According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Friday, June 8, 2012

Discussing Christian Mutuality, Adam and Eve, and the Biblical Role Model for Men and Women




Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

by Rachel Held Evans
June 4, 2012


This is the first post in our series, One In Christ: A Week of Mutuality, dedicated to discussing an egalitarian view of gender—including relevant biblical texts and practical applications. The goal is to show how scripture, tradition, reason, and experience all support a posture of equality toward women, one that favors mutuality rather than hierarchy, in the home, Church, and society.

***

Perhaps no text has been as revered, debated, discussed, and misunderstood as the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 Regardless of how you interpret these stories, their effect on our culture and our psyche, particularly as they relate to our views of gender, cannot be overstated.

The tradition of appealing to the creation narrative to make universal statements about the nature of man and woman is a longstanding one. Genesis 1 and 2 have been mined and manipulated and used as ammunition in debates about everything from science to gender roles to Christology to epidurals. So while we have to be careful of reading too much into the text, we simply cannot talk about God and gender without addressing the famous story of Adam and Eve.

Male and female, created in the image of God...

“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.”
– Genesis 1:27

In the first creation account—Genesis 1—the author makes a point of noting that, in the beginning, both male and female are created in the image of God. Here we often make the connection that both masculine and feminine aspects of God’s creation must therefore be reflections of God’s character, a point that is echoed throughout Scripture as God is poetically depicted as both Father and Mother, seamstress and warrior, compassionate (from the feminine rehem, for womb) and just.

But to be “created in the image of God” carries significant leadership implications as well. In the ancient Near Eastern world, kings were considered divine image-bearers, appointed representatives of God on earth. Kings would often place images of themselves, usually statues, in distant parts of their kingdoms to remind their subjects of their sovereignty over the land. So for man and woman to be God’s image-bearers in this context, means that God has entrusted both men and women with ruling the world on God’s behalf. “Let us make humankind in our image,” God says, “according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish,...birds, cattle,...all the wild animals...every creeping thing.”

As Daniel Kirk has noted, “The kind of rule God has in mind is not a ‘masculine’ rule, but a masculine plus feminine, male plus female, rule. Only this kind of shared participation in representing God’s reign to the world is capable of doing justice to the God whose image we bear.”

(Additional Resources: “Genesis 1-3” by Allison Young, The Evolution of Adam by Peter Enns, Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy edited by Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothius, “Biblical Proofs for the Feminine Face of God in Scripture” by Mike Morrell, “Gender Blind” by Mimi Haddad)

What “helpmeet” really means...

“It is not good for the man to be alone.
I will make a helper suitable for him.”
– Genesis 2:18

In the second Creation account of Genesis, after God formed man from the dust of the earth and placed him in the garden of Eden, God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (2:18).

The phrase “helper suitable,” rendered “help meet” in the King James Version, comes from a combination of the words ezer and kenegdo. Far from connoting subjugation, the Hebrew term ezer, or “helper,” is employed elsewhere in Scripture to describe God, the consummate intervener—the helper of the fatherless (Psalm 10:14), King David’s helper and deliverer (Psalm 70:5), Israel’s shield and helper (Deuteronomy 33:29). Ezer appears twenty-one times in the Old Testament—twice in reference to the first woman, three times in reference to nations to whom Israel appealed for military support, and sixteen times in reference to God as the helper of Israel. The word evokes both benevolence and strength, and is a popular name for Jewish boys, both in the Bible and in modern times.

In Genesis 2, ezer is combined with the word kenegdo to mean something like “a helper of the same nature,” or a corresponding character. Kenegdo literally means “as in front of him,” suggesting that the ezer of Genesis 2 is Adam’s perfect match, the yin to his yang, the water to his fire—you get the idea. Everything about this descriptor implies mutuality and harmony, and it provides us with a lovely glimpse of what a sinless relationship between a man and a woman might look like, the picture of a true partnership. This reality is reflected in Adam’s reaction to God’s creation of woman. He responds with “ishshah!” a play on words, which basically means, “Wow, this one is like me!” (Interesting note: The woman of the creation narrative is not called Eve until after the Fall.)

Unfortunately, all the color of its original meaning is lost in many translations of ezer kenegdo. After the King James Version rendered the two words “help meet,” poet John Dryden came along and hyphenated them, describing his wife as his tireless “help-meet.” Over time, the expression bled into “helpmeet,” an independent term applied exclusively to the role of wives to their husbands, and to this day, the myth that Genesis 2 relegates wives to the status of subordinate assistants persists, as is painfully evidenced by (complementarian) Debi Pearl’s book, Created to Be His Help Meet, which has sold more than 200,000 copies since its publication in 2004...(and which I threw across the living room a total of seven times while reading it for research.)

“God didn’t create Adam and Eve at the same time and then tell them to work out some compromise on how they would each achieve their personal goals in a cooperative endeavor,” writes Pearl. “God gave [Eve] to Adam to be his helper, not his partner.” According to Pearl, God set up a “chain of command,” that places women under the direct authority of their husbands. “You are not on the board of directors with an equal vote,” she says. “You have no authority to set the agenda. . . . Start thinking and acting as though your husband is the head of the company and you are his secretary.”

This popular complementarian interpretation of Genesis 2 is based on a poor translation of ezer kenegdo, one that fails massively to capture the spirit of the Hebrew text.

(Additional resources: Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James, Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, editors Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis.)

