Friday night on March 30, writher John Blake at CNN wrote a ridiculous article about how Easter is a #MeToo moment. In case you’re not familiar with it, #MeToo is a hashtag used on social media encouraging women to speak up about sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. If they’ve experienced it and nothing’s been done about it, women write some liberal minded Facebook or Twitter status about the issue with #MeToo at the end of it. Never mind the fact that men are victims of sexual harassment from both men and women, but they’re forgotten in this movement.
Anyway, Blake’s reasoning for Easter becoming a #MeToo moment begins right off with Luke 24:11, “but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and [the disciples] did not believe [the women].” To this, Blake says, “The men refused to listen to [Mary Magdalene’s] story. She was publicly smeared as a whore. And when she emerged as a celebrated advocate, powerful men tried to silence her because she threatened their status.” Tell me, Blake, where in the narrative does it say that?
First of all, Scripture never says Mary Magdalene was a prostitute; it simply says seven demons were cast from her (Luke 8:2). Her being a prostitute is just a wrongful assumption the Catholic Church has made, which is an assumption Blake is wrongfully committing too. Sir, how dare you assume her to be a prostitute just because she’s a woman! Mary Magdalene, along with other women, financially provided for Jesus’ ministry out of her own means (Luke 8:1-3). Clearly, she was quite wealthy to do so. A prostitute in first century Rome could not do this by any means. Prostitutes were among the poor.
Second, in what way were the disciples “powerful men,” and how was Magdalene’s testimony “threatening their status”? The disciples were not powerful men according to the norms of society by any means. They were disciples of Jesus, for crying out loud. They left their wealth behind to follow Him. Most of all, they were considered sinners (i.e. social outcasts) for being followers of Jesus and claiming Him to be the Son of God. So, with Mary testifying of Jesus’ resurrection, how in the world was she “threatening their status” when they had no status before the world to begin with?
Third, the text does not say the disciples didn’t believe her because she was a woman. In fact, the text doesn’t say why they didn’t believe her in the first place. Yet from another text, we know why they didn’t believe her. In Luke 18:31-34, Jesus tells the disciples He’s going to die and rise from the dead, “but they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” So, the disciples didn’t believe Mary not because she was a woman, but because they did not understand Jesus’ message in the first place. The disciples were bound not to believe Jesus was resurrected from the dead regardless of who told them because they were predisposed not to believe. Their not believing Mary literally has nothing to do with her being a woman and neither does it have anything to do with their non-existent status.
Blake notes “how charismatic leaders such as Mary Magdalene… were victimized by some of the same behavior that sparked the #MeToo movement: the sexually predatory behavior of men, the intimidation of women and an orchestrated attempt to silence women who drew too much attention when they spoke up.” This is true of first century Rome. How both men and the Roman State treated women was horrible. For Blake, however, he sees the #MeToo movement in Magdalene’s apparent “slut-shaming,” but as I’ve already noted, she could not have been a prostitute because of her financial means and the Scriptures never depict people “slut-shaming” her.
Blake quotes from Claire L. Sahlin, associate dean and professor of multicultural women’s and gender studies at Texas Woman’s University (red flag!), “Mary Magdalene also was a victim of men in authority who used their power to silence her voice.” Again, where in the biblical text is this? Yes, the disciples didn’t believe her, but as I’ve already shown, their unbelief had absolutely nothing to do with her gender. If anything, Sahlin’s academic position is a red flag for her bias and lack of theological scrutiny.
Blake then asks, “Is it possible to see the Easter story through the lens of the #MeToo movement, or are some pastors and theologians twisting the central story of Christianity to fit a ‘feminist theology’?” As you can guess, Blake supports the former, also bringing up no longer referring to God has “He” or “Father.” Sorry to break it to you, Blake (and CNN), but Jesus’ resurrection has nothing to do with with your liberal social cause. It’s also ironic that in wanting to be tolerant of peoples’ gender identities, at the same time liberals are being intolerant of God’s preferred gender, which is “He” and “Father.” Sorry to break it to you, but Jesus identifies as a man and God prefers to call Himself a “He” and has chosen to relate to us as our heavenly Father.
