Women and the Bible – Heroines?

Prior posts on Feminism and the responses to Annie Laurie Gaylor’s article (the article can be found in the first link):

Feminism and the Bible

Women and the Bible – Genesis 3:16

Women and the Bible – Church Roles

In continuing with my discussion on Gaylor’s article, I’m not necessarily going to work in the order of the questions she raises. I find that my adherence to attempting to follow something letter for letter too often results in my not completing a task at all, since what I want to do at that moment (or for this task, what I want to answer) is too far down on the list for me to feel motivated. This is not to say that I am still not planning on attempting to respond to all of the points in question; just that I may skip around a bit, instead of taking Gaylor’s points sequentially from her article.

This post is in response to a statement that she makes about the heroines of the Bible in general. Her quote: “The few [female] role models offered are stereotyped, conventional and inadequate, with bible heroines admired for obedience and battle spirit. Jesus scorns his own mother, refusing to bless her, and issues dire warnings about the fate of pregnant and nursing women.”

I’ll be honest here – I’m not sure what Gaylor wants from a heroine. I find a wide variety of heroic female figures in the Bible, and would honestly like to hear how she is able to discount each of them as not worthy of being considered an adequate heroic figure. Also, her assertion that there are “female role models” in the Bible concedes that the Bible does esteem some women. They just don’t happen to be esteemed for something that she wants them to be esteemed for. Now, she has put herself into a difficult position. Because it would seem that she has asserted that women are only worth of being venerated when they fit her mold of heroism, and therefore any respect from the Bible for anything not deemed heroic by her own assessment should be completely disregarded. The truth is that different people find different qualities estimable. Apparently, Gaylor does not believe that 1) obedience and 2) battle spirit are worthy characteristics at all. And this does not even speak to the fact that, as I mentioned above, there are many more qualities than just these two attributed to female figures in the Bible. So, we can agree, by her own assertion, that none of these women have met Gaylor’s requirements for a woman worthy to be recognized as a role model. This seems to indicate that Gaylor’s own opinions of what it takes to be a respected woman are much higher than the Bible’s, and that if I can only find qualities in myself that are found in the Biblical heroines, then she would discount me, as well.

I am going through and listing women that are looked up to and praised in the Bible as well as a few women that were just treated well in general. I will include the Biblical reference, but not necessarily the text, as I’m sure my post will be long enough as it is, and putting in the entire books of Esther and Ruth seems like it would be overkill. So, I will give a very brief synopsis of the woman’s story, and list some qualities I recognize in her. This is not to say that my list will be comprehensive. Feel free to contact me with more if you see something or someone I left out.

