Tag Archives: Leadership

Pay Attention to Strengths

29 Jul

Every Sunday night I lead a Bible study at church.  This is one of the highlights of my week.  Not only do I get to do one of my favorite things (study and teach Scripture), but I get to dive into God’s story with a really cool group of people.  Our little group is made up of about ten, and it’s seldom that everyone is in attendance on the same week.  There’s an openness amongst the group which is remarkable. People are kind, vulnerable, quick to share and quicker to listen. Plus, we laugh together- a lot.  Some of my favorite NC memories have come from this gathering, and I am often overwhelmed by the wisdom that gathers in that room (very little of which comes from me). 

Today, we worked through Ephesians 5.  Keep in mind, RC and I were the only people in the room under sixty, and NC is a pretty traditional church.  I wasn’t sure where this conversation was going to go.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of freedom amongst this group for disagreement.  There have been many times when we’ve come to different conclusions about particular passages, but we love each other all the same (I was even able to come clean about not believing in the rapture!).  However, challenging the traditional family structure was a whole different ball of wax, so I was a little nervous.

As it turns out, I didn’t need to be.  After I gave my spiel about Ephesians 5:21 and mutual submission, a man named Doug piped up. He said, “I know the Bible’s talking about the man leading, but anyone who has any sense will pay attention to strengths.  If one person’s strong in one area, they take the lead there and you may take the lead somewhere else.”  He followed this by saying his wife takes the lead everywhere except with the remote control, because such are her strengths.   He’s so right!  More importantly, this came from a man who has probably never paid much attention to the complementarian/egalitarian debate (although he did accept a woman pastor).  He’s simply a man who loves the Lord, loves his wife, and enjoys a happy marriage.  After five decades together, they learned how to make their marriage function in a way that brought both of them fulfillment, and they did it through mutuality.

In the near future (after I finish painting my living room) I’ll write an exegetical post of Ephesians 5.  Until then, may we all benefit from the wisdom that comes to us from a couple who have been married forty-nine years.  Pay attention to strengths. Let each other lead. 

Women Whose Ministry & Leadership Paul Affirmed: Junia

3 Jan

ImageGreet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. –Romans 16:7 NIV

Today we are discussing a third woman whom Paul’s hails in Romans 16.  Her name is Junia.  Believe it or not, Romans 16:7 is a verse that is heavily disputed amongst Bible translators.  There are two issues they just can’t seem to agree on.  The first is whether or not the figure of Junia was a woman (as the feminine name suggests) or male, in which case the name should be translated as Junias.  Check the Bible on your own shelf.  Depending on your translation, you will either see Junia or Junias.  The second item that is disputed is whether or not Andronicus and Junia(s) were well known among the apostles, or well known by/to the apostles.  Again, check your own translation.

Because of the issues with translation, today’s blog is a little longer and more technical.  Please bear with me on that.  For this blog, I have referenced 24 different translations.  At the end of this post, I have included a graph, which shows you the different ways the most common and available translations translate Romans 16:7.

It’s All in a Name

Let’s look first at the issue of the name.  Is it Junia or Junias?  In most of today’s translations, you will see the name Junia.  There are several reasons why I think that’s correct.  1)  The earliest New Testament manuscripts we have use the name Junia.  There are a couple of very old manuscripts that have “Julia” instead, but that’s still a feminine name.  The older the manuscript, the more likely it is to reflect the original, thus, Junia is more likely than Junias to be the correct name.  2) The name “Junias” has never been found in any other source.  There are no extra-biblical writings, such as literature or histories; no monuments; and no burial sites that use the name Junias.  As far as scholars can tell, the name never existed.  Junia, on the other hand, was an extremely common name in the Roman Empire during the lifetime of Paul.  3) The church fathers used the feminine form of the name and referred to Junia as a woman.  John Chrysostom commented on Romans 16:7 by saying, “O how great is the devotion of this woman that she should be counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!”  Given the testimony of the text (which are as close to the original as we have available), the context of the Ancient Roman Empire, and church history, it seems pretty clear that Junia is the appropriate translation, and that Paul was speaking about a woman.  Calling her Junias became popular around the 13th century.  I suppose the early translators simply could not imagine a situation where a woman would be called an apostle, thus they chose to “correct” what they assumed was a mistake.

