Nijay K. Gupta, Tell Her Story: How Women Led, Taught, and Ministered in the Early Church

Gupta, Nijay K. Foreword by Beth Allison Barr. Tell Her Story: How Women Led, Taught, and Ministered in the Early Church. IVP Academic, 2023. xi+209 pp. Pb. $24.00   Link to IVP Academic  

Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary, Nijay K. Gupta is a well-known Pauline scholar. He contributed commentaries on 10-2 Thessalonians and Philippians, the Zondervan Critical Introduction to 1-2 Thessalonians (2019), Paul and the Language of Faith (Eerdmans, 2020), A Beginner’s Guide to New Testament Studies: Understanding Key Debates (Baker Academic, 2022; reviewed here) and served as Associate Editor of the second edition of the Dictionary of Paul and his Letters (IVP Academic, 2023; reviewed here). In this

Gupta, Tell Her Story

As Gupta explains in the introduction, this book is “not an attempt at some form of revisionist history.” But it does challenge what he calls “the little house on the Prairie perspective” on the early church: the idea that women were at home doing women’s work while the men were outside hunting or doing manly work (3). The book is also not a comprehensive handbook dealing with all the women in the New Testament nor everything we can possibly know about women in ancient Judaism or the Greco-Roman world. His goal is to present to readers some of the evidence for the New Testament supporting the idea that women were, in fact, leaders and teachers in the early church.

The first two chapters deal with the Old Testament. He begins with the judge Deborah (chapter 1) before examing the relationship between man and woman in Genesis 1-3 (chapter 2). Why begin with Deborah? As a judge and prophet, she defies stereotypes (10). But was she a spiritual leader for Israel? Gupta argues that she was indeed a spiritual leader, having the same basic role as Joshua 16. He collects comments from pseudo-Philo, Josephus, rabbinic literature, Theodoret, and Calvin (who was left speechless by Deborah). With respect to questions like, “Can a woman…?” Or “Is a woman allowed…?” Deborah could and did, and God was behind her leadership over Israel (19). Looking at Genesis 1-3, Gupta observes that these chapters do not teach “men lead, and women follow.” A faithful reading of the creation story sees Adam and Eve’s relationship as “a harmonious partnership unraveled by sin” (29). The way back to this relationship is through Jesus, not hierarchy.

Chapter 3 summarizes what we know about women’s role in the New Testament world. He challenges the idea that the Roman world limited opportunities for women. The Roman Empire was neither feminist nor egalitarian, but it was not the harsh patriarchy it is sometimes described as in popular literature on women in leadership. Gupta argues that social class was more important. Women at higher levels of society had important roles in society. A woman could become a powerful patron and have an influential role in society. In the first century, Roman women were not under the authority of their husbands. They could own property and did not live private lives in hidden away in their home. In fact, homes were far more public space than in the modern world. He offers a few examples from the Jewish world (Tobit, Sirach, Susanna, Judith) and some inscriptional evidence indicating that women could serve in the role of leader of a synagogue.

Chapter 4 briefly surveys the role of women in Jesus’s life and ministry, beginning with his mother, Mary. He discusses the roles women played in Jesus’s ministry and asks, “did Jesus have women disciples?” Certainly, there were no women in the Twelve Apostles. But Mary Magdalene acts as an apostle (John 20:8). The Eastern Church calls Mary Magdalene equal to the apostles (63). If a disciple is a learner, then obviously, Jesus’s disciples included women.

The book’s second part focuses on women leaders in the early church. Chapter 5 describes what early churches were like. Although there are some similarities to synagogues or other voluntary associations in the Greco-Roman world, there are many differences. For example, he points out that the early church lacked a “pyramid-like organization” with a single leader at the top (78). He briefly surveys the leaders mentioned in Paul’s letters (deacons, episkopos, and presbuteros). Gupta argues that there is no explicit prohibition on women in these roles (92).

