The Sword is a fun way to engage in healthy debate on what the Bible says about a woman's role. It is a new nonfiction released in paperback and ebook forms on Amazon. How did a Christian fiction writer end up writing a non-fiction book?
In my first biblical fiction, Forgotten Followers from Broken to Bold, I show how Jesus lifted up women as equals, equipped them as disciples and teachers, and empowered them as apostles and evangelists. It was easy to see biblical equality in the Gospels.
My next biblical fiction, Forgotten Apostles from Broken to Bold, takes place in the time of the Acts of the Apostles, telling stories of Junia the Apostle, Susannah from Luke 8, Phoebe the deacon of Cenchrae, Priscilla, a teacher in Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome, Lois and Eunice, who teach Timothy, Euodia and Syntyche who serve the church as Timothy serves, Nympha, Apphia, Lydia, and Chloe, who are church leaders. However, it is not as easy to see biblical equality in the letters of Paul.
How can I portray Paul in my next fiction, about the women in the book of Acts? If Paul was sexist, why were women in the first century so eager to join the Christian movement? Did they enjoy working alongside Paul? Did being a Christian give them new freedom? Did Paul treat them as equal co-workers? Did the women named in Acts and Paul's letters have roles as evangelists, elders, deacons, ministers, and church leaders? In some of Paul's letters, he lifts up women as equal to men, honours them and credits them as co-workers for the Gospel. These ideas seem to conflict with the passages where Paul seems to accept or even promote a gender hierarchy with women on a lower rung.
Understanding Paul's Letters
Thus began my long journey into understanding various interpretations of Paul's letters. I will speak more about the differences between Jesus Christ and Pauline Christianity in a separate blog. For many of my years as a Christian, I put Paul's problematic passages on the back burner. I did not believe them or find them helpful; I did not like them and I did not like Paul. I grew up in a more progressive church, and they believed the Bible promoted equality. We had female clergy in the 1970s and I used a gender-neutral hymnbook and the gender-neutral New Revised Standard Version of the Bible in the 1990s. I could relate to the words of the songs and verses. The inclusive approach made sense to me and what I knew of the world, so I did not investigate their biblical rationale.
I knew there were some Christians who limited women to support roles, but I thought (wrongly) that this group was small and shrinking. As I studied, I learned much about Paul, his letters, and his relationships with women. I learned about the term 'complementarian' which was coined in the 1980s and has been used to strengthen the idea of gender roles being part of God's design. Complementarian teachers said their ideas were the only true interpretation of the Bible. I learned that biblical egalitarian scholarship was frowned on by the traditional establishment for many years and that mainly male theologians and writers were featured in theological schools.
Why do Gender Roles matter?
I learned that women and girls were suffering from being in secondary roles, losing their opportunity to get an education, their right to earn a living outside the home, particularly higher-paid roles where they may manage, advise, direct or supervise both men and women. Women and girls were losing their ability to give or withhold sexual consent, their ability to have a say in their own marriage, and most of all, women in hierarchal marriages were more vulnerable to abuse. Likewise, men were suffering from being told they were secondary if they acted emotionally, gently, supportive or submissive. Men are mocked as being 'whipped' if they are considerate of their wives. They may even experience gender dysphoria. None of these consequences of gender roles are peripheral issues. They affect the very core of how we love one another. They matter.
New Biblical Scholarship
Nevertheless, God has been at work. I also found many Christian historians, theologians, academics and writers who have discussed and developed fuller understandings of the problematic passages. Egalitarians do not all think the same and there is still plenty of discussion on how to understand God's word. But by looking at the language and context of the texts, and keeping in mind the overarching message of the Bible and Christ's purpose, these thinkers have shown how Paul promotes equality and interdependence. In short, biblical egalitarian scholarship has come a long way.
In The Sword, I wanted to provide a brief introduction to the biblical source of some of the complementarian thinking, as well as various egalitarian perspectives. I came across many who became Christians through an evangelical Christian outreach, were taught that only Complementarians were true, Bible-believing Christians, and experienced discontent with gender hierarchies. Many went on a journey to find biblical egalitarian analysis.
Whether you start out as Complementarian and want to know more about how egalitarians look at the Bible, or you start out as egalitarian and want to know more about what the Bible says, The Sword will help you work out your stance on the Bible and gender and your rationale for it. It could even be nicknamed: What I learned about complementarian and egalitarian views of problematic Bible passages.
The Sword is a great starting point for your journey. If the flashcards make you want to go deeper, refer to the 180 End Notes for further study.
1. See contrasting views in one place; Effortlessly and objectively compare Complementarian and Egalitarian views
2. Stimulate healthy debate on what the Bible says about a woman's role
3. A fun and memorable way to learn new ideas with the visual, auditory, and physical elements of flashcards.
4. Hands-on resource for adult or youth education or small groups to interact with the ideas
5. Broaden understanding of equality, gender, and the Bible
6. Introduce how Bible believers support gender equality
Do you ever wonder:
why do Christians have diverse and opposing views on a woman's role?
what is meant by biblical womanhood or biblical manhood?
why do some Christians limit the roles women may perform? Or insist men fit a certain stereotype?
how can a Bible-believing Christian support equal opportunities and responsibilities for women?
how can I have a taste of the interpretations of both egalitarian and complementarian reasoning?
how can we understand passages that support men in a variety of nurturing and non-traditional roles?
how can we understand passages that seem to limit women because of their gender?
how can I more easily reference or recall soundbites or cue cards of biblical interpretations?
"The Sword" is a book of 104 flashcards introducing the biblical case for both complementarian and egalitarian perspectives. The goal is not that we all end up thinking the same thing, but that we gain mutual understanding and respect. Seeing a passage from several angles should bring an appreciation for diverse perspectives and respect for one another.
We are all called to work out our salvation with reverence, and I believe each person needs to work out where they stand on the issue of gender equality. Doing so will allow you to align your marriage, church community, and spending patterns to support your views.
The Sword will help you on your journey to better understanding the Bible. My journey has brought me around to see Paul as a person who wrote and acted in ways that put all people on the same level. Paul lowered those in positions of power and lifted up groups who had been put down. With my new understanding, I can appreciate what Paul has written and have come to the point where I can see Paul as fair-minded and likeable. With that new appreciation, Maybe you will also get a breath of fresh affirmation.
Find it on Amazon.
Click here to see me explain how to use The Sword in this brief video.
Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with Christian fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include: