Mary, Martha, and the Bible

My church had some interesting discussions last night at our Bible study.  We’re still going through our study on the Gospel of Luke.  I’ll use as my starting-point a question on page 35 of the curriculum that we are using, Luke: Gospel of Reassurance With Michael Card.

Read Luke 10:38-42, another passage from Luke that Michael views as dispelling the idea that the Bible is ‘anti-woman.'”

Luke 10:38-42 is the story of Mary and Martha.  Martha is working in the kitchen, upset that her sister Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, learning from Jesus, instead of helping her out.  But Jesus commends Mary.  Michael Card was saying that Mary’s sitting at Jesus’ feet and learning was revolutionary in those days.  After all, Michael Card notes, rabbis didn’t even speak to their own wives in public, and they were against women learning Torah.

I didn’t care for Michael Card’s point that the story of Mary and Martha dispels the idea that the Bible is anti-woman.  I wouldn’t say that the Bible is anti-woman, per se, but I would say that it has passages that are sexist and patriarchal, as well as passages that are liberating and progressive.  “The Bible” does not say the same thing all the way through, for it is a collection of documents with different ideologies and writers.  Even a conservative Christian in the group remarked that the Bible has its ups and downs when it comes to its views on women, since there are times when women are portrayed as strong or as leaders: Deborah and Esther are examples.  I’m not sure if he was dismissing biblical inerrancy, though.  I may not have made clear to the group that there are patriarchal passages in laws that are attributed to God, and so perhaps he thought that I was merely describing features of ancient Israelite culture, which did not necessarily come from God.  Someone else in the group, however, said that men wrote the Bible, and they were reflecting the sexist and patriarchal notions of their day.

I was thinking some about Michael Card’s statement that rabbis wouldn’t speak to their wives in public.  I do recall rabbinic passages like that.  At the same time, I’m hesitant to say that rabbis didn’t speak with women at all in public, for I have read rabbinic tales about matrons asking rabbis a question.  Moreover, while Michael Card is correct that there was a rabbinic aversion to women learning Torah, that wasn’t the entire story.  See my post here.

We talked in the group about whom we identified with more, Mary or Martha.  A lady in the group said that somebody needed to cook to feed all those people, so she could understand Martha’s concern.  A man in the group, whom I usually call “Bob” on this blog, said that he identified with Mary, since he was a man.  Bob said that women back then were expected to do the cooking and cleaning, whereas men could pursue other things, such as learning.  Society allowed men the luxury to be Marys, in short.  Bob lamented that it’s still like that, regardless of how far society has advanced.  Bob asked why a man couldn’t have helped Martha out.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to Mary, Martha, and the Bible

  1. Very good point that the Bible is up and down on the subject of women.


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    I usually disagree with the guy who said that. But I agreed with him on that point!


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