The Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament on Women
Hebrew Bible (also called the Old Testament or the Tanakh) is the basis
for both Judaism and Christianity, and a cornerstone of Western
culture. Through its stories and its elaboration of statutes, the Hebrew
Bible’s views on women have helped shape gender roles and define the
legal standing of women in the West for millennia. This influence has
waned somewhat as Western culture has become progressively more secular,
starting at the Enlightenment.
The views of women presented in the Hebrew Bible are complex and often ambivalent, and do not add up to a single hegemonic view. However, the question of women’s status relative to men remains a central and controversial issue in any approach to this text, from apologetics and Christian beliefs to feminism and atheism.
Steven Weitzman, Harvard PhD and theology professor at Indiana University, says the Genesis Creation accounts have been used to deprecate women on the alleged authority of the Bible:
…Jews and Christians, throughout their history, have used the story of Adam and Eve to justify second-class status for women. Paul and other early Christians looked to the Adam and Eve story to put the blame for the Fall on Eve and derived from that the conclusion that women should not be allowed to hold positions of authority or to teach.
Fast forward to the nineteenth and twentieth century and the rise of feminism: The Bible has been reinterpreted to support the idea that women are in every way the equal of man, each created in the image of God. “If you look at Genesis Chapter 1, where God says, ‘Let there be light,’ you see at the end of the chapter that the creation of woman is different from the story of how woman is created in the Garden of Eden, where Eve is the helpmate to man, created to serve.
In Genesis, Chapter 1, man and woman are both created equally in the image of God. Recent feminist biblical scholars have looked at Genesis 1 as a kind of countertext to the Garden of Eden story. It shows how complex the Bible’s attitude toward women is.” —Prof. Steven Weitzman, PhD, U. of Indiana
The Creation narratives in the Old Testament on Women:
creation of Adam and Eve is narrated from somewhat different
perspectives in Genesis 1:26-27 and Genesis 2:24. The Genesis 1
narration declares the purpose of God, antedating the creation of the
sexes. It has been called the “non-subordinating” view of woman.
God gave the human pair joint responsibility and “rulership” over his
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them,” Genesis 1:26-27.
Gen. 5:1-2 reaffirms that perspective and has been described as interpretative of that decree of God’s initial purpose.
“When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And when they were created, he called them “man” [Heb. Adam],” Genesis 5:1-2
The Genesis 2 narrative has been called the “subordinating view” of woman for two reasons: man is created first, and woman is created out of man.
“…But for Adam (or the man) no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs (or “took part of the man’s side”) and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib (or “took part of the man’s side”) he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh,” Genesis 2:20b-24, NIV.
“…for Adam there was not found an help meet for him” KJV. “…no suitable helper [ēzer kenegdo] was found” (NIV). The word translated “suitable” (kenegdo) means “face to face” and denotes equality and adequacy.
for centuries has been instructed to be “an “helpmeet” for her husband.
However, any text search of both Old and New Testaments (every
translation) will demonstrate that the noun “helpmeet” does not appear
anywhere in the Bible. It has become a distorted contraction of the two
KJV words, the noun “help” and the adverb “meet,” the latter being
Shakespearian English for “corresponding to” or “suitable,” a phenomenon
that has been corrected in all later translations.
Although the Genesis 2 passage is often cited as biblical evidence that subordination represents God’s will for women, Theologian Roger Nicole disagrees. He believes women’s place in the home, in society, and in the church is not an issue that can be conclusively determined by a few apparently restrictive passages. He writes that the starting point must be at the creation of humanity, as Jesus himself exemplified by quoting Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 in response to a question by the Pharisees (Matt. 19:4–5, Mark 10:6–7).
The Fall of humanity in the Creation narratives of the Old Testament:
weakness has sometimes been blamed for causing Adam’s fall, and thus
for humanity’s fall into original sin. This claim was frequently made
during the Middle Ages and was a subject in John Milton’s classic epic,
There is no mention of subordination in scripture until the end of Genesis 3:16. There, God explains what will become the natural consequences of the woman’s disobedience, now that they both are in a fallen (sinful) state: “He [your husband] will rule over you.” For eons this has been colloquially called “The Curse.” However, theologian Nicole does not see it that way:
This passage is not a commandment, but a prophecy that has been fulfilled extensively over the centuries in all the earth. Whatever we may do to alleviate God’s curse is legitimate in the matter of subordination, no less than in providing some relief from the pains of the delivery of children (3:16) and the sweat in cultivating the ground and earning a living (3:17–19), – Roger Nicole.
