Reflexión: Nicodemo (Juan 3:1-13)

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“Tenéis que nacer de nuevo.  El viento sopla por donde quiere, y lo oyes silbar, aunque ignoras de dónde viene y a dónde va. Lo mismo pasa con todo el que nace del Espíritu. “

Me gustaría comenzar mi discurso con una reflexión de Juan 3:1-13. Después de leer este relato, las palabras que surgen en mi mente son las palabras de Jesús  a Nicodemo: Tenéis que nacer de nuevo. El viento sopla por donde quiere, y lo oyes silbar, aunque ignoras de dónde viene y a dónde va. Lo mismo pasa con todo el que nace del Espíritu.” Estas palabras indican algo importante que trata de la salvación al Reino de Dios. Esta narración nos muestra que nuestra salvación al Reino de Dios no es por el esfuerzo humano pero por las manos de Dios.  En estas palabras aprendemos algo sobre la libertad del Espíritu en este mundo. Este relato nos enseña que no podemos confinar el Espíritu a lo que podemos ver, tocar o sentir pero nos recuerda que el Espíritu trabaja más allá de nosotros para sonsacar salvación al mundo – aún en lugares donde no hay iglesias o discípulos de Cristo. Después de leer estas palabras, hemos sido puestos en una posición expectativa, es decir, hemos sido puestos en una posición donde podemos anticipar la salvación de Dios en lugares inconcebibles. Estas palabras nos indican que no hay ningún lugar donde el Dios Trino no esté sonsacando salvación. Por lo tanto, con estas palabras podemos tener consuelo en nuestra misión al mundo – durante nuestra participación en la vida del Reino de Dios podemos confiar en que Dios por el Santísimo Espíritu ha ido más  allá de nosotros a llevar su salvación.

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The Beautiful Toll Collector: Reflection on Zacchaeus

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.”Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Introduction 

As we begin our explorative journey into the narrative of Luke’s gospel, let us commence with a prayer to orient our beings to hear the Lord as he speaks to us afresh through the Scriptures: Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated unto you; and then use us, we pray you, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

I find Luke 19:1-10 to be quite interesting from the outset of the narrative. In the beginning of the narrative the reader hears these words: He (Jesus) entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich (vv. 1-2).

Presuming from the many encounters that Jesus has had with “strange and questionable” people the text appears to read in a rhythmic fashion heralding the point that Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector and was rich. For example, if the writer did not think Zacchaeus’s profession was important why then is his occupation mentioned? Could not the writer have written: “He entered Jericho and passing through the town a man was there who went by the name of Zacchaeus?” Even more why would the writer even select this story to tell? Consequently, the reader is confronted with a question: “What is a tax collector and why is the writer deliberate in mentioning that Zacchaeus is a rich tax collector?”

Gleaning from the overall narrative of Luke, being a tax collector may not have been a noble profession. For example in Luke 5, Jesus calls one of his disciples to follow him – Levi a tax collector – but the religious leaders respond indignantly. In Luke 15, again Jesus makes company with tax collectors and sinners, but the religious leaders comment: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Lastly in Luke 18, Jesus tells a parable concerning a tax collector and a Pharisee. In this parable the Pharisee is accused of being self-righteous while the tax collector is represented as one of humble stature. Profoundly interesting to this parable is the fact that the Pharisee praying to God lists the tax collector as one of the sinners who he despises. The Pharisee in his prayer comments: “‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector’” (18:11). Therefore, gleaning from these texts Jesus’s interaction with this type of person would not have been socially acceptable. This understanding of the tax collector has huge implications upon the narrative in Luke.

Not only does the understanding of tax collectors have huge implications for a person’s reading of the narrative in Luke, but this narrative cannot be extrapolated from its immediate context in Luke 18. Zacchaeus is like others on comparable quests who are faced with obstacles (18:3-4, 15, 39); Zacchaeus, like a widow, a toll collector, children, and a blind beggar, is a person of low social status (ch.18); and so on.”

In a very interesting manner, the Zacchaeus narrative relates and contrast to the story of the rich ruler (18:18-30) for both persons – the rich Ruler and Zacchaeus – are rich rulers. “According to the self–evaluation of the rich ruler, he keeps the commandments, while Zacchaeus is by definition a sinner. The ruler is counseled to sell all that he has and give to the poor; Zacchaeus on the other hand gives half of his proceeds to the poor. In the interaction with the rich ruler the ruler fails to respond to Jesus’s invitation while Jesus concludes by saying that Zacchaeus is a “son of Abraham.”

The writer also mentions that upon hearing of Jesus’s entrance into Jericho: “He (Zacchaeus) was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way” (vv. 3-4). This text becomes quite ironic and gets even more satirical in the following verses when Jesus calls Zacchaeus down from the sycamore tree and tells him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” In response to Jesus’s request Zacchaeus sells half of his possessions and gives them to the poor and those whom he has defrauded paying them back “four times as much” (v.8). Even more, Jesus interprets this act of faith as a characteristic of Zacchaeus’s true status as a “son of Abraham” (v.9). In commenting on the Zacchaeus narrative, Joel Green explains how the Lukan narrative can be understood in terms of its key motifs: seeking, seeing, and shortness.

Firstly, the writer places Zacchaeus upon a quest to find out who is this Jesus (vv. 3-4). However, as the reader continues to read the quest what she encounters is that Jesus is on a quest to Zacchaeus in order to bring him salvation (vv. 5-9). Secondly, locating this narrative within its immediate context (18:35-43), we find that the act of seeing plays a huge role in this story.

The blind beggar who cried out to Jesus: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” found his sight recovered – both physically and spiritually – because of his faith and now Zacchaeus the short tax collector has the eyes of his heart – the entirety of his being – opened because of his trust/faith in Jesus. In his remarkable statement of transformation Zacchaeus says to Jesus: “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much” (v.8).  Thirdly, Zacchaeus’s shortness has a profound implication to this narrative. The vertical imagery of Zacchaeus’s climb into the sycamore tree and his decline to Jesus’s call is representative to “Zacchaeus’s devotion to his quest and serves also as a metaphor associated with matters of status and honor.” In saying more, Zacchaeus’s climb into the tree and his decline to the call of Jesus is reminiscent of the open invitation given by Jesus throughout the Lukan gospel. However, in reading the text we find that Jesus’s call to Zacchaeus becomes our call to follow after him.

In contrast to the openness of Zacchaeus, there is a constant tension between Jesus and the grumbling religious leaders who throughout the gospel always seem to be the subject of Jesus’s critique. In retrospect when the religious leaders grumble and say: “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner” because Jesus has requested to stay at Zacchaeus’s home, I am reminded of the grumblings of the Israelites in the wilderness against Moses and Aaron – ultimately God. The people of Israel reject God by wanting to return to their oppressor and God angrily responds to the people and says,

And say to the people: Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wailed in the hearing of the Lord, saying, ‘If only we had meat to eat! Surely it was better for us in Egypt.’ Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat.  You shall eat not only one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you—because you have rejected the Lord who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?

