From the Basement

July 10, 2010

Acts 17 & Women

I’ve been traveling lately, hence the lack of consistency in posting. I’m currently hunkered down in the backyard of my boyfriend’s parents; I’m visiting them and am enjoying a cup of coffee and some quiet reading time on this most beautiful morning.

I was reading Acts 17 today, and the main thing that struck me was the mention of women. The chapter isn’t long – 34 verses – but there are three separate mentions of women, all within the context of coming to believe in Christ.

verse 4: “And some of them were persuaded, and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.”

verse 12: “Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.”

verse 34: “However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.”

In the first two instances, it is emphasized that these are prominent women among the Greeks. The third instance is particularly interesting to me – this is after Paul preaches to the philosophers of the Areopagus. It says some men joined, but it lists Damaris among the men, even though she’s marked as a woman. She is included – overall – in the group of men.

I haven’t done an in-depth study on this chapter, but I’ve been searching online and have yet to find an article or commentary that deals comprehensively with these three references. The book of Acts on the whole makes frequent mention of women, but three mentions of prominent, in one instance probably educated, women coming to Christ – wow. This is huge.

I’ve been searching for commentaries on this chapter, but have yet to find one that explicitly discusses the references to women. I did, however, find one website detailing the notes of John Wesley, an 18th-century theologian, and his comments were too priceless not to share. Of verse 4, he says:

Of the principal women, not a few — … In the case of true religion, which always implies taking up the cross, especially in time of persecution, women lie naturally under a great disadvantage, as having less courage than men. So that their embracing the Gospel was a stronger evidence of the power of him whose strength is perfected in weakness, as a stronger assistance of the Holy Spirit was needful for them to overcome their natural fearfulness.

Well then.

I don’t want to get off on too much of a tangent, but Wesley’s comments – however antiquated – are reminiscent of a practice I’ve been thinking more and more about: that is, allowing our understanding of culture to infiltrate our spiritual understanding of gender. Arguments about the “cultural lens” or an innate “bias” don’t hold up here, because to follow Christ is to alter our entire worldview. Wealth is one of the best examples I can think of – scripture runs contrary to the wisdom of the world. We think very little of hearing that message on Sunday morning, yet we are content to let our understandings of gender fly under the radar as non-essential, secondary issues. And what damage this has done. I’ve been in too many churches that longed for the good old days (my words there), where “men were men and women were women.” Think 1950s Cleaver family.

When it comes to gender roles, I think the church is far too reliant on cultural tradition. And then it’s surprised when women rise up against that tradition, not recognizing its complicity in cultivating that discontent.

But that’s another post.

In the meantime, I am thankful that scripture documents the conversion of faithful women and men, exhorting us in our faith even today.

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2 Comments »

  1. Agreed. Completely. I am excited to hear more as you dig deeper in this topic =)

    Comment by M — July 10, 2010 @ 5:48 pm | Reply

    • Thanks, hon! Glad you enjoyed it. I read Wesley’s comment to the boyfriend’s parents, and they both got a huge kick out of it.

      Comment by girldownstairs — July 10, 2010 @ 6:04 pm | Reply


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