Monday, September 23, 2013

WOMEN :Lessons from the Bible

A Study by Marilyn A. Hudson (
Women play vital roles in the storyline of the Bible. Like men, they are included as role models, villains, and heroes. Women as the latter, however, seldom find themselves highlighted in sermons, lectures, or lessons. This limitation is linked to tradition, culture and misunderstanding of various Biblical texts. Since so many are unfamiliar with some of the noble women of the Bible, here is a sampling of some women who played vital roles in scripture.

EVE - Made in the Image of God, Genesis 1.27; 2.18; 3.
Her name means life and as the first women is our prototype. Scripture says she was made in the image of God and as such she is clearly a full child of God. Over the years, many myths have arisen about her. Such things as the myth that she was "cursed", that she "caused" sin, and that she is eternally and forever subordinate (less than) the human male because she was called "helper."
The truth is that she was created first in the image of God as human (Gen.1.27) and then as "woman" (gen. 2.18). She is apparently the only complete story of the creation of woman in the entire Middle Eastern creation corpus. The fact is that the bible contains two creation accounts, but strangely it only the second one that people usually mention because it has the story of the rib, the temptation, and the expulsion. The hierarchy is there with Man firmly in first place and Woman a dim second. Yet, the first account says "male and female" God created humans in the "image of God". The truth is that the first account answers the question "How did we get here?"
The second story illustrates an answer to "What did we break our relationship with God?" The story is so familiar to us that we do not really hear it anymore. The Serpent (the symbol of evil) tempts the Woman to Sin, the Woman then tempts the Man and the Man willingly participates. When God finds that they have broken the rules, the Man points the finger at the Woman and said "the Woman made me do it!" Thus, woman was cursed with things like childbirth, sex, and menstruation, etc. for her wanton sinfulness. Her days were forever to be under the heel of the Man and she will pay for her sin into the millionth x10 generation of females....
The truth will set you free...woman was created as a "helper" but was not subordinate. The Hebrew word there is the same word used to describe God in Ps. 30.10 and 54.4. The meaning is more clearly that of "partner". Woman was not cursed. Cursed were only the ground and the serpent (Gen.3.14). Both the man and the woman received penalties for disobedience but not a curse. She is not in a perpetual state of subordination or doomed because of the error of the Garden.

SHEERAH, the City Builder (1 Chron. 7.24)
This little known figure was a daughter of Ephraim and the grand-daughter of Joseph. It is thought her name may mean "ear" and thus her parents may have prayed she would always listen to God. She was responsible for building Upper and Lower Horan (Beit-Ur) and Uzzen-Sherah. The first two cities were known to have played vital roles in the military, transportation, and economic activities of the region from ancient times. The Beth Horan sites were the location of the famous "Long Day" of Joshua 10.10. Consider what is being said here that a from these ancient times "built cities". This infers someone who had the financial resources to establish, support, or maintain a community. This infers perhaps someone who had the knowledge and ability to arrange construction according to her own plans. This infers someone who had the respect of others and who was recognized as someone who should not be forgotten in chronicling the history of the region. Her name might have meant "ear" but plainly she was someone that others heard and responded to themselves.

HULDA, Prophet and Woman of the Word (2 Kings 22.2; 2 Chron. 34)
Prophets in the world of the Old Testament functioned as a link between the human and the divine. They were given special visions, proclamation, they acted as messengers, and the called to repentance. In Judges 6:34 they are seen to be "clothed" with the spirit of God. In the reign of Josiah (in the mid 600's B.C.E.) as the temple was being rebuilt, a scroll was found and the scroll was taken by the priest to the prophet Hulda. The NIV Study Bible notes here that they did not know "why they did not seek out Jeremiah or Zephaniah" without ever seeming to ask if that was even necessary. It was obvious that here was a prophet who was seen to be just as capable as those better known prophets. She was not a "prophetess" but a Prophet who lived in the area where the faithful had returned to live close to the house of God (the Temple). For centuries the southern gate was known as the "Hulda gate" and hosts of the faithful would have passed through it over the years.