Gupta includes two appendices on the passages which appear to prohibit women from certain roles in the church. For most readers, these appendices will be the most controversial parts of the book. Gupta suggests we avoid judging New Testament household codes by our twenty-first-century ideas and ideals. Early Christians were not in a position to make public statements that directly challenged Roman social order. Paul’s interest was in transforming relationships through Jesus Christ Rather than transforming Roman culture. For this reason, we ought to use caution when applying mutual submission in the Pauline letters to contemporary marriage and leadership roles.

Chapters 6-9 discuss the women who worked shoulder to shoulder with men in the hard work of the ministry 93. Chapter 6 covers Paul’s co-laborers mentioned in Romans 16: 3-16; Philippi (Lydia, Acts 16:11-40; Eudoia and Syntyche, Phail 4:2-3), and other women in the Lycus valley (Apphia, Philemon 2; Nympha, Col 4:15).  Chapter 7 describes Phoebe as Paul’s trusted proxy. She is a deacon (not a deaconess), although Gupta prefers the titles “ministry provider” (116) and benefactor (118). Paul chose Phoebe to deliver the Letter of Romans to the church in Rome. She publicly read the letter to the congregation and interpreted Romans for the church. This implies Phoebe was specifically trained for her role representing Paul.

Chapter 8 focuses on Prisca, a strategic church leader and expert teacher. Gupta argues that she was a prominent teacher, citing Chrysostom (135). For example, she invited Apollos into her home and instructed him there. Gupta thinks this invitation into their home implies the home was their church (138). It is certainly not the case that Aquilla instructed Apollos while Prisca was making refreshments in the kitchen!

Chapter 9 discusses the controversial role of Junia, mentioned in Romans 16:7. Gupta describes her as a “venerated apostle and imprisoned hero.” Until the twentieth century, scholarship considered Junia to be a man (and Andronicus was his brother) to avoid the implication that there was a female apostle. However, several recent studies have proven beyond a doubt that Junia is a female name, and she is called an apostle along with her husband, Andronicus. Paul calls Junia a “fellow prisoner,” implying she had been arrested and imprisoned (like Paul) for preaching Jesus.

Based on his study, Gupta makes several conclusions. First, God’s people have always needed wise, faithful, and brave women. Women of all kinds encouraged Jesus and his people. Paul preached harmony between man and woman in both the home and the church and he relied on numerous women as leaders as co-workers in his gospel mission. Independently powerful women existed in the Greco-Roman world, and they existed in the early church as well. Paul did not see any deficiency of intellect, skill, or morality in women.

Conclusion: Gupta’s Tell Her Story is an engaging study of women in the early church. The style is personal and not overly technical, so the layperson will be comfortable with the book.  Given the modest goals of this book, some readers may be left wanting more details. Footnotes point to more detailed studies, but there is no recommended reading section or bibliography. Gupta avoids the language of “women in ministry” (egalitarian and complementarian). Because he focuses on the biblical text, he generally tries to stay out of the often-explosive arguments on the ordination of women. Yet the point is clear: God has always used women as leaders and continues to do so today.

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. I purchased the Logos edition. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Sue Edwards and Kelley Mathews, 40 Questions Women in Ministry

Edwards, Sue, and Kelley Mathews, 40 Questions Women in Ministry. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2022. Pb. 332 pp. $24.99.  Link to Kregel

Sue Edwards is associate professor of educational ministry and leadership at Dallas Theological Seminary and has extensive experience teaching, pastoring, and directing women’s ministries. Kelley Mathews is a freelance writer and editor and former women’s ministry leader. She has a blog at Patheos, although it has been dormant since June 2021.

40 Questions about Women in MinistryAs with other volumes in Kregel Academic’s 40 Question series, this book is a collection of short essays grouped into four categories. Like most of these kinds of books, Edwards and Mathews do not solve these difficult problems. In fact, that is not their goal. “Gifted and godly scholars disagree on whether women can lead the church (291). Since not everything is solved, they encourage the reader to keep on wrestling with these issues” (292).

