A Woman’s Place is Where?
By Shawna R. B. Atteberry
In 2006 one of the largest Southern Baptist seminaries, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Kentucky began a new core of programs for women married to pastors. The programs include:
- The Seminary Wives Institute, “an innovative program designed to prepare the wives of seminary students for their role in their husbands’ ministries”; and
- The Women’s Ministry Institute, which “offers women the opportunity to improve their skills and ministry through a variety of classes geared toward women’s ministries in the local church” (www.sbts.edu).
Classes include housekeeping, budgeting, being your husband’s best friend, keeping an organized house, and sewing. There are “leadership” classes, but the brochure and class descriptions make it clear that this is leadership intended to be used exclusively in women’s and children’s ministry. The counseling classes make it clear that women are to counsel only other women – according to the Titus 2 model. My favorite class module was this one:
Redeeming the Time looks at setting goals and priorities but also tackles practical issues including day planners; handling paper, avoiding clutter; home management; housekeeping and kitchen organization. This course is aimed to challenge those who are already skilled in areas of organization as well as to motivate those who have room for vast improvement.
There is also a core of courses on homemaking. Classes include sewing, taking care of children, and cooking. Basically SBTS’s courses of study for women are degrees in home economics.
A disturbing trend in evangelicalism takes the family from the 1950s television show Leave It to Beaver and elevates it to the “biblical model” of family. This means that for a woman to live in a way that is viewed as “biblical,” she must marry and must stay at home, raise children, and take care of the household. But does the Bible really support this?
Woman as “Helper”
In Genesis 1:26-28 we read:
Then Godde said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So Godde created humankind in her image, in the image of Godde she created them; female and male she created them. Godde blessed them, and Godde said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (modified from the NRSV).
Both man and woman are made in Godde’s image to rule and subdue the earth and to be fruitful and multiply. There are no spheres of influence. There is no “man’s work” and “woman’s work,” only our work. This continues in Genesis 2 when Godde makes woman to be a “helper” or ezer to the man (Gen. 2:18). Outside of Genesis, ezer is used 20 times, most often in reference to Godde. In each of these instances, Godde is called on to be Israel’s “helper,” to help them overcome their enemies. Godde is called upon in this way because Godde has the power and the strength necessary to help the people. Three times ezer refers to human military aid that Judah or Israel calls upon to help them from another military power. Again we see that ezer refers to someone who has the power to help.
Then why do some insist that woman’s being an ezer to man means that women should be subordinate to men, and women’s use of their own judgments restricted to issues involving housekeeping and child-rearing? If anything, the biblical evidence supports her full participation in partnership with men, to carry out Godde’s commands to humanity. Woman, being made not only in Godde’s image, but also as an ezer made in Godde’s image, is to be a powerful ally and partner for the man. She is a powerful helper to stand by his side and help him obey Godde’s commands to multiply, rule, and tend Godde’s creation. The woman was not created solely to be a wife and mother: She was created to work and rule with man, as well.
Let’s consider two women in the Bible – one in the Hebrew Scriptures and the other in the New Testament – both of whom worked and had families.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, Deborah was a woman of power and a leader. We are introduced to Deborah in Judges 4. She is a prophet and judge; she leadsIsrael. The Israelite people come to her with their problems and disputes, and she mediates Godde’s will as Moses had once done (Ex.18:13). She is married, but she is a working woman. Godde has called her to be a prophet and judge, and she has answered. When Godde commands Israel to go to battle with their enemy Sisera and the Canaanites, Deborah summons the military commander Barak and tells him what Godde says. But Barak will not go into battle without Godde’s representative, Deborah. Both Barak and Deborah lead Israel’s armies into battle. Here we see a man and a woman working together to fight the people’s enemies and to obey Godde’s words and will. And we can reason that Deborah’s husband, Lappidoth (Judg. 4:4), is probably a soldier in the troops that are following his wife.
Deborah, Barak, and Lappidoth do not appear to be acting according to the societal constructs of their time or our time regarding what is masculine and feminine. They are obeying Godde and building Godde’s kingdom side-by-side. Leading men into a battle is not what many Christians today see as part of a woman’s role, but Deborah obeys Godde’s call to lead and protect her people. She is an ezer who images Godde in her every word and action.
The other woman I want to look at is Priscilla (or Prisca). Priscilla ran a business with her husband, Aquila. They made tents together. They worked in Corinth with Paul where they heard the gospel and were saved (Acts 18:1-3). Later the couple meets Apollos who had heard only of John’s baptism. He had not heard of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, or the baptism of the Holy Spirit. When Priscilla and Aquila hear him, they take him aside and explain the Way of Godde to him more accurately (v. 26). They also lead a home church at the time of Paul’s letter to the Romans (Rom.16:3-5). It was very odd during this time for a wife’s name to be mentioned before her husband’s, and yet four times Priscilla appears before Aquila (Acts 18:18, 26; Rom. 16:3; 2 Tim. 4:19). Many scholars believe that she was the prominent one in ministry: the teacher and pastor of the churches that met in their home. She is mentioned first in leading Apollos’ theological education (Acts 18:26). Some scholars also believe she is the anonymous author of Hebrews.
Again we see a man and woman working side-by-side, making a living and building Godde’s kingdom. There is no mention of what is considered masculine work or what is considered feminine work. Women and men work together as the team Godde created them to be. We see this over and over again throughout the Bible: Moses, Aaron, and Miriam (Mic. 6:4); Josiah and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20); Jesus and the women who followed him (Luke 8:1-3); and Paul, Priscilla, Lydia (Acts 16:13-15, 40), and Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2). Godde’s intention from the beginning was for men and women to work together to build Godde’s Kingdom, be a family, and work together to love Godde and love each other.
Being made in the image of Godde, both male and female, has very little to do with modern notions of appropriate men’s and women’s roles. It has everything to do with faithfully imaging Godde to our world by obeying Godde’s callings on our lives and working together – both men and women – to build the kingdom of Godde on earth. As we encourage each other to use our Godde-given gifts and talents and work together to love all, feed the poor, show compassion and mercy to the marginalized, fight for justice, and proclaim the love of Godde in Christa, we faithfully image to our world what it means to be made male and female in the image of Godde.
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