Genesis 29:25 is one of the Bible’s more startling verses: “When morning came, there was Leah!” (NIV). Have you ever wondered how Jacob could not know—for the better part of a day and all of a night—that he had married Leah instead of Rachel? Surely several factors were at work, and just as surely one factor was Leah’s veil. This unusual event prompts my thinking: Much like the literal veiling of Leah caused her to be obscured and overlooked, the figurative veiling of many other biblical women sometimes hides them from our view.
In some cases, a Bible woman is overlooked simply because she is a minor character (such as Zilpah in Genesis 29-46 and Rhoda in Acts 12). In other cases, a woman who is indeed a major character is veiled by minimizing her role in the text. Examples include viewing Deborah as weak without Barak or Priscilla as legitimized by Aquila.
As I ponder examples of the virtual veiling of Bible women, I recall the overlooked slave girl who gives wise counsel to the wife of Naaman regarding his “leprosy,” resulting in a healing encounter with the prophet Elisha (2 Kings 5:2-4). I think also of Acts 16. Here Lydia plays a prominent role and is therefore well known. In contrast, however, the women with Lydia (v. 13), Timothy’s mother (v. 1), and the slave woman of Philippi (vv. 16-19), all found elsewhere in Acts 16, are often overlooked.
This veiling is sometimes done by the author. For example, Matthew 8, Mark 1, and Luke 4 mention Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, but we learn neither her name nor the name of her daughter (Simon’s wife). Other times, such veiling is the fault of translators. The case of Junia, called an apostle in Romans 16:7, is familiar to most readers of Priscilla Papers and is a prime example. In various other texts, it may be preachers, teachers, or commentators who veil biblical women.
Many millions of Christians are only vaguely aware of the numerous women who occupy the pages of their Bibles. We must reverse this reality. We can all contribute to discovering and making known the women of the Bible story. Those of us who preach or teach, those of us who lead, those of us who write, whether for publication, for a blog, or even on social media—we have an enhanced responsibility to unveil biblical women.
This issue of Priscilla Papers is intended to promote such unveiling. Thus David Malick has written about Simon Peter’s above-mentioned mother-in-law. Nicholas Quient has investigated Apphia, who is addressed alongside Philemon and Archippus in Paul’s brief yet liberating letter. Amy Smith Carman demonstrates that the continuation of God’s OT promises and plan includes Mary as a key character. Though Mary is not a minor NT character, she has nevertheless remained veiled in certain ways throughout the history of the Church. Moyra Dale addresses the important question of whether the presence of women in Luke-Acts is liberating (because of the large number of women) or restraining (because of the roles they fill).
In addition to these four articles, three important books are reviewed and recommended to our readers—Katherine Bain’s Women’s Socioeconomic Status and Religious Leadership in Asia Minor: In the First Two Centuries C.E., Cynthia Long Westfall’s Paul and Gender: Reclaiming the Apostle’s Vision for Men and Women in Christ, and Does God Make the Man? Media, Religion, and the Crisis of Masculinity, by Stewart Hoover and Curtis Coats.
Of course, not every book is well suited for every reader. When reviewing a book, it is common to make brief mention of whom it is best suited for—scholars, students, pastors, etc. Over the years, CBE has reviewed and/or recommended a large number of resources through its various venues. On rare occasions, it is helpful to note that a particular book rises to the top. This is the case with Westfall’s Paul and Gender. Though the book presents in-depth scholarship, it is clearly written, well organized, and thus accessible to all readers of Priscilla Papers. I would like to add my high praise for this book to that given in the review, written by Nicholas Quient, which appears later in this issue. More important than my opinion, however, is the remarkable list of commendations on the back cover—by Michael Bird, Lynn Cohick, Craig Blomberg, Stanley Porter, and Craig Keener.
I am confident that Westfall’s Paul and Gender will long be recognized as one of the most important egalitarian resources of the present decade. Its appearance reminds us how long it has been since other publications of similar significance—thirty years since Alvera Mickelsen’s Women, Authority, and the Bible (1986), twenty-five years since Keener’s Paul, Women, and Wives (1992), and over twelve years since Ron Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis’s Discovering Biblical Equality (2005). Even Phil Payne’s Man and Woman, One in Christ (2009) is nearly a decade old.
Westfall’s book holds great promise as a resource for evangelical egalitarians who seek to unveil biblical women and biblical teaching about gender. Even more importantly, its combination of careful argumentation and gracious tone has the power to influence a significant number of complementarians. I believe it should be on the shelf of every English-speaking egalitarian. Please note that the book is currently available through CBE’s bookstore, online at cbebookstore.org.
May the several writings in this issue of Priscilla Papers help to unveil women who have been important in the unfolding of God’s plan.