Only from Sunday, June 24, 2018 were women in Saudi Arabia allowed to drive! As a main topic of world news it reminded us that women are still suppressed, and often oppressed, in many parts of our world. In a TV item showing one Saudi woman having a lesson with a female instructor both were wearing black burkas covering them from head to toe except for their eyes!
I grew up among Open Brethren who did not at that time approve of salaried, college-trained ministers, because of our emphasis on ‘the priesthood of all believers’. However, back in those days only the male priests were allowed to teach and preach in mixed gatherings. Women were permitted to preach but only to all-female congregations, and could teach children in Sunday school classes.
But what do I believe nowadays? Actually, I have been a staunch advocate for the liberation of all my sisters-in-Christ for many decades.
Jesus endorsed the Scriptures of his day, known to us as the Old Testament. So we do well to trace the biblical background of the more general topic: God and Women, starting at the very beginning – Genesis chapters 1 – 3 (all quotations from the New Living Translation unless otherwise indicated).
Adam’s Other Side
The Bible opens with a baffling conundrum of Hebrew grammar. Genesis 1:1 forms the heading to an epic poem about God’s work in creating the cosmos. It reads: ‘In the beginning God [a plural noun] created [a singular verb] the heavens and the earth’. This, as a preacher once expressed it, means that ‘God in himself is a sweet society’. In other words, the God revealed in the Bible was never lonely as presumably the Watchtower Society’s Jehovah and Islam’s Allah must have been prior to creating angels, humans and pets! This title – ‘God created’ – prepares the reader for later revelation in Scripture of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. God brought forth humans as an overflow of his own enjoyment of eternal fellowship. The poem reaches its climax in verse 27: ‘God created the man [Hebrew ha-adam] in his own image . . . male and female he created them.’
Then in Genesis 2:21-24 we are given the stages in which God formed one human male and one human female as two distinct individuals: “While the man slept, the Lord God took out [one side, Hebrew] of the man . . . , made a woman from the side [NOT ‘the rib’; it is the same word that Ezekiel 40:38-40 uses for side chambers in the ideal temple – hardly ‘rib rooms’!], and brought her to the man [now no doubt feeling that he was a ‘bit missing’] . . . This explains why ‘a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two become united into one.’
I can testify from nearly 60 years of marriage that my wife is – No! NOT ‘my spare rib’ but – ‘my other side’. Often when our children were young and attending school daily, I travelled throughout the U K and overseas, and I would tell people who thought they had me sussed after several visits, ‘You don’t yet know me until you’ve met my wife.’ For instance, I am at ease in the limelight but she prefers to be private; and unlike me she’s a person of very few words; she is artistic with crayons and cards, but I craft with written and spoken words. Eve was Adam’s other side.
Gender inequality resulted from Eve’s part in Adam’s rebellion (Genesis 3:16)
Gender inequality is not due to divine creation but is the result of human rebellion: God ‘said to the woman . . .’you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you’.’
This curse was counteracted ‘in Christ’ (Galatians 3:28)
‘There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.’
Now, let’s not gulp this piece of spiritual food, but chew it thoroughly and digest it fully. Of course, we can still clearly observe racial distinctions even in church – Orientals, Westerners and various tribal peoples with their own characteristic features such as ‘Jew’ in contrast to ‘Gentile’. Also: ‘slave’ in contrast to ‘free’ for we still have ‘employers’, ’employees’, ‘self-employed’ and even ‘unemployed’ etc. And, of course, as the French would say, ‘Vive la difference!’ about the fact that ‘male and female’ contrast with one another in many obvious details! However, all are on level ground for God to use as he chooses – such as, say, a Maori minister of a church congregation in New Zealand mostly of British descent in New Zealand, or a female elder, or a lead worshipper with a physical disability.
Deborah, the prophet-judge of Israel, is a prime portrait of this restoration ‘in Christ’ to the original equality of male and female, and of equal opportunity in ministry (Judges 4 – 5).
It is significant that Deborah’s name is Hebrew for ‘bee’, for she certainly produced honey and also landed some painful stings on those tribes who failed to heed her summons to join the Lord’s army. Surely ‘the land flowing with milk and honey’ was also an area of cowpats and bee stings!
