Christianity 201

January 3, 2018

In Bible Times, Were Women Property?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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The answer to today’s title question is important because it not only reflects on the value placed on women, but it’s a topic that is frequently an objection people raise in why they are not interested in reading the Bible or following Christ.

We’re returning to the apologetics blog Stand to Reason with Greg Koukl. This was their tenth most popular post in 2017. Clicking the title below will take you to the article and over 150 comments.

Did Old Testament Men Treat Their Wives Like Property?

Every once in a while, I’ll hear someone throw out the idea that men in the Old Testament treated their wives like property as if it’s an obvious, accepted fact. I’m not convinced it’s true. Granted, I’m sure there were some men who did, just as there are terrible husbands now; but in the main, the passages I read in the Bible about husbands and wives don’t look at all like men viewing their wives as property. Here are a few verses that come to mind.

The first is a law in Deuteronomy:

When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home one year and shall give happiness to his wife whom he has taken. (Deut. 24:5)

By law, a newly married man had to be free for a year in order to “give happiness to his wife.” It seems significant that the stated goal is to make the wife happy. For a year. By law. If women were considered property, I could imagine a law saying the husband should be free to enjoy his wife for a year, but not one saying he should be free to make her happy for a year. And the fact that this was a law means it was a society-wide value. The whole society would have to be behind this in order for it to work—in order for a man to stay at home for a year, bringing happiness to his wife.

Next, look at Song of Solomon—an entire book of the Bible dedicated to a relationship between a man and a woman.

You have made my heart beat faster, my sister, my bride;
You have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes.
With a single strand of your necklace.
How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!
How much better is your love than wine…. (4:9–10)

And the woman is given equal time in this book:

He has brought me to his banquet hall,
And his banner over me is love….
My beloved is mine, and I am his…. (2:4, 16)

I was asleep but my heart was awake.
A voice! My beloved was knocking;
Open to me, my sister, my darling,
My dove, my perfect one! …
I arose to open to my beloved;
And my hands dripped with myrrh,
And my fingers with liquid myrrh,
On the handles of the bolt…. (5:2–5)

Again, there’s no hint here that the man views the woman as his property. Neither do we find such a view in the description of the “excellent wife” in Proverbs 31; rather, we see respect, honor, and appreciation:

[H]er worth is far above jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
And he will have no lack of gain….
She considers a field and buys it;
From her earnings she plants a vineyard….
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
And she smiles at the future.
She opens her mouth in wisdom,
And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue….
Her children rise up and bless her;
Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:
“Many daughters have done nobly,
But you excel them all.”

It’s reasonable to expect that the literature and Law that served as the foundation of their society (i.e., the Old Testament) both shaped and reflected the values of that Old Testament society.

There are also examples of individual men who don’t fit the wives-as-property narrative. I often think of the kindness of Hannah’s husband towards her when she was unable to have children:

Elkanah her husband said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep and why do you not eat and why is your heart sad? Am I not better to you than ten sons?” (1 Sam. 1:8)

And listen to this interaction between Boaz and Ruth:

Boaz replied to her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know. May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge…. Then he said [after Ruth expressed a desire for marriage], “May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich. Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence.” (Ruth 2:11–12; 3:10–11)

One might object, “But men paid a ‘bride price’ for their wives!” True, but it certainly doesn’t follow that they believed they bought their wives and thought of them as property. The money paid by a man to a woman’s parents proved the man valued her and could take care of her (this seems similar to an engagement ring today), and it expressed indebtedness to the parents.

