Saturday, March 20, 2010

Jesus and Women

I wrote the following as a reply to an annonymous poster who claimed that the Bible was oppressive to women. I've edited it a bit. I believe that the Word of God sets all people free, including women...

The example of the New Testament liberates oppressed women everywhere that it spreads!

Paul's practice of allowing, even approving of male and female worshipers meeting together would have shocked his Jewish and pagan contemporaries. Jewish culture forbid women from even entering the temple courts. Pagan ritual often involved women as sexual objects for the satisfaction of the priests, rather than worshiping together. But we'll get back to Paul in a moment.

* Jesus Christ set the example for his church. The following points listed, were usually unacceptable, or at least not the norm in ancient culture. Jesus shattered traditions of men:

* Jesus taught both men and women

* Jesus received praise from both men and women

* Jesus had male and female followers

* Jesus' female followers were often mentioned by name

* Jesus reacted with kindness toward a woman who washed his feet and anointed them ("She has done a beautiful thing to me. Everywhere the Good News is preached, what she has done will be told as well.")

* Jesus scolded Martha for doing what was considered traditional "woman's work" in the kitchen, while praising Mary for listening to and learning from him.

* Jesus talked to the Samaritan women. This shocked even her. Jesus broke three barriers to speak to her:

1. Race barrier - she was a Samaritan
2. Gender barrier - she was a woman
3. Moral barrier - she was a "sinner"

Look at what Jesus did in light of his cultural surroundings. The cultural atmosphere was so male-oriented, I can imagine those Gospel writers almost gulping as they wrote so much about women. That is, they wrote so much about women compared to the culture in which they lived. I can't think of any ancient culture that afforded women the assumed rights they have in modern Western cultures. Jesus' inclusion of women was radical.

I think ones particular interpretation of the Bible is closely related to ones position on divine authorship. If you're starting under the assumption that the Bible is nothing more than a collection of human writings with no hint of divine inspiration whatsoever, you're likely to come to all sorts of conclusions.

Another way to interpret the verses your conclusions seem to be based upon, assumes that the Bible is, as most Christians including myself refer to it, the Word of God. This is what I believe. Ultimately, if the Word of God (especially the New Testament) teaches a particular belief or practice, I am obligated as a Christian to uphold it even if it seems at odds with my personal feelings. To me this means that although I disagree with many of your conclusions, or interpretations of the text, I am trying to be careful not to allow my own cultural bias color my interpretations.

If God is the author of the biblical writings, and God is infinite, perfect, just and loving, then these writings will ultimately have our best interests at heart. I'm not saying that we're always going to jump for joy at the prospect of obeying his commands, any more than my children jump for joy when I take away the sweets and send them to brush their teeth. What's best for us, isn't always the most pleasant.

Think about it this way: I believe in order to be in a relationship with anyone sometimes I am required to be exposed to views and opinions I disagree with, and even occasionally to submit my will and desires to the other person's - that is unless I choose only friends who are identical to me, which already sounds boring. If God is personal, in order to relate to him personally, I'm going to at least sometimes encounter aspects of that relationship that I'm not comfortable with. However, if God is also perfect, then putting my personal feelings aside and following him will always be best for me.

1Corinthians 14:33-35 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, 34 women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. 35 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.

In light of 1Corinthians 11:2-16 which assumes women are praying and prophesying (which usually requires speaking) in the church, this passage seems to be dealing with some specific incident or type of speaking in the church: Inquiry. I think Paul had particular women in mind. (I understand this is conjecture) I can only guess to what issue Paul was addressing, but according to the text it was related to learning something during the church service.

Perhaps these women (as women at all these new churches), who were not accustomed to knowing what was going on, because they were not accustomed to such a hands-on worship experience that the "in Christ, no male or female" policy had suddenly afforded them, were interrupting the service (i.e. quenching / grieving the Spirit) with inquisitive outbursts about trivial matters. Add this to the singing, scripture reading, prayer, speaking in tongues and prophesying that people were doing as part of the service, and you have a recipe for disorder that needs some kind of clear instruction. The point is, women in the church at Corinth 2,000 years ago were freely participating in Christian worship with their voices!

Paul mentions women who were leaders in the church in more than a few places in his letters. We know there were female deacons. And one particular woman may have been designated "apostle." Women were also found among the prophets of the New Testament.

About Submission and Authority
Looking through our modern Western cultural glasses submission sounds painful and just doggone... submissive! Even the word is pejorative to us! Another word that rubs us wrong, especially when we're not the ones in it, is authority. Even my "pastoral" self has recently felt like thumping a state trooper I believed was throwing his badge around our small town - which by the way manages just fine with our own local Sheriff's Department, thank you very much!

Contrary to popular opinion submission is not the greatest evil. Jesus made some interesting comments about his own state of being while on earth. He was in submission to his Father in Heaven. "By myself I can do nothing..." (John 5:30). "...for the Father is greater than I" (John 14:28 - which seems to speak of Jesus' human state. See Philippians 2:6). "The head of Christ is God" (1Corinthians 11:3). Does this degrade Jesus? Does this make him less than equal with God? No. That State Trooper having authority over me on the highway, doesn't make me less of a person than he!

There are also other ways to interpret this passage. Some Bible scholars interpret the passages about the husband being the "head" of the wife, as an anatomical head / body metaphor, rather than an authority metaphor. What's the difference? Well, the head / body idea puts emphasis on the oneness of a husband and wife, rather than authority roles. Imagine either a head or a body trying to operate without the other. That is just how close a married couple is, theologically speaking.

If God (the Father) is the head of Jesus (who is the Word of God made flesh, the "Son" member of the trinity) and Jesus is the body, the hands and feet of God on this earth, or "God with us," as one passage states, does that make Jesus (God the Son) any less God than God The Father?

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