Why Were Women the First Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus, and What Difference Does that Make? #FirstCenturySexism+ Bible Translation Question. (Part 1) #70

Hello everybody, and welcome into the Bible Reading podcast – a welcome respite from all of the coronavirus news going around, and filled with enough good Scripture to encourage and edify our souls! Today’s passages include Exodus 21, Job 39, Luke 24, and 2nd Corinthians 9. I honestly went back and forth over the topic for today’s show. I strongly considered and even began writing about Jesus’ command to the disciples to tarry in Jerusalem until they were, “clothed with power from on high,” and almost talked about Paul’s blessed command to give in 2nd Corinthians 9, but ultimately, I couldn’t get away from the allure of talking about the resurrection again, so that is today’s focus. It is honestly just hard not to focus on the greatest event in history every time you encounter it in the Bible. With lots of fear going around because of this pandemic scare, I am grateful that – no matter how bad this or any situation gets – those who are saved by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross have the wonderful promise of eternal life in Him. Because He lives – we who follow Him will live and not perish. Praise His name! The resurrection is the antidote for all of our fears! By the way, today’s episode is a two parter, because I couldn’t drop two straight 40 minute episodes on you. Selections from today’s show are from my book: Easter Fact or Fiction – Twenty Reasons to Believe Jesus Rose from the Dead, which is available on Amazon. Every time you buy a copy of that book on Amazon, I make a little over two dollars – which is enough to buy my precious children about two rolls of toilet paper. Or, it would be if every store in Salinas wasn’t sold out of toilet paper!! I’m tempted to do an episode that attempts to castigate toilet paper hoarders, but I can’t really find a Scripture on that, for some reason.

Here is a good question from Willem Dykstra about my choice of the CSB for the primary BRP podcast Bible.

Hi Chase,
I am just curious, why is it that you use the CSB, Christian Standard Bible version? Or at least, why do you use it in your Bible Reading Podcast?Up until your podcast, I had never heard of this version I did just a little googling and only remembered from my googling that it seems to be an updated version of the HCSB. Anyway, when I was just a wee lad growing up in Southern Ontario and attending one of the two Christian Reformed Churches in Bowmanville, Ontario, I think the various Christian Reformed Churches in that area used the RSV. I believe some were also still using the good old KJV (Linus’s speech in the Peanuts Christmas special would not be the same without it). Around the time I started college, or shortly after that (or maybe just before), all the Christian Reformed Churches almost immediately went to the NIV. Every good Dutch, Christian Reformed person will tell you the NIV published by Zondervan (Another great Dutch name) is the Christian Reformed Church’s gift to the rest of Christiandom (I mean, our denomination is even mentioned in the preface and everything) I remember my theology professor when I went to college at Dordt University in Sioux Center, IA, (then it was called Dordt College) although he was a faithful Christian Reformed member did not like that they did the “LORD” in uppercase when they should have used the actual name Yahweh or something like that. I can’t seem to recall if I got his umbrage correct (that was a long time ago). Anyway, fast forward to the time I am now married and living in Minnesota attending Dr. John Piper’s church, Bethlehem Baptist. I remember that he felt very strongly about the ESV and said this would be the last and best version he would ever use. And our church, both campuses at that time, only used the ESV from then on, and I have been using it ever since.Anyways, sorry if I just wrote too much info here. I did not even go into the fact that several years ago (or maybe decades), it seemed Zondervan Publishing and the NIV had fallen from grace when many people took umbrage (myself included) when Zondervan decided to publish a gender-neutral version of the NIV. I don’t remember what this new version is even called (NIrV I think or something like that, but I digress again), but anyways if you have read this far, I really am wondering why is it that you use the CSB?

Great question, Willem! I’ve been a Christian for almost 40 years now, and here is a list of the translations I have favored over the years:

1970s (as a child) The King James Version Plus the Living Bible. (I was a child!)
1980s-early 2000s: The NIV 1984
1998/99-2002ish: The Updated NASB
2002-2008 The 1984 NIV + The Updated NASB
2008-2013 The ESV
2013-2020 The Holman Christian Standard + The ESV + The CSB. My primary preaching translation for the past 7 years has been the HCSB.

