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Priscilla Papers

Nineteenth-century England experienced a significant period of transition with cultural influences, reflected by Enlightenment thinking, shifting to include romantic tendencies. One of the growing evangelical developments that included the latter was the focus on the “deeper Christian life,” or the Keswick movement, which officially began in 1875. Jessie Penn-Lewis came to prominence in speaking, writing, and furthering this movement on an international basis. Her primary focus was on the impact of the cross in gaining victory over sin. Besides being a well-known woman teacher/preacher, she distinguished her mission further by putting in print her biblical rationale for her call to preach. The influence of her writing continues today, especially in the area of spiritual warfare. Read more
In 1664, a young Puritan minister named John Cotton Jr. was found guilty of “lascivious unclean practices with three women.”1 Mr. Cotton was a Harvard graduate, a descendant of well-respected parents, and a husband and father. As a punishment for his sinful deeds, English officials in Massachusetts forced Cotton to give up his pastorate of a local church. The question was, what could he do to support Joanna, his wife, and their children? Puritan leaders found the answer in an unlikely place: Martha’s Vineyard. For many years, members of the Mayhew family had labored as missionaries on the island, trying to teach local Indians about Christianity. The Mayhews needed help, and John Cotton Jr. was sufficiently qualified, in the eyes of the English at least, to preach to Indians. So, in 1666, John Cotton Jr. began a long missionary career on both Martha’s Vineyard and in the town of Plymouth. In many respects, his legacy lasted beyond his death, for his two sons, Josiah and Roland Cotton, preached to Indians in Massachusetts long after their father was gone.2 Other scholarly works have examined male members of the Cotton family and how they interacted with Native Americans.3 In this article, however, I wish to explore the experiences of Joanna Cotton, a wife and mother of missionaries in colonial America. In particular, I will explore the extent to which Joanna fell in line with expectations regarding gender roles in colonial New England. These roles typically involved a degree of female subordination to males. Read more
Sometimes obscured by the reputation of her mentor Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Clare was an innovator and hero of the faith in her own right. While initially inspired by the convictions and teaching of Francis, Clare went on to develop her own wisdom in interpreting the Franciscan life, as seen in the distinctive guidelines she wrote for living the monastic life. Her drive to live out her ideals led her into conflict with family and with popes. Read more
What we know of Nympha as a person springs primarily from two small verses written by Paul about AD 58 to 60: “Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house. After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea” (Col 4:15–16). The quotation still leaves questions. We do not have a letter written at this stage either to or from Laodicea, though we do have John’s letter to Laodicean believers in his Revelation more than twenty years later (Rev 3:14–22). Today, Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis (then a bustling Roman spa town because of its natural hot water springs and white silica terraces) are uninhabited ruins not far from one another in a broad valley. Tourists stay at modern Pamukkale down the slope from Hierapolis, where excavations reveal the Roman town. The modern museum in Hierapolis has many exhibits from Roman times, and modern tourists have stepped barefoot across the beautiful white silica terraces. Earthquakes have damaged the terraces, too. There was an earthquake in AD 60, perhaps shortly after the mention of Nympha in the letter to Colossae. Read more
If one were seeking nominations for a leadership position, Mary of Bethany, as judged by human criteria for leadership, would not likely be a person to get the nod. Faced with the death of her brother in John 11, she appears to be overcome by nearly catatonic sorrow. Upon approaching Jesus, she falls at his feet and mouths words identical to those with which her sister had greeted him moments before: “Jesus, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (11:32). Her more vocal sister is the one who takes command of the situation; Martha anticipates Jesus’ entry into the village and approaches him without waiting to be called. In the face of tragedy, she maintains the necessary composure to engage in a theological discussion that eventually results in Jesus’ “I am” statement. Martha’s confession is held up as the equivalent of Peter’s confession in the Synoptics and John’s purpose statement in 20:31. Likewise, in Luke 10:38–42, according to the traditional interpretation, no words come from Mary, apparently setting a positive example by her actions alone. Martha aggressively pursues Jesus for a solution to her sister’s absence and asks Jesus to intervene. Readers of both gospels may conflate the characterization of the sisters as they are portrayed in each book. If Martha is the outgoing and vocal sister in Luke, then that is the expected personality in John, and because Mary is visualized as silent in Luke, sitting passively at Jesus’ feet, she is characterized as the more devout of the two in John.1 If a reader is looking for a leader by drawing upon both Luke and John, again one can safely assume it would be Martha. Yet, Jesus twice commends Mary’s behavior (Luke 10:42; John 12:7). Consistently over many centuries of Christian interpretation, Mary