Reflections by: Carolyn Custis James, author and blogger
What do a first century Jewish synagogue ruler, a twenty-first century Pakistani Muslim educator, and the great Protestant Reformer Martin Luther have in common?
These men changed their minds.
The patriarchal social system they repudiated (at least as it defines women) is a product of the fall. These radical breaks from deeply ingrained views of women resulted, not from academic debates or egalitarian influences, but from close encounters with actual women and girls.
Early Christian depiction of Adam and Eve in the Catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter.
In first century Israel, a patriarchal culture where the birth of a son would ignite an outburst of celebration and the birth of a daughter was a grave disappointment, Jairus’ heart was captured by his only child—a gravely ill twelve year old girl—and he was beside himself at the prospect of losing her.
In twenty-first century Pakistan, a patriarchal culture where education for daughters is considered a wasted effort, Ziauddin Yousafzai unleashed his daughter’s potential by educating her along with her brothers, in spite of the threat of Taliban violence to enforce a ban on education for girls. Today, Malala (a teenager) is an outspoken global advocate for educating girls, a survivor of a Taliban bullet to the head, and holds a Nobel Prize for her efforts.
Germany’s Luther, on the other hand, with his history of misogynist statements, seemed hopeless when it came to women. No doubt inspired by good German beer, he once pontificated:
Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children.
But even Luther changed his mind.
The matrimonially-reluctant Luther came to his senses, when Katharina von Bora (1499–1552), a rebellious nun turned Protestant, became his wife. He quickly discovered how utterly indispensable she was to him.
Surprised by how capable, wise, and strong she proved to be—virtues he came to depend on—Luther testified to his great awakening when he wrote,
Men cannot do without women. Even if it were possible for men to beget and bear children, they still could not do without women.
Luther discovered the truth of Genesis: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper (ezer) suitable (kenegdo) for him” (Gen 2:18)?
In case you don’t already know, ezer is a military Hebrew word that in the Old Testament is is used most often for God as Israel’s helper. According to the esteemed Hebrew scholar Robert Alter ezer kenegdo “connotes active intervention on behalf of someone, especially in military contexts” (emphasis added). At creation, God attached this permanent label to all his daughters.
In his Genesis commentary, Victor Hamilton writes,
[Kenegdo] suggests that what God creates for Adam will correspond to him. Thus the new creation will be neither a superior nor an inferior, but an equal. The creation of this helper will form one-half of a polarity and will be to man as the South Pole is to the North Pole” (emphasis added).
It took firsthand experience for Luther to see the light. In God’s providence, Luther was joined in holy wedlock to a strong ezer-warrior who proved without a doubt she was his kenegdo. What is remarkable about Luther is that he didn’t see his wife as an exception to the rule, but drew conclusions about all women from what he learned from Katie.
Yes, old dogs can learn new tricks. And men can change their minds!
Carolyn Custis James’s latest book is Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World. Find all her books and her blog at carolyncustisjames.com
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