Women in the Bible

Hannah: Articulate, Unwavering Faith.

Julie / February 19, 2016

One thing I’ve really benefited from in the past couple of years is looking at specific women in Scripture to see what kind of lessons I can glean from their lives.  I haven’t done this purposefully before now—I “just happened” across the Shunammite woman who helped Elisha and the woman from Abel who promised Joab Sheba’s head—but I want to spend some time looking long at the examples held before us (new category: women in the Bible).

The stunning example of Hannah fell in my lap this week as I studied the so-familiar tale once more for our church’s women’s Bible study.  Hannah’s story is the earliest Bible story I have recollection of as a child—I’m pretty sure we had one of those Christian versions of a Little Golden Book about her and the little robes she made for her son, and I must have read it often, because I can still see the illustrations in my mind.  Nevertheless, I am ashamed to admit that I thought a bit dubiously of Hannah. Why was she breaking her heart about this whole having a baby thing? She seemed like “a Martha” to me, with her mind set on the wrong things.

Well, six children, some years, and a study of Judges later, and Hannah has emerged from the shadows where I’d stupidly left her.

The woman from the hill country.

Hannah lived in an oppressively miserable situation.  Her story opens in the time of the judges—a profoundly horrible time in Israel’s history. So many unthinkable things were happening.  So much idolatry and godlessness.  So much cruelty, oppression, impulsiveness, and unfaithfulness.  The book of Judges ends on such a sour note, and it is there that 1 Samuel picks up the story.

Hannah’s personal situation is also oppressively miserable—first, her husband has another wife.  While provision for this is made in the Law (Exodus 21:10, Deuteronomy 21:15, etc.), God obviously didn’t make Adam two wives, and we’ve already seen this practice making trouble stretching from Abraham to Gideon (Judges 8:30, and the massive fratricide that follows in chapter 9).  Worse, her sister-wife is abusive.  1 Samuel 1:6-7 says that “her rival would taunt her severely just to provoke her… whenever she went up to the Lord’s house, her rival taunted her in this way.”  (We find out later in the chapter that Hannah’s faith is strong, making it even worse that she experiences these taunts in the middle of what was surely one of her favorite pastimes—visiting the Lord’s house to worship and pray.)  Further complicating the situation, her husband is apparently oblivious (v. 8) and makes the situation worse by showing her blatant favoritism (v. 5).  And this not even to say anything about the root of all the taunting and misery—that “the Lord had kept Hannah from conceiving” (v. 6).

Lastly, even what should have been a haven to her, the Lord’s house, is perverted because Eli’s “sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them” (1 Samuel 3:13)—these two men who we see right away in 1:3 were “the Lord’s priests” at Shiloh where Hannah could come to worship.

In short, Hannah’s world is all screwed up.  This isn’t a story about some baby-crazy fanatic.  This is a righteous woman who loves God stuck in the middle of a world that hates Him, with family that hates Him, and even priests who hated Him.

In the middle of all this, she finds herself “deeply hurt” (1 Samuel 1:10) and she pleads with God.  She is sad, weeping “with many tears,” afflicted (v. 11), broken-hearted (v. 15), anguished and grieved (v. 16), and despondent (v. 18).  But her response is not to lash out at her surroundings, to drink, to rail at God, to blame her husband, to return evil for evil… no, Hannah’s response is to pray.

Hannah’s vow.

One thing that’s very relevant is that any vow Hannah made was meaningless if her husband didn’t confirm it:

If a woman in her husband’s house has made a vow or put herself under an obligation with an oath, and her husband hears about it, says nothing to her, and does not prohibit her, all her vows are binding, and every obligation she put herself under is binding. But if her husband cancels them on the day he hears about it, nothing that came from her lips, whether her vows or her obligation, is binding. Her husband has canceled them, and the LORD will absolve her.  Her husband may confirm or cancel any vow or any sworn obligation to deny herself.
[Numbers 30:11-13]

This is important context because Hannah wasn’t being unsubmissive or making a promise she couldn’t keep.

Secondly, the vow itself (v. 11):

LORD of Hosts, if You will take notice of Your servant’s affliction, remember and not forget me, and give Your servant a son, I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and his hair will never be cut.

Her son is to be a Nazarite from birth.  Just like Samson in Judges 13.  The parallel Hannah is offering to God is exact.  Surely Hannah knew her recent history!  So—the text doesn’t say what all was going on in her head, but I think it’s a reasonable inference, at least a consideration, that a righteous woman in the midst of such sinfulness would find herself wishing for a Gideon, a Samson, a Barak, a Jephthah, to again rise up from the people of Israel.  Whether she wished specifically for her son to be that or not, that was what she was holding out to God—a son dedicated to the Lord from birth.  And that is what God ultimately delivered to her: not merely a son whom she could dedicate to outward temple service, but a son who was indeed the Lord’s, and who did go on to be a judge over Israel, and a tremendous influence for righteousness.

And Hannah believed.  Verse 18, her despondence is gone.

God answered, giving her Samuel, whose very name recognizes the circumstances of his conception and of his mother’s vow.  She tells her husband Elkanah of her vow, and he confirms it.  And so she takes Samuel to Eli, “though the boy was still young” (v. 24).  She needs no reminders and displays no hesitation.  Samuel is gone from her and dedicated to her Lord.

Hannah’s prayer.

