Was Jesus a Feminist?

perpetuaBen Witherington III will present a lecture on the topic, “Was Jesus the First Feminist?” Thursday evening, 7:30, at Kansas State University in the Alumni Center.

He will also be speaking on the topic, “An Eschatological Vision of Worship” Friday at 7:30 PM in Jollife Hall on the campus of Manhattan Christian College as part of the Western Fellowship of Professors and Scholars.

Both events are open to the public.

What Is a Christian?

I’m going to start a series on this topic.  I will speak from my own perspective because no one else has authorized me to present theirs.  I’m answering really, what it means to me to be a Christian, or what I desire to be.  I’m not trying to exclude anyone, I am just trying to clarify my own thinking and maybe help anyone else who happens to be looking over my shoulder.

  1. A Christian is someone who wants to change the world.
  2. A Christian is someone who want to be made whole.
  3. A Christian is someone who wants to connect with God and people of faith.

That’s all pretty simple, pretty basic, and also pretty important.  Maybe I need to elaborate a little bit.  I noticed that definitions 1 and 2 don’t say anything about God, and none of them even mention Jesus.  Further, they don’t really distinguish Christian commitment from other religious or nonreligious commitments.  Since I’m not trying to exclude anyone, maybe that doesn’t matter; but since I’m trying to be clear, maybe it does matter.

Alright, I’ll add a little detail to number 1.

A Christian is someone who wants to change the world.

More specifically, a Christian believes that God is working to change the world and that Jesus is God’s agent in changing the world. So,

A Christian is someone who is following Jesus in God’s work of changing the world.

Give Your Possessions to the Poor and Drink the Best Wine First

Those two sayings sum up the life of following Jesus.  Jesus told a young rich man who wanted to follow him, to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.  Why did he say that?

First, because the poor needed it.  The rich man wanted to sign up to assist Jesus in his mission, part of which was to proclaim good news to the poor.  Think about that–if you are poor, what better news could there be?

“Some Wall Street wizard cashed in all his chips just before the crash–and he wants you to have the profits.”

Second, the young man’s possessions were dragging him down. What Jesus was really saying to him was

“Right here and now, I’m setting you free.  You don’t need all that.  Let it go.”

The second saying, “Drink the best wine first” wasn’t said by Jesus; it was said about him.  Jesus attended a wedding, maybe of one of his sisters, and when they ran out of beverage, he turned water in to wine.  If you’ve ever been to a wedding, no doubt you heard the preacher say, “Our Lord adorned this manner of life with his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. ”

The caterer said, “Woah!–everybody else serves the best wine first, but you saved the best wine for last.”

I’m not a connoisseur of wine–I didn’t grow up in California or France–I grew up in Carrie Nation territory; but I take turning water into wine as a metaphor.  Jesus wants us to enjoy life.  His presence is a celebration.  He didn’t tell people to give up their possessions because he wanted them to live an austere, ascetic existence.

He knew that possessions can possess us and keep us from enjoying life to its fullest.

Four Rules for Interpreting the Bible

Here are four rules for interpreting the Bible that I teach my students, along with the acronyms that help them remember them.

1.  Do No Harm (DNH).  This is the first rule of any profession, and the Bible itself warns against twisting its words in a way that causes harm.  Judaism taught this principle, based on the teaching of Moses,

[These words] are your life.  By them you will live long . . .

Judaism takes this to mean that the commandments can only be interpreted in a way that enhances life, never in a way that threatens it.  Jesus taught a similar principle: It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath, to save life rather than destroy it.

Of course, the Bible has often been misused.  Krister Stendahl said,

There never has been an evil cause in the world that has not become more evil if it has been possible to argue it on biblical grounds.  (Cited here)

2.  Author’s Intended Meaning (AIM). Don’t use the words of the Bible to push your own agenda.  For example, when the Bible talks about oil–it is not referring to barrels of petroleum–it is talking about olive oil.  We have to take the historical setting and the understanding of the human authors seriously.

3.  Author’s Intended Purpose (AIP). The first writers and readers of the Bible lived in a world far different than ours, yet they are trying to reach goals that are relevant to us: reconciliation, love, compassion, justice, for example.  Most of us in North America don’t worry about food offered to idols–but the purpose for the teaching on the subject in 1 Corinthians 8-10 is to teach us to respect cultural and religious differences, to embrace diversity.

4.  Whole Context (WC). This basically means we have to get the big picture, to read every part in light of the whole.  It also means we have to have a concept of progress.  The story of the Bible is the story of God interacting with imperfect people and leading them a step at a time a little closer to where thy need to be.  If we forget this, we will stumble over details along the way, and we may even interpret Scripture in a way that does harm.