Have men taken away women's "good portion"?

Have men taken away women's "good portion"?

taken-away on Women in Ministry blog by Cheryl Schatz

“…Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:41-42

In the complementarian Christian community there is a lot of pressure to keep women away from a place that doesn’t belong to them.  Because of the teaching that there is a “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood”, and the way we follow Jesus depends on our gender, many have been focused on dividing and protecting the man’s portion as if something has been given to men alone.  Is this really biblical?  Is there really something that belongs to men alone that needs to be held back from women? 

In Luke 10 the Lord Jesus encountered pressure to remove Mary from sitting at his feet as one of the disciples in order for her to take the place of a worker in the home.  His response to Martha is quite revealing about the Lord’s view of women.

Luke 10:41–42 (NASB)

41 But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things;

42 but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Regarding the place of a disciple, Jesus said that there is only one thing that is necessary. Please note that Jesus did not say that there are two things that are necessary – one for males and one for females. The one thing that is absolutely necessary is to sit as a disciple at His feet.  There was no division between what is necessary for males or females.

The next thing that we can see from Jesus’ words is that Mary herself had chosen the good part.  The Greek word used here is eklegomai which means chosen for oneself.  Mary had the opportunity to choose for herself and what she chose as a disciple at Jesus’ feet is the good portion. This is a share or part in the opportunity and responsibility to learn and then do the work of a disciple.  It was Mary’s own choice to be a disciple and to have her portion alongside the rest of the disciples.

Jesus then reveals something that is extremely important. He said that what she has received (her portion as a disciple) shall not be taken away from her. The Greek word for take away is aphaireo and it means to have something taken away by force. Jesus is saying that her portion as one of the disciples, which rightfully belongs to Mary and which is a good thing, shall not be removed from her by force.

Mary’s faith in Jesus caused her to understand the gospel and to do the work of preparing the body of Jesus for burial as an act of her faith.

Mark 14:6–9 (NASB)

6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me.

7 “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me.

8 “She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial.

9 “Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”

John tells us that this woman was Mary.

John 12:3 (NASB) Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

Mary the one who sat at the feet of Jesus and who received her share right alone with the men, is shown to have been prepared by the teachings of Jesus to accept and believe in his death when the other disciples did not yet understand. Jesus said that her work of preparing his body for burial would be linked to the gospel and its message throughout the world. This portion will not be taken from her.

Another Mary also received her portion of the gospel on resurrection day.

John 20:15–18 (NASB)

15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).

17 Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’ ”

18 Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her.

Mary Magdalene was the first one commissioned to give the gospel to the other disciples and the Lord specifically chose to appear to a woman first.

But there are those in the church who have made it their own business to take away what has been given to women. While women were given the place as disciples sitting and learning at the feet of Jesus, some in the body of Christ deny women the ability to learn the deep things of God.

John MacArthur’s The Master’s Seminarydenies women the opportunity to learn. The deep things of God are taken away from women and no opportunity is given them to choose to follow the Lord Jesus in this deep learning as women are denied entrance into John MacArthur’s seminary.

Also complementarians such as Ray Ortlund deny that God gives a calling to women that entrusts them with the gospel. “There is a grandeur to every man’s ministry, Ortlund says and the gospel ministry that men have been given shows that they “have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.” No limitations on men at all as Ortlund says “I don’t minister for his approval; I minister with his approval.  I can go for it.” But for women, there is no such approval in Ortlund’s eyes.

Is it true that only men have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel? Or have men usurped by force what has also been given to women? The first disciples refused to believe a woman who obeyed the Lord and who declared the gospel to them and today men are tempted to take away a woman’s portion by closing the door in her face. There are many things that she is not allowed to learn and many places that she is not allowed to go. But is this the way of the Master?

11 thoughts on “Have men taken away women's "good portion"?

  1. In my translation Mark 14:6 it says, “Stop troubling the woman…”

    I really like that. And I wish these non-egals would take the words of Jesus, the Living Word of God to heart and STOP TROUBLING WOMEN!

  2. Thanks Cheryl.
    And since no one else has jumped in here and said, YES, non-egals ARE trying to take away the woman’s portion, I will.

    You have it so right. Sometimes I fear for non-egals and the judgement they heap upon themselves in trying to be the ‘ministry police’ and enforcing the traditions of men on the church and stealing away the woman’s portion. If Jesus says it’s not to be taken away, where is their fear of God as they snatch away what doesn’t belong to them? Where is their fear as they enforce with “thus saith the Lord” when the Lord hasn’t said it?

    Frustrating to no end.

  3. Mara,

    Their fear is on one thing: that they will lose their status as the “leaders” of their churches and families. That fear has roots in only one thing: pride. Some of these men are so threatened by women having access to the deeper things of God that they are willing to deliberately and egregiously sin in order to prevent such access, and in so doing, they are attempting to quench the Spirit. This doesn’t occur to some of them (as in the “Semwives” program at The Masters’ Seminary), since they figure such programs are enough to qualify as the women’s “good portion”, and the not-so-subtle message is, “This is the half a loaf you’re going to get, and to reach for any more means you are not content with how God designed you, and by reaching for more, you are insulting His wisdom”.