1 Samuel 2 is where we really find out what makes Hannah tick.  We’ve already seen that she’s a woman devoted to worshipping God (1 Samuel 1:7, 1:10, 1:12, 1:16, 1:19, 1:24), but now we find out her theology.  And, wow, it turns out to be really deep.  A pastor could preach many sermons from Hannah’s little prayer!  A few of the things that really stood out to me:

  • She just gave up her son, but she’s rejoicing in the Lord (ch. 2 v. 1).
  • She’s not overcome by her enemies (how the magnitude of her suffering must have been to refer to them as “enemies” with no military context!) because she rejoices in God’s salvation (v. 1).
  • She’s got an amazing and exactly correct view of God and His sovereignty (v. 2-3, 5, 6, 7, 8) and the accompanying compulsion for us to be holy.
  • She knows truth strength is in God, not human strength, echoing David’s not-yet-written words in Psalm 18:29 (v. 4).
  • She knows happiness isn’t found in children but in the Lord (v. 5).
  • She knows the end of the righteous and the wicked (v. 9-10).
  • She anticipates Jesus Himself (v. 10).

So much there.  So much faith and so much understanding!  So much encouragement.

Then she left her only son and went home with empty arms but a joyful heart.  She proceeds to visit him once a year, with a little robe (v. 19), when they go up for the yearly sacrifice.

The end of the story.

Each year Eli prays that God may give her another child (v. 20), and God “pays attention,” v. 21, and Hannah has five more children.

The story quickly turns to Samuel and his life as it impacts Eli, Saul, David—and we never find out the end of Hannah’s story.  Did she keep meeting with him once a year?  Did she know and weep for her grandchildren who fell right back into the sin that surrounded her (1 Samuel 8:3)?  Were her other children faithful?  We don’t know.  Hannah doesn’t “make it” into the lineage of Christ or the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11.  She’s not mentioned by Jesus, any of the gospel writers, or in any of the epistles; all we know of her is contained right here in these two simple chapters.

Yet, what chapters and encouragement they are!  Hannah is a model of perseverance, faith, and sound theology even under great duress.  And God’s response to her pleas is a wonderful demonstration of His faithfulness and remembrance, blessing her far beyond what she asked of Him.

Mothering, Studying God, Time Management

Always prepared to give an answer?

Julie / January 22, 2016

Today someone asked me how it is that I always seem to be so peaceful.

Someone whom I have no reason at all to believe is a Christian; someone whose relationship with me does not generally entail talking about religion or personal beliefs at all, in fact, whose relationship with me (i.e., “professional”) makes such conversation socially verboten.

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…
(1 Peter 3:15)

Needless to say, I was caught off-guard by her question.  I have a neat litany of excuses for my failure: the irregularity of the conversation, the exhaustion deluging my brain, my todo list burning a hole in my pocket, the rarity of my interaction with nonbelievers at all now (as a SAHM)… I was very much off-guard.  Secondly, the subtlety of the question threw me—”peaceful” didn’t immediately turn my brain to the Gospel.

I have lots of excuses.

The conversation was not a total flub, because for some odd reason, she kept pushing it and, surprisingly, turning it in ever more spiritual directions.  I felt like I’d stepped into the twilight zone and was off-balance and uncertain the entire time.  Looking back, I feel like the conversation was enough that God could use it, or that I could bring it back up again on the strength of the conversation, but I’m also really sorrowful at my own ineptitude and inattention and lack of focus.

“Always being prepared.”  I would have done better if she had asked me a direct question, like, “how do I go to heaven?” or “how does your faith help you remain calm?”  Or, “why is this theological confession better than that one?”  I could have done well with any of those questions, had my brain snapped into focus and put on the evangelism track.

But sadly, preparation doesn’t mean knowledge here.  It doesn’t mean ability to argue theological points.  Peter is talking in the context of suffering Christians in a hostile world, and what is the source of the “preparation” he names?  “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.”

My problem was that my brain was going a thousand places this morning, none of them focused directly on Christ.  I was totally being “a Martha.”  I’d thought plenty about theology this morning, but not much about its Author.  My fellow conversationalist actually asked me (if you’re a Yankee, you know how shocking this is) if I prayed in the mornings—and all I could think of was, well, I sure hadn’t THIS morning!  My answers were all over the place because my heart was all over the place.  God gives me peace when our son has facial palsy—a peace I have very much clung to in the past week and a half—but somehow, the lesser things, I act like I can strike out on my own.  I can bundle my kids up and out the door, carefully-organized schoolwork schedules in hand.  I can get everyone breakfast, everyone in shoes, raggle-taggle hair tamed, snacks packed… all in my own strength.

But I can’t.  This morning was absolutely shattering to my self-inflated spiritual ego.  It doesn’t matter how much Scripture I read or recite, how many theological terms I can rattle off, or how excellent of “Christian” parenting advice I can dole out when others ask me… if my very own heart is not filled up with honoring Christ, it’s all rubbish, to quote Paul.

It’s a quiet little sin to simply lose focus, to stop feeling thirsty for the refreshment of the Spirit, to stop depending on Him and glorifying His holiness and instead to fall into pride and self-focus, distraction, and worry.

Such a quiet little sin.  But such a lethal one.  I’ll never get this morning back.

(Written July 2015, forgot to post it.)

Study Notes, Womanhood, Women in the Bible

A Woman of Boldness

As I continue to think about the definition of biblical womanhood, the very-familiar story of the Shunammite woman who helped Elisha in 2 Kings 4 seemed worth looking into.  I’ve always read the story with puzzlement over the somewhat odd miracle-working of the resurrection of her son, and never paid that much attention to what it has to say about the woman herself, and the consider amounts of initiative and planning she undertakes.

