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Jesus and John Lennon

I have recently read in two blogs (neither is CBE’s Scroll) that Jesus sometimes treated women rudely. Each cites John 2:4, where Jesus addresses Mary as “woman” at a wedding feast. Unfortunately, both bloggers have fallen prey to an elementary interpretive fallacy: The implications of a word or phrase in one culture are not necessarily the same in another. Thus in this case, the fact that calling one’s mother “woman” would be offensive in many cultures today is no help in discerning whether it was offensive in first-century Galilee.

So what evidence is there that “woman” in John 2:4 is indeed not an offensive address?

1. Mary gives no indication that she is offended.

2. The disciples, other bystanders, and the narrator give no indication that she is offended.

3. Jesus calls her “woman” from the cross in 19:26, where he is clearly concerned about her well being.

4. In 4:21, Jesus calls the Woman at the Well “woman” (as do we!)  in a story that highlights Jesus’ care for women and Samaritans.

5. After his resurrection, both Jesus (20:15) and the angels at the tomb (20:13) address Mary Magdalene as “woman.” Their words are words of comfort.

6. In 8:10, Jesus addresses the Woman Caught in Adultery as “woman” (as do we!).  His words are words of forgiveness.

7. Scholarship has weighed in against the two bloggers. Prominent Baptist commentator George Beasley-Murray, citing evidence from the gospels and Josephus, said the term “has caused needless perplexity. While it is an unusual mode of address to one’s mother, it also may be affectionate” (Word Biblical Commentary, 34). Roman Catholic commentator and leading John scholar Raymond Brown affirmed, “this is not a rebuke, nor an impolite term, nor an indication of a lack of affection” (Anchor Bible, 99). And these opinions are not new. In 1881, Cambridge professor B. F. Westcott wrote, “In the original there is not the least tinge of reproof or severity in the term. The address is that of courteous respect, even of tenderness.”

So why the odd title to this blog entry? John Lennon titled a song “Woman,” and wrote these words: “Woman, I can hardly express my mixed emotions and my thoughtlessness. After all, I’m forever in your debt….” If he can call a woman “woman” without implying disrespect, surely Jesus can as well!

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6 Comments

  1. Don Johnson
    Comment #97249 posted December 14, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Thanks for these insights!

  2. Red
    Comment #97251 posted December 14, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    I’m trying to think of an English equivalent, a one-word term for a woman that implies affection when bestowed directly.

    Ma’am sounds too formal. “My dear” sounds like what a grandma would say. I can’t think of one! Is it sad that there aren’t very many modern, respectful, one-word addresses to women that don’t carry some connotation of exasperation (which is present when you call someone “women” or “lady” or “madam”)

  3. Comment #97256 posted December 15, 2012 at 10:06 am

    When I was reviewing the popular Men’s Fraternity teachings, I came across this horrific teaching that adult men having a close emotional relationship with one’s mother could turn men to pornography and basically emasculate them somehow. Their entire Scriptural basis for this was in re-imaging the language of “woman” that Christ used as a derogatory one. They basically taught that Christ distanced Himself from His mother, and therefore all men needed to distance themselves from mothers, grandmothers, aunts and women.

    I wrote a somewhat lengthy paper outlining the facts as you showed that Christ was speaking affectionately to His mother and to women and gave it to my pastors. Unfortunately, they thought I was being overly concerned. The teachings did do some damage. Just the other day I heard a young man speaking of being a “manly man”. This idea comes from those trying to indoctrinate what is manly and what is womanly and therefore distance men from what is womanly. Ultimately, they teach men to distance themselves from women in general and in the process develop a demeaning slightly arrogant attitude toward women.

    It is so deeply heartbreaking that they totally missed the gentle affectionate attitude Christ had toward His mother and all women. Christ was aware of the cause of the downtrodden and sought to lift them up, not step on them more. It is unfortunate also that they missed the fact that Christ’s first miracle was responding to the request of His mother. :)

    • Comment #97257 posted December 15, 2012 at 4:45 pm

      What a damaging idea to be taught and to use Jesus’ relationship with his mother in that way in appalling! Just shows how preconceived ideas can be used/manipulated to say just about anything, however bizarre it may be.

      Having four sons, I know there is the thought ‘out there’ that they needed to distance themselves somewhat from me in order to grow up and become men. I have always thought this was strange too and the sons who are closest are those who are close to God and not so much influenced by that idea. However, it is very persuasive, even without ‘blaming’ God for the notion.

      • Liz Liz
        Comment #97259 posted December 15, 2012 at 9:35 pm

        Just reading this morning in Proverbs 15 verse 20 where it says “foolish children despise their mother”

  4. Comment #97359 posted December 24, 2012 at 3:08 am

    It’s amazing how much energy gets generated by this type of thing. Whenever “woman” or even “man” is used the wrong way, or in a way that’s not politically correct, it’s going to ruffle someone’s feather. Maybe what we need is love instead of hype.

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