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Women of the Bible

Many of us are familiar with the story of the Israelites' conquest of Jericho, how they marched around the high walls blowing rams' horns until the walls toppled over. I have always read the story of the conquest of Jericho without question, until recently. It was not the tumbling of Jericho in particular that concerned me, but rather the naming of a particular woman in Joshua 2:1. The spies of Israel are sent out by Joshua, and they come to a woman's house in the city of Jericho. Scripture repeatedly refers to the woman, Rahab, as the harlot (some versions render her "the prostitute"). With a tug of suspicion, I went on a search regarding the term "harlot" as interpreted by translators in reference to Rahab. My research was a helpful exercise. The Hebrew... Read more
Her name was Damaris. Ever wondered about her? She appears to be somewhat of an afterthought, (one of Luke's "oh, by the way" comments), as one of the "few" who believed upon hearing Paul's speech in the Areopagus (Acts 17:22-34). Some biblical commentators speculate that to have been mentioned as a woman, she must have been of high social status. This might accord with the fact that Christian tradition also identifies her as the wife of Dionysius the Areopagite, the one other person who is named among the "few" who believed, and who later went on to become the bishop of Athens' fledgling church. The Eastern Orthodox church actually sets aside a day to honor Saint Damaris, but, for Reformed Protestants like myself, Damaris takes her place in a long... Read more
Margaret Mowczko
In the current discussions about the roles of women in the church, there has been a great deal of attention directed toward Phoebe, Junia, and Priscilla. These three women are mentioned in the New Testament as being involved in significant Christian ministry. Much of the discussion surrounding these women concerns identifying their actual ministries, and evaluating the precedent, if any, they set for women in the church today. Euodia and Syntyche are two lesser known women who were ministers in the early church. The apostle Paul names these two women in his letter to the Philippians and, in just a few verses, he gives us a glimpse into the value and significance of their ministries. I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you,... Read more
"I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me" (Rom 16:1-2 TNIV). I love messing with my students. Yes, I know it catches them off guard, but exposing their assumptions and ignorance is both enjoyable and actually educational too. When I get to my Romans class, I ask the students four questions: So who actually wrote Romans? "Paul," they immediately reply in chorus. "No," I retort, "Who physically sat down and penned the letter to Paul's dictation?" Blank faces, deep thoughts, then some bright spark will blurt out, "Oh, oh, th... Read more
My daughter, As I'm writing this, I am watching you in the corner of my eye, eating blueberries. You look at me in between stuffing your mouth with a chubby handful and you laugh with great delight. I want you to stay this way forever—one and a half years old, toddling around, fearless, determined to discover everything you can about the world, confident that you are safe because of our love, and appreciative of all the sweet things God has created for us to enjoy. But I know that time will pass and things may change. Before you were born, your father and I chose not to learn your gender. We knew we'd love you and raise you with the same values and opportunities—boy or girl. When the doctor announced that you were a girl, we were overjoyed. In some countries, ha... Read more
We don't always get a clear picture of Bible women when we extract only certain examples from the Scripture. There was the disobedient Eve and the treacherous Jezebel and Lot's reluctant wife. If we conclude that this is "how women were," we miss the grand challenge of Esther and Abigail and Mary of Bethany and the lesser-known Dorcas and the daughters of Zelophehad. If we focus on Abram's lies about his wife or Jephthah's ignorant treatment of his daughter and believe that all women were treated as property, we are not taking into account Elkanah's love for Hannah or Barak's confidence in Deborah's leadership. If we take a narrow view of Sarai as the submissive wife and of the silenced women at Corinth, we may say, "And this is how women should... Read more
You are probably among the masses of people who have never heard my name. It is mentioned in only one sentence in Holy Writ. There were only a very few of us—at least of those whose story was remembered by any except family and close friends. For those few who have read Paul’s letter to Philemon, I was understood as the wife of Philemon. Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus were understood to be husband, wife, and son respectively, according to the tradition. However, if one examines the text carefully one sees the address to Philemon the beloved, to Apphia the sister, and to Archippus the fellow soldier. The three of us are addressed on the same plane, rather than in any hierarchical fashion. My name, like that of many of my sisters in the faith, might have been entirely forgott... Read more
You know, of course, the story of The Little Red Hen and her friends—a duck, a cat and a pig (or a goose and dog and whatever animal your favorite version has). The Little Red Hen found a grain of wheat and, deciding to plant it, she asked who would help. "Not I," said the duck. "Not I," said the cat. "Not I," said the pig. The Little Red Hen asked for help many times: when it was time to cut the wheat, to thresh it and to grind it into flour, to bake the flour into bread. Each time, her unwilling friends responded, "Not I--not I--not I." To which The Little Red Hen responded each time, "Then I will." And she did. When the bread had been baked, The Little Red Hen asked again, "Who will help me eat this bread?" H... Read more
As you may remember from last week’s column, gender-constraints placed on an individual’s life can be highly paralyzing. I recalled from my childhood, however, that the risk of pressing for freedom from those constraints is a risk worth taking. In understanding the struggle for freedom biblically, I found myself resonating with the woman at the well, in John 4. She lived under social constraints, which is why she made her daily trip to the well at the hottest, most isolated point of the day. She wanted to avoid gossip and disdain from other women because of her sinful lifestyle. She understood that, because of her lifestyle and previous marital decisions, she had no place among the other women. Although I can’t say I entirely identify with this woman and her speci... Read more
Soon afterwards [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources (Luke 8:1-3, NRSV). One of the arguments that complementarians make for women staying at home is that it is God's plan for men to work and financially support the family. As long as I've been on the other side of the argument, pointing out that women have always worked and supported their families monetarily, it was only last week when it hit me what these verses were sayi... Read more

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