Jesus & the War on Women

There’s a lot of buzz going around from one USA political campaign arguing that the other side is launching a “war on women.”

Whether you agree with this analysis or you feel it’s a case of political hand-waving, the truth is that historically, women have often gotten the short end of the stick.

This was very much the case during the time of Jesus.

Interestingly, Jesus treated women differently than any other Jewish teacher of His day. Women played a prominent role in His ministry.

The following bulleted list unpacks that statement. It will give you a peak into how Christ viewed women during His earthy life, and how He views them today . . . for He is “the same yesterday, today and forever.”

It must first be said that women in Jesus’ day were treated pretty poorly both by the Jewish and Roman world.

They could not receive an education. They had no voice in their marriage, and they were limited to a special court in the Temple that was inferior to that of the men.

A Jewish man was not supposed to talk to a woman in public. If he did, it was considered a shame. Jewish women were to be seen in public as little as possible.

The prevailing view of women in the Jewish mind was that they were regarded as private property.

But Jesus of Nazareth turned all of this on its head.

In the following list, I’m deliberately not giving the Scripture references. The reason is because I want to challenge you to re-read the Gospels, and as you read, ask what role women played in the life and ministry of Jesus.

By doing so, you will see each point below emerge in the narrative.

A Survey of Women in the Gospels

  • Elizabeth and Mary (not Zachariah and Joseph) were the first to receive the news of the coming Messiah. They were also the first to prophesy about the Christ child.
  • The prophetess Anna helped pave the way for the coming of the Messiah, preparing those who were waiting for His arrival.
  • Jesus came into the world through the womb of a woman. For this reason Mary, the mother of Jesus, is among the most beloved, honored, and respected women who ever lived. She shows us just how vital women are to God’s eternal plan.
  • It was unheard of for women to be listed in a Jewish genealogy. But the Gospels add women in the genealogy of Jesus.
  • Jesus was introduced to Israel by John the Baptist as “the bridegroom.” God, therefore, chose a woman – a bride — to depict that which Jesus came to the earth to die for.
  • Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman in public and told her some of the most amazing things about God that He ever shared with anyone. The disciples were shocked that He spoke to her in public. Not just because she was a woman, but because she was a Samaritan. Jews weren’t supposed to speak to Samaritans.
  • Jesus often used women in His parables and made them heroes. Think of the widow and her mite, the woman and the lost coin, the persistent widow and the unjust judge, the ten virgins with oil in their lamps, etc.
  • Jesus allowed a “sinful woman” (which many believe to have been a prostitute) to kiss His feet. She also unbound her hair which was a scandalous gesture in that day. Yet Jesus allowed her to love Him extravagantly in the house of a Pharisee.
  • Jesus allowed an unclean woman to touch Him. As a result, she was healed.
  • Jesus became the defense attorney to a woman caught in the act of adultery. As a result, her life was saved.
  • Jesus healed the daughter of a persistent Gentile woman and gave her one of the highest compliments He paid anyone. Her faith was peerless in His eyes.
  • Jesus is said to have “loved” two women who lived in the little village of Bethany (Mary and Martha) along with their brother Lazarus. Mary and Martha were among Jesus’ closest disciples and were probably the most prominent women in His life, next to His mother.
  • Jesus entered into a woman’s home (Martha) and taught another woman (Mary) specifically, along with His other disciples. For a Jewish teacher to come into a woman’s house to teach was unheard of.
  • Jesus allowed a woman (Mary of Bethany) to sit at His feet and learn from Him. To sit at a person’s feet was to take the posture of a disciple. So Jesus allowed Mary to learn from Him the same way that He allowed His male disciples to learn from Him. Jesus allowed Mary to take up the space that was only designated for men (this is why Martha objected so strongly).
  • Jesus said that Mary of Bethany would be mentioned and remembered wherever the gospel would be preached. An amazing honor. This was after Mary anointed His body for burial with a rare and expensive perfume.
  • Jesus defended a woman on two occasions when her act of love and devotion were ridiculed and rebuked. Mary of Bethany was rebuked by her sister Martha and later by Judas and the other disciples. In both cases, Jesus rose to Mary’s defense.
  • A group of women followed Jesus along with the Twelve. They also took care of His needs out of their substance. This group of female disciples are called “the women” by Luke in the Gospels and in Acts. Jesus was the first Jewish teacher to have women disciples. And for a Jewish woman to leave her home and travel with a Jewish teacher was not only exotically rare, but it was considered scandalous.
  • Jesus spent His last week on earth (before His resurrection) in the home of a woman. He stayed with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Martha’s home in Bethany.
  • Jesus’ female disciples stayed with Jesus during His death, proving themselves to be more faithful than most of His male disciples. With the exception of John, Jesus’ male disciples deserted Him during His darkest hour.
  • Jesus’ female disciples were the first to show up at His tomb to care for His body.
  • The first eyes that witnessed the resurrected Christ were the eyes of a woman (Mary Magdalene). Ironically, during the first century, a woman’s testimony was of no use in a court of law. Yet God in His wisdom allowed a woman to be the first witness to the greatest miracle ever accomplished.
  • In the whole of Jesus’ public ministry there was nothing in His words or deeds that indicated any concern to restrict the spiritual service of women.

