Studying the behavior and words of Jesus in the Bible has fascinated scholars for centuries. Books have been written, sermons have been preached, classes taught, and even leadership models developed all based on the example of Jesus.
It is obvious by how Jesus interacts with women that His view of femininity was radically different than the religious and cultural leaders of the day. This may also hold true even in the year 2020. Certainly, Jesus was making bold statements.
The purpose of this article is to review how Jesus treated women in the Bible — and that is remarkable!
The Genealogy of Jesus
Let us start with the genealogy of Jesus Himself. God could have chosen any family line for His Son. The women who were selected to be in the lineage of Christ were picked for a reason. The DNA of Christ is shared with women who were fierce, daring, and pushed cultural boundaries.
They were the rebel women of their day — willing to do what they believed was right, no matter the personal cost:
- Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho, she risked her own life to save the Israelite spies.
- Tamar disguised herself, pretending to be a prostitute, to seduce her deceased husband’s father. She tricked him also, by keeping proof he was the one who slept with her. She gave birth to his son.
- Ruth was a Moabite widow who pursued a relationship with her Jewish kinsman, Boaz. She took the lead by offering herself to him in marriage. She bravely went against cultural and even racial expectations.
- Mary was a young girl. She was not married yet became pregnant. Unheard of and punishable by ex-communication and possibly abandonment. She became the mother of the Son of God!
The Ministry of Jesus
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means (Luke 8:1-3).
It was uncommon in ancient times for a female to have independent wealth. Jesus healed these women, who already stood out in society, and they, in turn, showed their gratefulness by financially supporting His ministry. The women chose to use the unique factor that set them apart from their peers to make an impact — and get this — Jesus allowed women to bank-roll Him.
Yes, the ministry of Jesus was financially supported by women. We are only given the names of Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, but this passage tells us there were many more!
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:3-11).
A woman caught in the act of adultery (where was her accomplice?) was brought into the temple and forced to stand up in front of a group of men as a means of shaming her and testing Jesus.
Calmly, He bent down to write in the sand two different times — we all want to know what He wrote — but it caused the men, one by one, to leave. Jesus stood up to the masculine hypocrites and let them know, the exact thing of which they were accusing her, they, too, were guilty.
Jesus and the woman were left alone. He then addresses her directly, acknowledging that her accusers were gone, that she was free to leave and was free of condemnation. He defied the religious leaders in the temple and defended the woman, in a very public and bold manner.
The Death of Jesus
When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home (John 19:26-27).
From the cross, Jesus called out to John (who many believe it was) to take care of His mother. Even while suffering agony on the cross, Jesus chose to provide for the needs of His mother Mary. By putting her needs first, this act shows the commitment and love Jesus had towards her.
The Inclusive Nature of Jesus
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
Much discussion has also taken place on the topic of male dominance and patriarchy throughout church history. Denominations are divided on the subject of women being clergy or in church leadership positions. Also, in question can be the roles of women in business outside the home and within marriage.
It is baffling that the greatest theologians of the past and even those in more current times, having dedicated their lives to studying the character of Christ, are often the ones teaching subjugation of women. In fact, the fundamentalist movement started post World War I as a means to stand against women working outside of the home and what was considered modern theory.
It was in 1919 that women were granted the right to vote in the United States. In 1948, married women were granted the legal ability to own property and it was not until 1970 that women could apply for a credit card without their husband’s signature.
Religions, theologies, societies, and even countries have been founded with the age-old belief intact that women are less valuable, less intelligent, or less competent than men and should have limited or no rights to their own bodies let alone hold positions in business or prominent faith dialogue.
For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace (Romans 6:14).
So much of what Christian tradition tells us about female or wifely roles is based on the Old Testament — the culture of the day and ancient Jewish customs must be considered when making conclusions about how the Old Testament applies to our worldview today.
The death and resurrection of Christ fulfilled the Old Testament. What the blood atonement required by old tradition was pointing towards, He fulfilled! His work is finished. Sin has been redeemed. We are no longer under the law but under grace.
He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12).
In His day, Jesus may well have been labeled a progressive based solely on His treatment and inclusivity of women. He showed his peers how He viewed women to be equal to men and worthy of honor, respect, and freedom.
A version of Christianity that does not include the work and voices of women is not in line with the example set by Christ.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/PATCHARIN SAENLAKON
Rebekah Drumsta’s work has been globally reaching by serving with various nonprofits and organizations. Her background is diverse including educational and online content development, event coordinating, international relations, and public speaking. Currently, Rebekah delights in being a homeschool mom and Life Coach. She serves as Director of PR for an international non-profit while also hosting her personal blog, RebekahDrumsta.com which focuses on recovery after religious trauma and spiritual abuse. Rebekah holds a BA in Urban Ministry and Family Crisis with a Christian Counseling Minor, an MA in Religious Education, and is a Certified Professional Life Coach. She has made appearances on and consulted with sources including BBC, NBC, ABC, The Daily Telegraph, and a variety of other platforms.