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Courage: Masculine, Feminine or Neither?

Recently both egalitarians and complementarians have been having conversations centred around the ‘masculinity’ and/or the ‘femininity’ of God.  Remarks by respected theologian John Piper and the movie “Courageous” have helped fuel both sides of the discussion.  My purpose here is not to further comment on John Piper’s remarks (which I have read) or the movie (which I have not seen). Both have been well covered elsewhere. My purpose is rather to open up this whole issue of ‘courage’ and ask questions such as:

What is courage in the Biblical sense?  Is there really a difference between ‘masculine courage’ and ‘female courage’ and what does feminine courage look like Biblically?

As a female believer I have always considered Jesus Himself the highest example of courage humankind has ever seen.  It has never occurred to me to view His courage through the eyes of His gender, so I have never contemplated the level of courage Christ modelled as a masculine characteristic.   In the same way I have marvelled at the courage of a youthful David standing before the giant Goliath armed with nothing more than a stick and five small stones.  I have wondered at the courage of Stephen exhorting the religious leaders of Israel,  surely knowing what the outcome may be.   I have anguished over Paul’s many sufferings in Christ’s Name and felt totally humbled by the legendry courage of Peter as he was crucified upside down on a Roman cross.

So where are the female examples of courage in the Bible?  So much less seems to have been said or written about them.   It seems nearly always when we hear a sermon or exposition on courage, the focus is on the spectacular, the violent or the dramatic.

Examples of female courage in the scriptures often slip by us barely noticed,  just as they went un-noticed in the patriarchal culture of their day.  I think of the courage shown by Abigail approaching an angry and armed David who was ready to destroy her home and her livelihood.   I think of Jael driving the tent peg into Sisera’s head.  I try to imagine Sarah’s courage before Pharoah, or the courage of a young Esther taken from her home to be made a sexual servant to the king.  What extraordinary level of courage did it take a woman termed ‘unclean’ to mingle publically (forbidden!) and touch a rabbi’s garment (punishable by death!)?   I find it hard to imagine the fear that woman overcame.  (We hear much of her desperation, but little of her courage.)

Or the courage of Mary of Bethany, edging up closer to Jesus in a room full of men,  to sit at His feet in the position of a disciple, a place only ever given to males.  Did she lower her eyes so not to see the consternation and disdain on their faces?  Did she struggle internally not to turn and run back to Martha and the cooking?

There are so many more examples:  the women who stood at the Cross, the female house church leaders, Junia, Priscilla, the list goes on.  And then so many more down throughout  church history to this present day.  So many courageous women, many we know about but many more whose names are unknown because male church leaders did not deem them worthy of recording.

The more I think on this kind of courage the more I realise that the common denominator is faith, which is genderless.

What do others think about these things and what experiences have you faced where your courage was tested for the name of Christ?

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25 Comments

  1. EMSoliDeoGloria
    Comment #96106 posted March 29, 2012 at 7:10 am

    Amen to that. Courageous is a masculine and feminine virtue and it is not more appropriate for one gender than the other. The idea that virtues are gendered is a Roman concept, perhaps, but it is not a Christian one.

  2. Don
    Comment #96107 posted March 29, 2012 at 7:38 am

    Courage is a human trait, not a gendered one.

    One should simply choose for themselves to remove the “gender glasses” that people like Piper choose to wear. Perhaps he will never choose to remove them, altho I pray that he does, but that is his choice and each of us has our own choice.

  3. Liz Trevor
    Comment #96108 posted March 29, 2012 at 10:08 am

    As I’m reading your post Cheryl, which is very thought provoking in a good way, I’m thinking of that well known verse in 1 Corinthians 16 ( verse 13) that in the old King James version says, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” When you read that verse, as it appeared back then, you couldn’t help but think that courage (strength in the face of danger) is something unique to the men of the species. Thankfully the TNIV does better with it. “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous and strong.” This version rightly tells ALL believers to be courageous and strong. Believers of either gender.

