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Women of the Bible

Trigger warning: This article recounts Bible passages that contain graphic violence against women. Read with caution.   I’m a first year student in Divinity School with less money in my bank account than I’d like, so I work the occasional night shift at the college library. I return home at 4 am, traveling alone in the university’s taxi service. I’m on edge the whole time, keys and phone in hand and a potential escape route planned—just in case. History dictates that women don’t have the luxury to not do this type of mental preparation. We live with the real possibility of violence every day. And actually, that shared female experience shapes how I read and interpret the Bible, especially stories that include sexual violence. A professor in m... Read more
The second letter of John is addressed “to the elect lady and to her children.” But who is the “elect lady” of 2 John? Is she a mother with kids, or something more? A look at the apostle John’s use of the word “children” in 1 John can help us understand who the woman’s children are. Then, we can try to solve the mystery of who the woman is. We commonly recognize that the “children” of 1 John refer to Christian converts. The “fathers,” “young men,” and “dear children” in the second chapter may refer to literal ages, or to spiritual development. Regardless of their age, the apostle John considered himself a spiritual father to these “children.” The apostle Paul also used this language... Read more
Today, advocates and activists from around the US will gather at the For Such A Time As This Rally in Dallas, Texas. The rally—led by abuse advocates and faith leaders such as Ashley Easter, Gricel Medina, and Mary DeMuth—will lament and challenge the Southern Baptist Convention’s inadequate response to sexual abuse and poor treatment of women. Leaders are urging SBC leadership to: Honor and respect women in the church. Create an SBC clergy sex offender database. Train all pastors and seminaries on abuse and sexual assault. The gathering was certainly spurred by recent events surrounding SBC giant Paige Patterson. But for many Christian women and especially Southern Baptist women, it’s so much bigger than that. It’s a biblical response t... Read more
Gricel Medina
Women often underestimate themselves. We minimize our abilities and authority because we’re conditioned to think that to be a woman is to be passive and insecure. We accept the lie that confidence is worthy of censure in women and cause for praise in men. Assertive women are often accused of being vain, proud, or deliberately rebellious. Observing this, many of us censor our words and actions to avoid appearing too aggressive or assertive. From a young age, bold girls are shamed for being “too bossy.” Strong women are punished for defying the patriarchal model for submissive womanhood. Tragically, some Christian women defend and bolster patriarchy and some even persecute strong women, labeling them arrogant and sinful. Some women choose to strengthen the existing patria... Read more
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 already kno... 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
For most of my life, I didn’t understand the significance of Advent. It paled next to Christmas. And I felt the same indifference for Advent that I had for every other church season. As a young girl in a strict Lutheran elementary school, the arrival of Advent meant that I was required to attend yet another school chapel service. It meant two extra hours of acute religious boredom, and it triggered the same hyper-awareness of my femaleness that I always experienced in church. The students sat in straight-back wooden pews, some of us so young that our feet barely touched the floor. A male pastor with a booming voice encouraged us to reflect on our innate depravity. Jesus’ impending birth was celebrated chiefly as the remedy to our shame. The pastor wore a spotless white robe... Read more

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