Tag Archives: Women in the Bible

New Testament Views of Women: Paul’s Female Co-workers

1171414 girl jumping, freeimages.comFor an introduction to this subject, please see New Testament Views of Women: Overview.

For a discussion of this subject relating to 1 Corinthians, see New Testament Views of Women: 1 Corinthians 14:34-36

Considering that there were no women that had any kind of leadership role in the religion of Israel at the time of Christ, it is truly radical that there are so many women mentioned in the New Testament who promoted the faith and who in fact had leadership roles. Jesus led the way for women to not only find salvation and comfort in him, but to realize what Galatians 3:28 says: “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” That the latter church chose, for the most part, to forget Jesus’ lifting up of women and change words in the translation of Paul’s writings – some are shown below – is unfortunate (to say the least) and makes arguing for the accuracy of many translations more difficult.

But who were Paul’s co-workers, and what level of leadership did they really have? For right now, let’s focus on three: Priscilla, Phoebe, and Junia. There is so much that could be covered that information on their roles is presented in a concise list format:

Priscilla. Apparently well-educated, and thus from an influential Roman family.

  • Priscilla and Aquila, her husband, taught Apollos more about Christianity after they had heard him speak publicly (Act 18:26). Priscilla was the primary teacher, as evidenced by her name being given first. Of the six times she and her husband are mentioned in the NT, she is first four times. “The order of names in ancient times indicated priority of role and importance” (Schmidt 178). St. Chrysostom (AD 347-407) confirmed that Paul placed Priscilla first for good reason. Significantly, whether ahead of her husband or not, she taught a man.
  • She is acknowledged as being well known by the gentile churches (Romans 16:4). She would not have been well known unless she had leadership functions. Paul refers to her as synergos (Romans 16:3), the same word he used for Timothy and Titus, who preached and taught. She was a “fellow worker” (synergos) with Paul, not a silent and passive female.
  • One of the oldest and largest catacombs in Rome bears her name, as do several monuments.
  • No one really knows who wrote the Book of Hebrews, and the suggestion that Priscilla wrote it is not discounted even in the Archaeological Study Bible (Garrett); some suggest, too, that she “polished up” Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Phoebe. Carrier of the Roman epistle to Rome from Corinth, a 400 mile journey.

  • In Romans 16:1-2, Phoebe is referred to as a diakonos, or deacon. “Deaconess” was not a word at that time and was first used in AD 375. The common word “deacon” is most often translated “minister” in the King James Version, though it is rendered “deacon” three times; however, when that word is used with Phoebe, the KJ translators used “servant” instead. Amazingly, the slightly earlier Miles Coverdale bible had kept the word “minister” for Phoebe, but recent translations still use “servant.”
  • Paul called himself a deacon (diakonos) in 1 Corinthians 3:5, and it is used for Timothy in Acts 19:22. Deacon is used with “co-worker” (synergos) and commonly meant someone who teaches and preaches; the person would have some authority in the church. Another thing to consider is that the term deacon was masculine and only males functioned as deacons in Greek culture. Paul very well knew what he was doing when he used that term for Phoebe.
  • Paul not only said Phoebe was a deacon, but a prostatis (Romans 16:2) as well. Prostatis “meant ‘leading officer’ in the literature at the time the [NT] was written” (Schmidt 181). To us it would mean something like “superintendent.”
  • Origen (AD 185-254), who was not a feminist, wrote that based on Romans 16:1-2 Phoebe had apostolic authority.

Junia

  • Junia is found in Romans 16:7, where the name is still often mistranslated “Junias.” The name “Junias” was non-existent at that time. The Archeological Study Bible (Garret, p 1860) notes that “the more common” reading in Greek is “Junia.” She probably was the wife of Adronicus, the other person mentioned in that verse. For the greater part of church history—the first 1300 years—all acknowledged that the person was a female! Why did bible translators in the last several hundred years change Adronicus’ companions name? Because Paul referred to them both as apostles, and outstanding ones at that. St. Chrysostom, St. Jerome, and Peter Abelard all considered the person to be a woman.
  • Paul did not restrict the word “apostle” to the twelve only (he called James an apostle and interchanged it with the word diakonos), as is common today. Origen wrote that women had “apostolic authority” in the church based on Romans 16.

