Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Teacher, Baker

Updated: Potential "Career Women of the Bible" Outline

Here is the very beginning of my potential outline for the Career Women of the Bible book proposal.

1. Introduction

2. In the Beginning
Does It Really Mean “Helpmate”?

The Fall and Women

2. Ministers
The 12th Century, B.C.E. Woman: Deborah

Standing Between Life and Death: Miriam

Standing Between Life and Death: Zipporah and Huldah

The Apostle to the Apostles: Mary Magdalene

Apostles and Prophets

Teachers, Elders, and Coworkers

3. Mothers and More
Rachel and Leah

4. Just a Housewife?
Standing Between God and the People: Jael

The Proverbs 31 Woman
Sisters in Service: Mary and Martha

The Samaritan Woman

5. Off to Work
Priscilla and Lydia

The women who don’t have links, I have not written on yet. I also realize the articles I have written need a lot of rewriting. For those who just found the site, Career Women of the Bible started out as my thesis in seminary. I’ve started to rewrite it, but it still is very scholary and has some ways to go before it has the narrative and story-like quality that I want the finished book to have.

This is just a start, but I think it is a good one. Any advice or opinions? Who did I leave out? Why do you think they should be included? Please let me know. Thanks.

Career Women of the Bible: Church Overseers, Ministers, and Patrons

"The Breaking of Bread" in the Catacomb of St. Priscilla/Dorothy Irvin

In the last two articles we have been looking at women who ministered in leadership positions in the New Testament (Apostles and Prophets and Teachers, Elders, and Coworkers). We saw women minister as prophets, apostles, teachers, elders, and coworkers. Now we will look at the last three leadership roles: church overseer, minister, and patron.

Church Overseer

Church overseers were what we traditionally think of as a pastor, and they were normally the person or people who opened their homes for believers to meet for hearing God’s word and worship. Women who were overseers include Priscilla, Phoebe, Euodia, Syntyche, and possibly John Mark’s mother, Chloe, Lydia, and Nympha (Spencer, 108). The church overseer I would like to focus on is the “Elect Lady” of 2 John.


Career Women of the Bible: Teachers, Elders, and Coworkers

"This archaeological photograph of a mosaic in the Church of St. Praxedis in Rome shows, in the blue mantle, the Virgin Mary, foremother of women leaders in the Church. On her left is St.Pudentiana and on her right St. Praxedis, both leaders of house churches in early Christian Rome. Episcopa Theodora, 'Bishop Theodora' is the bishop of the Church of St. Praxedis in 820 AD." Photo and description from Roman Catholic Womenpriests


Before Jesus ascended to the Father he told his followers to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came empowering them to continue building the kingdom of God on earth. They obeyed him. Acts 1:14 tells us the disciples and “certain women” including Mary, the mother of Jesus, waited in the upper room and prayed. In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit fell on both men and women, and both genders were empowered to proclaim the word of God on the day of Pentecost. Peter confirmed this when he quoted Joel in his sermon that day: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17). As we have seen throughout this paper God has never discriminated between calling and empowering both men and women to lead his people and accomplish his plans on earth. This will not change with the coming of the new age. Now God’s Spirit would not be for the called few, but for everyone–all flesh, and both sons and daughters would prophesy, only now in greater numbers.

In Galatians 3:28 Paul proclaimed that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” In Christ every human erected barrier comes down. Because Christ died for all and all are saved through grace there can no longer be superficial hierarchies of race, class, or gender. In Ephesians 4:8 Paul tells the church that Christ has given them gifts, and in verse 11 he tells us the gifts are “that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” These gifts are given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (v. 12). Paul never says that some or all of these gifts are for men only. In fact, the New Testament goes on to describe women in these places of leadership within the Early Church. In the last essay we looked female apostles and prophets. Now we will look at the female teachers in the New Testament.


Maundy Thursday: The Family Meal

The Passover Seder was not a community religious event. It was a family meal. The family along with friends remembered and celebrated God redeeming them out of slavery in Egypt. As Sally points out in most traditional paintings and pictures of The Last Supper, we see Jesus with the 12 disciples. But we know that Mary, Mary Magdalene, and other women followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they were at the foot of the cross the next day. This means that they were at this Passover meal as well. Bohdan Piasecki painted this picture to show what the scene probably looked like. He added six women and two children along with Jesus and his male disciples. The men are also wearing prayer shawls.

As we remember the last meal Jesus had with his disciples, let’s not forget how Jesus redefined family. In Luke 8:19-21 says:

Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’ But he said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’

On this night Jesus gave a new commandment to his new family:

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).

