Over the past two weeks I’ve been introduced to the work of Jennifer Garcia Bashaw, who serves as a Professor of New Testament and Christian Ministry at Campbell University. Her recent book, Scapegoats: The Gospel Through the Eyes of Victims contains a section she presented in a recent webinar discussing Jesus’ and the Gospel’s treatment of women. I thought her listing was important and wanted to share it in this post.
- Women are valued members of God’s family, calling them “daughters” (Mark 5:21-43).
- Women are more important than religious traditions (Luke 7:36-50, 13:10-17).
- Women are more than wives, mothers, and objects (Luke 8:1-4).
- Women are framed as deacons, disciples, and examples of faith (Luke 10, John 11).
- Women engage in theological discussions (John 4).
- Women are reliable witnesses of the resurrection and serve as the first evangelists (Each resurrection story).
If we continue to look into the Book of Acts, we see these values upheld and carried forward by first and second generation believers. The Apostle Paul also describes his appreciation for the value of women and the significant roles they play in the missionary movement.
But what about Paul’s restrictions on women in is letters? For years I have maintained that each of Paul’s letters were written to a specific audience in a specific geographical location for a specific purpose or occasion and should be interpreted in that context. But first century interpretation and understanding does not equal 21st century application. For example, in first century culture, women who spoke to men were assumed to be promiscuous. Only prostitutes did so. Paul was counseling that women should be wise, not subordinate.
American Christian culture’s insecurity about literal interpretation of the Bible has done women a profound injustice. Some are so concerned with the question “What does this verse mean?” that they have failed to ask the question correctly, which is “What did this verse mean then?” When we interpret the Bible without its appropriate original context and understanding, we make grave misapplications of the Scripture today. And its misapplications move beyond how our local churches are led and administered. Its impact is felt in the marketplace and the home as well.
Ironically, we do make this interpretive allowance for other things in the Bible, such as polygamy in the Old Testament. No one that I know is so ardently literal in their reading of the Bible as to suggest that because Old Testament patriarchs and kings engaged in polygamy that it is perfectly acceptable today. Why? Because of cultural considerations. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 commands that the “rebellious son” be taken and stoned to death. We don’t see that happening today either. Why? Again, our modern cultural understanding has shifted.
I’m not trying to pick a fight, honestly. What I’m advocating is for us to be a little more intellectually honest about how we treat the Bible. I, for one, claim to have a “high” view of Scripture, interpreting and understanding it to the best of my ability in its original context so that I might accurately apply it today. I think its not only a reasonable approach. I think its the responsible approach.