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Rediscovering Jesus and Women: Elaine Kelly Interview

Reluctant Christian Feminist Kate Nash interviewed Elaine Kelly about Jesus and woman disciples. Click here to listen to the podcast! You can also find Reluctant Christian Feminist on your favourite podcast provider. We discussed how Jesus related to women, seeing women and their stories through God's eyes, seeing ourselves in the women in the gospel stories, and Elaine Kelly's biblical fiction Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold and her nonfiction The Sword: A fun way to engage in healthy debate on what the Bible says about a woman’s role.

Image of Reluctant Christian Feminist podcast
Image of Reluctant Christian Feminist podcast

Below I present some content from the discussion, adding sub-titles and references for the reader.

Kate: we are here to talk about Jesus and woman disciples.

Elaine: I was so excited to read and study more about the women in the gospels. I saw how Jesus uplifted them and treated them with respect and I wanted to write a story to make it accessible for everyone to see the many women who followed Jesus and their impact.

Why Studying Jesus and Women is Important

Kate: This is such an important topic. For those of us who were raised in a background where we were told or believed or were taught that women didn't have a role in leadership. Growing up with that type of perspective and then seeing a lot of abuse of women in the church got me thinking - is this really the way that women should be treated in the church? I re-read the Gospel stories and my theology was reset by seeing how Jesus treated women. He didn't treat them as though they were to be marginalized.

E. True, I was looking into recovering from trauma and abuse because I wanted to show how the upbringing of my main character, Mara, had affected her and the steps she was able to take toward healing. As I researched I discovered the strength of the church's silencing of women, teachings to ignore a woman's attitudes, beliefs, and words. Seeing the harms of this teaching made me feel more urgency to write about it. It's not just about believing in God and thinking everything is rosy. My character, Mara, does quite a lot of work throughout the story to overcome these recurring feelings of depression and low self-esteem.

Seeing Ourselves in Bible Stories

 Quote from Reluctant Christian Feminist Podcast
Critical to see ourselves in Bible stories

K. I love the way you wove in themes of people who experience brokenness in their lives, either through something that was done to them or through their own decisions. They've experienced this brokenness and they're in Jesus's circle and they're restored. Some people say you're not supposed to read yourself into the Bible stories and I'm not saying I'm just like so and so but seeing that Jesus met the needs of these people gives me confidence that he sees me and sees my needs and he can meet those needs as well.

E. I think it's critical that we see ourselves in the Bible stories. If a person says you don't need to see yourself in Bible stories, it's probably someone who already relates to the main biblical characters - who are male - and doesn't see what the problem is. If you relate to the women of the gospels then you can see what it feels like to follow Jesus and to feel his love and forgiveness and grace. I think that putting yourself in the shoes of the disciples, male or female, is going to help you relate to Jesus.

K. What types of stories did you try to include in this particular book?

E. I mentioned Mara - she is based on Mary of Clopas in the Bible and there is a tradition that she is a sister-in-law to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Through fiction, I drew out the idea of her overcoming abuse and trauma and needing grace.

The other main theme of the book is racism. I wanted to show that Jesus reached out to people of all races, whether Samaritan or Syro-Phoenician and he was not just here to save the Jews. I used the character of Joanna as a mixed-race person to draw out the themes that are still relevant today. It's critical that we see that Jesus accepted and loved and included all people.

Judging People who have Troubles

K. Another theme I noticed is the judgement people receive when something's wrong with them or they're sick. Take the paralyzed man by the pool of Bethesda - he was putting his faith in the healing waters, yet Jesus still healed him.

E. Yes I was very struck that he received healing even without expressing faith in Jesus. As for judging a person who's hurt or in pain - blaming the victim - that happened a lot at the time. They thought if a person had problems it was because of something done by them or their parents. We saw it with the paralyzed man, but also in the Bible, but where I relate to it most is when we see women in the Bible who are blamed for infertility, told it's their fault for being far from God or that God cursed them with infertility. I struggled with infertility and the ache, shame and guilt that goes with that. Jesus said no: it's not about punishment or blame. God isn't having fun giving you sickness or other issues. God does not send you trouble because you sinned. Sometimes trouble is a consequence of our actions, sometimes it's just the way the world turns. The world has pain and trouble and God helps us through it. God is good and no bad thing can come from a good God.