The reason I chose the CSB for the Bible Reading podcast, is because I thought that more readers would have it than the HCSB, which remains my favorite translation. The biggest difference I see between the CSB and the HCSB is the translation of the Tetragrammaton – the personal name of God. the CSB prefers LORD and the HCSB prefers Yahweh:

Comparison of Psalm 83:18
HCSB: May they know that You alone— whose name is Yahweh— are the Most High over all the earth.

CSB: May they know that you alone— whose name is the LORD are the Most High over the whole earth.

I believe the best way to translate the name of God is indeed to use ‘Yahweh,’ but I do not believe that LORD is wrong.

Today’s Big Bible Question is all about the women who were the first witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. This is a big deal, because the testimony of women was not viewed favorably in the first century, and the fact that all FOUR Gospels feature women as the first witnesses of the resurrection is very significant historically. I believe it offers solid corroaboration to the authenticity of the Gospel accounts. Why have women as the first witnesses of Jesus if you are fabricating a story, or legendizing a story? The only sensible reason to feature women prominently as the first witnesses of the biggest event in history is if they were really the first witnesses. One thing I noticed in yesterday’s reading of Luke 23 – that I had glossed over in the past – is that the women were not only witnesses of the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus, but also very close and careful eyewitnesses of the burial of Jesus:

55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed along and observed the tomb and how his body was placed. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and perfumes.And they rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment.

Luke 23:55-56

It should be noted that for one to argue that the early church fabricated the resurrection of Jesus, one has to commit to the very same sexism that many of the men of the first century were quite guilty of – they must disparage the testimony of women! Consider the words of Josephus and Strabo – one a well known Jewish/Roman historian and the other a notable Roman first century sexist philosopher:

A. “But let not a single witness be credited; but three, or two at the least, and those such whose testimony is confirmed by their good lives. But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex, nor let servants be admitted to give testimony on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth” – Jewish/Roman historian Josephus, pointing out the belief that women of his day should not testify in court

B: “In dealing with a crowd of women at least, or with any promiscuous mob, a philosopher cannot influence them by reason or exhort them to reverence, piety and faith; nay, there is need of religious fear also, and this cannot be aroused without myths and marvels” – Strabo, a first century philosopher sharing a quite common view of women at the time: that they were immune to reason and comparable to a “promiscuous mob.”

A. Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 117.

B. Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, ©2002), 270

They weren’t the only ones, either! Consider the Mishnah a compilation of the Jewish oral law that was actively used by the Scribes and Pharisees during the first century. (and not the Word of God.) One of the Rabbis found within testifies that, due to their menstrual issues, “women are not competent witnesses to be relied on…they are not halakhically admissible as reliable witnesses.”

There are many more examples than just those, and I imagine some of you are mad right now, so let me just sneak in one other somewhat infuriating quote written by our backwards ‘friends’ from antiquity. Celsus was a Greek philosopher and an adamant opponent of Christianity who lived in the second century. Of the resurrection, and the fact that a woman was the first witness of the risen Jesus, Celsus opined:

But we must examine this question whether anyone who really died ever rose again with the same body. Or do you think that the stories of these others really are the legends which they appear to be, and yet that the ending of your tragedy is to be regarded as noble and convincing—his cry from the cross when he expired, and the earthquake and the darkness? While he was alive he did not help himself, but after death he rose again and showed the marks of his punishment and how his hands had been pierced. But who saw this? A hysterical female, as you say, and perhaps some other one of those who were deluded by the same sorcery, who either dreamt in a certain state of mind and through wishful thinking had a hallucination due to some mistaken notion, or, which is more likely, wanted to impress the others by telling this fantastic tale, and so by this cock-and-bull story to provide a chance for other beggars.”

James Stevenson, A New Eusebius: Documents Illustrating the History of the Church to AD 337 (London: SPCK, 1987), 133.