Readers can often tell something about a book by the list of abbreviations. In this case, four books appear so often in the forty chapters than they merit inclusion on abbreviations page: Phillip Payne, Man and Woman: One in Christ (Zondervan 2009), Discovering Biblical Equality (IVP Academic 2021), Wayne Grudem’s Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth (Crossway 2012) and Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (ed. By Grudem and Piper, Crossway, 2021). These represent two important works on each side of the evangelical debate on women in ministry. And that is exactly what this collection of essays is, a thoroughly evangelical discussion of a raging debate over a woman’s role in ministry. However, the authors do not grind on either of the discussion. In the introduction, they are quite clear under the heading “our hesitation to align with warring factions.” Both sides of this debate have a high view of scripture and use the tools of scholarship in a way that respects the message of the Bible. For the authors of this collection, “women in ministry” is not an essential issue that merits the description “heretic” if you disagree with the other side (29).

The first two questions and answers deal with terminology. Edwards and Mathews reject the usual terminology of egalitarian and complementarian as “misleading and reductionistic.” These terms do not reflect their real distinct differences between the sides in this debate. Instead of complementarian, they prefer the term “hierarchy” because this position believes that the church functions better if men make the decisions. Men ought to lead in the home, so men should lead the church. This position believes this because that is the Bible’s teaching. Instead of egalitarian, they prefer the term “Heterarchy.” In this view, God has not ordained permanent roles. God gives gifts to both men and women and the Bible does not teach there is a divine order for men to lead the home. If a reader is familiar with common terminology in this debate, it will be important to read these first two chapters because they use the language of hierarchy and heterarchy throughout the book. (Mea culpa: I skipped ahead to the controversial chapters and did not know what they were talking about until I  returned to the introductory chapters!)

There are eight questions and answers dealing with Old Testament issues, including the image of God and the role of women in the genesis creation story. Perhaps the key here is understanding the Hebrew idea of a “helper” in the creation account. These chapters also deal with what we can learn from women leaders in the Old Testament and a discussion of the “Proverbs 31 woman.”

The next series of questions and answers concern the role of women in Jesus’s ministry, and in the Book of Acts. Important here is the role of Priscilla in correcting Apollos’s theology. Is Priscilla a coworker of her husband? Is she teaching in private? Or is she a co-teacher in a local church?

The most controversial texts on women in ministry come from the epistles, so this collection devotes ten chapters to Paul and one to Peter. One chapter discusses the women in Romans 16. The big debate in church history has always been whether Junia is a male or a female, and if she is a female, is she an apostle? They do an excellent job covering this issue, but I think the role of Phoebe’s as a patron and likely deliverer of the Book of Romans is just as key to this discussion.

The most controversial texts in Paul merit several chapters. There are two chapters on the meaning of head and what does it mean for a woman to “cover her head.” They debate three chapters to 1 Timothy 2:11-15, including one the troublesome question of what it means for a woman to be saved during childbearing. One chapter covers Paul’s command for women to submit to their husbands Ephesians 5: 21 and another on 1 Peter 3:7 which describes women as the “weaker vessel.”

The question on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 in important, although frustratingly brief. Evangelical interprets share many of the same assumptions about the authority of Scripture and use virtually the same hermeneutics but have a wide range of opinions on the meaning of the Greek authentein, to exercise authority. The problem, of course, is that this word only appears in this one passage in the New Testament and there are entire books written on the meaning of this word. Edwards and Mathews provide an excellent summary of the two sides in this debate and provide a list of issues that need to be examined. Of primary importance is the importance of the background of 1 Timothy. Is Paul referring to a specific issue in emphasis at the time? Often, heterarchists (the position formerly known as egalitarians) will point to the activity of the cult of Artemis as an important factor in understanding Paul’s prohibition for women to exercise authority over men. Women coming to faith from the Artemis cult were exercising leadership before they were fully discipled in sound doctrine. Hierarchists (the position formerly known as complementarians) understand the background differently, pointing out that the leadership of the Artemis cult was male.

The final section of the book covers several practical issues: Should women serve as Deacons? Elders? Priests? Pastors? To a certain extent, the answer depends on the faith community. It is hard to imagine a traditional Roman Catholic asking if a woman can serve as a priest, but some evangelical denominations allow women to serve as deacons and elders. One of the last questions has been a discussion in my church. Should women working in church ministry be called “pastors” or “directors”? Finally, Misty Hendrick responds to the question, “What can be done to make church and other ministries is safer for women?”

