By Their Fruit …

Lucas_Cranach_d.Ä._-_Christus_und_die_Samariterin_(Leipzig) cropI am in the midst of reposting and then extending a series looking at the questions that surround both biblical womanhood and women in leadership roles. The first two posts in the series looked at the variety of things that women are described as doing in both the Old and the New Testaments (A Look at Biblical Womanhood and Women of the New Testament). These range from the “expected” roles of wife and mother to judge, prophet, builder, business women, evangelist, one-on-one teacher, witness, student. It has been argued that a woman is a prophetess rather than a prophet – but it doesn’t appear to be a difference in role, calling, or office, rather it is a distinction of gendered language.

The third post in the series considered the question of authority and authoritarianism in the teaching of Jesus and the New Testament portrayal of the church (All Authority?). My contention is that our only true authority is God, with all authority given to Jesus. As humans we are brothers and sisters who stand before Christ. There is no hierarchical mediation before him. Within the Christian church and family no human being – male or female – is given the role of dominance, to domineer over others. Continue reading

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Posted in Christian Life

Suffered, Died, Descended

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.

The next clause of the Apostles’ creed focuses on the death of Jesus the Christ. The first line reiterates his life and place in history. Ben Myers (The Apostles’ Creed) focuses on the word suffered. This word emphasizes the nature of Jesus life and his death. “When ancient people heard the gospel they were tempted to think of Jesus as a supernatural spirit, untouched by physical life.” (p. 59) The Jesus in whom we believe was a human being who suffered in the flesh.

Only three humans are identified by name in the creed – Jesus, Mary, and Pilate. Jesus and Mary we understand, but Pilate? This is an important reference. Ben Myers, J.I. Packer (Affirming the Apostles’ Creed), Michael Bird (What Christians ought to Believe) and Derek Vreeland (primal credo) all make this point in different ways. Myers puts it well: “At the center of the creed is a story, or at least the summary of a story. We are meant to take our bearings not just from doctrine but from history: from a sequence of events that occurred in a particular time and place.” (p. 62) As Vreeland says “Naming Pilate in the creed anchors the life and death of Jesus in time and space.” (p. 56)

Crucified. The death of Jesus on a Roman cross just outside Jerusalem is the image of Christianity. Crucifixion was a torturous and ignominious manner of death. For both Jew and Greek it was a shameful death intended to remove all dignity and humanity from the victim. It was a public disgrace and a public spectacle that brought ridicule and taunts from the crowd. Naked, half dead men lingered in full view as they bled and died – usually from asphyxiation. It was, Bird reminds us, “the punishment of slaves, bandits, and enemies of the state.” (p. 115) This death, however, quickly became the symbol of Christianity. The Philippian overseers and deacons are told by Paul to have the same mind as Christ Jesus who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, … he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (2:7,8)

The cross was a stumbling block to the Jews (a curse on anyone hung on a tree) and foolishness to the Greeks. A fascinating piece of graffiti from sometime around 200 AD (see here) points to the foolishness of Christians – worshiping a crucified god. The writing is translated as “Alexamenos worships [his] God.”

As Christians we embrace the message of the cross. We are called to emulate the humility it represents. There is much more to be said on this topic. Paul preached the message of cross and wrote to the Corinthian church “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18) We could do a whole series of posts on the importance of the cross in Paul’s epistles – but will leave it here for now. Continue reading

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All Authority?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Mt. 28:18-20

800px-Ghirlandaio,_Domenico_-_Calling_of_the_Apostles_-_1481All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus. Quite the encompassing statement! There are a number of other references in the Gospels to the authority with which Jesus spoke, his authority to forgive sins, to command demons.

I am updating, editing, and reposting a series on biblical womanhood. The first post (A Look a Biblical Womanhood) considered the stories of women of the Old Testament. The second post (Women of the New Testament) summarized many of the women of the New Testament. The range is impressive. These range from the “expected” roles of wife and mother to judge, prophet, builder, business women, evangelist, one-on-one teacher, witness, student. We can argue, as someone does any time the topic is raised, that a woman is a prophetess rather than a prophet – but it doesn’t appear to be a difference in role, calling, or office, rather it is a distinction of gendered language.