In conclusion, I chose to study this passage because of the fact that it appears that Jesus crossed social boundaries – throughout all of the gospels. In this passage specifically, Jesus, appears to include someone who was not included. He appears not solely to include the not included but he brings the not included intimately within his fellowship – he tells Zacchaeus that he too is a “son of Abraham”.

Luke 19:1-10 – Zacchaeus the Tax Collector

Luke 19:1-2 – Setting the Stage

At the beginning of the narrative we come across these words: “He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich” (vv.1-2). After reading these first two verses, the reader is placed in connection with preceding narrative concerning the blind beggar in Jericho (18:40-45) – Jericho is located about 20 kilometers away from Jerusalem. One can notice this indication from the connector word “Jericho” that surfaces in v. 19. This connector word suggests that the writer is continuing his thought into Chapter 19 where he introduces Zacchaeus the rich tax collector. Also, in examining the texts further the allusions to Mark’s gospel cannot be missed. In his gospel, we encounter a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus (10:46). This blind beggar is also found near Jericho and he is also given sight. What then does this mean? Could it be possible that there were two blind beggars near Jericho? Rather than suggesting that there were two blind beggars, one can simply conclude that the same blind beggar in Mark is the same blind beggar in Luke. There would be no reason to conclude otherwise. Hence, one begins to notice that Luke in putting forth his account of the blind beggar is paraphrasing the markan tradition.

Verse 2 begins by mentioning the name of one of the narratives protagonist. However, not only is the name of the protagonist mentioned, but also the occupational title of the character, that is, Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector who was rich (v. 2). Some may be tempted to suggest that Zacchaeus’s name may add to the interpretation of the story, yet though the name in “Hebrew means Righteous One; nothing is made of the meaning of the name.”

The name Zacchaeus may be a pre-Lukan name, for with the same spelling the name Zacchaeus is found in Macc. 10:19. However, though the name Zacchaeus is found in Macc. 10:9 it is not found in Luke-Acts.  As a chief tax collector – a kind of district manager – Zacchaeus would have enjoyed “relative power and privilege” among his fellow tax collector’s, yet outside his group of fellow tax collectors Zacchaeus would have been almost universally despised in the Greco – Roman world. Perhaps Zacchaeus was despised so much because he extorted the people when he took their goods? For Jews, tax collectors – certainly chief tax collectors – were seen as traitors and crooks. Whatever be the case, Zacchaeus probably would have enriched himself by lawful and unlawful means. This attitude of extreme dislike from the religious leaders against the tax collectors can be seen all throughout the narrative (Luk. 5, 15, 18). Apparently, the tax collector was numbered among the “sinners” of society – he was one of the outcasts. As one writer comments: “Zacchaeus was a chief, rich tax collector, the sinner supreme.”

So here we have it, a certain man named Zacchaeus “a chief tax collector” by profession, yet at the same time an absolute sinner. Here we are introduced to yet another one of “those” despised by society, yet as we shall see one who is welcomed by Jesus.

Luke 19:3-6

Entering Jericho, Zacchaeus – the rich tax collector – would have probably been profoundly curious to see Jesus. “Undoubtedly he had already previously heard of this exceptional Man who performed so many miracles and did not scruple to have contact with and to minister to persons like himself who were so despised, especially by the Jewish religious leaders.”

Therefore, hearing that such a man like this has entered into Jericho – a Man that made company with people like himself – could have boosted the curiosity of Zacchaeus imploring him to passionately “see Jesus” and apparently nothing would stop him. Whether understood in terms relative to his youth or in terms concerning his stature, Zacchaeus an outcast and a little man disregards his littleness and his “outcastedness” – and the blocking crowds who tried to keep him on the outside – as a factor preventing himself from seeing Jesus.

Zacchaeus, even enduring probable shame despite his adult male status and position in the community as a wealthy “ruler,” however notorious climbs up a sycamore tree (v.4) only to find that the one in whom he sought to see was just as passionately seeking to see him as well. Jesus – the one who Zacchaeus sought to see – upon arriving to the place of the sycamore tree addresses the tax collector by name and says to him: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (v.5) having the option to reject such a statement, without delay Zacchaeus filled with joy and excitement hurries down from the sycamore tree and welcomes the teacher happily into his home (v.6). Zacchaeus – who only wishes a glimpse of the famous teacher – gets much more: he will host the teacher in his home.

Luke 19:7-10

The religious leaders were deeply angered by such a ‘socially unrighteous” action of Jesus. These leaders were so disgruntled by the fact that Jesus went to eat with Zacchaeus that they began to grumble saying: “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner” (v.7).  These religious leaders respond in anger not only labeling Zacchaeus a sinner but also calling into question the character of Jesus.

Among the Jews it was unheard of for a rabbi or any other religious leader to lower himself by staying at the house of a “tax collector”. So they were greatly offended at his allowing himself to be entertained in the house of Zacchaeus, a prominent member of the despised class.

Zacchaeus simultaneously overwhelmed by such an act of acceptance by Jesus and such an act of rejection by religious leaders resolves to follow Jesus (v.8). “Zacchaeus declares openly that he has decided (as a spontaneous act of repentance, love and gratitude) to give the half of his goods to the poor and in every case to restore fourfold whatever he had taken in the past by heartless extortions”

Though some may suggest that Zacchaeus’s giving to the poor was something he had already been doing turning the narrative away from a narrative of salvation to a narrative of vindication. I suggest that Zacchaeus’s giving to the poor was a response to Jesus’s actions towards him. Reading this story solely as a vindication narrative appears to undercut the intensity of Zacchaeus’s desire to see Jesus (vv. 3-4). Even more, “the whole tone of the story finally counts against this view, from the image of Zacchaeus that emerges in vv. 3-4, via the mission echoes of v.6 through the role of the other statements similar to v. 7 in the Gospel account, to the salvation of the lost emphasis.”

Now as we come to the climax of the narrative we can perceive how Jesus’s powerful response to Zacchaeus appears to fly in the face of his accusers. Jesus comments that the promised salvation has come to the house of Zacchaeus. Even more, Jesus calls the “unrighteous tax collector” who was despised by Greco-Roman world and even more by the Jewish community a “son of Abraham”. This title given to Zacchaeus by Jesus was not due to his racial pedigree – though he more than likely was Jewish due to his name  – but he was “son of Abraham” because “he brought forth fruit in keeping with repentance (3.8a) and having responded in faith and repentance to Jesus.”  In Jesus’s last statements he re-emphasizes the purpose of his mission, his mission that centers on seeking and saving the lost” (v.10). One cannot read this last verse without seeing the allusion to Ezekiel 34:26 where the writer comments: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.” In these verses the God of Israel portrays himself as the True Shepard who will go into the earth to search out his lost sheep; he will bring them back into the fold and feed them with justice. In these last passages we learn a great deal about the mission of Jesus, that is, this whole incident is a pointer to the coming in the Son of Man. (Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham).

