Category: Gender

Jesus on Mothers

Photo by Olivia Snow on Unsplash

I’ve never understood how belief in traditional gender roles survives an actual reading of the Gospels. Case in point: when I thought about what the Bible specifically says about mothers (as distinct entities from fathers), this verse immediately came to mind:

“As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, ‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’

“He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.'” Luke 11:27-28 (NIV)

If God’s divine design for women is, primarily, for them to serve the world through the rearing of children, this would have been the place for Jesus to have taught that by affirming what the woman said. Instead, he corrects her: women are blessed not explicitly by mothering, but by discipleship.

The previous chapter saw a rebuff of other traditional “women’s work”:

“She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’

“‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’” – Luke 10:39-42 (NIV)

Again, Jesus insists that discipleship is a woman’s true path. His rebuke of Martha makes little sense if, for women, housework and true discipleship are one and the same.

There’s nothing wrong with childrearing (love my kids) or housework (also love a clean home), and I don’t doubt that, for many women, true discipleship regularly involves both.

The wrong is in insisting on those as the paths that all or most women must follow.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Love: A Reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent

Realizing that I was not loved turned out to be one of the hardest parts of my divorce journey.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I do not believe Ephesians 5 applies to modern-day marriages any more than Ephesians 6 applies to modern-day slavery. That said, those who do believe Ephesians 5 applies to modern-day marriage seem to spend enormous amounts of time agonizing over what female submission should look like: its theory, its practical applications, its limits.

Seems to me that they ought to spend a lot more time agonizing over what male love should look like. In general, there is far more benefit to be derived by pondering what love is and how it should be applied than there is benefit derived from pondering submission, obedience, and subjection. Jesus said that all of the law and the prophets hung on the commandments to love God and love one’s neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). That’s how important love is.

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We Need to Talk About Heavenly mother!

[Part 2: mother! Explained, Heavy Spoilers]

There are two main theories on Darren Aronofsky’s provocative mother!:

  • It’s a film about environmentalism. Jennifer Lawrence is Gaia / the Earth Mother / the Spirit of the Earth. The house is Earth. The people who assail the house, invited in by Javier Bardem (“Him” on the credits, but I’ll just call him “the Poet” or “God”), represent humanity and its destructive effect on the planet.
  • It’s a film about the events of the Bible. Ed Harris is Adam / Man (complete with the fresh wound of a missing rib), Michelle Pfeiffer is Eve / Woman, the smashing of God’s precious glass curio by the Woman represents the Fall, the couple’s sons are Cain and Abel, Cain murders Abel, a flood temporarily wipes out humanity from the Earth, Jesus Christ is born then murdered with the people of earth ritually partaking of his body, and the Apocalypse wipes out the earth.

It’s clear that the filmmakers intended some version of each of these interpretations, but they don’t entirely blend well together at first. How is Earth the mother of Jesus Christ? And who is Jennifer Lawrence’s character in the biblical events? Michael J. Knowles of Daily Wire suggests that Jennifer Lawrence isn’t Mother Earth, but a sympathetic Satan whose negative perceptions of God as a generous but egotistic maniac can be attributed to unreliable narration.

Which is interesting, but 100% wrong. The film tells us exactly who Satan is when Lawrence finds the ripped-up picture of her husband on the floor, horns and demon eyes drawn onto it. See also the flames that encompass Bardem on the movie poster (above). In this movie, God and Satan are one and the same.

The key to understanding mother! and winding these two narratives together is to remember that there isn’t just one Mother in the film. There are three.

And all three of them are deities (more…)

We Need to Talk About Heavenly mother!

[Part 1: Spoiler-Free Review]

Darren Aronofsky’s mother! (yes, the title is uncapitalized with an explanation point) has been getting some well-deserved buzz in spite of a lukewarm performance at the box office. The film ekes out a 67% “certified fresh” rating among critics at Rotten Tomatoes, but received a rare F grade from audiences at CinemaScore, with many audience members declaring it to have been “the stupidest thing they’ve ever seen in” their lives.

And they’re not wrong.