Was Junia an Apostle or Not?

Before we can answer that question, it must be stated that every translation is an interpretation.  I’ll say it again:

Translation = Interpretation

I think Bible translators are faithful, hard-working men and women who sincerely work to offer up to us a copy of God’s word which we can understand and use.  English translations are reliable, but those of us who are using a translation rather than the original language need to recognize that translators make interpretative choices, and some translations do that more than others.  There are two schools of thought when it comes to translation.  There’s formal equivalence – which tends to be “word for word”- and then there is dynamic equivalence- which is thought for thought.  For a more in-depth description of the differences, check out this website:  http://voices.yahoo.com/how-choose-bible-version-formal-dynamic-equivalence-2101594.html?cat=9   Whether they favor formal or dynamic equivalence, all translators find themselves in situations where they have to make interpretative choices (though the latter requires considerably more).  Often, those decisions reflect the theological position of the translator.  For example, the NASB and ESV tend to be more popular amongst reformed folks, whereas Wesleyans will prefer the RSV or NRSV. While interpretative decisions don’t really alter the general message of the Gospel, they can make a difference in smaller doctrinal issues.  Romans 16:7 is a perfect example of that.

ImageI wish I were a Greek scholar, who could wow you with my skills of Biblical translation and explain to you exactly why Junia was well known among the apostle, as opposed to being well known to the apostles.  Sadly, I don’t yet have those skills.  What I do have is access to twenty-four different English Translations.  I decided that I would compare the way these versions translate Romans 16:7 (again, reference the chart below).  Going into this, I developed a hypothesis.   It seemed to me that no one worried about whether or not Andronicus and Junias were among the apostle or simply known by them.  The reason being, of course, is that Junias is masculine and no feathers were ruffled by that.  It wasn’t until the resurgence of using Junia, that people felt the need to re-examine her place (or lack thereof) among the apostles.  Thus, I hypothesized that translators would only use “to/by” if they also translated the name to the feminine.  That way they could rightly use the feminine name, without admitting she was among the apostles.  My chart details my findings.

With one exception, my hypothesis proved correct.  There is only one translation that prefers to say Andronicus and Junias were respected by the apostles, and that is the Contemporary English Version.  The other four translations who use “to/by” also translate the name into the feminine, Junia.  Thus, from them we read that Junia was well known to the apostles instead of being one of them herself.  This conclusion, however, is definitely in the minority.

As you can see from my comparison chart, nineteen of the twenty-four translations I looked at believe Andronicus and Junia(s) were among the apostles.  That’s 79%.  Interestingly, the five translations that state Andronicus and Junia(s) were known to/by the apostles (the Contemporary English Version, English Standard Version, Holman Christian Standard Version, the Lexham Bible and the New English Translation) are either affiliated with, or edited by Southern Baptists, who oppose egalitarian views of womanhood.

Given that the vast majority of translators believe Andronicus and Junia(s) were among the apostles, and that all of the opposing translations have been put forward by a particular tradition who are biased against women in leadership (and the 79% who use “among” represent both ends of the theological spectrum), I must conclude that Junia was an apostle. 

Translation

Use Junia

Use Junias

“among the apostles”

“to/by the apostles”

American Standard Version

Amplified

Common English Version

Complete Jewish Bible

Contemporary English Version

Darby

English Standard Version

God’s Word Translation

Good News Translation

Holman Christian Standard Version

King James Version

Knox Bible

Lexham English Bible

New American Standard Version

New Century Version

New English Translation

New International Version

New International Version 1984

New King James Version

New Living Translation

New Revised Standard Version

Revised Standard Version

Wycliffe Bible

Young’s Literal Translation

Conclusion

Though Junia is only mentioned in passing, it’s clear that she was a woman whose life and ministry Paul greatly respected.  She was a Jewish Christian, and was apparently converted early- even before Paul (who converted approximately three years after the resurrection).  We’re also told that she was so dedicated to her faith and the gospel that she was imprisoned alongside Paul.  Even if Paul had stopped there, we would know that she was a godly woman and a great example for men and women alike.  But Paul didn’t stop there.  He said that she was “outstanding among the apostles.”  As an apostle she would have been responsible for planting churches throughout the Roman Empire, and functioning as a leader over them.  What’s more, Paul says she was outstanding at it.  I hope we keep her life and ministry in mind when our denominations make decisions about who we call apostles today. Image

Women Whose Ministry & Leadership Paul Affirmed: Priscilla

28 Dec

Today we’re looking at another woman whom Paul mentions in Romans 16.  Her name is Priscilla, and she is listed along with her husband here:

“Greet Prisca and Aq′uila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I but also all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks; greet also the church in their house.” – Romans 16:2-5 (RSV)

Under normal circumstances, the mention of a husband/wife ministry team would give no one pause (Complementarian nor Egalitarian).  However, we are fortunate enough to have the back story of these two, which makes their mention a little more interesting.  It can be found in Acts 18.

There, we’re told that Paul met Aquila and his wife Priscilla, in Corinth.  They were Jewish believers who had recently come from Italy (almost certainly Rome) because the emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from the city (around 49 CE).  They had immigrated to Corinth where they worked as tent-makers.  Paul lived and worked with them.  When Paul left, Priscilla and Aquila joined him.  The three arrived in Ephesus and began ministry, but Paul eventually left the couple there.  We know from from 1 Corinthians 16 (which Paul likely wrote from Ephesus) that Priscilla and Aquila began a church in their home in Ephesus.

While Priscilla and Aquila were living in Ephesus, a Jew named Apollos came to the city.  He was from Alexandria and was a believer.  Apollos was a powerful speaker on behalf of Christ, but he only knew the baptism of John.  In other words, he had not been instructed fully in the Way.  When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of the Lord more fully to him.  After their tutelage, Apollos left and became a very influential teacher and leader in the church (Acts 18).

ImageIt appears that Priscilla and Aquila returned to their home in Rome when the edict of Claudius expired.  At the very least, they seem to be located there when the letter to the Romans was written.

So what does this missionary couple teach us about Paul’s view of women in ministry?  Quite a lot actually.  First, we see how valuable they were to Paul’s ministry and to the ministry to gentiles in general.  The three worked (and lived) very closely and supported one another in ministry.  Even the use of “Priscilla” which is a diminutive of “Prisca” reveals how close they were [It’s like calling me Katie instead of Kate or Kathryn].  On top of that, they led churches in Ephesus and in Rome, and served as teachers to one of the most influential apostles of the early church.  They were super-duper important!  They are a testimony to how powerfully God uses marriage and married couples.  Neither Priscilla, nor Aquila, was every mentioned individually (at least not in the Bible).

Most Complementarians will stop right there- arguing that married couples indeed minister together.  They would, however, contend that Aquila functioned as the spiritual leader of the two in marriage and in ministry.  As you can probably imagine, I’m going to suggest something different.  Priscilla and Aquila are named seven times (see acts 18:2, 18,19,26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; and 2 Timothy 4:19).  In five of those seven instances, Priscilla is named first.  [If you want to check for yourself, click this link: http://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=priscilla&qs_version=NIV ] That may not seem significant, but it was, at the very least different.  Imagine if I introduced a newly married couple as Mrs. And Mr. Smith- instead of Mr. and Mrs. Smith.  It’s just not how we do things.  Saying it sounds weird and wrong, because it’s not how we introduce married couples.  Now, think about how it would have sounded to Paul’s first century audience when Priscilla was mentioned first.

There are two possible explanations for this. 1) Priscilla was from a superior socioeconomic class than her husband.  I am not inclined to believe this for one simple reason.  Paul never seemed to give much preference to class anywhere else in his letters.  Why should we suppose he cared when it came to his tent-making friends? 2) Priscilla could have been mentioned first because she was the more prominent figure of the two.  Given the unlikelihood of the first possibility, I am persuaded to favor this explanation.  In addition, there is nothing in the text that indicates Aquila was the “real minister,” while Priscilla stayed in the background doing women’s and children’s ministry. Quite the opposite, actually; because the text tells us that Priscilla and Aquila offered instruction to Apollos.  I hope you find it as interesting as I do that this woman is being praised for teaching a man.

