Jesus and Women During Advent and Always
Every Advent season, it is good to remember the prominence of women in the lineage of Jesus. Listed among his ancestors in Matthew 1 and Luke 3, we see names such as Tamar (a victim of sexual misconduct), Rahab (a prostitute whose famous lie landed her in the faith hall of fame), Bathsheba (described as “the wife of Uriah” who gave birth to Solomon through another man, King David), Ruth (a widow from Moab and an outsider to Israel), and Mary (a teenage virgin girl from a poor, obscure town who found herself pregnant by the Holy Spirit).
It is clear that God esteems and elevates women as well as men. For this reason, I am sharing something I have previously written about the place of women in the world, in the church, and in the story of God. The following excerpt was first posted after our decision to commission our first class of Deaconesses at Christ Presbyterian Church. It isn’t explicitly about Christmas, but I hope it will nonetheless enrich our understanding of God during the Advent season.
Speaking of Advent, if you live in the Nashville area and don’t already have a church, I preach almost weekly at the Old Hickory Blvd location of Christ Presbyterian Church. We welcome you any Sunday at 8:30am or 11:00am, with classes in between (10:00am) for all ages and life seasons.
Concerning the dance between the genders in the Story of God, Kathy Keller says in her booklet, Jesus, Justice, and Gender Roles:
“The justice behind God’s creation of male and female and his arrangement of the different roles he chose for them may not always be apparent to us. Why one and not the other? But should we expect our finitude to understand the infinite, omnipotent, wise, good, lovely, gracious justice of God? Perhaps some inkling resides in the dance of the sexes, by which we reveal truth about the inner life of the triune God. The rest is clothed in mystery, to which we yield, with full confidence that it is meant for our good.”
Similarly, Katherine Alsdorf, founding director of Redeemer Presbyterian NYC’s Center for Faith and Work, has gone on record saying that as an egalitarian woman (who disagrees personally with Redeemer’s complementarian view), she has witnessed and experienced much greater levels of respect, esteem, and empowerment of women in Redeemer’s complementarian setting than in her previous, egalitarian church settings. You can read Katherine’s related essay here — it is short and well worth your time.
There are scores of other reasons, both theologically and historically, to applaud and champion women serving in their churches using the full range of the gifts God has bestowed upon them. This essay by pastor J.A. Medders provides an excellent summary of these reasons concerning the diaconal role. Medders notably highlights that women deacons appear in historic texts as early as 111 A.D. (the generation immediately following the Apostolic, New Testament age) — plus many other texts from the first, second, and third centuries.
In our own theological stream, we at Christ Presbyterian are not the first church to commission female deacons. Notable pastors and theologians like John Calvin, Benjamin Warfield, John Frame, Jerram Barrs, CEB Cranfield, James Montgomery Boice, Philip Ryken and Tim Keller have all taught and practiced their own versions of this. The same could be said of familiar, like-minded PCA churches Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City and Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, plus many others.
Consider also the following thoughts from Scripture concerning the place of women in the ministry and mission of Jesus:
Women teaching theology. Alongside her husband, Aquila, Priscilla taught theology to Apollos, a man and a preacher (Acts 18:24-26). Most scholars concur that because Priscilla’s name is mentioned first in the biblical text, that she was also the primary teacher to Apollos in this informal, yet significant setting. Based on her and many other examples, women are encouraged to exercise their teaching gifts in the church.
Women speaking God’s Word to the gathered church. In the Old and New Testaments, women exercised the gift of prophesy and were encouraged to do so (Joel 2:28-29; Luke 2:36-38; Acts 2:17-18, 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5). This gift was commonly shared during the public worship gatherings of the church (1 Corinthians 11:16, 14:1-19). Modern parallels in our denominational context (the Presbyterian Church in America) could include reading the Scriptures, leading in prayer, offering encouragement around the communion tables, sharing wisdom about a specific need or situation, facilitating aspects of the liturgy, and/or giving testimony to the Lord’s work during Sunday services.
Gifted women are encouraged to teach and lead. Some have wrongly used 1 Timothy 2:12-13 and 1 Corinthians 14:33-34 to restrict women from ever speaking in the church setting. Neither passage may be taken to prohibit women, in any context, from teaching about the Christian way of life. To make this prohibition is to do an injustice not only to women, but also to the intent of Scripture and the dynamic of the Holy Spirit. Scripture models and encourages women praying and prophesying in the worship assembly (1 Corinthians 11:5). In view of 1 Corinthians 11:5 and other passages (i.e., Acts 2:17-18, 21:9), whatever the prohibition in 1 Corinthians 14:33-34 means, it absolutely cannot mean that women should never teach or lead in the church.
Other examples include but are not limited to…
Women teaching women. Older women are encouraged to teach younger women in Titus 2:3-5.
Women teaching children. Timothy had known the Scriptures “from infancy” (2 Timothy 3:15). As a young child, Timothy was taught Scripture by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5).
Women teaching men by example. The example of the “wife of noble character” in Proverbs 31 causes her husband to “rise and call her blessed” (v. 28), and her works “praise her at the gates” (v. 31). Also notable is the fact that she is an industrious businesswoman. See also 1 Corinthians 7:16; 1 Peter 3:1-2.
Women sharing the gospel with men. The Samaritan woman (John 4) shared the gospel with an entire town, including the men…and many of them responded (vv. 39-42). Mary’s famous prayer called “The Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-55) is a theological masterpiece that is preached from pulpits all over the world, year after year, especially but not exclusively during Advent. The same can be said of Hannah’s prayer (1 Samuel 1:9-28) and so many other female voices from Scripture.
Women giving testimony and exhorting publicly. Women are encouraged to share with the church their experience of God and His grace, specific Bible verses and what those verses have meant to them, etc. For example, many women testified of Christ’s resurrection to the apostles and other believers (Luke 24:10). Such sharing would also fall in line with women being permitted to prophesy – to speak God’s truth in the assembly of believers (cf., Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18, 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5).
Women serving and leading in multiple ways. Scripture is filled with leaders who are women. Miriam the prophetess led Israel in worship (Exodus 15:19-21, see also Psalm 68:24-25). Deborah served as a judge of Israel (Judges 4). Queen Esther became a hero to all of Israel (Esther 1-10). Ruth rescued the people of Israel from ruin (Ruth 1-4). Mary composed and sang a theologically rich song that became part of Scripture (Luke 1:46-55). Women are chosen as the first witnesses of the resurrection of Christ and became the first evangelists, the “apostles to the Apostles,” so to speak (Mark 16:1-8). Junia was “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 16:7). Women assisted in diaconal work (1 Timothy 3:11), and Phoebe, a woman, is identified as a deacon (diakonon) in the church of Cenchreae (Romans 16:1).
Whatever our tradition or denomination or tribe, then, it should be clear that women have as much of a central role to play in the Story, ministry, and mission of God as men do. We are equally his image, and share an equal dignity and inheritance before him.
Rejoice in the men God has given us to show us more of himself!
Likewise, rejoice in the women he has given us to do the same!