In addition, those who argue that Judaism is founded upon patriarchal principles point out that religious and governmental authority within Jewish cultures has usually been restricted to the male gender.
However, even in the Jewish Scriptures there are countercurrents to this patriarchal emphasis. For example, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” Subsequent to God making Adam in his image he made Eve (Genesis 1:26).
Old Testament post-creation views on women
Bible is the only literature in the world up to our century which looks
at women as human beings, no better and no worse than men, according to
classicist Edith Hamilton. She writes that the Old Testament writers
considered them just as impartially as they did men, free from prejudice
and even from condescension. However, it cannot be said that the
society and culture of Old Testament times were consistently favorable
The status of woman in the Old Testament is not uniform. There is a male bias and a male priority generally present in both the private life and public life of women. However, it never becomes absolute. In the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) of Exodus 20, both male priority and gender balance can be seen.
the tenth commandment, a wife is depicted in the examples of a
neighbor’s property not to be coveted: house, wife, male or female
slave, ox or donkey, or any other property. In this perspective, wife
along with other properties belongs to the husband. On the other hand,
the fourth commandment does not make any distinction between honor to be
shown to parents: “father and your mother.” This is consistent with the
mutual respect shown for both parents throughout the Old Testament.
Double standard and male priority can also be seen in Moses’ orders on what to do with the captured Midianites: “Kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves” (Numbers 31:17-18 NASB).
The women of Israel were most honored and influential within the family. They gained considerable respect on the birth of her first child, especially if it was a male child (Gen. 16:4, 29:31-30:24). Even here, she was honored because of her function of providing a male heir, not because of her value as a person.
On a positive note, Proverbs 1:8 tells a son not to reject his mother’s teaching, and Proverbs 31:10-31 eulogizes the ideal wife, even though she is idealized for her hard labor for her family. The laws of inheritance favored the male. A male Hebrew slave was freed after six years of servitude, while a different set of rules covered female slaves (Exodus 21:1-11).
a man rapes an unbetrothed virgin, he must pay her father 50 shekels of
silver and then marry her(Deut. 22:28-29). Judges 19 records a most
degrading use of a daughter by her father. “The gruesome story of his
using his concubine to protect himself defies imagination.” Infidelity
to God is portrayed as an “adulteress,” not an “adulterer.”
The Bible portrays Rebekah, Rahab, Deborah, Jael, Esther, and Judith and their contributions to the nation of Israel with faithfulness and extreme candor. These women are represented in the Old Testament as multidimensional human beings – self-reliant, resourceful, influential, and courageous – but at the same time capable of resorting to morally questionable means in order to accomplish their ends.
Distinctions were usually made between men and women during the Old Testament period. Only men were required to attend the annual festivals (Exod. 23:17; Lev. 23) though women were permitted to attend if they chose to do so (1 Sam. 1:9, 21-22). The Mosaic Law recognized women’s responsibilities at home as wives and mothers.
this did not prohibit women from all religious service. Women served at
the door of the Tabernacle (Exod. 38:8). Both men and women contributed
their valuables for use in the building of the Tabernacle (Exod. 35:22,
25, 26). The Laver for ministry in the court of the tabernacle was made
of brass from the mirrors of the women only.
The Old Testament presents strong female role models, like the Judge Deborah, Judith and Queen Esther, who were depicted as saving the Hebrew people from disaster. In the book of Proverbs, the divine attribute of Holy Wisdom is presented as female.
Deborah was a prophetess who actually ruled Israel (Judges 4:4). When the Israelite men were too afraid to assume leadership, Deborah shamed Barak, the military commander of Israel’s army, for failing to assume his God-given leadership. Ultimately, he refused to advance against the enemy without Deborah’s presence and commanding influence (Judges 4:8).
Huldah, a married prophetess (2 Kings 22:13-20), found the Book of the Law that the previous generation had neglected. She was trusted by Josiah, king of Judah, to be the one to verify the authenticity of the Book of the Law. Huldah’s husband was keeper of the wardrobe in the court..
