March 5, 2016
I’m spending a little more time in the Jesus-Mary-Martha stories on the blog this month, because I recently ran across an interesting article that interprets John 11 through a more literary lens.*
Considered from this perspective, we can see that John used both Martha and Mary in their own way to reveal something about the identity of Jesus. Rather than being set against each other, as in the Luke 10 story, John shows both of these women exemplifying faithful, albeit different, responses to Jesus that the gospel presents as models of discipleship.
This story fits well within the context of John’s gospel, whose major purpose is explicitly stated at the end:
“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)
As the narrative begins in John 11, Mary is immediately highlighted:
“This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.” (John 11:2)
This foreshadowing is unusual for John and may indicate that his readers were already familiar with the anointing story. They may have known her from Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:1-9, where the woman went unnamed, yet Jesus stated, “Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Remember that John’s gospel was the written last.) Clearly, John wanted readers to know beforehand that they were reading about a familiar figure. (Read More)
January 16, 2016
I loved this post by Cara Strickland on the Junia Project blog last month. She said it so well that I thought I would share an excerpt with you here:
Recently, I heard a sermon preached almost entirely on Jesus’ genealogy in the book of Matthew.
I was visiting a church I attended in my youth, a place where I learned a lot of what I’ve needed to unlearn about theology of women. I was delighted to see that the pastor immediately picked out the women in the narrative, a little disappointed to realize that he did so only to point out that they were all foreigners, with the exception of Mary. But this got me thinking in another direction, as sermons so often do. I began to think through these five women, to question what else they might have in common.
Right there, as the pastor continued with his sermon, I realized something I’d never noticed before. Each of the women in the genealogy was either single (in the case of Tamar, Ruth, andRahab), or sort of relationship adjacent (Bathsheba’s husband was away at war, leaving her vulnerable, Mary was betrothed, but easily sentenced to death for being pregnant at a word from Joseph).
The very things that made women safe in the cultures of their day: marriage and children, were missing from their lives.
This affected me especially because those things are also absent from my life. I don’t know what’s it like to be a widow. I can imagine that the process is made worse by unfair treatment from a frightened father-in-law, who watched two sons die after coupling with Tamar. Still, that doesn’t excuse the fact that he sent her home to her father’s house, making her present and future uncertain. Without children to carry on her husband’s line, there would potentially be no one to care for her. She might be worried about where her next meal would come from, or how she would continue to live. Read the rest of this post (originally titled “The Women of Advent” at The Junia Project.
Cara is a freelance writer and food critic based in the Pacific Northwest. She can often be found writing at carastrickland.com.
December 19, 2015
This lovely holiday season also coincides with the close of another year, and it has me reflecting a bit. I feel like I’ve been doing some stretching and growing spiritually over the past 12 months—a more blessed and joyful kind of growth than I experienced in the prior couple of years.
Along with attending a new church, I read some challenging books this year, all of which I highly recommend. I thought I would share some of my 2015 book list with you, in case you are looking for some reading to expand your thinking.
Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels
by Richard Bauckham
This book takes a definite scholarly tone, but Bauckham presents some great in-depth examinations of a few gospel women. My favorite chapters covered both Luke’s inclusion of women in his gospel, in general, and the disciple Joanna, in particular. The book gave me lots of interesting new fodder for my writing and speaking on the topic of Jesus and women.
Quotable: “There is a good deal of evidence that in the Greco-Roman world in general women were thought by educated men to be gullible in religious matters and especially prone to superstitious fantasy and excessive in religious practices.”
Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity
by Dianna E. Anderson
This book changed my thinking about ways the church talks to women about modesty, virginity and sex. It definitely made me regret some of the things I said to my daughters when they were teenagers. You might be left dissatisfied with Anderson’s refusal to insist on a biblical injunction against sex outside of marriage, but she makes some really important points about the church’s near obsession with sex, as well as its double standard and the toxicity of its sexual shaming.
