Women on the Family Tree
The only subject that will engender controversy and division faster than the issue of "women in the church" is unity! Both subjects are laden with passion but passionate love for those of another view is usually absent from discussions of either subject. Thus it is with a certain amount of trepidation that I respond to a series of questions about women.
It seems the moment one offers any opinion on the subject of women in the church that some one will brand you as a heretic and as an unbeliever in the Bible and its authority. Those who hold what might be called a "traditional" view accuse those who harbor a non-Traditional view as loose postmodern deconstructionists. Those who hold a non-Traditional view accuse those cherish the Traditional view as canonizing not Scripture but culture and highly selective reading. It is getting to the point where these groups cannot even talk to each other.
Is it possible to go to the Scriptures and just see what women did there? Can one be "un" biblical if he or she says women can do exactly what God let them do in the "Bible days?" So what if we simply ask this question: "What do we see women actually doing in the Scripture?" Isn't this the place to start? Is this what a Bible believer should do? So when we look at our rule of faith what do we see? Here is a quick list of things (roles) I see women actually doing:
1) I found women that were wives (Eve, Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth, etc)
2) I found women that were mothers (Eve, Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth, etc)
3) I found women that ruled countries (Ataliah, 1 Kgs 11; 2 Chr 23; Queen of Sheba, 1 Kgs 10; 2 Chr 9; Mt 12.42; Esther, whole book)
4) I found women that worked outside the home as entrepreneurs (Pr 31.10-31)
5) I found women that were professional sages, that is a class of "wise people" in the Ancient world (Abigail, 1 Sam 25; Wise woman of Tekoa, 2 Sam 14; Woman of Abel, 2 Sam 20.14-22, there is considerable scholarly literature on these women in the ancient world)
6) I found women that were prophets (Miriam, Micah 6.4; Ex 15.20; Deborah, Judges 4-5; Huldah, 2 Kgs 22, 2 Chr 34.22ff; Isaiah's wife, Isa 8.3ff; Anna, Lk 2.36-38; at Pentecost, Acts 2.17-18; Philip's daughters, Acts 21.8-9; and some Corinthian women, 1 Cor 11.4-5
7) I found a woman that was a Judge and "lead all Israel" (Deborah, Judges 4.4)
8) I found at least one woman called a deacon (Phoebe, Rom 16.1)
9) I found one woman called an apostle (Junia, NRSV, Rom 16.7)
When I went to the Scriptures I found lots of women on the family tree. I found them being faithful to God as mothers and wives. But I also found women being faithful to God through running a business and using their gifts of wisdom to help even men. I also found women who glorified God through leading his people as prophets, judges, deacons and more. There was a time in my life that I did not know or believe a woman could be any of those things.
As I looked deeper into the text my eyes fell on things that had always been there but for some reason I had failed to see. I noticed, really noticed, for the first time that entire books in the canon concern women ... Ruth and Esther. Did a woman write Ruth? Esther? It is certainly within the realm of possibility and considering the content we might say likely. At least part of Esther, and the rules for Purim, come directly from the hand of a woman,
"Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, along with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter concerning Purim ... Esther's decree confirmed these regulations about Purim, and it was written down in the records" (Esther 9.29, 32)
It would seem from this text that God used a woman to regulate the entire feast of Purim whom he empowered to write with "full authority." This text in Esther claims a lot. Female voices punctuate the biblical text. They are not silent in Scripture as they are in many churches. The author of Samuel and Kings records Hannah's voice in prayer (1 Sam 1). Question: Can we join our voice to hers as she prays? Judges records Deborah's great song that predates his (?) material by centuries (Judges 5). The wisdom recorded by Lemuel is that of a woman (Pr 31.2-9). Luke records Mary's Magnificant and let her lead the church in praise for centuries (Lk 1.46-56). In the Psalms many scholars believe that the content of Psalm 131 sounds like a female voice rather than masculine ... and this should not bother us since we sing Fanny J. Crosby all the time. And Paul tells us about some women who shared their voices in prayer at Corinth (1 Cor 11.4-5). So as I learn about women on the family tree I have discovered that it is very likely that women even helped write the Bible!
When we argue about women in the church do we come to the argument fully embracing the roles that God called women to in Scripture itself? Another question we should ask is ... before we argue about what the Scripture says do we really know what it does say? All of it? How do we integrate these women from the family tree into our doctrine and our practice? I don't know all the answers ... but I am overwhelmed by all the women on our family tree.
FYI ... the image at the top is from January 1901 showing what many think the proper role of a woman to be ...
If you are interested in some previous thoughts on Women in the Family Tree look at these posts:
What Did God Say? Genesis 2.18b and Man's Helper
Huldah Who?? The Forgotten Ministry of a Female Prophet
This last post is the essence of my lecture at the ACU lectures.