Hierarchy happens after the Fall...

“Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you. ”
– Genesis 3:16

It is unclear how long our heroic pair revels in this state of divine symmetry, naked and unashamed, before everything falls apart. But at some point a villain appears, promising a better life should they defy the Creator’s single stipulation and eat from the mysterious tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They eat, and immediately feel shame. The man blames the woman, the woman blames the serpent, but God holds all three accountable for the act. As punishment, the serpent must slink through life on its belly in the dirt, and man must toil against stubborn, inhospitable land until his death. To woman belongs pain in childbirth and the grief of being dominated by men.

“Your desire will be for your husband,” God tells the woman “[but] he will rule over you” (v. 16).

With ezer kenegdo properly translated, we see that there are no explicit statements revealing a hierarchal relationship between man and woman until after the event that Christians have come to call “The Fall.” While mankind is clearly assigned dominion over plants and animals, no similar dominion had existed between man and woman. William Webb notes that in ancient Near Eastern literature, including Scripture, “when the blessing/curse formulas assign status, they generally initiate a change in status different from what the person formally held. Applying this finding to Genesis 3:16 would suggest that the woman’s former status was not one of the man ruling over the woman. Before the Fall, they were equals; after the Fall, he rules over her.” So it is within the context of judgment, not creation, that hierarchy and subjugation enter the Bible’s story of man and woman. Where there was once mutuality, there is subjugation. Where there was once harmony, there is a power-struggle.

Regardless of whether one interprets the Genesis account historically or metaphorically, it is clear that the world indeed suffers from the consequences of men dominating women. Worldwide, women ages fifteen to forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined. At least 3 million women and girls are enslaved in the sex trade, and a woman dies in childbirth every minute. This has been going on for a long time, and the writer of the Genesis account calls it for what it is: a tragedy, an example of our collective brokenness and our desperate need for redemption.

The question that Christians have to answer, then, is this: Do we want to be people who perpetuate this brokenness by insisting on the continued subjugation of women, or do we want to be people who, however imperfectly, attempt to model the harmony of Eden and our hope of paradise restored?
I think the answer is pretty clear.


A quick note about Paul and Genesis...

We will be discussing the Apostle Paul’s words about women later in the series, but it’s worth noting here that when first-century rabbis like Jesus and Paul allude to the stories of the Torah, including the creation accounts, they are not participating in “straight exegesis” as we would understand it today. Rather, their creative interpretations of the text are influenced by the hermeneutical conventions of Second Temple Judaism, which allow for quite a bit of “play” with the narrative texts. (Anyone who has spent time studying midrash will know exactly what I’m talking about.)

Thus, in the epistles, we encounter some rather confusing connections between the creation narrative and, for example, why the women of Corinth must cover their heads (1Corinthians 11) and why the women at Ephesus must remain silent in church (1 Timothy 2:9-15).

Much more could be said about this, but it’s important to simply note here that, in the words of Peter Enns, “Paul does not feel bound by the original meaning of the Old Testament passage he is citing, especially as he seeks to make a vital theological point about the gospel.” Paul often uses Adam and Eve as a way of “appropriating an ancient story to address pressing concerns of the moment.” So, in other words, when Paul refers to the creation narratives, he isn’t proof texting. Rather, he is calling upon ancient, inspired, and familiar images to make a connection between the everyday and the holy. This can make interpreting Paul a real challenge for modern readers, (1 Corinthians 11 is a real doozy), but his approach fits right in with the interpretive methods of his day.

(Additional resources: The Evolution of Adam by Peter Enns)

***

So, what do you think? How have you seen the creation accounts misinterpreted and misapplied when it comes to gender?

What additional observations would you add regarding Genesis 1-3? What questions linger?


 

Biblical Submission in Context: Christ and the Greco-Roman Household Codes


'Statues 3' photo (c) 2008, Jason Ralston - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Submission in Context: Christ and the Greco-Roman Household Codes

by Rachel Held Evans
June 5, 2012

This is the third post in our series, One In Christ: A Week of Mutuality, dedicated to discussing an egalitarian view of gender—including relevant biblical texts and practical applications. The goal is to show how scripture, tradition, reason, and experience all support a posture of equality toward women, one that favors mutuality rather than hierarchy, in the home, Church, and society. Morning posts will generally focus on biblical texts. Afternoon posts will generally focus on practical application. (Check out the first post, Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?, and the second post, 4 Common Misconceptions About Egalitarianism)

***

"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."
—Ephesians 5:21

When I started pitching my book proposal for A Year of Biblical Womanhood to publishers, I originally titled the book “A Year of Living Submissively.” My agent and I quickly learned that this title was not doing us any favors, that the word “submission” had a special way of triggering rather heated responses in publishing house board rooms across the country. We promptly changed the title to something a little less polarizing...(though with the popularity of the "50 Shades of Grey" series, I'm wondering if we might want to go back.)

I used to hate talking about submission too. I hated how that word was used—along with proof texts from Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, and 1 Peter 3—to put Christian women “in their place,” as subordinates to their husbands. But that was before I studied the context of the epistles to the early Church, before I learned about the Greco-Roman Household Codes and Peter and Paul’s radical Christian remix that often passes unnoticed by modern readers.