But any discussion of biblical womanhood in the evangelical church today will eventually come to the issue of authority, specifically human authority. Someone will point to 1 Timothy 2:12 … “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.” Much has been made over the word “authority” in this verse, extending far beyond leadership in the church.

Before beginning to tackle this issue, it is important to first understand what the New Testament models and teaches about human authority. This post is not an exhaustive study of the issue. It is an attempt to start a conversation to look at the form that proper human authority takes in the New Testament.

What does the New Testament teach about authority?

Continue reading

Posted in Christian Life, Christianity, Church

Who is this Jesus?

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.

The largest portion of the Apostles’ Creed focuses on the life and death of Jesus Christ. This is not surprising as Jesus the Christ is the central element of Christian belief and is  contrasted with all others. This was true in the first century, in the early church, and is true today.

Jesus is introduced and described at the beginning of this section of the Apostles’ Creed. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, our Lord, conceived by the Spirit, and born of woman. There is a lot to unpack in this short statement.

Jesus. J. I. Packer (Affirming the Apostles’ Creed) starts with the name. “Jesus (Greek for Joshua, meaning “God is Savior”) is his proper name. It identifies him as a historical person, Mary’s son from Nazareth in Galilee … The four Gospels described his ministry in some detail.” (p. 60) Jesus was a human being who lived in a particular social context at a specific time in a defined place. Other humans who traveled with him and heard his teaching bore witness to his life. This witness was received by the church beyond the confines of Palestine and is preserved for us today. Our faith is grounded in history.

Christ. But there is more. Jesus is the Christ, God’s Messiah. Christ is not his surname, it is a title and denotes a calling, a role or vocation. Both Packer and Michael Bird (What Christians ought to Believe) emphasize this. Michael fleshes it out for us:

So when the Apostles’ Creed refers to “Jesus Christ,” we should think of it as a reference to Jesus in his messianic office as the Christ, the long-awaited deliverer of Israel. The designation “Christ” is from the Greek word Christos, which itself is a translation of the Hebrew word mashiah, meaning “anointed one” (and from which comes the word Messiah). So for us, the mention of Jesus as “Christ” or “Messiah” should automatically evoke the wider gospel narrative pertaining to Jesus’s messianic ministry in Galilee and Judea. (p. 86)

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Women of the New Testament

Last Tuesday we looked at women of the Old Testament. Not commands and laws, but stories about people, what they did and how they did it. It is quite an amazing variety. Today we will look at women of the New Testament (like last week’s post, this is an edited repost from a few years ago). Like the ancient Near East and ancient Israel, first century Galilee, Judea, and the Greek and Roman world were patriarchal cultures. This culture is reflected in the narrative. Still, in the New Testament, even more than the Old Testament, biblical women were not passive wives and mothers staying in the background. Nor were they condemned for their actions (except for the same kinds of failures that condemned men). If there are other specific New Testament examples that we should consider, add them in a comment.

People of Faith

El_GRECO(Domenikos_Theotokopoulos)_-_Annunciation_-_Google_Art_ProjectThen Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8:47-48, also Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-33)

Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” … He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:22-28, also Mark 7:24-30)

When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:3-5)

This is a group of references, but Mary (in a class of her own) and the two women who came to Jesus for healing were clearly women of faith. They had faith in God and faith in Jesus as God’s prophet … Mary may have known more, but the people who came and heard Jesus in his life probably had no other idea concerning him than that of prophet. She certainly didn’t seem to know more when she came with his brothers to “take charge” of him. (Mark 3:20-34)

Devout Prophet

Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-19-_-_Presentation_at_the_TempleThere was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2: 36-38)

It is significant that Luke includes two witnesses here – one male, one female – when Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple for his presentation as first born son. Anna is a prophet. What is the role of a prophet? Isn’t it to speak the word of the Lord to the people? In both the Old and New Testament to prophesy (to speak as a mediator between God and humankind or in God’s stead) is an equal opportunity calling, not one limited to men. We read in Acts 21:8-9 that “Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.

Sincere Questioner and Witness

Lucas_Cranach_d.Ä._-_Christus_und_die_Samariterin_(Leipzig) cropMany Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” (John 4:39)

The entire story of the encounter at the well is worth considering (John 4:1-42). Jesus met the woman when she came for water. She had an openness that is a positive contrast to Nicodemus who came at night (John 3).