Chapters are brief but well-documented. Footnotes provide resources for readers who want to go deeper than the format of the book permits (and point students writing papers on these topics to key scholarship). Each chapter ends with a few reflection questions. The book concludes with a select bibliography of key studies on women in ministry.

Conclusion. In 40 Questions about Women in Ministry, Edwards and Mathews attempt to open dialog between two very different approaches to these issues. The book does not claim to definitively answer these questions but points the way to what should be peaceful and profitable discussions of how women can serve in ministry in the local church. As they conclude, “for too long, many conservative churches have focused on what women can’t do in the church and home instead of considering what they can do. One consequence is that women, especially young women, are the largest demographic exiting churches today” (278).

Bonus: Church Answers podcast At The Table with Sue Edwards and Kelley Mathews

Reviews of other books in this series:

NB: Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Ben Witherington, Priscilla: The Life of an Early Christian

Witherington III, Ben. Priscilla: The Life of an Early Christian. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2018. 194 pgs., Pb.; $20.00 Link to IVP

This new novel by Ben Witherington III is similar to both Paula Gooder’s Phoebe (IVP Academic, 2019) and the Week in the Life series also published by IVP Academic. Witherington is well known from his many commentaries and other scholarly work, but he has written several novels (A Week in the Life of Corinth (IVP Academic 2012) and the five volumes of the Art West series (The Lazarus Effect, Wipf & Stock, 2008) written with his wife Ann Witherington.

Priscilla is similar in format to the Week in the Life series in that there are numerous illustrations throughout the text. Almost all of these photographs are from wikicommons. There are no sidebars like the Week in the Life series, making the text easier to read. Most chapters begin with a quote from Scripture or some contemporary Roman writer.

The novel introduces Prisca at the end of her life reflecting on her experiences in Rome and Corinth. At the insistence of her daughter Julia she dictates her memories beginning from Pentecost. Since there are no details in the New Testament of Prisca’s life, Witherington must create a likely story to draw the reading into the world of early Christianity and first-century Rome. Both Priscilla and Aquila were present at Pentecost, but their marriage was not arranged until they had returned to Rome. Witherington follows the common suggestion that Priscilla was from a higher social class than Aquila, in fact she was a citizen in this novel. They are active in Roman synagogues, resulting in public disputes over who Jesus was. Claudius banished them from Rome because of “riots over Chrestus” (Acts 18:1-2). After a time of ministry in Ephesus Prisca returns to Rome. She survives the Great Fire and Neronian persecution but the sub-plot of the book concerns a summons to appear before Domitian.

After writing several Socio-rhetorical commentaries on New Testament books, Witherington has enough background knowledge of the Roman world to fill out the details of Priscilla’s life. H acknowledges Alberto Angela, A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome: Daily Life, Mysteries, and Curiosities (Europa, 2009). I read this entertaining primer on the Roman world several years ago. Angela covers many of the elements of daily life larger histories overlook. Witherington works many of these cultural elements into the novel to give the reader a glimpse into everyday life of a Roman woman.

There are a number of small side comments in the book which reflect some decision by a New Testament scholar. For example, in the novel, Paul recommended Priscilla set her slaves free (reflecting the hope of many New Testament scholars that Paul would have privately condemned slavery). He refers to Thecla as an itinerant prophetess (giving Witherington a chance to talk about prophets in the early church). Thecla is known from a second century apocryphal book, The Acts of Paul and Thecla and an intriguing fresco at Ephesus. At one point in the book Prisca and Julia discuss Nero as possibly the anti-chrestus, “the one called 666” (p. 123). opportunity for Witherington to explain gematria (even reflecting the textual variant of 616 for the mark of the beast).  After Paul arrives in Rome, he writes several letters (the prison epistles), and is released, following the traditional conservative view of the history of Paul after Acts.

