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Amid many texts in the gospels that provide more lengthy interactions of women with Jesus, there are four brief stories, often overlooked, that express Jesus’ concern for women. Jesus provides healing or life, particularly for those in an unclean status, expressed through the language of the taboo. In the first three contexts, the person is in an unclean status either due to the loss of blood, having an unclean spirit, or being in the sphere of death. The last story notes the male objection of the synagogue official with respect to the time of the woman’s healing; she lives in the sphere of the unclean (“having an unclean spirit,” Luke 13:11) and is exorcised/healed “on the Sabbath.” In each situation, Jesus is unresponsive to the objections concerning religious and social taboos; he abrogates such distinctions and critiques. Read more
Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21–28 can be perplexing to contemporary Christians. Why does Jesus seem to put off, in an apparently callous manner, a woman whose desperate plea for her daughter’s healing touches the heart of any loving parent? Why does he appear to demean her by calling her a “dog”? This article will look at the interaction between the Canaanite woman and Jesus, examining the social and scriptural underpinnings of their encounter. Read more
I love teaching undergraduates. In spite of days when glazed eyes dampen my enthusiasm, there are those special moments, epiphany-like occasions, when out of the mouths of college students come questions and observations that make me pause and silently exclaim, “And I get paid for this!” Read more
As illustrated by Lydia and the other women at Philippi, many ancient women became devout believers in the new Way (Acts 16:13–15, 17:12; Luke 23:27). God gave these women different spiritual gifts in order to equip them for leadership in the church as ministers of the word and ministers of service. Read more
Whereas I see no need to defend, only to lament, the sexism of Christendom, I do think feminine Christians should think again about what Jesus himself taught. Jesus was a man. How did his maleness affect how he related to, and what he taught about, women? Read more
How should Christians approach gender studies from a view that is both psychologically and biblically informed? Let me explain some principles I have taken, mostly from the broadly Reformed theological tradition, about the appropriate use of Scripture as a whole, in the context of which I will try to show—in a selective fashion—how such principles get worked out in the writing and teaching I do, especially in gender studies.1 Read more
And by faith, Sarah, herself, a barren [woman], received power for the purpose of depositing sperm [by Abraham], even though [at] a time of mature age, since she considered faithful the one who promised.1                        —Hebrews 11:11 This past week, I learned that my friend Juliana gave birth to her first child, a beautiful son, whom she and her husband named Filip. She had not broadcast her pregnancy (even I did not know about it), but for good reason, I think: She did not want to get her hopes too high. Her first child had died in uterus, strangled by the umbilical cord. Read more
The patriarchal narratives of Genesis have long been read as paradigms of divine/human relationships. Abraham is often viewed as the exemplar of life in relationship with God, the man who follows God’s initiative, believes God’s promises, and is declared righteous as a result (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:1–25). Abraham’s departure from Haran can be read as “a paradigmatic test of faith,” while subsequent interactions with the Lord display “the human attitude toward the proffered salvation” that presents “in an exemplary and vivid fashion the activity and passivity of the person called.”1 Isaac and Jacob demonstrate, in different ways, God’s ability and faithfulness to continue and protect divine promises in the face of various challenges and detours. Jacob is “a work in progress—another of God’s reclamation projects” who “has done nothing to deserve God’s attention” but who nevertheless receives God’s presence and comfort.2 Read more
“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication with the women” (Acts 1:14). “They were all, with one accord, in one place” (Ch. 2:1). “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost and began to speak with other tongues” (Verse 4). “This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel…your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (verses 16-17). “On my servants and on my handmaidens will I pour out in those days of My Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (v. 18). “Philip had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy” (ch. 21:9). “Every man praying or prophesying having his head covered dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head.” (I Cor. 11:4,5) “Desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy” (I Cor. 14:1) “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort” (v. 3). “He that prophesieth edifieth the Church” (vs. 4).   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

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Book Review: Women Caught in Conflict

This book deals in depth with the rocky relationship between evangelicalism and feminism. The author believes it is no less than part of the "culture war" that replicates on a smaller scale what is going on in secular society.

