One of the fundamental questions facing anyone attempting to unpack the Bible’s message for women is “Where do you start?” Every view on women has biblical passages that don’t fit easily within their system. So choices are made to give some texts more weight than others and to interpret those other texts within the framework of these starting point texts.
In Half the Church, my starting point is God’s vision of his daughters (which he casts in Genesis 1 and 2) as image bearers, ezer-warriors, and half of the Blessed Alliance. I read everything else the Bible has to say about women through that grid.
In this video, Professor N.T. Wright answers the “Where do you start?” question from the New Testament as it applies to women’s gifts and ministries in the church. His response is similar to what Scot McKnight asked of the Bible in his book, Blue Parakeet with the acronym WDWD—”What Did Women Do?” In the passages Dr. Wright selects, WDWD carries added weight because of the men who are in the picture.
Situating the passages Dr. Wright references within the ancient patriarchal culture has the effect of placing an exclamation point beside both narratives. The main actors in these texts are the two leading figures in the establishment of Christianity—Jesus and the Apostle Paul.
Paul, the writer of Romans 16, is a recovering Pharisee and a former religious terrorist who in his pre-Christian days posed a terrible threat to followers of Jesus. It was in his cultural DNA to keep his distance even from Jewish women, especially in public. Yet here he is singing the praises of Gentile women leaders and openly declaring his reliance upon their ministries with and to him. Go figure!
According to John 20, had Jesus timed things a little differently, he could have commissioned the great apostles Peter and John to be the first gospel proclaimers of his resurrection. Instead, he waited to give Mary Magdalene that privilege, in a culture where the testimony of a woman was not accepted in a court of law.
“Where do you start?” is a crucial question everyone must answer. What do you make of Dr. Wright’s response?