Conclusion

It is my prayer that we – whether disciples of Jesus or not disciples – can be like Zacchaeus in his passionate pursuit of Jesus. May our curiosities implore us to seek out Jesus as did Zacchaeus; may those obstacles to our seeing be overcame; may our quest for Jesus never be done but may we strive vigorously to see his face for maybe along the way we will be surprised by Jesus. Whether we walk into this journey searching for Jesus optimistically or skeptically, still, let us seek Jesus. Let’s allow our curiosities implore us to seek his face.

La Oración de San Francisco/ The Prayer of St. Francis

La Oración de San Francisco/ The Prayer of St. Francis

Esta es mi Oración/ This is my prayer:
Señor, haz de mí un instrumento de tu paz:
donde haya odio, ponga yo amor,
donde haya ofensa, ponga yo perdón,
donde haya discordia, ponga yo unión,
donde haya error, ponga yo verdad,
donde haya duda, ponga yo la fe,
donde haya desesperación, ponga yo esperanza,
donde haya tinieblas, ponga yo luz,
donde haya tristeza, ponga yo alegría.
Oh, Maestro, que yo no busque tanto
ser consolado como consolar,
ser comprendido como comprender,
ser amado como amar.
Porque dando se recibe,
olvidando se encuentra,
perdonando se es perdonado,
y muriendo se resucita a la vida eterna.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Lord, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

Women in Ministry

Introduction

In this paper I suggest that God’s mission within female/male relationships is restorative. Therefore, in light of my thesis, this paper will be broken down into four parts. The first part will deal with my personal experience, the church’s tradition, and the context of the church’s mission in the world. The second part of this paper will identify God’s mission and feminism in the creation/fall narratives (Gen. 1-3). The third section will explore the household codes in Eph. 5:21-33 and the instructions for worship in 1 Tim. 2:11-15. The last part of this paper will draw a single conclusion and develop a practical way to move forward as partners in God’s mission.

The Phenomenal Woman:

We shall begin our discussion with a beautiful poem by Maya Angelou:

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I’m telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms,

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them,

They say they still can’t see.

I say,

It’s in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Now you understand

Just why my head’s not bowed.

I don’t shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing,

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It’s in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need for my care.

’Cause I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.[1]

God’s Mission and Feminism: Part 1

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.[2]

Personal Experience: Cultural Background, Personal Pilgrimage, Spirituality

I picked this topic because it is of great interest to me. Growing up in a National Baptist Church that did not allow women to pastor, I always wondered why women could not pastor. I thought to myself, is it because women are subordinate to males? Of course not! I protested.  That conclusion did not resonate within the context that I was raised, nor did it settle pleasantly with the women who I knew. From my experience and within my cultural context women were strong and anything but weak. They were deeply loved and cherished by their husbands. From my experience, the women in my culture can be defined as women of action. Also, I perceived that the relational dynamic between a wife and her husband was very different. In the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Toula (the daughter) wants to go to school to study computers, but her desire to go to school creates a big problem when she recognizes that her dad would never let her quit the family’s business to go to school. Discouraged and frustrated, Toula goes to her mother and finds solace in her mother’s words, “Let me tell you something, Toula. The man is the head, but the woman is the neck. And she can turn the head any way she wants.”[3]  This line in the movie resonates deeply with my experience throughout my childhood years and well into the present. This is not to say that the men in my culture are “weak” because the men are strong too, rather this statement serves to highlight the value and strength of women within my cultural paradigm. It is worth noting that within the African – American expression of worship much emphasis is placed upon the virtuous women whose “children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” (v.28). Nevertheless, despite the ultra-high value placed on women within my culture, in my home and in my church I still could not understand why women could not pastor.

Then my curiosity led me to ask the people within my church about women pastors. Most of them graciously responded to me and said “Justin, women cannot pastor because the Bible does not permit it”, and for a time I believed that response. However, throughout my college years I found myself asking the same question again: “Is there a strong basis for women pastors in the scriptures?” But from my gracious Southern Baptist college professors I received the same response as I did from those in my church. In short, my professors argued that while both women and men are created equal in the Image of God; the woman is functionally subordinate to the man in marriage and the church; the husband and wife are one flesh and believers are one body in Christ.[4]

My journey at this Southern Baptist University was interesting. I found that there was a huge gracious but distinct emphasis on biblical manhood and womanhood. The underlying assumption for their ministries was that women should solely work with women and men solely with men, for how could a man understand the struggles that women go through? I did not deny the principle behind this idea of ministry but what about the woman missionary who finds herself ministering to group of men? Is her ministry less effective because she is not a man?  As an African – American male, the term separate but equal bears a negative connotation to my black ears. I am reminded of such a time when this phrase was used to oppress my black ancestors, rid them of their freedoms, and drive the racist white agenda under the umbrella of equality. If that was the case then, could it be possible that it could be the case now?

From that season until now I have currently answered my question. My spiritual pilgrimage has led me to affirm that women do have the right to pastor churches. I have come to see the statements of Saint Paul as culturally bound rather than absolute for every generation and “the subservient role of women to men, especially in regard to spiritual leadership, is another aspect of fallen culture”. Female and male tensions have been transformed by Christ within the new covenant community. This stance does not mean that I am privileging modern day feminism over and against the biblical worldview, for I believe that this position is faithful to the scriptures when read within context. I deeply affirm that. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (v.28).”

The Church’s Reflection: Historical and Systematic Theology

The question of whether women can be church officers has been assumed throughout the history of the church with very few exceptions. It was the assumption that only men could be pastors or function as elders within a church.[5]  Ruth Tucker writes that it is impossible to imagine that these opinions offered so freely on women did not have an impact on the church. For, the church fathers were revered not only in their day but also through the centuries that followed.[6]   For example,

  1. Clement of Alexandria (150-215) “Nothing disgraceful is proper for man who is endowed with reason; much less for women, to whom it brings shame even to reflect of what nature she is”
  2. St. John Chrysostom (344-407 AD) of women he wrote, “Among all savage beasts, none is found so harmful as woman (Tucker 1992).
  3. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) Though not one of the early Church Fathers he was a significant Medieval theologian who wrote, “Women are controlled by their sexual appetites while men are governed by reason. Women’s lives and concerns are trivial and are wholly dependent on men, while men need women only for procreation. Because of their inferiority as a sex, women are utterly incapable of filling important roles either in society or in the church. The woman is subject to the man, on account of the weakness of her nature, both of mind and of body¼.Man is the beginning of woman and her end, just as God is the beginning and end of every creature¼.children ought to love their father more than their mother” (Tucker 1992).
  4. John of Damascus (675-749 AD) “A woman is an evil. A rich woman is a double evil. A beautiful woman is a whited sepulchre. Better is a man’s wickedness than a woman’s goodness” [7]
  5. Tertullian (140-230 AD) In his article on women’s apparel he wrote, “You are the devil’s gateway. Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age; the guilt must of necessity live, too” [8]

From this perspective of Church history until the twentieth century, unfortunately the reader is left with an unpleasant view of women in ministry. In light of all this negative information it should be noted that women held prominent roles within mission societies in the twentieth century and they were the leaders of bringing the gospel to the world. Through various evangelical movements like faith missions and holiness missions women were given opportunities to go beyond the traditionalist roles of women in educational and medical services, to engage in direct evangelistic activities, and even take on leadership roles…During the 1920s, for the first time in Protestant mission history in China, missionary women took initiative and leading roles in massive revival movements commanded national and international attention equal to any male mission leader of the day.[9]  However Roberts writes that in the twentieth century the paradox of Christian mission is that while missionary women affirm the good news that saves, frees, liberates, the patriarchal contexts in which it is practiced continue to overshadow the message. Even as women have mentored men of other cultures for ministry, they have been denied eldership themselves (Robert 1986).