K. Right.

E. You'll see this a lot with mental illness. People will be accused of not having enough faith. That's not the reason for mental illness - there's usually a reason for it and it's not just the victim's fault. I thought it was important to show that God did not cause that suffering.

K. In many cases, mental illness can also be the result of trauma. Blaming someone for their mental illness when they are literally a victim of abuse or neglect in many cases is just heartbreaking. It is also ineffective because it's not getting to the root of the cause.

E. We see this a lot today when victims of rape are blamed for being in the wrong place or wearing the wrong things or saying the wrong things. We have a continuing battle with blaming the victim and not looking at who the real perpetrator is.

K. I have experienced that blaming of a victim - at least that's the way I saw it when I was young. From 13-16, I had a large body brace from my neck to my hips and I had to wear it 23 hours a day. I was the girl in the brace. I remember hearing people say that if I just had enough faith I could be healed. I used to pray and beat myself up because if I had better faith I would have a straight back. I was a young teen and I'd blame myself!

E. You blamed yourself because people gave you that idea. I've heard it said to people with a chronic illness that lasts for decades or a degenerative disease. This is not a lack of faith. This is a physical phenomenon. Sometimes prayer is answered in ways we don't expect, and sometimes you don't get what you want.

Building Character

K. I do believe that God could make my back straight. I have had a permanent rod in my back since then and I do believe God could remove the rod and make my back straight, but what has that rod in my back done for me and my character? It created hardship but James 1 and Romas 5 tell us that through these difficulties our character is formed. Jesus was healing everywhere he went, but when he left, every single one of his disciples suffered for what they believed - ten were martyred for their faith. Just because you believe in God does not mean that it's a world of beautiful things without difficulty.

E. As far as my infertility, I did eventually have children, which is an answer to prayer but it's also medical intervention, and maybe God works through the metal rod in your back. What I learned from the infertile experience was empathy. Now when I hear of someone that's dealing with something that they didn't plan for and can't change, something that is out of their control, I can have more empathy for how they're dealing with that issue.

K. My very best friend at the time was born with a facial disfigurement. When I wore my brace she said 'Oh my gosh you're just like me!' If that's what it takes for my best friend to feel like somebody understood where she was at I'd do it again.


E. We face ableism as well as racism and sexism. In my novel, I portray Lazarus as having Down Syndrome - he is non-verbal in the Gospels and he is not called the head of the house. Martha is called the head of the house. I thought it was important to show that Jesus reaches out to people of all abilities

K. I noticed Mara is eating because of her abuse, eating for emotional reasons, and is overweight. She's feeling bad about herself and the one thing she feels good at is that she can make everybody happy with food. She's still a beautiful person; I see it as different abilities.

E. Yes we are real people struggling with real problems. A lot of people struggle with weight and so I hope people will be able to relate to Mara in overcoming the problems that have resulted in her life.

K. That's not to say we need to fix her. In a lot of sense, we need to fix ourselves and just accept people the way they are, and love people exactly where they are.

E. Yes the gospel stories show how Jesus accepts people as they are.

How Jesus Relates to Women

Quote from Reluctant Christian Feminist
Jesus extracts faith from the women

K. Jesus accepts them and then extracts a measure of faith out of them. In my opinion, he was getting the Syro-Phoenician woman to demonstrate her faith, and she's brilliant (Matthew 15, Mark 7:26). If Jesus hadn't set her up in that way we wouldn't actually see how clever she was. He wasn't playing with her. I think he always intended to heal her. He wasn't manipulating her, I think he was stretching her faith and that's really beautiful. In the case of the widow of Nain who didn't ask for anything at all (Luke 7). She was just grieving over the death of her son and he went and intervened. With the woman with the issue of blood, he commended her for her faith (Luke 8), for the Syro-Phoenician woman, it was because of her persistence, and with the widow of Nain, he didn't expect anything from her because that was not something she could do.

