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Jesus’ View of Women

Jesus was born into a culture that minimized and marginalized women. The first century world, including the Roman empire and Judaism, was deeply patriarchal. Historically, fathers had absolute authority over their households and women had little privileges or rights.

 

Consequently, women were always in a vulnerable position. They had no access to property or inheritance, and any money earned belonged to the husband. Even in religious practice, women were overlooked. Only men were required to pray daily, study scripture and permitted inside synagogues.

 

With these social attitudes, one would expect Jesus’ ministry to strictly adhere to the cultural values and viewpoints of His day. Yet, Jesus’ regard for women was radical and revolutionary. They were an integral part of his adult life. Unfortunately, this has often been ignored or downplayed, even though many females played important roles in His ministry. Was this a personal view or did Jesus’ attitude reflect His Father’s?

 

God’s View of Women

 

From the beginning there is no question the Almighty was bold in His high regard for women. After speaking the world into existence and creating all the plants and animals, God declared He would create mankind in His own image. Genesis 1:27 says, “male and female He created them.” Clearly, though man was created first, there was never any question of God’s intent to create two different humans, equally like Him and equally respected.

 

However, the Old Testament seems to support the traditional way women were treated when Jesus was born. Patriarchy permeated the culture. But there is a specific reason for the accepted customs which can be traced to an often-disregarded cause for the disparity: sin. When sin entered God’s perfect world His creation became forever corrupted.

 

Sinful men added to God’s law and created the patriarchal traditions of the Old Testament. But God only tolerated them. Numerous times He chose a woman to bring change. Miriam, Deborah, and Esther, to name a few, played extremely important roles in Jewish history. There are others. And, Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, was very aware of His Father’s opinion when it came to women.

 



Jesus’ Birth

 

God could have spoken His offspring into human existence. Yet, He valued the role a woman would play in carrying out His plan for a broken world; bringing One who would ultimately bring judgment on Satan. Mary was chosen to conceive and bring God’s only Son into the world.

 

Then, when God’s Son was consecrated at the Temple in Jerusalem, it wasn’t a man who recognized the child held in Mary’s arms. It was a woman, a prophet and elderly widow named Anna. She began praising God as soon as she saw the baby. God the Father blessed Anna and allowed her a special knowledge to know this infant was Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah.

Jesus and Women during His Ministry

 

Jesus three-year ministry is captured in the four Gospels. Our perspective when reading them is often shaded by our culture today. To know Jesus often spoke directly to a woman seems perfectly normal. However, if we were seeing this information through the eyes of the first century, Jesus’ actions would shock us to the core. We’d probably call a meeting with the pastor and have Him kicked out of our church.

 

Society disregarded women as unworthy. But, in Matthew 19:4, Jesus reminded His followers God created them in His image, just like men. And even though culture frowned on women as unfit companions, Jesus was very close to Mary, Martha, and Mary Magdalene. Mary was even found at Jesus’ feet, the typical place for a man to sit, listening and learning as He taught.

 

Instance after instance is recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John where Jesus ignored the traditional treatment of women and met them at their deepest need.

 

·      Luke 7:39 describes a woman who burst into a Pharisee’s home while Jesus was having dinner. She was crying so hard her tears fell on Jesus’ feet. The host berated her for touching Him. But in Jesus she found love and acceptance.

 

·      Matthew 9:20-22 relates the story of a woman who had suffered for 12 years with menstrual bleeding. Considered unclean by everyone, she believed touching Jesus’ cloak would bring her healing. And it did. Jesus didn’t reproach her, saying her faith made her clean.

 

·      Mark 14:3-9 tells the story of a woman who came to Jesus while he was in the home of Simon the leper. She took an expensive flask of oil and anointed His head. Many judged and scolded her for “wasting” something so costly. But Jesus recognized her sacrifice and commended her for it.

 

·      John 8:3-11 shares the story of a woman caught in adultery. Naked, she was dragged through the streets to Jesus for judgment and execution. Instead, she found forgiveness when He wrote in the sand, “You without sin can cast the first stone.”

 

·      Luke 13:10-11 is the story of a woman, severely disabled for years, listening to Jesus teach. Ignoring the pharisaical rules about the Sabbath, AND that she was a woman, Jesus healed her because she believed. 

 

·      And John 4:5-30 tells the most significant story of a woman Jesus met, on purpose, at Jacob’s well. To address a woman in public was scandalous, and the fact she was a Samaritan made it even worse. But Jesus was undeterred. He initiated a conversation, then revealed to her, a woman, He was the long-expected Messiah. He held her personally accountable for her sins, but extended mercy. Her testimony brought others to saving belief.

 

These are just a few specific examples of the life-giving encounters Jesus had with women. And there are more. The Son of God surrounded Himself with men AND women. He shared the gospel with them, traveled with them, and prayed for them. There were women who even financially supported Jesus’ ministry. (Luke 8:3.)

 

Throughout the three years Jesus spent spreading the gospel, He did not discriminate against women based on their sex, age, financial standing, marital status, or spiritual condition. Instead, He boldly accepted women and men, and welcomed their fellowship, support, and witness. His relationship with women was transformative. Through His grace and mercy, they courageously followed Him. Many women were the last to leave Jesus’ crucifixion and were bravely the first to arrive at the empty tomb. A woman was the world’s first witness of the resurrection. (Matthew 28:8)

 

This was not the norm for women in the first century. They were included, not excluded. They were treated with dignity, not disrespect. They received compassion, not callousness. All because Jesus, contrary to the culture of His day, valued women and men equally.

 

Jesus and His Disciples

 

Even with the multiple examples of the essential part women played in Jesus’ life, some commentators downplay their involvement because Jesus chose only men as His apostles. Taking it a step further, some use this as the reason to dictate only men be appointed to church leadership roles.

 

Although Jesus chose men to be his closest disciples, there could have been a simple and practical reason, one without deep spiritual motives. Jesus sent His disciples to spread the gospel to all the world.  In fact, as was later noted in Scripture, these men faced great danger and ultimately martyrdom.

 

If anyone understood the peril these men could face, Jesus did. And, in those patriarchal times this responsibility would not have been appropriate for a woman to undertake. Yet, Jesus did include several women among His larger circles of disciples, often engaging them in theological discussions.

 

The truth is, Jesus affirmed women as believers, followers, and disciples. His first appearance after His death was not to the twelve, but to Mary. And He commanded her to tell them He was alive.

 

Conclusion

 

When Jesus came to earth, everything changed. The status structures of society no longer controlled the new believers. They came to understand, as a Christ follower, “there was no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female.”  All are one in Christ Jesus.

 

This unity was clearly reflected in the way women traveled with and cared for Jesus. Then after the resurrection, both men and women alike, in the early church experienced the power of the Holy Spirit. And as is indicated in Acts 2, the Spirit also refused to accept cultural norms and filled men and women, slave and free alike.

 

While Jesus clearly ignored the cultural traditions of the day, He did not change God’s intent or opinion of women. Rather, He mirrored His Father’s attitude perfectly. In all His teachings, Jesus confirmed women are not in a separate class, and supported the interpretation that every female should be viewed as an equal person in her own right.  Men are not biblically the superior or dominant gender — they just have different roles and responsibilities. Every soul is on an equal playing field according to God, distinguished only by their salvation and faith in Christ. 

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