Household Codes: The Anchor of the Greco-Roman World

Growing up evangelical, I learned to do inductive Bible study before I learned to balance an equation. And one of the most useful tips for inductive Bible reading goes something like this: When you bump into the word therefore while reading the Bible, it is wise to ask yourself, “What is the ‘therefore’ there for?” This usually sends you turning back a few pages to get the full context of the passage and a better sense of what the author is trying to say. The same applies to other conjunctive adverbs, such as “however,” “likewise,” “also,” “finally,” and “for example.”

So, several years ago, as I was looking at one of the three Bible verses that instruct wives to submit to their husbands—the one from 1 Peter that says, “Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands” (3:1)—my inductive Bible study skills kicked in, and I dutifully looked back a few verses to see what Peter meant by “in the same way.”

To my surprise, the preceding paragraph had nothing to do with the relationship between men and women, but was instead about the relationship between masters and slaves!

“Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters,” Peter wrote, “not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh . . . Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands” (1 Peter 2:18; 3:1, emphasis mine).

A little more research revealed that all three of the passages that instruct wives to submit to their husbands are either preceded or followed by instructions for slaves to submit to their masters. Right after the apostle Paul encouraged Ephesian wives to submit to their husbands as they would to Christ, and Ephesian husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, he instructed Ephesian slaves to “obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ” (Ephesians 6:5). The pattern repeats itself again in his letter to the Colossians, where Paul wrote:

Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. . . . Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven. (3:18–22; 4:1)

The implications of this pattern are astounding. For if Christians are to use these passages to argue that a hierarchal relationship between man and woman is divinely instituted and inherently holy, then, for consistency’s sake, they must also argue the same for the relationship between master and slave.

I kept digging, and as it turns out, Peter and Paul were putting a Christian spin on what their readers would have immediately recognized as the popular Greco-Roman “household codes.”

As far back as the fourth century BC, philosophers considered the household to be a microcosm, designed to reflect the hierarchal structure of the society, the gods, and ultimately the universe. Aristotle wrote that “the smallest and primary parts of the household are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children.” First-century philosophers Philo and Josephus included the household codes in their writings as well, arguing that a man’s authority over his household was critical to the success of a society. Many Roman officials believed the household codes to be such an important part of Pax Romana that they passed laws ensuring its protection.

Biblical passages about wives submitting to their husbands are not, as many Christians assume, rooted in a culture epitomized by June Cleaver’s kitchen, but in a culture epitomized by the Greco-Roman household codes, which gave men unilateral authority over their wives, slaves, and adult children. As Sharyn Dowd has observed, the apostles “advocated this system not because God had revealed it as the divine will for Christian homes, but because it was the only stable and respectable system anyone knew about. It was the best the culture had to offer.” (Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, Women's Bible Commentary: Expanded Edition - Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press - 1998, p. 463)

And with Roman officials looking for every excuse to imprison Christians, to challenge the codes would bring even more unwanted scrutiny to the early Church.

The question modern readers have to answer is whether the Greco-Roman household codes reflected upon in Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Peter are in and of themselves holy and divinely instituted, or if their appearance in Scripture represents the early church’s attempt to blend Christianity and culture in such a way that it would preserve the dignity of adherents while honoring prevailing social and legal norms of the day. The Christian versions of the household codes were clearly progressive for their time (more on that in a minute), but does that mean they have the last word, that Christians in changing places and times cannot progress further?

...Don’t forget that these same household codes were used by many Americans during the Civil War era to justify their owning of slaves.

I’ve honestly never encountered a complementarian response to this question that I find satisfactory. This, to me, is one of the greatest ironies of the complementarian/egalitarian debate. Complementarians often accuse egalitarians of allowing cultural norms to shape their views of gender roles. But in this case, it is the complementarians who have given culture—that of the Greco-Roman familial structure—the final word.

But what about the fact that Paul compares the submission of the wife to her husband to the relationship between Christ and the Church?

Household Codes: The Radical Christian Remix

Here’s where it gets really cool: While following a similar organizational structure, the household codes found in the Bible’s epistles differ significantly from the household codes found in the pagan literature of the day. In a sense, they present us with a sort of Christian remix of Greco-Roman morality that attempts to preserve the apostle Paul’s earlier teaching that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Where typical Greco-Roman household codes required nothing of the head of household regarding fair treatment of subordinates, Peter and Paul encouraged men to be kind to their slaves, to be gentle with their children, and, shockingly, to love their wives as they love themselves. Furthermore, the Christian versions of the household codes are the only ones that speak directly to the less powerful members of the household—the slaves, wives, and children—probably because the church at the time consisted of just such powerless people.

To dignify their positions, Peter linked the sufferings of slaves to the suffering of Christ and likened the obedience of women to the obedience of Sarah (1 Peter 2:18–25; 3:1–6). Paul encourages slaves and women to submit the head of the household as “unto the Lord,” reminding both slaves and their masters that they share a heavenly Master who shows no partiality in bestowing eternal inheritance (Ephesians 5:22; 6:5).

“When addressing those without power,” notes Peter H. Davids, the apostle Peter “does not call for revolution, but upholds the values of the culture insofar as they do not conflict with commitment to Christ. He then reframes their behavior by removing it from the realm of necessity and giving it a dignity, either that of identification with Christ or of identification with the ‘holy women’ of Jewish antiquity.” (Peter H. Davids, “A Silent Witness in Marriage” in Discovering Biblical Equality, eds. Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis - Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2005- p, 238.)