E. True she was just mourning. Writing about the Syrophoenician woman was one of the most difficult things because it sure looks at first glance that the passage shows Jesus and his disciples are racist, calling her a name because she's not a Jew. It takes some work to see Jesus in a positive light. That may be one of the things that you've been able to do Kate as a woman Bible interpreter: seeing this as a woman that's brilliant and has a strong faith and is not afraid of being tested, a brave woman. I don't think traditional Bible interpreters see her that way. They might see her as a tool Jesus uses to demonstrate his message to his male disciples, Jews before Gentiles, men before women. Through the woman's eyes, this story is not about the male disciples, it's about her, her strength, bravery, and brilliance.

K. To understand the story we have to start with knowing that Jesus is a good person, he is sinless and loving and has already healed non-Jews before he meets this woman. The story is positioned between the feeding of the five thousand in a Jewish community and the feeding of the four thousand in the Decapolis/non-Jewish area. This woman asks for just a crumb from the master's table and Jesus is showing that all that's necessary is a crumb of faith.

E. The story of the woman at the well is another story that can be seen in different ways (John 4). Often through traditional or male eyes, the woman at the well is interpreted as being an immoral woman. They see her as sinful. However, there were many reasons why she may have been married five times. Some men die young or at war. Women could be divorced for any reason and I would not assume this woman was to blame for being divorced. Women avoided divorce because they were not financially able to stay single. Husbands could legally divorce a wife for infertility and so I take that approach in my novel. Being married five times does not mean she was immoral. Tamar, in the line of the Messiah, in the line of David, actually was married or betrothed five times and Judah ended up calling her more righteous than he himself. Five times married does not mean unrighteous. Jesus chose to reveal to her that he was the Messiah. Her community respects this woman and her resilience so well that they all came out and listened to her story and went to meet Jesus. Through the eyes of a female Bible interpreter, the woman at the well was a theologically gifted thinker with many friends, just going through a lot of pain.

Quote from Reluctant Christian Feminist
No indication the woman at the well is unrighteous

K. Yes. The better question isn't to assume she's like someone we know who's been married five times in today's world but to ask why would a woman be married five times in that society. That is a much sadder question. It is not a question of rebellion or of her being a difficult woman, it's a question of rejection. who has been married five times

Looking at the culture and context, We need to ask why a woman would be married five times in that society. It's not a question of her rebelling or being a difficult woman, it's a question of her being rejected. She's one of my favourite stories because Jesus engages her in so much theological truth. He's having a theological discussion with her and some Christian leaders today won't engage a woman in theological discussions.

Jesus Taught Women as Disciples

E. Absolutely true. For a long time, women were not allowed at theological schools and yet Jesus went out of his way to teach women. He purposely taught in the woman's court instead of the male-only Court of the Jews, and he purposely taught in fields and meadows where women were permitted. In Bethany, he told everyone that Mary had made the right decision to sit at his feet and learn like a disciple. Jesus definitely encouraged learning for women even though in that culture most rabbis did not have female students.

Quote from Reluctant Christian Feminist
She has chosen the better part to be my disciple

K. One of my favourite lines from that story is that she has chosen the better part and it won't be taken from her (Luke 10:42). I love that it won't be taken from you or me either. One of the things we can remember is that we can sit at the feet of Jesus. In many Christian communities, women may be excluded, but we have access to Jesus. We don't have to go through a hierarchy. The way that God designed it is that it's just you and Jesus. No one can take away your relationship with Christ.

E. We are able to have education now, but in many parts of the world and in certain subcultures of North America, women are discouraged from having an education or from post-secondary career-type education. In some places, girls are not permitted to go to school while having their period or there is no safe transportation for them to go to school, so there are still problems today with ensuring that women have education even though Jesus opened the door for women's education.

K. Absolutely. There are a lot of worldly systems that are broken today, but access to Jesus remains unbroken for anyone.

E. Yes, wherever Christians stand on women in ministry, we agree that women and men pray directly to Jesus, our only mediator.

K. You can take everything from a person but you cannot take away that relationship with Christ from anyone.

E. that's true.

Why Write this Biblical Fiction?

