Last year one of the largest Southern Baptist seminaries, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), in Louisville, Kentucky began a new core of programs for women married to pastors, which includes:
- The Seminary Wives Institute, “an innovative program designed to prepare the wives of seminary students for their role in their husbands’ ministries.”
- And the Women’s Ministry Institute, which “offers women the opportunity to improve their skills and ministry through a variety of classes geared toward women’s ministries in the local church” (www.sbts.edu).
Classes include housekeeping, budgeting, being your husband’s best friend, keeping an organized house, and sewing. There are “leadership” classes, but the brochure and class descriptions make it clear that this is leadership intended to be used exclusively in women’s and children’s ministry. The counseling classes make it clear that women are to counsel only other women — according to the Titus 2 model. My favorite class module was this one:
Redeeming the Time looks at setting goals and priorities but also tackles practical issues including day planners; handling paper, avoiding clutter; home management; housekeeping and kitchen organization. This course is aimed to challenge those who are already skilled in areas of organization as well as to motivate those who have room for vast improvement.
There is also a core of courses on homemaking. Classes include sewing, taking care of children, and cooking. Basically SBTS’s courses of study for women are degrees in home economics. There is a disturbing trend in evangelicalism that takes the family from the 1950s television show Leave It to Beaver, and elevates it to the “biblical model” of family. This means that for a woman to live in a way that is viewed as “biblical,” she must marry and must stay at home, raising children and taking care of the household. But does the Bible really support this?
In Genesis 1:26–28 (NRSV) we read:
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
Both man and woman are made in God’s image to rule and subdue the earth and to be fruitful and multiply. There are no spheres of influence. There is no “man’s work” and “woman’s work,” only our work. This continues to be true in Genesis 2 when God makes woman to be a “helper” or ezer to the man (Gen. 2:18). Outside of Genesis, ezer is used 20 times, most often in reference to God. In each of these instances, God is called on to be Israel’s “helper,” to help them overcome their enemies. God is called upon in this way because God has the power and the strength necessary to help the people. Three times ezer refers to human military aid that Judah or Israel calls upon to help them from another military power. Again we see that ezer refers to someone who has the power to help.
Then why do some insist that woman’s being an ezer to man means that women should be subordinate to men, and women’s judgement restricted to issues involving housekeeping and child-rearing? If anything, the biblical evidence supports her full participation in partnership with men, to carry out God’s commands to humanity. Woman, being made not only in God’s image, but also an ezer made in God’s image, is to be a powerful ally and partner for the man. She is a powerful helper to stand by his side and help him obey God’s commands to multiply, rule, and tend God’s creation. The woman was not created solely to be a wife and mother: She was created to work and rule with man, as well.
Let’s consider two women in the Bible—one in the Old Testament, and the other in the New Testament— both of whom worked and had families. In the Old Testament Deborah was a woman of power, and a leader. We are introduced to Deborah in Judges 4. She is a prophet and judge, and she leads Israel. The Israelite people come to her with their problems and disputes, and she mediates God’s will as Moses had once done (Exod. 18:13). She is married, but she is a working woman. God has called her to be a prophet and judge, and she has answered. When God commands Israel to go to battle with their enemy Sisera and the Canaanites, Deborah summons the military commander Barak, and tells him what God says. But Barak will not go into battle without God’s representative, Deborah. Both Barak and Deborah lead Israel’s armies into battle. Here we see a man and a woman working together to fight the people’s enemies and to obey God’s words and will. And we can reason that Deborah’s husband, Lappidoth (Judges 4:4), is probably a soldier in the army that is following his wife.
Deborah, Barak, and Lappidoth do not appear to be acting according to the societal constructs of their time or our time regarding what is masculine and feminine. They are obeying God and building God’s kingdom side by side. Leading men into a battle is not what many Christians today see as part of a woman’s role, but Deborah obeys God’s call to lead and protect her people. She is an ezer who images God in her every word and action.
The other woman I want to look at is Priscilla (or Prisca). Priscilla ran a business with her husband, Aquila. They made tents together. They worked in Corinth with Paul where they heard the gospel and were saved (Acts 18:1–3). Later the couple met Apollos who had heard only of John’s baptism. He had not heard of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately (v. 26). They also led a home church at the time of Paul’s letter to the Romans (Rom. 16:3–5). It was very odd during this time for a wife’s name to be mentioned before her husband’s, yet four times Priscilla appears before Aquila (Acts 18:18, 26; Rom. 16:3; 2 Tim. 4:19). Many scholars believe that she was the prominent one in ministry: the teacher and pastor of the churches that met in their home. She is mentioned first in leading Apollos’ theological education. (Acts 18:26). There are also scholars who believe she is the anonymous author of Hebrews.
Again we see a man and woman working side by side making a living and building God’s kingdom. There is no mention of what is considered masculine work, or what is considered feminine work. Women and men work together as the team God created them to be. We see this over and over again throughout the Bible: Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (Mic. 6:4); Josiah and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14–20), Jesus and the women who followed him (Luke 8:1–3); and Paul, Priscilla, Lydia (Acts 16:13–15, 40), and Phoebe (Rom. 16:1–2). God’s intention from the beginning was for men and women to work together to build God’s Kingdom, be a family, and work together to love God and each other.
Being made in the image of God, both male and female, has very little to do with modern notions of appropriate men’s and women’s roles. It has everything to do with faithfully imaging God to our world by obeying God’s callings on our lives and working together — both men and women — to build the kingdom of God on earth. As we encourage each other to use our God-given gifts and talents, and we work together to love all, feed the poor, show compassion and mercy to the marginalized, fight for justice, and proclaim the love of God in Christ, we faithfully image to our world what it means to be made male and female in the image of God.