While our historical culture has often seen boldness as an unfeminine trait, Scripture has much positive to say about boldness, and this is a good illustration of how it can be a positive quality in women.

I had never noticed how incredibly similar Elisha’s story here is to Elijah’s story in 1 Kings 17.  Mostly minor differences, but at least one significant one—I always thought the woman in Elijah’s story took so much action personally because she had no husband, but in 2 Kings 4, there is a husband in the story, and yet the wife is still very much the central figure.

We see in v. 8 that she is “a prominent woman,” and she not merely offers Elisha some food, she persuades him to eat.  Regularly.  She appeals to her husband to set aside an entire room (with great details like a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp) for Elisha to stay in whenever he comes through Shunem.  And they do it.  And why?  Because, she says, “I know that [Elisha] is a holy man of God” (2 Kings 4:9).

She’s a woman with ideas.  She’s a woman who apparently boldly entreats a prophet to stop and rest a while, and who boldly entreats her husband to do something quite inconvenient on his behalf.  Presumably her husband is going along with all of this, but it’s interesting that she, and not he, is the one driving it.

Elisha takes her up on the offer.  And then—again, bypassing the woman’s husband, who I would have expected him to deal with—he calls for her and thanks her for going to the trouble, and asks her what they can do for her in exchange.

She asks for nothing.

Gehazi points out that she has no son, and Elisha promises her one.  She is disbelieving, but his word proves true (v. 17).

Here, finally, the woman’s husband comes into the story a little bit—the child goes out with his father to the harvest, gets sick in the head, and the father sends him back to his mother with a servant.

The child dies.  She picks him up, puts him on Elisha’s bed, and leaves.  She doesn’t tell anyone what happened, and when her husband asks why she wants to go see Elisha, who is now at Mount Carmel, she doesn’t tell him.  He’s confused (v. 23) but she just affirms that everything is okay and leaves in a rush.

I can’t imagine what is going through her head.  Her only son, her little son, has died, and she’s keeping it all locked inside and not even telling his father.  So much single-mindedness is evident here.

She gets to Mount Caramel, and Elisha sees her in the distance (v.25) and sends Gehazi out to see if everything is all right.

She says yes, everything is all right—so much faith here!—and waits until she gets to Elisha’s feet to be overcome with anguish at last.  Elisha, for his part, has no idea what’s going on (“the Lord has hidden it from me, He hasn’t told me”, v. 27), but is compassionate.

She reminds him that she hadn’t asked for the son, but did ask to not be deceived—and now her son is dead.  Elisha sends Gehazi off in a rush with his staff, which turns out not to work (v. 31), but the mother won’t be dissuaded until Elisha comes himself (v. 30).

Elisha prays and the boy comes back to life.

The same Shunammite woman re-enters the story in 2 Kings 8, where Elisha has prophesied of a famine, and here thoughtfully tells the woman to pack up her household and get away.

Again, I am struck by the reality that he told her, and not her husband; that it was the woman who “got ready and did what the man of God said” (v. 2), and then it was the woman even who went to appeal to the king at the end of the famine to have her land restored (v. 3).  And God worked it out perfectly for her by having Gehazi “happen” to be at court the same time that the woman appeared, telling the king in fact about the woman herself, and her son, and the help they had given to and received from Elisha.

(On a sidenote, it is also awesome that God worked it out so that while Gehazi is telling this awesome, logic-defying story about a kid being raised from the dead, the woman herself comes in and confirms the story to the king.)

The king responds by restoring not only the woman’s house and lands, but also all the income she might have missed.

Nothing really is said about the husband in this story.  He could have been like some minor version of Nabal, and that been why it was left to his wife to do all these things, why it was his wife who helped Elisha and who was addressed by Elisha.  Certainly he doesn’t seem to have stopped her in any of her endeavors, although the only words he speaks in the entire story are questioning her actions (4:23).  Gehazi also says the man is old (4:14), and perhaps that is why he is so inactive—although he was working in the harvest (4:18).

There’s also the submissive aspect present in at least some degree when, rather than summoning the servants herself to fetch the donkey to go to Mount Carmel, she summons her husband and asks him to summon the servants to fetch the donkey, and tells him where she’s going.  She gives him a reassuring and honest but vague answer to his inquiry, and nowhere in any of these three main parts of her story (making a room for Elisha, fetching Elisha to raise her son, or packing up and moving to Philistia) is there any indication at all that her husband is anything other than a completely willing participant in her actions.  She consistently runs her plans by him—if vaguely at times—and then acts.

She reminds me of the Proverbs 31 woman, who “considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.”  There’s a lot of action going on in Proverbs 31, too, a lot of decisions: which vineyard? which clothes? where shall I buy my wool? how much shall I sell these garments for? how do I deal with the merchants? how much shall I dispense to the poor? what kind of food shall we eat?

There’s a boldness to the Shunammite’s actions—and the Proverbs 31 woman—in knowing the good thing to do, and doing it.  Knowing when to explain, and when to just act; when to ask permission (e.g. to set aside a room in their house permanently) and when to just stride on without any real explanation (e.g. when her son died).  There’s a lot of wisdom needed, but the examples are encouraging.  Doing good things unflinchingly, unquestioningly is one of the things that leads King Lemuel’s mother to declare, “the heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.  She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:11-12).

Thanks to the Shunammite’s boldness in doing good, her husband gained a son, then had that son resurrected, then survived a great famine, then profited upon their return to their home.  It also led to Gehazi being able to testify of the goodness of the Lord to the king, and surely encouraged and  helped God’s prophet to have a welcome home in Shunem and to see the faith she displayed by declaring “everything is all right” although her little son lay at home dead.  There was much good done by her concern for doing right and seeking the Lord!