What I think it most significant about Priscilla and Aquila, though, is the fact that their ministry was done together- seemingly with mutuality and equality.  If Priscilla was more prominent, then she never chose to minister without the partnership of her husband.  If I’m wrong, and Aquila was more prominent, it’s clear he never chose to subordinate the ministry of his wife.  That’s a great picture for Christian marriage, especially for those of us in ministry.

In my own marriage and ministry, this seems especially relevant.  As far as church ministry goes, I am more “prominent” because I am the pastor, but my husband partners with me in that ministry.  His advice, accountability, and wisdom are indispensable to me.  He has been my most valuable resource in ministry.  We are equals, even if I’m the one who has the title.  I am confident it will be the same when RC ministers to the academic world.  He will be the doctor, the professor, and eventually the writer.  In the academic world he will be the prominent one.  However, he would never elevate his role in ministry over mine.  That’s mutuality.  And let me tell everyone from first- hand experience, it is much harder to live out mutuality than hierarchy. But then again, I’ve found that the Way of the Lord usually is much more difficult- yet much more beautiful- than any other way of life.

In conclusion, Priscilla and Aquila give us a great picture of God’s design for couples in ministry.  They also reveal how highly Paul viewed the ministry of both Priscilla and Aquila.

Women Whose Ministry & Leadership Paul Affirmed: Phoebe

27 Dec

I am currently studying for my blog on 1 Timothy 2, which is the passage most frequently used to limit women in leadership.  In that chapter we find the only explicit prohibition on Women teachers in the entire Bible.  Yes, I really just said that… the ONLY explicit restriction in all sixty-six books of the Bible.  Part of my premise- with regard to that particular passage- is that it should be read in conjunction with, and in light of, all the passages in which Paul affirms women in leadership.  However, it may be difficult for readers to do that, if they are not familiar with such affirmations in Scripture.  Thus, in preparation for the big “Shi-bang,” we will begin, first, with Romans 16.

In the first 16 verses of this chapter, Paul gives a list of 27 people.  Ten of them are women.  More than one third of the people Paul either wished to greet or commend are female.  In a male dominated culture, that alone is worth mentioning.  However, what is more significant is the way he speaks of these women and the titles he gives them.  Today, we’ll be looking at Phoebe.

PhoebeImage

Phoebe is the first person Paul mentions.  The title she is give varies upon one’s translation.  She is called a “servant” (NASB, CEB, ESV, KJV), “minister” (Darby), “deaconess” (Amplified, RSV,), “leader” (CEV), “helper” (Expanded, NCV, New Life Version), one who “has devoted her services” (Knox Bible), and “deacon” (NIV, NLT, NRSV).  In Greek she is called a diakonos.  Between all of Paul’s letters (at least all those tradition holds as Pauline), he uses diakonos a total of 23 times.  In the KJV- which I use along with Strong’s Lexicon/Bible Dictionary), diakonosis translated as servant ONLY when used in reference to Phoebe.  Three times it is used to refer to a deacon.  The rest are ALL translated at minister.  This is interesting since there is no contextual evidence to suggest “servant” is a more appropriate translation than “minister.”  Granted, newer translations use servant for diakonos much more frequently.  Personally, I feel that diakonos is best translated as servant, minister or deacon (in that order).  Deaconess, no matter how similar, in my humble opinion, is a poor choice because the Greek term is masculine, thus it would be inappropriate to make it feminine in English.  However one chooses to translate this word, it’s essential that we recognize Phoebe was being recognized with a title Paul ascribed to himself.  In 1 Timothy 3 we even see a list of qualifications for anyone who wished to become a deacon.  Clearly, Phoebe was not merely a helper or a good Christian woman.  She was a servant, perhaps even a minister.  Paul even names the church in which she served.  Paul goes on to commend this woman, and calls the church to show her hospitality and to help her in any way she requires, because has provided such help to others, even Paul. 

