The Word on Women: Part 2

I have begun a series of blogs looking at the role of women in ministry.  As I had shared previously, the issue of whether women can hold leadership positions, be ordained, and lead churches continues to divide the body of Christ.

In the last blog (from June 22nd), we spoke about how we understand the will of God: The Person of Jesus Christ, the whole of scripture (Hebrew and Greek Scriptures), and the practices of the early church.  We will begin our study by quickly looking at what Jesus said and His practices involving women in ministry.  Since Jesus is the direct revelation of God (Hebrews 1:3), His words and His practices are ouir clearest starting point.

Jesus lived in first century Palestine.  Within that worldview, Jewish subculture, in which Jesus lived, afforded very few rights and privileges to women.  Although there were no commands within the Hebrew scriptures relegating the role of women to secondary citizens, this was the cultural practice of the day.  In light of that, you will see Jesus' practices were revolutionary.

1. In Luke 2:36-38, we are introduced to the Prophetess Anna who works at the temple.  She fulfills her prophetic role by being one of the first prophets to introduce Jesus to the community.  She speaks to both male and female listeners.  The gospel writer does not seem to concerned or disturbed that a women is annointed by God to speak to both men and women, in the context of the male-dominated Temple worship.  She is not rebuked nor is her importance diminished due to her gender.

2. There are no specific commands, commentaries, or parables where Jesus forbids, discourages, or even suggests against women in ministry.  Although some Christians think the prohibition of women in ministry is assumed and  Jesus does not find it important enough to even discuss.  Some Christian Commentators have argued that since the understanding that women were not fit for leadership or teaching in the synogogues was so prevelant, it did not need to be specifically taught, it was assumed.  However, this assumption, as we will see was not what Jesus practiced.

3. Jesus allows women disciples.  The posture of Mary of Bethany described in Luke 10:39 as sitting at Jesus' feet.  This phrase "sitting at his feet" was used by first century writers to describe one who is in a discipling position.  The Apostle Paul would describe his training with his mentor Gamaliel as being "under" him.  He did not mean literally, but positionally.  There were various women who traveled with Jesus, often supporting him financially and materially as well (Luke 8:1-3).  None of these women were discouraged.

4. The women disciples never leave Jesus during the persecution of the cross (Mt 27:55).  Additionally, the first witnesses of the resurrection were women (Mt 28:1-8) and interestingly, their word was discounted by men initially (Luke 24:11).

5.  Jesus ministers to women who are considered "unclean" and ascribes to them unsurpassable worth.  He ministers to the promiscous women at the well (John 4), prostitutes (Luke 7:37, oral tradition is that the woman with a sinful past was a prostitute but the gospel writers do not explicitly say that), Gentile women (Mark 7:26-30) and women filled with demons (Mk 16:9).  Jesus is called out about his willingness to talk to "these types of women" by his disciples, but Jesus was showing them God's way. (John 4:27)

As unsettling as this may be to many who strongly believe or grow up believing that Jesus specifically limited the role of women in ministry, Jesus's teachings and actions show a consistent empowering of women as disciples and to fully participate in ministry.  There are no specific commands or stories that suggest otherwise in any of the four gospel stories.

So, why are intelligent, well meaning Christians against women in leadership?  It is because they have taken the teachings of the Apostle Paul out of context.  Next time, we will look at a key passage of that has been misunderstood and misued for centuries and used to oppress women throughout Christendom.  Take time to read I Timothy 2, and come back next week with an open mind.

God bless,

Pastor M Traylor