As we gather with both our biological and spiritual families this season, let us find new ways to show them our love and the love of Christ.

Sermon: Lost and Restoration

This was a Lenten sermon I preached two or three years ago. St. Patrick is a big part of the sermon, so I thought it would be good to post it today.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

“Loss and Restoration”
Ruth 1

A fleet of 50 longboats weaved its way toward the shore, where a young Roman Brit and his family walked. His name was Patrick, the 16-year-old son of a civil magistrate and tax collector. He had heard stories of Irish raiders who captured slaves and took them “to the ends of the world,” and as he studied the longboats, he no doubt began imagining the worst.

With no Roman army to protect them (Roman legions had long since deserted Britain to protect Rome from barbarian invasions), Patrick and his town were unprepared for attack. The Irish warriors, wearing helmets and armed with spears, descended on the pebbled beach. The braying war horns struck terror into Patrick’s heart, and he started to run toward town.

The warriors quickly demolished the village, and as Patrick darted among burning houses and screaming women, he was caught. The barbarians dragged him aboard a boat bound for the east coast of Ireland.

Patrick was sold to a cruel warrior chief, whose opponents’ heads sat atop sharp poles around his palisade in Northern Ireland. While Patrick minded his master’s pigs in the nearby hills, he lived like an animal himself, enduring long bouts of hunger and thirst. Worst of all, he was isolated from other human beings for months at a time. Far from home, he clung to the religion he had ignored as a teenager. Even though his grandfather had been a priest, and his father a town councilor, Patrick “knew not the true God.” But forced to tend his master’s sheep in Ireland, he spent his bondage mainly in prayer.

After six years of slavery Patrick escaped to the European continent. Many scholars believe Patrick then spent a period training for ministry on an island off the south of France. But his autobiographical Confession includes a huge gap after his escape from Ireland. When it picks up again “after a few years,” he is back in Britain with his family. It was there that Patrick received his call to evangelize Ireland—a vision like the apostle Paul’s at Troas, when a Macedonian man pleaded, “Help us!”

“I had a vision in my dreams of a man who seemed to come from Ireland,” Patrick wrote. “His name was Victoricius, and he carried countless letters, one of which he handed over to me. I read aloud where it began: ‘The Voice of the Irish.’ And as I began to read these words, I seemed to hear the voice of the same men who lived beside the forest of Foclut …and they cried out as with one voice, ‘We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.’ I was deeply moved in heart and I could read no further, so I awoke.”

Despite his reputation, Patrick wasn’t really the first to bring Christianity to Ireland. Pope Celestine I sent a bishop named Palladius to the island in 431 (about the time Patrick was captured as a slave). Some scholars believe that Palladius and Patrick are one and the same individual, but most believe Palladius was unsuccessful (possibly martyred), and Patrick was sent in his place. In any event, paganism was still dominant when Patrick arrived on the other side of the Irish Sea. “I dwell among gentiles,” he wrote, “in the midst of pagan barbarians, worshipers of idols, and of unclean things.”

Patrick was in his mid-40s when he returned to Ireland. Palladius had not been very successful in his mission, and the returning former slave replaced him. Intimately familiar with the Irish clan system (his former master, Milchu, had been a chieftain), Patrick’s strategy was to convert chiefs or kings first, who would then convert their clans through their influence. Reportedly, Milchu was one of his earliest converts.

Predictably, Patrick faced the most opposition from the druids, who practiced magic, were skilled in secular learning (especially law and history) and advised Irish kings. Biographies of the saint are replete with stories of druids who “wished to kill holy Patrick.” “Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity,” Patrick wrote, “but I fear none of these things because of the promises of heaven. I have cast myself into the hands of God almighty who rules everywhere.”

Indeed, Patrick almost delighted in taking risks for the gospel. “I must take this decision disregarding risks involved and make known the gifts of God and his everlasting consolation. Neither must we fear any such risk in faithfully preaching God’s name boldly in every place, so that even after my death, a spiritual legacy may be left for my brethren and my children.”

Patrick continued to concentrate the bulk of his missionary efforts on the country’s one hundred or so tribal kings. As kings converted, they gave their sons to Patrick in an old Irish custom for educating and “fostering” (Patrick, for his part, held up his end by distributing gifts to these kings). Eventually, the sons and daughters of the Irish were persuaded to become priests, monks, and nuns.