is repeatedly held up as the sister to be emulated. What kind of example is Jesus extolling for women? Could it be possible that “silent leadership”—by actions only, but otherwise without voice or opinion—is the illustration of leadership that Jesus recommends for women and the best use of their gifts? After reading many commentaries, devotions, and sermons on Luke 10:38–42, I am particularly discomforted by conclusions that set the sisters against each other with the eventual “good and bad” result. The lesson taught is invariably, “Be more like Mary and less like Martha.” One woman is raised up at the expense of the other. These results are then inevitably carried over into the sisters’ appearance in John 11, but are rarely examined in the haste to get to the miraculous sign: the raising of Lazarus. The story seems to be about the male characters, with the sisters’ roles barely noticed, unless it is to point out again, “Mary got it right.” Many such dissonances launched a journey that resulted in my writing on the identity of Mary of Bethany. I started my research with particular interest in uncovering any additional information about who she was and her behavior that Jesus actually commended. This topic was narrowed down to study specifically her narrative function through the lens of narrative criticism. My journey to uncover the mystery of Mary led to the discovery of two leaders, both approved and promoted by Jesus. Can leadership be found in surprising places, in unlikely humans (female), hidden in the shadow of a more momentous event? I will pursue the premise that Jesus commissioned both sisters to demonstrate equally valid and essential leadership to make the result of his final sign most effective. The sisters together are ministering to different “flocks,” demonstrating “good and good.” Together, they make access to Jesus’ greatest statements of his identity available to the maximum possible number of followers. To begin, if we strip away the “sister versus sister” preconception brought by earlier interpreters to the study of both Luke and John, whole new lessons begin to emerge. There are several subtle hints in John’s text of more taking place in their individual interactions with Jesus than was immediately apparent. The main tool I am applying to the text is narrative criticism, also known as literary criticism, which focuses on a close reading of the surface structure of a text. R. Alan Culpepper notes that narrative criticism is an inductive method where the interpreter works from observation of the text being studied.2 This criticism was adapted to the study of biblical texts from the secular study of literature. Narrative criticism addresses the literary devices used by the author to create the desired effect on the reader.3 The critic looks at the unified text in its final form and reads holistically.4 Of particular interest in this narrative are plot, timing, movement, theme, motifs, repetition, and development of characters.   Read more
Writing a commentary on one book of the Bible is a serious responsibility—not to mention three books. So, when Aída, my wife, was given that opportunity, we shook out our savings from under every mattress, so as to say, and the whole family went to the island of Crete where Paul sent Titus so long ago to nurture the fledgling church. Our son Steve, who is in media productions, took 1,400 pictures and did the driving. I edited what Aída had written so far on her manuscript (which was considerable) while she took copious notes on what she needed in each spot to enlighten more obscure parts of the texts of the pastorals. We had our team. Read more
Jewels come in unexpected settings. Take Corinth in ancient Greece: more rock than mineral. Rocks piled into rude temples to designer gods. Rocks hewn out with curved grooves where heads were laid so necks could be severed. Rocks scattered down, a Roman highway to bring in refugees from across the world. Rocks propped up for businesses—and in one of these three diamonds glowed. These were not the jewels of vain display, but industrial diamonds, hard tools for work­­—three gems brought in from two other settings, shining with the pastel hue of otherworldly mystic Judaism and bright with the golden brocade of this-worldly Imperial Rome. Read more
A woman must quietly receive instruction with all submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was first deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. (1 Tim 2:11–14 NASB)  Among theological conservatives, the 1 Timothy 2 passage is pivotal in determining the role of women in the church. For today’s “traditionalists,” this passage mandates the subordination of women to men in the church because the headship/submission principle is grounded in the created order, an order that Christianity redeems, but does not alter. Today’s traditionalists/male hierarchists also claim to be upholding the historic interpretation of this passage. New research on early Protestant beliefs concerning natural law and the spiritual and civil kingdoms, however, brings their claim into serious question.  Read more
Even if the New Testament identified by name many men and no women as local church officers—in particular, elders, overseers, or pastors—this would not logically exclude women from local church leadership. After all, the New Testament does not name any Gentile men with those titles either. Does this exclude them from those leadership positions? Read more
“Skip a meal, if you must, but buy this book!” That was the professorial exhortation eager students would take to heart when I was in seminary. In those days before personal computers and the various BibleWorks-type programs, the most precious of such must-buy books were the reference books. Read more