 

Tradition also holds that Phoebe was the carrier of the letter to the Roman Church.  Thus, Paul was using these verses as a way of introducing her.  Paul’s introduction is also consistent with the way non-biblical authors introduced letter carriers.  The role of letter carrier conveys the level of responsibility Phoebe was entrusted with.  Some historians believe the letter carrier was also the first reader or “lector.”  This would make Phoebe the first expositor of the book of Romans!  While this is somewhat debatable, what is certain is that the letter carrier (even if he/she wasn’t the first reader), was privileged to know the author, as well as the author’s context and intent.  Thus, the letter carrier was the go-to persons for questions concerning the letter.   Here’s a great little article on the issue of letter carrying:  http://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/phoebe-carrier-of-pauls-letter-to-the-roman-christians/

 

There are some who have challenged the notion that Phoebe’s role as deacon equated her with some level of spiritual authority.  They also maintain that Paul’s prohibition on female teachers is transcultural and for all time.  To those people, I ask these questions:  If there is no authority in the office of deacon, then why was Paul so concerned that only appropriate candidates fill that office?  If women were not permitted to speak or teach under any circumstances, why does Paul choose a woman to be the letter carrier and perhaps even expositor?  What do you think?

Why I’m Writing this Series: My Story

22 Dec

Hello Folks,

I’ve been thinking the last few days, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I should have shared my personal journey towards Biblical egalitarianism before beginning this whole process.  It is only through sharing my story that I believe people will understand why I am so passionate about this topic.  Secondly, I think I need to clarify what my motivation for this project is.

I was blessed with two great parents who affirmed my gifts and talents my entire life.  In my home, there was no such thing as a glass ceiling.  I had many different career aspirations:  dentist and mommy, teacher and mommy, archaeologist and mommy, lawyer and mommy, back to teacher and mommy.  I always wanted to be a mommy, and have always been a “girly girl.”  Aside from that, my gender had very little impact on what I wanted to do with my life.

As I grew older, I began to notice some stereotypes, but I disregarded them.  “Girl Power” was something we cheered on the playground, and I distinctly remember telling my Dad that I liked Star Trek Voyager because the captain was a woman (I still like Voyager as a matter of fact).  My pseudo-feminism was never a problem, because I was living in a secular world that (for the most part) never prescribed my role to me.  Then I became a Christian.

At fifteen I gave my life to the Lord and I joined a United Methodist Church.  I was fortunate to witness many women in leadership at my home church.  Granted, the minister and youth minister were both men, but the worship leader, children’s director and director of Christian ed. were all women.  To be honest, I didn’t think about it much until I started reading Scripture.  I felt like Jesus reached out to women and included them, but there was that darn verse in 1 Timothy, and some weird things about silence and head coverings in 1 Corinthians.  Naturally, I was confused, and my confusion was exacerbated by the fact that I was growing into a leader and sensing the beginnings of a call for ministry.

When I was a senior in high school, I started meeting with a wonderful woman from a different theological tradition.  [If she’s reading this, I hope you know how much I value our time together and I am incredibly thankful that you challenged me to really dig into Scripture and to let it be the authority in my life.]  She pushed me to walk the walk, and to give God my all, but at the same time, she taught me that women were meant to be secondary to men in the home and the church.  Being young, impressionable, and eager to please God, I bought in.  I stepped down from all my leadership positions (because they effectively put me over the boys), and I accepted my role.  I even got upset when my college had the audacity to allow a woman to teach the New Testament class!  While I know this was not my mentor’s intention (or the intention of any Complementarian I might add), the notion that I was somehow “less than” proved damaging to my faith over time.  You see, my gifts and my passions were for ministries forbidden to women (or so I thought).  I was good at speaking, teaching, leading, etc.  I tried to apply those gifts to children’s ministry, but I was miserable and not very good at it.  At first I just thought my gifts and passion for ministry meant I was rebellious or power hungry, but after sincere striving to fit into the mold of good Christian woman, I started to question God.  I was angry at him, for making me “unfit” to do the things I was good at.  I didn’t understand why my passion for ministry was so repulsive to him. This little identity crisis-combined with some other wounds- led to my temporary exit from the church.