    Thank you for reminding us of the heroines in the Old and New Testaments who epitomised courageous acts. I can’t help but think of the many courageous women who were martyred for the faith alongside of the men. My Strongs concordance only revealed to me one place in the NT where the word courage appears and that is Acts 28:15, again in the KJV where Paul takes courage from the presence of other believers who have shown solidarity with him in his willingness to suffer for Christ. There the TNIV renders it, “Paul thanked God and was encouraged.” I take that to mean strengthened for the task ahead.

    W.E.Vine in his Expository Dictionary of NT words tells me that Acts 28:15 is the noun form of the Greek word ‘tharsos,’ whereas the verb, ‘tharreo’ occurs another 6 times, 5 of them in 2 Corinthians. The remaining one in Hebrews. The reason why Strongs doesn’t pick it up is that it is translated as ‘confidence or boldness’ whereas a literal rendering would be either, ‘be courageous, or take courage.’ Here again there is nothing to suggest that this is gendered because believers generally are encouraged to be courageous. It is probably fitting to mention Hebrews 13:6, “So we can say with confidence (good courage), The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can human beings do to me? (TNIV) The writer to the Hebrews here alluding to Psalm 118:6,7.

    Thank you Cheryl for posting something that encouraged me to take this little journey and I couldn’t agree with you more that Biblical and Church history is replete with women, as well as men, being bold and courageous in their God.

  4. Comment #96111 posted March 29, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    Don, I agree courage can be a human trait and many people of both genders find courage when confronted with something life threatening for themselves or their families.

    I was specifically thinking of courage in relation to the born again Christian which I was suggesting must spring from faith in God. As an example, the courage to face martyrdom or persecution for Christ would rarely if ever be found in those who do not know Christ through salvation.

    Trevor, I went searching for the scriptures you mentioned and found the first one in 1 Corinthinas (not Romans). Thankyou for reminding me of that verse as it is rendered in the KJV. Just another example of how translators can get it wrong because of patriarchal worldviews I guess. It’s sad to think of the many women through the centuries, and still today, who have read that verse translated that way and received the message God was only encouraging males to seek courage.

    I think part of the problem is that when men show courage it’s usually applauded as courage, but when women show courage it’s often referred to with words like ‘resolve’, ‘determination’, ‘desperation’,
    ‘standing up for herself’ etc.

    As I said, in thinking about this, I’ve personally come to the conclusion that for the Christian, courage cannot be separated from faith. Does that mean we might at some stage hear someone teaching that faith has either a ‘masculine’ or a ‘feminine’ feel?

  5. Comment #96113 posted March 30, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    Though I did not think of it as courage when I left America in my 50′s to be a missionary, it was certainly faith in God as He whispered my name and said “Go.” In that same decade it was faith in God’s message that said leave your faith missionary standing with your home church, they cannot support the way I am leading you into preaching and teaching. I did not ‘feel’ courageous but faith sustained me. I agree that the two are wedded and both are needed to live in Biblical Equality both now and in the past.

  6. Liz Liz
    Comment #96114 posted March 30, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    Hi Kathleen. So excited to see your comment as I had been thinking of you and wondering how things were going. Hope others will read your blog and feel connected to two members of the family of God in another part of the world.

  7. Liz Liz
    Comment #96115 posted March 30, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    When I see the word ‘courage’, I remember the words of the Lord to Joshua which I learned as a girl in Girls Brigade. “Be strong and of a good courage etc.” The courage comes from relying on who God is and anyone can do that. Courage is a human possibility as Don has said, and let’s face it, many people who do not know God show enormous courage (women and men)

    “All good and perfect gifts” come from God originally and as God followers we can pray for courage and know where it originates – certainly not from ourselves.

    Also, all my life as I have read bible accounts, whether they be of women or men, I have put myself in their position and imagined that could be me. Growing up, I didn’t see the people as any gender but those who were on God’s side and obeying him.