PHOEBE, A Church leader from Conchrea (Rom. 16:1-2)
Paul called her a "sister", a "deacon" , and a supporter of the work. Many versions translate the word "diakonos" and "diakona" as servant, refusing to give her the title "Deacon." Deacons all began as "servants" and when they term is used of a man it is translated "Deacon" and as a "servant" if a woman. The same word, however, is used in Phil.1:1 (the only book dedicated to church leaders " all the saints...the bishops...the deacons"). John of Chrystrom in his Homily on 1 Tim. 3.11 wrote: " he is speaking of those women who hold the rank of deacon "(cited in Ordained Women of the Early Church: A documentary History, pg. 19). Origin (185-253) wrote"...this passage teaches two things...women are to be considered the church, and that such ought to be received into the ministry." Some translations interject the term "deaconess" even though this is totally inappropriate and not the form of the word used. It is not until the 6th century that wide spread gendered ministry emerges and a special class called "deaconess" develops in response to the Church's making the role of clergy and the priesthood for men only.

JUNIA - Chief among the Apostles (Rom 16.7)
Through the first seven centuries of the church the word "Junia" was clearly understood to be referring to a woman. Not until much later is this ever questioned. In the mid-to-late 1800's scholars begin to translate the scriptures and write commentaries and label this as a masculine name which they translate as "Junias" because if this person is an "apostle" than it must be a man! This translation anomaly continues into the mid-1900's and than scholars such as Epp, and others, begin to rediscover this forgotten woman of the New Testament and leader in the early Church. The name is not found anywhere in the masculine "Junias" form - but the female name Junia is found in many, many places. Some new scholars, intent on keeping women in their "place", do a fancy side-step by claiming the term "apostle" here is not the same term as applied to people like Paul and other men. Yet Zodhiates, in his Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, and other similar sources, indicates the term used here is the same used by Paul in many other places, including 1 Cor. 9:1 when he says "I am an apostle..."

Other women are the better known: the Wise Women of Tekoa, Abel, Abigail the Mediator, Hannah, Ruth, Noami, Esther the Every Woman, Deborah the Judge, Mary the Mother, Mary the Student, Mary the Witness, and Rhoda, Lydia, Dorcas. Women of every style, interest, and skill who are shown clearly in the scripture but are made invisible in most sermons or teachings.

Further Reading:
Ackerman, Susan. Warrior, dancer, seductress, queen: Women in Judges and Biblical Israel (1998)
Epp, Eldon Jay. Junia: The First Woman Apostle (2005)
Madigan, Kevin and Caroly Oslek. Ordained Women in the Early Church: a documentary history (2005)
Torjesen, karen Jo. When women were priests (1993)
Hudson, Marilyn A. "The Three Faces of Eve." The International Pentecostal Holiness Advocate (October 1991):3-4.
Moore, Michaels. "Wise women" or Wisdom Woman?: A Biblical study of Women's roles. Restoration Quarterly. 35.3 (1993)1147-58.
Synan, Vinson. "Women in Ministry: a history of women's roles in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement." Ministries Today (January/February 1993)44-49.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Spiritual Obedience: Part 2. Dr. Marvin J. Hudson

Part 2: All Alone
With the Garden experience behind them, the descendents of Adam and Eve spread out to the far corners of the ancient world to find a place for themselves.  The humans were now on their own searching to recapture the sanity, the justice and the peace of that Garden sanctuary.

It would be convenient to state absolutely what early humanity understood obedience to be, but harder to prove. What we do know is that from the earliest written records there was a searching to reestablish the order of the Garden, the peace, and the stability through standardized  written legal codes .  These set the limits for “right” and “wrong” and listed the consequences of doing what was unacceptable in the society they represented.

In about 2050 B.C.E. one of the earliest such “ law books “ was written. Today, only fragments of The Codex of Ur-Nammu exists but it reveals clearly an early attempt to follow some higher course than humanity’s own basic, and often base, instincts.  These laws consisted of social justice that addressed issues of taxation, standardized measurements, legal recourse, and the rights of the widows and orphans. (The World of The Bible. Eerdmans, 1986, p.223).

Like its predecessors, The Code of Hammurabi attempted to set up a standard of ethical conduct for the people of Babylonia and the regions which adopted the code for their own use.  The Code was written about 1700 B.C.E. and was inscribed on a stone slab (stele) of black diorite eight feet tall discovered in Susa in 1902 (The Pictorial Bible Dictionary. Merrill C. Tenney, ed. Southwestern Company. Nashville. 1972, p.332).