I cannot overstate the degree to which this remix—in which masters are reminded that they too have a heavenly master—would have been radical in the ancient world. And this is important: Peter and Paul’s use of metaphor (the husband is like Christ, the wife is like the Church, suffering slaves are like the suffering Christ) is not meant to universalize or glorify the household codes themselves but rather the *attitudes* of those functioning within the hierarchal systems of the day. Again, we cannot argue that the Greco-Roman hierarchal relationship between husbands and wives is divinely instituted without arguing the same about the Greco-Roman hierarchal relationship between slaves and masters. (See especially 1 Peter 2:18-23, where Peter provides an extended metaphor comparing slaves to Christ.)

Furthermore, if you look close enough, you can detect the rumblings of subversion beneath the seemingly acquiescent text. It is no accident that Peter introduced his version of the household codes with a riddle—“Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves” (1 Peter 2:16 UPDATED NIV)—or that Paul began his with the general admonition that Christians are to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21; emphasis added). It is hard for us to recognize it now, but Peter and Paul were introducing the first Christian family to an entirely new community, a community that transcends the rigid hierarchy of human institutions, a community in which submission is mutual and all are free.

Household Codes: In Christ's Crazy, Upside-Down Kingdom

For Christians, the presence of the Household Codes in Scripture must be considered in light of Jesus, who made a habit of turning hierarchy on its head.

When his disciples argued amongst themselves about who would be greatest in the kingdom, Jesus told them that “anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35).
In speaking to them about authority he said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25–28).

This aspect of Jesus’ legacy profoundly affected relationships in the early church, to whom Paul wrote: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5–8).

In the biblical narrative, hierarchy enters human relationship as part of the curse, and begins with man’s oppression of women—“your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). But with Christ, hierarchal relationships are exposed for the sham that they are, as the last are made first, the first are made last, the poor are blessed, the meek inherit the earth, and the God of the universe takes the form of a slave.

What’s great about the Christian remix of the Greco-Roman household codes is that, when put into practice, it blurs the hierarchal lines between husband and wife, master and slave, adult parent and adult child. If wives submit to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:24), and if husbands love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25), and if both husbands and wives submit one to another (Ephesians 5:21)—who’s really “in charge” here?

No one.

Such a relationship could only be characterized by humility and respect, with both partners imitating Christ, who time and again voluntarily placed himself in a position of submission.

Women should not have to pry equality from the grip of Christian men. For those who follow Jesus, authority should be surrendered—and shared— willingly, with the humility and love of Jesus...or else we miss the once radical teaching that slaves and masters, parents and children, husbands and wives, rich and poor, healthy and sick, should “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

(Additional Resources: Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy, edited by Ronald W. Pierce and Rebecca Merrill Groothuis; Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmat; Women's Bible Commentary: Expanded Edition by Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe; The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder. And as part of our Week of Mutuality, Harriet Congdon wrote a really great post on “The Dance of Mutuality in Ephesians 5.”)

***

What do you think? Were Peter and Paul arguing for the inherent, universal holiness of the Greco-Roman Household Codes or for Christlike attitudes within existing societal norms?

How have you seen these passages translated and applied in Christian settings?

How have they been translated and applied in your life and marriage?


 

Biblical Leadership Roles and Supporting Your Partner

Dan on Roles, Leadership, and Supporting Your Partner
http://rachelheldevans.com/mutuality-dan

by Rachel Held Evans
June 5, 2012
Comments

This afternoon I’m thrilled to introduce you to my amazing husband Dan. Dan is a loyal friend, a wise and supportive partner, an entrepreneur, a videographer, and a professional out-of-the-box thinker. He’s also one of the most creative, funny, and intelligent people I’ve ever met (though I suppose I’m a bit biased). You can thank Dan for the fact that this Web site exists and runs so smoothly, as he’s the one who works behind-the-scenes to keep all my technology afloat. Some things I respect most about Dan include his uncompromising integrity, his seemingly natural inclination to "rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep," and his ability to identify obscure actors in movies without checking IMDB.

Earlier today, we examined the concept of submission in the context of Peter and Paul’s Christian remix of the Greco-Roman household codes. This afternoon, Dan shares a little about what a pattern of mutual submission looks like in our marriage. Last year, during the infamous “year of biblical womanhood,” Dan kept a journal. The following post is adapted from an excerpt he wrote during the last month of the project. (You’ll be able to read more from his journal when the book comes out!)

Enjoy!

* * *

danRecently, my mom made note of how proud she was that I’m able to support Rachel in her successful career, something she said that “many men couldn’t do.”

When viewed in the context of the yearlong "Biblical Womanhood" project, it highlighted a strange absurdity. During the experiment, I acted as the hierarchical leader of our relationship, but at the same time, I continued to play a supporting role in Rachel’s career. At first, I didn’t know how to respond to my Mom's compliment other than, "Thanks Mom." But after processing it a bit, trying to resolve my cognitive dissonance, it hit me:

Our roles aren't static. Our roles change depending on context.

At its core, (yearlong projects aside), my relationship with Rachel isn’t a hierarchy; it’s a partnership. What kind of person doesn’t want success for their partner? A weak, insecure, person. What kind of man doesn’t want success for his wife? A weak, insecure man.

I’m not supporting Rachel like a passive piling supports a dock. I’m supporting her like the Saturn V supported Apollo 11. I want her to succeed in her pursuits, and will do everything in my power to make it happen. And she wants the same for me.