Book Review: A Cord of Three Strands

This book, written by a woman on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ, makes a distinct contribution to the current literature on biblical teachings about men and women in the marriage relationship and as co-workers in the service of Christ. The title is taken from Ecclesiastes 4:12: "A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart." The three strands, in Wright's book, refers to man, woman and God.

The book is divided into two sections: the first discusses the marriage relationship; the second concerns how men and women can and should work together in Christian service.

Book Review: John Stackhouse Jr.'s Finally Feminist: A Pragmatic Christian Understanding of Gender

Finally Feminist is designed to speak to both sides of the gender debate within the evangelical church. Stackhouse attempts to affirm both sides with "a single, coherent paradigm that amounts finally to a Christian feminism" (10). The book grew out of a series of lectures given while the author was a visiting scholar at Taylor University (Indiana) and Acadia Divinity College in Nova Scotia. Only 144 pages, the book's discussion of gender is limited to the status and roles of women and men in church and family.

Book Review: Del Birkey's The Fall of Patriarchy

Del Birkey, an independent scholar and author of The House Church: A Model for Renewing the Church (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1988), has written a passionate, wide-ranging, and interesting book on the harmful power of patriarchy and its critique by Jesus and the apostles, representing the biblical truth of gender equality. Birkey published an article on patriarchy in the Spring 2000 issue of Priscilla Papers, which he says was the beginning of his work on this topic.

Book Review: Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation

Biblical feminists will be interested in a chapter co-authored by Helen V. Stehlin which appears in James Davison Hunter's new book (1987) Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation (University of Chicago Press). The chapter is entitled "Family: Toward Androgyny." Hunter's sociological study of evangelical college and seminary students surveys current attitudes regarding world, morality, self, theology, politics, and the family.

Book Review: Kari Torjesen Malcom's Building Your Family to Last

In July 2006, I welcomed the reprinting of this marriage classic. Kari Torjesen Malcolm is an expert on the subject of marriage and family. Born of a Norwegian missionary couple in China, Malcolm later served as a missionary to the Philippines for fifteen years with her husband and two children. Building Your Family to Last was written to help individuals build lasting families by putting Christ first in their lives (9). Christian married couples and single readers alike will find her message relevant, precise, provocative, and biblical.

Book Review: Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis's Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Heirarchy

The editors of this large volume of 515 pages have put together twenty-nine essays arranged under five headings: Setting the Stage (the Historical Backdrop); Looking to Scripture (the Biblical Texts); Thinking It Through (Logical and Theological Perspectives); Addressing the Issues (Hermeneutical and Cultural Perspectives); Living It Out (Practical Applications). All are scholarly presentations that are well documented and compellingly written by more than twenty contributors, three by contributing editor Gordon Fee.

Book Review: Steven R. Tracy's Mending the Soul: Understanding and Healing Abuse

Dr. Steven Tracy is the vice president of academic affairs and associate professor of theology and ethics at Phoenix Seminary. He and his wife founded the Door of Hope ministry, which provides training and resources for abuse healing ministry. Drawing upon his fifteen years of pastoral and counseling experience, the author uses illustrations from real cases and the Bible to provide practical advice on how to minister to abuse survivors.

Book Review: Marriage Made in Eden

Alice Mathews and M. Gay Hubbard write an extraordinary book about Christian marriage and family. The book's purpose is to explore God's perspective on marriage, an ancient view, for a postmodern world. Marriage Made in Eden is bursting with rich historical, cultural, sociological and biblical background on marriage. But the authors' unique contribution in advocating for strong, enduring Christian marriage is their belief that God's purpose for marriage is both to transform us as the people of God and to use us to witness God's amazing love and power to an unbelieving world.

Book Review: Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and Pauline Communities

I was very pleased to be asked to review Bruce Winter's book on women in first century Roman society and the Pauline churches. Bruce and I studied together at Moore Theological College in Sydney in the mid-1960s. He went on to complete a doctorate at Macquarie University, Sydney, and is now the warden at Tyndale House Cambridge. Bruce's scholarship shines through in this work. He is completely conversant with Greek and Latin texts from the first century and makes excellent use of them.

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