Jesus Revolutionized The Role Of Women

In this post, I won’t be telling women to become feminists or to accept the beliefs and philosophies of the feminist and women’s liberation movements.  This is because, I have discovered from reading the Bible that our God has already declared and decreed equal status of women, long before any feminist movement came into being.  It is true that human beings have not followed the teachings of the Bible and this has given rise to false beliefs about women and their ‘place’ in society and in the church.   These false beliefs have also given rise to feminist teachings and the women’s liberation movement, which are good in many ways, but potentially detrimental in other ways.

In Biblical times, women’s status and freedoms were severely limited by Jewish law and customs, as they were in essentially all other cultures at the time. Generally speaking, most women were restricted to roles of little or no authority, they were largely confined to their father’s or husband’s home, and women were considered to be inferior to men and under the authority of men — either to their father before marriage, or to their husband afterwards.

Women were also not allowed to testify in court trials. They could not go out in public, or talk to strangers. When outside of their homes, they were to be double veiled.  They were second-class Jews, excluded from the worship and teaching of God, with status scarcely above that of slaves.

The restrictive conditions for Jewish women may have also prevailed in other cultures.  Generally speaking, over the centuries women have been kept in a position that’s lower than men and have been restricted to traditional roles such as housewife, home maker and care-giver.  This was true, both in the home and also in professions that have been traditionally dominated by women – such as secretaries, nurses, waitresses and so on.

In my reading of the Bible, I see no reference to any commandment or teaching from God that places women in a position that is less than men.  In fact, Jesus did not make any statements about the status of women and I believe that this is because the question of women’s equality with men was not an issue or a problem for Him.

In every interaction Jesus had with women he showed respect and treated them as equals.  His attitude to women was radically different from the traditional beliefs about women in Biblical times.  In Biblical times, women were considered second class citizens.

So let’s look at how Jesus related to women.  He affirmed, honoured and encouraged women in their faith, treated them with dignity, equality and value.  Regardless of their race, culture, age, social status or sin, Jesus only required the women he met to have faith, so that He could minister to them, heal them and allow them to participate in His ministry.  Jesus continually broke with the traditions, religious law and attitudes of the time regarding women.  In fact He radically changed and revolutionized the way in which women were treated.  If Jesus broke wrong traditional beliefs about women and what people thought their role should be, shouldn’t we also break away from traditional beliefs and ideas about the status of women that are contrary to the Biblical examples and teachings on the roles that women are expected to play?

Jesus included women in His ministry.  His only requirement for ministry and discipleship was faith.  Jesus’ disciples included several women, a practice almost unheard of among the rabbis of His day. We read in Luke 8:1-3, Soon afterwards, Jesus began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.”  These were women of faith, married, unmarried, of high social standing, of humble means and those who had material wealth.  They all formed part of Jesus’ inner circle, doing His work and serving in His ministry.  

Jesus taught women.  He revealed His truth directly to women. In Jewish tradition, women were not taught with men.  In fact, Christ’s first recorded, explicit disclosure of His own identity as the true Messiah was made to a Samaritan woman.  In John 4:25-26, the woman said to Him, “I know that the Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”  

Another big, liberating truth about Jesus’ view of women is that He encouraged women to go beyond traditionally expected roles such as domestic service and hospitality.  We read in Luke 10:38-42 that Jesus implored Martha to stop being bothered by household chores and follow her sister Mary’s example of listening to His teachings.   It’s not that being hospitable is a bad thing, or that we are to neglect household tasks and only pay attention to Bible study.  I believe that Jesus was liberating Martha and other women from the commonly held social belief that it’s a woman’s place to always do the hospitality and household chores.  So what if you don’t feel called to serve coffee after church service?  Jesus is quite ok with that!

He always treated women with the utmost dignity–even women who might otherwise be regarded as outcasts.  He ignored Jewish laws of ritual impurity when he healed the woman with the hemorrhage and when He blessed and accepted the woman who washed His feet.  He went past cultural differences and prejudices when He ministered to the Samaritan woman at the well who had been married five times and when He delivered the Canaanite woman’s daughter of an evil spirit(See Matthew 9:20-22; Luke 7:37-50; John 4:7-27; John 8:4-11; and Matthew 15:22-28).

As men and women of faith, we need to embrace these truths.