    It’s really sad, since they’re the ones who are insulting God. By deciding what the women’s “good portion” will be, they have abrogated His wisdom (that they claim to so highly value), and set their traditions in His place! I know it’s frustrating, but until their sin is revealed to them directly and repeatedly, they will not be willing to sit down at the table with us and be willing to learn from us. All we can do is continue to pray, study Scripture, and be willing to deal with such men with openness and love. Perhaps I’m naive, but that will show them that our “good portion” is authentic, and is not a threat to them, but a cause for celebration.

  4. If one reads through the “good portion” set aside for the wives of the seminary students that they call “semwives” on John MacArthur’s Master’s Seminary, you will see that it includes not the deep things of God but “salad supper recipes”, “disciplined use of our time”, “hospitality samples” and “how to prepare a testimony”.

    It greatly saddens me that women are not allowed to learn even though there is not even one Scripture that they could base this on that denies learning to women.

  5. And that’s what’s so frustrating about the sin of pride lurking behind complementarian teaching, especially in the case of the “semwives” program. It’s not about the deeper things of God since (sorry to be snarky) the “ladies can’t handle them”, but rather about “how to be a better hausfrau”. Knowing that there is NO scriptural precedent for such a program only makes it that much worse.

    It really sickens me to see some of this, since the men don’t realize they are only harming themselves by denying women access to the table, so to speak. They are denying themselves the opportunity to learn from women and thus to grow. The loss to the Kingdom of God is almost irreparable, since the loss of the gifts of these women cannot be replaced by yet more men.

  6. In “Jesus through Middle-Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels,” Kenneth Bailey explains that the point of the story in Luke 10, when seen from a Middle-Eastern cultural context, is “not Martha’s need for someone to peel the potatoes,” but rather that she is “upset that her ‘little sister’ is seated with the men and has become a disciple of Rabbi Jesus.” Her request is thus (my paraphrase of what the author says) a euphemism for the deep concern that she dare not express aloud publicly regarding the disgrace that Mary has brought on the family by violating this basic norm of their culture: “What will the neighbors say? After this who will marry her?” (p. 193).

    Those who see this text as encouragement for women to take time out from their housework to have their “daily devotions” have surely missed the point! It seems to me that, when understood within this cultural context, Mary really has more in common with the first woman in our age to pursue theological education (the story of Antoinette Brown is told in Stanley Grenz/Denise Muir Kjesbo’s “Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry,” on p. 59-60). In “choosing the good portion” Mary exhibited the same sort of significant courage.

    When understood in this context, what Jesus is affirming – and defending and promoting – is much more significant than the typical Western reader grasps.

  7. I know I am late to the party on this post, but it just encouraged me so much that I had to comment! The story of Mary and Martha has been bouncing around in my head the past few days and this put into words what I was feeling and thinking about. I grew up in a male-dominated patriarchal home and a complementarian church and I feel like those words of Jesus to Mary speak straight to my heart.

    I am currently a “Seminette” (seminary wife) at the seminary of the 4th largest Lutheran body in the US. We do not study deep theology and most of the seminettes would not be interested. Women are allowed to sit in and audit at least some of the Seminary classes but they can not receive a degree from the Seminary. On the adjoining Bible College campus women are barred from taking the Expository Preaching class, because they are women.

    In LCMS they have weekly nights with the profs to learn deeper theological issues and the wives can attend to get a degree in Deaconness studies. Thankfully that’s a little more egal than where we are. Gives me a smidgen of hope. 🙂

  8. I very much enjoyed reading this insightful article.

    The story of Mary of Bethany choosing the (literally) “necessary” and “good” activity of learning as a disciple at Jesus’ feet, compared with Martha’s activity of providing hospitality (in a culture that highly valued hospitality) is a story that has significant meaning for me.

    The only thing that I disagree with is the title. I do not think that it is just men who have taken, and continue to take away, a woman’s “good portion”. I know of many women who also believe that the Biblical ideal of womanhood is primarily one of being a full-time homemaker and subservient wife, and that spiritual knowledge and spiritual authority is primarily for men.

    I love Luke 10:42 because I sometimes feel that I should be doing more practical activities, rather than spending much of my time learning about the scriptures and spending time with God. Especially because, as a women, I still have limited avenues to share my knowledge. However I am comforted and reassured by Jesus statement, “Mary has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42)

    Men and women may try to hinder women from learning about God more deeply; but Jesus doesn’t hinder. Jesus welcomes both men and women as his students and as his friends . . . even as ministers.

    Apart from this one incident, Martha did get it right too. I’ve written about Martha – a woman of great faith – here: http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/bible-women-with-spiritual-authority/

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