To make a long story a little shorter, my Complementarian ideologies were challenged when I met a woman named Linda Fox.  We were working on a retreat together and I knew she was a pastor (ordained in the Southern Baptist church back when they still did that).  I recoiled from her a bit at first, but as I watched her minister I saw the fruit.  She was good.  And God was CLEARLY using her in powerful ways.  That really threw me for a loop.  I had thought God didn’t honor or bless women pastors.  She wasn’t power hungry, or eager to usurp men.  She simply lived out the call and used the gifts God gave her in the places he told her to go.  Wow!  On the same retreat, a woman who is now my dear friend, told me after some prayer time that I was anointed for ministry (something I’d felt before but buried).  At that point, I decided I needed to really study ALL of Scripture and figure out what God really thought about us women-folk.  That process took several years.  To be honest, I wasn’t fully convinced until the summer before I took my first paid ministry position.  The Holy Spirit convicted me that to continue to run from my calling was disobedience to my Lord.  It’s hard to argue against that.  Since then, I have been blessed to serve God and his beloved children (of every gender) in ministry and leadership.  He has continued to develop my gifts and has opened the door for me to be a pastor of a church.  On top of that, God has blessed me with a husband with whom I share an unbelievably intimate relationship that is based on equality and mutuality.  Having been on both sides of the Egalitarian/Complementarian fence, I am truly convinced this side bears more fruit.

I have been accused of being “liberal” as of late, and the word “feminist” has been thrown around as if it’s a curse word.  Liberal and conservative are rather subjective terms.  Compared to a fundamentalist, I am pretty liberal.  On the other hand, if you compared me to someone on the far left of the theological spectrum, he/she would say I was very conservative.  If you want to know what I believe, look at my statement of faith.   I am orthodox, which means I believe everything the church fathers deemed essential for Christian faith.  You could also put me in the Wesleyan camp (if you want to get more specific).  As for feminist- I am one.  You probably are too if you go by the definition.  According to the dictionary, a feminist is a person who “advocates social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men.” I am a feminist because I believe God created men and women for intimate, loving and mutually submissive relationships in which they could experience complete unity.  The unity of Eden was marked by equality.  I believe it is sin that has created the great divide between the sexes.  As a child of God, and participant in the covenant community, I believe I am called to live into Eden, rather than the curse.

My motivation for doing this little blog series has little to do with a “feminist agenda.”  I’m honestly not trying to change the mind of complementarians out there.  Truthfully, I think the best way to accomplish that task is simply to be a woman in leadership and to do it well.  I would be lying, though, if I said I don’t have an agenda, because I have two.  The first is purely personal.  This subject is very important to me and this little project has been fun.   My primary motivation, however, is driven by my love for young people.  I’ve been part of youth ministry for years and I have seen several young women with gifts and graces for ministry.  I also know, first hand, that young women are put down- their gifts buried- and their calls dismissed because they are female.  At the same time, I have seen young men inundated with false expectations of marriage, fatherhood, and responsibility in the church.  My hope is that young women and men -who don’t have the benefit of a seminary library or egalitarian role models- can read this and see the dozens of passages that affirm women, mutual submission, and gift-based leadership, as opposed to the four Scriptures that appear to limit women.  At the very least, there will be some exposure to the “other side” of the issue.

PS:  This picture is of my husband, Linda Fox, and me, on the day that Linda married us!

Image

Two Women Leaders You’ve Probably Never Thought About: Miriam & Huldah

19 Dec

ImageMiriam was the sister of Moses and Aaron.  In addition to being a prophet (Exodus 15:20; see the blog on Deborah for clarification on the role of prophets in the Old Testament), Miriam led the Israelites into the worship of YHWH.  In fact, part of a song she composed is recorded in Scripture (see the song of Moses and Miriam in Exodus 15).  I have seen Miriam compared to a modern day worship leader.  I think that’s good comparision, but I do not think this particular text lends much support to women in leadership over men.  You see, in verse 15:20 is says that the women followed her lead.  While that is certainly commendable, it is not earth-shattering.  What is surprising, however, is the way Miriam uses her voice to call out the men in leadership.

In Numbers 12, we’re told that Aaron and Miriam began speaking against Moses because they didn’t like his new wife.  Imagine the situation:  a woman calling out a man!  And this wasn’t just any man- it was Moses!  That takes guts.  After all, Miriam’s baby brother was the spiritual an temporal leader of the people of Israel.  We have to presume that Miriam felt she had the position- even the right- to speak out against something she disagreed with.  That’s significant right there.