We see this practice when Jacob works for many years in order to earn the right to marry Rachel:

Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” … So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her. (Gen. 29:18–20)

It was his love for Rachel that compelled him to serve her father for seven years. This does not come across as a misogynistic business transaction. Consider, also, this interaction between Rebekah and her parents when Abraham’s servant sought to bring her home as a bride for Isaac:

[T]hey said, “We will call the girl and consult her wishes.” Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.” Thus they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse with Abraham’s servant and his men…. [S]he became [Isaac’s] wife, and he loved her…. (Gen. 24:57–59)

Throughout the Bible, we see interactions like this as a rule, not as exceptions (though, of course, there are exceptions of bad behavior, just as there are today). All verses in the Old Testament (particularly in the Law), since they come from a culture unfamiliar to us, ought to be interpreted in light of passages like the ones quoted above. There’s a tendency for people to jump to the worst possible interpretation of everything, but that isn’t fair to the text. The sense I am left with after reading the Bible as a whole is that men loved and appreciated their wives, just as they do today.

 

November 17, 2017

The Chosen Lady: To Whom Was 2 John Written?

1 John:1 The elder,

To the lady chosen by God and to her children, whom I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth— because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever:

And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. (NIV click here for the full text)

Note: Today’s devotional contains only highlights of the linked article. You are strongly advised to read this in full at source, along with a wealth of footnotes and annotations. (I’ve left the footnote numbers in, but not the notes themselves.)

This should give you an idea of the challenges faced by academics when trying to help all of us have a better understanding of Biblical texts. We don’t normally include writing like this here, but wanted to give you a taste of it.

The author is Marg Mowczko. Click the title below for the full article.

Who was the Chosen Lady in 2 John?

John’s second letter in the New Testament is addressed “to the chosen (or elect) lady and to her children” (eklektē kuria kai tois teknois autēs). In this short letter, John warns the lady and her children about false teachers “who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh” (verse 7), and he instructs them not to offer hospitality to the false teachers (10-11). As in his Gospel and other letters, John emphasises the themes of truth (verses 1-4) and love (verses 5-6).[1]

There has been much speculation as to who the original recipients of 2 John were. In particular, who the “chosen lady” was? Was her name Electa, Kyria, or Martha? Was she a mother, a house church leader, or a congregation?

WHAT WAS THE CHOSEN LADY’S NAME?

Electa?

Εklektē means “chosen” or “elect.” This woman addressed in 2 John was a Christian chosen by God, as all Christians are. While it is more likely that the word “elect” is simply used to describe the lady, Clement of Alexandra believed that eklektē was this woman’s name, a name we would translate into English as “Electa.” If so, eklektē kuria in 2 John 1:1 could be translated as “to Lady Electa.” However, the sister mentioned in the last verse of 2 John is also given the description as being “elect.” While it is not improbable that two women, somehow related, would have the same name—in Roman times, sisters could have the same name—it is more likely that the chosen lady and the chosen sister are individuals like Rufus, a man described as “chosen” or “elect” in Romans 16:13

Kyria?

If her name was not Electa, could 2 John have been addressed to a woman called Kyria?

Kuria (or kyria) is the feminine equivalent of kurios, a common word in the New Testament. BDAG gives two definitions for kurios: (1) “one who is in charge by virtue of possession”, and (2) “one who is in a position of authority.”[2] Corresponding with these definitions, kurios is usually translated into English as “lord,” “master,” or “sir.”[3] The feminine kuria is usually translated as “lady” or “mistress” in texts outside of the New Testament.

While the word only occurs in 2 John 1:1 & 5 in the New Testament, kuria occurs several times in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.) It is used of Sarah as the mistress of Hagar the slave girl (Gen. 16:4, 8, 9); it is used of the widow of Zarephath who was mistress of her own household (1 Kings 17:17); it is used of Naaman’s wife (2 Kings 5:3); it is used metaphorically of God as mistress (Psalm 123:2); and it occurs in sayings that figuratively contrast a mistress with her slave girl (Prov. 30:23; Isa. 24:2).