Conclusion: As with novels of this kind, there is a tension between a desire to create a compelling plot and the need to slip in details from the New Testament and Roman history. The story is less “the life of Priscilla” than a series of vignettes illustrating the usual sub-plot of early Christianity in Ephesus and Rome. Priscilla is like Forrest Gump, witnessing cultural and historical events. There is no detail in the book I would seriously dispute and the book illustrates life in the Roman world. Readers who enjoy the Week in the Life series will also enjoy Priscilla: The Life of an Early Christian even if the focus is not Priscilla’s life.

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Paula Gooder, Phoebe

Gooder, Paula. Phoebe. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2018. 308 pgs., Pb.; $22.00 Link to IVP

Like IVP’s Week in the Life series, Paula Gooder’s Phoebe illuminates the world of first century Christianity by a story written by a serious academic scholar. Gooder is the Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral and has taught Ripon College Cuddesdon and The Queen’s Foundation. Her Ph.D. dissertation was published as Only the Third Heaven?: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 and Heavenly Ascent (T & T Clark, 2006).

In the brief introduction to the notes on the novel, Gooder explains her book is an experiment in historical imagination and not a novel (p. 225). A novel, she says is a carefully crafted a story which goes wherever the imagination leads. Since her book is restrained by historical reality and aims to both inform and entertain, it is not really a novel. She wants to prod the reader’s imagination and invite them into the word of the first century.

Gooder selects the tantalizing reference in Romans 16:1 to “Phoebe the Deaconess of the church at Cenchreae” (or servant, depending on your translation) and develops a story around her. This is therefore an opportunity for her to address the often difficult problem of Paul’s attitude towards women found in 2 Timothy 2:9-15 or 1 Corinthians 14:33-36. Gooder encourages the readers to read the “tricky” passages in the light of the roles women played in Pauline churches (p. 228). Phoebe is one of several women who played key roles in early Christian communities. Although this book does not make an argument for the role of women in church leadership in a modern context, it “reflects the view I hold. If you disagree you are unlikely to enjoy what follows” (p. 229).

In the book, Gooder follows the common view that Phoebe was the courier for the Letter to the Romans, Prisca and Aquila led house churches and Junia was a woman prominent among the apostles. Phoebe was a deacon at Cenchrea and a “benefactor of many” (προστάτις, a patron rather than helper). Both are titles which ought to evoke respect from the Roman community as they received the letter from Paul delivered by Phoebe.

The story itself is just over 200 pages, the final 81 pages are notes on the story. I will not spoil the story, but like most of these sorts of scholarly novels, we meet many of the expected characters, Prisca and Aquila, Junia, Andronicus, and the apostles Peter and Paul make appearances as well. There are sections where it seems obvious wants to work in some Roman cultural issue where perhaps a novelist would not, but the story is well written and entertaining.

The notes are much more extensive than the Week in the Life series. In those books additional material is inserted into the flow of the novel through side-bars and illustrations. Phoebe saves all the notes to the final section of the book. There are no footnotes or references to distract from the novel itself, making the book easier to read as a novel. My strategy was to read all the notes before the novel since I was interested in Gooder’s views on Phoebe. One could read a chapter in the novel then read corresponding notes for the chapter.

The book will be a good introduction for readers interested in the background of the Roman world and early Christianity. Many will be attracted to the book for what it contributes to the role of women in the early church, either enjoying it or disliking it depending on one’s presuppositions. This is unfortunate, but Gooder’s book will certainly stimulate discussions of the role of woman in the ancient and modern church.

Other books in the Week in the Life series:

NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Book Review: Sandra Glahn, Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible

Glahn, Sandra, ed. Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2017, 303 pp. Hb; $22.99. Link to Kregel

There are quite a few books series and Bible studies on the so-called “bad girls” of the Bible. These are usually written for the layperson and emphasize grace and forgiveness as the main application of these kinds of stories. In the preface to this new collection of essays from Kregel Academic, editor Sandra Glahn indicates the motivation for this book is “to handle faithfully the biblical text” (13). This is in contrast to fanciful novels or popular Bible studies on female characters in the Bible, but it also is a challenge to popular preaching about these women. Glahn cites as examples blaming Eve for the guilt of the human race, or blaming Sarah for the political tensions in the modern Middle East. Popular preachers can make a great sermon by “maligning” Bathsheba as a “vixen” or the Samaritan women as an adulterer, or Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. Other women are marginalized. Glahn notes the omission of Deborah and Huldah from charts of the prophets in some study Bibles, or (I would add) the translation of “servant” in the ESV instead of “deacon” (NRSV) in Romans 16:1 as well as the always controversial status of Junia in Romans 16:7.