The note on Romans 16:7 in the Apologetics Study Bible (ASB) goes almost as far as what Origen wrote and thought, but why can’t our Christian culture acknowledge what Paul actually wrote?  Interesting, isn’t it?  I, the author of this paper, am female, yet I have a bit of a hard time personally accepting female church leaders.  I believe my view is based on both personal and cultural factors, but knowing what Paul wrote and what Christ did, I would not argue that a congregation is wrong in having a female leader. This is the note from the ASB (Cabal, p 1704):

Many claim that Junia (or Junias), designating one of Paul’s relatives, could be either a man’s or a woman’s name. In fact, the masculine form, Junias (as a contraction of Junianus), has not been located elsewhere, whereas the feminine Junia is common. Of course, if this person was a woman, this would be an intriguing fact, particularly since Paul called Andronicus and Junia “apostles.” J.D. G. Dunn suggests they were husband and wife—a reasonable assumption. The precise status of all who are called apostles isn’t clear. Some were close associates of the apostles, such as Barnabas (Ac 14:14) and James (Gl 1:19), but also see the Greek term apostolos in 2 Co 8:23 and Php 2:25.

 

_________

Works Cited and Recommended Reading

Anonymous. “Women in Ancient Israel.” Bible History Online. n.d. http://www.bible-history.com/court-of-women/women.html (accessed June 2011).

Cabal, Ted, General Editor.  The Apologetics Study Bible.  Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.

Cowles, C.S. A Woman’s Place? Leadership in the Church. Kansas City : Beacon Hill Press, 1993.

Dunn, James, General Editor. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.

Faulkes, Irene Bonney. “Question of Veils in India.” Dr. Irene Faulkes Articles. 2011. http://revirene.org/Question%20Of%20Veils.htm (accessed June 2011).

Garrett, Duane A, General Editor. NIV Archaeological Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Schmidt, Alvin John. How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

—. Veiled and Silenced: How Culture Shaped Sexist Theology. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1989.

Zondervan. “Interview with Alvin J. Schmidt.” Zondervan. n.d. http://www.zondervan.com/media/interviews/product/pdf/0310264499_authintrvw.pdf (accessed June 2011).

_________
© Vicki Priest 2014, 2012  (This is an edited version of a series of articles first posted at Examiner.com, 2011, and transferred from withchristianeyes.com)

Advertisements

New Testament Views of Women: 1 Corinthians 14:34-36

For an introduction to this subject, please see New Testament Views of Women: Overview.

When it comes to the question of women in Christian leadership, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are used to show God’s disfavor of women having such roles. In light of both the whole New Testament and of all of Paul’s extant writings, we know that these passages are contradictory; they at least seem so without looking deeper into the social contexts or possible translation issues. Some scholars even propose that 1Timothy was not written by Paul, and therefore not genuine. However, in this article we will explore some possible reasons for Paul having written 1 Corinthians 14:34-36, even though he acknowledged females praying and prophesying in chapter 11 of the same epistle.

1 Corinthians 14:34b-35 states: “women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church” (NIV 1984).

Why would Paul say this when he commended many women who had house churches? These include Mary (mother of Mark), Nympha, Priscilla (with Aquila), and Apphia. These house churches did not follow sexist synagogue rules. Also, Mary, Jesus’ mother, prayed with the other disciples. Women apparently spoke at Pentecost (even though “men” are mentioned, the text states that the Holy Spirit rested on all who were there, and Peter quotes Joel concerning women prophesying as well as men) and Tabitha was a disciple. Considering that Paul writes of women praying and prophesying in church earlier in the same letter, why would he then write verses 14:34-35?

One explanation is that these verses were added later—called an interpolation–and there is a possibility of this. These verses are commonly found at the end of the chapter in various manuscripts and seem to have been added by scribes early on (but later than Paul). However, since no early manuscripts have been found that do not entirely omit the verses, the interpolation explanation remains only a hypothesis.  Another thing to consider, however, is the command for women, or wives, to ask explanations of their husbands at home later.  At the time 1 Corinthians was written, there were many more women in the church than men, so were they to ask their unbelieving husbands about Christian truth?

Katherine Bushnell, a conservative scholar, agrees with the interpolation theory: “[Bushnell] buttressed her argument by saying that it was not like Paul to use the laws and traditions of the Jews ‘as a final authority on a matter of controversy in the church. He spent a large share of energy battling against these very “traditions” of the Jews, as did his Master, Jesus Christ’” (Schmidt 188-189).