Furthermore, I’ve come across the word in several Jewish and early Christian non-biblical Greek texts. For example, kuria is used in direct address by Isaac to his mother Sarah in The Testament of Abraham (3.10 recension A) (circa 100 AD); it is used by Hermas to his former owner Rhoda in the Shepherd of Hermas 1:5) (circa 100 AD); and it is used by Perpetua’s brother and father to their sister and daughter, respectively, in the account of Perpetua’s martyrdom (para. 4 & 5) (202 or 203 AD). Thecla is also referred to as a kuria in The Acts of Paul and Thecla (para. 10)  (circa 150 AD)…

Kuria is not an obscure word. Considering how the word is used, it is apparent that kuria was a term of respect, and used for a woman in a powerful or elevated social position. Nevertheless, some believe kuria may have been the chosen lady’s name.

Athanasius was possibly among the first to propose that Kyria (a common transliteration of kuria) was actually the woman’s name.[5] John Wesley (who did not have access to many of the ancient Greek documents that are now available, such as the ones mentioned above) also believed that Kyria was the woman’s name.

Martha?

It has been suggested that the chosen lady may have been Martha of Bethany, a friend of Jesus mentioned in the Gospels of Luke and John (Luke 10:38-41; John 11; 12:1-3).[7] Kuria is a Greek equivalent of “Martha,” “Martha” being the feminine form of an Aramaic word meaning “lord” or “master.”

Martha was a woman of tremendous faith and spiritual insight (John 11:22, 24, 27). She was also the mistress of an affluent home that was spacious enough to accommodate Jesus and others (John 12:1-5). Martha may well have hosted and led a church in her home after Pentecost. Was “the chosen sister” (mentioned in 2 John 1:13) Mary of Bethany, Martha’s sister? As appealing as this idea may be, there is no evidence in this letter, or from early Christian writings, that “the chosen lady” was Martha.

Other Speculations

Some people believe that the chosen lady was Mary the mother of Jesus. Certainly, Mary would have been worthy of the title “lady.” However she would most likely have been deceased by the time John wrote this letter (circa 90-100 AD). Also, it seems unlikely that John would have had to write a letter to Mary, of all people, to warn her about being deceived by false teachers…

…Others suggest that the chosen lady was one of Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:8-9). Early church writings inform us that Philip’s daughters were held in high esteem by the early church. Perhaps the chosen lady was one of Philip’s daughters, and the “chosen sister” another daughter. Some of Philip’s daughters went to live in Asia Minor, and it is commonly believed that the “chosen lady” was in Asia Minor.

WHAT WAS THE CHOSEN LADY’S ROLE?

While we do not know this woman’s name, there are some details in John’s second letter which indicate her role. This becomes even clearer when we compare 2 John with John’s other two New Testament letters, especially 3 John, as there are several distinct similarities between 2 John and 3 John.

A Mother?

Some people who take the word “children” (tekna) literally believe that this letter was written to a mother with believing children (2 John 1:1, 4 & 13).[9] What these people have failed to take into account is that, in each of his three letters, John frequently used the word “children” (tekna and teknia) as a term to refer to Christians, to “spiritual children.”[10]

In 3 John 1:4, John writes to a man called Gaius[11] saying, “I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”[12] Compare this with what John writes to the chosen lady in 2 John 1:4: “I rejoiced greatly having found out from [some of] your children that they are walking in the truth.”

3 John 1:4 is very similar to 2 John 1:4. The children of 1, 2 and 3 John are “spiritual children,” not natural biological children. The children of the chosen lady were her “spiritual children,” Christians she personally cared about, her congregation.

A Church?

Some Christians who are reluctant to accept the possibility that a first-century woman could have been a house church leader believe that 2 John was addressed to a Christian community which John metaphorically referred to as “the chosen lady.”[13] They also believe that the “chosen sister” in 2 John 1:13 refers to another Christian community.

The shortcoming of this view is that nowhere else in the New Testament (or in later writings) is a Christian community referred to as a “lady” kuria (or a “sister” adelphē).[14] John uses the word “church” (ekklēsia) three times in his third letter: in 3 John 1:6, 9, 10. Why would John use the word “church” plainly in 3 John, but supposedly refer to the church metaphorically as a “lady” in 2 John? …

A Leader of Women?