Study Notes, Womanhood, Women in the Bible

A Woman with Initiative

Julie / February 24, 2015

On the one hand, I am staunchly complementarian.  I don’t believe women should teach or have authority over men, or even speak in church.  I believe women should consider themselves positionally beneath (i.e. “submissive”) to their husbands.  I believe those four things are very clear in Scripture.

But I also think there are some nuances in Scripture that get confused with our cultural traditions of patriarchy—in short, that the patriarchy of 16th century France and the patriarchy of Scripture may not be the same thing, but it can be hard for us to sort out.

In particular, I find it hard to understand Deborah being a judge, and hard to understand Abigail blatantly going against what she knew would have been the wishes of her husband, if he had had the chance to contradict her.  But she knew he would be displeased.

Today I read and noticed another such story, one I had read but not really thought about: 2 Samuel 20.  This man named Sheba has decided to rebel against David, and Joab is sent to quench the rebellion and destroy, apparently, the entire town of Abel.

Now—first of all, David is clearly in the right here.  Sheba was evil and wicked and it was entirely correct to destroy him.  Secondly, there’s a whole town involved, with plenty of elders and men to step up and do the right thing.  The “leadership,” apparently, made the executive decision to twiddle their thumbs.

But, enter this unnamed woman, who we only know as “a wise woman.” (v. 16).  While Joab is trying to break down the walls of the city, she—and she alone—calls out.  “Listen! Listen! Please tell Joab to come here and let me speak with him.”

And Joab listened.  And she made an argument, a very neat, concise, persuasive argument.  She let him know that there were faithful people in the city, and reminded him of the importance of the city, both presently and historically, and theologically.  Her words are rebuking and even harsh: “Why would you devour YHWH’s inheritance?”

She got Joab’s attention, and he protested: “Never! I do not want to destroy!”  And he offers her a solution—deliver Sheba, and the city will be spared.

This is a woman he’s bargaining with.  A woman who responds by promising him Sheba’s head.

So what does she do?  Does she go to her husband and say, hey, tell the elders about this, get them to make a decision so we can abide by it?

Nope.  This woman, who the Bible declares to be wise, goes straight to “all the people” and offers “her wise counsel” (v. 22).  They listen to her, cut off Sheba’s head, and throw it over the wall to Joab, who promptly retreats and goes back to David.  Disaster averted.

There are many things here that are both encouraging and perplexing.  Scripture seems quite clear that the woman was wise and correct, both in her character and in her actions here.  And yet she is very avidly arguing with men: first Joab, then the men of her city.  She is contradicting authority, both Joab (in his authority to destroy the city), and the city rulers (by not waiting on them to approach Joab, and not going to them first to ask them to give up Sheba).  She makes arguments and gives counsel—to men!—not suggestions and obeisance.  She is single-handedly responsible for pushing them to cut off Sheba’s head.

Now, what she doesn’t do is try to usurp authority.  She doesn’t remind one of Jezebel.  Like Abigail, and Deborah, when the men are willing to do what ought to be done, she fades into the background and we never hear tell of her again.  She works by persuasion and arguments, not force or unjust threats.

She’s an excellent example of bold biblical womanhood, womanhood that takes initiative, makes persuasive arguments, is not daunted, and whose wisdom is not hidden under a bushel, but ably helps all those around her, even a whole town and a king, for the glory of God.


On headcoverings

To begin with, the Scripture (1 Corinthians 11:2-16, HCSB):

Now I praise you because you always remember me and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. 3 But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of the woman, and God is the head of Christ. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with something on his head dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since that is one and the same as having her head shaved. 6 So if a woman’s head is not covered, her hair should be cut off. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, she should be covered.

7 A man, in fact, should not cover his head, because he is God’s image and glory, but woman is man’s glory. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman came from man. 9 And man was not created for woman, but woman for man.10 This is why a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, and man is not independent of woman. 12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman, and all things come from God.

13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?For her hair is given to her as a covering. 16 But if anyone wants to argue about this, we have no other custom, nor do the churches of God.

Now, the very clear teaching is in v 6: she should be covered.

Covered When?

It is largely uncontroversial that this is talking about corporate worship.  Verse five specifies “prays or prophesies,” and it is here that the best argument against headcovering is founded: that women only need to have their heads covered while speaking aloud in church.   That, however, makes the whole passage pointless because Paul also forbids women to speak in church.  So… what can it mean?  I think it is better to read it in the context of church life (as the entire passage is) and leave the question of whether women are prophesying out loud or not in church to a different discussion.

  • it can’t mean to cover always  because it gives a single context—when praying or prophesying
  • it can’t mean to cover only when speaking  formally in worship because then why bother mentioning it at all
    My thought is that either this means quiet prayer / participatory prayer, or else maybe the early church was less formal and people were speaking to each other.  But I think this has nothing to do with the headcovering question, rather the issue of “women prophesying” at all, and how that looked in corporate worship, and it’s better to separate the question and say, whatever was proper for women to do in church, they should be covered.