But I can’t stop thinking about it.

This is one of those films where the less said about the plot, the better. (more…)

Anna: The Woman Preaching in Your Bible

*The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple* by James Tissot, 1894

“Women are not called to public preaching!”

I’ve honestly never understood people who take this position given that the Bible contains a very specific example of a woman preaching in public:

There 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 [Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus] 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 NIV)

Some notes on this passage:

– The temple was both public and holy.

– Anna is noted as holding an authoritative calling (prophet). Paul said that the church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:20) and that prophets were second in authority after apostles but before teachers and those with gifts of leadership (1 Corinthians 12:28).

– The text takes pains to establish Anna’s holiness. The wife of one husband (1 Timothy 5:9) then widowed, one who frequently fasted and prayed, and one who never left the temple.

– Most notably, Anna spoke about Jesus Christ not just to Mary and Joseph, but “to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” In other words, this was not some doting grandmother figure uttering a private prayer over a sweet little newborn. Her meeting with the infant Christ prompted her to turn and preach Jesus Christ to all those gathered there who were expecting a Messiah.

I honestly have no idea how complementarians and other hierarchists try to conform this passage to their anti-woman theology, but I’ll hazard some guesses:

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Can History’s Flawed Heroes Save Robert E. Lee?

We’re all upset about that Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, it seems. Either we’re upset over its proposed removal or we’re upset that it’s still there. The rally carried out by a group of torch-wielding “white nationalists” was probably counter-productive in that, now, any chance that the statue had of being seen as a remnant of a complicated and heart-breaking conflict in human history (which is what it is) rather than a clarion call of undiluted racism, has evaporated.

The Activist Mommy thinks she has the solution! They can’t take down the statue of Robert E. Lee (or other confederate monuments) unless they also take down the bust of “racist” Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger . . . can they? She explains:

As a Washington Times article from earlier this year points out, Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood “on racism [and the] belief in protecting society against ‘the unfit.’”

“We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population,” she wrote in one 1939 letter to a friend.

A look at the numbers proves that Sanger’s dream for Planned Parenthood has been realized; currently, Planned Parenthood kills more black people than all other causes of death combined.

Think about that for a moment.

The founder of Planned Parenthood was racist in her ambitions. Her organization today continues to exterminate black babies at alarming rates.

The Activist Mommy is dead wrong in her assessment of Sanger. The quote on exterminating blacks appears on dozens of right-wing blogs and newspapers accusing Sanger—and pretty much nowhere else.

That’s because it’s out of context and ambiguously worded in and of itself. (more…)

Silence in the Assembly

 

Photo by Kristina Flour

 

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. ~ 1 Cor. 14:34-35 (NIV)

Claim: In 1 Cor. 14:34-35, Paul tells all women to sit down and shut up in church.

OR

Claim: 1 Cor. 14:33b-35 restricts women from preaching.

Short Answer: 1 Cor. 14:34-35 isn’t about preaching at all, nor is it directed at all women. It was an injunction against a small group of Corinthian wives who were interrupting congregational meetings with (probably uninformed) questions. It should be translated, “Let the wives remain silent when the congregation meets; they are certainly not permitted to speak out. Rather, let them submit themselves, as says the law. If there is something they want to know, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for a wife to speak out in a congregational meeting.”

(more…)

Jesus Christ, Wisdom of God

(Part 3 of 4)
(continued from Part 2, “The Biblical Data on God and Sexuality”)

The previous post refuted the incorrect claim that the Bible teaches all three persons of the Trinity as quintessentially male. But what about Jesus Christ? After all, the fact that he was incarnated as a man had to mean something, right? In recent years, arguments against women’s ordination have come to rely more and more heavily on Jesus’ human gender.

Such arguments overlook the entire nature of who Christ is. More importantly, they overlook the fact that the early Christians undeniably associated Jesus with the female person of Wisdom in the Old Testament and other Jewish intertestamental literature.