As it turns out, YHWH was not pleased with Miriam and Aaron’s response to Moses’ marriage.  God calls BOTH Aaron and Miriam to the tent of meeting and reprimands them.  In punishment, Miriam is given leprosy.  Interestingly, the one thing God does not bring up, is the fact that Miriam is a woman.  If she had failed to stay “in her place,” so to speak, wouldn’t YHWH have mentioned it?  He doesn’t say a word about the appropriateness or inappropriateness of women calling out men; rather, he reprimands both Miriam and Aaron for speaking out against a prophet whom YHWH favors.

Moses pleads for his sister to be healed.  God responds, but Miriam still has to spend seven days outside the camp (she was ritually “unclean”).  The text then tells us that the people did not leave their place until she came back into the camp.  Apparently, regardless of her insubordination, Miriam was important enough for the whole camp to wait for her return. Hmmm….

ImageThe next woman I’m going to discuss is virtually unheard of in most Christian circles.  Her name is Huldah and her story can be found in 2 Kings 22.  When Josiah was king, the Book of Law was rediscovered in the Temple.  Upon reading it, Josiah tore his clothes because he knew Israel was not living according to God’s divine decree.  He wanted to understand the Law better, so Josiah charged the priest with the task of finding a prophet who could render the book’s meaning.  The high priest goes to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum.  She apparently lived in the new quarter of Jerusalem.  These men, priests no less, go to Huldah(a woman) to interpret the Law and deliver a message from YHWH.  This is enormously significant.  What’s more, Huldah was married.  The priests did not confer with her husband (as her spiritual head).  Nope.  They did not ask for his opinion after Huldah delivered her message from God.  They simply acknowledged that this woman was anointed by the Holy Spirit as a prophet who spoke on behalf of God.  Then they took her message seriously.  What does this say about women who are anointed by the Holy Spirit as teachers today?

Deborah: Prophet, Warrior, and Judge of Israel

6 Dec

ImageThe account of Deborah can be found in the book of Judges, chapters 4 & 5.  Let’s start by pointing out some of the basics.

  1. Deborah was a woman.
  2. Deborah was a prophet.
  3. Deborah was married.
  4. Deborah was leading Israel.
  5. Deborah held court under the “Palm of Deborah.”
  6. Deborah led Israel into battle.

I will address these basics in reverse order.

Deborah led Israel into Battle

If you are familiar with the Biblical account, you will see that Deborah led the people of Israel into battle. In fact, the general, Barak, refused to go without her!  It’s also recorded in Deborah’s song that the army waited on her, and called out for her before they marched.  This is significant for a number of reasons.  It validates her position as the temporal and spiritual leader of Israel.  It reveals the true extent of her influence, and it portrays her in a position women did not typically occupy.  Israelite women did not fight in battles.  Now, let’s be clear.  There is no evidence that Deborah personally wielded a weapon or fought in battle.  It’s not outside the realm of possibilities, but let’s not confuse her with Xena or anything.  She wasn’t a warrior princess.  However, it is clear that her presence was considered essential to the success of the battle (it wasn’t- only YHWH’s presence was required, but the people felt they needed her).  It also shows that Deborah was versatile and exhibited leadership in many ways.

Deborah held court under the “Palm of Deborah”

This reveals a couple cool things.  First, we should note that Judges was written centuries after Deborah’s life and reign, yet the place where she administered justice was still referred to as the “Palm of Deborah.”  It obviously carried historical/cultural significance.  Also, the fact that she administered justice from one location, and that people traveled to her, gives us an idea of how respected she was in Israel.  Would you walk a hundred miles to present your case before someone you’ve a) never heard of or b) don’t respect?  I sure wouldn’t.

Deborah was leading Israel

Deborah’s lived during the period of the judges.  She probably reigned around 1150 BCE (note the approximation there).  At this time, Israel had no king.  The Tribes were mostly self-sufficient.  However, when Israel was threatened by another nation/people the tribes would have to be unified and God would raise and empower a person to defend the Promised Land and lead the people.  They were referred to as judges.  This is where Deborah’s account gets even more interesting.  She was leading before the enemy advanced.  She is the only judge to have been administering justice (or exercising any kind of temporal authority) before the crisis arrived.  We’re also told that she continued to judge after the enemy was subdued.  Hmmm.  The plot thickens.