Still another speculation is that the woman was indeed a church leader but that her congregation consisted only of women. This speculation, however, does not stand up to the Greek grammar of the text. When John speaks about the children as those “whom” he loved in verse 1, the relative pronoun translated as “whom” is grammatically masculine in the Greek. The participle for “walking” in verse 4, referring to the “children,” and the reflexive pronoun “yourselves” in verse 8 are also grammatically masculine in the Greek…

A House Church Leader?

For the first couple of hundred years following the day of Pentecost, most Christian churches were house churches. We have ample and, I believe, irrefutable evidence that some of these churches were hosted and led by women. In the New Testament, there are several women mentioned who were hosts and leaders of house church leaders.[17] It seems that John’s second letter was written to such a woman.

The simplest and most straightforward explanation of who the “chosen lady” in 2 John 1:1 & 5 was, is that she was a host and leader of Christian house church whom John addressed directly at times in his second letter. The most straightforward explanation of who her “children” were, is that they are members of her household and congregation… I believe that the chosen lady was a female house church leader.


Click the title above to read the full article as well as the referenced endnotes.

 

August 10, 2016

Men and Women Given Equal Time in Luke’s Gospel

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27 NLT

Creating them male and female, he blessed them and called them humans when he created them. – Genesis 5:2 ISV

Popular Christian author Rachel Held Evans highlighted this 2014 article for us yesterday. I guess, given the topic, it was something which resonated with her. But there’s no denying that the pairings found in Luke’s writing are there, and remember also, Luke isn’t making these stories up; the men/women balance is found throughout Christ’s teachings.  Click the title below to read this at source, the blog New Life, based in New South Wales, Australia.

Male-Female Pairs and Parallelism in Luke’s Gospel

by Marg Mowczko

I’ve been reading through the gospels lately. In Matthew’s gospel I was reminded of Jesus’ extraordinary counter-cultural teachings, I saw that we are all welcome to work in his vineyard, and I learned that Jesus had many female followers.

Male-Female Pairs of People in Luke

While reading Luke’s gospel I was struck by how the author often presents his material using gender-symmetrical pairs of people.[1] For instance, in Luke’s infancy narrative we have the male and female protagonists of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary, and Simeon and Anna.[2] Later, Luke pairs the Twelve with the women disciples who travelled with them (Luke 8:1-3).[3]

Male-Female Pairs of Parables in Luke

Luke also presents a few of Jesus’ parables in gender-symmetrical pairs. In these parables, Jesus intentionally addresses the women in his audience, as well as the men, and he incorporates activities from everyday life into his stories that both sexes could identify with. Yet, in each of the paired parables, Jesus gives essentially the same message.

These gender-paired parables include:

  • The parable of the mustard seed (the seed was planted by a man) and the parable of the yeast (the yeast was used by a woman) in Luke 13:18-19, 20-21.
  • The parable of the lost sheep (the sheep was searched for by a male shepherd) and the parable of the lost coin (the coin was searched for by a woman) in Luke 15: 3-7, 8-10.
  • The parable of the persistent (male) friend and the parable of the persistent (female) widow (Luke 11:5-8; 18:1-8)[4]

Male-Female Pairs to make Points in Luke

Gendered pairs are found in other sayings of Jesus recorded in Luke. For instance, Jesus mentions the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the leper in order to make a point (Luke 4:25-27). In Luke 17:34-35 Jesus mentions two men on a couch (or bed) and two women grinding at a mill to make another point (cf Matt. 24:40-41). In Luke 11:29-32 Jesus uses the examples of Jonah and the Queen of Sheba as signs.

Jesus’ Male-Female Audience in Luke

Gender pairing in Luke's gospelJesus’ intentional inclusiveness in his teaching is further highlighted by the use of “complementary discourse”.