From kingdom to kingdom (Ireland did not yet have towns), Patrick worked much the same way. Once he converted a number of pagans, he built a church. One of his new disciples would be ordained as a deacon, priest, or bishop, and left in charge. If the chieftain had been gracious enough to grant a site for a monastery as well as a church, it was built too and functioned as a missionary station.

Though he was not solely responsible for converting the island, Patrick was quite successful. He made missionary journeys all over Ireland, and it soon became known as one of Europe’s Christian centers.

Patrick was not the first or the last to be taken to a place he did not want to go. Neither was he the first to go to a place he might not be well received. In our passage today we are going to meet two women—one women was taken to a foreign country by her husband during famine. The other woman chose to leave her country for one where she might not ever be accepted. Ruth and Naomi both knew what it was like to live in a foreign land. They also knew what is like to lose or leave behind everything one has known.

Ruth 1:1-21
This story starts in perilous times—“In the days when the judges ruled.” Like England and Ireland in Patrick’s day was dangerous, so was Israel of Ruth and Naomi’s day. In fact Judges has just ended with a cycle of stories that has graphically shown how far Israel had gone in their disobedience, rebellion, and adultery. Judges has just ended with a story of horrible abuse, murder, the tribes of Israel nearly wiping out the tribe of Benjamin, then the final acts of kidnapping and forced marriage. The narrator of Judges final evaluation of the entire book in 21:25 is “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” “In those day when the judges ruled.” In those days this story takes place.

The story starts off with the information that there is a famine in Israel, so a man, Elimelech, his wife, Naomi, and their two sons went to Moab where the famine did not reach. Then Elimelech died. Naomi was a widow, but she still had her two sons; she was still a mother. Her sons married then there was hope for grandchildren. But after ten years of marriage there were no children, and then the sons died. For all intents and purposes Naomi lost everything that gave her identity in her world—she was no longer a wife or mother, and she had no grandchildren. Like Patrick she had been taken to a foreign land and lost everything she held dear: her family. Just as Patrick, being a slave in Ireland became essentially a non-person, so did Naomi. She had no one to provide for her, protect her, or care for her in old age.

In verse 6 we find that Naomi has discovered that the “LORD had considered his people and given them food.” She decides to return to her homeland, and her daughters-in-law go with her. Before they get far into the journey, Naomi tells them to return to their own mothers’ homes. There is no reason for them to go with her: she cannot give them the secure future they will need. She is old. Even if she were married and could have more children immediately, it would be years before they could marry Ruth and Orpah and provide homes for them. Naomi does not want her daughters in law to suffer the same fate she has.

Orpah obeys her mother-in-law and returns to her own mother’s house. But Ruth stays. Ruth makes the same decision that Patrick made when he decided to return to Ireland to preach the good news–she decides to leave everything she has known and follow Naomi back to her homeland. Ruth will not abandon Naomi: she will go with Naomi. Naomi’s people will become Ruth’s people and Naomi’s God will take the place of Ruth’s gods. Ruth will leave her home, her religion, and her land to insure that Naomi is taken care of and provided for. Later in Ruth her actions toward Naomi will be called “loyalty.” Loyalty translates the Hebrew word chesed—the word that is used to describe the covenant love and loyalty between God and God’s people. This Gentile woman, a Moabite, will be commended for showing covenant love toward Naomi, an Israelite.

Ruth and Naomi return to Bethlehem where Naomi describes what has happened to her life in verses 20-21. She left as a wife and mother—she left as a person who had security and stability. She now returns a widow and childless, which in her society means no identity as a person. Like many of us do when we suffer loss and hard times in life Naomi blames God. But through the rest of the book God is going to be working through Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi herself to restore what Naomi has lost and to create a home for Ruth who left hers.

Like Naomi, Ruth, and Patrick all of us go through times of loss and times when we must leave parts of our lives behind. Sometimes the losses are huge, like Naomi’s—husband, children, and home. Sometimes the losses are jobs, health, or friends. Sometimes our losses aren’t big, but they are significant to us. Then there are times like Ruth when we will leave behind parts of our lives. All of us know missionaries who have literally left everything they have known to follow God’s call on their lives. I have also known people who have left very well-paying jobs because they could not do their job and keep their Christian ethics. And just as there are little things we lose, there are also little things we leave. They may not look like much to anyone else, but to us they were a significant part of our lives.

We’re in the season of Lent. It’s the time the church traditionally dwells on the themes of loss and leaving behind the world. There are those who do give up something for Lent. But whether we do that or not, we are all called upon to look at our lives in the light of the grace that God has given us. Because we have received a salvation we could not earn and did not deserve, we look at how our lives reflect what God has done in our lives. Are we living in the joy of our salvation? Are we obeying God? Are we doing everything we can to make room in our lives for God? Are we sharing God’s love with others? And as we reflect on our lives in the light of this grace, we may be called on to lose something dear to us. We might be called to leave behind something we thought we could never live without.