Deborah was married.

Okay, this little tidbit probably doesn’t strike anyone as significant, but it was.  You see, ancient Israelites took the whole, “be fruitful and multiply” thing very seriously.  They thought it applied to every physically capable person, thus celibacy was not an option.  It goes without saying that her culture was patriarchal.  Married women were under the authority of their husbands.  Granted, the Laws of ancient Israel gave women more protection and status than most other cultures of the ancient near east, but let’s not forget she did not live in a culture comparable to our own.  So the fact that she was married- likely even had children- and was the leader of Israel is HUGE!  We cannot know for sure if she was a mother, but considering how shameful barrenness was for women, it seems unlikely that it would have gone unmentioned in the text.  Yet, it was not her husband who was called to lead Israel, it was Deborah.

Deborah was a prophet

Let’s begin with a brief description of the role of prophets in the Old Covenant.  YHWH was the ultimate king of Israel.  However, he divided his administrators on earth into three categories:  prophet, priest and king (once the office of king was established).  The King administered justice, was in charge of judicial matters, etc.  The priest represented the people to God and offered sacrifices on their behalf.  The prophet, on the other hand, represented YHWH to the people.  The prophet was, literally, the mouthpiece or spokesperson for God.  The word of the prophet was the word of the LORD.  Prophets were powerful.  The prophet could even call out kings!  Think Nathan.  The prophet is not born, nor is the office inherited.   He/she is called, and anointed by the Holy Spirit.  The prophet is caught up in the divine council (Isaiah is a good example), and given a message, which the prophet takes to the people.  If the prophet changes the message, then there would be significant consequences.  Dt. 18 declares that the prophet is the one who takes God’s message to the people.  The prophet has more power than anyone else in God’s administration.  And this is the position that YHWH has called and anointed Deborah for.  And remember, ONLY God can call and empower someone to be God’s prophet!

Finally, Deborah was a woman.

I recognize that Deborah’s gender is obvious (although some Bible translators do try to turn a woman’s name into a man’s in Romans 16!), but too many people fail to recognize how truly significant Deborah’s life and leadership were when it comes to understanding biblical womanhood.  In my last blog, I addressed the “curse passage” in which God told Eve that her husband would rule over her.  The story of Deborah makes it abundantly clear that it was only “descriptive” and not “prescriptive.”  By that I mean that it was not (and is not) God’s will for men to rule over women.  It’s also a beautiful testimony to the willingness of God to call and equip women and men, for all rules in the church, the home, and society.

The Other Side of the Argument

The Complementarian argument against Deborah as a model for female leadership is probably the weakest in their arsenal (they aren’t all weak.  I’ll give credit where credit is due).  I was originally taught, and have since read, that Deborah was chosen as a way to shame Barak; or that there were no righteous men so God had to call Deborah to get the job done. I’ve even been told that she was actually a model for submissiveness because she rebuked Barak in private.  First of all, Deborah was called before Barak, and remained in leadership afterwards.  He was “shamed” because he did not trust God to deliver the Israelites from such a huge army.  The same things would probably have happened if he’d been instructed by a male prophet.  Secondly, I have a hard time believing that Deborah was the only righteous person left in Israel.  Heck, a lot of the other judges weren’t even that righteous and God still found a way to use them.  Besides, if having a female judge was meant to be a point of shame on Israel’s unrighteous past, wouldn’t the author have judges have mentioned it, or at the very least mentioned that no men were available for the position?  This argument is a stretch from what the text offers us.  Finally, there’s nothing to suggest that Deborah rebuked Barak in private.  In fact, she summoned him to her place of administration!  That alone suggest she was in a position of authority over him.

In conclusion

I think Deborah is a great example of God calling, anointing, and empowering women for his service.  She was certainly the exception, rather than the rule, but what a magnificent and significant exception she was.  If nothing else, it shows us that God includes women and men in his story and invites both to partner with him in ministry and leadership.