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Studies in Feminist Theology: The Feminist issues in Luke-Acts

by Mr. Philip Yim Kwok Hung

大綱 Outline

A. Table of Contents and the Summary related to it.

B. Summary of Content:

C. Critique on the work:



Seim, Turid Karlsen. The Double Message: Patterns of Gender in Luke-Acts. (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1994).

Corley, Kathleen E. Private Women, Public Meals: Social Conflict in the Synoptic Tradition. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1993).


The Critique on Seim's work.

A. Table of Contents and the Summary related to it.

Ch. 1: Prolegomena: Luke and Women

Ch. 2: Men As Well As Women

Ch. 3: Do You See This Woman?

Ch. 4: Remember How He Told You...

Ch. 5: Prophesying Daughters

Ch. 6: ...They Neither Marry, Nor Do They Give Themselves in Marriage

Ch. 7: Concluding Summary: The Double Message

B. Summary of Content:

The point of departure lies in the contrast between Gospel Luke and Acts. As Seim observes, women are highly visible in the Gospel, but they are silenced in Acts. The author proposes that only in so far as women embrace a form of asceticism and so free themselves of men's control can they achieve a certain freedom. In this advocacy of asceticism Luke is strikingly different from the Pastorals to which he is often compared.”

The author presents the prolegomena in Ch. 1. It depicts the continual controversy among scholars on Luke's attitudes towards women. Though it is widely accepted that Luke has a strong interest on material about women, comprehensive presentations on this theme is still rare. The author will leave the traditions and sources' problems aside, because they are helpful only to a limited extent. The study will use Gospel Luke as starting-point and methodologically; it is a redactional/composition-critical approach. In contrast to, the so-called 'Dignity studies’ of feminist approach which advocate positive models of women in the past, this presentation will balance it with the emphasis on the mechanisms and structures of oppression and silencing on women.

In Ch. 2, Lucan gender pairs’ are examined. It reveals that Jesus’ disciples, the communities in Acts, and the audience groups consist of men as well as women. Individual persons are given prominence on some occasions, which implies their roles as a representative of a larger group - either of women or of men. These groups are not a constant groups, but of a fixed pattern. That is a reflection of an dyadic society which defines an individual's value by means of his/her relationship with others collectively. The narrative pairs studied are preceded by either male or female group in different occasions. This may means that women are not appendage to the men.

In Ch. 3, a group of women from Galilee is depicted as a group of social insecurity and exclusion. They are under social marginalization and it is aggravated by impurity and sickness (see III. 1). They are healed by Jesus and enjoy the blessing and the promise of liberation as salvation that belongs to Abraham's descendants. These healing validate their identity as 'Abraham's daughters’ (see III. 2). Using Abraham terminology on particular women and men, there is a social legitimation process which irritates the established religious leadership. Jesus’ healing saves the women from social marginalisation and provide a christological motivation to service. The women cured by Jesus contribute to subsequent benefactory activity as they follow him. They provide sustenance for Jesus and his followers (III. 3). They act as a model for all the people of God: they share what they have, in order to help the needy (III. 4). Lucan use of -terms and the root-meaning of the word, is always related to waiting on someone or service at table. Jesus’ service is the model. It is a corrective to the leaders who can easily blinded by their status, and forget to serve others (III. 5).

In Ch. 4, the women's role as an disciple is stressed. The word of Jesus is listened and obeyed by the women. Complaint of Martha on Mary at Lk 10:38-42, with the light of Acts 6:1-6, and women's traditional role in serving table, can be understood as the primacy of serving Jesus over traditional serving roles (see IV. 1). Thus the biological gender-determined family obligations of women is rejected as irrelevant with respect to hearing God's word and doing it. The family categories are transferred to the Church and become subordinated to this new understanding, even leading to conflict in domestic provision, hospitality and service. In Lk 10:38-42, Martha is active and engages in dialogue, but Mary is passive and silent. Comparing to Lk 6:46ff.; 8:15,21; 11:28, the listening to the word is stressed on the role of women. The pastorals have prohibitions on women's teaching (1 Tim. 2:11,12 and Tit 2:3). Though women are described by Luke and the partners of other male disciples who follow Jesus, but they are not entrusted to preach and appear as public preachers and witnesses (see IV. 2). The women are not silent in house (oikos) in Luke. Female have only limited extent in public sphere. On the contrary, men have the freedom in private and public context. Public address in discourses are normally held by men. Women have a strong influence in 'house’ context. When the Christian meetings shift to houses, the significance of women increase. The Lucan texts do not imply women are subordinate to all men, but the independence is respected (see IV. 3). The witness of women in Jesus’ tomb though credible, but not accepted by the disciples. Mary Magdalene's witness is taken less seriously compared to Peter's encounter with the Lord. The primacy of Peter is clearly seen. The apostolic circle soon dominants the whole picture in Acts, and women are excluded from apostles or leadership in Acts. The public sphere has become men's sphere. The revelation at the empty tomb in Luke gives no task to women, but to 'remember’ the words of Jesus. Men's lack of confidence in women's words may cause the ascension of power of men in public testimony in later stage (IV. 4).

