The call for women missionaries is not often heard today. Often women are left with the feeling “we are only needed because the men fail to go.” Our American culture looks on pioneer missionary work as man’s work because the Church is infiltrated with a worldly and pagan view of women as inferior to men.
In the search for a more inclusive understanding of God, the feminine “Sophia” has for many persons become a bridge between traditional Christianity and feminist concerns. So we ask: Who is Sophia, and where did she come from? Is she the long-awaited answer to this search?
The Bible sets forth an ideal and calls the ideal woman an eshet-chayil, which is the Hebrew for a “virtuous woman” (KJV) or a “wife of noble character” (NIV). This Hebrew expression occurs only three times in the Old Testament, but a study of these three passages is likely to reveal what the Bible supports as an ideal of Christian womanhood.
I came to see the fullness of the Christian community and church, but was I surprised. I found instead disdain for my impending leadership as a female. I found lack of acceptance for my ministry and my leadership. I heard so many masculine pronouns used and masculine leaders speak that I wondered if there was a place for me at all.
Recent events in the evangelical community—particularly with the release of Todays New International Version (TNIV) Bible translation—have raised concerns over masculine language. Does Jesus ask us to be fishers of people or fishers of men (Matt. 4:19)? Is there a difference? Should we be afraid to use words like people, especially when the ancient text and context warrants this?
Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4–5, NASB)
The best example of a woman in leadership over Israel is Deborah, one of the judges, all of whom were responsible for keeping the Promised Land free of foreign domination. Judges 4 is the prose account of Israel’s victory over the Canaanites from Hazor. Judges 5 is the “Song of Deborah” which tells the same story in poetic form.
Proverbs depicts the reality of its day, but provides moral principles in the context of that reality that actually challenge many of its society’s ideals. Yet both the society and moral principles depicted in Proverbs provide an interesting contrast to many cultures before and after them.
There are profound metaphors of God as feminine in the Hebrew Old Testament. On occasion this poetic imagery is allegorized literally as female; most often the feminine appears in the Hebrew Bible in metaphor and allegory, as in Deuteronomy 32:18b where God, here named Eloah, gives birth to Israel in groaning and travail as of a woman giving birth.