Reimagining How We Teach (About Women In) The Bible

By teaching 'stories of women in the Bible', do we risk putting these stories into a separate category marked 'special interest'? Perhaps there's another way - one that involves us reimagining how we teach the Bible altogether.

Rachel Noyce
7 minute read

Noah and the ark. Abraham and Isaac. Joseph and his coat of many colours. Moses parting the Red Sea. Joshua crossing the Jordan. David and Goliath. The adventures of Elijah and Elisha. Daniel in the lions’ den. Jonah and the big fish.

These stories have a few very obvious things in common.

  1. They’re great stories!

  2. They’re all found in the Bible.

  3. They regularly feature in Bible curriculums, from early years onwards. (Understandably so - see points 1 and 2.) But also,

  4. All these stories centre around male figures.

This isn’t especially remarkable. After all, in the Bible it’s very often men who play a major part in our most foundational faith stories. But over recent years, a lot has been said about the need to tell stories of women in the Bible too.

And with good reason. In learning about the women God has called and used to His glory, girls and young women find themselves represented. And through hearing these stories, the whole church family is reminded of the important truth that each one of us has a role in God’s kingdom, regardless of gender.

OK – so what’s the best way to go about this? Is it a matter of teaching a series here or there that focuses on women in the Bible to redress the balance? On the one hand, this seems like a good option.

But I wonder if there’s a downside to this approach? Maybe I’m overthinking this, but by teaching 'stories of women in the Bible’ (as opposed to just ‘Bible stories’), do we risk putting these stories into a separate category marked ‘special interest’? Might the label unwittingly suggest that these stories are relevant to only half the population, rather than meaningful and important for everyone?

Another option, then, might be to teach stories of women in the Bible alongside those of men. But this, too, has its limitations.

No doubt about it, there are some amazing women who have thrilling tales to tell: Ruth, Esther and Mary to name only a few. But there aren’t nearly as many as their male counterparts. Women’s stories within mainstream curriculums are a great way to go, but realistically they may still make little more than cameo appearances.

Perhaps there’s another way – one that involves us reimagining how we teach the Bible altogether.

In children’s ministry, we are very used to teaching ‘Bible stories’. And we use these individual stories of Bible heroes to learn important lessons about how to live for God, by exploring their examples of faith, or of courage, or of love.

But could we be getting the focus wrong? What might happen if we made a small but significant posture shift, from teaching ‘Bible stories’ to teaching ‘the story of the Bible’?

And how could this transform our understanding of how women and men have known, loved and followed God throughout history? What if we took the pressure off finding the heroes and let Jesus, and God’s great big plan for His kids, be central to every story we tell?

It’s this approach that sits at the heart of the One Story curriculum, found exclusively on RaiseUpFaith. It starts with the idea that there is ultimately one story within the Bible: God’s. He is the hero and central to the whole Scripture.

The Bible begins with how God created a good world and people to live in it. He loved these people, and he made them to know and love him too. The Bible ends with God creating a new heaven and a new earth, living there with his people. And in between we hear smaller, connected stories of how people have embraced or rejected this invitation to life with Him – and how He responds to that.

This shift of emphasis from ‘let’s learn about this Bible character’ to ‘let’s explore what God is doing here’ seems small. But it opens up big and exciting possibilities.

It gives us opportunities to explore the Bible stories we know and love anew, helping us to see the wonderful women of faith who stand shoulder to shoulder alongside the beloved men of faith, and discover their often quieter, but no less significant contributions to God’s great story.

Here’s an example: we often teach ‘the story of Moses’. In Moses’ story, we see how he was called by God from a burning bush to lead God’s people out of their enslavement in Egypt and towards the Promised Land. He was an instrumental figure in relating God’s covenant to his people, as God spoke to him and gave him the law.

But how would a posture shift change the way we explored this story?

The Exodus story is part of God’s bigger story: of His covenant promise to Abraham to make him father of a great nation, through which the world would be blessed. Through various twists and turns, the Israelites have been enslaved. This is the moment God is going to rescue them. And God raises up a leader to help accomplish this: Moses.

But before we get to that part, we meet some remarkable women of faith that God uses in significant ways. Exodus 1 tells us of the Egyptian king’s suspicion of the Israelites, his fear that they may one day turn on him, and the command he gave to the midwives in response:

"The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 'When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.'" (Exodus 1:15-16, NIV)

But the midwives 'feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do' (Exodus 1:17, NIV). They disobey orders.

And because of their act of deliberate resistance, no doubt at great personal risk, God’s 'people increased and became even more numerous' (Exodus 1:20, NIV). Shiprah and Puah get honourable mention in Scripture for the part they play in God’s good plans.

And then in Exodus 2, we learn about one particular baby boy who was saved – again, through the actions of brave women.

Moses’ mother hid her son for three months, then put him in a basket which she then placed in the reeds on the bank of the Nile. Another brave young woman, Moses’ sister, ‘stood at a distance to see what would happen to him’ (Exodus 2:4, NIV). He's found by another woman, Pharoah’s daughter, who decides to take care of him. Moses is rescued – and grows up to help God rescue His people.

And this is just one example amongst so, so many:

  • When God is leading His people into the Promised Land, Rahab enables the spies to complete their mission (Joshua 2).

  • Before Gideon, God raises up Deborah to valiantly lead Israel (Judges 4).

  • Many women are mentioned in the gospels: women who were led to support Jesus and his disciples (Luke 8:1-3), women who were with him at the cross (John 19:25), and women who were the first witnesses to the resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10).

  • And in Acts, we see women playing a significant part in helping to establish the early church, like Lydia in Acts 16, or Priscilla in Acts 18.

It's so exciting to look in the Bible and see how throughout history God has used both men and women for His glory.

To hear that God has a part for each of us, because – as Paul so powerfully writes – 'there is no male or female’ because we ‘are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28, NIV).

And just imagine the impact it could make as we take hold of scripture - God’s great story - and, as beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, embrace our place within it so that the kids we love and serve can find theirs in it, too.

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