K. So we've talked a lot about what needs to be shared, but what caused you to want to write this book?

E. It seems to be on my heart, a passion. I've always been a bit of a feminist, being in the minority as a woman in the business program, as a woman stock broker and life insurance advisor. I have three daughters and wanted to encourage them each to follow their passions, and dreams, to not be limited because they were girls. I look for an intersection of your skills and what the world needs, without reference to being male or female. In my financial planning career, I saw times when a woman was in trouble if she hadn't trained for a career or taken care of legal aspects like a cohabitation agreement. I encourage women to have a driver's licence, bank account, credit record, and own property. Having independence important for survival as it can happen that a husband becomes disabled, dies young or you separate or divorce. Women need to prepare for a career that will support her family.

K. That's true but you decided to take these ideas and turn them into a story.

E. After I investigated women in the bible and my philosophies, I wanted to put it into a story to make it accessible. In the churches with which I'm familiar, people vote on what minister to call; it's not assigned by a bishop. People have a choice of which church to attend. I want ordinary people who are making these choices and who haven't been to theological school to see Jesus as a person who empowers women as eyewitnesses, disciples, patrons and apostles.

K. And it sounds like you did a lot of research for this book.

E. Yes, I mean how to be able to write fiction effectively, studying various Bible interpretations, researching Galilee and Judea in the first century, Jewish laws and culture, as well as the process to publish and market the book.

K. While writing this book and doing this research, was there a shift or perspective change or enlightenment that happened to you in your faith.

Quote from Reluctant Christian Feminist
Traditional readings of Paul conflict with the Gospel

E. I grew up in a Christian environment where women were treated as equals. Looking back it may have been based on logic or secular thinking, so it was good for me to discover for the first time the scholarship that's been done on equality based on the Bible, not on the world or feminism. Uncovering and realizing the scholarship that has been done over the last 30 years helped me to understand the Bible and see the Bible differently.

A lot of this biblical scholarship is to do with Paul because in the Gospels it is already self-evident that Jesus honoured women as equals. The trouble comes with interpreting the passages of Paul. If you interpret them from an egalitarian perspective they are consistent with Jesus but if you just read them flat out you might think they disagree with Jesus. They seem to silence women and tell women to be secondary whereas Jesus did not silence women or tell them to be secondary. Actually, the traditional understanding of Paul seems to conflict with the gospels. It made me dislike Paul for a number of years and kind of discount the letters of Paul. Having the egalitarian biblical scholarship allows me to enjoy Paul and benefit from his letters - the only problem is it means I have less respect for the traditional church interpretations.

K. Yes, I used to really avoid Paul myself until I started seeing how maybe Paul and Jesus are on the same page. I saw how I can approach these problematic passages and see them the way Paul meant them and not as a reflection of today's Christian fundamentalist culture. It was quite enlightening and changed my opinion of Paul quite a bit.

E. Yes, we ask how we make Paul's letters agree with the gospels and then find out that it's through the biblical equality understanding! That's the way the Bible is more consistent!

Debate on Biblical Understanding of Women's Roles

K. Yes, Paul's letters already do agree with the gospels. They've just been misinterpreted. Maybe it's for that reason you also wrote a different book about biblical interpretation. Do you want to tell us a bit about that book?

E. It's called The Sword, a fun way to engage in healthy debate on what the Bible says about a woman's role. Basically, it resulted from what I was discovering about biblical equality scholarship and seeing two or three different ways a Bible passage can be understood. Then, because I didn't really grow up in a complementarian or fundamentalist church, I was asking why Christians have said women have to be silent or that certain actions mean you lose the kingdom. Then I looked up their understanding of the Bible passage. I took each passage and made a flashcard for opposing perspectives. I ended up with 104 flashcards and numerous end notes with references. You can quickly look up and see a sound bite for and against each argument based on the exact same passage. It's incredible to find that the exact same passage can be read in two different ways.

K. It gets frustrating and sometimes I just don't want to debate the passages anymore. It becomes clear if a person has a particular take on it and I have another take on it and the passage could be interpreted one way or the other.

E. I actually don't think we're ever going to come to a complete agreement on these passages, so my goal is really just that we could learn to respect one another as Christians. To show courtesy since we are all trying to follow Jesus and the Bible the best we can.

Who Would Enjoy Reading Forgotten Followers?

