To hear most fundamentalists talk, God has established certain
roles for the woman in the marriage relationship, and these roles
are to be understood practically as:
Any housework that is to be done is to be done by the woman. It
is not the man's place to wash the dishes, mop the floors, clean
the toilets, do the laundry, change the diapers or any of the
other tasks that need to be done to keep a household functioning.
2) Child raiser
Caring for the children is exclusively the role of the mother,
except that fathers are supposed to take the boys to ball games
and teach them sports, along with other masculine activities like
wood working, auto repairing, belching, and the like.
The wife must sit at home while the husband makes all the money;
perhaps, if the children are grown, the wife might get a part
time job, so long as her income is less than her husband's, and
so long as it is less prestigious as well.
While this may be the popular view among conservative Christians,
a view endowed with a status of divinely blessed appropriateness,
the reader of the Bible would be hard pressed to discern that
this is the ordained scriptural picture of things. In fact, one
might even suggest that fundamental Christianity has raised cultural
tradition to the status of the divinely inspired, and then searched
scripture after the fact to "prove" the already assumed
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,
for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
One of the most remarkable things about this verse is the reaction
to it by those who insist that women are to have a subservient
role. Look at the reaction of the author of a pamphlet on the
role of women, typical of the conservative position:
Equality of being before God does not require the elimination
of all role distinctions in society.
Equality of being does not rule out authority and submission in
relationships. We could point to many examples of relationships
in which there is equality and yet a difference in roles involving
authority and submission - the Trinity; the President and U.S.
citizens; parents and children; employers and employees; elders
and church members. (The Role of Women, Grace Community
Church, 1985, p. 14)
Ignoring the problems with some of their examples (especially
with the Trinity and their understanding of American democracy),
consider the import of the statement: that theology really has
no practical significance - in this case. Or more specifically,
it has no significance on the male/female relationship. The elimination
of slavery and the elimination of the racial superiority inherent
in early Jewish-Christian relationships with gentiles is laudable
and appropriate, but when it comes to women - it doesn't really
mean they're equal.
The thoughtful reader might be wanting to object at this point:
"Isn't the wife supposed to be subject to her husband? I
seem to recall a passage of scripture..."
Perhaps a look at the passage in question would be helpful.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband
is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his
body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to
Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and
gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the
washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself
as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish,
but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love
their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares
for it, just as Christ does the Church - for we are members of
his body. (Ephesians 5:21-30)
It is instructive, in this light, to notice two other passages
which have profound impact on the subject, though they are rarely
The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise
the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her
alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's
body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. (1 Corinthians
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast,
it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is
not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not
delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects,
always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
(1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
Also notice two other instructive passages:
Jesus called them together and said "You know that those
who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,
and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so
with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must
be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of
all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to
serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death -
even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)
Interesting picture considering husband and wife should relate
to each other as Christ does to the Church. Leadership in the
Christian setting, the concept of the husband being the head of
the wife, must be understood in the light of what Jesus said about
the nature of leadership. The one who leads is servant of all,
and what is entailed by that is illustrated well by the incident
where Jesus washed the disciple's feet. Love does not mean that
you make others do stuff for you; love means that you do stuff
for them - and without expecting anything back in return!
Regarding the conservative idea of how bad it is if women work
outside the house, since they're supposed to take care of the
children - consider common statements like this, illustrating
The biblical pattern for raising and instructing children in God's
truths was established in Deuteronomy 6 where children are to
be taught by parents "when you sit in your house and when
you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up."
Parents are responsible for the spiritual education of their children,
and mothers who work full-time outside their homes usually lack
the quality time to instruct their children adequately. Nor can
the responsibility for this instruction simply be transferred
to someone else. (The Role of Women, p.10)
An interesting switch here from "parents" to "mothers".
And the whole premise is wrong besides. Biblically there is very
little said about the role of mothers in the raising of children
- though a lot is said on mothers bearing them. But the raising
of children was the work of fathers. The passage in Deuteronomy
just quoted above, Deuteronomy 6:6, is written to men - not women.
In Hebrew there are four forms of the pronoun "you"
available: masculine singular, masculine plural, feminine singular,
feminine plural. Guess which is used in Deuteronomy 6:6? Masculine
singular. Women aren't even being addressed!
Moreover, if the reader were to look in a concordance under the
words "father" and its related forms and the word "mother"
and its related form, he or she would discover the following (from
a computer search):
1612 occurrences of the word "father", "father's"
Only 338 occurrences of the word "mother", "mother's"
Fathers seem to be discussed more frequently. Moreover, one will
discover, in looking at the word "mother" that in most
contexts the mother is either bearing or nursing the children;
little is said of a mother's role beyond that.
Look at Ephesians 6:4 as an example:
Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them
up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
It is mothers and fathers both who are to be obeyed (Deut. 5:16,
Eph. 6:1-3), not one more than the other.
It was David who was criticized for how he raised Adonijah, not
His father had never interfered with him by: asking, "Why
do you behave as you do?" He was also very handsome and was
born next after Absalom. (1 Kings 1:6)
In a similar vein see 1 Sam. 3:13 (Eli), 1 Sam. 8:3 (Samuel),
Luke 15:12-13 (the prodigal son).