The essays in this collection hopes to correct popular misconceptions about some women in the Bible by paying careful attention to the cultural and social context as well as the literary form of the biblical text. Other than a generally conservative view of Scripture, there is nothing controversial about this method. What might be surprising to some readers is how often the portrayal of these women in popular preaching and teaching is skewed or just plain wrong. In his short methodology introduction to the book, Henry Rouse points out the essays in this collection seek to explain what the text actually says in order to understand the point the original author made. Yet there are “timeless truths” with are relevant to a contemporary discussion of gender (25-6). In each of the essays, the authors devote space to understanding the social and cultural factors which bear on their exegesis of the text and attempt understand the text as it might have been by an ancient audience.

These methodological values are found in each chapter, but I will focus on Sarah Bowler’s article on Bathsheba. She begins by listing several of the popular assumptions about the story: Bathsheba was bathing naked and caused the king to stumble, and she willingly entered into an affair with the king. In contrast, Bowler argues the text does not portray Bathsheba as enticing the king at all, rather, David abused his power as the king to bring her to into the palace where he raped Bathsheba. By describing the incident as an “affair” makes both David and Bathsheba responsible, but a close reading of the biblical text indicates Bathsheba is silent throughout the story and is a victim of rape by David. For some Bible readers, it is disturbing to describe the incident as a rape, but this is what the text says. Bowler supports this reading of the text with a series of exegetical observations from the text of the Hebrew Bible. She then draws several implications for ministry, especially for helping victims of sexual predators in the church (98-100).

The first section of this book treats the so-called “bad girls” in the Jesus’s genealogy (Luke 4). These women are involved in a sexually compromising story, or at least that is the common reading of these stories. . Yet, as the authors of each of the essays makes clear, the woman are far more moral than the men. For example, in Carolyn Custis James essay on Tamar, she describes her as “the righteous prostitute.” Few pastors would dare preach the story in Genesis 38, but James argues Tamar is a strong exemplary model who is vindicated by God (46) and is a startling example of a hero (48). Eva Bleeker argues Rahab, the prostitute of Jericho, is a “paragon of otherness” (50) who becomes the hero of the story when she confesses her faith in the Lord, the God of Israel (53). Marnie Legaspi discusses the potentially scandalous behavior of Ruth, a Moabite woman who seems to throw herself at the feet of the Boaz, a wealthy Bethlehemite. Legaspi rejects the overtly sexual interpretation of Ruth’s actions, suggesting Ruth is a model of “virtuous obedience” (73) as she “demonstrates astonishing courage in her obedience on the threshing floor” (79). Timothy Ralston’s essay on the Virgin Mary at least seems out of place in the volume since rarely would anyone dare to describe Mary as a “vixen.” But Ralston is interested in the marginalization of the biblical Mary by the overwhelming history of theological speculation about Mary. He has in mind the Immaculate Conception and bodily assumption of Mary as well as her role as co-redemptrix in Roman Catholic theology.