Key Take-Aways

Jesus came into a world where the cards were stacked against women. The ways in which He engaged, conversed, healed, and recognized them in His teachings were radical for His culture, but they were second nature to Jesus.

The Son of God was keenly aware that the image of God was both male and female (hearkening back to Genesis 1), and His life and ministry reflected that awareness.

Remember, Jesus is the human face of God. So His opinion of women reflects God’s opinion of them.

Consequently, anytime women are oppressed or suppressed on the planet, the Lord would seek to the liberate them.

Jesus is the greatest liberator in the universe. And freeing women to their God-given callings is one of the things He does best.

Among other things, this would include the following:

  • In the spirit of Mary Magdalene — the first woman to set eyes on the resurrected Christ – women are free to testify to the good news of Jesus and His resurrection.
  • In the spirit of Mary – the mother of Jesus – women are free to fulfill God’s will and calling, saying “be it unto me according to your Word.”
  • In the spirit of Mary of Bethany, women are free to worship Jesus Christ extravagantly. And they are free to sit at His feet as disciples, along with His male followers.
  • In the spirit of Anna, women are free to prophesy by the Holy Spirit. In this way, women are called to serve as spiritual priests along with men because they are part of the priesthood of all believers and they too possess the Spirit.
  • In the spirit of the Canaanite woman who persisted in her request for Jesus to heal her daughter, women are free to press into the Kingdom of God and wrestle with God until they receive His blessing.
  • In the spirit of the women who traveled with Jesus – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and others – women are free to follow the Lord wherever He goes and serve Him out of their substance.
  • In the spirit of the Samaritan woman whom Jesus met at Jacob’s well, women are free to pioneer evangelism and church planting initiatives.

The call to follow Jesus as a full-fledged disciple and the call to serve God goes out to all women just as it does to all men.

About Frank Viola

See my About page. Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be "affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Google+

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  • PicnicAnt

    Joe, you said, “Family must again reside at the center of our society and, of course, no proper appreciation of women… means no proper appreciation of family.”

    Joe, I’m a Christian lady, in my early 40s, and I’ve never married, though I wanted to be. I have waited for marriage to have sex, but marriage has not happened for me.

    While I can appreciate the fact you feel you are defending women in some manner, I have to point out that many churches in America today have made marriage, parenting, and “family” into a deity, and this is not a good thing at all, and it’s actually damaging family and “family values.”

    Celibacy for older Christians and singlehood status itself are not valued, encouraged, and normally not even spoken of or noticed.

    There is way, way too much preoccupation already with “family” among conservative Christians, to the point older singles (as in never married over the age of 30) do not feel welcome at most churches, so many of us stop attending.

    It’s doubly worse for unmarried Christian women, because most churches do not allow women to have any role in church except for stereotypical wife and mother roles, such as baby sitter in church nurseries. As an older single woman, I have no interest at all in working in, for, or around children and babies or teenagers. Most churches have no place for me, and I am excluded and feel excluded.

    The church does nothing to assist Christian singles who want marriage. They go on and on about how great marriage and family is, but will shame us if we speak up and say, “help me get married, I want to start a family of my own. Dating sites are not helping me.”

    We will often be shamed by other Christians for admitting to wanting a spouse, told we are “idolizing marriage,” and that we should “be content in our singleness.” None of this is helpful for the Christian single who desires marriage.

    Further, the genders are basically taught to avoid one another by preachers and by Christian dating literature, to be suspicious of one another, because of fornication and sexual purity concerns. This teaching results in adult Christians who are afraid of the opposite gender and/or who have no idea how to date – which is one reason in part why Christians are not getting married even into their 30s, 40s, and older.

    The church in America today is acting as an impediment to marriage and family, ironically.

