Women Bible Scholars and Bible Translators in the Church

One of the highlights of my year is attending a summer school in ancient languages held every year in January. Each January I usually meet at least one woman at the school who has studied theology with the hope of becoming a Christian minister but, mainly because of her gender, that hope has not been realised. I’m in a somewhat similar boat.

So what do we do? Many of us go back to school and do more study.

My observation is that there are a considerable number of Evangelical Christian women doing advanced degrees. Instead of aspiring to be pastors and preachers,[1] some are changing tack and becoming Bible translators, researchers, writers, and academics, etc. Are these occupations any less influential or “authoritative” in the church than being a leader in a congregation?[2]

I cannot think of anyone who has more theological and spiritual influence in a Christian community than the person, or persons, who translate the Scriptures into English or another language.[3] Translators select the words and phrases in new Bible translations according to their understanding of the original biblical languages and according to their understanding of the original author’s intent. The translations then affect how others interpret and apply the translated Scripture. I wonder if there are some communities who depend on Scriptures translated by women, but, at the same time, prohibit women from being leaders and Bible teachers.

It has never been easier for women to study at universities and in seminaries, especially in Australia. And, compared with women of previous generations, we have many other freedoms and opportunities as well. So unlike women of the past, many Christian women today are not giving up on their God-given call altogether. Yet we simply do not have the same options and opportunities in the church as our brothers. Or the same regard and respect.

It is a shame that women are still being dissuaded and restricted from senior positions and certain functions of ministry within many congregations—functions that gifted and godly women could readily fulfil.

Women Bible Scholars and Bible Translators in the ChurchI am interested to see where this trend of increasing numbers of women pursuing biblical and theological scholarship will lead.[4] I am interested in seeing how scholarship from evangelical women will be received by the church and how it will affect the church. In the meantime, I continue to hope that women will increasingly be accepted as church leaders.

Photo is of Sheri Klouda, a Hebrew professor who was removed from Southwestern Seminary (USA) simply because she is a woman.


Endnotes

[1] Some Christians have an almost sacramental view of the Sunday morning message. Even many evangelicals believe that only an ordained, priest-like man can preach a sermon from the “hallowed” pulpit. This sacramental view—and the history and jargon that goes with it—hinders many people from seeing the possibility that women also can teach and preach in congregational settings.

[2] Some denominations place importance on the “authority” of church leaders. Unfortunately, the word “authority” has an exaggerated significance because of its use in most English translations of 1 Timothy 2:12.

[3] English translations have powerfully influenced Christian beliefs and practises in English-speaking countries. Here is a list of women who have been involved in some recent English Bible translations.

[4] This trend highlights a recurrent theme in church history: that despite prohibitions against women, a called and gifted woman, if she is tenacious enough, can sometimes still find a way to lead and inspire others in the faith, albeit unofficially. In past times, women had to be extraordinarily gifted and tenacious to be able to function and be recognised as spiritual and theological leaders. In the early days of the church, however, it was not uncommon for house churches to be led by women as well as men. Prohibitions against women ministers were added by the Church in later centuries.


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