I don’t recall in my boyhood or early adult years ever hearing a Brethren sermon on Deborah. Please note that she was culturally ‘normal’ in the society of her day. She was ‘the wife of Lappidoth’ (4:4) and ‘a mother in Israel’(5:7). Yet she became a national leader. However, she was no Joan of Arc or Boudicca, for she sent for Barak to lead the Lord’s troops into a successful battle that rid Israel of Canaanite oppression. He led Israel’s army to victory, but he did so on the strength of her ongoing prophetic initiative (Judges 4:6, 14-16).
 A ‘wife and mother’ can also have reforming influence among God’s people, and can harness God’s rule to counteract worldly culture with the values of the kingdom of heaven.
- ONE EXAMPLE OF JESUS’ TREATMENT OF WOMEN
The Gospel of Luke mentions six encounters between Jesus and women that are unique to his narrative. However, first let’s consider in detail Luke 8:42b-48, an incident that is also referred to in Matthew 9:20-22 and Mark 5:25-34 of the dear soul who obtained healing from her constant haemorrhaging after twelve long years.
When, afterwards, we read the six cameos exclusive to Luke we will recognise some features shared by this story of the woman whose ‘plague’ (Mark 5:34, Greek/English New Testament) of ‘the fountain of her blood was dried up’ (29, King James Version and Greek/English NT).
 This sad woman found herself in a permanent state of defilement according to Moses’ law. Whoever touched her was rendered ‘unclean’ and religiously infectious for the rest of that day; and whatever seat she occupied became ceremonially ‘unclean’ (Leviticus 15:25-33).
 Also, she had spent her entire inheritance on doctors’ fees, only for her health to deteriorate, according to Mark 5:26.
 So, how was she made well? She gained total health by her finger-tip touch on one of the four tassels on the hem of Jesus’ coat. Moses had instructed all Israelite men to attach such tassels to their outer garment. According to Numbers 15:37-41 these tassels were intended to remind the wearer to keep the whole law, namely by foursquare, total obedience.
Lessons to be learnt from her touching Jesus in faith
- Her touch was intentional. Whereas others in the jostling crowd bumped Jesus perhaps with a wrist or an elbow, ‘she thought to herself, ‘If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed’’ (Mark 5:28).
- And her touch was remedial. Jesus felt healing power leave him, and she felt it enter her mortal body. Then note two facts about the conversation that followed:
- Her affirmation of her healing was verbal. After twelve years of isolation, now ‘the whole crowd heard her explain why she had touched him and that she had been immediately healed’ (Luke 8:47). It is by an open confession of one’s faith in Jesus that establishes it as saving faith. Romans 10:9, ‘If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’
- His confirmation of her healing was When Jesus told her to ‘Go in peace’ because ‘your faith has made you well’, he addressed her as ‘Daughter’ which is a relational word. In my early life Christians greeted male believers as ‘Brother’ and their female counterparts as ‘Sister’, but it was often said in a rather pedantic fashion. But when I send an occasional email to the children’s minister in our church I sign myself as ‘Uncle’ Hugh, because I knew her parents before she was born. And another young woman has called me ‘Granddad’ ever since I told her that my eldest grandson is a year her senior, and she has no living grandparents. But only one person in the whole world calls me ‘Papa’. Joanna is the same age as our older daughter. She was my Polish interpreter and taxi-driver at a Bible School where I often taught. I was privileged to give a short address at her wedding to her English husband. I felt prompted to call her on the phone recently and was mildly rebuked for not sending her my new email address which she had requested two years ago! Then she simply gushed with her most important piece of news: ‘I have a group of young Polish women around me in my church and we all move in prophesying.’ My response was: ‘You definitely are my daughter, for sure!’ Her email said: ‘May I make use of our electronic communication and ask you a favour? Do you think I could sometimes have some of your notes on various topics? You’re a walking Bible study.’ So I sent her my website details. I felt like the apostle John when he wrote: ‘It is the greatest joy of my life to hear that my children are consistently living their lives in the ways of truth’ (3 John 4).
 You can mingle with the crowd, and just remain ‘one of the crowd’, or you can choose to press through the crowd and touch Jesus dynamically.
Luke’s exclusive stories of Jesus and women
1 The widow from Nain (Luke 7:11-17) received her only son, en route to his funeral, back from the dead when Jesus ‘touched … the coffin’ (14).
2 The woman in Luke 7:36-50 had been set free from her previous immoral way of life. The religious critics gasped in horrified shock when Jesus permitted her to shed tears of relief that cleansed his dusty feet, after which she was observed ‘touching him’ (39) with her hair as a towel, her lips kissed them, then her hands massaged into those feet some very expensive ointment!