K. Who would you like to have read this book?

E. Some who might like it best are women who have felt silenced and secondary. Maybe they've been told for many years that the Bible excludes women, or that women are not important in the Bible, that women were not disciples and women were not apostles. They can read this book and see that women were eyewitnesses, patrons, disciples, and apostles. Jesus respected women and made it a priority to teach women and tell women that they should learn. I think this book would help those who are doubting, like Mara, my main character. If you're doubting Jesus or deconstructing your faith, I would hope that reading this would give you a fresh perspective on those familiar passages, would give you an understanding of Jesus and his full love for you.

K. So the point is for readers to see that Jesus loves them very march regardless of what they've been through or where they are in their faith.

E. Yes, some Christians feel they are not loved by God. When you are not honoured as an equal, you don't feel loved.

K. A lot of times there's a dichotomy between believing God is a good God, and he is perfect, but when he made me he made a mistake and I am unlovable. My body has some deficiency or my personality is such that I can't just be quiet and I have all these ideas and feel like people are telling me to suppress them.

E. People who have been told they have to be silent and follow a certain gender stereotype will find freedom with the refreshing views of the gospels in my novel, but also any Christian reader could affirm their faith as they read and see Jesus as a real person. The novel would benefit anyone who wants to understand why the church has lagged in equality and how it could lead in equality. Ministers or pastors who think that women shouldn't be in leadership positions might look at this book and realize they need to take another look at the gospels and look at Paul through the gospel lens.

K. I'm really grateful you wrote both of those books. The fiction allows us to see what it would be like for us to be in those places and how Jesus sees us. The nonfiction shows how to take each scripture and look at the different viewpoints. It lets us see that it's not necessary that the passage can only mean one thing. We can look at a way of seeing Paul and Jesus in agreement.

Jesus Lowering the Powerful; Lifting the Lowly

E. Seeing Jesus as human shows the idea that Jesus was all-powerful, but purposely and voluntarily lowered himself to become a human, to become incarnate. He left behind some of his privileges to become a servant and to make a way for us to enter Heaven. He is an example for us to give up some of our power and privileges and serve others. This reversal of power pertains partly to many of the stories in the Bible. Take the woman caught in adultery (John 8). The traditional view - the male view - is that this story is about Jesus's fantastic mercy because she was a really bad sinner. A woman might look at that story and say that the woman did not deserve to die because the mosaic law says men and women caught in adultery deserve equal punishment. Jesus was simply giving her the justice she deserved in freeing her, giving her the same treatment as the male adulterer. Jesus went further, telling the mob with the stones that their sins were just as bad as hers, lowering the men who wanted to stone her essentially to the same level as the adulterous woman.

K. I see that reversal of respect clearly in the story where a sinful woman washed Jesus's feet - it's possible she was a prostitute though the Bible doesn't say she was (Luke 7). Simon the Pharisee doubted Jesus, murmuring that Jesus could not be a prophet or he would know not to let that sinful woman touch him. Jesus lowered Simon to the same level as the sinful woman and lifted up the woman. Jesus named three ways that Simon failed him: didn't greet him with a kiss, didn't wash his feet, and didn't put oil on him. Jesus compared the woman to the righteous man and found him wanting. He elevated her because she did three things that were more righteous than the righteous Pharisee.

Quote from Reluctant Christian Feminist
Jesus lowered Simon the Pharisee and lifted the sinful woman

E. It's not only men losing their high positions. There's a difficult story of Jesus's mother when she comes with Jesus's siblings to stop Jesus from preaching (Matthew 12, Mark 3, Luke 9). Maybe Mary thinks Jesus is in danger or going to get arrested or maybe she's been influenced by her kids (Jesus's siblings do not believe in him until after the resurrection, John 7:5). Jesus says who believes in him is his mother, brother or sister. If I were a mother I would be hurt because you're suddenly brought to the same level as everyone else. Jesus seems to take away the privilege of honour for her as his mother but what it really means is that Jesus is lifting up others to be on the same plateau, as equal members of his family.

K. Of course, as the mother of Jesus, Mary is in a sense is untouchable. She was lowly and then elevated by God. The angel tells Mary she found favour with God. Mary recognizes she was lowly and tells Elizabeth that God has looked upon her lowliness and raised her to a position of honour as the mother of Jesus, but she is human, with normal flaws, human sins and emotions (Luke 1:26-45).