The New Testament on Women
Jesus’ interactions with women
This section presents some of the New Testament records of Jesus’ interactions with women. According to New Testament scholar Dr. Frank Stagg and classicist Evelyn Stagg, the synoptic Gospels of the canonical New Testament contain a relatively high number of references to women.
The Staggs find no recorded instance where Jesus disgraces, belittles, reproaches, or stereotypes a woman. These writers claim that examples of the manner of Jesus are instructive for inferring his attitudes toward women and show repeatedly how he liberated and affirmed women. According to one story, an unnamed Gentile woman taught Jesus that the ministry of God is not limited to particular groups and persons, but belongs to all who have faith (Mark 7:24-30; Matthew 15:21-28).
gospels of the New Testament, written toward the last quarter of the
first century CE, often mention Jesus speaking to women publicly and
openly against the social norms of the time. From the beginning,
Jewish women disciples, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna,
had accompanied Jesus during his ministry and supported him out of their
private means (Luke 8:1-3).
Kenneth E. Bailey spent 40 years as a Presbyterian professor of New Testament in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Cyprus. He writes about Christianity from a Middle Eastern cultural view. He finds evidence that Jesus had women disciples in several New Testament passages. He first cites the reported occasion when Jesus’ family appeared and asked to speak with him. Jesus replied:
“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand towards his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother,” Matthew 12:46-50, emphasis added by Bailey.
Bailey argues that according to Middle Eastern customs, Jesus could not properly have gestured to a crowd of men and said, “Here are my brother, and sister, and mother.” He could only have said that to a crowd of both men and women. Therefore, the disciples before him were composed of men and women.
Mary, the mother of Jesus
Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41–52). The canonical Gospels offer only one story about Jesus as a boy — Luke’s story about the boy Jesus in the Jerusalem Temple. According to Luke, his parents, Joseph and Mary, took the 12-year-old Jesus to Jerusalem on their annual pilgrimage to the Passover.
Mary and Joseph started their journey home without Jesus, thinking he was somewhere in the caravan with kinsmen or acquaintances. When his parents found him three days later, Mary said, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” The boy Jesus respectfully but firmly reminded her of a higher claim he must answer: “Didn’t you know I had to be about my Father’s business?” (pp. 103–104, 224) It is noteworthy that in obedience to his parents Jesus left and was subject to them.
The wedding at Cana of Galilee (John 2:1–11). Mary told Jesus the wine was in short supply. Today his reply may seem curt: “Woman, what have I to do with you? My hour is not yet come” (John 2:4).
Neither here nor elsewhere does Jesus renounce the mother-son relationship as such, but here, as in Luke 2:49, he declares his vocational (ministerial) independence of his mother. He has an “hour” to meet, and Mary, though his mother, can neither hasten nor hinder its coming. (pp. 103–104, 236).
Most scholars believe that in Jesus’ reply to his mother there was no disrespect. According to Matthew Henry’s Commentary, he used the same word when speaking to Mary with affection from the cross.
Scholar Lyn M. Bechtel disagrees with this reading. She writes that the use of the word “woman” in reference to Jesus’ mother is “startling. Although it would not be improper or disrespectful to address an ordinary woman in this way (as he often does: see John 4:21, John 8:10, John 20:13-15), it is inappropriate to call his mother ‘woman'” (Bechtel 1997, p. 249). Bechtel further argues that this is a device Jesus uses to distance himself from Judaism.
However, Bishop William Temple suggests there is no English phrase that represents the original “Woman, leave me to myself.” “In the Greek it is perfectly respectful and can even be tender — as in John 19:27…. We have no corresponding term; ‘lady’ is precious, and ‘madam’ is formal. So we must translate simply and let the context give the tone.”
Magdalene (also called Miriam of Magdala) is among the women depicted
in the New Testament who accompanied Jesus and his twelve apostles, and
who also helped to support the men financially (Luke 8:2–3). According
to Mark 15:40, Matthew 27:56, John 19:25, and Luke 23:49, she was one of
the women who remained at Jesus’ crucifixion. The New Testament says
she saw Jesus laid in a tomb. Mark 16:9 reports that after his
resurrection, Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene. The New Testament
also says that Jesus had cast seven demons out of her.