Quotable: “Women in evangelical culture bear the brunt of modesty teaching. The vast majority of this teaching goes in one direction only. Women do not have sexual desires—we are not ‘visually stimulated’ in the ways men are. Therefore, the burden of modesty falls on our shoulders because ‘men are wired that way.’ (Read More)
November 22, 2015
Remember that old hymn, “What a Friend We Have Jesus?” The lyrics speak of him bearing our sins and griefs, knowing our weakness, being the one to whom we can take everything in prayer — our refuge and solace.
It’s a nice song, but a version written by the siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus would have taken a much different tenor. It would have spoken of Jesus as a friend in a more literal and personal kind of way, in the “favored companion” sense of the word. He was not only a superior who healed or saved or taught them. He had a mutual relationship with this family, whom he clearly liked and enjoyed being with.
Image of Martha, Lazarus and Mary clipped from the movie, “The Gospel of John”
This friendship is unique in the Gospels. Jesus certainly spent a lot of time with his disciples, but Martha’s home is the only one that he returned to time and again (see Luke 10:38-42, John 11:1-47, 12:1-11).
Jesus even referred to Lazarus as “our friend” (John 11:11), although we never actually hear the voice of Lazarus in any of the narratives. Luke and John seem much more interested in Jesus’ friendship with the sisters. You see it even in this sequence (John 11:3-5):
“The sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’”
John didn’t let it go at that. He added, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”
He put these siblings are on a very short list of individuals named explicitly as being loved by Jesus (another of whom was John himself). John really wanted us to understand the nature of this relationship. (Read More)
October 29, 2015
I’m heading over to Charlottesville’s Shelter for Help in Emergency this Friday night for my monthly volunteer shift, so the topic of domestic violence is on my mind. Plus, I wanted to share some thoughts on this issue before October ends. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how important it is.
I did some web surfing about how churches and Christians often deal with domestic violence, so since I’m not the expert, I’m going to share with you some of the powerful words of writers who are. Links are included to each full article.
From Domestic Violence within the Church: The Ugly Truth:
“Spouse abuse shocks us,” [Denise] George writes. “We just cannot believe that a church deacon or member goes home after worship . . . and beats his wife.” Tragically, however, George notes, some of these men justify their violence “by citing biblical passages.”
George sites a survey in which nearly 6,000 pastors were asked how they would counsel women who came to them for help with domestic violence. Twenty-six percent would counsel them … to continue to “submit” to her husband, no matter what. Twenty-five percent told wives the abuse was their own fault—for failing to submit in the first place. Astonishingly, 50 percent said women should be willing to “tolerate some level of violence” because it is better than divorce. Advice like this, George warns, often puts women “in grave danger”—and in some cases, can be a death warrant. (Read More)
September 22, 2015
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. (Romans 16:7 NIV 2011)
Since the days of the earliest church writings, this passage has been a puzzle to readers who came to it with a conviction that apostles must be men. From medieval times until fairly recently you could hardly find a Bible translation containing the name Junia. Translators through this period resolved their dilemma by rendering the name Junias, a male name (as in, “Those earlier manuscripts couldn’t have been right, so let’s just fix that little typo”). I still own an NIV Bible from 1984 that uses Junias.
Most modern translators now agree that the evidence supports a female name here, so disputes have transferred to that sticky phrase “outstanding among the apostles.” Some alternative renderings include “esteemed by the apostles” (see note in the 2011 NIV) or “well known to the apostles” (ESV).
I am more interested in the identity of this woman of such significance to Paul and the other apostles—regardless of what her distinction was. Is she really mentioned nowhere else in New Testament literature? (Read More)
August 7, 2015
In this post we will look in more depth at the presence of the women disciples toward the end of Luke’s Gospel and consider their significance. We’re following up on a previous post, “Jesus and His Traveling Disciplettes,” which explored the way Luke’s Gospel places women as a regular presence among Jesus’ disciples throughout his ministry (beginning in Luke 8:1).
Here’s a rundown of what happened beginning in Luke 23:
- The women who had followed Jesus from Galilee watched their Savior’s crucifixion at a distance (Luke 23:49). They are singled out because they about to become major actors in this plotline.
- These same “women who had come with Jesus from Galilee” followed Jesus’ body, saw the tomb, and saw his body laid in it. (Luke 23:55) They became the only witnesses among the disciple group of the exact location where Jesus was buried.