E. Yes, certainly Mary was chosen because she is an honourable person. In the Magnifica (Luke 1:46-56) Mary says that Jesus came to lower the powerful and lift up the lowly, and we see that in a number of Bible stories.

K. We do tend to look in the Bible and elevate some and not esteem others. It would be beneficial for us to see the way God looks at every individual: not as which are higher on a hierarchy but as which people in the Bible are most relevant for you because of your journey and are relatable for you.

Mary Magdalene as an Apostle

E. If we could look at everyone through Jesus's eyes or my Father's eyes, we would see people differently, with God's love and understanding and empathy. A similar thing happens with Mary Magdalene - she's often been conflated with a sinful woman or prostitute even though the Bible doesn't say that. If we look at her with God's eyes, what the Bible says is that she was a patron, a benefactor, and a faithful follower who had been healed of seven demons (Luke 8:1-3) and became an apostle. There's nothing in the Bible that lowers her to this sinful level but maybe humans over time didn't want to see her elevated to Peter's level.

K. Yes in history, they confused her with other women and added this negative reputation that is not there in the gospels at all.

E. They merged her with the sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50) and with Mary of Bethany (John 12:1-8), saying it was all one person and this person was sinful. This view dismisses the record of Jesus honouring Mary of Bethany for anointing him.

Quote from Reluctant Christian Feminist
Jesus lifted Mary Magdalene; humans lowered her.

K. It doesn't make any sense at all.

E. As far as Mary Magdalene being an apostle to the apostles, Thomas Aquinas called her that in the 1200s because the risen Jesus authorized Mary to tell the apostles that Jesus had risen (John 20:17-18). Aquinas was imprisoned for heresy and not made a saint until after his death. There's still debate about whether or not she's an apostle even though it's very clear from the Gospel of John that Jesus authorized Mary Magdalene to go and teach the male apostles. In Matthew, Jesus tells other women, not just Mary, to go and tell the apostles he has risen (Matthew 28:8-10). The synoptic Gospels say that an angel tells the women to be apostles to the male disciples (Matthew 28:5-7, Mark 16:6-7, Luke 24:9-11). The disciples just say their words are nonsense, foolish stories, imaginings of silly women - what we would call gaslighting today. So the women of course are silenced when they are told that what they saw and experienced is not possible and it didn't actually happen.

How to Read the Bible

K. If you were talking to people reading a story in the Bible what advice do you have for someone reading the Bible and advice for how to look at a person's story?

E. I think it's difficult to flat-out read the bible without context. Sometimes the Bible says to remember this story from the Israelite past and if you're not a Jew in the first century, you may not remember that story, those names, or the impact. I like to look at commentaries along with the Bible at the same time. If you just want to read the Bible, for example, the Gospel of John, I would start from the premise that God loves you and try to see it through the context that God is doing everything to redeem you. The Bible tells how humans repeatedly turn away, but God reaches out, preserves and redeems his people. If you start by believing that God loves you, then it follows that God didn't send pain. God wants to redeem you and walk with you, to support and comfort you.

K. That' is really helpful. For example, if you're talking to a friend and they're telling you about how mean their parents are or their friends are or their spouse is, we don't have context - we only know one side of the story. In the same way, if we read these Bible stories without cultural context, we miss the other side of the story. I'll go back to Paul writing about the household codes (Ephesians 5:22–6:9, Colossians 3:18–4:1). If you're not aware of the household codes that were put together by Aristotle and Greek philosophers, you can think that Paul came up with these harsh and demeaning structures. But when you put them side by side with Paul's version of them, it is freeing in so many ways.

E. Yes we both talked about Lucy Peppiatt's writing on these passages and how Paul may be quoting them. He's not introducing the household codes for example in Ephesians. He's simply referring to the household codes they're familiar with and saying that submitting to one another is kind of like that. It's a different way of understanding that chapter completely when you realize he's using the familiar to explain the unfamiliar. The unfamiliar new concept is that we are one in Christ. This view of Ephesians matches more closely with Paul's writing about no more Jew/Gentile, male/female, or slave/citizen in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, 1 Corinthians 12:13).