Jesus addressed mixed groups using “complementary discourse”: a term used to refer to the repeating of statements twice (changing the gender each time) in order to make application to each sex. Although such was completely out of step with the grammatical norms of His culture, Jesus frequently spoke using the following pairs: “men and women,” “husbands and wives,” “fathers and mothers,” “fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law,” “sons and daughters,” and “sons-in-law and daughters-in-law.” In Luke 12:53 Jesus refers to “father against son … and mother against daughter.” To the crowds He said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters— yes, even life itself— such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).[5]

Male-Female Pairs in the other Gospels

The other gospel writers also use gendered pairs, but to a lesser degree. For example, the work of men and women are mentioned side by side in Matthew 6:26 & 28, 24:40-41, and Mark 2:21. In John’s gospel, Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, recorded in John chapter 3, is followed by Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman, recorded in John chapter 4.

Luke’s Reason for Male-Female Pairs

Luke “gender-paired” people, parables, and points in order to highlight an important principle concerning gender. Ben Witherington observes that in Luke’s gospel, men and women are shown as being equal recipients of God’s grace and equal participants in the community of Jesus’ followers.[6] Luke’s agenda was to show that Jesus not only valued, respected, and elevated women, but that women are equal with men.

Witherington suggests, “When Luke wrote his gospel, it is likely that the very reason he felt a need to stress male-female parallelism and Jesus’ positive statements about women was that his own audience had strong reservations about some of Jesus’ views on the subject.”[6] Sadly, it seems that some Christians – despite  Jesus’ teaching and Luke’s writing – still have strong reservations concerning the equality of women with men in the community of Jesus’ followers.


Endnotes

[1] Luke continued to pair men and women in his account of the Acts of the Apostles.

[2] Mary must have been the original source for much of the Luke’s material in his infancy narrative. The prominence of Mary and Elizabeth and their speeches in Luke’s opening chapter has led Richard Bauckham to label Luke 1:5-80 “a gynocentric text”. Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2002) 47.

[3] Kathleen Corley notes, “As in Mark, women as well as men make up the number of those Galileans who witness Jesus’ entire ministry (Luke 23:59: Acts 10:37-39) and travel with him as he preaches and teaches from town to town.” Private Women, Public Meals: Social Conflict in the Synoptic Tradition (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1993) 110. Jesus had many female followers.

[4] The parable of the persistent widow is not located alongside the parable of the persistent friend, so some pair the persistent widow with the penitent tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. The parables of the new fabric patches and the new wineskins (Luke 5:36, 37-38) which I haven’t listed above, were spoken to the (male) Pharisees and the teachers of the law; but the parables could be a considered a gendered pair as sewing was traditionally regarded as women’s work, and the making and handling of wine was regarded as men’s work. Derek and Diane Tidball, The Message of Women: Creation, Grace and Gender (Nottingham: InterVarsity Press, (2012) 175.

[5] Deborah M. Gill and Barbara Cavaness, God’s Women—Then and Now (Springfield, MO: Grace & Truth, 2004, 2009) (Kindle Locations 1257-1263). In a footnote of this book there is this statement: In “Appendix IX. Jesus’ Rhetoric in the Cultural Milieu,” of Gynecomorphisms in the New Testament [Gill’s Honors Thesis, Assemblies of God Graduate School, 1979] Gill lists 45 examples of Jesus’ use of complementary or coupled discourse instead of collective masculine address in the Gospels.

[6] Ben Witherington, Women in the Ministry of Jesus: A Study of Jesus’ Attitudes to Women and their Roles as Reflected in his Earthly Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984) 52.

January 14, 2016

The Background Details Provided by Scripture

I continue to be amazed at the intricacies of the Bible. Regardless of specific words employed by different translations, there is a beauty to the arrangement of passages, and an attention to details that should wow the scientist or the engineer.

One of these has to do with the narratives that occur just before or just after a more familiar section. Willie E. Hucks looks at one such case in an article at MinistryMagazine.org. Click the title below to read at source.

The story before the story

From childhood I knew the story of the birth of Moses, found at the start of Exodus 2: A Hebrew baby born in a foreign land, hidden for three months, placed in a papyrus basket that was coated with tar and pitch, placed among the reeds along the banks of the Nile River, his sister staying nearby to watch and protect him.