Blake surprisingly does get some historical-cultural context right. He says, “Skepticism of women was literally enshrined in the law; a woman’s testimony didn’t count in Jewish court during Jesus’ time.” He quotes from Richard Bauckham, “In the ancient world, women were thought to be credulous and gullible, especially in religious matters.” This is absolutely right. The eyewitness testimony of women was thought to be less reliable than a thief’s in first century Rome. Yet it wasn’t just the Jews who thought this; it was also the Gentiles—the Romans.
This is what makes the resurrection story so trustworthy, though. For Blake, he is placing a modern social movement into an ancient situation (i.e. eisegesis)—that the women were not believed because of their status as women. Again, as I’ve shown, the disciples’ unbelief had nothing to do with their being women. What makes the women’s involvement in the resurrection story so amazing is the fact that Jesus really did appear to the women first and called them to be His first witnesses.
This fact was kept in the gospels, which were written by men. If the disciples really did feel their status was being threatened by the women’s testimony, don’t you think they would’ve changed the account and said they were the first witnesses? No, they didn’t. So, a) this shows the reliability of the resurrection being true since the gospel writers kept it in the account, and b) this shows that their not believing the women had nothing to do with their gender and status as men since they did not alter the account to make themselves look better. He notes this a little later but his error is approaching it from the completely wrong angle. (Also, how dare he assume their genders! What if these women didn’t identify as women? It’s just an assumption the male gospel writers make. Hint: I am mocking liberalism.)
Blake quotes from Sahlin again, “Women’s roles have been downplayed in the New Testament. When women are mentioned, they are often not named.” Blake agrees with this, saying, “Consider some of the most famous New Testament stories. We know the names of many of the men Jesus encountered during his itinerant ministry: Zacchaeus, the diminutive tax collector; Jairus, the heartbroken synagogue ruler; and Nicodemus, the inquisitive Pharisee. But the Gospels name virtually none of the women Jesus encountered. They are instead identified by descriptions such as ‘the woman with the issue of blood,’ ‘the Samaritan women at the well’ and the ‘woman caught in adultery.'”
Blake uses this “problem” to connect it to the #MeToo movement, saying, “One of the difficulties some women face when they come forward today is their tormentors have names, but they don’t. Many of them suffered in silence for years because their tormentors had name recognition and wealth. And some of those men used that imbalance of power to intimidate the women into silence.”
Okay, I get that, Blake. That’s a real problem today that needs to be addressed with the utmost seriousness. Sure, there are some unnamed women in the New Testament (as there are men), but how is that indicative of sexual harassment and abuse? And how is that indicative of women inferiority? There some significant women in the New Testament who are named, which he conveniently left out:
- Anna the prophetess, who prophesied of the infant Jesus to all (Luke 2:36-38).
- Claudia, who accompanied Paul in Rome (2 Timothy 4:21).
- Damaris, who joined Paul’s ministry after hearing him preach (Acts 17:34).
- Elisabeth, who gave birth to John the Baptist (Luke 1).
- Eunice, who was a disciple of Paul and mother of Timothy (Acts 16:1; 2 Timothy 1:5).
- Lois, Timothy’s grandmother and one of Paul’s most trusted assistants (2 Timothy 1:5). She also taught her family the faith.
- Lydia, “a seller of purple goods” and “a worshiper of God,” and she provided hospitality for some of the disciples (Acts 16:14-15, 40), thus putting herself in harm’s way of Rome.
- Phoebe, who was also an assistant of Paul (Romans 16:1-2).
- Rhoda (Rose), who was praying with others (probably for Peter to be delivered from prison), and was joyous at Peter’s arrival to their home (Acts 12:13-15).
- Tabitha/Dorcus, who was a woman “full of good works and acts of charity” (Acts 9:36-42).
- Tryphaena and Tryphosa, who were “workers in the Lord” (Romans 16:12). What their ministerial labour was, we don’t know, so use your imagination.
- Junia, whom Paul calls his “kinsman” and “fellow prisoner,” who was well known to the apostles, and whom he admits was in Christ before him (Romans 16:7). (Blake happens to mention her, but that’s it.)