CS CowlesWhile the interpolation theory seems like a plausible explanation, not all those who dismiss the direct but contradictory message of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 agree with it. Another explanation is provided C.S. Cowles.  She provides a word study showing that some women were being referred to, not all women; that the “silence” was that of voluntary restraint; and that the “speak” referred to—and there are 30 different Greek words for “speak”—has the meaning of “talk” or “chatter.” Paul wasn’t saying that women could not pray or prophesy, only that the women who were talking during service needed to not be disruptive. She defends the use of the word “law” as Paul’s way of appealing to social convention.

Regarding the admonition for wives to consult with their husbands at home, Cowles believes that the women had felt free to ask questions during service since the early services were not formal, but quite social, and it had gotten out of hand. She does not try to explain why women with husbands are the only ones referred to here, nor the related criticism of them having to possibly rely on unbelieving husbands.

Another explanation, which is highly possible and thought by many to be most likely, is that Paul is quoting from a letter (or stating an argument) from the Judaizers.  Judaizers wanted traditional oral law enforced in other ways and places as well (for example, they wanted males to be circumcised), and these verses are very similar to the actual Jewish oral law prohibiting women to speak during services. Considering how the law is cited in this passage–which would be highly out of character for Paul, the explanation that those verses are a quote makes perfect sense.  Also, the verse immediately following is a rebuke: “Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?” (14:36). Is Paul rebuking the Judaizers for trying to silence women, when Paul already acknowledged that women can speak and prophesy in church (11:5), and when Paul so often commended the women co-workers, deacons, and even ministers or apostles that he knew and worked with? It seems so.

But why don’t we know for sure that verses 34-35 are a quote? Quotation marks of any kind were not used in these ancient writings. However, it is accepted by many NT scholars that 1 Corinthians has many quotes within it, but not all agree that 34-35 is a quote. One of the scholars who does believe that it is a quote from Jewish oral law, however, is Neal Flanagan, a Catholic. He has written that since it is a quote and that Paul rebukes those who would silence women, it is then a text that reaffirms 1 Corinthians 11:5 as well as Galatians 3:28.

To read further, please see:  New Testament Views of Women: Paul’s Co-workers and New Testament Views of Women: 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (Part 2)

[edited on 10-8-2014]

____________________

Works Cited and Recommended Reading

Anonymous. “Women in Ancient Israel.” Bible History Online. n.d. http://www.bible-history.com/court-of-women/women.html (accessed June 2011).

Cabal, Ted, General Editor.  The Apologetics Study Bible.  Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.

Cowles, C.S. A Woman’s Place? Leadership in the Church. Kansas City : Beacon Hill Press, 1993.

Dunn, James, General Editor. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.

Faulkes, Irene Bonney. “Question of Veils in India.” Dr. Irene Faulkes Articles. 2011. http://revirene.org/Question%20Of%20Veils.htm (accessed June 2011).

Garrett, Duane A, General Editor. NIV Archaeological Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Schmidt, Alvin John. How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

—. Veiled and Silenced: How Culture Shaped Sexist Theology. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1989.

Zondervan. “Interview with Alvin J. Schmidt.” Zondervan. n.d. http://www.zondervan.com/media/interviews/product/pdf/0310264499_authintrvw.pdf (accessed June 2011).

_________
© Vicki Priest 2014, 2012  (This is an edited version of a series of articles first posted at Examiner.com, 2011, and transferred from withchristianeyes.com)

New Testament Views of Women: Overview

Veiled and Silenced, amazonChrist is primarily known as the savior of the world – his sacrifice being for all who want to dwell with God (Jesus’ blood removes our sin so that we are able to be in the presence of the sinless God). But Jesus did something quite significant and often overlooked (as evidenced throughout the writings of the New Testament): He raised the status of women to the same level as men. Many would argue that men and women have a few different responsibilities in regard to the family and church, but in God’s sight the sexes have equal standing: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

There is a great deal that can be written on this topic–including the contradictory teachings of, and actions by, some church leaders and Christian men. But first, let’s look at some social mores that exhibit the status of women in Israel and the surrounding cultures at the time Jesus walked the earth, and some that are still with us today in various parts of the world.

