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When Women Break the Bread of Life

I recently attended a funeral for a long time parishioner at our church.  The Pastor had chosen as his text for the homily 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, in Christ shall all be made alive.”  A good choice, I thought, for giving hope during a time of grief.

He sought to illustrate his message by taking the mourners back to the first Adam who became a living soul by the activity of God.  He beautifully told the story of how our Great God formed Adam from the dust of the earth with his own hands.  This Great God, he said, then picked up Adam and held him as he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. 

I waited for him to continue.

It was a woman who lay in the casket.  It was her daughters who sat in the pews grieving.  Surely, I thought, he will now explain how this Great God then formed a woman with the same loving care – how God held Eve in his arms and breathed into her nostrils his life-giving breath –  how one day he will call our dear sister forth from her sleep and she will again become a living soul.    

He continued by assuring those present that just as God gave breath and life to Adam, he will one day call all men who sleep in the dust of the ground forth to live with him forever.

And there his message ended.  

A few weeks later I was sitting in a class focused on the development of a strong spiritual life. (I shan’t use the forbidden word.)     The speaker’s key text was Mark 3:14.  “And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him and to be sent out to proclaim the message.”   I was using my RSV that morning and immediately noticed the words, “whom he also named apostles” was not in my Bible.   A footnote did indicate that these words were in other “ancient authorities.”

As the version the speaker chose to use included these words, he spent the next few minutes pointing out that the apostles were the 12 men whom Jesus had chosen to follow him and to sit at his feet.   His focal point was that it was necessary for these men “to be with him” in order for them to grow spiritually.   If they were to share his message with others, these men had to spend intimate time in his presence.    This, he said, was the key to a successful spiritual life.   

While I greatly appreciated the speaker’s drawing my attention to the words “to be with him,” and his stress that spending time in Jesus’ presence was a key element in developing a rich spiritual life, I couldn’t but help think that if it were a woman teaching the lesson, she would have presented it differently.     A woman would probably have paired the passage in Mark 3 with the passage in Luke 8 that deals with the same occasion.  In Luke the record reads, “and the 12 were with him and also some women…”    A woman’s presentation would have included acknowledgment that there were both men and women who followed Jesus, who listened to his teaching and who spent quality time in close, intimate fellowship with him.     

Am I being picky or contentious?    Perhaps.    Haven’t we for generations been acculturated and trained to mentally translate the word “man” as meaning both men and women.   The question is:  should we always have to?

It can, of course, be argued that in English the word “man” really means both men and women.  Take, for example, the Declaration of Independence.   Doesn’t the statement, “All men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights,” apply to women as well? (1) 

The interesting thing about the English language is that it is always evolving; words are continually changing meaning.  Following WWII when the world community was drafting a document on human rights, the committee recognized the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of man, but chose to used the phrase “all members of the human family” rather than men.    Article one of the Declaration of Human Rights clearly states “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”    

All human beings – especially those who set in church pews from week to week – need to be reminded

that while in Scripture, God may be referred to by use of the male pronoun “he”, God is Spirit.   God is neither male nor female.   Women, as well as men, were created in his image.   

I had to LOL when I first read the following quote by James White:  

“We object to that narrow-souled theology which will not allow the old ladies to have dreams because the prophecy says, “your old men shall dream dreams;” and that will not allow young women to have visions because the prophecy says “your young men shall see vision.”  These stingy critics seem to forget that “man and “men” in the Scriptures, generally mean both men and women.  The Book says that it is “appointed unto men once to die.”  Don’t women die?” (2) 

Today’s newer versions of the Old Testament Scriptures translate the Hebrew word “a’dam” as human being or human kind.  Genesis 1:27 now more correctly reads “God created humanity (or humankind) in his image.”  The word “a’dam” in the familiar passage in Micah 6:8 reads   “He has shown you, O Mortal, what is good and what does the Lord require of you.” 

In today’s newer translations we read Jesus words as saying, ”I am the way and the truth and the life: noone comes to the Father but by me” and “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” without having to do the mental gymnastics of switching the word man in our minds to mean both men and women.    In the newer versions the word, “anthropos” – which in Greek is inclusive of both men and women – is now being correctly translated as “a human being” or “a person” though out the New Testament.     

For generations men and women have heard the unintentional subliminal message of male predominance whenever reading Scripture.  The stories, the prophecies, the messages are all couched in the realm of masculine terminology.   To be consistently exposed to a vocabulary of male predominance colors one’s world view and one’s outlook.   This predisposition to see the world through the lens of men’s experience is then past on from generation to generation in the language.   I believe much of the resistance to the full inclusion of women in the life of the church can be traced to the unintentional and unrecognized bias of the language, biblical illustrations and use of words.

I am not suggesting that it takes a woman to correctly break the bread of life.  Men who speak publically can be trained to be inclusive in their speech.  They can be sensitive to the nuances of gender.  They can choose their key texts carefully from newer translations.  They can follow Jesus’ led by using practical examples drawn from the lives of both men and women.  What I am suggesting is that it is morally and  spiritually vital that both women and men hear the Word of God speaking to them personally and individually, not to just the male sex.  


1) I do recognize that some would say that landed white men were a little more equal than women and those of color when this document was ratified!    

2) White, James.  Spiritual Gifts, volumes three and four.  Review and Herald Publishing Association. A Facsimile Reproduction, 1945.  Page 24

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