Connivers

Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” (Matthew 14:8, also Mark 6:22-25)

As in the Old Testament, not all examples are laudatory. Mother and daughter are both involved in the execution of John.

Followers and Supporters of Jesus

The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. (Luke 8:1-3)

The twelve and some women, three of whom are named, were in the closest circle of followers who were leaving all for Jesus. They traveled with the group, didn’t just support it from afar.

Avid Student of Jesus

Jacopo_Tintoretto_008-2As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. … “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

The women sat with the men to listen to Jesus. This passage is interesting because Jesus specifically commends this attitude and ordering of priorities. Nor should we neglect Martha who was also a devout follower.

Devout

… “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4)

Not Quite Getting It (But then neither did the twelve, Mark 9)

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:20-21)

A worldly understanding of power and prestige afflicts both men and women. Continue reading

Posted in Bible, Women

God: Father, Almighty, Creator

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

Having set up the Apostles’ Creed – its importance, the importance of creed-like statements in Scripture, and the role of the rule of faith in the early church it is now time to dig into the creed itself. The initial phrase in the creed is a concise statement of the God in whom we believe. In the previous post, Creeds Before the Canon?, we looked at the way the rule of faith (from which the creed developed) played a role in the early church and served as a standard to separate orthodox and heretical writings and beliefs. We only understand the creed, however, in the context of Scripture. It is not enough to simply “believe in God.” The God we worship is the God revealed in Scripture. The creed summons us to ponder three key characteristics of the God we worship.

Father. God is not some abstract, distant deity, who set the world in motion and let it be. Nor is God an autocratic despot or an inscrutable force. God is a parent. Described as a father, although feminine analogies are also made at times. Michael Bird (What Christians ought to Believe) points us to three references in Isaiah where God is portrayed as a mother giving birth (42:14), nursing (49:14-17), and comforting her children (66:13). The important thing here is relationship. God is a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows (Ps 68:5). He carried Israel in the wilderness “as a father carries his son” (Dt 1:31). As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him (Ps 103:13). Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Is 64:8).

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A Look at Biblical Womanhood

I have been very busy lately. The beginning of the term, a major deadline, and a little traveling … and limited time to write. This is a repost, lightly edited with a few examples added, but one worth thinking about. More often than I am asked how I as a scientist can be a Christian, I am asked how I, as an educated woman, can be a Christian. After all, the questioner generally continues, Christianity oppresses women. Unfortunately we don’t have to look far to find appalling evidence for this view at the extremes. But even in churches closer to the center there is evidence that can be used to support this position. All we have to do is look at the ongoing leadership wars and sift through the arguments that are used. Some rest solely on “roles,” but many wander into the nature of our being. Some will claim that it is a violation of natural law for women to have a position of authority over a man – in church, family, or secular occupations.

I would like to offer a perspective on the issue and put some ideas up for conversation. We will start, as is always wise, with Scripture. Not with propositions and commands, but with the story as it is told. In this post we will look at the Old Testament.

The Old Testament.The ancient Near East, ancient Israel, first century Galilee, Judea, and the Greek and Roman world were patriarchal cultures. This culture is reflected in the text, including some of the laws. Most of the active characters are men. Still, biblical women were not passive wives and mothers staying in the background. Nor were they condemned for their actions (except for the same kinds of failures that condemned men). Over the last year or so I have taken note of the various descriptions of women in the Bible as well as their occupations and accomplishments. It is quite an amazing variety, and I doubt I have them all here. If there are other specific Old Testament examples that should be included, add them in a comment.

Prophet, Musician, Leader

Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. (Exodus 15:20)

Listen to what the LORD says:

I brought you up out of Egypt
and redeemed you from the land of slavery.
I sent Moses to lead you,
also Aaron and Miriam. (Micah 6:1, 4)

The Micah reference surprised me when I heard it – Miriam, like Moses and Aaron was sent to lead. According to the prophet, this is what the LORD himself says.

Imperfect (but so was Aaron and even Moses – as a result he didn’t enter the promised land) Continue reading

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