How Did Jesus Treat Women?

To read some Bible scholars, one would think that Jesus viewed women through a twenty-first century feminist lens. Other equally-well regarded scholars, seem to think that Jesus looked at women through a pre-Nineteenth Amendment lens. It seems to me that people attribute to Jesus the view they want him to have.

It has been suggested, for example, that Jesus chose male apostles because God designed men for leadership in a way that he did not design women. On the other hand, it has been argued that the sex of the first apostles is immaterial. The important thing was not their sex but their number – twelve, like the number of Israel’s tribes – signifying the emergence of a new people of God.

But Jesus’s view was neither a post-modern nor a pre-suffrage American view; it was not an American view at all. The temptation to baptize our views in Jesus’s name must be resisted. We must go back to what he actually did and said and judge not just our views but our actions and words by his.

We cannot make sense of what Jesus did and said by looking through a twenty-first century American lens, whether liberal or conservative, egalitarian or complementarian. His contemporaries could not make sense of what he said and did by looking through their first century lens either. Jesus did not think of women – nor relate to them – the way his society did then or ours does now.

In first-century Israel, women – and for that matter, children – were treated as essentially inferior to men. Women, for example, were not permitted to testify in court, for it was believed that they were not emotionally stable enough to provide reliable testimony.

In first-century Israel, men had the right to divorce their wives “for any reason,” but wives were only permitted to divorce their husbands for two reasons: employment in a “disgusting trade” – one that made them ceremonially unclean – or heresy. A woman could not divorce her husband even if he was a violent, abusive, philandering brute.

Girls did not attend school and remained mostly illiterate. A famous late first century rabbi insisted that “The words of the Torah should be burned rather than entrusted to women.” The earliest extant mention of Torah study by women instructs: “And you shall teach your sons and not your daughters.”

Jesus lived in a world in which many rabbis would not even speak to a woman in public, much less teach one. The Jerusalem Talmud quotes: “Women’s wisdom is solely in the spindle.” In other words, a woman’s place is in the home.

Jesus lived in this world, but he did not adopt its views. The fact that Jesus accepted women disciples must have been a constant source of controversy—and gossip. In his public teaching, he addressed both women and men. Some of his dearest friends were women. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention women who followed him and “cared for his needs.”

Christianity is sometimes faulted for a low view of women. It is not because of its leader. Jesus not only taught women, the first person to whom he disclosed his messianic identity was a woman. The first person to whom he appeared after the resurrection was a woman. The people to whom he first gave the honor of announcing the conquest of death were all women. Jesus did these things because he was Jesus, not because he embraced the views of his time. Or the views of our time.

We cannot make Jesus a spokesman for feminism, egalitarianism, or complementarianism. These are constructs that are, at best, built from original source materials; they are not the materials themselves. Our goal must not be to fit Jesus into our framework, but to fit ourselves into his. Jesus will not ask us whether we hold progressive or conservative views, but whether we have loved and honored others. It is not our views that will be judged; it is us. It is our actual interactions and not our nuanced views of others that reveal who we really are.

About salooper57

Husband, father, pastor, follower. I am a disciple of Jesus, learning how to do life from him. I read, write, walk, play a little guitar, enjoy my family.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Marriage and Family, relationships, Worldview and Culture and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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