K. Yes and the funny thing is what was so familiar to his audience is completely unfamiliar to today's audience.

Care in Using the Bible as a Guide to Living

E. Another section I had trouble with when I was working on the novel is where Jesus advises people to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-40). The normal or male view is that it's going to help a Jew stand up to a Roman soldier and display their dignity and strength. I read it as a woman and knowing that turning the other cheek is horrible advice for an abused woman in a domestic situation. I don't want women to read that and think they have to stay home and be silent and take abuse. I believe what Jesus is saying to women with that advice is to de-escalate the situation and don't fight back because that's going to just make it worse. God wants to shelter us, so move away from a harmful situation and get to safety. I do not think turning the other cheek means standing up and fighting against an abuser.

K. Yes, there's another passage that I think is poor advice for somebody in an abusive situation: if your brother offends you go to him alone and make it right (Matthew 18:15). If you're in an abusive situation, going it alone to the abuser is probably not the advice that Jesus would give you individually. It is a great principle in general.

E. If you read the Bible without any context you could go off track. When Paul had a disagreement with Peter he didn't go alone to Peter without a witness (Galatians 2:11-14). In front of the whole group, Paul said essentially, "No, Peter this is the wrong doctrine and I want everybody here to know that Jews and Gentiles are equals".

K. It's really important to understand what Paul or Jesus is saying in the context - in a particular situation. Then we can use the Holy Spirit's guidance to lead into the way of wisdom. There's not going to be a situation where Jesus is going to say how to handle every single offence. Look at the way Jesus handled people. Every single one of them is an individual. There are general principles and truisms and then there is what you should do in a particular situation, which is sometimes different.

E. I'd like to circle back to how Paul's message is the same as the Gospels, the same as Jesus, James and Peter. Peter said love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). James said the royal commandment is to love one another (James 2:8). Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God and love one another (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-31, Luke 10:27, John 15:9-12, 1 John 4:7-12, 20-21). Paul also says the greatest gift of all is love (1 Corinthians 13:1, 13).

K. That's what we have to come back to: what is love in this situation?

E. Yes I guess that can be debated quite a bit too

K. It can be debated but we are responsible for our decisions. We can get advice from people we respect and read about it but in the end, it's an individual choice of what is love in the situation for me (Romans 14:12).

Quote from Reluctant Christian Feminist
How do you want to be loved?

E. From a recipient's standpoint, I don't want to be loved like a pet dog that's taken care of and controlled and fed - I want some freedom. I don't want to be loved like a porcelain doll, pretty and up on the shelf, silent. I also don't want to be loved as a bird in a gilded gage - beautiful shelter and food but no freedom. For me, love is having that freedom that Jesus offers us and that's the freedom to speak and to choose (John 8:36, Galatians 5:1).

K. It isn't love if it doesn't include respect in my opinion. I don't mean the kind of love that says "I'm doing this for your benefit". That's great for a one-year-old, but I'm a grown woman!

E. That's right! We're adults!

K. Thank you for coming to my show. Both of your books sound amazing. They give ways for women to see themselves in the Gospels and for women and men to see how different passages can be interpreted. If we want to look at putting it all together, there's a leaning to a perspective that says love and respect for everyone, opportunities for everyone. God has given all of us different gifts and we need all gifts on the field playing not half sitting on the bench.

E. The whole reason for the gifts is to build up the body of Christ. We need to build up every part of the body or we will not be strong and effective in this world.

K. The effectiveness of the church is certainly at risk right now.

E. I appreciate you having me on your podcast, Kate. It's a really important topic to see the women in the Gospels.

K. Thank you for coming! I appreciate what you've done and written. Bless you.

E. Take care


Find Reluctant Christian Feminist on your favourite podcast provider or click here to listen on YouTube!

Also, check out the Elaine R Kelly Author YouTube Playlist with this and other videos discussing egalitarian views of the Bible and my writing news.


Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with historical fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include:

  • Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, Book 1

  • The Sword A Fun Way to Engage in Healthy Debate on What the Bible Says About a Woman's Role

  • Because She Was Called: from Broken to Bold, Book 2, A Novel of the Early Church, imagines Mary Magdalene's trip to testify before the emperor


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