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Book Review: Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World

I am in a unique position. I am a woman who leads a men’s group. After years of leading an identity formation group for women, I was asked to create a similar process for men. While developing the curriculum, I was hard-pressed to find material that was not complementarian, or that did not rely heavily on archetypal models to frame a man’s identity. Because I wanted the curriculum to be rooted in the biblical story and the imago Dei, I searched for resources that provided a biblical framework for a male identity. I never quite found what I was looking for—until Malestrom.

Book Review: The Cross and Gendercide: A Theological Response to Global Violence Against Women and Girls

The media has in recent years given increasing attention to global violence toward women and girls. In 2012, the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject) went to Saving Face, which focuses upon survivors of acid attacks in Pakistan. In October 2014, Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani teenager, became the youngest ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate for her activism on behalf of young people (especially girls) denied access to education. Another past Nobel Peace Prize laureate, former US President Jimmy Carter, has also committed himself to activism on behalf of subjugated women.

An Extended Review of One God in Three Persons: Unity of Essence, Distinction of Persons, Implications for Life

Wayne Grudem says that for twenty-five years he has believed that how the Trinity is understood “may well turn out to be the most decisive factor in finally deciding” the bitter debate between evangelicals about the status and ministry of women.1 This is encouraging to hear, because Grudem and many of his fellow complementarians have got the doctrine of the Trinity completely wrong.

Book Review: Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood

Nate Pyle is a pastor in Fishers, Indiana. His recent book, Man Enough, tackles the question of biblical gender roles from a fresh perspective. His offering is the latest in the recent influx of gender studies in the “spiritual memoir” genre. While authors like Rachel Held Evans (A Year of Biblical Womanhood, 2012) or Sarah Bessey (Jesus Feminist, 2013) have provided important insights on the ongoing complementarian versus egalitarian debate, they have commented largely on how this debate has affected women.

Finding Their Voices: Sermons by Women in the Churches of Christ

D’Esta Love is no stranger to writing and editing; as co-editor of the Pepperdine University based ministry journal, Leaven, she has often encouraged the ministry of other women.1 She is also no stranger to “finding her voice.” In the introduction to Finding Their Voices, Love reflects on the number of years she waited for the opportunity to preach in her own heritage, in a Church of Christ (she was seventy years old).

Wild at Heart: Essential Reading or “Junk Food of the Soul”?

It seems a discussion of masculinity can scarcely commence at Gordon College without mention of John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, a book enthusiastically endorsed by Christians nationwide. Many would agree with writer Charles Swindoll, who calls Wild at Heart “the best, most insightful book I have read in at least the last five years” (Eldredge, i). Eldredge’s immense popularity, however, must not be allowed to disguise the fact that his suggestions are often incongruent with the teachings of Jesus.

Book Review: Scars Across Humanity: Understanding and Overcoming Violence Against Women

I have read nothing quite like Elaine Storkey’s book, Scars Across Humanity. It tells the story of violence against women in today’s world. The book is very well researched and accessible; moreover, it is spine-chilling. As I sat with the book in hand after reading it I felt both pleased that someone had so powerfully told this awful story and depressed by what I had read.

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