  • God the Father, through Jesus Christ His Son sees women and treats women as equal to men.
  • God the Holy Spirit enables women and men to understand His specific will for you, empowers you to develop your talents and to serving effectively in ministry.
  • Women of faith are not in the back row.  Women are to come boldly forward and do God’s work, as we are directed by God to serve Him and the world.

This is who we are.  This is who God wants Christian women of faith to be, and how He wants Christian men of faith to see their spiritual sisters, wives and daughters.

Stop oppressing women in the Church

 The Bible exalts women. The Bible applauds and honours the role of women in the home and in the society.  The Bible is filled with examples of women whose influence and actions have served to fulfil God’s plan and purpose for His Church and the world.  Women play prominent roles in many key biblical narratives as judges (Deborah), queens (Esther), prophets (Miriam) and warriors (Jael).  Wives are venerated partners and cherished, equal companions to their husbands.  In Genesis 2 v 24 God established the marital union where husband and wife become ‘one flesh’.

When God issued the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 20:12, God commanded children to honor both father and mother, thus giving the mother and father equal status as parents.

In Genesis 2:18 God gave Adam his wife Eve he said that Eve was to be a ‘helper’ to Adam.  Contrary to our usual understanding of the word ‘helper’, that implies ‘provider of assistance’ to someone else, the word ‘helper’ is translated from the Hebrew word ‘ezer’ which means ‘power’ or ‘strength.’  The only other times that the word helper’ is used in the Old Testament is the instances where God is somehow described, in terms of power or strength, often God promises to be a helper to Israel (e.g. Deuteronomy 33:26 and 29 – “There is none like the God of Jeshurun, The Rider of the Heavens in your strength (ezer), and on the clouds in his majesty.” And “Blessed are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord? He is the shield of your strength (ezer) and the sword of your majesty.”

So in Genesis 2:18 where Eve is to be a helper to Adam, I would say that God intended that in marriage, Eve would offer “power” or “strength” to Adam as an equal partner.  As a ‘helper’, a wife is not to be thought of as second rung at all, but rather as a divine gift, key to humanity’s survival.

Paul’s epistles have proven to be confusing and controversial for some Christians.  In his first epistle to the Corinthian Christians, Paul writes that wives are to submit to husbands, that the man is the head of the woman in marriage, women should keep silent in church and should not teach.  Some Christian denominations follow these words literally and women in these denominations are led to believe that they are second rank to men.  Others say that Paul was teaching at a time when cultural practices and differences required women to be subservient and that since times have changed, Paul’s teachings are irrelevant.

My own view is that Paul’s intention was to bring order to the Corinthian Christian congregation that was experiencing problems at that time.  Corinth was a wealthy, multi-cultural city and the congregation there reflected the cultural and demographic diversity of the city.  Members of the congregation comprised Jewish and pagan converts.  There were problems such as the continued observance of pagan practices (1 Corinthians 10: 19 – 33), divisions and dysfunctional relationships (1 Corinthians 1: 10 – 15, 1 Corinthians 11: 17 – 19), improper observation of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11: 20 – 33), and misunderstanding of the use of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12).

In 1 Corinthians 11: 1 – 2, Paul recommended that members of the congregation should follow his example, that included a common set of Jewish traditions that would serve to unify the congregation and clearly define the Corinthian church in a multi-cultural city.  Some of these traditions included the covering of women’s hair, relationships between husband and wife and the role of women in worship.  (1 Corinthians 11) By recommending the roles and responsibilities for men and women to follow, Paul intended that harmonious relationships in marriage, family and in the church would be established.

I do not believe that women are by any means marginalized or relegated to any second-class status in the Bible – either in the Old Testament or in the New Testament and even within Paul’s Epistles.  I support my opinion because of what Paul says and does in regard to women and their role in his ministry.

  •  He says in Galatians 3:28 that there is no distinction between male and female and we are all one / equal in the sight of God.
  • Paul included women in his ministry.  He cites several examples of women who ministered alongside him – Euodia and Syntyche, Phoebe the deaconess in Cenchreae (Romans 16:1) and Prisca and Aquila who risked their lives for Paul in spreading the gospel (Romans 16 v4).
  • There are also many other examples of women ministering with Paul and who he commends for serving in positions of leadership and influence in the early church.  A fairly complete list is in Romans Chapter 16.

I do not believe that Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians contradict the teachings of the Bible on women and their status in God’s sight.

Christian men and women need to work together as equals, doing God’s will and responding to His specific call to serve Him in the world, and bring glory and honour to Him.

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