When I’m working on a film project, who’s taking the supporting role and feeding everyone? Rachel. When I took a year to buy, renovate and sell an investment property, who supported me throughout? Rachel. When Rachel’s working to finish a writing project by deadline, who’s supporting her by keeping the house clean and the laundry done? Me. Our life decisions are made in tandem. We’re the ones leading our lives. We aren't battling over who's leading who.

To be “a leader” is meaningless without context. A leader of what?

Too many of us have succumbed to the idea that “leaders” are a specific type of people or that “leadership” is a character quality to be obtained like political capital - the more the better. But I view leadership differently. Leadership isn’t a goal. Leadership is a role that comes and goes. Wisdom and strength are what we should pursue. Not leadership.

In the context of roles, wisdom is discerning when to lead, and strength comes from consistently practicing wisdom. Leadership is a role that changes hands depending on context. In that light, it's important to learn how to lead, not because you want to be “a leader”, but because when wisdom and strength have placed you in a position of leadership, you don’t want to screw it up.

* * *

What do you think? What does "leadership" look like in your marriage and relationships?

What about "support"? Are they static positions you hold or versatile roles that you play?



junia




Who’s Who Among Biblical Women Leaders



st-junia


by Rachel Held Evans
June 6, 2012


This is the fifth post in our series, One In Christ: A Week of Mutuality, dedicated to discussing an egalitarian view of gender—including relevant biblical texts and practical applications. The goal is to show how scripture, tradition, reason, and experience all support a posture of equality toward women, one that favors mutuality rather than hierarchy, in the home, Church, and society.

The reason I want to highlight the “who’s who” among biblical woman leaders today is this: Later, we will be discussing 1 Timothy 2:11-15, the passage in which Paul forbids Ephesian women from teaching in church. Unfortunately, when it comes to womanhood, many Christians tend to read the rest of scripture through the lens of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 rather than the other way around. By highlighting the many female leaders and teachers in scripture, I’m hoping to set the stage so that we see 1 Timothy 2 for what it is—an anomaly. It’s hard to argue that Paul’s statements there are meant to be universally applied when so many women from scripture are honored by God and praised by their community for teaching and exercising leadership.

But before we begin, a disclaimer: There is no doubt that the Bible was written in a patriarchal culture. As a result, men are named significantly more often, men serve as protagonists in the biblical stories more often, and men hold positions of leadership more often. In addition, there are stories and laws found in scripture regarding women that are profoundly troubling: women are identified as property (Exodus 20:17, Deuteronomy 5:21, Judges 5:30), rape laws require fathers to be paid for damages and the female victim to marry her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), virginity expectations focused almost exclusively on girls, women are valued less in vow redemption (Leviticus 27:1-8), the birth of girls represents a greater impurity assessment in the Levitical Purity Codes (Leviticus 12:2-4), women are considered spoils of war (Numbers 31:32-35, Deuteronomy 20:14, Deuteronomy 21:10-15, Judges 5:30, Judges 21:11-23), adultery laws subjected women to more scrutiny and punished them more severely than men, polygamy was common, owning concubines was common, and impregnating slave women was common. Furthermore, stories surrounding women like Tamar of Genesis, Dinah, Hagar, the dismembered concubine of Judges 19, Jephthah's daughter, Tamar of the Davidic narrative, and so on reveal the profound inequity that characterized day-to-day life for women living in the ancient Near East.

Sometimes egalitarians, in their enthusiasm for advancing the equality and dignity of women in the Church, gloss over such passages or try to explain them away. I’m not interested in doing that. I can’t do that. I’ve tried, and frankly, it feels like I am dishonoring the suffering and the bravery of these women by pretending their oppression wasn’t really so bad. (I spend a lot more time discussing and wrestling with the “texts of terror” in A Year of Biblical Womanhood.) Still, it’s astounding that, in the midst of such a patriarchal culture, so many women are honored as leaders and teachers in scripture. This speaks volumes about the remarkable wisdom, resourcefulness, courage, and godliness it would take to teach and lead in such times, and says a lot about the value God places on women even when the world does not.

What follows is not a comprehensive list by any stretch. There are far too many women of valor found in the Bible to list in a single blog post, so I’ve tried to focus specifically on teaching and leading.

Deborah

In the midst of the violent and turbulent aftermath of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, “the Lord raised up judges” to provide leadership for the kingless people (Judges 2:16). One such leader was Deborah. At the beginning of Judges 4, the text reports that “Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time.” As both prophet and judge, Deborah exercised complete religious, political, judicial, and militaristic authority over the people of Israel. She was essentially Israel’s commander-in-chief, said to issue her rulings from beneath a palm in the hills of Ephraim. Judges 4-5 famously recounts Deborah’s successful military campaign against Sisera. With the help of Deborah’s doubtful military commander, Barak, and another very gutsy woman named Jael (who exhibited her “gentle and quiet spirit” by driving a tent peg through Sisera’s skull), the Canaanite armies are defeated. Israel’s victory is punctuated in scripture by the Song of Deborah—one of the ancient Near East’s oldest military poems. Under Deborah’s continued leadership, the people of Israel enjoyed forty years of peace before the cycle of violence began again.