Now within the twenty first century, denominations find themselves at a crossroads. Because of the feminist critique the church has been called to re-evaluate their assumptions in light of women, the Bible and have been driven to ask: “What is the nature of the female/male relationship according to the scriptures and how does this understanding play a role in the practice of the people of God?” On women in ministry, denominations can be placed into two categories-egalitarian and complementarian.

Those of an egalitarian perspective argue that St. Paul’s statements are only binding to that culture. In other words passages like 1 Tim. 2:11-14, 2 Cor. 14:33-36, 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 are all cultural statements rather than absolute statements that should not be applied to our culture. They argue that: “Denying that women have the capacity to exercise spiritual headship presupposes a view of women as essentially inferior to men. A female, by virtue of being female, is deemed to be incapable of carrying out a role that men can carry out. This is not functional subordination but subordination rooted in nature[10] .

The subservient role of women to men, especially in regard to spiritual leadership, is another aspect of fallen culture that God wants to overthrow. God tolerated and worked within the patriarchal cultures of both the Old and the New Testaments, but his ideal-and thus the ideal the church should be striving for-is for leadership to be based on gifts, not gender (Baker and Eddy 2002).

On the other hand, those of a complementarian perspective argue that we are separate but equal. “Women and men have been created equally in the image of God. Therefore, men and women have equal value to God, and should be seen by us as having absolutely equal value as persons, and equal value to the church. Moreover, Scripture assures men and women of equal access to all the blessings of salvation (Acts 2:17-18; Gal. 3:28). This is remarkably affirmed in the high dignity and respect which Jesus accorded to women in his earthly ministry” . However in respects to the office of pastor or elder the Bible does not permit a woman to operate within those functions.  Therefore according to the complementarian perspective, the Apostle Paul’s statements about women are absolute rather than culturally bound.

“With the thinking and practices of most cultures throughout history, the Bible emphasizes that men and women are equal in God’s eyes. Both are made “in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27). The Bible proclaims that men and women have equal dignity, worth, and responsibility before God. This is why historically the status of women has almost always improved wherever Christianity has been received. However, this is not to claim that men and women have identical functions, according to Scripture. God created the male-female distinction for a reason: They are to complement, not to replicate, one another. This functional differentiation is obvious biologically, but it is also taught in Scripture (Baker and Eddy 2002)

God’s Mission and Womanism: Part 2

Genesis 1-3: From Equality to Inequality

Like Luciano Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma where listeners are thrust into majesty by means of his heavenly crescendo in the last note of the song; the readers of the creation narrative find themselves in awe of the majestic triune God of the universe who creates and sustains all creation by the power of his word. At the end of the creation accounts we find beauty, intimacy, completeness and the Heavenly Majesty looking upon all and He says it is “very good” (v.31). I think that it is worthwhile to note that each creation account ends with remarkable statements that define God’s perspective before the fall. Creation was “very good” not because it had something inherent within it to make it good, nor because creation somehow did something for God. Creation was “very good” because all things existed in relationship to him the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. The second creation account (Genesis 2) records in relation to woman and man, the following: “the man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (v.25). However, though we are presented with beauty, intimacy, and completeness in both creation accounts the reader quickly wanders: “What happened?” No longer do we dwell in  the world of Genesis 1 or 2 but we are wonderers in the world of Genesis 3 which is a world where beauty has been tainted.

Critical to any understanding of God’s mission in feminism is creation. At least, in my journey the creation narratives provided for me a framework of how it was before the fall and the fall narrative described how it is after the fall. The creation narrative reaches its apex in the creation of human beings in the Divine Image.[11] But what does it mean in relation to female and male relationships? To be created in the Image of God means that human beings have been created to be in loving communion with God and with all of his creation through our representation of him on earth. [12]  Being created in the image of God does not imply subordination, rather it suggests mutuality. That is to say that female and male share together in the Divine Image by being created in relationship with God and to the creation vv. 26-30. “In the Genesis 1 account of God’s creation, neither maleness nor femaleness connote a disparity in the rank or function. Both man and woman bear the image of God; thus the gender differentiation “images” the essential nature of the Godhead as community. As a result, they both share equally the God-assigned task of stewarding the natural environment without any intimation of role distinctions.”[13]

It is interesting to note that in Genesis 2:15-18 God comments: “that it is not good for man to be alone”, so God makes a helper suitable for man. However, before we go any further we must identify what the word helper means. “The Hebrew phrase includes two words. The first of these, translated ‘helper’, implies someone who assists and encourages. ‘Help’ provides support for what is lacking in the one who needs help. It is a word that is used several times in the Old Testament for the help which comes from God…So perhaps ‘helper fit for him’ means ‘a helper matching his eminence’ or perhaps ‘his distinctiveness’. It certainly points to one who is fit to stand before the man, opposite him, as his counter-part, companion and complement. There is no sense of inferiority, subordination or servitude implied here – rather it is one who is ‘like him’, but ‘like opposite him’, (to give a literal rendering). Advocates of male superiority and authority will have to find support somewhere other than Genesis 2.”[14]

Because of the delay between vv.15-18 and vv. 21-25 some commentators supporting the separate but equal perspective (complementarian perspective) point out that “Adam was given the mandate to care for the Garden before Eve was created (Gen. 2:15). Eve was to share in this mandate (Gen. 1:28), but she was to do so as a complementary helper to Adam (Gen. 2:18). Adam alone was directly commanded by God to rule the earth. Hence, Adam bore primary responsibility for carrying out the mandate.”[15] However, this reading of the second creation account is incoherent with the first creation account. Rather, both man and woman in Genesis 1:28 were equally given the mandate to rule creation.