The second section of the book (ch. 6-11) surveys six women in the Old Testament. Glenn Kreider’s essay on Eve deals with non-biblical readings of Genesis 2-3 which paint Eve as the “mother of all seducers” and make Eve responsible for sin entering the human race. Although there are many examples of this in both Jewish and Christian history, Kreider cites popular preacher John Piper who described the “power of a sinful woman to control a sinful man” (133). Kreider rightly points out Eve is not blamed for sin in the New Testament, although he only touches on the very difficult problem text in 1 Tim 2:12-14. Eugene Merrill places the story of Sarah and Hagar in the proper ancient near eastern context in order to show her actions fit into that patriarchal culture. Tony Maalouf examines the other female character in Genesis 12-16, Hagar. Hagar is both a slave and a concubine, yet unlike Sarah she encounters God, receives a promise God that her son would also be a father of a great nation.  Ron Pierce discusses the only female judge, Deborah. As with most of the women discussed in this collection Deborah is a strong female character in contrast to weak male. Christa L. McKirland contributes an essay on the most obscure character in the book, Huldah the prophet. She is significant since she serves as a court prophet for King Josiah at a critical point in Judah’s history. Despite being one of the few female prophets in the Old Testament, she is rarely recognized as such by later church theologians. McKirland surveys a few major commentators in both Christian and Rabbinic history. Finally, Sharifa Stevens examines a minor character in Esther, Vashti. Vashti is a silent queen in the book of Esther who refuses the king’s command to “display her beauty” to the men at the royal banquet. Stevens surveys the suggestion Vashti is Amesteris in Herodotus and the rabbinic tradition she is Nebuchadnezzar’s granddaughter (although she does not clearly reject either view). Stevens sees Vashti as a courageous woman whose defiance of her husband is essential for God’s plan to save his people later in the book.

The final section of the book corrects some misconceptions about a few New Testament women. Lynn Cohick re-examines the evidence that the Samaritan woman in John 4 was an adulteress. This chapter appeared in Christianity Today and is quite brief compared to other chapters in the book. She observes the text does not tell us why she was at the well at noon, despite the well-worn claim that “proper women” went to the well in the morning rather than at noon, there is little evidence this was the case in the first century. It is also unlikely she was a serial divorcee, only a prominent and wealthy person could afford that many divorces! It is also unlikely she was sexually promiscuous since she has enough respect in her village to get them all to come out to hear Jesus. Cohick therefore suggests she is the victim of a series of unfortunate events: her husbands had died (although perhaps one of the marriages ended in divorce). There is less in the text implying she was a well-known adulterous woman in the Samaritan village. Similarly, Karla Zazueta deals with the popular portrayal of Mary Magdalene (some of the wildest suggests come from the Da Vinci Code and other conspiracy-laden fiction). Mary is introduced in Luke 8:2 as a woman healed of seven demons. Zazueta points out demon possession does not mean she was a prostitute. The distortion of Mary’s character seems to stem from Gregory the Great, the first to associate the woman in Luke 7:36-50 with Mary mentioned a few verses later. Zazueta argues there is nothing in the text of Luke which requires the unnamed woman in Luke 7 to be Mary. Rather than a former prostitute, Mary can be fairly described as a female follower of Jesus who is chosen to be the first witness of the resurrection. Finally in the New Testament section, Amy Peeler deals with the suggestion the Junia mentioned in Romans 16:7 is in fact a woman. Historically the name has been understood as a male since the verse implies Andronicus and Junia are apostles. If Junia was an apostle, many scholars assumed the name referred to a man (since only men could be apostles). Peeler also interacts with Richard Bauckham’s argument Junia refers to Joanna, one of the first witnesses of the resurrection (Luke 23:55-24:7.

Conclusion. This collection of essays aims to dispel popular misunderstandings of these “sexualized, vilified, and marginalized women of the Bible.” Each essay succeeds in dispelling bad but popular versions of these stories. This book is not driven by any feminist theological or political agenda nor is there any sustained argument for or against women in ministry in the modern church.

As is often the case, not every essay in this collection is of equal value. In every case, the authors attend to the details of the text and demonstrate the woman is not a “vixen.” However, I am not always convinced every character in the book is a misunderstood or marginalized woman. Is there really a sermon out there which marginalized Vashti? Are there that many popular preachers who sexualize Ruth’s actions? One other minor quibble: There is far more room in this volume for other New Testament women, Sapphira, Priscilla, and Lydia would have been worthy of a chapter and adding Phoebe to the chapter on Junia would have been welcome.


NB: Lynn Cohick’s chapter is excerpted on Kregel’s website and volume editor Sandra Glahn interviewed Carolyn James in December 2017 on the function of Tamar in the Joseph narrative.

Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.