    Paul’s arguments

    The passage is straightforward, but essentially, Paul argues:

    1. This is a tradition.  Verse 2.  There is scant biblical evidence but firm Talmudic evidence that headcovering was the de facto Jewish tradition and law.  This is what converted Jews would have done.  At any rate, by the time Paul is explaining it, it’s a tradition of the Church.
    2. This is an example of headship.  Verse 3-5.  Christ is the head of man, man is the head of woman.  It is dishonoring to man’s head to cover it (man’s head is Christ); it is dishonoring to woman’s head to not cover it (woman’s head is man).
    3. To be uncovered in church is the same as to shave your head.  Verses 5-6.  It is “disgraceful,” Paul says.  More on this below.
    4. Because of Creation: men should not cover their heads because they are God’s image and glory, but woman is man’s glory.  Verse 7. It shows the created order and purpose (woman was made for man).
    5. As a symbol of authority: verse 10: this is why headcoverings.  It’s to show the authority of the man over the woman, and to show (in men) the authority that the man has.
    6. Because of the angels.  Verse 10.  Nobody knows what this means.  That’s really the bottom line.  Some people suggest that it’s talking about modesty, either because of the bad angels (cf. Genesis 6) or to not tempt the good angels (see Ecclesiastes 5:6).  Another possibility is that the practice of covering is in imitation of the angels, Isaiah 6:1.  Another possibility is based on a few verses (and a lot of tradition) that suggest the angels are present (witnessing) in corporate worship, and that consequently doing things properly is even more important… but really, nobody has a clue what this means.
    7. Because nature teaches it.  Verses 13-15.  Nature teaches that women need a covering beyond what men have.
    8. Because it is a tradition.  Verse 16.  This verse is often misinterpreted, but this seems to be the best understanding: don’t argue with everything I just said, because this is what everybody in the churches of God does.  This is our custom.

    The Two Coverings

    This is the essence of one of the most confusing aspects of the passage—the “hair” covering and the “wear a covering” covering.  Throughout Paul appeals to the natural reality of women having long hair, and some get confused and say that the long hair is the covering he refers to.

    This does not, however, make sense.

    Fundamentally, it doesn’t make sense because the Greek word in 15—“her hair is given to her as a peribolaion”—is not the same Greek word used in verse 6—“she should be katakalupto.”  They mean two different things.  Paul could have used the same root for each but chose not to.  This misunderstanding never could have arisen from reading the Greek, because the key point doesn’t match up.  Paul commands that women be katakalupto but long hair is a periobolaion.

    Even on the surface, though, the passage makes no sense if we understanding “long hair” to be adequate covering.  Substitute “long hair” in place of “covered” and it disintegrates.  Verse 5-6:

    But every woman who prays or prophesies with [shaved hair] dishonors her head, since that is one and the same as having her head shaved.  So if a woman’s head is [shaved], her hair should be cut off. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, she should [have long hair].

    I think what Paul is trying to say in this passage is that there are two coverings.  There is one covering, long hair, which is recognized even by natural man, and which is God’s gracious gift to women everywhere as a natural sign of femininity (and in turn, submission).  This teaches us even in our wretched state that women should be “covered” with long hair.  In the church, however, when we are approaching the things of God—and woman is the glory of man, not of God (verse 7)—there is another covering required, because in worship of God, it is proper to veil the glory of man.

    When Paul says, then, “every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since that is one and the same as having her head shaved” (verse 5), I think he means head uncovered in church is the same thing as having no hair outside of church.  I.e., lacking the proper covering for the proper context (lacking a covering for church, lacking long hair outside church).

    Objection: it’s just cultural.

    There are a few different ways people intend this objection.  The first, is that the Bible is not culturally inerrant, is used likewise to dismiss the passages about homosexuality, women speaking in the church, etc., so I’m not even going to bother with it.  We can’t dismiss the passage simply as no longer relevant.

    Which brings us to the first legitimate question, which is, is the specific expression of the principle here merely cultural?  I.e., why not just wear wedding rings?

    Well, I think the answer to this is in Paul’s if in verse 6: “if it is disgraceful… she should be covered.”  And one might argue that it is no longer disgraceful for women to have short hair, but I think that argument is folly and degeneracy.  It still makes news when celebrities shave their heads, or even get ultra-feminine pixie cuts.  Chemo patients buy wigs, or wear scarves—if they’re women.  Men don’t wear wigs and certainly don’t wear scarves to cover their baldness.  I think Paul’s if is still answered with a “yes,” political correctness aside.

    Secondly, our culture doesn’t have a parallel expression to fall back on: wedding rings are only for currently-married women and… men.  Paul is fundamentally talking about a symbol of gender here.

    I can see the argument that skirts might apply, but then we have the problem that skirts have nothing to do with heads (whereas the meaning of headcoverings clearly connects the metaphorical headship with literal heads), and don’t actually cover anything.  If Paul meant “the women should dress like women,” he surely could have said so, and then in cultures that practiced headcovering, there would be headcovering, and in cultures that wore skirts, there would be skirts.  But he made a very explicit argument based on headship, and cemented his argument by saying that women already have one sort of covering on their heads—long hair.

    Further, Paul’s arguments have not a word about culture: he bases it on tradition, Creation, the angels, and nature.  None of which have changed.

    In other words, every single thing in the passage points to it being culturally transcendent.

    Further, while evidence is unsure, it seems the practice of Corinth was not to cover their heads.  Paul was teaching something contrary to Corinthian culture.

    OBJECTION: It’s only mentioned in this one passage.

    I really don’t understand this objection, but it’s common.

    What difference does it make?  It’s fifteen verses of clarity.  Maybe the Corinthian church was the only one sufficiently un-Jewish to have not already had and known the tradition.  Or whose native culture didn’t practice headcovering.  Or maybe by the time the other letters were written (only 1-2 Thessalonians were earlier), word had gotten around.  Who knows?  This isn’t one vague verse to build a doctrine on; it’s a entire coherent argument with multiple supporting points.