  • Rahab (several times in Joshua 2; Matthew 1 – genealogy of Jesus; Hebrews 11:31 – woman of faith; James 2:25 – for good works) – a harlot who helped the Israelite spies when they entered Jericho. Because of her actions, she and her entire household was spared when Jericho was destroyed. I have to mention a little more about this story. Gaylor also discusses in her article how women are frequently referred to as harlots. “Harlot” in the case of Rahab is not derogatory, in the sense that she is not being judged or condemned in the text. In fact, it is telling us of her bravery, faith and good works. Not to mention that she ends up being one of Jesus’ forbears. Note that harlotry itself is condemned by the Bible, but so are many other acts that are committed by people who go on to become remembered as heroes and leaders in the Bible. In this case, is simply stating the fact that she is a prostitute. Nowhere in the text about Rahab does it demean her – quite the opposite. The Bible is not a book about perfect people. In fact, I find only one perfect person in it, and that is Jesus, who is the only one acknowledged to be perfect. Instead, the Bible is a book about how imperfect people are not a lost cause, and we see this theme occur time after time in its pages. It’s a story of redemption, and that redemption is open to ALL people. So, any time the Bible does mention someone’s sin, it should be understood that redemption and forgiveness is offered to them. It is their choice to accept it or not. If you doubt this was the case before Jesus’ coming, Rahab is the perfect example. She was a foreigner and a notable sinner, but was granted safety, forgiveness, and ended up in the lineage of the Son of God – hardly discriminatory.
  • Deborah (Judges 4 & 5) – she prophesied and went into battle in order to defeat an enemy of her people. She showed courage, discernment and faith.
  • Jael (Judges 4 & 5) – killed an enemy battle chief, in order to aid the Israelites. She showed courage, ingenuity and initiative.
  • Ruth (The Book of Ruth) – who took care of her mother-in-law with no apparent thought to her own comfort. She showed loyalty, unselfishness, faith, initiative, perseverance and diligence.
  • Hannah (I Samuel 1 and 2) – was barren and prayed to God for a child, promising that she would dedicate the child to the service of God. God answered, and blessed her with five more children. She showed faith, integrity and gratitude.
  • Abigail (I Samuel 25) – righted a wrong that her husband had committed. Her action also kept David from shedding unnecessary blood. She showed courage, wisdom, good judgment, fairness, honesty, humility and foresight.
  • Esther (The Book of Esther) – who saved the Israelite people from death due to a government conspiracy. She showed courage, composure, faith and patience.
  • Mary, the mother of Jesus (namely: Matthew 1 and 2, Luke 1 and 2) – was willing to undertake public disgrace in order to allow Christ to be born to her. She showed courage, peace and humility.
  • The Bleeding Woman (Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48 ) – a woman who had been suffering a bleeding illness for twelve years simply touched Jesus’ robe, and was immediately healed. Jesus, sensing someone had touched him, told her that her faith had made her well.
  • Mary Magdalene (Matthew 27:56&61; Matthew 28:1; Mark 15:40&47; Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2; Luke 24:10; John 19:25; several times in John 20) – Jesus freed her from demonic possession and she was a faithful follower from then on. She showed loyalty, gratitude and the heart of a servant.
  • Mary, Martha’s sister (Luke 10; John 11) – was praised for prioritizing correctly. I have to expound a little bit here as well, and say that the Luke 10 story of Mary and her sister Martha is big relief to me. I think that most women, in general, have a tendency to do – to work and work and always have a list and never feel like everything is complete enough to stop and rest. This story is like permission. It’s not only permission, but stopping to take the time to rest, learn and replenish my spirit is required and respected, whether I think everything is complete or not. Martha was in the kitchen preparing things for Jesus. Presumably, Jesus was willing to do without whatever she was preparing to serve him in order to allow her time to rest and learn. This is a great story about the essence of what Christianity is as opposed to what we have made it. It’s not all about us and how hard we need to work for God. It’s about loving Him, receiving His love and listening to what He says to us.
  • The Samaritan Woman (John 4) – Jesus reached out to this woman when there were three reasons others would not have: 1) she was a Samaritan and Jews did not associated with Samaritans (the woman herself even asks Jesus about this, 2) she was a woman, and the disciples wondered him talking with her when they came back out from the city and 3) she was living in sin, as Christians would call it today, having been married five times, and now living with a man who was not her husband.
  • Priscilla (Acts 18; Romans 16:3; I Corinthians 16:3&19) – was a respected fellow worker with Paul, and referred to as such.
  • Elizabeth (Luke 1) – referred to as a righteous and blameless woman and conceived John the Baptist when she was apparently well past child-bearing age.
  • The Crippled Woman (Luke 13:10-17) – Jesus healed a woman who had been crippled for 18 years. He healed her on the Sabbath day and was reprimanded by the church leaders, whom Jesus answered in turn by calling him a hypocrite for thinking the rules of the law were stronger than the compassion of love – another cry against the idea of false religious piety. For as Jesus said in Mark 12:29-31, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
  • The Adulterous Woman (John 8 ) – a woman caught in adultery was being stoned. Jesus stepped in and stopped those stoning her, asking which of them was sinless. OK, time for another tangent. This is an illustration of Jesus’ points in the Matthew 7:1-5 (and similarly in Luke 6:37-42) where he states:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

It’s people who have decided to take the job of judgment on; God says we are supposed to leave it to him. Humans were never meant to. The consequences we receive when God is the judge are always just; it’s people who are to blame for all of the shameful acts perpetrated by Christians down through the years:

You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:18 )

“To me belongeth vengeance and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.” (Deuteronomy 32:35)

  • The Sinful Woman (Luke 7:36-50) – this woman was apparently a notorious sinner – that’s how she was described – and she came to Jesus to wash his feet with expensive oil and humble herself by drying them with her hair while she wept, presumably from guilt. When Jesus heard someone speaking against this display, he spoke up and defended her. In this defense, he again points out the false religion of the hypocritical church leaders, and stresses the poignancy of forgiveness.