Miriam

The prophet Micah identifies Miriam as one of the three leaders sent by God to bring Israel out of Egypt (Micah 6:4). Like Deborah, Miriam is identified as a prophetess, and she seemed to have held special responsibilities in leading the Israelites in worship. Her song, in Exodus 15 is especially beautiful. Ironically, there are complementarian churches that forbid women from reading Scripture aloud in church, even Scripture like Miriam’s song, Deborah’s song, the reflections of the Shulamite girl in Song of Songs, the Prayer of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, and, of course, the Magnificat—all of which reflect the thoughts and ideas of women.

Huldah

Described as Israel’s last good king, Josiah reigned for thirty-one years during a final period of peace before the Babylonian exile. About halfway through his reign, Josiah learned that the long-lost Book of the Law—the Torah—has been discovered in the temple. Upon hearing the words of the Torah read aloud, Josiah tore his robes in repentance and summoned a prophet, for he saw how far Israel had strayed from God’s ways. It’s important to note that contemporaries of Josiah included the famed prophets Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk. But Josiah did not ask for help from any of those men. Instead he chose Huldah, a woman and prophet who lived in Jerusalem. “Huldah is not chosen because no men were available,” writes Scot McKnight in The Blue Parakeet, “She is chosen because she is truly exceptional among the prophets.” Huldah first confirmed the scroll’s authenticity and then told Josiah that the disobedience of Israel would indeed lead to its destruction, but that Josiah himself would die in peace. Thus, Huldah not only interpreted, but also authorized, the document that would become the core of Jewish and Christian Scripture. Her prophecy was fulfilled thirty-five years later (2 Kings 22).

Other Prophetesses:

The Bible identifies ten female prophets in the Old and New Testaments: Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, Noadiah, Isaiah’s wife, Anna, and the four daughters of Philip. In addition, women like Rachel, Hannah, Abigail, Elisabeth, and Mary are described as having prophetic visions about the future of their children, the destiny of nations, and the coming Messiah.


When the Holy Spirit descended upon the first Christians at Pentecost, Peter drew from the words of the prophet Joel to describe what had happened, saying, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy...Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy" (Acts 2:17–18). Thus, the breaking in of the new creation after Christ’s resurrection unleashed a cacophony of new prophetic voices, and apparently, prophesying among women was such a common activity in the early church that Paul had to remind women to cover their heads when they did it. While some may try to downplay biblical examples of female disciples, deacons, leaders, and apostles, no one can deny the Bible’s long tradition of prophetic feminine vision. And I believe this prophetic vision is as important today as it was in the days of the early church. We would do well to heed the words of Jesus: “Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward” (Matthew 10:41). For more on this, see “...Your daughters will prophesy...

Ruth

I remember attending a conservative Christian conference as a twenty-something, where a speaker told a room full of teenagers that a girl initiating a friendship with a boy was a violation of biblical principles that require men to be the leaders in a relationship. (One of the other girls in attendance started crying because she had invited a boy to prom!) I didn’t realize it then, but that speaker really needed to re-visit the book of Ruth, in which Ruth and Naomi hatch the plan to get Boaz’s attention, and in which Ruth is the one to approach Boaz under the cover of night and essentially ask for his hand in marriage.

Other women who showed leadership in their personal relationships with men include Sarah (God told Abraham to “listen to your wife Sarah”), Rebecca, Rachel, Tamar, Leah, Abigail, and Bathsheba.

The Shulamite Girl

Another great example of a woman exhibiting leadership in her marriage is the Shulamite girl of Song of Songs. There’s too much to say about her here—I spent much more time on Song of Songs in my book—but suffice it to say, this girl knows exactly what she wants, and isn’t afraid to tell her lover to make it happen!

The Shulamite girl is the first to speak in the poem, declaring, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” (1:1). She actively seeks out the handsome shepherd in his fields, saying “Why should I be like a veiled woman beside the flocks of your friends?” (v. 7). When the two are separated, she goes out into the streets, looking for him, and at one point is accosted by the city guards. When she finds him, she brings him into a private room. There, she says, “I held him and would not him go” (3:4). It is she who initiates a sexual encounter in a vineyard in the countryside, and it is she who offers her lover a frank invitation to drink her wine and to enter her “garden” to taste its choice fruits. Indeed some of the most beautiful lines of the poem—and arguably of the Bible—are hers: “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death” (8:6).

Alise Wright wrote a great post for our Week of Mutuality about the inconsistency of preaching mutuality in the bedroom, but not in other areas of life. (See “You don’t have to take your clothes off to be egalitarian.”)

Esther

estherEsther was something of an unwitting biblical leader, but an incredibly brave and wise one nonetheless. She was forced, along with perhaps thousands of virgin girls from Susa, into King Xerxes harem, where she became one of the king’s favorites. Despite some recent (and truly horrendous) complementarian interpretations that say Esther’s story is about godly submission in marriage, it is Esther’s defiance to her husband in speaking to him without being summoned (at the risk of death), that ultimately saves the Jewish people. (I wrote more about Esther and complementarianism in a post entitled “Esther and Vashit: The Real Story”)

Rizpah

Rizpah a sort of Old Testament Antigone, who protested the massacre of her sons by publicly mourning, night and day, at the site where their bodies had been left to the elements. She cried out for months, “from the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies,” keeping watch over her sons and fending away wild animals and birds (2 Samuel 21:10). Her unrelenting despair won the solidarity of a war-weary people and finally moved King David to grant the men a proper burial, thus ending the famine that had swept the land. She serves as an amazing example of the effectiveness of prophetic protest.