    Objection: It’s not clear what “covering” means.

    More precisely, the difficulty is that “covered” seems to possibly mean completely covered, like a burqa, which then would contradict Paul’s prohibition on “e.g. braided hair,” which implies that hair was visible.

    I think it is sensible to admit that there is legitimate confusion here, as on the “women prophesy in church?” question.  But the confusion doesn’t infringe on the question of whether or not “head covering” is necessary, only what it should look like.

    Except for the possibility of “because of the angels,” no part of Paul’s argument appeals to modesty:

    • none of his premises are based on modesty
    • modesty would not sensibly stop applying when outside the church
    • if covering the hair was what Paul had in mind (for modesty’s sake), then it would not make sense to call uncovered long hair a “covering” as in verse 15.

    Thus,   it seems most sensible to me to view this passage chiefly as saying women need to have “authority” on their heads, as symbolism, not modesty.

    Moreover, the word argument is a poor one: the word is used frequently in the Septuagint and seems to be used just as “covering,” even if the etymology would seem to indicate something severe.  (And it never refers, incidentally, to hair).  This is a detailed overview, although I don’t know the veracity of the source.

    Historical practice

    Finally, while it has no impact on the text, it’s worth noting that headcovering has been the universal practice of the Christian church from the beginning until the 20th century, and continues today in many countries and many denominations and even other religions (Mennonite, Amish, Brethren, Catholic, Orthodox, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, etc.).

    The historical practice makes it hard to sort out what commentators “would have” thought in a different cultural setting, but there’s no doubt that they held headcoverings were exactly what the passage is teaching, as this blog post ably shows.


How-To: Sew Children’s Pilgrim Costumes for less than $5

Julie / October 25, 2013


Please excuse the unironed costumes.  I didn’t want to wait until Halloween to take the pictures for my quasi-tutorial here, but today turned out to be very, very chaotic.  You can still totally get the point, I think. ;)  I should also add that I can’t tie bows for anything, and someone else will have to tie them on Halloween so they aren’t sticking out everywhere!  Haha.

I thought it would be really cool for the children to dress up as pilgrims (and Squanto) for Halloween this year—there are many qualities of the pilgrims and Puritans that I find very imitable for young children, and thought dressing up as such would raise their curiosity in a rather good historical subject—and pilgrim costumes are not very hard to find on Amazon.  But even at the relatively affordable costume prices, with four children, we were looking at $80-$100 for costumes that were made of cheap material, which would tear easily and not make good additions to the dress-up bin.  I just couldn’t quite bring myself to do it!

Then, after I started trying to figure out how to make them myself, I realized that pilgrim costumes must not be a very common DIY, because I could find very little information on Pinterest or elsewhere on how to make… anything.  I was hoping for a bonnet pattern.  A collar pattern.  Anything.  Nada.

I eventually found this page from Plimoth Plantation on what pilgrims actually wore (most specifically, that they didn’t particularly wear black), and this page for a simple, more-accurate-than-most-costumes bonnet (pilgrims don’t seem to have worn the frilly brimmed or gathered bonnets that they are often depicted with now).  I was afraid, however, that if I dressed them like completely accurate pilgrims, then no one would realize they were supposed to be pilgrims at all.  And that’s no fun for kids.  So I decided: no black, because I had no idea what I would do with black dresses after Halloween was over; and I would do the simple bonnet, and make the “simple” theme a pervasive one and an opportunity to talk about dressing as for God and not for man or fashion; but otherwise I would somewhat loosely abide by modern ideas of pilgrims, i.e., the bib-type collar, the stark white, the slight flare on the bonnet, the buckles on the (anachronistic) boy pilgrim hat, and so on.

I also ordered a Native American costume for our Squanto.  I figured making three pilgrim costumes would be quite enough for a somewhat last-minute dash!

Bearing all that in mind, practically, I wanted to write down somewhat what I did, in case someone else out there would also like to make a non-paper pilgrim costume for their child! 🙂

DSC06307Girls: the dresses
The need was for a long-sleeve dress, which is surprisingly hard to find a pattern for, and also something quick-ish, because I didn’t want to spend a lot of time sewing a dress in a plain color that was unlikely to be “pretty” enough for everyday wear.  I soon settled on a peasant-style yoke, which are soooooo easy, but they tend to be a bit poofy and unfitted and I thought it might be worth a little extra effort to find a pattern that would be a bit more tightly drawn (and useful for making other dresses in the future that weren’t destined for the dress-up bin).  I finally settled on the Molly Peasant Dress, which cost me $10.  Although I could have made a regular peasant dress for free, I think it was a good decision; the Molly takes very little fabric (the entire pink dress is made from one single curtain panel) and is indeed more fitted, and I look forward to using it for more dresses in the future! I think the cap sleeve version (which is included) is really cute. I made the brown dress mostly according to the pattern, DSC06337with a $2 sheet from the Goodwill store, and long sleeves with elastic at the bottom (as per the pattern).  I made the pink dress (from a $2 curtain) without a lot of the “tack in place” sewing (which is to say, when the pattern said straight-stitch and then finish the edges, as two separate steps, I just serged it all in one), and cuffed the sleeves instead of elasticizing them.  Now, here’s the huge caveat with this pattern: pilgrim dresses definitely should not be high-waisted. I had originally planned to make a vest-like cover of the same fabric, ideally with buttons, to make it more realistic, but once I actually tried the dress on the girls, I think the giant pilgrim collar distracts from the high waist and that it’s fine for a Halloween costume.