For centuries, Mary Magdalene had been incorrectly identified in Western Christianity as an adulteress and repentant prostitute, although nowhere does the New Testament identify her as such. Discoveries of new texts and critical insight have now proven that portrait of Mary is entirely inaccurate. According to Harvard theologian Dr. Karen King, Mary Magdalene was a prominent disciple and leader of one wing of the early Christian movement that promoted women’s leadership.
King cites references in the Gospel of John that the risen Jesus gives Mary special teaching and commissions her as an “apostle to the apostles.” She is the first to announce the resurrection and to play the role of an apostle, although the term is not specifically used of her (though, in Eastern Christianity she is referred to as “Equal to the Apostles”).
tradition, however, names her as “the apostle to the apostles.” King
writes that the strength of this literary tradition makes it possible to
suggest that historically Mary was a prophetic visionary and leader
within one sector of the early Christian movement after the death of
Asbury Theological Seminary Bible scholar Ben Witherington III confirms the New Testament account of Mary Magdalene as historical: “Mary was an important early disciple and witness for Jesus.” He continues, “There is absolutely no early historical evidence that Miriam’s relationship with Jesus was anything other than that of a disciple to her Master teacher.”
Jeffrey Kripal, Chair of Rice University’s Department of Religious Studies, writes that Christian Gnostic texts put Mary Magdalene in a central position of authority, but these texts were excluded from orthodox Biblical canons. Kripal describes Mary Magdalene as a tragic figure who maintained an important role later diminished by the male church leadership (Kripal 2007, p. 51). Kripal explains that gnostic texts suggest an intimate, possibly sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, but that Jesus’ sexuality is absolutely ambiguous based on the available evidence: “The historical sources are simply too contradictory and simultaneously too silent on the matter” (Kripal 2007, p. 50).
According to Kripal, the gnostic texts “consistently [present] Mary as an inspired visionary, as a potent spiritual guide, as Jesus’ intimate companion, even as the interpreter of his teaching” (Kripal 2007, p. 52).
Kripal writes that theologies of the European Middle Ages likely invented the notion of a sexual relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus: “The medieval Catharists and Albigensians, for example, held that Mary was Jesus’s concubine. The great Protestant reformer Martin Luther also assumed a sexual relationship between the two, perhaps to give some historical precedent for his own dramatic rejection of Catholic celibacy” (Kripal 2007, p. 52).
The woman who touched Jesus’ garment:
Jesus practiced the ministry of touch, sometimes touching the “untouchables” and letting them touch him. Among the things considered defiling (disqualifying one for the rituals of religion) was an issue of blood, especially menstruation or hemorrhage.
One such woman had been plagued with a flow of blood for 12 years, no one having been able to heal her. She found the faith in a crowd to force her way up to Jesus, approaching him from behind so as to remain inconspicuous, and simply touching his garment (Mark 5:27).
When she touched Jesus’ garment, the flows of blood stopped. Jesus turned and asked who touched him. The disciples tried to brush aside the question, protesting that in such a crowd no individual could be singled out. Jesus pressed his inquiry and the woman identified herself and declared to the crowd the blessing that had come to her.
treated her not only as having worth but as doing a responsible
thing. He did not rebuke her for what the cultic code
of holiness would have considered as having defiled him. Rather, he
relieved her of any sense of guilt for her seemingly rash act and said,
“Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace!” (Mark 5:34).
Fontaine writes, “The ‘chutzpah’ shown by the woman who bled for 12 years as she wrests her salvation from the healer’s cloak is as much a measure of her desperation as it is a testimony to her faith” (Fontaine 1996, p. 291). She writes that “the Bible views women as a group of people who are fulfilled, legitimated, given full membership into their community, and cared for in old age by their children” (Fontaine 1996, p. 290), and that barren women risked ostracism from their communities.
Fontaine notes that when disabled people are healed, the act “emphasizes primarily the remarkable compassion of the one doing the good deed, not the deserving nature or dignity of the recipient” ((Fontaine 1996, p. 290). She writes that they “serve as marvelous plot devices that show off the power of God or the anointed one” (Fontaine 1996, p. 294).
