Some people dismiss the Bible because of its lack of attention to women. However, a close reading of the Bible reveals patterns of doublet and parallel stories that bring attention and esteem to each gender. In fact, when compared to the sacred literature of other religions, the Bible provides an astounding representation of both men and women. Let’s take a look at some examples.
Story doublets are accounts that appear together. They occur frequently in the New Testament. Matthew’s account places double healings together: the hemorrhaging woman and Jairus’ daughter, followed by two blind men (Matt. 9:18–31). In Mark, the Syrophoenician woman seeks healing on behalf of her daughter, and the people of Decapolis approach Jesus on behalf of a deaf and mute man (Mark 7:24–37). Luke excels in doublets. Simeon and Anna awaited the coming Messiah and recognized the prophecy’s fulfillment in the infant Jesus (Luke 2:25–38). In Luke 4:24–27, Jesus mentions two Gentiles who received God’s mercy: the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian commander. Luke arranged Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep (shepherds could be either gender), the woman’s lost coin, and the lost son, with sensitivity to equal representation of each gender (Luke 15:1–10). In John’s Gospel, Jesus met with Nicodemus, followed by the woman at the well. In the bridge between these conversations, John the Baptist noted the bride and the groomsmen who both eagerly await the bridegroom (John 3:29). In Acts, Peter’s service to Aeneas and Dorcas mirror elements of Jesus’ healing of the paralytic and Jairus’ daughter (Acts 9:32–42; Luke 5:17–26; Luke 8:41–56). James cited the righteousness of Abraham and Rahab in exhibiting faith through works (James 2:20–25).
Biblical authors give similar dignity to both genders in parallel accounts, as in Nehemiah and Esther. In each diverse setting the characters of these narratives mirror one another’s actions. Old Testament kinsmen redeemers (relatives who cared for destitute family members) prefigured Christ when Boaz cared for Ruth, and Esther interceded for Mordecai (Ruth 2–4; Esther 2–9). On separate occasions, Jesus aroused anger by healing the man with the withered hand and the bent woman in a synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke 6:6–10, 13:10–17). Other Old Testament passages mirror New Testament texts. In the stories of the Queen of Sheba and Ethiopian eunuch, powerful foreigners, sought wisdom from the monotheistic faith of the Jews (2 Chron. 9:1–12; Acts 8:26–40). The Widow of Zarepheth and the widow with two mites each received commendation from Elijah and Jesus, respectively, for giving all they had (1 Kgs. 17:7–6; Matthew 12:42–43).The son of the Shunamite woman and the daughter of Jairus were raised from the dead at the pleading of a parent (2 Kgs. 4:1–27; Matthew 9:18–26). The community of faith was strengthened when Josiah heard God’s revelation from Huldah, the prophet, and when the disciples heard from Mary Magdalene that Christ had risen (2 Kgs. 22:11–23:3; John 20:10–18).
What difference can attention to the gender parity in these narratives make? After a series of Lenten sermons, a man confronted his minister for leaving Mary out. Embarrassed, the repentant clergyman thanked his parishioner for opening his eyes. We, too, can have our eyes opened to God’s concern for both men and women by attending more carefully to stories about them throughout Scripture. Note references to gender and any patterns of gender stereotyping or exclusion in family conversations, church practices, and teaching media. If there is a significant imbalance, gently remind the source that God’s word presents a more impartial representation, like those cited above. In being aware of the parallel stories of men and women in the Bible, we can raise awareness of the value our Lord has for both men and women throughout Scripture’s salvation story. This should lead us to give thanks for what this reveals about the Triune God of Christian worship—that God’s will calls upon both men and women to bring forth the fruit of the Kingdom.