- “The women” then became the first witnesses of the empty tomb on Sunday morning, when they arrived with burial spices. Instead of the body of Jesus, they found two gleaming men who explained the absence of Jesus. (Luke 24:1-5)
- The men remind the women what Jesus had told them back in Galilee (Luke 24:6-7). The women then remembered that, yes, Jesus had told them that (Luke 24:8).
- They ran back and reported their discovery to “the Eleven and to all the others.” The guys were unwilling to believe the news, because “their words seemed to them like nonsense.” (Luke 24:9-10)
- “The women” were finally identified as “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them.” (Luke 24:9)
- The resurrected Jesus walks along with two disciples on the road to Emmaus. These two report to Jesus that “some of our women amazed us.”Some of the guys, including Peter, went to check out their story “and found it just as the women had said.” Imagine that. (Luke 24:23-24)
- The Emmaus pair returned to Jerusalem and found “the Eleven and those with them,” who said, essentially, “What the women said was true!” (Luke 24:33-34)
- Jesus suddenly appeared to this same group. (Luke 24:36) He explained the scriptures about himself and told them, “The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” He reminded them that they were “witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:38-48)
- Jesus told them he would send what his Father had promised and that they should stay in Jerusalem until they had “been clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:38-49)
- After he ascended, they (still the same group) returned to Jerusalem, and “they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.” (Luke 24:50-53)
- In Jerusalem the Eleven joined “together constantly in prayer,along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers” (Acts 1:14).
- On the day of Pentecost “all of them” were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:1). As part of his sermon Peter reminded the audience that what they were currently experiencing was prophesied in Joel:
July 15, 2015
I once attended a church where the minister was known for his practice of reading all the way through the Bible every month. His discipline for being so “in the Word” is admirable. Yet, possibly influenced by this practice, his public teaching seemed to reflect a perspective of the Bible as one long book written all at once by a single author. He rarely mentioned the characteristics of a specific genre included within the Bible collection (like prophecy or poetry) or individual styles and word choices peculiar to different authors or key themes distinctive of each of the Bible’s 66 works of literature.
Don’t get me wrong, he is a man of great faith in God, and his life reflects the character of Jesus in many ways. He missed a great deal of the richness of biblical literature reading it this way, however, and likely sometimes misconstrued some of its teachings.
Each book of the Bible should be understood as part of the larger collection of spiritual works, but only after we understand it as an independent work of sacred literature. Sometimes we get this intuitively with other Bible books, but because the Gospels all report the life and ministry of Jesus, we might find it easier to ignore their individuality. In books like The Daily Bible and in pulpits every Sunday all over the world, well-meaning Christians harmonize all the Gospel narratives and teachings, as if scripture contained one consistent version of events regarding Jesus.
Many of us are more comfortable with this treatment of the Gospels than we are in acknowledging the conflicting versions of the crucifixion story and the ways identical teachings are placed in different contexts across the Gospels. Sometimes, I’ve seen people scratch their heads about these conflicts and suggest, “Maybe it’s like different witnesses today all describing the same car accident. They all tell what they saw from different angles.”
This post appeared as a guest contribution to the Women, Leadership, and the Bible blog. Keep reading.
To learn more, download a free bonus report, “Interpreting the Gospels.”
July 8, 2015
I first met Natalie R. Wilson Eastman on her wedding day, when she was marrying David, a good friend I went to church with when we both lived in Corvallis, Oregon. Over the years since then, God and writing have been the intersections that have connected the streams of our busy lives.
I have a great deal of respect for the Natalie’s enthusiasm for serious Bible study, her belief that women can and should engage in it, and the incredible amount of work she put into her new book, Women, Leadership, and the Bible: How Do I Know What to Believe?
I decided this was the perfect time to tell you about her book after we had explored the presence of women among Jesus’ disciples. I see plenty of evidence that Jesus expected women to use their intellect. He was happy to teach them and was interested in conversing with them about what they believed (see, Luke 10, John 4 and John 11). (Read More)