Jesus and the woman taken in adultery
In John 7:53–8:11 Jesus was teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem. Some scribes and Pharisees interrupted his teaching as they brought in a woman who had been taken in the very act of adultery. They stood her before him, declared the charge, reminded him of Moses’ command that such women be stoned, and then asked, “What do you say?” After a time of silence, Jesus stooped down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
The text includes no hint of what he wrote. The woman’s accusers were after Jesus, not just her. She to them was a worthless object to be used to trap Jesus. Finally, Jesus stood up and said to the accusers, “Let the one among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” He stooped down once more and again wrote on the ground.
his answer Jesus did not condone adultery. He compelled her accusers to
judge themselves and find themselves guilty — of this sin and/or
others. No one could pass the test, and they slipped out one by one,
beginning with the eldest.
When Jesus and the woman were finally alone, he asked her a simple question, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She simply replied, “No one, Lord.” His final word to the woman was one of affirmation and commission: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on sin no more.”
While acknowledging that she had sinned, he turned her in a new direction with real encouragement. Jesus rejected the double standard for women and men and turned the judgment upon the male accusers. His manner with the sinful woman was such that she found herself challenged to a new self-understanding and a new life.
The woman at the well in Samaria
The long account about Jesus and a woman of Samaria, found in John 4:1–4 is highly significant for understanding Jesus in several relationships: Samaritans, women, and sinners.
talking openly with this woman Jesus crossed a number of barriers which
normally would have separated a Jewish teacher from such a person as
this woman of Samaria. Jesus did three things that were highly
unconventional and astonishing for his cultural-religious situation:
1. He as a man discussed theology openly with a woman.
2. He as a Jew asked to drink from the ritually unclean bucket of a Samaritan.
3. He did not avoid her, even though he knew her marital record of having had five former husbands and now living with a man who was not her husband.
The disciples showed their astonishment upon their return to the well: “They were marveling that he was talking with a woman” (John 4:27). A man in the Jewish world did not normally talk with a woman in public, not even with his own wife. For a rabbi to discuss theology with a woman was even more unconventional.
Jesus did not defer to a woman simply because she was a woman. He did not hesitate to ask of the woman that she let him drink from her vessel, but he also did not hesitate to offer her a drink of another kind from a Jewish “bucket” as he said to her, “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Salvation was coming to the Samaritan woman from the Jews.
she was a Samaritan, she needed to be able to drink from a Jewish
“vessel” (of salvation) and Jesus no more sanctioned Samaritan prejudice
against Jew than Jewish prejudice against Samaritan.
The key to Jesus’ stance is found in his perceiving persons as persons. He saw the stranger at the well as someone who first and foremost was a person — not primarily a Samaritan, a woman, or a sinner. This evangelized woman became an evangelist. She introduced her community to “a man” whom they came to acclaim as “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).
Jesus liberated this woman and awakened her to a new life in which not only did she receive but also gave. The Bible says she brought “many Samaritans” to faith in Christ (v. 39). If the men in John 1 were the first “soul winners,” this woman was the first “evangelist” in John’s gospel.
Mary and Martha
and John show that Jesus had a close relationship with the sisters Mary
and Martha. They are featured in three major stories:
A tension between the two sisters over roles (Luke 10:38–42));
Grief at the death of their brother Lazarus, followed by his being raised (John 11:1–44); and
The anointing of Jesus by Mary (explicitly in John 12:1–8); presumably in Mark 14:3–9; Matthew 26:6–13).
Tension over roles of women between Martha and Mary
Only Luke relates the story of tension between Martha and Mary on the occasion of the visit of Jesus to their home (Luke 10:38–42)). While Martha prepared the meal, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and “she was hearing his word” (Luke 10:39). Martha became distracted and frustrated over having to serve the meal without any help from her sister.
she openly shared her feelings, stood over Jesus who was either seated
or reclining, and complained: “She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t
you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her
to help me!” Jesus gently rebuked Martha for being so distracted and
troubled over many things, when only one thing was necessary. He then
affirmed Mary and her choice of “the good part” which would not be taken
Mary’s choice was not a conventional one for Jewish women. She sat at the feet of Jesus and was listening to his teaching and religious instruction. Jewish women were not permitted to touch the Scriptures; they were not taught the Torah itself, although they were instructed in accordance with it for the proper regulation of their lives.
rabbi did not instruct a woman in the Torah. Not only did Mary choose
the “good part,” but Jesus related to her in a teacher-discipleship
relationship. He admitted her into “the study” and commended her for her
choice. In the tradition of that day, women were excluded from the
altar-oriented priestly ministry, and the exclusion encroached upon the
Word-oriented ministry for women. Jesus reopened the Word-ministry for
woman. Mary was at least one of his students in theology.