As you can see here, Celsus’ major attack on the validity of the resurrection account is that it was first witnessed and propagated by a hysterical woman (Mary Magdalene) and, another “one of those,” who was “deluded by the same sorcery.” On behalf of women everywhere, I am offended for you! Be reminded that, though this backwards attitude towards women was staggeringly rampant in the first century, that was not the case with Jesus, the apostles, nor the early church. Perhaps you’ve imagined that the “Jesus Team” consisted of Jesus and the twelve disciples, and those thirteen went around from city to city healing the sick and sharing the good news. You’d be partly right, but the Jesus team was actually quite a bit larger than that, as there were a number (the Bible says “many) of women that also travelled with Jesus and had a critical role on the team, paying for lodging and expenses, etc. Jesus Himself was radical in the way He treated women, having multiple deep individual encounters with them at a time when it would be scandalously inappropriate for a Rabbi to have a one on one conversation with a female.

Compare the New Testament to any other document of antiquity, and you will find that it was radically forward thinking in its ethos of women. To be sure, in many cases, women were treated quite poorly in the earliest centuries, and were viewed in a way that does not comport with modern reality. I could add many other quotes to demonstrate this historical fact, but that is not necessary to make the primary and pertinent point here: having a female witness to something monumental in the first century might be a little bit…inconvenient, to say the least. As Josephus notes above, there were many cultures in antiquity where a woman was not allowed to testify in court. In other ancient cultures, they might have been allowed to testify, but their testimony would not have carried as much weight as the testimony of a man. In some of those situations, where women were actually allowed to testify, it would take the testimony of two women to override the testimony of one man. Why is such a cultural issue critical in discussing the resurrection of Jesus? Because, according to Matthew 28, the first two witnesses to the risen Jesus were women, Mary Magdalene and “The other Mary.” Luke adds that Joanna was there, as well as “other women,” and seems to indicate that “the other” Mary, was Mary the mother of James. All four gospels, written down by different men, in different places and at different time periods ALL feature a female (Mary Magdalene) as the first witness of the resurrection of Jesus.

Stay Tuned for part two tomorrow!

One Reply to “Why Were Women the First Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus, and What Difference Does that Make? #FirstCenturySexism+ Bible Translation Question. (Part 1) #70”

  1. RetroKeith

    My own preference in bible translations are the ESV and CSB. I won’t claim to be fluent in Greek or Hebrew, but have studied both enough to know these two translations are both faithful to word order, but flexible enough to make sense to the English reader.

    I like the use of Yahweh for the reason that uppercase letters to designate the formal name for God are lost on me. As a blind person who relies on reading through listening to the scripture being read, LORD is pronounced the same as Lord, or lord. It’s nice to use something different with ought the reader needing to stop and clarify every time, or to pause my text to speech software to set it to read by character, assuming there may be a need to stop and notice a difference… and it can be difficult to pick up on subtle differences in context to know whether I need to check.

    I still use the good old KJV since my copy also has Strong’s numbers embedded in it. When doing word studies, this gives me the chance to write my own notes, and compare them to the word choices and uses in my favored translations,KJV, or others. i also have copies of Greek and Hebrew bibles to make note of word order, suffixes, prefixes, and tenses of words. Using only the root words that Strong’s offers means picking up on structure you would have no way of knowing, other than scratching your head and wonder why the translator used certain wording.

    KJV, ESV, CSB, NASB (and its update) are all excellent. They’re all good, but since the grammar, and certain words used in 1611 have drifted, the KJV is becoming cumbersome to understand. Literal meanings of words have drifted to the point that a modern reader has to continually filter “what did this mean to the original audience?” “What did these words mean to English readers in 1611?” “What do these words mean to modern English understanding?”

    If nothing else, and the modern reader has no tools or knowledge of original languages, comparing multiple versions side by side give a more rich understanding of the underlying, original language, and a deeper meaning that translaters can’t achieve with a single word for word translation. .

    The more versions to cross reference in parallel, the better.

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