But as we live in times of loss and leaving parts of our life behind, we need to remember that Ruth does not end with the return to Bethlehem and all that Naomi has lost, and all that Ruth has left behind. Ruth goes to the fields to gather grain for Naomi and herself. The town notices and talks about this Gentile woman’s loyalty to an Israelite widow and her hard work to provide food for her. When called upon to take care of his family, Boaz goes above and beyond the law and duty to marry Ruth and provide a home for both Ruth and Naomi. And Ruth ends with the joyous celebration over the birth of her and Boaz’s first son. Naomi’s loss is restored, and what Ruth has left behind has been replaced. God has provided.

As we go through Lent our losses and what we leave behind is not the end of the story. Because the ending of Lent is not Good Friday—it’s Sunday—the day of the resurrection. Good Friday reminds us that there is no resurrection apart from death, but Good Friday is not the end of our story. There is resurrection and restoration. Because of that hope when God calls us to leave we can go; when we have losses, we can look forward toward restoration. As Ruth, Naomi, and Patrick found out: God can bring incredible redemption out of loss and leaving. God used Patrick to bring the gospel to a whole land and save it. Ruth and Naomi would go on, to not only be great grandmothers of Israel’s greatest king–but Ruth would be a great grandmother to the very Messiah who came to restore all of us to God.

The Image of God and Sexuality

There is a very disturbing thing going on to encourage abstinence among Christian teenagers and children. It started with Purity Balls “a memorable ceremony for daughters to pledge commitments to purity and their fathers to pledge commitments to protect their girls.” I could not find the pledge the daughters make on their website, but here is the pledge the fathers make:

I, [daughter’s name]’s father, choose before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide and pray over my daughter and as the high priest in my home. This covering will be used by God to influence generations to come.

This year the same organization put on an Integrity Ball for mothers and sons. There was no mention of the mothers making a pledge to their sons, but here is the pledge the sons take:

I, _________________________, choose before God to remain pure in my lifestyle, as I grow toward the goal of manhood, and until such a time that I marry.

I will be a young man of integrity and accountability as I strive to be an example to those around me. I will be bold and courageous, no matter what.

Today, I choose to seek after the high calling of God in every area of my life.

During the Purity Balls girls and teenagers are told to keep themselves pure for their future husbands, and as seen in the pledge, fathers pledge to “cover” their daughters and protect their virginity. During the Integrity Balls boys are told that the every girl they will date is someone else’s daughter and potentially someone else’s future husband. Would these young men want another man messing around with their future wife? Boys pledge to take charge of their lives and body; fathers pledge that they will protect their daughter’s virginity. Exactly how does Generations of Light (the organization behind the balls) view women?

Generations of Light view women as objects to be managed by men: first by fathers then by husbands. Instead children and teenagers should be taught that they are created in the image of God, and for that reason alone they need to respect each other. Boys should have been told that every girl they date is made in the image of God, and he needs to respect her and treat her accordingly, and girls need to hear the same thing. Christian teenagers also need to realize that first and foremost they are brothers and sisters in Christ. They might date, and they might break up. They will eventually get married, but through all those transient relationships, they are still brothers and sisters in Christ.

Another thing that needs to be addressed is that girls and women have sexual drives and needs as well as boys and men. This assumption that men are aggressively sexual and women are to be passive resistors of temptation is a horrible patriarchal myth that needs to end. Both men and women have sex drives, and both men and women have access to the fruit of self-control that the Spirit gives us. We should be teaching our teenagers how to cultivate self-control and set boundaries that will help them keep these pledges they make. It goes with saying that girls should be making their own pledges to take control of their lives and bodies as do the boys.

When men and women view each other as made in the image of God, and as brothers and sisters in Christ, we can respect each other and cultivate the self-control that is necessary to resist sexual (and all other) temptations. When a woman is a person in her own right and a man respects that, then they can set biblical guidelines and boundaries to their relationships.

Career Women of the Bible: Sisters Who Served

In Luke 10:38-42 we meet Martha and Mary who are apparently two single sisters living together; Luke makes no mention of Lazarus, their brother. When Jesus and the twelve come into their village Martha welcomes them into her home. At his point, normally sister is pitted against sister to elevate “being” with the Lord above “doing” for the Lord. This interpretation misses what Luke is doing in this narrative. As Fred Craddock points out the “radicality” of this story should not be overlooked: “Jesus is received into a woman’s home (no mention is made of a brother) and he teaches a woman” (Craddock, 152).

