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Priscilla Papers

Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway, known for his concise language, once won a wager that he could tell a story in just six words. He then wrote on a napkin: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.” Whenever I share this story, invariably the audience fills in the gaps by positing a backstory which includes the baby’s death. One thing is clear—the story did not start at the beginning; it was told out of chronological order. Read more
The epistle to Philemon begins, “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker” (NRSV). Paul and Timothy then also address “Apphia the sister” (Apphia tē adelphē). Throughout the multitude of commentaries on Philemon, one struggles to find a helpful description of this mysterious woman. The standard volumes concerning the evangelical gender debate rarely mention Apphia, and both hierarchical and egalitarian perspectives have done little to explore her identity. Specifically, the lack of detailed research regarding Apphia’s status may be due to the fact that, unlike other women in the NT, she is not given a now-controversial title (cf. “deacon” in Rom 16:1–2 or “apostle” in Rom 16:7). Also potentially at play is the tendency of readers to miss something they are not looking for: because Apphia is not contested ground in the evangelical gender debate, it makes sense that a work exploring her identity has been missing. In contrast, most of the detailed work on Paul’s relationship with Apphia is not by evangelical scholars. Read more
Luke 1:46–55 is both a beautiful hymn sung to glorify God and an interpretive puzzle. This text, widely known as the Magnificat, is one of several songs Luke uses at a crucial moment in the birth narratives in order for characters to explain the amazing ways in which God is moving. Luke includes it in his narrative to foreshadow the ministry of reversal Jesus will bring, first to Israel and eventually to all people. It is a praise hymn made up of a combination of OT allusions—more specifically, allusions to the Greek translation of the OT commonly referred as the Septuagint and abbreviated LXX. What follows is a study of the LXX allusions that combine to make up this praise hymn—allusions which have the cumulative effect of presenting Mary as a key character in the continuation of God’s OT promises and plan. Read more
I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Phil 4:2–3 NRSV) Read more
“Tamar lived desolate in the house of her brother Absalom” (2 Sam 13:20). These words have given me both heartache and comfort. Heartache because I don’t want Tamar’s story to end this way. Comfort because Tamar’s desolation validates my own desolation. “Desolation” describes the barren woman, a desert wilderness, and the destruction of Jerusalem. Jerusalem’s desolation is described contrary to the creation account: formless and empty, dark, and isolated. To live desolate means to live lifeless, a common reality for those who suffer the impact of sexual abuse. Millions worldwide live in this reality: men and women, young and old, rich and poor. Even the daughter of King David. Read more
Biblical narratives of barren wives such as Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and the mother of Samson paint a picture of God’s sovereignty and faithfulness to fulfill promises to a burgeoning nation. In these narratives, the modern reader encounters polygyny and polycoity,1 wife rivalry, preferential treatment of certain wives and their children, and divorce, all of which are seemingly at odds with our biblical notions of marriage, divorce, and ethical treatment of others. Though scripture is mostly silent on the ramifications of barrenness, it is possible to look beyond the biblical witness to the broader ancient culture in order to understand its impact both on the women involved and society as a whole. Ancient legal, mythical, ritual, and medical records not only provide us with the broader cultural understanding of barrenness, but also, at times, mirror some of the personal and spiritual responses found in the biblical material. As a means of further understanding how this malady impacted ancient near eastern civilization, this article focuses on barrenness in legal records. Read more
From beginning to end, the story of Ruth captures the attention of the reader. Though a story of the ebb and flow of ancient human existence—famine and death, gleaning and feasting—the story and the character of Ruth have transcended these ordinary occurrences. Ruth contains many elements that make for good story—tragedy, conflict, romance, and redemption to name a few. This gripping story causes “the emotions of the reader to fluctuate between hope and despair until the very end when what began with multiple tragedies comes to a triumphant and happy conclusion.” Perhaps the evocative nature of the story contributes to the vastly different uses of this book and the character of Ruth. Dante calls her the “gleaner-maid, meek ancestress” of David; Bunyan casts her as Christina’s youthful companion Mercy; and Milton uses Ruth as the paradigm for a virtuous young lady. Indeed, the book of Ruth continues to be one of the most beloved among the OT scriptures. In four short chapters, the author draws the reader into the ancient Israelite experience and tells a delightful story of faithfulness and redemption. When compared with OT literature containing harsh denunciations and warnings for the Israelites regarding their conduct, Ruth’s simple tale describing a time when Israelite society functioned as God intended is refreshing. Read more
In the most famous chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, we find a litany of Israel’s faith heroes, punctuated by the repetitive phrase “by faith” (Heb. 11:1-38). This rhetoric device drives home the unmistakable theme of the chapter and creates the strong impression that faithful heroes are plentiful in Israel’s past. Chief among those heroes are Abraham and Moses, but brief attention is also given to the actions of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Isaac, and Jacob. Read more
What does it mean to be founders of a nation chosen by God? Power? Privilege? Pride? Jacob’s blessing of his first four sons, recorded in Genesis 49:1-12, paints a different picture of God’s ideal. This article will trace themes of alienation and identification to show that the integrity of the sons of Israel is challenged and ultimately identified by the voice—or the lack of voice—of a grieving concubine (Gen. 35:16-22), a disgraced sister (Gen. 34), and a widowed daughter-in-law (Gen. 38). Read more
When God speaks in the Bible, it is with authority—and this is no less the case when God speaks through women. Sometimes it is privately through ordinary women like the matriarch Rebekah (Gen. 25:25) or the young woman Mary of Nazareth (Luke 1:26-38). Elsewhere, women serve as public heralds of Israel’s deliverance (Ps. 68:11, Isa. 40:9), and later of Christ’s resurrection (Matt. 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-18, Luke 24:1-12, John 24:1-12). In the book of Proverbs, the very wisdom of God is personified as a woman who calls the foolish to repentance and the wise to obedience. She also provides an idealized model for a person of wisdom as the “woman of valor” in the poem that King Lemuel’s mother taught him (Prov. 31). And throughout biblical history, the official “thus saith the Lord” of the prophets is heard through courageous women like Miriam in the exodus from Egypt (Exod. 15:20-21,Mic. 6:4), Deborah during the era of the judges (Judg. 4-5), Huldah at the time of the kingdom’s fall (2 Kings 22:14-20, 2 Chron. 34:22-28), as well as the New Testament examples of Anna (Luke 2:36), Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:9), the unnamed women who prayed and prophesied at Corinth (1 Cor. 11), and the prophesying daughters of Israel in the last days announced by the prophet Joel (Joel 2) and celebrated by the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17). Read more