Female babies are of low worth: In past and present non-Christian cultures, female worthlessness is widespread. Female babies were commonly the victims of infanticide. While that continues today, in places where ultrasound is available many more female fetuses are aborted than male fetuses (especially in China and India). Christians do not value females less than males and do not abort or kill female babies.

  • Polygyny and divorce: Polygyny was permitted though not very common in ancient Israel; it was relatively common elsewhere. In Greece, a man had one wife but he also had a legal mistress (so, essentially, a 2nd wife). Polygyny was not approved by God, though there are a number of instances of it recorded in the Bible. The NT clearly reiterates God’s will that one man be married to one woman; polygyny is not allowed in Christianity. A man could divorce his wife easily in ancient Israel, but the NT does not allow for this.
  • Complete control of wife and children by father or husband: In Rome, fathers had total control over family members, and a husband had absolute power over his wife; he could sell a daughter to her future husband. All these powers became illegal some years after Christianity became legal in Rome (374/313). Women also were granted the right to own property and have guardianship of their own children. In Greece, wives had segregated quarters and could not visit male guests of her husband’s in her own home. As in ancient Israel, women in Greece were not to speak in public. Women simply had a very low status in Greece and ancient Israel, and in Israel at the time of Christ, women’s legal witness was virtually non-existent. This obviously changed with Christ’s work.
  • Clitoridectomy: The removal of the female clitoris, and often other genital parts, is a common practice in many African countries (and is found in countries where Africans have immigrated to). This is condemned and outlawed in Christian-based countries.
  • Binding feet, China: In order to be more attractive to men, girls used to have their feet bound so that they remained “small.” The fact is, the foot only became very disfigured and it often became severely infected. Because of Christian missionary pressure in the 19th century, the Chinese government outlawed the practice of female foot binding in 1912.

There are other practices around the world (past and present), like burning or burying widows alive (in India), arranging marriages of female children (this still occurs in China, India, and parts of Africa), maintaining double standards for adultery, and the forced wearing of veils, that make obvious the widespread low status of women but which are condemned by Christianity. As Alvin Schmidt, author of How Christianity Changed the World, said in an interview, “Geroge Sarton, a historian of science, once said, ‘The birth of Christianity changed forever the face of the Western world.’ As far as I know, Sarton had no love for Christianity. He merely said what history revealed to him. Another historian, for instance, has said, ‘The birth of Jesus Christ was the turning point in the history of women.’”

Now let’s look more specifically at how women were viewed and treated by Israel when Christ lived, and what Christ did to elevate women. Today when we read the New Testament (NT) text alone, we simply cannot understand how radical so much of what Jesus did was; our culture reflects in so many ways the changes that Jesus began. The radical things Jesus did seem normal to us now, so we must look into the context of the times to fathom the changes that he wrought.

At the time of Christ¹ women existed for the pleasure of men. If a woman did not bear a male child or didn’t please her husband in some way, he could divorce her with ease. A woman could not divorce her husband. Women were not to speak in public with men (men should not even give a greeting to a woman in public), they were not to testify in court, they were not supposed to read the Torah (Law), nor were they to be taught. As a rabbinic teaching advised (Sotah 3.4), “Let the words of the Law be burned rather than committed to a woman . . . . If a man teaches his daughter the Law, it is as though he taught her lechery.” Also, women were set apart from men in synagogue worship, either by a partition or by being in separate rooms.

Each one of the above negative aspects of womanhood in ancient Israel was reformed by Jesus, as it was never God’s will that such treatment of women exist. First, regarding a man’s ease in divorcing his wife, Jesus told his disciples that it was not to be—that instead a man could divorce his wife for unfaithfulness only (Matthew 19:4-9). Second, what about women speaking to men in public? To the great shock of his disciples, Jesus not only spoke to women in public, but also to a Samaritan woman publicly (she was very shocked as well) (John 4:5-29)–both no-nos in ancient Israel. In speaking with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, Jesus also taught her. Jesus both spoke and taught to Martha in public (John 11:25-26). Jesus taught Mary, Martha’s sister, and commended Mary for wanting to learn from him (Luke 10:38-42). Another woman followed Jesus in order to be healed. She was not only healed by him, but he talked with her and blessed her publicly (Mark 5:25-34).

