Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross.

Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man--there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as "The women, God help us!" or "The ladies, God bless them!"; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unselfconscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deed of Jesus that there was anything "funny" about woman's nature.
Dorothy Sayers

Friday, May 13, 2011

“In the beginning…”

He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. John 1:2,3

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. Colossians 1:16

Religious leaders of every stripe—usually men, have through the ages made pronouncements about women—usually negative, but none ever spoke with the authority of Jesus. As creator of “all things” and entities, Jesus’ words and pattern of life profoundly weight the scales; he, above all, knows how women are made—and his intent for them.

Since Jesus was sent to us from heaven by his Father (John 3:16) and did only what his father told him to do and say, so in Jesus, we also know Father’s ideas about women. To be thorough—The Holy Spirit (also known as “the Spirit of Jesus” Acts 16:7; Philippians 1:19) was sent by Jesus and does what Jesus says to do—so we also know in Jesus, how the Holy Spirit regards women. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the three-in-one are demonstrated in the life of Jesus, fully God and perfect man—our example.

Jesus never rebuked a woman harshly. Martha will undoubtedly spring to mind at this point (Luke 10:38-41) but Jesus simply exhorted her to not worry so much and (in effect) to learn to sit at his feet like her sister Mary. Apparently Martha heeded, since she later very clearly testified, “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”(John 11:27)

Jesus continually broke cultural norms regarding women, teaching Mary of Bethany as a rabbinical student, speaking to a strange woman at the well in Samaria (notice that his disciples wondered why he was talking with a woman but not a Samaritan, though Samaritans were off-limits John 4:27). He taught and healed women and girls the same as he did men and boys. Not once did he make disparaging remarks about women or even groups of women.

Jesus defended women against put downs from men such as when the woman anointed him. “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” (Mark 14:6) After his resurrection, He first appeared to women (Matthew 28:8-10) sending them as the first human proclaimers of the Good News that he was(is!) alive!* When Jesus referred to his disciples, he often meant not just “the Twelve” but also the women who followed him. (Matthew 12:48-50)

Rather than putting women down as the Jewish leaders were in the habit of doing,** Jesus pointed to women as favorable examples. (Matthew 15:21-28) He admired and rewarded the “great faith” of the Canaanite woman who asked for deliverance for her daughter. Jesus made an extra effort, “calling his disciples to him”, to teach them by the example of the widow who gave her “mite” as an offering. (Mark 12:41-43) Jesus peopled his parables with women as well as men but unlike the men, the women were always shown in a positive light.

I’ve not found a single time*** in the gospels where Jesus limited women or put them down. Instead, he restored the dignity he created them in, in the beginning.

*It’s been said that the only reason Jesus appeared to the women first was that they were there at the tomb doing “women’s work”. Well, if putting spices on a body to preserve them was women’s work, then Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were doing “women’s work” the day they bought spices and wrapped Jesus' body and laid it in the tomb! (John 19:38-40)

** “Jewish men of Paul’s day were warned not to sit among women because ‘evil comes from them like a moth emerging from clothes’. Lorry Lutz,Women as Risk Takers for God,30

*** I’ve read a number of books about women's roles written by traditionalists and have rarely found any mention of how Jesus related to women, other than reference to Jesus’ appointing of twelve male disciples, drawing the conclusion that all church leadership should be male only. First of all the Twelve were set apart from all the other disciples, female or male and if they are to be our only example then the vast majority of churches are out of compliance unless unless their leadership is all Jewish, they’re all circumcised, several are professional fishermen, they’re all uneducated, one is a cheater, another has repeatedly denied the Lord, and another is a betrayer and thief and let’s not forget the two hot-headed-me-firster “Sons of Thunder”. We don’t know why Jesus chose men for The Twelve (he chose “the Three” out of those, leaving the other nine behind on several occasions) the Bible doesn’t say, but he was likely drawing a comparison to the twelve tribes of Israel rather than a male/female dichotomy. (Paul’s teachings are used as the standard for women’s roles in these books though Paul has sadly been so misrepresented that he wouldn’t even recognize himself!)