The fact that God put man in the garden first (Gen. 2:15) does not mean that man has a superior responsibility over the woman nor does it imply subordination, rather the delay between vv. 15-18 and vv. 21-25 serve to highlight man’s loneliness in the garden and the point that human beings have been created for relationship. “A close scrutiny of Genesis invalidates such a theory. As soon as primal origination becomes a norm conferring dominance to the first line, both Adam and Eve fall under the rulership of animals. According to Genesis 1, animals were created before humans. Therefore, they should rule over humans. The absurdity of such a theory is evident. Chronological supremacy of itself does not confer superior rank.”[16]

Despite God’s identification of man’s need, there is a delay in his provision: contrast to the instantaneous fulfillment of the divine word in chap.1 this hold-up creates suspense. It allows us to feel man’s loneliness. All the animals passing by in pairs and man commenting: “Everything has its partner but I have no partner.”[17]  From the perspective of creation, relationship between female and male in was one of equality. “The teachings of the second chapter of Genesis confirm and expand on those of chapter 1. The delay provides a rationale for the essential oneness of male and female. Additionally, it also shows that in God’s creation’s ideal, woman and man were expected to enjoy a relationship of mutuality in equality. Nothing in Genesis 1 and 2 even hints at a disparity of essence or rank between woman and man.”[18]

Woman and Man both shared together in the Divine Image as God’s representatives over all creation. It was not until the fall of human beings that the relationship between female and male went from equality to inequality. It is interesting to note in v. 16 part of the curse is female subordination. “The fall led to catastrophic consequences for the relationship between God and humans. Woman and Man became alienated from God, and each of them assumed primal dependency on his or her original element. Adam’s life became subject to the ground from which he had been taken, and Eve’s to the man from whom she had been taken. The ruler-subject relationship between Adam and Eve began after the fall. It was for Eve the application of the same death principle that made Adam a slave to the soil. Because it resulted from the fall, the rule of Adam over Eve is satanic in origin, no less than is death itself. The fall displaced God from a position of exclusive sovereignty over Adam and Eve. Their lives became subject to the forces of death unleashed on the cursed environment.”[19] Therefore, in the chapters preceding Genesis 3, Woman and Man were to rule mutually over creation (1:26-30), now in light of Genesis 3 man dominates the woman.

God’s Mission and Feminism: Part 3

Ephesians 5:21-33: Women/Men in Marriage

Like every Wednesday night, it was the family’s practice to attend bible study at the local church down the road. But this night was unlike any other night for Johnny and his family as the scripture passage of the night was Ephesians 5:22-24, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Immediately Johnny, his parents, and all the sisters and brothers in the bible study thought to themselves: “What does it mean for the wife to submit?” Many asserted that “this passage is a reference to the man’s God given authority of his wife and his family” while others kept quiet and reluctantly agreed. But Johnny reluctant to this interpretation commented: “Could it be that submission is mutual?”

Having almost been married for two years, like Johnny I have always wondered what submission looked like in the Christian home. In my experience, the term “submission” for some Christian men has been used as a means to suppress and belittle the woman’s opinion and role. For others however, the term submission is not really defined; therefore the result is an unbalanced view of submission in the home. The wife is domineering and the husband is passive or the husband is “machista” (a male chauvinist) and the wife is devalued. Therefore, in order to avoid these extremes how do we define submission biblically?

In my Christian pilgrimage, I have come to understand the Pauline texts as cultural statements rather than absolute statements that are binding upon all cultures. “Admittedly, some verses teach that women are to submit to men and expressly forbid women to exercise spiritual authority over men (e.g., I Tim. 2:11-14). But these passages do not express God’s will for all time. If this teaching constituted part of the created order and God’s ideal, the Bible would not contain counterexamples (Exod. 15:21; Jud. 5; Lk. 1:46-55; Gen. 1:27-28; Gen. 21:12; Mic. 6:4; 2 Kin. 22:14; Neh. 6:14; Lk. 2:36-38; Ac. 2:16-18; 21:8-9; 18:26; 1 Cor. 11:4-5; Jn. 20:16-18 ; Rom. 16:1-12; Phil. 4:2-3).” [20]  From the perspective of Ephesians 5:21-33: “To submit is essentially to count the other person greater than oneself, to give up one’s own rights, and to defer to the wishes or needs of the other. A complete wholehearted submission amounts to giving oneself so completely that one lays down his or her life for the other. This, in fact, is precisely what husbands are told to do in Ephesians 5:21-33. Ironically, this is the passage most frequently used to mandate the wife’s universal and unilateral submission to the husband’s authority over her.”[21]

Ephesians presents a picture of mutual submission. Verse 21 sets up the framework for the flow of the rest of the text: “Wives, therefore, are to submit to their husbands in the same all believers are to submit to one another. This text is not advocating a unilateral female submission to male authority. Rather, it is presenting the submission of wives as one application of the basic principle of mutual submission that is to be applied by all believers within the context of the body of Christ. The admonition to husband to love their wives and wives to submit to their husbands is balanced out by the command for all believers to submit to one another.”[22] The description of the husband’s role in Ephesians 5:25-31 indicates that the wife’s submission “is not a one-sided submission, but a reciprocal relationship…to give oneself up to death for the beloved is a more extreme expression of devotion than the wife is called on to make. Culturally, the husband ruled the wife. But spiritually, he was to respect her as an equal, care for her as he cares for his own body, and nurture her as Christ does the church- all in context of a loving relationship of mutual submission. What Paul describes in Ephesians 5:21-33 is not a role relationship of two functionaries performing their respective job descriptions within a hierarchal authority structure. Rather, it is a relationship that flexes and flows with mutual, submissive love that follows always and only from husband and wife being filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18-21).”[23] Christian submission is “rooted deeply within the verses preceding verse 21 and the verses that come after verse 21. Mutual submission is associated with the filling of the Spirit in verse 18. The command ‘be filled’ (v.18) is followed by a series of participles in the Greek: speaking (v.19), singing (v.19), making music (v.19), giving thanks (v.20), and submitting (v.21).”[24]

Another assumption that we must define is biblical headship. What did St. Paul mean when he said: “That the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior?” (v.23) Does this imply that the husband is in authority over the wife or could St. Paul’s perspective be different? Unfortunately in my experience at the Southern Baptist University credence was given to the former, that is, the husband does have authority over his wife; however I do not believe that this interpretation is in line with the heart of Jesus.