In Ch. 5, the author uses Acts 2 as a starting point to analyze women's prophetic roles in Luke-Acts. The use of Joel 3:1-5 to explain the miracle of Pentecost is itself an rejection of rabbinic idea that this is a period 'without prophets’ (see p.168). The significance of female prophets are diminished by the Rabbis. Luke knows female 'prophets’ outside Christian or Jewish circles (e.g. Acts 16:16-24). The incompatibility between material gain and the work of the Holy Spirit is a criterion between true and false prophecy. Chastity is never taken as a prerequisite for the gift of prophecy, but it is highly praised. For Luke, the prophetic role of women is according to the promise proclaimed by Joel, but the contents of their prophecy are not mentioned.

In Ch.6, the author deals with the relationship between chastity and ascetic roles of in Luke. Marriage and childbirth are the normal legitimation for women in this period, but the Church has rejected these importance on women. They have their own story and identity. The chastity, either as virgins or as widows, is always connected to prophetically-active women. Gender-determined family relationship is dismissed by Luke as irrelevant, and discipleship become the prime criterion (VI. 1). In contrast to practice in the Church, Romans encourage marriage: People in the fertile period of life are encouraged to marry as continuously as possible. For example, the divorced of both sexes are to re-marry after 1 month. Though Luke open his works with the pregnancy of Elizabeth which is depicted in the models of the OT barren women. Mary breaks this pattern. The two stories contrasts with one another and the virginity of Mary is highlighted. The reproductive function of women cease and the autonomy is stressed (VI. 2). The life in the future, though not general in Judaism, is widely accepted and highly respected by Christians. Luke compares this state to the angels as a state without marriage. The criticism of marriage by Luke reflects an orientation towards the eschatological future. By means of asceticism, women escape their femaleness and develop maleness. This motif is still using an androcentric terminology to express (e.g. Luke 20:34ff, women as 'sons’; see VI. 3). Paul urges the widows to remain unmarried in 1 Cor. 7:8, 39f. Luke also shows a great interest in widows. The status of widows in this time demands a though review. Pending a new marriage, a widow who had sons could continue to live in the their family, and in some cases, it was allowed for a woman who was abandoned or widowed, to return to her father's house.” Luke advocates ascetic preferences. This is an ascetic ideal applied to widow generally and is the proleptic sign of the resurrection to come.

C. Critique on the work:

The logical relationship between the chapters is not clearly defined. The Concluding Summary is not structured according to the chapters presented in the work. Thus the flow of idea is not well-structured.

The point of departure lies in the contrast between Gospel Luke and Acts. As Seim observes, women are highly visible in the Gospel, but they are silenced in Acts. The author proposes that only in so far as women embrace a form of asceticism and so free themselves of men's control can they achieve a certain freedom. In this advocacy of asceticism Luke is strikingly different from the Pastorals to which he is often compared.”

This is an argument from silence. The so-called 'silence’ of women in Acts does not imply an intentional arrangement to present the marginalization of women. This may due to the nature of traditions received, or the androcentric nature of Graeco-Roman Culture, and the purpose of the work. According to my analysis on the structure of Acts, this is based on the contrast between the Acts of Peter and Paul. The Acts of other men or women are restricted to a minimum extent. This has no relationship with androcentricism! According to K. E. Corley, the Greco-Roman world both in moving toward equality and in returning to a more traditional role.” This means the Greco-Roman culture favors androcentricism, but is changing in both directions. The Christian Church which has a theological statement on equality (Gal. 3:28) and good examples from the earliest church and Jesus is unlikely to become a very androcentric organization in this short time. The mention of women in Acts is also a counter-evidence for the author's thesis.

Besides, the androcentric interpretation on the Pastorals is also a problem. If men's primacy is firmly established in Pauline Church, it is meaningless to use a scriptural basis for it. Paul has no need to debate for it. Paul prohibits a certain woman to rule over a man. This implies the practice of women authority is already found in this church! Besides, his theological treatise on equality clearly states the equality of men and women (Gal. 3:28). Hence, the debate may be caused by the extreme use of female authority, rather than androcentricism.

"The double message” is also not convincing. The asceticism theme is too unclear and not emphasized. The marginalization of women is based on the so-called 'silence’ of women in Acts. The author has said, "The double message nurtures a dangerous remembrance.” But what is the purpose of this 'Dangerous remembrance’? If it is so important for Luke, that he dares to make this dangerous remembrance, why don't he state more clearly? What is the use of this remembrance, if Luke don't propose any alternative to this androcentric problem? If Luke don't advocate for a shift to equality, the remembrance will cause bitterness to the women oppressed by this androcentricism. Why don't forget this past? On the other hand, the remembrance of the word of Jesus is stressed in Luke-Acts, not the status of equality. The ambiguity of Luke's position may reflect the struggle of the Greco-Roman culture.