Some of these laws have a familiar ring to them : 196, “If an awilum has put out the eye of a mar-awiliam (lit.’son of an awilum’), they shall put out his eye.”  (Babylon, Joan Otes. Thames and Hudson, 1979, pg. 75). Others are quite harsh: 195, “If a son has struck his father, they shall cut off his hand.” Consider laws 229-30 stating a builder whose work was shoddy, causing the death of the owner, the builder was put to death.” (Babylon, Joan Otes. Thames and Hudson, 1979, pg. 75).

Both laws, and the later Law of Moses, are examples of what scholars call the “casuistic” style.  Each law or code shows how a wrong action “causes” an opposite reaction as society deals with the lawbreaker.  Each attempted to correct the imbalances in society by saying what was right and what was wrong. Humanity was learning that limitations on conduct  were needed so that the rights of another were not trampled.

No matter how far away humanity might roam from the garden, the instinctive urge and innate need for obedience to a standard of conduct dogged their steps. In all cases, the ingredients do not match, but the basic formula was there: the recognition that humanity need to be obedient to something in order to achieve a small portion of the harmony known in the Garden setting.

Why was there one set of laws in 2050 B.C.E., another in 1700 B.C.E., and yet another around 1280 B.C.E. (The Hittite Code)?   If humanity realized the need to a obey a higher standard of life, why was there a constant move to rewrite and reiterate the laws?  Without a doubt, even the earliest human found it impossible to respond effectively to the sense of “moral oughtness” existing within.

In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, Eugene H. Peterson tells of being in a hospital room with a man who swung between rational thought and harsh hallucinations of death, which caused him to scream out “I’m going to die!”   He would then beg his pastor, Peterson, to pray for him.  Later, in moments of lucidness, the man would recant any such prayer.  “The parabolic force of the incident is this”, Peterson noted. “When the man was scared, he wanted me to pray for him, but in between…he didn’t want anything to do with a pastor.” (Peterson. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. Inter-Varsity, 1980, g. 17-158).

Early humanity was in this condition. There was a need to obey that sense of moral oughtness when the individual was violated, when his property was stolen, or her burdens were intolerable.  Sometimes, a person might rise to altruistic heights and cry out for the rights of others. Yet, those urges were at war with a stronger urge to see to his or her own needs met, even if it meant at the expense of another person.  When the stark injustice was pointed out, they would decry the situation. When injustice visit her home, she could pull her hair and cry, “It isn’t fair!”  In between those times, the commitment was not always as clear or strong as might be wished.  Man  found he wanted to obey, but found he could not unless he was made to through accepted legal codes.

The old joke about when it rains we see the need to fix the roof, but when it stops – where’s the need, could apply to early humanity ability to and desire to keep the moral laws.  Repeatedly the rules , the codes, had to be set down, recognized and set into action because of the fallibility of humanity.

In Romans 1:19-21, Paul hints at this innate search for answers to what is “right”:
“because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse; Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

People were given a witness of God and a chance to respond to those “higher” urges of morality which were evidences of God.  In addition, there was no doubt, especially in these early years that a remnant of those Garden days lingered on in stories around the campfires and in the towns.  The “witness” of right and wrong was there, weak at times, but definitely there.

The discoveries of biblical archaeology seem to illustrate clearly that certain things were accepted among nearly all early people of the Ancient Middle East.  A close reading of the Pentateuch reveals the people had followed many standards of conduct and law later formalized into the Code of Moses.  Even today people become tangled in “customary laws” or common ethics that allow a person to be “good” without being righteous.  They allow modern mankind to attain a degree of ‘civilization’ and harmony, but, as always, these are supports of glass that shatter under the weight of daily use because a crucial element is missing. 

Secular history presents us with documented records of both the human failure to live up to the moral expectations as well as the tendency of depraved humanity to distort understanding of the nature of right, wrong, and obedience.

The code of Ur-Nummu and the Code of Hammurabi were both collections of social laws listing the expectations and accepted legal , religious, social and civic actions of the Mesopotamian cultures.  The tenor of each is constantly harsh and negative, dealing primarily with death and mutilation.  Humans understood a need for obedience but of what that obedience was to consist of was largely unknown.

In seeing obedience defined as laws limiting activities, enforcing life styles and plainly stating specific ethics,  the laws underscore the inability of humans to live up to their own expectations of what was right.  They could envision , but could not reach the goal.

Humanity was ever aware of a desire to do right, but was always unable to achieve that vision in reality.  Some piece of the puzzle was missing and until that piece was found, obedience had become, and would remain, a tantalizing elusive goal.