“It is particularly significant that there is no mention here of either the authority of a husband over his wife (which he had through civil law at the time of Paul’s writing) or the authority of Christ over the church (which he has always had in full measure). In order to conclude that Christ serves as a model for the husband’s leadership of the wife, it is necessary to presume that “head” has no possible meaning other than authority, or that the reference to the wife’s submission necessarily entails her unilateral obedience to her husband’s God-ordained authority over her. But neither of these assumptions are warranted by the text itself; they must be brought to the text from previously established assumptions as well as how it does not draw the parallel.[25]

To understand the biblical headship we must understand the nature of the head-body metaphor. Rather than placing a ton of weight upon the chain of command model, “the biblical emphasis should be placed upon an understanding of our unity and interdependence as one body, whether in marriage or in the larger family of God.”[26] The term head does not imply an authoritarian rule, but it is being used by St. Paul to describe the deep relationship that exists between the head and the body. “This passage depicts marriage not as a hierarchal organization, but as a living, unified (head + body) organism”.[27] It is interesting to note that in v.23 the husband is paralleled to Christ the Savior of the Church. In that the husband’s headship is rooted in giving life. In laying down his life – his own needs, rights, and desires – out of love for his wife (whom he regards as his own body), a man becomes the source of life to his wife. The wife is similar to the church in that she must submit to the ministry of her “savior” if she is to benefit from his life-giving, nurturing love. The wife’s submission, however, is not unilateral; for the husband also practices submission as he gives himself up for her sake.”[28]

Therefore, just as we live and are nurtured by Christ’s love so the wife is nurtured by her husband’s love. “The biblical difference between the roles of husband and wife is not described in terms of levels of authority, but there is a subtle difference nonetheless. Though they are equal in authority and mutual in submission, it seems the husband is in some sense a life-giver or “savior” to the wife in a way that the wife is not to him. There are two reasons for this: creation and fall.”[29] In the creation narratives the woman received life from the man. “This has significance beyond that of indicating their complete equality and unity in having been made of exactly the same “stuff.” It evidently serves somehow as a parable of the life-giving love that the Lord has for his people, and that God from the beginning intended a husband to have for his wife… the biblical headship of the husband described in Ephesians 5 is redemptive (analogous to Christ’s redemption of the church), in that it mitigates the effect of the fall which places the woman under male rule, and it helps to reinstate woman in her creational place of cultural responsibility alongside man.”[30]

The Mission of God in Ephesians: Women/Men in the Christian Marriage

“In Christian marriage the biblical headship of the husband described in Ephesians 5 is redemptive in that it mitigates the effect of the which places the woman under male rule, and it helps to reinstate woman in her creational place of cultural responsibility alongside man.” [31] In other words through marriage God’s mission is to redeem the woman to the position of equality that she had with the man before the fall narrative. In Christ the picture of loving mutuality and respect in the Genesis 1 & 2 narrative is recaptured.

1 Timothy 2:11-15: Women/Men in the Church

Christina knew the evening’s conversation would be interesting, to say the least. Recently graduated from a Christian liberal arts college and home for the summer, Christina had asked her pastor to stop by that evening. Tonight was the night she would tell her parents and her pastor just what God had been doing in her heart with regard to future ministry. Tonight she would tell them that she had a strong sense of calling to the pastoral ministry and that she planned to start seminary in the fall. Her dream was to fulfill the role of a senior pastor in a church one day. They all listened intently as she shared her pilgrimage with them. When she finally asked for their feedback, the responses were far from unanimous. Her pastor began: “Christina, I have watched you grow as a Christian from the time you were a little girl. Your heart for God and your passion for his kingdom have always been evident in your life. I am so excited that you want to minister within the church in a full-time capacity. However, the Bible teaches that the particular role you are aspiring to-that of senior pastor-is to be reserved for male ministers. In passages such as 1Timothy 2:12-15, the apostle Paul is very clear about this matter.” At this point, Christina’s mother could not contain herself any longer. “But as I read through the Bible, I find women fulfilling leadership roles in both Testaments. In the Old Testament, there are women leaders such as Miriam and Deborah. In the New Testament, Paul mentions women leaders such as Priscilla and Phoebe. How can you tell my daughter that God isn’t calling her to pastoral ministry when we have these clear examples of women leaders in the Bible?” As Christina turned to her father, the confused look on his face was evidence enough that he had no idea where he stood on the issue. “Now what?” she thought to herself.[32]

Most modern women who read 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are stunned to hear Paul’s comments to women in this part of scripture. Even I (a male) am dumbfounded when Paul says: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.” This statement seems contrary to the heart of Jesus and the whole flow of our discussion on the prominence of women. But could there be more to Paul’s prohibition than meets the eye or should his prohibition be understood as a universal principle that is binding upon all generations and cultures? “The fundamental question that needs to be answered with regard to 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is whether this prohibition was advanced as a temporary corrective to a specific problem situation, or as a universal theological principle whereby upper echelon spiritual authority must be reserved for men and denied to women. Which of these two alternatives is more plausible, when judged in light of the whole Bible and the specific context of the passage?”[33]

The context of the text seems to suggest that St. Paul’s prohibitions in 1 Timothy are cultural rather than universal principles that are binding for every generation. “If, as it seems most reasonable to believe, Paul’s proposed measures were designed to remediate a specific and immediate problem, then the proper understanding of their import would be in the context of their applicability to the particular situation in the Ephesian church. It is inconsistent to regard dress code in 1 Timothy 2:9 as culturally relative and, therefore, temporary, but the restriction on women’s ministry in 2:12 as universal and permanent. All these instruction are part of the same paragraph, the same flow of thought, and are elements of an epistle that was written, not as a general “church manual” applicable to all churches everywhere, but specifically for Timothy with respect to his assigned task of dealing with the false teaching in the Ephesian church at the time.”[34] Apparently, at the church in Ephesus there was a major problem with false teachers and these false teachers had a great influence upon the women. “It seems certain from 2:9-15, 5:11-15, and 2 Timothy 3:6-7 that these straying elders have considerable influence among some women, especially some younger widows, who according to 2 Timothy 3:6-7 have opened their homes to theses teachings, and according to 1 Timothy 5:13 have themselves become propagators of the new teachings. In 1 Timothy 5:13, these women are described as busybodies going about from house to house, “talking foolishness and speaking of things they should not. As a result some have already “turned away to follow Satan” (5:15).”[35]

Some of my traditionalist friends assert that St. Paul’s prohibition of women is rooted deeply within the creation narratives. However, this interpretation fails to understand the context of St. Paul’s teaching.

“On the surface, this instruction is puzzling. What difference does it make that Adam came before Eve? Wouldn’t this same logic require that the animals have authority over humans, since they were created before us? And wasn’t Adam deceived as much as the woman? Indeed, doesn’t Paul elsewhere place the onus of responsibility for the deception on Adam (Rom. 5:12, 17-19)? The puzzle is removed when Paul’s instruction is seen in the light of a common rabbinic understanding of what happened in the Garden. According to this tradition, Adam was at fault for not properly instructing Eve about the dangers and consequences of eating from the forbidden tree. Adam had been created first and had received instruction directly from God. Eve had been created second and was dependent on Adam for this information. This is why she was more vulnerable and also why Adam bore the brunt of responsibility for the fall. Timothy begins to make sense. Paul is appealing to this rabbinic understanding as a rationale for telling Timothy not to allow women in his church to teach. They are in the same position as Eve was and are therefore vulnerable (cf. 1 Tim. 5:11-15, where Paul expands on this vulnerability). This warning would have no application in cultural contexts in which women are afforded as much opportunity to learn as men are and in which there are no negative religious connotations associated with women in leadership.”[36]