Girls: the bonnets
DSC06317DSC06331All the white stuff was made from a single large new 99¢ sheet from Ikea.  Doesn’t get any cheaper than that! And it’s an extremely cheap sheet, so the fabric is rough and “matches” the pilgrim milieu. I followed the general idea for bonnets in the post I linked above, basically measured the girls’ heads side-to-side, to made sure my DSC06318rectangle was adequately wide, and then folded the brim back (and basted it down, except for about two inches on each side, so that it would flare out as seems more typical with pilgrim costume bonnets) with it on the girls’ actual heads.  I didn’t include side ties because they don’t seem historically accurate.  The bonnets were fundamentally very easy.


DSC06307Girls: the aprons
DSC04284Aprons are soooo easy.  Especially the ones from this era, which are basically giant rectangles.  I had made pretty much identical ones for their colonial costumes in February, but those had been eyelet lace (which doesn’t fit with the pilgrim-simplicity theme, obviously) and since aprons are so easy, and I had the fabric already, I made two new ones.  I should say at this point that the outfits as a whole, including the aprons, are rather less poofy and full-skirted than a lot of depictions.  I’m not sure which is more historically accurate.  If I had it to do over, though, I would have added some extra yardage to the skirts of both the dresses and the aprons, so the skirts would look more like the colonial ones did.


DSC06322Girls: the collars
And here we come to the part I really struggled with!  Again, what is historically accurate seems quite broad, but mostly it seems like there weren’t these extraneous giant white things hanging around their necks for no obvious reason.  But this also seemed to me to be a key to making the kids look like pilgrims to random viewers, since it is so much a part of our modern conception.  So I made collars.  I couldn’t find a pattern for these at all, so I made my own:


You can download it—click the picture.  There are lots of extra lines, obviously; think about what your collar will look like (round or elongated) before you decide which lines to cut! Children’s necks are not very differently sized in diameter, so I was able to use the center hole unaltered for everybody from my 1-year-old to my 5-year-old. (It looks big on the one-year-old, but that’s actually an optical illusion because his shirt is a turtleneck.) You can easily add extra seam allowance on the outside lines for wider shoulders, and cut the inside hole a teeny bit bigger (or just sew with a deeper seam allowance) for older kids.  I did the circle collar for our boy pilgrim and the elongated one for the girls; if I had more time / less costumes, I considered doing buttons down the front… I ended up doing ribbon ties at the top instead.  The really easy thing would have been to cut these out of white felt or fleece, single-layer, no sewing.  But I didn’t have white felt and have been too busy/tired to go to the store to get some!  So instead I used my reliable old sheet, cut two layers, sewed them together around all the edges (leaving a hole on the inside back of the neck area to turn), turned them right side, top-stitched all around, and sewed up the hole.  I should have left the hole at the end of one of the straight parts of the collar to turn, and then been able to tuck it back inside, and top-stitch, all very neatly.  Live and learn!

DSC06291Boy: the outfit
Since I was dealing with a one-year-old, and dress-up is pretty meaningless at that age… I hunted and found a plain black shirt and plain black pants out of his drawer.  That said, you could make a peasant type shirt and simple elastic pants, if there are no plain clothes in your boy’s drawer.  Lose the ruffles and the skirts and they’re workable enough boy patterns, especially if you used a drawstring tie on the shirt instead of elastic. :)  For Halloween, I need to find him some kind of belt!  And tall white knee socks.

Boy: the collar
DSC06298The same as the girls’, but in the fully round version.  And I left both ends open to turn it right-side, and then tucked the ends in at an angle before top-stitching so that there is a bit more of an upside-down V shape at the front.  This is much easier than the bib style I did for the girls.

DSC06338Boy: the hat
This was an ADVENTURE, let me tell you!  I’ve never made a hat and couldn’t find anything remotely like instructions or a pattern online.  Nothing.  I finally decided to just go for it and see how it turned out.  This was an attempt at a fully stereotypical pilgrim hat, not an actual in-any-way-accurate one…

First I made the tall part.  (See, I’m so hat-ignorant I don’t even know what that’s called.  The non-brim.)  I measured my kiddo’s head, about where a hat would seem to fall, cut a piece of felt a little bigger than that (and what seemed a good height, in the other direction), serged it up the side, and stuck it on his head.  Felt stretches a little, and it fit.  Obstacle one complete; I now had a big black tube that fit snugly on my son’s head.  But how to get the brim and the shaping?  DSC06342Shaping:  I experimented a little and kept sticking it on the poor child’s head to test, but since it’s black, just for Halloween, and he’s a baby, I think it’s good enough by far.  You can see what I ended up with (right, picture of the hat inside out), and when it’s right-side I kind of punch it down on top a bit and round it out to make it look even a little better.  If he wasn’t going to outgrow it right away, I think this could be a pretty decent way to go about it, and add some starch or something to keep it from folding flat.  Of course the great thing to do here—which was way too much trouble for me—is to make a proper cone with a tiny circle for the top, like a birthday hat with the very top part cut off and replaced with a flat piece.  Brim: I suggest using actual math for this step.  If you fold the tube flat, measure, and double, you have a circumference, which you can use to find the diameter of the circle you should cut for the inside of the brim.  Add about six inches (three all around) more to get the diameter to use for the outside of the brim.  I didn’t use math, DSC06341because I wasn’t near a calculator.  Trial and error also worked but it was a lot more work!  Anyway, you’re going for a shape pretty much like the collar shape, except without a cut down the middle—you want a solid, flat, wide ring.  I should also add that the little felt rectangles at the store will not be big enough, you want felt by the yard, which is quite cheap but I’ve only found at an actual fabric store.  Then turn your hat-top right side and slide the brim over the end of it, matching the inside of your newly-cut felt ring with the right side of the hat-top-tube.  If you’ve done the math right, this will lay flat with no gathers or folds (see right, the fabric to the right of the seam, and under the seam, is flat).  Pin as much as necessary (I’m not a fan of pinning, DSC06339and even I used four!) and stitch around, continuing to make sure fabric lays flat.  Buckle: This doesn’t really need instructions, but I was pretty pleased with how it turned out for as simple as it was.  It’s just a piece of tan felt with two slits cut in it, and then a long strip of the white fabric sewn into a belt and made to fit just above the rim.  Easy.  Again, white felt would have been even easier.  Also, glue would have been easier.  One last thing: The brim is really floppy.  It would look better stiffer.  I think this might could be accomplished with schoolglue-and-water-mixture, or spray starch, but I haven’t yet experimented to figure out which.  It would also work to cut it down to less width.

