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Women of the Bible

"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
The year 1994 witnessed the debut of a little family film known as The Swan Princess, one of several attempts by non-Disney enterprises to grab a slice of Disney's highly successful fairy tale princesses franchise. My parents, who bought just about every movie that came out on video, quickly added it to our VHS collection once it had finished its theatrical run, and upon viewing it I found it to be a mediocre offering. Not an instant classic like other animated films, but certainly not hateable in its badness. One scene from the movie did stick in my mind though. You'll have to familiarize yourself with the film's plot if you want more details, but in the beginning, Prince Derek makes an awkward and sudden proposal to Princess Odette based solely on her good looks. “... Read more
Paul's letters reveal a man deeply invested in relationships with both men and women. He recognizes, respects and honors women who labor for the Lord, not as subordinates, but as partners and equals. This is evident, for example, in how Paul greets women colleagues in ministry at the end of Romans. Paul commends "our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon (diakonon) of the church of Cenchrea" (Rom. 16:1). Phoebe's leadership role is evident in Paul's request, "receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and give her support in whatever matters she may have need from you, for she has been a leader (prostatis)[1] of many and of myself as well" (16:2). Every meaning of every word in the New Testament related to the word describing Phoebe as a "leader... Read more
Those supporting gender egalitarianism in marriage have rightly highlighted biblical passages which focus on the parity between husband and wife, such as 1 Cor. 7:3-4. Although the New Testament has several sections on marriage in general (see 1 Cor. 7:1-40; Eph. 5:21-33; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Pet. 3:1-7), we have hardly any historical couples who live out their marriages on its pages. The few who often come to mind are Elizabeth and Zechariah (Luke 1:5-25, 39-45) and Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:1-4, 18, 26; 1 Cor. 16:19; Rom. 16:3; 2 Tim. 4:19). One pair which gets little attention is Ananias and Sapphira, the couple who deceives the church and thus lies to the Holy Spirit, as explained by Peter (Acts 5:1-11). The details in this story about the interaction between the husband and wife highli... Read more