  8. Comment #96117 posted March 30, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    Kathleen, Thankyou for sharing your experience of courage mixed with faith. I enjoyed looking at your blog also.

  9. Comment #96118 posted March 30, 2012 at 10:45 pm

    Hi Liz, It is encouraging to hear from you again. As we live in a rural farm situation here in Latvia encouragement is crucial to our well being. The faith/courage issue is central to our remaining here waiting on God for His daily direction. Thanks for visiting our blog, I am spurred on to write a new entry. Thank you again.

  10. Liz Trevor
    Comment #96119 posted March 30, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    Ooops! Thanks Cheryl for pointing that typo out (comment 96111). What was I thinking? I obviously had the Bible open there (ie. I Corinthians) because I copied it directly into the comment. Sorry about that. Anyway it got me looking today at the NIV which says, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.” I’m sure that Paul is writing to all the believers in Corinth, not just the men! So how does it get to be translated that way and go un-noticed for so many years?

  11. Michelle
    Comment #96121 posted April 1, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    This is a bit off-topic, but…I’d argue that all traits are *human* traits, rather than “masculine” or “feminine”. A particular culture/society decides that only heterosexual females display “F” and that heterosexual males are more likely to display “M” than females are, and there you go–those are the traits that in that culture, in that society, are “feminine” and “masculine”, respectively.

    Women and men might display the traits differently. Sometimes biology may factor into that, but I’d argue not necessarily to the exclusion of social conditioning, which happens pretty much from, well, possibly in the womb (if the sex is known), on (in some places, at least–in others, it does not start until birth).

  12. Frank
    Comment #96124 posted April 2, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    I agree that such traits as courage, self-sacrifice, love, perseverance, etc. are human traits rather than “masculine” or “feminine.” And then there is the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-25, that all Christians, regardless of gender, are to manifest in their lives and ministries, because it was manifested in the life and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is our true role model.

    Now when you think about the great Christian men and women of the past, who accomplished so much for God and his kingdom, wasn’t it because despite the cultural conventions and expectations of their day, they wholeheartedly and unreservedly, in the Spirit, followed the teaching and example of Christ even unto death?

    Recently, the late John Stott, whose writings I have always found challenging and helpful, wrote his last book, THE RADICAL DISCIPLE, in which he talks about God’s will for the people of God is that they be like Christ. And then he lays out the five ways we all, both Christian men and women, are to be like Jesus Christ: The incarnation of humility; daily acknowlegment that in serving others, no task is too menial or degrading to undertake; the embodiment of self-sacrificing love; patient endurance in the face of hardship and opposition as we proclaim God’s word and do good to others; going into the world as Christ did, entering people’s real life situations and ministering the grace and love of God to people in those siuations.

    Now, of course, apart from the enabling presence and power of the Holy Spirit, such a life of discipleship would be impossible for any Christian, whether man or woman. And I’m not disagreeing with any of the previous comments made by Cheryl or Trevor. But the point I’m trying to make is this: That American Christianity–by its legalistic, gender-stereotyping of spiritual gifts and roles–demonstrates both a serious lack in the enabling presence and power of the Holy Spirit, and that it no longer understands what Paul meant when he gave the call: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1, NIV 2011).

  13. Don
    Comment #96125 posted April 3, 2012 at 7:58 am

    Yes, teaching supposed gender roles or genderizing human traits (other than the physically obvious, which egals do not deny) is a way to quench the Holy Spirit, which is one thing we are NOT to do.

    1Th 5:19 Do not quench the Spirit.

    Jesus said the workers are few and some men teach to divide that by 2.

  14. Robyn
    Comment #96129 posted April 3, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Oops. Someone should have told me that courage was only for men before we used a name for our daughter that means, literally, “courageous.”

    It boggles the mind that Piper, et al can say that courage is a uniquely masculine trait. Have these men not READ their bibles?!

  15. Comment #96131 posted April 4, 2012 at 12:05 am

    I’m still very interested to hear about any examples (from either males or females) where courage was tested specifically in the area of faith in Christ?

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