Interpreting 1 Timothy 2:11-15 as a restriction on women requires that Genesis 2 be interpreted as affirming female subordination.[37]  However, as we established earlier in the discussion Genesis 2 should be properly interpreted in light of Genesis 1. When Genesis 2 is interpreted in light of Genesis 1 we find no hint of female subordination within the text by female and male mutuality. Only after Genesis 2 does the reader experience a break from the original model in creation. In Genesis 3 the “woman’s desire will be for her husband, and he will rule over her.”[38]

Lastly, the interpretations vary as to what is actually meant by v.15 but whatever St. Paul may mean it is a positive close to a negative beginning in vv. 11-14. I like Mark Roberts’s interpretation:

“He asserts that verse 15 gives a promise that the women’s subordination is not permanent. The woman is redeemed from the very situation that keeps her silent vv. 11-12. Firstly, her redemption happens through bearing the Messiah where the woman’s deception and transgression is avenged and also where her reputation is restored from being the first sinner. Second the childbearing action serves to counterbalance the order of creation in which the first man “bore” the first woman from his own body. Thus Paul is qualifying his reference to Adam’s temporal priority in creation as much as he qualified it in 1 Corinthians 11:11-12. In other words, whatever significance one may wish to derive from the fact that the first woman came from the first man, it needs to be balanced by the fact that ever since, man has come from woman. The restorative effects of woman’s bearing of the Messiah and women’s childbearing capacity in general, however, are insufficient. Individual women must also “continue in faith, love and holiness, with propriety.”[39]

In a final word, whatever the interpretation may be Paul is encouraging the women of Ephesus to take heart in God’s promise of salvation, restoration, and deliverance.[40]

God’s Mission in Feminism: Part 4

The Church and God’s Mission in the World

If the Word of God forbids female ministry, we would ask how it happens that so many of the most devoted handmaidens of the Lord have felt constrained by the Holy Ghost to exercise it…? The Word and the Spirit cannot contradict each other.[41]

Consequently, should a woman then pastor?

In the New Testament, It clearly portrays, however, the fact that the early Church had a varied and faithful ministry arising from the fact that all of God’s people were “gifted” by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of building up one another (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 12:4-31, 14:1–19; Romans 12:3–8; Ephesians 4:7–16; 1 Peter 4:8–11). Any person could exercise ministry (which means, remember, service) who was called and gifted by God and affirmed by the body of Christ, the Church. Some were set apart in leadership positions and some were assigned specific tasks to accomplish, but the differences among ministries were not distinction of kind. Modern debates over the ordination of women often miss the crucial and basic issues of the holistic concept of the ministry of the Church reflected in the New Testament. Of course, no person should be ordained or given any responsibilities of ministry within the Church because of gender or for the sake of a “point.” On the other hand, we have affirmed in the Church that no person, called and gifted by God, should be denied any role of ministry or leadership in the church because of one’s gender. [42]

Presently in my pilgrimage I have come to see that God’s mission completely restores female/male relationships. On the one hand God’s mission strongly rejects the restrictive approach to feminism and on the other hand it vehemently denounces the extreme feministic approach. If the church goes to either extreme of feminism or restrictivism then it will distort God’s picture of reconciliation. However, we must find the balance in God’s mission and recapture the oneness and mutuality that was lost in the fall. In Christ, we have been empowered to lives of mutual submission to one another in every aspect of our lives. Christ-like submission should be characterized by loving service towards one another and it should be a reflection of God to the world.

I close this paper with some encouraging words from St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians. “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”[43]

Missional Hermeneutic: What now?

What now? As we surveyed the various texts in the biblical narrative we learned that God’s desires to use both women and men in his mission. From the vista of the creation narratives, the relationship between woman and man is not a “separate but equal” relationship, but the relationship between woman and man is one of “complete equality”. However, in the fall narrative there was the momentous event that displaced all that was achieved in creation. Now from the perspective of creation the ideal relationship between: (1) God and humans, (2) humans and creation, (3) and woman and man has been completely redefined. No longer is our relationship with God one of joy and delight, no longer do we experience the complete joys of creation, and no longer do we enjoy the fullness of what relationship offers. The tranquility of life finds disaster knocking at its door, the pleasures of relationship frequently let us down, and we stand before the Righteous Judge condemned as a community of sinners. However, though we stand judged before the Almighty God in his infinite love he pursues us while calling us back into his communion until he finally finds us through God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it this way:

“God has taken the judgment of humanity and created a new humanity. “Christ lived the life of ecstatic otherness loving God and neighbor and rejecting the selfishness that marks the peccatorum communio. Christ is the “Man for Others” because the social basic relation of his life was love, the divine love that we see at the cross and which can be defined only through the life and death of Jesus Christ. In Christ humanity is now free to live for others, In Christ there is no seeking after self in ways that are destructive to the other. In Christ there is love. And so the community if Christ, the community that is ‘Christ existing as community’ must become this humanity”[44]

So as a result of God’s finding us in Christ we are brought back into relationship with God, with creation, and with human beings. Therefore from the vantage point of this paper one of the things displaced in the fall were female/male relationships but in Christ those relationships can be presently recaptured. Yes, it seems as though the Pauline letters reject the perspective of this paper, however in light of the context of theses passages the admonition are culturally bond and not binding as absolutes rule for all generations. God’s mission includes women equally as does it men. Therefore within our Churches we should seek value the gifts of all believers (women and men), rather than make gender specific offices.

Women have contributed much to the ministry of the Church throughout its history. However, their role in this area has never been free from controversy. Today, most church bodies are discussing the place of women in their ministries. Crucial to these discussions for many of us are the matters of faithful biblical interpretation. Perhaps a few words should be said about the concept of ministry itself on the basis of the New Testament. Today, we tend to confuse our specific church traditions about ordination with the biblical concept of ministry. The New Testament says relatively little about ordination. It clearly portrays, however, the fact that the early Church had a varied and faithful ministry arising from the fact that all of God’s people were “gifted” by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of building up one another (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 12:4-31, 14:1–19; Romans 12:3–8; Ephesians 4:7–16; 1 Peter 4:8–11). Any person could exercise ministry (which means, remember, service) who was called and gifted by God and affirmed by the body of Christ, the Church. Some were set apart in leadership positions and some were assigned specific tasks to accomplish, but the differences among ministries were not distinction of kind. Eventually, certain types of affirmation were combined with certain functions of ministry to produce our current understanding of ordination. Modern debates over the ordination of women often miss the crucial and basic issues of the holistic concept of the ministry of the Church reflected in the New Testament. Of course, no person should be ordained or given any responsibilities of ministry within the Church because of gender or for the sake of a “point.” On the other hand, we have affirmed in the Church that no person, called and gifted by God, should be denied any role of ministry or leadership in the church because of one’s gender.[45]

In our churches we should be seeking ways to utilize the gifts of women not just within the children’s ministry but we should affirm their gifts and place them wherever they can be beneficial to the body. In this way both females and males can benefit from each other. Failure to maintain this balance can result into a masculine/feminine presentation of the Christian community; however, as noted earlier both extremes should be rejected. The community of faith is a simultaneously balanced feminine and masculine entity. In other words we need each other to live in this life and one cannot exist without the other.  Limiting what a woman can do or cannot do is a model of the fall that presents to the world false pictures of what has been achieved in Christ, that is, complete equality.