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Book Review: The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity

The terms “page turner” and “doctrine of the Trinity” would not often be found in the same sentence, but they are appropriate in the case of Kevin Giles’s most recent book on the issue. I found this five-chapter account of a recent theological dispute absolutely riveting, even though I already knew how it would end! It is an extraordinary story, told by a major player in the drama.

Book Review: Building Your Family to Last

The secret of building families to last is found in Kari's emphasis on parents modelling the Christian life before their children. If the mother and father— who are responsible before God for what happens in the home—are not walking with God, and not walking in harmony with each other before God, how can they become models to their children? Hence this modelling has to start with choosing a life partner with the same foundation in life and faith and loving obedience to Jesus Christ.

Book Review: Is God the Only Reliable Father?

This small, highly provocative book by a staff associate for the General Assembly Mission Board, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has surprising premises and conclusions, worthy of the careful attention of pastors and serious students of the Bible. Tennis pleads with readers not to abandon the imagery and language of God the Father. Her conclusion is not surprising—but some of her reasons are.

Book Review: Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity

The four-volume Dictionary of Daily Life in Biblical and Post-Biblical Antiquity (DDL) provides a well-rounded overview of life not only across time periods but also across the several cultures of the biblical world. Thirty-three scholars, including editors Edwin M. Yamauchi (Professor Emeritus of History at Miami University) and Marvin R. Wilson (Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Gordon College), have contributed to the DDL.

Book Review: Gender Roles and the People of God

Theologian and author Alice Mathews recently said in a Christianity Today interview with Hannah Anderson, “Satan knows that if he can keep women out of service, in the church and in the world, he will have won an enormous victory.” Mathews’s most recent book, Gender Roles and the People of God, takes back some of the territory gained by the enemy.

Book Review: Emboldened: A Vision for Empowering Women in Ministry

Walter Brueggemann dedicates his seminal work, The Prophetic Imagination: “For my sisters in ministry who teach me daily about the power of grief and the gift of amazement.” As he describes the grief and amazement that together shape the prophetic imagination, he also describes the story of many women in ministry—lamenting what is broken in themselves, the church, and the world while also imagining what can be.

Book Review: The New Perspective on Mary and Martha

Recently, as I was listening to a Christian radio station, the female announcer shared that she was feeling guilty about her busy life. She made reference to the biblical “story of Mary and Martha,” typically feeling at fault because she was not taking ample time to “sit at Jesus’ feet” properly. She went on to say that Martha had it wrong because she was more concerned about her chores than she was about being in the presence of the Lord. These two sisters are examples, one positive and one negative.

Book Review: The Message of Women: Creation, Grace and Gender

As part of the “Bible Themes” series within the larger The Bible Speaks Today collection of Bible commentaries and themes, The Message of Women is an exposition rather than a detailed commentary. It explores the life of women in Old Testament times and in the life of Jesus and the subsequent life of the early church. Without actually saying what is suggested by the title of their work, Derek and Dianne Tidball find a message for the twenty- first century church.

Book Review: Her Story: Autobiographical Portraits of Early Methodist Women

Reading Her Own Story is like looking through an ancient, rusty trunk in your great-grandmother’s attic and finding, hidden under yellowing linens and fading daguerreotypes, the journals of a forgotten female relative. The journals make this unheard-of kinswoman come to life in such a way that you feel you know her intimately. She writes of her spiritual journey in all of its joy, splendor, pain, and frustration.

Book Review: Equal to Serve

When I attended the last Sydney Diocesan Synod I was aware that events outside the Chapter House were frequently of greater interest than those inside that hallowed structure. One of the exciting extramural activities was the visit of Mrs.G.G. Hull who spoke lucidly and informatively on the subject of the role of women in the church.

What Mrs. Hull said on that occasion is available on tape from the Anglican Radio Unit and is expanded in this book. The book has as its subtitle, ''Women and Men in the Church and Home".

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