Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Inbox: Things Jesus Did for Women

Martin van Creveld is an Israeli military historian and theorist who, oddly enough, has written perhaps the best and most all-encompassing book I’ve ever found on the subject of equality. Equality: The Impossible Quest is not a theological book and van Creveld is not, to my knowledge, a Christian, but his diligent retracing of the historical development of the equality myth as it relates to all aspects of human interaction is well worth the few hours it takes to digest.

If equality was the original order of mankind (and it wasn’t, as demonstrated in an earlier post on this subject), something has gone very, very wrong.

In two earlier posts, I’ve responded to a comment from a reader using the name Unknown. Here is the final part of his/her comment:
“One has to study the things that Jesus did for women, pointing to her redemption from this curse as well! Luke 7:36-50, Matt 8:14, Luke 7:11-17, Luke 20, Luke 13:10-17, Luke 2:36-38, Luke 7:44-50, Luke 18, Luke 21, John 11:15, Luke 10:38, John 4:28-29, 39 and many others. It’s good also to study the historical background of each situation and customs of the time.”
Let’s examine each of these references briefly to see if they make Unknown’s point.

Evidence of Redemption from the Curse

In NT order then, some of the things Jesus did for women:
  • In Matthew 8:14, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever.
  • In Luke 2:36-38, at Jesus’ presentation at the temple, Anna, an aged prophetess, thanks God for the birth of his Son and speaks of him to “all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem”. We might note that (1) Anna was a widow, and thus not required to submit to a husband; (2) she lived prior to Paul’s instructions to the church about women’s silence in gatherings of God’s people, and so was not bound by them; and (3) spoke informally and probably personally to individuals in the temple area. Thus the only thing that Anna has to do with the subject of equality or the curse is that she was most definitely a woman.
  • In Luke 7:11-17, at a town called Nain, Jesus has compassion on a widow and raises her recently deceased son from the dead.
  • In Luke 7:36-50, a woman anoints the Lord’s feet with ointment and wipes them with her hair at the house of Simon, a Pharisee. The Lord defends her to Simon, publicly forgives her sins and tells her that her faith has saved her.
  • In Luke 10:38, Jesus is welcomed into the house of Martha. She is frustrated by the fact that the Lord does not ask her sister Mary to help her with serving the Lord and probably his disciples as well. The Lord remarks that Mary has chosen the “good portion”. He is not inclined to banish her to the kitchen when she is obviously interested in what he is teaching.
  • In Luke 13:10-17, the Lord Jesus miraculously cures a woman with a disabling spirit on the Sabbath day, to the indignation of the ruler of the synagogue.
  • In Luke 18, the Lord tells the parable of the persistent widow and uses a fictional character to teach that people should always pray and not lose heart.
  • In Luke 20, the Lord responds to a (very probably fictional) story told him by the Sadducees of a woman who married seven brothers consecutively. His point is that resurrection is real, not a fiction.
  • In Luke 21, the Lord uses a poor widow as an illustration of generosity.
  • In John 4:28-29, 39, Jesus meets a woman of Samaria, teaches her about living water (among other precious things) and tells her secrets about her past and present, after which she testifies to her entire town that Jesus is the Messiah.
  • In John 11:15, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, much to the delight of his sisters.
Off Topic Times Eleven

Unknown refers to “many others” like these. If so, he or she may like to quote them, since not one of these verses deals with the subject of the post Unknown has critiqued, which is a not-uncommon interpretation of Genesis 3:16. Popular Christian blogger Tim Challies explains that verse this way:
“A woman’s desire for her husband shall be a desire to push him out of his place of leadership. It should not be lost on us that this is exactly what happened when man fell — the woman was led by a creature and the man was led by his wife. The whole God-ordained leadership structure was reversed. And that is how it continues today. A wife struggles to submit to her husband.”
GotQuestions frames it like this:
“The most basic and straightforward understanding of this verse is that woman and man would now have ongoing conflict. In contrast to the ideal conditions in the Garden of Eden and the harmony between Adam and Eve, their relationship, from that point on, would include a power struggle. The NLT translation makes it more evident: ‘You will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.’ ”
So, yes, this is indeed a lengthy list of “things Jesus did for women”, but we will have to continue to disagree about whether these incidents in the gospels signify anything at all with respect to God’s plan for authority in the Christian home or in the church, as well as about whether there is anything in these verses that implies Christian couples no longer need to be concerned about recognizing the impact of the Fall on their relationships, or about resisting rebellious tendencies (on the part of the wife) and hyper-authoritarianism or emotional disconnection (on the part of the husband).

If there is, I’m just not seeing it.

What the Examples Show

I note there is no evidence that even one of the women held up as examples here had a living husband. Four are said to be widows, one was a woman of ill repute, one was involved with a man to whom she was not married, at least one was fictional (probably two), and Mary and Martha are generally taken to be spinsters, though we have no definitive proof of that. Of the others nothing is said.

Further, though it is not our subject here, none of these women taught men scripture authoritatively in a public gathering. In fact, if anything, we observe a consistently submissive disposition among these examples: the woman who washed the Lord’s feet with her hair; Martha, who served; Mary, who sat and was taught; the Samaritan woman, who asked questions of the Lord, learned from his answers, and then enthused publicly that he was the Messiah. The Lord commended or in some way bettered the situation of many of these women, but he did not send them out to teach scripture authoritatively, nor did he address their domestic situations in any way that touches on our subject.

At no point does the curse even come up in these quotations, though I would agree that the Lord’s miracles relieved some (not all) of its effects. And even so, he did so only temporarily. Lazarus didn’t live forever. The women who were relieved from sickness through the Lord’s miracles still aged and died normally.

Also, because each of these examples is taken from the gospels, they necessarily take place before the death of Christ. Thus they cannot tell us whether the consequences of the Fall still apply in marital relationships, even if we assume headship and authority are exclusively a result of sin. For instructions on Christian marriage, we must go to the epistles (hint: there are many suggestions later in the New Testament that Christian married couples still struggle with and need to overcome their sinful tendencies in relationships, but our friend has not referenced any of these).

What these verses do establish is that the New Testament gospel writers are not shy about showing us how well the Lord Jesus related to women and how much he cared for them. If someone were to argue that the Lord Jesus loves women equally to men, I would have no reason to disagree. That is not something I’ve ever disputed. From a creator God, it’s precisely what we ought to expect.

Bringing Back Eden

But Unknown seems to argue that submission to authority is a consequence solely of the curse (it isn’t, as established in two prior posts). It seems as if he/she reasons that if Jesus’ blood redeemed women from the curse, they are therefore no longer responsible to obey their husbands, and that the “original order” of equality (which never was; see previous post) should be again.

I can only respond that the peculiar modern definition of equality that associates it primarily with authority rather than with intrinsic value before God is just not the way the Bible uses the word, and it is not taught in Genesis. For those who still insist on pushing such an equality narrative, I heartily recommend van Creveld’s book.

Finally, to respond to Unknown’s reference to historical background, it would be necessary to know what histories and writers he/she might have in mind. Historians have agendas, and some are more credible than others. Outside of scripture, no history may be said to be inspired.

Historical studies may be illuminating but they can never be authoritative.

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