Now, let’s move on to the next point where Gaylor states that Jesus “scorns his own mother, refusing to bless her.” On this one, I’m not sure exactly what she is referring to. The only thing in the Bible that I know if that can be even construed to mean something close to this is Luke 11:27&28 which says, “As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, ‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’ He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.’” If this IS the passage she is talking about, I would say it’s a far cry from Jesus refusing to bless his mother. It is more of a call to the correct perspective. He is saying that someone is not blessed because of a position they hold or because of their particular importance to you; a person is blessed because of their faithfulness to God. You cannot be innately “blessed” simply because of something that you happen to be; it’s a responsibility you must uphold that provides the consequence of your blessedness…or not. In these verses, Jesus does not even say that Mary is not blessed. He is simply using the moment to clarify what “blessedness” really means.

Gaylor goes on to say that Jesus issues dire warnings about the fate of pregnant and nursing women. I am also not quite sure exactly what references she is talking about here. I do find in Mark 13:37 when it is discussing the tribulation in the end times that it says, “But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!” If Gaylor meant what she said about it being a “warning,” then I agree with her. The entire chapter is a warning to all people. If you read the rest of Mark 13, you would indeed never want to be a pregnant or nursing mother during those occurrences. However, I think she is trying to intimate that this is a threat. But He does not say, “Woe to you because you are pregnant or nursing.” He is simply stating a fact. Whatever is hard for anyone during those times will inevitably be harder for pregnant woman and those with nursing babies. I’m not sure how this is a reflection on what he thinks about women in general.

If anyone finds my information incorrect or my logic lacking, please let me know. My only desire with these thoughts is to defend a loving God against the common misconceptions about Him. I’d love to hear thoughts.

 

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10 Comments

  1. Clark Bunch said,

    July 19, 2008 at 10:22 am

    I am impressed by your list and your logic. There are many heorines in the Bible as you have pointed out. Also notice Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, asking “how many times like a mother hen would I have taken you under my wings?” Jesus embues a motherly quality here. Yes he rebuked his mother on occasion; he also made sure at the time of his crucifixion she would be cared for.

  2. July 20, 2008 at 6:57 am

    […] Women and the Bible – Heroines? […]

  3. July 20, 2008 at 7:09 am

    […] May 9, 2007 at 5:41 pm (Christianity, Discipline, Expectations, God, Humility, Individuality, Jesus, Religion, Society, Women, feminism, prayer) Tags: Annie Laurie Gaylor Original post is below, but find my first response to Annie Laurie Gaylor’s article (also below) here: Women and the Bible – Genesis 3:16, and the more responses to it here: Women and the Bible – Church Roles and here: Women and the Bible – Heroines. […]

  4. zephaniah317 said,

    July 26, 2008 at 7:53 am

    Great post. Great thoughts on judgmental people, too. I honestly never thought of it that way.
    I noticed a book in the local bookstore a few months ago titled, “Bad Girls of the Bible”. Ever heard of it? I’m sure it would give you more posting material.

  5. July 31, 2008 at 1:06 am

    […] Women and the Bible – Heroines? […]

  6. January 9, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    I really like the post. I am working on a storybook for my children on heros and heroines of the Bible. I have a boy and a girl. I ran across this post doing some research. Great response! Thanks!

  7. Mara Thompson said,

    October 5, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I really like your post.

  8. October 7, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    Jesus rebukes his mother at the wedding in Cana. But this rebuke is to prepare the people present for the miracle of the water into wine. Mary knows who her Son is. She is a model of humility and demonstrates to me, personally, that such a rebuke is not unkind or disrespectful but teaches the importance of humility and shows what a great lady His mother is.

  9. Gloria said,

    April 19, 2011 at 1:02 am

    Wow,such a great post. Thanks for sharing this piece of wisdom, its exactly the information i was looking for to share in our women’s union – The notable Women in the Bible and their attributes
    God bless you and continue to make you an instrument for His Glory.

  10. Joli said,

    April 24, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    Where did Jesus rebuke his mother? In Canaan? “Woman, why do you involve me…my hour has not yet come”, in the book of John, he does not condone her. The term “Woman” was not a term of disrespect as it is perceived today. So no, he did not rebuke her.


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