We first met, one January morning, during her office hours. Dr. Catherine Clark Kroeger’s eyes sparkled when our discussion turned to women in the Bible. She spoke of them fondly as if they were close friends—Miriam, Deborah, Abigail and a host of others from the Old and New Testaments. She spoke warmly to me although she didn’t waste time getting down to business: “They provide us with role models of personal piety, courage, commitment, and ingenuity.”
Snowflakes blew outside the wide windows behind her desk. I was struck by her passion for uncovering women’s daily lives, activities and personal experiences with Christ in the early church. I had no idea that Cathie—as she asked to be called—would influence my life perhaps more than anyone. Eagerly, I signed up for her course “Women in the Early Church.” I’d always wondered about women who seemed to occupy the margins of the Bible. Was it possible to glean enough information to actually know them as role models? Did they really display traits of courage, commitment, and ingenuity when so many portraits I’d received in church resembled Betty Crocker overseeing a potluck?
I wanted to plumb depths beyond stereotypical womanhood; and Cathie pointed the way. She challenged me, and other students, to learn a variety of disciplines for studying the Bible—ancient near eastern context, Greek and Roman classical evidence, original languages, hermeneutics, church history, biblical theology, and more. Cathie explained: “Plain readings of modern Bible translations—that are far removed from original contexts—tend to color our modern understandings.” This happens, for example, when 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is used to universally bar women from ministry, leadership, and teaching. Patiently, she explained that Paul meant to address outrageous cultic practices creeping into the newly birthed church from the nearby Temple of Artemis. “In this context,” she added, “it is appropriate to silence loud, out of control, recently converted women who dominate men for selfish gain.” During one-on-one meetings, Cathie answered my numerous questions about other passages that endorse the ministry, leadership, and teaching of women including Lydia, Dorcas, Priscilla, Tryphena, Euodia, Synteche, and Junia. … Continue Reading