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  • Manny Fragoza

    DEACONESS:The ordination, however, was expressly understood to confer no sacerdotal functions of any kind. The 4th council of Carthage (c. 100) expressly orders that no woman should venture to baptize. It appears that certain sects of the Montanists ordained women as priests and even as bishops. In opposition to these Epiphanius, while speaking of them as an order in the Church, asserts that they were women-elders, but not priestesses in any sense (irperrfivTepidas ij iepitra cts), and that their mission was not to interfere in anyway with the functions allotted to the priests (lepareveiv), but simply to perform certain offices in the care of women (Epiph.Haer. 79. cap. 3). Tertullian also says that it is not p
    ermitted to a woman to speak in the church, nor to baptize, nor to make the oblation (offerre), nor discharge any of the offices allotted to men (virile muiius) (Tert. da Vel. Virg. c. 9), and is indignant at the forwardness of women who take upon themselves to teach and to baptize contrary to the express command of the Apostle (Id. De U iptis. c. 17). T(iii.9)The Constitutions (iii. 9) emphatically deny the right of women to baptize, asserting that priestesses are ordained for female deities, and are a heathen, not a Christian institution; and that if Our Lord had wished them to baptize, he would himself have been baptized by his own mother rather than by John the Baptist. The latter argument is also used by Epiphanius, who says that if Our Lord had ordered women to exercise any priestly or ecclesiastical ministry, he would first have given that office to- the Virgin Mary (Hacr. 79, cap. 3)

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  • http://asensiblelife.com Joe Anderson

    Frank,
    I just wrote a longish message to you and then there was some kind of server glitch and my words disappeared into cyber space. Long and short of it. I have been familiar with Patheos for some time but found your blog through a web search as I was looking for articles about the “war on women”. I have written about this myself as I mentioned above because this is a component of our culture that we must better understand and live if we are to reclaim our society for the good, the true and the beautiful. Family must again reside at the center of our society and, of course, no proper appreciation of women (or man or children, for that matter but it is woman who is most under attack) means no proper appreciation of family.
    With warmest regards,
    Joe
    Ps: I am following you on Twitter: @SensibleLifeJoe

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  • Jose

    Hi Frank
    Thank-you for this article. At the very least it has put a check on my thoughts.
    I agree on the equality before God, and God knew us before we were formed in our mother’s womb, that makes us incredibly precious and undoubtedly equal, but God did make us different and ordained different roles for us in society and in His order. So we are different but equal.
    I have a struggle with this because a part of me senses some truth in the orders of Paul, probably more out of male insecurity than anything else. I sense in my nature a rebellion at being presided over by a woman, although I have no problem with equality, I learn from and have emense respect for women, and I work for a woman and many women that I respect unconditionally.
    But then thinking more on the subject, I don’t think it is women at all, but the sense in some (I honestly don’t know how many, I only attend one) traditional churches that some are “more equal” than others, the fact that some elevate themselves (physically and psychologically) above their brethren leaves me cold (before I detract from this and start some debate let me say that I am sure most have good intentions, but bad teachers).
    In the articulation of this post, I think I have been lead to what my REAL issue is, so I guess I should revise my post, but I will leave it for others to decide. I have come to the conclusion in and during my reaction that I agree wholeheartedly with you.

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  • Frank Viola

    Thanks Joe. How did you find this blog?

  • http://asensiblelife.com Joe Anderson

    Great article!
    Along similar lines, I have written (or paraphrased) a short article about the real war on women at asensiblelife.com. The real war on women is the one in which the forces of secularism, using the tools of their trade with which we are all too familiar, attempt to coerce women into believing that that which makes them women, the gift of their womanhood, is of no value and needs to be put aside in order that they might truly succeed in this world.

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  • http://www.somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | the smitten word

    this is the Jesus that i know and serve. beautifully put, frank.

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  • Frank Viola

    Thx. Adrian. This article transcends both categories, as do my own views on the subject. I appreciate your kind note on your blog. Peter K’s line was so good that I revised what I had to incorporate his.

  • Frank Viola

    Sure. Please put a link to the original post in your translation.

  • http://inspirazio.blogspot.com/ Ronny Dee

    I like your article. May I ask your permission to translate some part of this article into my languange (Indonesia)? I will put your name below the article. Thank you

  • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com Kelly J Youngblood

    I love the fact that you agree with every word of this this post too! :)

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  • http://patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock Adrian Warnock

    Love the fact that as a complementarian I agree with EVERY word of this post

  • Frank Viola

    I’ve dealt with the Timothy text here: http://frankviola.org/role.pdf – hope it helps.

  • Summer Smith

    Very liberating. I’ve always felt my passion was an uphill battle in a man’s church. I’ve wrestled with Timothy on the subject and that one little passage could ruin me for months at a time.

  • Frank Viola

    Thx. Alise. Three cheers.

  • http://www.alise-write.com Alise

    I think that last line is the important one. Regardless of the obstacles stacked against us, we are called to serve. I think that’s so important to remember when we’re feeling beaten down by the negativity – we still must serve God, in whatever way that we’re called.

    Thanks for this reminder!

  • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com Kelly J Youngblood

    Loved that chapter in the book and plan on using it as a reference for something I am working on for a Sunday school class for church.


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