I know I’m forgetting other named women, such as Chloe (1 Corinthians 1:11), but you get the point. Their roles may not be as “glamourous” as, say, being a pastor, since women aren’t called to be pastors (1 Timothy 2:12-14), but so what? And who says being a pastor is glamourous? I’m still studying to be a pastor, and let me tell you, it’s not glamourous! In the named women described above, we see how God uses them in extraordinary, different, complementary, and beautiful ways. Most of their roles might be in supportive roles, but again, so what? What can anyone do without support? Exactly: nothing. The fact that God created women for supportive roles in relation to men does not denigrate them as Blake claims, but is really a high, honourable thing. After all, Jesus highly values the role of a servant, and He came into this world a servant.
In some of the names mentioned, we see how some of the women accompanied Paul. Blake notes this and asks, “But how can that Paul—who celebrated women as Apostles and declared in Galatians 3:28 that there is neither ‘male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’—be reconciled with the Paul who says in other parts of the New Testament that ‘women should remain silent in churches’ and that if they had a question ‘they should ask their own husbands at home’? That’s because they’re not the same Paul, says John Dominic Crossan, a New Testament scholar.”
There are several things to address here. First, Galatians 3:28 is not equalling male and female socioeconomically. All of Blake’s errors have to do with not paying attention to context, and this text is a big one. In the context of Galatians 3:28, Paul is talking about who has access to salvation in Christ. Paul says, “But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian [the law], for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:25-29).
According to Blake, since “there is no male or female,” then that must mean God doesn’t see gender. If that were true, then God would not have created men and women to function in fundamentally different ways whether biologically, psychologically, and yes, even in church affairs. Blake’s major theological error, as already mentioned, is that he’s not paying attention to context. He is reading into the text what he wants it to mean rather than sticking with what the text is actually saying. So, what is the text saying?
Paul was writing to the Galatian Church, to whom he was saying they are all sons of God through the same faith, since they have all been baptised in Christ regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, and gender. Paul is not saying there are no longer any differences between these two things in the world, but that when it comes to salvation in Christ, every single person has access to it regardless of who they are. So, we still function differently as men and women in this world (and there are still only two genders since God created the two and created them to function in fundamentally different was). But when it comes to access to salvation in Christ, it is available to all in the same way regardless of race, socioeconomic status, and gender, which is by faith in Christ.
Second, in the context of Paul saying women should remain silent in churches and such, he was writing in the context of public worship (1 Timothy 1-3). This is where he mandates with his apostolic authority given to him by Christ that in public worship, women are not permitted to be pastors, and this is according to the order of creation, not because of some patriarchal sense Paul had (1 Timothy 2:13-14).
Third, as far as those sayings not being from the same Paul, this is not completely true. If you do the work yourself and read about Paul’s ministry in Acts and cross reference that to his epistles, it is really easy to see that it’s the same Paul. Anyone can do it. Yet I concede we do have to take in some questionable considerations of Paul’s authorship. There are some epistles that biblical scholars question to be of Pauline origin. The ones that Blake paraphrased from are from Galatians and 1 Timothy, so I’ll only briefly discuss those two.
Biblical scholars do not dispute the authorship of Galatians, but some do question whether or not 1 Timothy was forged. The questioning, however, has nothing to do with Paul’s supposed patriarchal thinking, but rather because his focus is abnormal from his other epistles. In 1 Timothy, he has new concerns about doctrine and practice not present in many of his other epistles, and even his vocabulary, style, and Pauline themes are different. This doesn’t mean it wasn’t written by Paul since any person can change their style, language, and themes as they so choose.
Just compare any devotion I’ve written on this blog with my academic papers and it’ll look like two different people wrote the same documents. Someone 2,000 years from now could compare devotions attributed to me with my academic papers and could very well say, “The styles, use of language, and themes between the two are vastly different. Therefore, it must’ve been different Ricky Beckett’s at this point in time!” See how absurd that sounds? It is ridiculous to suggest that Paul, as a talented and proficient writer and orator, couldn’t at any moment change his style, language, and usual themes as he so chooses. One could also compare the style, language, and themes of a pastor’s sermons during Lent with those of Pentecost and come to the same conclusion! Anyway, the questioning is there, but a) it’s not for the same reasons Blake claims, and b) it has yet to be proven.
