By Wendy Wilson, Missio Nexus, Mission Advisor for Development of Women
This article is part of the series Pursuing Partnership: Men and Women in Ministry.
Over the next few months we will continue our weekly Pursuing Partnership series with an exploration of the impact of new archeological/historical/social discoveries related to first-century culture – especially as it relates to understanding the context of the letters of Paul to the churches. And even more especially as it relates to the contested passages on women that we explored last year in this series. As we all agree, context is so important to correct interpretation. And as we considered in last year’s series on interpretive challenges, our varied position/practice are differences of interpretation, not disagreement about the inspiration of Scripture!
For the past several years Dr. Sandra Glahn has been blogging on Bible.org in a great series of articles I discovered in my constant quest to provide the Missio Nexus membership with excellent resources in the area of women and leadership. Dr. Glahn has given academic leadership to untangling some of the confusion in much of our evangelical tradition around women. Her insights into the context of the original hearers helps us consider what they clearly understood – but has eluded us these centuries and cultures later! Those committed to good hermeneutics have always affirmed the necessity of understanding the context of a passage or book … well more help has arrived!
Since Dr. Glahn has agreed to let us focus on her very readable work in our series, I asked her first to tell us a little about herself and her surprising journey:
Dr. Sandra Glahn: For nearly two decades, I have taught a course at Dallas Theological Seminary that explores the history, theology, and biblical texts relating to women in public ministry. I didn’t start out planning to do theology. I was a journalist. And I thought theology belonged in the realm of men. I married my highschool sweetheart and planned to raise at least four children – which I considered my biblical role.
While at seminary, as I translated the New Testament, I saw many places where the Bible writers had women in view, but I had missed them. For example, I had memorized Paul’s instruction to Timothy about discipleship: “And the things that thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, commit thou the same to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2, KJV). But seeing the Greek, I realized Paul had in mind not males, but “people.”
Seeing these words, and how translators into English rendered them in these and other passages, told me that those who were saying, “women are in view in those texts too” were not radical feminists after all. They were actually more correctly aligned with the Scriptures than those who labeled them as liberals.
After earning my ThM, I went on to get my PhD with a focus on first-century backgrounds, especially as they relate to women. I chose to do my doctorate in a secular program because I wanted scholars who would vet my work with the highest possible level of objectivity. My focus was history and culture, inscriptions and cult worship in an honor/shame context. One of my Greek profs at seminary had assured me that if Jesus is the Truth, I must never fear where the evidence leads. And I had no idea what the evidence might reveal. But I wanted to explore it in a context where people had no vested interest in its ramifications. I was doing historical work, and I wanted excellent historians looking critically at my research. They had no idea about the related biblical texts I was exploring. But they did know Greek inscriptions and the Late Empire context, and all about the pantheon. I wanted great minds to vet that part of my work.
I also looked at history, tracing women and their contributions to the church for two thousand years. I found the order of widows and of women deacons referenced in the Church Fathers and Ecumenical Council records, along with some ordination prayers. I found the wives of male Reformers baptizing, preaching, and burying the dead as expressions of “the priesthood of all believers.” So, the US (mostly white) Women’s Movement had not inaugurated the pattern of women in public ministry after all.
Some have said that the dividing line in views about about women’s involvement in home, church, and society is biblical inerrancy. For example, some in positions of great influence have said that those who believe women can minister publicly, especially if they speak, hold a low view of the Bible. Meanwhile, some of those on the front lines self-identifying as egalitarians are also on the front lines defending inerrancy. Regardless of what camp we identify with, we must tell the truth about each other.
As it turns out, the key differences within evangelicalism are actually not, for the most part, about inerrancy but about interpretation. And the wideness in the range of interpretive options among those who love Scripture is exactly why my journey took me where it did. And it’s why I started blogging on these topics. In the posts that follow, you will find a range of interpretive options in some answers rather than one definitive one. And every post is grounded in this reality:
Woman was made to image God. And in creation, woman was necessary as man’s indispensable companion before God could pronounce the world to be “very good.” Whether she is single or married, divorced, or widowed, with or without biological or adopted children, a woman’s highest calling – as is every human’s – is to glorify God and multiply worshippers. This is what she was made for. This is a biblical anthropology. And this is the grid through which interpretation can begin.
Dr. Sandra Glahn is Professor of Media Arts and Worship at Dallas Theological Seminary. She is an author, co-author, or general editor of more than twenty books including Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible. Learn more about her at her website: aspire2.com.
This article is submitted by Wendy Wilson of Missio Nexus and of Women’s Development Track. Women’s Development Track is a Missio Nexus member. Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.