Boy: the cuffs
DSC06298Again with the sheet; I just made two simple white rectangles, turned right side, and then basted the center of them over the center (inside) seam of his shirt sleeves, at the very bottom.  They are actually sewn on, until after Halloween.  Then the “cuffs” open on the outside, where you can see them, and are pinned so they make a V rather like the collar.

The great conclusion:
Three Halloween costumes, including a fairly pricey pattern that I’ll be able to use in the future, and fabric (about 75% of which I didn’t even need, and folded back up for future projects): $15.  Less than the single costume I decided to buy for Squanto. :)  If I hadn’t bought the pattern, this would have been 3 costumes for $5 total.


Mothering, Old Wisdom, Wifehood

Duty of Parents to Children

Julie / November 26, 2012

Part Two of Julie attempting to make the Puritans more accessible to other sleepy mommies. (See Duty to Wives for a much wordier prelude.)  This is another piece from John Bunyan’s Christian Behavior.

If you are a parent—a father, or a mother—then you must consider your calling as a believer in light of that fact.  Your children have souls, and they must be born of God as well as born of you, or they will perish.  Further, unless you are very careful in your behavior to them and in front of them, they may perish because of you: this thought should provoke you to both instruct them and to correct them.

Instruct them as the Scripture says

To “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord,” and to do this diligently, “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Ephesians 6:4, Deuteronomy 6:7).  To this end:

  • Use terms and words that are easy to understand.  Don’t talk in pretentious flowery language; that will drown your children.  God spoke thus easily to His children (Hosea 12:10) and Paul to his (1 Corinthians 3:2).
  • Be careful not to fill their heads with imaginative and unprofitable things, for this will teach them to be imprudently bold and proud, rather than sober and humble.  Talk to them about the innate sinfulness of man; talk to them about sin, death, and hell; of a crucified Savior, and the promise of life through faith: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
  • Fill all your instruction with gentleness and patience, “lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21). And,
  • Work to convince them by reasonable discussion, that the things you teach them are not fables but realities: not only that, but realities so far above what we can enjoy here, that all things, even if they were a thousand times better than they are, are still not worthy to be compared with the glory and worthiness of the things of God.  Isaac was so holy in front of his children, that when his son Jacob remembered God, he remembered Him as “the Fear of his father Isaac” (Genesis 31:53).  When children can think of their parents, and bless God for that instruction and good they have received from them, it is not only profitable for children, but also an honor and comfort to parents: “The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice; he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him” (Proverbs 23:24-25).

The duty of correction

  • See if fair words will win them from evil.  This is God’s way with His children (Jeremiah 25:4, 5).
  • Let the words you speak to them in correction be sober, few, and pertinent, always adding some relevant sentence of Scripture; for instance, if they lie, then something like Revelation 21:8, 27; or if they refuse to hear the Word, something like 2 Chronicles 25:14-16.
  • Take care that they not be friends with those who are rude and ungodly, rather, with soberness show them a continual dislike of their naughtiness, and often cry out to them, as God did of old to His children, “Oh, do not do this abomination that I hate!” (Jeremiah 44:4)
  • Mix everything you say with such love, pity, and a spirit of anxiousness, that as much as possible, you may convince them that your dislike is not of their person, but of their sin.  This is God’s way (Psalm 99:8).
  • Constantly try to impress upon them the day of their death and the judgment to come.  Thus God also deals with His (Deuteronomy 32:29).
  • If you are driven to physical punishment, be cautious and clear-headed, soberly showing them a) their fault; b) how contrary it is to your heart to deal with them in that fashion, c) that you do what you do out of conscience to God and in love of their souls, and d) telling them, that if they could have been won over by any other way, that the severe punishment would not have been.  In all this you will be sure to not only afflict their bodies, but also their hearts, and since it is the way God deals with His children, it is the most likely to accomplish the desired goal.
  • Pray. Follow all this with prayer for them, and leave the issue to God: “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15).

Things to avoid

  • Be sure that the sin which you try to correct is not one they learned from you.  Many children learn the sins of their parents, the very sins for which the parents beat and chastise.
  • Be careful not to smile at them for small faults, and encourage them, so that your behavior will not be an encouragement to them to commit even greater sins.
  • Don’t use unsavory and ugly words in your correction of them, such as railing at them, calling them names, and so on: this is of the devil.
  • Don’t mix chiding and threatening words with lightness and laughter: this will harden their hearts.  Don’t correct them too long or too often, but be relevant and very serious.