3 A woman who had endured a very bent spine for 18 years was made upright also by a touch of the Master (Luke 13:10-17).
4 In Luke 18:1-8 Jesus told of the widow, who persistently sought from a ne’er-do-well judge an overturning of a gross injustice by an unprincipled enemy, ultimately obtained a favourable verdict. Jesus encouraged his believing listeners and readers to continue in our prayers of faith for justice from a just and merciful God.
5 Only because of Luke 8:1-3 did we ever learn that Jesus’ ministry was financed by wealthy women, some of whom had been liberated by the Saviour from severe personal bondages. The woman who had spent her entire livelihood fruitlessly on medical treatments eventually received a free cure from Jesus, thanks to such contributions by rich women.
6 And in Luke 10:18-42 we read of Jesus’ delight in having a woman, Mary, choose to sit at his feet to receive as a disciple his oral teaching; a woman’s place is definitely not limited to the kitchen, as her sister assumed in her condemnatory prayer of protest!
Question: What does the Bible tell us about Jesus’ relationship with women since he left this earth? Well, Luke wrote another book, The Acts of the Apostles. In its opening verse he says: ‘In my first book I told you … about everything Jesus began to do and to teach’; so his second book must be about what Jesus continues to do and to teach! While the disciples awaited the day of Pentecost, ‘they all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with … several of the women’ (Acts 1:14). So those women also received their baptism in the Holy Spirit, and they too spoke with other tongues on equal footing with the twelve apostles and other men!
What kind of church life was reproduced all over the world thereafter? 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 helps us to visualise a regular church gathering: The verbs are all in the present tense and can be translated into English as the continuous present: ‘A spiritual gift is being given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit is giving the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit is giving a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit is giving great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit is giving the gift of healing. He is giving one person the power to perform miracles, and to another the ability to prophesy. He is giving someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God, or from another spirit. Still another person is being given the ability to speak [publicly] in various tongues, while another is being given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who is distributing all these gifts. He alone is deciding which gift each person should have.
Paul gave some keys about these spontaneous gifts in verses 4 and 6: ‘There are different kinds of spiritual gifts’ … And ‘God works’ those gifts as he decides.’According to The Passion Translation Paul re-stated the spontaneous nature of this particular group of gifts there in verse 7: ‘Each believer is [being] given continuous revelation by the Holy spirit to benefit not just himself but all.’
But 1 Corinthians 12:5 introduces another related matter: ‘There are [also] different kinds of [ministries, Greek/English New Testament], but we serve the same Lord.’ Then from 12:12 Paul devotes the rest of the chapter to various examples of individuals, each of whom operates in a ministry comprising a combination of gifts. Using parts of the human body, he illustrates these ministries: ’the foot’, ‘a hand’ ‘the ear’, ‘an eye,’ (14:14-27). Then he names them in 14:28-31 as: ‘apostles’, ‘prophets’, ‘teachers’, ‘those who do miracles’, ‘those who have the gift of healing’, ‘those who can help others’, ‘those who have gifts of leadership’, ‘those who speak in unknown tongues’, ‘those who have the ability to interpret tongues’.
To conclude this epilogue, let us consider how in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 Paul tells us the value of the personal use of the gift of tongues to prepare one for ministering other gifts effectively in church gatherings:
1 Corinthians 14:4, ‘A person who speaks in tongues is strengthened personally. Therefore Paul desired in 14:5, ‘I wish you all [w]ould speak in tongues [privately], but [for this reason] in order that [Greek, hina] you could all prophesy [publicly].’ One reason that worshippers strengthen themselves by speaking in tongues us that they are speaking spirit-to-Spirit with God, according to 1 Corinthians 14:28, ‘if no one is present who can interpret … in your church meeting … be silent … and speak to yourself and to God [poorly translated in the New Living Translation].’ This clarifies 14:28 even more when the speaker moves into a singing mode (‘I will sing with the spirit’, 14:15); the book of Psalms reveals that spiritual singing can range from a lament, through thanksgiving for mercies received and praise for God’s marvellous ways of working, to awe in worship of God for all that he is in himself in his multifaceted nature. Bear in mind that ‘the one speaking in a tongue speaks not to [humans] but to God … but in the Spirit he speaks mysteries’ [1 Corinthians 14:4, Greek/English New Testament].
So, is it any wonder that in Jude 1:20 TPT we are advised: ‘Constantly and progressively build yourself up on your most holy faith by praying in the Spirit’ [margin ‘praying in tongues’].