In reading this paper (whether you are in agreement with my position or not), it is my hope and prayer that the reader has been brought into a deeper appreciation for women and their prominence within the biblical drama. Hopefully through this paper we may learn to value and affirm women and their God-given gifts, for this will produce a healthier community of faith. We should then end this discussion with a poem by Maya Angelou. Though this poem is mainly dealing with the racial segregation of blacks, this poem can also be applicable to our discussion about women. In general it is a poem about “overcoming” and I believe that this poem speaks loudly for women of the past and the women of the present.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.[46]


[1] Maya Angelou, And Still I Rise (New York: Random House, 1978).

[2] “The Holy Bible [Today’s New International Version]”, Zondervan.

[3] Joel Zwick et al., My Big Fat Greek Wedding (New York, NY: HBO Home Video).

[4] Susan T. Foh, Women and the Word of God : A Response to Biblical Feminism ([Philadelphia?]: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1980).

[5] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994).

[6] Ruth Tucker, Women in the Maze : Questions & Answers on Biblical Equality (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1992).

[7] Philip Schaff and David S. Schaff, History of the Christian Church (New York: C. Scribner’s, 1907).

[8] Alexander Roberts et al., The Ante-Nicene Fathers : Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmands Publishing Company, 1986).

[9]Dana Lee Robert, Gospel Bearers, Gender Barriers : Missionary Women in the Twentieth Century (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2002).

[10] Gregory A. Boyd and Paul R. Eddy, Across the Spectrum : Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2002).

[11] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis. 1-15 (Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987).

[12] David John Atkinson, The Message of Genesis 1-11 : The Dawn of Creation (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1990).

[13] Gilbert G. Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles : What the Bible Says About a Woman’s Place in Church and Family (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2006).

[14] Atkinson.

[15] Boyd and Eddy.

[16] Bilezikian.

[17] Wenham.

[18] Bilezikian.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Boyd and Eddy.

[21] Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Good News for Women : A Biblical Picture of Gender Equality (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1997).

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Kenneth L. Barker and Donald W. Burdick, Zondervan Niv Study Bible : New International Version (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2002).

[25] Groothuis.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Boyd and Eddy.

[33] Groothuis.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence : The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994).

[36] Boyd and Eddy.

[37] Groothuis.

[38] “The Holy Bible [Today’s New International Version]”.

[39] Groothuis.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman, 2000).

[42] All “Women in Ministry” articles on these pages are adapted, with permission, from those authored by David M. Scholer for The Covenant Companion: December 1, 1983; December 15, 1983; January 1984; and February 1984 issues.

[43] “The Holy Bible [Today’s New International Version]”.

[44] Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Clifford J. Green, Sanctorum Communio : A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998).

[45] All “Women in Ministry” articles on these pages are adapted, with permission, from those authored by David M. Scholer for The Covenant Companion: December 1, 1983; December 15, 1983; January 1984; and February 1984 issues.

[46] Angelou.

One Landscape, Many Perspectives – Reflections on Authority and Scripture

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REFLECTION:

Imagine communities of different people that are given the task to examine and interpret a particular landscape. Would one expect the same examination and interpretation from each different community? Of course not, for each community is different and cannot be abstracted from their cultural, social, geographical, etc. context. For instance, a community investigating the landscape could point to the mountains and say: “Now that’s the purpose of this picture!” while another community points to the clouds in the sky and says: “No! This is the purpose of this picture.” Which community is correct? Well, both communities have good warrants for their claims because their warrants are rooted in the object that they are examining, the landscape (the landscape still is the authority for the interpretation) – so this should caution any attempt to disregard any interpretation rooted in the picture – but whose interpretation is correct? Such a question is not the right question to postulate.  What if the different interpretations were a result of the communities differing perspectives? Maybe these perspectives are influenced by the social, geographical, cultural make-up of the community? Therefore, such interpretations are not wrong for they find their interpretative key within the pictures. The different perspectives only become negative when they are not explicitly acknowledged; almost always, the result takes on an aura of universality (González, 16:1996). Consequently, these interpretations must be seen as a part of the whole, that is, these interpretations should be seen as a group of interpretations that contribute to the whole picture.

From a theological perspective, the same can be true of Christianity. Each community enters into a dialogue with the Scriptures (their authority- the landscape) from a certain perspective. In entering into this dialogue with the Scriptures one cannot interpret the Scripture in any way that they would please, rather “the otherness of each party is respected; what one party says is not to be understood merely on the basis of the whims of the other; I must not allow myself to hear you saying whatever I please, whatever fits my presuppositions” (González, 13:1996). Approaching Scripture is like entering into a dialogue, in that dialogue “words have a normative dimension that I must not violate” (González, 14:1996), yet the understanding or the information derived from these dialogues vary from community to community. These differing perspectives are not only valuable but they are necessary – these different perspectives enrich and enhance our view of the landscape (the Scriptures). González comments:

Such a variety of perspective is not only valuable; it is absolutely necessary. Although in the preceding paragraph I have used words such as “enhancing” and “enriching”, we are not dealing here with optional enhancement to Christian theology – like chrome trimming out an automobile. We are dealing rather with something that belongs to every nature of the church, and without which the church cannot be true to its own nature – more like the four wheels on a car. To say that the church is “catholic” means that it includes within itself a variety of perspectives. To say that it is “one” means that such multiplicity, rather the dividing it, brings it closer together. This is the miracle of communication, which in Christian thinking we ascribe to the Holy Spirit (González, 20, 1996)

Moreover, lest we think that this dialogue is a one-sided conversation the Holy Spirit that is present among the Church enables her to communicate within a diverse context of peoples. Again González ably writes:

Significantly in the book of Acts the first consequences of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples – men and women, the Twelve as well as the others – is their ability to communicate. Thanks to the Spirit, these disciples can communicate with a variety of peoples; and their communication is not centripetal or imperialistic. The Spirit does not impose on all the languages of the original disciples, but rather makes it possible for various people to understand “each in their own native language.” From the very outset, the Spirit makes the church truly catholic by including in it a variety of languages and cultural perspectives – even though, as the rest of the book of Acts and the entire history of the Church show, on this score Christians have constantly and repeatedly resisted the Spirit (González, 21:1996).

Therefore, in light of all that has been said, lets us, Christians seek to be enhanced and enriched by one another as we are daily guided by the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit among us. I shall end my reflection with this prayer: “O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

González, Justo L. 1996. Santa Biblia: the Bible through Hispanic eyes. Nashville: Abingdon Press.