two oars rowing a boat to heaven, and the two tablets of stone on which the law is written. 

In the Spiritual Realm

Another Puritan preacher, Benjamin Wadsworth, argued that though there are differences imposed by human custom, in the spiritual realm, “there’s no difference between male and female.” They enjoy the same spiritual “dignities and privileges.” Wadsworth reminded his congregation that the New Testament teaches mutuality, not dominance: “The duty of love is mutual, it should be performed by each to each of them.” The husband “must not treat her [his wife] as a servant, but as his own flesh, he must love her as himself.” And why is it possible to love her “as himself?” Because they are both made in God’s image. 

Surprisingly, it was Puritans who passed the first law ever, anywhere in the world, against domestic violence. In 1641 the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law saying, “Every married woman shall be free from bodily correction or stripes by her husband.” The law was soon amended to include wives beating their husbands, as well as “unnatural severity” against children and servants. 

We might say that the Puritans recognized the need for checks and balances in marriage long before the American Revolution established checks and balances in the government.

Tomorrow, “The Image of God — Going Global.”