God created all the heavens and the earth, plants, animals and Adam and it was all good, except for one thing, the only thing that was not good—Adam was alone, he needed a companion. (Genesis 2:18) So God created an ezer kenegdo for him—a help to surround and protect him, one who was parallel and face to face with him—not under him. The word ezer or helper is the same word used for God helping the Israelites against Pharaoh (Exodus 18:4)—Eve was no shrinking violet! (There is no such thing in the Bible as a “helpmeet”—not even in the King James but “an help meet” or ezer kenegdo—see above.) God gave Eve joint-rulership with Adam over all the creatures of the Earth! (Genesis 1:26-28)

Naming and Dominion

God made Adam and Eve to work together side by side but some say that since Adam named the animals and he named Eve that by virtue of naming them, he gained the right to rule over animals and women. But we women are not in the category of the animals; we are made in the image of God! (Genesis 1:26.27) The Hebrew verb translated as “called” or sometimes as “name” means to “call out” as in calling upon the name of God but when Adam called out, “Ishaah” (or woman), it was more like exclaiming, ”Wowie kazowie!” than naming. He wasn’t ruling, he was rejoicing! (Genesis 2:23) Later, after they sinned, Adam prophesied that Eve would be the mother of all the living (same word), in this case he called out what the future would hold. (Genesis 3:20)

In the Image of God

I was recently astounded to read a woman’s assertion that the Bible says woman was made in the image of man--that’s what she learned in seminary. That wasn’t what I remembered! So I grabbed my NIV and looked up I Corinthians 11 (v.7). No, it doesn’t say woman is the “image” of man but the “glory”. Then I checked my Greek interlinear New Testament and found that it agreed—“doxa” (glory), not “eikon” (image). Okay, maybe she had a different translation; so I checked the KJV, RSV, NAS, NEB and the Jerusalem Bible, even The Amplified Bible (notorious for adding its own theological template)—all said “glory” not “image”.

And yet, I’ve heard people say this from time to time completely disregarding Genesis 1:26.27, which says, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

So where did such an idea come from? It originates, not from the Bible but from speculations and opinions of some of the “early church fathers” who were more influenced by the misogyny of their times and cultures than the Word of God.

If you are a follower of Jesus (John 8:31,32), whether man or woman, girl or boy, you represent the likeness (image) of God to the world. As you obey Jesus’ teachings you are showing them what God looks like—no one can take that away from you. (In fact, all people were originally made in the image of God but sin has obscured that reflection. (Colossians 3:7-11)

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3: 18

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. Romans 8:29

Emphasis added

First Born

Some teach that since Adam was created first (he indeed was), God intended him to rule over Eve and every man over every woman ever after—a sort of first-born right. But think about it, the roses and wisteria were created three days before people, so by that line of reasoning we would have “flower power”! Or bird or cow power… (Genesis, chapters 1 & 2)

More Easily Deceived?

Sadly though everything was wonderful in the Garden of Eden, Eve, then Adam sinned. Eve was deceived by the serpent but Adam knew full well what he was doing. Does the fact that Eve was deceived mean, as it is often taught, that women are more easily deceived than men and therefore can’t be trusted in leadership? Of course not! Not unless overt sin makes one more trustworthy!

No, Paul constantly warned all the Christians against being deceived, female and male. (1 Cor.6:9; 2 Cor. 11:3; 2 Thes. 2:3; Gal. 6:7; Col. 2:4; 2 Tim 3:13; Titus 3:3; James 1:16; 2 John 7—Jesus too, in Mt. 24:4) Besides the Bible says that Jesus’ death and resurrection freed all of us from the punishment for original sin—not just Adam’s but Eve’s too! Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, so we’re no longer under the “curse” that when Eve would have a longing for her husband, he would take advantage of her by trying to control her. (Galatians 3: 13) That’s right! We’re free! Jesus came to set the captives free from sin, free from personal and original sin and free from the constraints of culture—the traditions of men. Free to serve the Lord together.

Humans First

Jesus is the best that ever happened to women! Colossian says that Jesus created all things! (Colossians 1:16) Do you think our maker knows what women are supposed to be like? Of course! We can tell so much by the way he treated women—or didn’t treat them. He really didn’t treat them any differently than men except as humans that he came to save and serve. Yes, he made women unique and he made men unique and science is discovering more of this all the time but first and foremost, we have more in common than we have differences—we are human.

Jesus vs. Culture

Jesus came into a world in which Greek, Roman, even Jewish men taught that women were inferior, on a level somewhere between men and animals, evil, the cause of all trouble and something of a curse that they even existed. Plato taught, “The price for our sinning was exacted at the beginning of time by Zeus himself when he afflicted us with these creatures (women)” and “if we spend our lives in wrongdoing and in cowardice, afterward Zeus will send us back into this life as women.”* Plato taught Aristotle, then many of the early church fathers openly mixed the teachings of Aristotle with Christianity—rearranging some of the words but not deleting the ideas.

