Nijay Gupta is a passionate ally of women in the church and academy, and he has harnessed that passion into researching the lives and situations of women named as leaders and ministers in the Bible. His book Tell Her Story harvests those insights from the early church—with real implications for today.
Nijay Gupta: Several years ago, I did a blog series called "Why I Believe in Women in Ministry." I had been on a journey of study on the subject for about twenty years, and I had come to a place of strongly supporting women in ministry, so I thought I would write up some of my reasons. The series got a lot of engagement right away, and I ended up doing over twenty posts in the series. Tell Her Story grew out of that experience, knowing that people are eager to better understand the women who participated in and led the early churches.
Gupta: Junia, a female Christian leader in Rome, spent time in prison! That's a fact that often missed and is a pretty big deal. We know prison was very rough for men (torture, disease, malnutrition, suffocation), and all the more for women who very rarely were imprisoned. For Junia to endure prison and then go back into ministry is astonishing. She was also older in the faith than Paul, and probably older in age as well. She represents an earlier generation of Christianity than Paul, imagine that! I tell my students that Paul might well have called Junia "Auntie" and undoubtedly admired her greatly.
Gupta: I mean, how can you pass up a chance to talk to Mary, the mother of Jesus? I would love to hear her talk about that fateful angelic visitation, her difficult pregnancy and the neighbors looking at her with suspicion. Learning over time just how special this Jesus kid is. Raising him, disciplining him! But then following him, seeing him suffer and die. And importantly—helping to lead the early churches. Talk about a Lifetime Achievement Award!
Gupta: When I was young, it was often considered natural to prohibit women from ministry and to use stereotypes as justification for that: "women are too emotional, they can't preach, they are more gullible," etc. Fortunately I rarely ever hear anyone use those explanations anymore. More commonly, I hear some scholars just say, "Women are meant to focus on the home" or "women aren't called to pastor," and "that's just the way it is," or "that's what the Bible says." Tell Her Story is really meant to paint a picture of the early Christians in the Roman world where women were everywhere, and they were able to do just about anything.
Gupta: I recommend Beth Allison Barr's Making of Biblical Womanhood, which covers many eras of Christian history, from early Christianity through medieval Christianity and into the modern era. Also, Discovering Biblical Equality, now in its third edition, is a massive resource that's kind of a mini-encyclopedia on women, the Bible, church history, and theology. Then, Holly Beers's excellent A Week in the Life of a Greco-Roman Woman. Her historical fiction helps readers walk in the shoes of a woman in the first century.
Gupta: Currently I am writing a book called Strange Religion: Why the Early Christians Were Weird, Dangerous, and Attractive. I compare early Christianity to state and popular religions in the Greco-Roman world. It is amazing how deviant those Christians were. Today, in America, I feel like Christians either just blend into the background and offer nothing refreshing or attractive, or they stand out for being mean, condescending, and judgmental. The early Christians went all-in for this weirdo named Jesus. So, my motto is #KeepChristianityWeird! (I live in Portland, Oregon, let the reader understand.)