As the Women Go …

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. 
Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Philippians 4: 2-3

Now that I’ve started reading Paul with fresh eyes, with BIG PICTURE eyes, I’ve started secretly enjoying all of the moanings and groanings among modern readers of Paul. For example, I saw something today that made me laugh. It went like this …

It is important to remember that Paul was not a systematic theologian. He never formulated a coherent “theology of women.” 

HAH! Where does one even begin? People, I can’t EVEN.

In that flippant set of sentences is so much of what is wrong with the way we Christians have been taught to think about our faith and our relationship to the Bible, how little we value the power of story, how far we stupidly distance theology from pastoral care and concern, and how much we love to hate women and mothers. And that’s just for starters.

It all reminds me of a Dr. So-and-So Theologian who recently said that most of us sad chumps in the pews just aren’t capable of understanding the complexities of theology. It brings to mind one time when I was cautioned by another Dr. So-and-So Theologian that I am ‘just a linguist.’ It makes me remember alot of times like these, numerous times I wish I could forget.

What a simultaneously sad and hilarious state of affairs. And what injustice we do to our brother Paul and to anyone who opens the Bible to read the way God uses Paul in His amazing story of love and rescue.

In Paul, we find a true scholar-pastor. In Paul, we find someone who knew intimately the history of God’s People, who met Jesus Christ Himself on the Road to Emmaus. In Paul, we encounter a man who embraced maternal imagery to speak of his fierce love for the church of which he was a member. God’s people, the Bride of Christ. Paul’s vast knowledge of the nature of God and his theology of women (ahem, God’s view of women) is in plain sight in every single one of his letters!

In 1 Thessalonians 2:7, Paul compares himself to a nursing mother. In Romans 8, he uses the image of labour contractions (see also Gal 4:19, 1 Thes 5:3). Paul talks about himself as a mother who feeds her babies according to their need: first milk, then solid food (1 Cor 3:1-4). In Philippians, Paul speaks as to his own children, longing for their spiritual maturity as a mother longs for her children to grow and flourish.

And where did Paul get such an idea? From the story of God’s people! Paul was applying himself to a story he knew intimately, adopting the female persona of Israel that God had established through the “wise women” of the Old Testament and through the stories of Eve, Sarah, Naomi, Achsah, Deborah, Jael, Ruth, Rachel, Rahab, Abigail, Hannah, a “certain woman” and so on and so on and on and on. It’s not what these women did or didn’t do per se. It’s what God was revealing through them. These Mothers of Israel. This Bride of Christ.

And of course Paul, a man, was also following the example of Jesus Christ, whose devotion to women marked His entire ministry. Jesus Christ, who set an example for how His people should care for each other by washing His disciples’ feet as tenderly as a mother washes her child. All these wonderful stories and pictures. All these rich layers. It’s all there if we search. If we dig. If we look.

The Child’s Bath (The Bath) by Mary Cassatt, 1893

I admit there was a time when I approached Paul with skepticism. I’ve said as much. But that was because I’d been taught lies about Paul’s letters, by ignorant and unstable people who distort what he wrote, who misunderstand the Bible and how to read it.

And so, in Philippians 4, where Paul mentions a conflict between Euodia and Syntyche, my mind goes to Paul’s theology of women. My mind goes to the long list of named women in our cloud of witnesses. And then up and out, higher and wider, to God’s view of and purpose for women. My mind races to the marvel of why God made women and the ways God uses women to symbolize His beloved people.

My mind goes to why conflict between women of valour like Euodia and Syntyche matters. Why it’s worth mentioning. Why Paul longs for these women to be at peace with each other.
Because, as Penny Long Marler contends, “As the women go, so goes the church.” 

Albert Anker ‘Elderly Woman Reading the Bible’ 1904


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