In both the Greek and the Hebrew, the word for wisdom (σοφία / חָכְמָה) is feminine. In numerous places in the Old Testament, this feminine concept of wisdom is personified as a woman, sometimes with majestic and powerful language wherein Wisdom makes divine claims of herself. For example:

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth—when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always[.] [1]

Wisdom was also a regular fixture of intertestamental Jewish literature such as Ecclesiasticus and Wisdom of Solomon, the result being that Wisdom as a personified divine aspect of and authorized assistant to YHWH was already an important philosophical and theological concept among the Jewish community at the time of the birth of Christ.

Throughout Christian history, Wisdom has received significant attention from figures and movements in search of a feminine understanding of God. (more…)

The Apostle Junia

There is a female apostle in the Bible named Junia (Romans 16:7): “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” (NIV) Anyone who opposes the ordination of women needs to reconcile their theology of ordination with that fact.

Several early church fathers commented on the passage and confirmed this Scriptural witness to a female apostle:

Origen (AD 184/185 – 253/254): “It is indeed possible that they were Paul’s relatives even according to the flesh and that they believed in Christ before him and were held to be noble among the apostles of Christ. It can also be understood that perhaps they were of the seventy-two, who themselves were also named apostles, and on that account he would call them noble among the apostles, even among those apostles who were before him.” (Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans 10.21.2, as translated into Latin and preserved by Rufinus, translated into English by Thomas Scheck)

John Chrysostom (c. AD 349 – 407): “To be apostles is a great thing, but to be distinguished among them—consider what an extraordinary accolade that is! They were distinguished because of their works and because of their upright deeds. Indeed, how great was the wisdom of this woman that she was thought worthy of being called an apostle!” (In epistulam ad Romanos 31.2; PG:60.669-70, translation mine)

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (c. AD 393 – c. 458/466): “Then to be called ‘of note’ not only among the disciples but also among the teachers, and not just among the teachers but even among the apostles . . . ” (Interpretatio in quatuordecim epistolas S. Pauli 82.200, translated by Linda Belleville)

That alone is enough to establish that the first sentence of this post is a sound translation of Romans 16:7 with the backing of history and tradition.

“But—but—we don’t know that Junia was a woman!”

(more…)

The Biblical Data on God and Sexuality

Image via David Hayward @ NakedPastor

(Part 2 of 4)
(continued from Part 1, “The Shack and the Gender of God”)

For some, the gender [1] of God is obvious. The God of the Old Testament is referred to exclusively with masculine pronouns, adjectives, and verbs. [2] For the New Testament, both the Father and the Son are similarly described in masculine terms, while the titles used for God in both testaments are entirely masculine as well. Many believe this alone represents enough data to show that God is an essentially male or masculine being.

Most male headship advocates [3] will assert that the Spirit is referred to as a masculine being as well. [4] In actuality, the data on the Third Person of the Trinity is less decisive. In Hebrew, the word for “spirit” is the feminine רוּחַ, so the adjectives and verbs associated with it throughout the Old Testament are usually feminine—for example, מְרַחֶפֶת for hovered in Gen. 1:3. In Greek, the word for “spirit” is the neuter πνεῦμα with most of its adjectives and pronouns matching that case. Going by gendered language alone, the Spirit is a “she” or an “it.”

The oft-cited exceptions occur in John 15-16 when Jesus is delivering his sermon on the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete, wherein he refers to the Spirit with the masculine pronoun ἐκεῖνος. At first glance this seems significant since a neuter form for this adjective exists (ἐκεῖνο) and John seems to have shunned it in favor of the masculine even though it does not match the case of the noun under discussion. However, the antecedent to ἐκεῖνος is not πνεῦμα, but παράκλητος, a masculine adjective functioning as a substantive noun. This could still be a decisive declaration on the Spirit’s sexuality if John had originated this usage of the term, but he did not. The masculine plural form was similarly used as a substantive adjective by Demosthenes in the 4th century BC. [5] John took the pre-existing masculine concept of a παράκλητος as one’s legal advocate and applied it to the Holy Spirit. It therefore follows that his identification has everything to do with the Spirit’s function in the lives of believers, not its gender.

This poses a dilemma for Christians who assert that God is wholly male or masculine: (more…)