Notice that it is the men raising children in Prov. 13:24, 19:18,
23:13, 22:6, and 1 Tim. 3:4.
Regarding women working outside the house, notice 2 Cor. 12:14:
Now I am ready to visit you for the third time, and I will not
be a burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions
but you. After all, children should not have to save up for their
parents, but parents for their children.
Notice "parents" are saving for their children, not
just the father.
Perhaps most disturbing of all for the male chauvinists would
be finding out how the ministry of Jesus and his disciples was
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to
another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The
Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of
evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven
demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's
household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping
to support them out of their own means. (Luke 8:1-3)
Consider all the women of the Bible working outside the home:
1. The mighty woman of Proverbs 31 (she has children!)
2. Ruth gleaning grain (Ruth 2)
3. Deborah, judge of Israel (Judges 4:4, 5:7)
4. Lydia, seller of purple (Acts 16:14-15)
5. Priscilla, a tent maker (Acts 18:1-3)
6. Wisdom, personified as a woman, is active in the creation of
the world (Prov. 8:27-31)
Regarding the odd statement quoted above, "Nor can the responsibility
for this instruction [of children] simply be transferred to someone
else [other than the mother]," perhaps the authors of the
pamphlet chose to ignore the work of nurses and servants as mentioned
in both New and Old Testaments? (cf. Gen. 24:59, 35:8, Ex. 2:7-9,
Num. 11:12, 2 Sam. 4:4, 2 Kings 11:2-3, 2 Chron. 22:11). We perhaps
shouldn't even mention Samuel being raised in the temple by the
priests (1 Samuel 1-2)...
Of course there are those who might argue that the only reason
women want to work outside the home, get careers and the like,
is because the feminist movement has filled them with wrong-headed
dreams and aspirations. Those darn feminists are the ones who've
made women unhappy and dissatisfied with their "proper, God-given
roles" in the home.
Like the slave holders of a different era, who complained that
"If it weren't for those durn abolitionists filling the niggers
with wool-headed ideas they wouldn't be near the trouble; getting
them all riled up about liberty and equality and who knows what
other gosh durn foolishness!"
The reason a woman might like a career and be dissatisfied fulfilling
the role of a slave is because she is a human being, created in
the image of God, with the same common ideals and aspirations,
hopes and fears, that fill the male half of humanity, since woman,
too, is as much a part of humanity as man.
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:27)
The Complaint of Jacob
by R.P. Nettelhorst
Jacob’s life was not a particularly easy one and his family life, both growing up, and then as an adult was certainly what would fit the modern definition of being “dysfunctional.”
So, to say the least, Jacob was not at all happy. The one true love of his life was dead. Joseph, his favorite, the oldest son of his beloved, had been dead for twenty-five years. And now Simeon had been taken from him, and this monster in Egypt was demanding the last link he had to his dead lover. Beside himself with grief, we find his reaction in Genesis 42:36 where it all comes down to this:
Their father Jacob said to them, "You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!"
And certainly it was the case that the circumstances of his life, from his perspective, from the perspective of his sons standing around him, made his complaint fully reasonable and perfectly understandable.
And yet, the fascinating thing about his words, for those of us reading the story, is that we know that he couldn’t be more wrong, despite the fact that his words seemed so obviously true to Jacob – unassailably true, in fact. But we the readers of this little episode, know something that Jacob doesn’t: we know that Joseph is not only not dead, but he is second in command in Egypt, the most powerful and most wealthy nation on the planet at that time. We also know that there’s no way for poor Jacob to know that.
So the reality of Jacob’s existence is that everything could hardly be better. His favorite son has done very well for himself, thank you. Good job, and great future, with money to burn. Poor Jacob simply doesn’t know this yet. His perception, his perspective of reality, is incorrect.
And we, the readers, can do nothing to alleviate Jacob’s suffering just now. And God didn’t do anything about it either. It’ll be another year before Jacob learns the truth of what his life is really like. For twenty-five years he mourned for someone who was not dead at all. He bemoans his fate as a miserable one, though his family is absolutely powerful and prosperous. But he doesn’t know any of that; in fact, he has no way of knowing any of that.
September 11, 2001 was thus an exceptionally bad day (to say the least) and raised numerous questions in the minds of many people about the nature of existence, about the goodness of God, about what it is really, that God wants and expects out of all of us. How do we live in a world where this sort of thing can happen? How do we face the crises of life, both small and great? Is there some key to life, some playbook we can get, some list we can follow, some formula we can memorize that will get us through life in one piece, with ourselves and our families living productive and prosperous lives? What does Jacob's complaint tell us about our relationship to God and the world?
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John of the Apocalypse
by R.P. Nettelhorst
If everything in your life went wrong, wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus came and told you why? “Why doesn’t God do something?” It was a question heavy on John’s mind. He had seen all his companions bleed and die; thousands of his compatriots had been slaughtered by a brutal tyranny. It seemed such an odd way for God to treat his most faithful servants. John was just a lonely old man exiled for his beliefs on the island of Patmos. And then Jesus unexpectedly showed up with good news and an explanation.
Click on the picture of the book cover for more information, to read a preview, or to order.