Jesus vindicated Mary’s rights to be her own person — to be Mary and not Martha. He showed his approval of a woman’s right to opt for the study and not be compelled to be in the kitchen. Jesus established his own priorities in declaring, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word proceeding out through the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4)).
Martha needed to be reminded of the priority of Word over bread. Luke’s account of Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha puts Jesus solidly on the side of the recognition of the full personhood of woman, with the right to options for her own life. By socializing with both sisters and in defending Mary’s right to a role then commonly denied to Jewish women, Jesus was following his far-reaching principle of human liberation.
The grieving sisters
John 11:1–44 is about the raising of Lazarus from four days in the tomb. The central figure, however, is Jesus, identified as “the resurrection and the life.” When the brother of Mary and Martha became ill, they sent for Jesus. For some undisclosed reason, Jesus did not arrive until four days after Lazarus died. The grieving sisters, Martha first and then Mary, met Jesus.
raised Lazarus from the dead and then proclaimed himself as “the
resurrection and the life.” Martha gently reproached Jesus, “Lord, had
you been here, my brother would not have died.” She hastened to express
full confidence that God would grant whatever Jesus asked him to grant.
Martha reflected a spiritual understanding beyond that required for
preparing and serving a meal (John 11:21–27). Apparently, Martha and not
just Mary had benefited from the study.
Mary stayed in the house until Jesus called for her. When Martha went to get her, Mary came quickly fell at Jesus’ feet (Mary is at the feet of Jesus in every appearance recorded in John’s gospel). She repeated the words Martha already had used: “Lord, had you been here my brother would not have died.”
Jesus was deeply moved upon seeing Mary and her friends weeping. They invited Jesus to come and see the tomb where Lazarus had been laid. Jesus burst into tears. The Jews standing by understood this as reflecting Jesus is love for Lazarus, “see how he loved him” (v. 36). The foursome of Jesus, Mary, Lazarus, and Martha had a close relationship as persons, with neither denial of gender differences nor preoccupation with it.
Here were persons of both genders whose mutual respect, friendship and love carried them through experiences of tension, grief, enjoy. Apparently Jesus was secure enough to develop such a relationship with two sisters and their brother without fear for his reputation. When necessary, he could oppose them without fear of chauvinism. Jesus had much to do with the liberation and growth of Martha and Mary.
The anointing at Bethany
Only John speaks of Mary anointing Jesus in Bethany (John 12:1–8), while the woman who anointed him remains unnamed in Matthew 26:6–13 and Mark 14:3–9. Luke 7:36-50 mentions a “sinful woman” who anoited Jesus’ feet. Some Christians see these as two different women, others consider them to be the same person, which would make Mary of Bethany (and/or Mary Magdalene) a “sinful woman”.
Eastern Orthodox Church views Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, and the
“sinful woman” as three different indidviduals, and maintains that Jesus
was anointed on two different occasions: once by the “sinful woman” and
once by Mary.
Jesus is quoted in Matthew as assuring that the story of a woman’s sacrificial love and devotion to him will have a place in the gospel wherever preached. Mary probably anticipated Jesus’ death, but that is not certain. At least her beautiful deed gave Jesus needed support as he approached his awaited hour. Each of the two sisters Mary and Martha had their own way of ministering to Jesus: Martha, perhaps being more practical, served him a meal; Mary lavishly anointed him.
Jesus on family relationships
ate with a Pharisee leader one evening, where he invited the gathered
guests to follow him (Matthew 12:46). The guests gave reasons why they
could not follow him, including marriage and recent financial
acquisitions (Luke 14:18–20). Jesus responded, “If anyone comes to me
and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and
sisters — yes, even life itself — such a person cannot be my disciple”
Various expositors suggest that “hate” is an example of comparative hyperbolic biblical language, prominent in some Eastern cultures even today, to imply “love less than you give me,” “compared to Christ,” the Semitic idea of “lower preference,” a call to count the cost of following Jesus.
