Evelyn Stagg died Feb. 28 at the age of 96.
I never met Ms. Stagg personally. Nor do I recall ever hearing her speak. To most people, she was better known as the wife of Frank Stagg, distinguished New Testament professor at two Southern Baptist seminaries. He died in 2001 after they had been married for 66 years.
In 1978 Evelyn and Frank co-authored an important book titled Woman in the World of Jesus. It was the only book I ever read more than once while I was a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The Staggs approached their important work with three questions: (1) How did woman fare in the world before Jesus — in standing, as seen by others and as seen by herself? (2) How did Jesus see woman and relate to her? and (3) How did the early church see woman and relate to her?
The authors intentionally used the singular "woman" in their title and in the text rather than the plural "women." Their work was years in the making and its impact was significant.
Their fine work was published during a time in their Southern Baptist denomination when the place of ministry for women in local churches was being hotly debated. An examination of Jesus' attitude toward women who joined him in his ministry and those active in the first century church opened the door for serious biblically based discussion of the issue nearly 2,000 years later.
The Staggs concluded Jesus' high regard for the value of women and their freedom in Christ was radical in its day. Unfortunately, Baptists and other faith groups are still trying to catch up with Jesus on this issue.
Woman in the World of Jesus freed many women at the time and many since to respond to what they sensed as God's call to minister, some even as pastors and preachers. Many were emboldened to defend their calling and seek to live out God's will for their lives.
Women in ministry are indebted to Evelyn Stagg, who not only co-authored the book but also continued to personally encourage women in church-related vocations. The rest of the church is indebted to her, too, even though many in the church still do not recognize their indebtedness.