We must also consider New Testament scholars’ Carson and Moo’s note. In their section on Paul as apostle and theologian, they make the distinction between the essence and specifics/form of Paul’s theology. The essence is that Jesus of Nazareth really was the Son of God, was raised from the dead, and was crucified for God’s salvific purposes; this was revealed to Paul at his conversion on his way to Damascus. The specifics/form are the “historical details,” theological terminology, and interpretations of the Gospel in light of the Hebrew Scriptures; this is what was passed down to Paul from the other apostles (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-3).
Furthermore, Carson and Moo note, “[W]e can identify within Paul’s letters various early Christian creedal formulations, hymns, and traditional catechetical material. Unusual vocabulary, rhythmic and poetic patterns, and un-Pauline theological emphases are the criteria used to identify early Christian traditions that Paul may have quoted” (371). Because of this, terms and theological emphases that are not common to Paul (such as in Philippians 2:6-11) can easily be attributed to what Paul had learnt from his apostolic colleagues, showing to his original readers and hearers his agreement with other apostolic doctrine.
Blake continues his article on and on about supposed #MeToo connections to the resurrection story. What I have covered up to now should suffice. But let me make it irrevocably clear: The resurrection story is not about Mary Magdalene or women’s rights; the resurrection story is about Jesus Christ and His resurrection being the final blow to the serpent’s head. Yes, Mary Magdalene and other women were the first witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, and that has tremendous implications. Among those implications, as I have shown, has nothing to do with man’s superior complex nor with sexual harassment and assault. It is a remarkable thing indeed that Jesus chose women to be His first witnesses, but the disciples not believing them has nothing to do with their status as women, but has everything to do with their not understanding Jesus’ message. So, it would not have made a difference who told them. After all, Jesus Himself appeared to Thomas, and Thomas still would not believe unless He touched Jesus’ wounds!
Sorry to break it to you, Blake, but Jesus’ resurrection has nothing to do with the #MeToo movement. Jesus’ resurrection has everything to do with the redemption of mankind, regardless of race, gender, and socioeconomic status. Is sexual harassment and assault a serious problem in the workforce? Of course it is. I’m not denying that. What I am denying is that this somehow has anything to do with Jesus’ resurrection and the events that followed. The point of the resurrection is not whom Jesus appeared to first; the point of the resurrection is that Jesus rose from the freaking dead!
Blake is making a point for the #MeToo movement by completely missing the point of the resurrection: Jesus died for you and me and He rose from the dead for you and me. Have you faced injustice? Jesus faced injustice for you. Your injustice and all your sins were laid on the cross and died with Christ, His blood covering your injustice and all your sins. If you have faced sexual harassment and assault in the workplace like I have, I am so sorry. I feel for you. I know what it’s like. Fortunately, there are ways to address that with our laws that are in place. I honestly wish I could take those troubles away, but One greater than I has already done that.
Do not be misled by Blake and his feminist theology. Jesus’ resurrection is not a time for you to bask in the glory of your womanhood (as great as women are). Jesus’ resurrection is a time for confession and absolution—confession of our guilt that our sins put the Son of God on the cross, and absolution that in the blood of Christ God forgives us all our sins. Most of all, Jesus’ resurrection is a time of rejoicing—rejoicing that our Lord and Saviour rose from the dead so that you and I may share in a similar resurrection as He (Romans 6:3-5).
If you have faced injustice, hear Jesus’ invitation, “Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Let Him hear your tears; He will provide comfort and vengeance as He so chooses.
Jesus knows injustice. He knows abuse. And He died with all your troubles laid on Him, and He rose from the dead setting you free from all those troubles.
Featured image by Jan Brueghel or Breughel the Younger (1601-1678) and Hendrick van Balen.
Carson, D.A. and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.