These are not the only interactions that Jesus had with women. There are very many recorded in the NT. Of very real significance, however, is Jesus’ appearing to women first after his resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18). This put women in a whole new realm of being chief witnesses. Remember, women could not testify or be a witness in court. The fact that Jesus appeared to women first, and told them to go and tell the male disciples of his resurrection, had to have really driven home the message of women’s spiritual equality to the disciples—once they accepted the truth of Jesus’ resurrection that the women were telling them. After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the believers, both male and female, met and prayed together (Acts 1:14). As the fellowship of believers grew they met in houses for “church,” and many of these houses were owned by women. The possibility of the women as leaders in these early churches will be included in another of this series.

_________

Note 1. How Israelite men viewed and treated women changed and varied through time, and was no doubt influenced by the cultures that surrounded them. This essay is interested only with the status of women at the time of Christ.

The second and third articles in this series can be found here:

New Testament Views of Women: 1 Corinthians 14:34-36

New Testament Views of Women: Paul’s Co-workers

_________

Works Cited and Recommended Reading

Anonymous. “Women in Ancient Israel.” Bible History Online. n.d. http://www.bible-history.com/court-of-women/women.html (accessed June 2011).

Cabal, Ted, General Editor.  The Apologetics Study Bible.  Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007.

Cowles, C.S. A Woman’s Place? Leadership in the Church. Kansas City : Beacon Hill Press, 1993.

Dunn, James, General Editor. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.

Faulkes, Irene Bonney. “Question of Veils in India.” Dr. Irene Faulkes Articles. 2011. http://revirene.org/Question%20Of%20Veils.htm (accessed June 2011).

Garrett, Duane A, General Editor. NIV Archaeological Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Schmidt, Alvin John. How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

—. Veiled and Silenced: How Culture Shaped Sexist Theology. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1989.

Zondervan. “Interview with Alvin J. Schmidt.” Zondervan. n.d. http://www.zondervan.com/media/interviews/product/pdf/0310264499_authintrvw.pdf (accessed June 2011).

_________
© Vicki Priest 2014, 2012  (This is an edited version of a series of articles first posted at Examiner.com, 2011, and transferred from withchristianeyes.com)

Funniest or Weirdest Searches to My Blog in 2012

The dark side of Hello Kitty?  (Author photo)
The dark side of Hello Kitty? (Author photo)

I don’t know about you, but one of my little enjoyable pastimes is to read the searches that have led people to my blog.  Most are pretty straightforward and it’s obvious why the person decided to check one of my posts out.  Others are just unexpected and funny, and still others seem too general or off-the-subject; of the latter, I’m glad the person visited.  I wish very much that these people (anyone who visits here, really) would leave comments or questions – that would be fun!

“the samarathon woman”  She probably was in good enough shape to run a marathon after constantly lugging around jugs full of water in the middle of hot desert days.

“stormcloak officer armor revealing”  Really?!

“adam lanza christian fanatic”  Why not “adam lanza muslim fanatic”?  Just wondering . . .

“christian poem on the tongue”  (No comment . . . ha ha, perhaps they’re referring to James chapter 3, which has some very harsh words regarding the use of our tongue in conveying lies, evil and hurt.)

“butter my heart three person’d god”  This has made me laugh out loud more than once.  Of course, it’s supposed to be “batter” my heart, not butter my heart . . . makes me feel like a turkey being prepared for God’s oven.

“hellokitty skyrim”  I wonder what they’re looking for?  Knowing Sanrio, they’re working to contract something with Bethesda, surely.

“skyrim 1800s”  ?!??!  Seriously?

“evil bible king’s famous instrument for telling time”  If anyone can explain this one to me, I’d be grateful.

“can christians play skyrim” (“skyrim seems like a bad game for christians”)  CAN they?  Do they need permission from some pastor?  You know what’s bad for Christians?  Living in this world with so much evil in it!  I’m not questioning God’s motive for having us live in this world, I’m only making a point.  Skyrim is a game, and by today’s standards, a quite clean one that actually enjoys playing around with religious ideas and culture, and the complexities of people and politics.

“how women should play skyrim”  =D  Well, they could ask . . .

“god is evil quotes”  Just weird and sad; glad they stopped by, though.  But then again, maybe they were simply doing some research.

“what do christians think of hello kitty story”  Is there a story?  If I knew the story, I could form an opinion.  As far as I know, Hello Kitty is simply a very successful product venture.  There are some unsavory HK products out there, but if some people want to abuse the cute feline, that’s their business.

