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Women of the Bible

The recent winter issue of CBE's Mutuality magazine was themed, "New Testament Women." Its articles discuss Martha, the Samaritan woman of John 4, the "Chosen Lady" of 2 John, Anna of Luke 2, and others. The forthcoming spring 2017 issue of Priscilla Papers, CBE's academic journal, will be on the same theme and will include articles on various New Testament women. Arise, CBE's blog, has also recently featured some New Testament women (here and here). In addition, I recently purchased Cynthia Westfall's excellent new book, Paul and Gender. For these reasons and others, I've been reading and thinking a lot about New Testament women lately. There is, of course, much to be said about the women who appear in the New Testament. T... Read more
How do we get from sinner to whore in our perception of Bible women? (Note: this offensive term is used only to highlight the false dichotomy applied to Bible women, not to imply that any women should bear this label). In Luke 7:36-39, a broken, sobbing, unnamed woman enters the home where Jesus is dining. She anoints his feet with oil and tears, wiping them with her hair. The men present talk about her like she isn’t even there. They are offended by the “sinner” in their presence. In our modern context, it is easy to read “promiscuous” into the character of the mystery woman. Christians have a historical tendency to interpret Bible women’s non-specific sin as sexual sin, and often, female promiscuity is inferred with no support from the actual text. T... Read more
Holy Chutzpah Mary is big lately. This week, I read a blog post about Mary by a woman trying to discover a Mary to identify with. She writes, “it’s exactly the kind of feminine archetype I don’t really relate to—the kind of person about whom people say, ‘oh, she’s really nice,’ as if yielding compliance and non-offensiveness are her primary attributes. The kind of woman who fades into the background, whose worth lies only in her utility to the patriarchal narrative.” This year, I have noticed Mary more than usual. One of the things I’ve seen is a very strong person who bucks her culture to be what God calls her to be. That resistance has a hidden cost that the Bible doesn’t record directly. On this side of history,... Read more
Two Christmases ago, I was six months pregnant. The season of Advent, a time of waiting and expectation, has never made more sense to me. Most of us know that Advent is a story of expectation. But of course, children aren’t the only things we anticipate, and waiting doesn’t just mean excitement. Those of us know who have apprehensively endured any impending event know that well. It also means fear, and hope, and maybe a little anxiety.  And if you’re like me, it’s a lot easier to get wrapped up in the here-and-now expectations of the holidays than it is to stop and feel the anticipation, hope, fear, and longing of Advent. So I’ve had to ask myself: what are we, the church, preparing for? We think we know what’s coming. Most of us alrea... Read more
I recently finished a new book that hit the shelves a few weeks back. It’s entitled Underdogs and Outsiders, written by my good friend, Tom Fuerst. Though the main title may catch one off guard—noting it’s a study particularly written for the Advent season—it actually highlights the exact thrust of the book. This new work from Fuerst is an Advent study of how God used five unexpected women—underdogs and outsiders, to be exact—to accomplish his redemptive purposes. In particular, these five women are found in Matthew’s genealogy—Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and, of course, Mary. To introduce the work, Fuerst writes: “This Advent study focuses on just a few of the broken branches: the unlikely heroines... Read more
In Part 1 of this series, we established four points: Jesus affirmed Mary and Martha’s learning. Jesus intended for all “sitters at his feet” to act on his teachings. Jesus’ life demonstrated that he valued practical service. Martha studied at Jesus’ feet, just like Mary. With these points in mind, I’d like to reframe the story around Mary and Martha’s individual callings, and how Jesus directed and nurtured those callings. Mary and Martha have been my Bible story companions since childhood. My mother used to read their story from The Child’s Garden of Bible Stories. In the book, Mary was pictured sitting sweetly at Jesus’ feet, while Martha, broom in hand, angrily looked on from the kitchen. It was clear to me that... Read more
Mary and Martha continue to stir up heated dispute in the church, but their contribution to egalitarian arguments appears to have been wrung dry. I propose a new look at the sisters—a look that goes far beyond the tale of a “Mary” trying to fit into a “Martha” world. The Old Interpretation The primary takeaway from the traditional interpretation of Mary and Martha is the importance of putting “first things first.” In other words, crumbs under the sofa cushions are a sign of correct priorities. Jesus is said to be admonishing us to cut housekeeping corners for the sake of Bible study. Let’s examine the usual discussion points. Do we really believe these sisters were too wimpy to settle their disagreements themselves? How would our int... Read more
Deborah, the prophet, was a judge of Israel. That sentence needs to stand alone, because it seems we’re unable to take the Bible at its word on Deborah’s position as judge. Christians who struggle to believe that God would intentionally appoint a woman to lead often argue that Deborah was chosen because no man stepped up to fill the role of judge. But the text does not support this. Some suggest that God appointed Deborah to shame the men of Israel. The text does not support this claim either. Deborah, the prophet, was a judge of Israel. Let’s allow that to sink in. She held court under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramal and Bethel in Mount Ephraim. Israelites came from all over the country so she could rule on their cases. Deborah was also given the title... Read more
This is the first article in a series examining what Christians have been taught about women in Scripture. Growing up in the church, it seemed to me that every woman in the Old Testament was a prostitute, a victim of sexual violence, or sexually immoral in some way. I thought their lives must have been so sad. When I studied at Fuller Theological Seminary, I intentionally dug into the stories of these women. What I found really challenged my ideas about Bible women. And when I began studying rabbinic commentary on the texts and looking at the original context and culture, I was able to challenge those ideas even more.  Decades into this process, I believe it is time to boldly declare that these women of the Bible deserve far better than the labels of “whore,”... Read more
Hebrews 11 is widely known as a chapter that acclaims the men and women heroes of the faith—powerful, bold, and courageous. Led by that strong faith, these heroes "shut the mouths of lions," "conquered kingdoms," and "quenched the fury of the flames." I've been a Christian for a long time. I was saved at the age of five, called into ministry at fifteen, ordained at twenty-three, and a doctoral ministry candidate by thirty-nine. And in all of those years, I never questioned the people celebrated in Hebrews until a friend of mine brought up a poignant question: "Why isn't Deborah mentioned as a hero of faith instead of Barak?"  This question stumped me. As someone who loves research, I firmly resolved to settle this issue withi... Read more

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