When Jesus was told that his mother and brothers waited for him outside and wanted to speak to him, Jesus created a novel definition of family. He said to the people who were gathered to hear him speak, “Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, ‘Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother'” (Matthew 12:48–50).
Women in the New Testament Church
From the beginning of the early Christian church, women were important members of the movement. As time went on, groups of Christians organized within the homes of believers. Those who could offer their home for meetings were considered important within the movement and assumed leadership roles.
The New Testament Gospels acknowledge that women were among Jesus’ earliest followers. Jewish women disciples, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, had accompanied Jesus during his ministry and supported him out of their private means (Luke 8:1-3).
the details of these gospel stories may be questioned, in general they
reflect the prominent historical roles women played in Jesus’ ministry
as disciples. There were women disciples at the foot of the cross.
Women were reported to be the first witnesses to the resurrection, chief
among them again Mary Magdalene. She was not only “witness,” but also
called a “messenger” of the risen Christ. The apostles had little
respect for her witness and that of the other women, saying they “seemed
as idle tales” (Luke 24:11).
The letters of Paul — dated to the middle of the first century CE — and his casual greetings to acquaintances offer fascinating and solid information about many Jewish and Gentile women who were prominent in the movement. His letters provide vivid clues about the kind of activities in which women engaged more generally.
He greets Prisca, Junia, Julia, and Nereus’ sister, who worked and traveled as missionaries in pairs with their husbands or brothers (Romans 16:3,7,15).
Paul writes that Priscilla (a.k.a. Prisca) and her husband risked their lives to save his life.
He praises Junia as a prominent apostle, who had been imprisoned for her labor. It is still debated by scholars whether “prominent among the apostles” means Junia was one of the apostles, or only well known to the apostles.
Mary and Persis are commended for their hard work (Romans 16:6,12).
Euodia and Syntyche are called his fellow-workers in the gospel (Philippians 4:2-3).
These biblical reports seem to provide credible evidence of women apostles active in the earliest work of spreading the Christian message.
Apostle Paul and Peter’s views on Women
While Apostles Paul and Peter give the most restrictive and anti-equality views on women their theology does not biblically define the place, status, and role of women. The place of women according to the bible is defined by looking at it’s total makeup, from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Any theology or doctrine on women is therefore insufficient when it only uses Paul and Peter’s contributions.
It can be seen from this article that the views on women presented in the bible are complex and do not add up to a single hegemonic view. This complexity is what makes it necessary to avoid creating simple and narrow-minded teachings on women. Church history has had more than enough of such self-centered teachings that are not bible-centered teachings. Self-centered teachings use the bible to justify personal or vested interests. Bible-centered teachings avoid vested interests.
In the 21st century we ought to have graduated from a lot of historical biblical misinterpretations with vested interests that only served to subjugate women, non-Christians, people of different races or ethnicity, and so on. There are three major viewpoints in the modern Christian debate on women. They are known respectively as 1) Christian feminism, 2) Christian Egalitarianism and 3) Christian Complementarianism. These three broad viewpoints are debated by theologians and other well versed bible scholars. Each group bases it’s spiritual arguments on sound biblical hermeneutics (methods of interpreting the Bible). This just shows how complex the debate is on women in Christianity.
Thus Paul and Peter’s views on women ought to be looked at in their context, sound biblical hermeneutics, and in the light of the entire bible, particularly Jesus’ views of women. Below are Paul and Peter’s views on women.
Apostle Paul on Women
Forbidden to teach or speak in the church:
“Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” (1 Timothy 2:11-12)
“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).
Bishops and Deacons must be men:
“This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach”(1 Timothy 3:1-2).
“Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well,” (1 Timothy 3:12).
“For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly,” (Titus 1:5-6).
The head of woman is man:
“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man,” (1 Corinthians 11:3, 5-9).
Full submission to one’s husband:
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing,” (Ephesians 5:22-24)
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord,” (Colossians 3:19).
Apostle Peter on women
Submission to husband:
Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives..”(1 Peter 3:1)
Women as weaker partner:
“Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”(1 Peter 3:7)