“short intellectual quotes”  Out of all the pages the searcher must have gotten from this search, I’m surprised they found my page url . . . and actually stopped by.

“religious poems for dads that died”  I know it’s perhaps morbid to call out this one, but it still made me laugh a bit.  How can you give a poem to a dead person?  Did they want poems about dads that died, or a poem for the children whose dads died?  My dad died when I was young and it was completely devastating; I never thought of writing any type of poem about it.

“unthink christmas card”  Not sure about this one . . . but please, don’t unthink Christmas, unless it’s the commercial aspect of today’s holiday.

There’s a search that, even though it’s from more than a year ago, I still remember and consider the oddest one to lead someone to my blog (my old blog, which DID have a recipe for a great sandwich on it), so I just wanted to share it, though it’s adult material (sort of!):  “Is there a good sandwich that can make up for bad sex?”  Well, a pile of McDonald’s fish filets (with some fries on the side) just might do it for me.

Female Hajj Pilgrims to Saudi Arabia Sent Back Home

This is from a very short article in Bloomberg online, and there are other articles to be found by googling:

Nigeria has protested to Saudi Arabia’s authorities over the detention of more than 1,000 female pilgrims who arrived in the kingdom for the annual Hajj pilgrimage without male guardians, state-run Radio Nigeria said. . . . Saudi Arabia enforces restrictions that are interpreted from the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. Women can’t travel or get an education without male approval or mix with unrelated men in public places.

As a Christian, I am at a loss as to why anyone would voluntarily become a Muslim in the first place, but when I see stuff like this, I am out-and-out flummoxed.  So, women must be controlled and herded like lesser beings, AND, they can’t even be in public with other men because . . . why???  Oh, men can’t control themselves.  They’ll just start doing some Mardi Gras moves in the street.  Really??  Belong to a religion that is so controlling, that seems to acknowledge and even promote the idea that human males are as good as randy rabbits, and that seems to not control its tyrannical and extremely violent members no matter what it does?  (And I won’t even get into all the persecution that goes on in the world against Christians at the hands of Muslims.)

Wow.  Sorry, but there is simply no comparison between Christianity and Islam.  And don’t go whining (atheists) about ancient pockets of “Christian” history (a lot of actual Christians died in trying to get false and violent actions to stop).  Sure, there have been wolves in sheep clothing that have done bad things in the name of Christianity.  It happens everyday in every area of life – I mean, charlatans seeking power and all of that, using whatever thing people have positive feelings about.   What you do is look at the founder of the faith.  Is s/he like that (false, after power, money, etc.)?  I won’t get into Muhammad here and the history of Islam, but I think it worth looking at Christ and the history of those who actually follow Him and his teachings.

Christ was sin-free and was not married; he didn’t go after multiple wives or even minor wives; he didn’t leave any heirs for everyone to argue about or over.  He lifted women UP from their low status at the time He visited us here on earth.  Women could follow Him and learn from Him.  In fact, He said it was better for a woman to learn from Him, to take the time and do that – as it was more important – than to serve Him or other men!!!  Wow!!  Why would any woman NOT want to follow Jesus?  If you want to know more and discover some pretty cool information that you just don’t hear about all that often, see New Testament Views of Women.   You may want to read about the woman at the well whom Christ talked with too.

In the future, I’ll try and post an article about the good in the history of Christ’s true followers, like those who founded hospitals (hospitals that were free) and universities.  People seem to have forgotten the parts of Christian history, too, when Christians died in order to stop those who did violence in Christ’s name.   In the meantime, if any Muslims come here, don’t go hatin’ on me.  Actions are actions, and the action reported on in the press was done and promoted by a whole country, and a whole section of Islam.  It’s no secret.  If you want to explain how your own sect of Islam is not like that in the comments, go ahead, but know that WordPress comments are always moderated.

The Samaritan Woman

The Water of Life Discourse between Jesus and ...
The Water of Life Discourse between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well, by Giacomo Franceschini, 17-18th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story of the Samaritan woman, or the woman at the well in the gospel of John, chapter 4, is a good example of two items related to our topic:  what Jesus thought of women and what later interpreters have done with this (you will need to know the story to understand this article, and it can be read here).  Many commentaries you can read today, or pastors whom you can hear, unfoundedly portray the woman at the well in a very negative and biased light, which both degrades and takes away from the full meaning of the event.