No one could have gotten such ideas from Jesus! He never put women down, never used them as bad examples in his parables. Instead he often referred to them as astoundingly good examples of great faith and giving, as with the widow who gave all she had to live on. (Mark 12:42-44) He never rebuked them harshly. The closest he came to that was gently saying, Martha, Martha you worry about too many things.” (Luke 10:39-41) Jesus never talked down to women but spoke directly to them some great theological truths—to the Samaritan woman (who he wasn’t supposed to speak to at all because she was a woman—people might get the wrong idea, and a hated Samaritan one at that) He said to her, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth,” and identified himself to her as the Messiah. (John 4:22-24) When Lazarus died, Jesus said to his sister Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life.” And she confessed, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world." (John 11:27)

Jesus had Mary, Martha’s sister sitting at his feet to learn from him—the position of a rabbinical student, unheard of for a woman in their culture! And he said that learning from him was the best thing to choose and that it would not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:38-42)

Jesus entrusted these women with deep truths. Were these truths only for women? The men had better hope not! No. Jesus expects all his disciples to teach others to obey the things he commanded. We are to put our light on a stand and let it give light to everyone.

*Why Not Women? Loren Cunningham, David Hamilton p.72 from “Plato”, Microsoft© Encyclopedia Encarta, 1993

Leave Her Alone

Mary of Bethany poured out her all for Jesus when she broke open an alabaster bottle of perfume worth a year’s wages! Whether named or unnamed, each gospel account* tells of men complaining of her devotion—one said she was “the wrong kind” to be ministering to him, apparently thinking that her past life overshadowed her new one (Luke 7:39), while others thought ministering to Jesus was a waste of money! But Jesus defended her saying, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.” (Matthew 26:10) She was, he said, doing a very special thing for him—anointing his body for burial; other things, as important as they were, could be done anytime but Mary’s was a special, one-of-a-kind task in time--so important that Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:13) So, what this woman Mary of Bethany did for Jesus was so vital that the gospel is not properly preached without telling about her. (I don’t recall this having been said of anyone else.)

*I once was rebuked for saying in a Bible Study class that the four accounts spoke of one woman—Mary of Bethany. “The scholars say!”
Matthew 26:6-13 Bethany*Simon the Leper*alabaster/perfume*“sinful woman”*anointed for burial
Mark 14:3-9 Bethany*Simon the Leper*alabaster/perfume*a woman* anointed for burial
Luke 7:36-50 Pharisee,Simon* alabaster/perfume*“sinful woman”
John 12:1-11 Bethany* perfume*Mary of Bethany*anointed for burial

While the comparisons above are strong evidence the strongest is Jesus’ statement that, “wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:13) Each gospel tells only of one woman, not two scenarios. If there were two different women then each of the gospels left out one or the other. It’s extremely unlikely that either Luke or John would have disobeyed Jesus and left out her story from the telling of the gospel (stated in Matthew & Mark). Why does it matter? Jesus did know who she was and welcomed her. Mary of Bethany often found herself at Jesus’ feet, learning from him and worshiping him because he had forgiven her for so much and on top of it all—he raised her brother from the dead!

First to Proclaim the Good News!

Now Mary [Magdalene] stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (“Teacher”).
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. John 20:11-18

Jesus appeared first to women after he rose from the dead! Some have said that it was only because they were there doing the “women’s work” of preparing the body—if it was women’s work, then Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were doing women’s work a couple of days earlier when they put spices on his body. (John 18:38-31) No, the women were there because their love for Jesus overcame their fear. And God will always honor that.

Jesus told Mary Magdalene and the women with her to “Go and tell my brothers..” but the men didn’t believe her. (Luke 24:9-11) A girl I know made that mistake once. Her mother sent her little sister to tell her to come home when she was playing at a neighbor’s house. The girl didn’t want to stop playing—who was this little sister to tell her what to do anyway-- so she sent her away. Of course, the younger girl went back to their mother who sent her again. Then the younger sister came back to the older sister saying, "You’d better come, she’s really mad.” She went. The mother told the older girl, “When I send her, I expect you to listen; it’s just as if it was me telling you. If you ignore her—you’re ignoring me.” We dare not ignore the Word of God brought by his messenger even if we don’t like the package! But to their credit, Peter and John raced to the tomb so they must have believed something! (Luke 24:12)