Rethinking Gender Roles in the Church_Companion_1

Photo by Ravi N Jha on Unsplash

Below are two links to a companion video and audio for a Bible study I am doing about Women’s roles in the Church. It is not a comprehensive discussion of the subject. Instead it focuses on how Christian women followed Jesus and participated in the Church.

Gender Roles_Class 1_Handout

This is a companion and review of a bible study I am doing on women’s roles in the church. I believe in the equality of men and women and the full participation of women in worship. The bible study is a basic level discussion designed to walk through what we see in the New Testament. It is not intended to be a comprehensive discussion on the subject. Typically, these discussions begin with five challenging scriptures on women’s roles: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 1 Corinthians 14:34; 1 Timothy 2:11-15; Titus 2:3-16; Ephesians 5:22-33.

This seems like a mistake to focus first on these passages to the neglect of many more passages in the NT where we see women. Instead of this I am beginning with the activities we see women participating in and later we can discuss these scriptures.

Let’s start by taking about discipleship.

  • What is a Christian disciple?
    • Disciples are those who believe in Jesus, the Son of God, and whose lives are shaped by their relationship with him.
  • What do Christian disciples do? Here are some examples:
    • Live a life modeled after the character of Jesus
    • Pray (privately of collectively)
    • Sing (as a ritual to glorify God)
    • Practice Hospitality
    • Practice Loving others (including friends, enemies, the oppressed, the poor, etc.)
    • Participate in Communion (This is a practice that recalls Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection while at the same time invites us into God’s presence)
  • What type of roles, ministries, spiritual gifts, do we see disciples practicing? (There is no comprehensive list of ministries in the church. As circumstances change other ministries become necessary.)
    • Ministry
    • Teaching
    • Elders
    • Deacons
    • Evangelizing
    • Missions
    • Administrating
    • Apostles
    • Prophesying
    • Benevolence
    • Leading Worship, Singing, Communion
    • Baptizing
    • Faith Sharing

Let’s Look at a few texts of female disciples:

  • Like 10:38-42

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

While Martha is demonstrating hospitality by serving Jesus who is her guest, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet while he teaches. This is an unparalleled opportunity to learn from Jesus what Kings and Prophets longed to know. Martha and Mary teach us something about women who followed Jesus. First off, we see that Martha invites Jesus into her home. This act alone is an act of hospitality, but she goes further in making sure her guest is treated well. This stands in stark contrast, to when Jesus was in the home of a Pharisee in chapter 7. He did not offer Jesus water for his feet.

In the ancient world, men and women occupied different spaces. A woman might come into a male-only area to serve but would not usually stay there. Mary however chooses to sit at Jesus’ feet as his disciple. Mary goes against social expectations. Martha wants Jesus to set Mary straight, but Jesus affirms her choice to learn as one of his disciples.

Some women were able to get higher education in the ancient world. Those who did and used their education in the public sphere were often condemned. Entering the male sphere meant that many female philosophers were attacked as sexually promiscuous. This is because getting an education meant entering private spaces with men. There were those however, who encouraged women to learn philosophy, but rather than adding to the development of wisdom and understanding, the men hoped that the teaching would reinforce social norms. Women were considered wild, brash, and unchaste. They needed to learn to restrain themselves. What does this mean for Mary? It means, that by sitting at the feet of Jesus, she risks being accuses of sexual promiscuity. Jesus however, looks upon Mary favorably, because despite the risks, she recognized the importance of his teaching.  

Here is another passage:

  • Luke 8:1-3

“Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.”

While most women did not have a lot of power in the ancient world, at least some women gained authority, power, honor, and education, because of their affluence. Rich women had a better chance of shaping the world around them. They accomplished this through patronage. By supporting religious figures, they could help shape the world around them. Your affluence meant more to people than your gender if you were supporting your community. Women controlled their own funds in the ancient world, so they were able to use these funds to effect change.

In the case of Luke 8:1-3, which we often rush passed to read the parable of the sower, we see that women were among those who supported Jesus’ ministry. These women helped to enable Jesus’ traveling ministry. The word translated here as, “provided, supported, or contributed” is diakonos. When this word is used of things other than feeding guests, it carries with it the connotation of being commissioned for a task. Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and the others most likely consider this task as something God had called them to do. In Acts 6:1-2, The Seven are chosen by The Twelve to organize food distribution. The Seven and the Women Patrons are commissioned to a role, whether it is by the apostles or by God. 

I hope this helps to establish a foundation for the idea that women were disciples of Jesus and participated in roles vital to the sharing of the gospel. While becoming a disciple of Jesus meant the possibility of being slandered, they put themselves at risk, to sit at his feet. As patrons, wealthy women, very likely believed they were being led by God to aid Jesus in his ministry. As benefactors, they could have an influence in their communities to spread the gospel.

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