But no one told me the story before the story, toward the end of Exodus 1: that of Shiphrah and Puah—two midwives who risked their lives to save newborn Hebrew males (Exod. 1:15-21).

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

That Moses the author connects the story of these women with his own birth points to their significance.

Shiphrah and Puah remind me of the countless behind-the-scenes individuals whose efforts are noted by a handful and publicly acknowledged by even fewer. But God’s work would be severely hampered if it weren’t for their labors. We find it easy to laud those whom we see up front: in the pulpit, behind the lectern, chairing the committee, on the television, and yes, in the editorial pages of a journal. But we are never in a position to succeed without those seemingly invisible others.

To put it another way: true revival and reformation reveals itself through recognizing that we all contribute to God’s call, and we, as spiritual leaders, humbly acknowledge that others make it possible for us to fulfill the ministries the Holy Spirit has given us.

“LORD, bless us as spiritual leaders to recognize and publicly acknowledge that it takes everyone and all talents in the body of Christ to fulfill the mission.”

The book, All The Women of the Bible (sourced at BibleGateway.com) delves further into the courage of these two women whose story sets the stage for all that follows in Exodus:

…Receiving the royal command to commit murder, these two loyal, vigorous, middle aged women were caught between two fires. Whom should they obey? The God of the Hebrews in whom they had come to believe, or the tyrannical king of Egypt? True to their conscience and honored calling they knew it would conflict with the divine command to kill, and so “saved the men children alive.” Thus, they obeyed God rather than man, and in so doing brought upon their heads the rage of Pharaoh. Confronting his anger, Puah and Shiprah took refuge in a partial truth. They said that because Jewish women had easy deliveries, their children were born before they could reach them and assist the mothers in labor.

Cognizant as He was of the partial truth the two midwives told, God knew all about the crisis behind it, and commended Puah and Shiprah for their courage of faith. They had risked their lives for many Jewish infants. Such an act was meritorious in the eyes of the Lord, and He honorably rewarded them by building them houses. Fausset suggests that the nature of such a reward consisted in the two midwives marrying Hebrews and becoming mothers in Israel (2 Samuel 7:11, 27). Puah and Shiprah are striking witnesses against the scandalous practice of abortion, which several nations have legalized.

April 1, 2011

Joanna, A Disciple of Jesus


Luke 8:1 After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.  

# # #

Luke 24:1 But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. 3 So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes.

5 The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man[b] must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

8 Then they remembered that he had said this. 9 So they rushed back from the tomb to tell his eleven disciples—and everyone else—what had happened. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and several other women who told the apostles what had happened. 11 But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it.

Today’s reading is from Jeff Lucas; and first appeared in the UK bi-monthly devotional book Lucas on Life — an offshoot of CWR’s other subscription devotional, Selwyn Hughes’ Every Day With Jesus — in November of 2005.

What does a real Christian look like?  Is it enough to believe the right things, attend church regularly, read the Bible and pray — or should there be some more startling evidence that God is at work?  The letter of James insists that when God is really at work in us, then fruit can be seen.

We don’t want to be followers of “mere” religion that makes us feel good, but does nothing else.  S. H. Miller, dean of Harvard Divinity School, says, “Religion which is interested only in itself, in its prestige and success, in its institutions and ecclesiastical niceties is worse than vanity; it is essentially incestuous.”

For some answers we turn to a lady called Joanna.  She is only mentioned twice in the Bible — both times by Luke in his gospel.  But Joanna — a member of Jesus traveling band and one of the first to hear of the resurrection — is a heroine worthy of our reflection because her life was radically transformed by Jesus.  We’ll see that her priorities, her spending patterns, her domestic life — all were dynamically affected by the power of God that had either delivered her from sickness, dark powers, or both.

Let’s follow in her footsteps.

Jeff Lucas also adds as a reading for the day this passage in James:

James 2:14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. 20 How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

21 Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24 So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.

25 Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. 26 Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.

Scriptures quoted from the New Living Translation (NLT)