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I keep meeting these strange women…

January 5, 2016

…in the Bible.

If you have grown up in an evangelical church like I did you probably have been taught, over and over, the principles that wives are supposed to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:21-23) and women are to keep silent in the church (I Timothy 2:12).  This is true, we are told because there is an authority structure/relationship that is modeled on that within the Godhead where the husband is to be the head of the wife as God the Father is the head of Christ (I Corinthians 11:3).  We are told that this structure is “clearly biblical” and should be followed without question.

Let’s set aside the reality that there are many biblical scholars who read and apply these verses differently.  No matter how learned those scholars may be we are told that they are, here at least, simply wrong or possibly even heretical.

Let’s also set aside any effort to analyze these verses in their historical/cultural context.  That sort of analysis, whatever your conclusion may be, is simply analysis and not “the clear teaching of Scripture.”  There is nothing wrong with doing this sort of analysis provided we acknowledge that we are doing analysis and interpretation.

My problem is that I keep meeting strange women in the Bible who just don’t seem to fit the mold that is called for.

  • There is Ruth, who took the rather bold initiative to propose marriage to Boaz.
  • There is Deborah, the judge, prophet and war-time leader.
  • There is Mary of Bethany who sat with the men at the feet of Jesus.
  • There are the women that Paul praises highly.

You can try to explain away these women.  You can say that Ruth was submitting to the leadership of Boaz and ignore the fact that she, at each step, is the one who pursues the relationship.  You can say, as many do, that Deborah was chosen because no man would step up; that she was a second choice or even a punishment from God.  You can say that Mary sat quietly when the reality is that everyone sat quietly before the only wise teacher.  You can say that Junia was not an elder but was “known to” the elders or even was a man; or that the term deacon, when it applies to women, means only a servant.  But you are still left trying to shoehorn these (and other) extraordinary women into your model.

And then there is Abigail.  Her story is in I Samuel 25.  She is called beautiful and intelligent, the latter being the eye-opening comment.  She is married to Nabal, whose very name means foolish or senseless.  Abigail’s name means “father’s happiness,” again a rare praise.

In this long story, David and his men have been protecting the sheep and shepherds of the wealthy Nabal.  In return they ask for some reward of food and Nabal turns them away harshly.  This infuriates David who sets out with 400 men to kill him.  Abigail hears about this and without telling Nabal tries to save the day.

When she meets David she gives one of the longest speeches a woman gives in the Bible in I Samuel 25:24-31.  In this speech, which she gives without her husband’s knowledge let alone authority, she (a) takes the blame, (b) calls her husband senseless, and (c) gives prophetic, or at least predictive, praise to David.  In return, David praises her and her discretion for not telling Nabal and thanks her for saving him from a violent act.

After this Abigail still waits to tell Nabal what she has done until he sobers up.  When she does tell him he has what seems to be something like a stroke and dies ten days later; at which time David takes Abigail as a wife.  Nothing in her life fits the pattern of submission as taught in many churches today.  She secretly defies her husband, she takes the bold and courageous step of confronting 400 armed men, and she flat out calls her husband a fool.

Of course, in verse 41, after David asks her to marry him, she says “your handmaid is a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord” so those with a fixed image of the role of women can breathe a profound sigh of relief; their view on the right role for women is saved.  But there is no explaining away the reality that she, even more than the other women mentioned above, stands against every principle that is usually taught as the role of women.

How are we to understand her?  At the end of the day this is the principle I think we must follow:  When my interpretation of Scripture stands in contrast with actual people from Scripture I need to re-examine my interpretation, not squeeze the facts into my mold.


From → Christianity

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