As a daughter, what have you inherited? Lynn Cohick nudges our chins upward to consider the immeasurable inheritance we have as daughters of our great God.
A Daughter's Inheritance
By Lynn H. Cohick, PhD
My husband and I decided that if we had a daughter, we would name her after her grandmothers. I share my middle name with my grandmother, and our middle name was her grandmother's maiden name. Our middle name is very unusual, and in grade school, my friends could never deduce it. I'd get all sorts of guesses, and eventually I'd tell them: my middle name is "Garden."
Every woman can say, "I am a daughter." We are not all wives or mothers or aunts or grandmothers. But all women are daughters. Jesus addressed women he healed as daughters of Abraham (Luke 8 and 13). These were daughters of the people of God, having supreme worth and value because they are beloved of God. Jesus blessed daughters, even as he blessed sons, the children whom he met in his journeys. The house churches that Paul established included children in their midst, too. I wonder, what did the gospel sound like to those children?
As a bit of background for early Christian culture, approximately 1/4 of the children in these churches would have lost their father by age ten. Many lost their mothers due to maternal mortality. Thus, many children lived with step-fathers or mothers, or other relatives. Ancient Roman society had elaborate and rigid social hierarchies that pegged children, and their parents, on a scale of worthiness. Non-Romans were deemed of less worth than Romans, and freed men and women were below the free-born. Ethnic heritage and wealth were key factors in evaluating social worthiness, and shame followed those at the bottom.
The earliest congregations likely included about 20-25% slave children. Slave children had no "real" parents, only owners who expected hard labor and could sexually exploit them. Typically, slave children started working between ages five and seven. Violence was part of their world. A slave girl might grow up and have a daughter, but that daughter would belong to her owner. A slave boy might grow up and father a daughter, but he would have no inheritance to pass along to her.
Into this reality, Paul addresses the children in his congregations, and presents the gospel message to them as members of the community of faith (Ephesians 6:1-4; Colossians 3:20). The gospel announces that children, including slave children, have an inheritance of God. The slave girl who is in Christ, who is exploited by her owners, has infinite worth to God. This girl will share alongside others in her Christian community an inheritance far greater than any human can amass or imagine. The gospel proclaims that slaves and free, sons and daughters are co-heirs with Christ, and part of a new family, God's family. In the church, both slave and free children were "in Christ," and were to be treated with the dignity of a child of God.
"Am I of any worth?" an ancient daughter might have asked. The gospel declares loud and clear: YES, for you are a daughter of God, and an inheritance has been laid up for you. The gospel message has not changed; it is still good news for children. Jesus encouraged children to know him and be blessed by him (Matthew 19:13-15), and he pointed to the lowly position that children held in his culture as a model of humility for all disciples (Matthew 18:1-5). "Let the little children come!" Children were present as he preached, close enough that he could take one in his arms as he challenged the disciples' rivalry of who is the greatest among them (Mark 9:34-35).
And so, my husband and I continued the naming tradition for our daughter. She shares her names with her two grandmothers, including her middle name, "Bloom" which is her paternal grandmother's maiden name.
She also wears her maternal great grandmother's gold wedding band, inherited through her maternal grandmother. I also have the thin gold band my grandmother passed down from my great-great grandmother. Both my daughter and I have visual reminders of our family inheritance, along with the legacy of our unique family names. In Christ, all daughters share in a far-greater inheritance - eternal life as beloved children of God.
Dr. Lynn Cohick is the provost/dean and professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. Dr. Cohick has also taught at Wheaton College, Messiah College, and the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology. Dr. Cohick earned a BA in Bible and Religion from Messiah College, and her PhD in New Testament and Christian Origins from the University of Pennsylvania. She has lectured and preached in a variety of settings, including the Sydney Opera House and a mud hut in a Masai village in the Rift Valley in Kenya.