For the first century Jew sitting at someone’s feet did not bring to mind children sitting at the feet of adults listening to stories; sitting at someone’s feet meant higher, formal education. Jesus was known as a rabbi, a teacher; to sit at his feet meant that one was being trained as a disciple. Mary was not quietly sitting contemplating all Jesus said. She was in active training with the other disciples (Grenz, 75). This was not a usual activity for women. Martha was doing what women were supposed to do: be good homemakers.


Dear Mary

Dear Mary,

What was it like? What was it like when Gabriel appeared and told you that God had chosen you to carry and bear the Messiah–to give birth to the divine; to birth the holy? What was it like to fear losing everything you loved, the only life you’d known, when you chose to obey God? Were you called crazy when you said God made you pregnant? Did you hear whispered “insane,” “not quite right” behind your back?

What was it like when Joseph decided to divorce you? He was a good man and didn’t want to shame you, but what was it like knowing you’d never marry? You’d always be considered an adulteress? Is that when you went to Elizabeth’s? When did you know Joseph changed his mind? When did he tell you about the dream? Before or after that trip?

You made the long journey to Elizabeth’s. Did you somehow know she would understand because Gabriel told you, she too was pregnant by divine means–like Sarah and Hannah?

What was it like to embody theology? To have The Magnificat rise from your womb and out of your lips? Some say other people put those words in your mouth, but I don’t believe it. Women are in the perfect place to proclaim the justice and mercy of God. We know those injustices in our bodies. And still we are the ones to extend mercy. Yes–The Magnificat is yours–you who bore the injustices of people shaming and maligning you. You were the perfect person to proclaim the justice of God that was coming into the world through your body.

Did you have any idea how your life would change when you heard the words: “Hail Mary, full of grace. Blessed are you among women”? Did you think you were blessed and full of grace?

Did it freak you out to think you would have to raise the Son of God? I bet you and Joseph talked about that–a lot. And Joseph–God gave him a dream and told him everything: he immediately obeyed. He married you, and you raised Jesus together. Did your heart sing when he told you of his dream? Were you relieved to know you wouldn’t be bearing the holy and raising the Messiah alone?

I wish we knew more about you. Your hopes, dreams, and fears. I wish we knew the things you pondered and stored up in your heart. God asked incredible things of you. Difficult things. Impossible things. And you said yes. Yes, Mary–you are blessed–not only among women, but blessed among the world.

The Matriarchs of Israel

Bible study was excellent last night. All those years in religion classes and seminary, and the matriarchs were passed over. Never focused on–never part of the promise. But Disciple brings the matriarchs front and center: Sarah and Rebekah. God partners with them to realize his covenant promise. In God’s eyes they are not expendable as they are in the eyes of men–including their husbands. Abraham was not enough to begin the covenant people: Sarah was needed too. The son of promise had to come from both Abraham and Sarah. Abraham might think of Sarah as disposable (by giving her to two different kings), and Sarah might think she was expendable (by giving Hagar to Abraham), but God knew Sarah was vital for his plan of redemption.

Rebekah’s steps of faith and trust in God reflects Abraham’s faith and trust. She too leaves her country and goes to a land she does not know. Unlike Abraham, she leaves her family behind (whereas Abraham brings his), and makes the long journey to Canaan to be Isaac’s wife. When her hard and difficult pregnancy makes her wish she were dead, she goes to God directly to find out what is going on. What is happening to her? What does this mean? God answers her, and tells her she is bearing twins, two nations divided, and that the older brother would serve the younger. When the time came for Isaac to give his blessing, Rebekah was reading to make sure God’s will was done. For the first time I heard that what Rebekah did was right. She knew of God’s oracle–she knew that Jacob should receive the blessing. She partnered with God to make sure what he planned would happen, and she furthered the covenant promises. In doing so she became the mother Israel. No sin–only tenacious obedience to what she knew to be the will of God. I also want to look at Rachel and Leah differently too. They are matriarchs as well. Hopefully I will have much more to say about Sarah and Rebekah and about Rachel and Leah as well. I would also like to look at Hagar as a matriarch in her own right. She too had a son of promise, and God honored his covenant and commitment to her, even if Abraham and Sarah didn’t. I have just started reading about them and seeing them with new eyes. I am hoping for new revelations and new insights in the coming days.