For people who focus on belittling others and judging, the woman is seen as a (very big) sinner – apparently one that is worse than they are.  They claim that Jesus was making the woman realize her sin to feel guilty about it, in order to come to salvation – but this goes against at least some theological views about repentance and salvation.  “If repentance is cited as a condition of salvation in terms of feeling sorry for one’s sins, then it is wrong usage of the term” (Enns 342).

There is nothing in the story to actually confirm the view that the woman was “loose,” which could be an explanation for her having had many (five) husbands and current “common law” spouse.  It would seem easier to think this of a woman with such a background today, but how in biblical times?  Women could not divorce.  A man could divorce his wife easily, however.  This woman could have been married to some that died, and some that divorced her.  She could have been divorced for fairly simple things, or for not producing children.

Did this woman come to the well with any of her children?  No.  If she had older children, it would seem that at least one would help her.  If she had no children, she would feel shame for this (one could only imagine how she’d feel if they were taken from her, which was common in divorce, or had died in some way).  Being barren would be shameful for a woman at this time, as much of a woman’s worth was based on her producing children.  If she were barren and divorced, then she would have a very hard time of it in life.  It seems possible that she lived with a man because she simply needed to survive, and for whatever reason (legal or social), the man did not marry her.  All of this could be shameful to the woman, and it could simply be her “lot in life” without her being intentionally immoral.  We don’t know, but all these things are possibilities, and maybe more probable than the hussy theory.

And, it is biased for commentators or pastors not to mention that it would not exactly be righteous for a man to divorce a woman for being barren.  Men could have caused her, through no fault of her own, to be in the predicament she was in.  Remember Abraham and Sarah?  Abraham did not divorce her for not producing a child (Sarah was quite old when she gave her handmaid to Abraham so that “she” might have a child); is was not until she was considered beyond the age of conceiving that Sarah became pregnant as God said she would, with Isaac.  Remember John the Baptist’s parents?  Zechariah was a priest, and his wife Elizabeth had been barren.  Zechariah did not divorce Elizabeth because she was barren; she was quite old when she gave birth to John.  Abraham and Zechariah (and Elizabeth, too!) are called “righteous” in the bible (Genesis 15:6; Luke 1:6).

So this woman, who came to the well outside of town, alone, is feeling what?  We can’t know for sure.  The fact that she came to this more distant water source (Bruce 106), in the middle of a hot day, seems to indicate that she was in shame and perhaps something of an outcast.  She must not have had a great outlook on life.   Probably childless, older now, living in shame . . .  And what happens?  The creator of the universe meets her there.  Did he need to do that to make her feel guilty?  No.  He came for something much better.  He came to lift her up.  If indeed her husbands had died and/or divorced her, Jesus came to bring her new life, removing the sadness and disgrace.  Did she repent of her sins there?  No (not outwardly, anyway) — she got happy.

If you read the story, you will see that Jesus said some things that could have made any Samaritan quite angry.  But she was starting to guess that he was the Messiah, not just a prophet, since Samaritans did not believe in any prophets accept the One to come after Moses.   She called him a prophet, but the only prophet possible was the Messiah.  So then, what truly remarkable thing did Jesus do?  He told HER that he indeed was the Messiah!  An “unclean” Samaritan woman; at this time, many Jewish men held both women and Samaritans in contempt.  Search the New Testament and you will find that Jesus told very few people who He really was.  What happens next?  She believes him, loses all her shame and goes and tells the whole town about Jesus!  No doubt it was her transformation, and her seeming sheer nerve, that so impressed the townspeople who they believed her.

Jesus is delightful.  He did not trudge all the way to Jacob’s well in order to condemn the woman for her sins, whatever they might have been, but to transform her.  Transformed she was, running to town and preaching to and teaching men.  Both Origen (died 254) and Theophylactus (died after 1071) considered her an apostle.  That other church leaders have not thought this, or acted upon their knowledge, has nothing to do with God’s view of women, but everything to do with men’s view of women.

Sources:  The Gospel & Epistles of John (FF Bruce); The Moody Handbook of Theology (Paul Enns); Believer’s Bible Commentary (W MacDonald); How Christianity Changed the World and Veiled and Silenced: How Culture Shaped Sexist Theology (Alvin J Schmidt).

Vicki Priest (c) 2012.