A few years ago, Stephen Hawking entitled his study of the great works of physics and astronomy after a 1676 quote from Isaac Newton to Robert Hooke: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” The truth is, however, that students often surpass their teachers.
That was so of both Newton and Hawking, and applies to countless others as well. Apple computer founder Steve Jobs once commented about the early interest in the personal computer that he and Steve Wozniak invented: “So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we’ll come work for you.’ And they said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t got through college yet’” (“Quotable Quotes,” The Freeman Institute, http://www.freemaninstitute.com/quotes.htm).
There is seldom a week that goes by that I don’t learn something new (and significant) from my students at Emory & Henry College. And if we are interested in spiritual values, we should always be ready to hear from unexpected corners. The great spiritual insights of the past did not come from the recognized religious leaders of the day, but from newcomers—the landless immigrant, Abraham; the fugitive, Moses; the ascetic abandoned by his few companions, the Buddha; the carpenter who was crucified, Jesus; the unschooled orphan, Muhammad; the father of a son out-of-wedlock, Augustine of Hippo; the soldier who deserted, Francis of Assisi; the monk who dropped out of law school, Martin Luther; etc.
Wisdom establishes its own path. Yes, and it comes as often from students as from teachers.
AN EARLY CHRISTIAN FEMINIST? There are passages in the New Testament that portray radical equality between women and men (cf. Gal. 3:28). We also see hints of the significant roles played by women in the early church. The Gospels portray women among Jesus’ closest followers, faithful even in the face of the disciples’ abandonment of Jesus (cf. Mt. 27:55-56, 28:1-10; Mk. 15:40, 16:1-10; Lk. 24:10-11; Jn. 19:25-26). In Paul’s letters we glimpse the Christian workers Phoebe, Prisca, and Mary (Rom. 16:1-6). Junia is described as “prominent among the apostles” (Rom. 16:7). Chloe led a congregation (I Cor. 1:11), and Apphia’s house served as the church (Phlm. 2). According to the Book of Acts, also the church in Jerusalem met in the house of a woman—Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12-17). We encounter Lydia, who was instrumental in opening the mission in Philippi (Acts 16:12-15), and we’re told of the important leadership roles of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and “certain other women” who gathered as equals the disciples in Jerusalem (Acts 1:12-14). And scattered throughout the New Testament we encounter numerous other signs that women have not received just due for the significant roles they played in establishing Christianity.
So, why do the important contributions of the first Christian women lay half-buried in the ancient texts, in need of being unearthed, while the contributions of their male counterparts are everywhere described? One answer is that the New Testament is composed of documents written by men—the evangelists, Paul, Peter, John, James, Jude. Would we, then, have a different view if some of the writings had been composed by women?
Ahnna Lise Jennings has been reading works on feminist theology this semester and, a few days ago, she wrote a summary and shared some timely observations of the early Christian writing, The Acts of Thecla. In my opinion, this extra-canonical Christian writing was composed by a strong woman—an early feminist. But what do you think? Read Ahnna Lise’s post. Enjoy! And please share your ideas with us.