Mary of Nazareth

annunciationI loved what Mike Zosel wrote about Mary in his response to John Piper’s call for a “masculine Christianity”:

“God did not consider woman’s flesh as something to be despised or ignored or covered up. No. God selected it to be the very vessel of our salvation in Jesus Christ. God saw fit to honor women by entering the world through one of them. God partnered with a woman, in her flesh, to become flesh... So, all of this talk about the Church’s ministry being a ‘masculine ministry’, as if women are primarily ‘alongside’ men (read: nonessential)? Please. In order to bring salvation to all men, even God needed the help of a woman. In fact, God could never have done it without her!” (Read the rest here.)

In addition to being charged with the task of bringing the Son of God into the world, Mary exhibited great leadership in the formation of Christianity. In the Magnificat, we see that Mary boasted a strong familiarity with scripture as well as a striking prophetic vision for what it meant (Luke 1:16-55). Mary’s clear passion regarding justice for the poor and marginalized undoubtedly influenced the teachings of not only Jesus, but also his brother James. (I realize Catholics will disagree with me on this!) It was Mary who urged Jesus to perform his first miracle, and it was Mary who must have provided information to the writers of the gospels concerning Jesus’ birth.

Martha

Martha was one of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples. According to the gospels of Luke and John, she opened her home to Him, shared meals with Him, and stood by His side as He raised her brother, Lazarus, from the dead. John reports that “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5). That Martha’s name appears before her brother’s suggests that this woman garnered considerable respect among the earliest followers of Jesus.

Mary of Bethany

Rabbi Eliezer wrote in the first century that, “Rather should the words of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman...Whoever teaches his daughter the Torah is like one who teaches her obscenity.” (JT Sotah 3:4, 19a)

Jesus unabashedly defies this tradition by teaching the Torah to women, perhaps most notably Mary of Bethany. The fact that Mary is described by Luke as “sitting at the feet of Jesus” clearly identifies her as a disciple. And when Martha challenges Mary to get back to the more traditional role of serving from the kitchen, Jesus gently admonishes Martha to allow her sister to stay put.

“Martha, Martha,” he said, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” This is one of many, many examples of Jesus defying social norms to welcome women into his ministry. Any woman who is a follower of Jesus should remind herself now and then that, no matter what others may say, our esteemed status in Christ’s Kingdom cannot be taken away from us.

“The Women” (female disciples of Jesus)

graveWhen referring to the earliest followers of Jesus, the Gospel writers often speak of two groups of disciples: the Twelve and the Women. The Twelve refer to the twelve Jewish men chosen by Jesus to be his closest companions and first apostles, symbolic of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Women refer to an unspecified number of female disciples who also followed Jesus, welcoming him into their homes, financing his ministry, and often teaching the Twelve through their acts of faithfulness and love. Just as Jesus predicted, most of the Twelve abandoned him at his death (John 16:32). But the women remained by his side—through his death, burial, and resurrection. (For more on why Jesus’ choosing of the twelve male disciples should not exclude women from leadership see Daniel Kirk’s post, “On Jesus Choosing Twelve Males)

Mary Magdalene

mary-mAccording to the gospels of Mark and Luke, Jesus cleansed Mary Magdalene of seven demons, after which she became a devoted disciple. She is mentioned by Luke in the same context as the Twelve as one who traveled with Jesus and helped finance his ministry. All four gospel accounts identify Mary Magdalene as among the first witnesses of the empty tomb. She is the one to breathlessly describes what she has seen to the male disciples, who initially discount her declaration, “I have seen the Lord!”, as the babblings of a foolish woman.

It has been noted that Mary’s announcement, “I have seen the Lord,” is the same credential used by Paul to insist on his own authority as an apostle:” 'Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lored?” (1 Cor. 9:1). For her valor in twice sharing the good news to the skeptical male disciples, the early church honored Mary Magdalene with the title of Apostle to the Apostles. That Christ ushered in this new era of life and liberation in the presence of women, and that he sent them out as the first witnesses of the complete gospel story, is perhaps the boldest, most overt affirmation of their equality in his kingdom that Jesus ever delivered. (For more, see “Women of the Passion, Part 4: Mary Magdalene – Apostle to the Apostles)

Tabitha

A stalwart force in the first-century effort to restore the dignity of widows was a woman named Tabitha. Likely a widow herself, but with means, Tabitha lived in the port city of Joppa at the time when Peter and Paul were busy spreading the gospel throughout Asia Minor. She was a renowned philanthropist, known throughout the land for “always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36). She was also a master seamstress, making robes and other clothing for the many widows in her care, presumably imparting on them the skills of the trade.

When first we hear of her in Luke’s book of Acts, she has succumbed to an illness, her body washed and prepared for burial. So critical was Tabitha’s ministry to the early church that Peter himself was summoned to her bedside, and when he arrived, he found widows from all across Joppa weeping together in Tabitha’s home. They showed him all the clothes she had made for them. Peter sent everyone out of the room and fell on his knees to pray. Apparently, God agreed that Tabitha was indeed indispensable, for Peter turned toward the body and said, “Tabitha, get up” (v. 40). Tabitha opened her eyes and sat up. Peter took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the widows, who ran into the room to find Tabitha alive. It is one of just two resurrection stories in the book of Acts. To Tabitha belongs the worthy distinction of being the only woman in the New Testament identified with the feminine form of the word “disciple”—mathetria. The word literally means “pupil,” or “apprentice,” which may suggest that at some point, Tabitha studied directly under Jesus, like Mary of Bethany.

Junia

Although her name appears just once in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, the Apostle Junia is perhaps the most silenced woman of the Bible.

junia“Greet Andronicus and Junia,” Paul wrote in Romans 16:7, “my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” Junia is the first and only woman in Scripture to be explicitly identified as an apostle. (Mary Magdalene’s status as apostle is debatable.) Apostles in the New Testament were disciples of Jesus devoted to spreading his teachings abroad. In addition to the original twelve apostles, the Bible speaks of apostles who served as traveling missionaries, teaching and leading the early church as it endured persecution and struggled through religious growing pains. Paul, Timothy, Barnabas Silas and Apollos were all apostles, as were Andronicus and Junia.
The fourth-century bishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, said of Junia, “To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles—just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! . . . Indeed how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle” (emphasis mine).

But as time went on, the mention of a female apostle in Scripture became inconvenient for the increasingly hierarchal Church, so a medieval theologian found a creative solution to the problem: he turned Junia into a man. "Andronicus and Junia" became "Andronicus and Junias." This was no small error. The masculine name Junias does not occur in a single inscription, letterhead, work of literature, or epitaph in the Greco-Roman world, while the feminine name Junia is everywhere. None of the Greek manuscripts suggests that a masculine form of this name should be used, and for the first thousand years of church history, Christian theologians ranging from Chrysostom to Origen to Jerome all identified the apostle Junia as a woman. But the myth caught on, especially after Martin Luther used Junias, rather than Junia, in his German translation of the Bible and identified the pair of former prisoners as male. To this day, one can find English translations of the Bible that turn the apostle Junia into a man. She’s just a little too inconvenient. (For more on this crazy story,check out Junia is Not Alone by Scot McKnight and Junia: The First Woman Apostle by Eldon Jay Epp.)

Phoebe

phoebeIn Romans 16:1-2, Paul writes, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon in the church in Cenchreae. I ask that you receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and give to her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.”

Phoebe was one of many women in the early church to play an important role in directing the churches that met in their homes. Phoebe is not mentioned alongside a husband, so there’s a good chance she was single or a widow. She is identified as a deacon, which in the New Testament referred to a teacher and leader in the church, whether that person was a man or woman. (Yep, a “deaconess” is something we made up much later on.) In Paul’s letters, deacons are connected to ministry and service of the word (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).

In The Blue Parakeet, Scot McKnight notes that “it is possible that Phoebe, a benefactor or wealthy patron of Paul’s ministry of bringing the gospel to the Roman Empire, was responsible for getting his letter to the right people. Most today think Phoebe was Paul courier for the letter to the Romans. Since couriers were charged with responsibility to explain their letters, Phoebe probably read the letter aloud and answered questions the Roman Christians may have had...Phoebe, to put this graphically, can be seen s the first ‘commentator’ on the letter to the Romans.”

Again, how ironic that some complementarian churches forbid women from reading Scripture aloud in church when a woman may very well have been the first person to read the book of Romans aloud!

Priscilla

I was once asked if there was a marriage in scripture that I especially admired and would want to emulate in my own relationship with Dan. I immediately thought of the marriage between Priscilla and Aquilla. Complete with rhyming monikers, Priscilla and Aquila were the it couple of the early the church, always described as doing something interesting together— traveling, planting churches, teaching new converts, running a business. It’s unusual to find texts from the ancient world in which a woman’s name precedes her husband’s, but in the letters of Paul, Priscilla is often named before her husband, Aquila. Really, the two names appeared to be somewhat interchangeable in the minds of the early Christians. What a team these two must have made!

When Paul set out on a mission trip across Asia Minor, he took the couple with him, leaving them in Ephesus so they could minister to the church there. In Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila met Apollos, “a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of Scripture” who was preaching in the synagogues. They invited him into their home and together “explained to him the way of God more adequately,” making them some of the earliest known teachers of Christian theology. Apollos would go on to be one of the most influential apostles of the day. It appears the couple then planted a church in the region, for when Paul writes back to the Christians in Corinth, he passes along greetings from “Aquila and Priscilla and the church that meets in their house.” (It’s hard to imagine that Priscilla, a gifted teacher, would have been prevented from speaking in her own home!)

Paul always spoke affectionately about Priscilla and Aquila, calling them his “co-workers in Christ Jesus,” and noting in Romans that the two “risked their necks” for him. “Not only I, but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them,” he writes (Romans 16:3-4). Some scholars are convinced that Priscilla wrote the mysterious, anonymous letter to the Hebrews found in the New Testament. They’ve got some interesting evidence to support that conclusion, but the jury’s still out. My personal theory is that Priscilla and Aquila wrote it together.


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Additional Resources: Women of the Passion Series, Women of the Torah: Matriarchs and Heroes of Israel (Ancient-Future Bible Study: Experience Scripture through Lectio Divina) by Stephen J. Binz, Women of the Gospels: Friends and Disciples of Jesus (Ancient-Future Bible Study: Experience Scripture through Lectio Divina) by Stephen J. Binz, Junia is Not Alone by Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible by Scot McKnight, Women's Bible Commentary: Expanded Edition by Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules by Carolyn Custis James, Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuteroca... Books, and the New Testament by Carol Meyers, Toni Craven and Ross Shepard Kraeme.)