We all do a fair amount of thinking about ourselves. Yet many people don’t like to be pressed too far in answering the question of their own identity. Generally, when we think of our identity, we respond in terms of some particular position we have – or hope to have.
Paul says in Romans 12:3, "For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith." The word “sound judgment” means to have true, not false standards.1
There are many false standards or foundations that contribute to one’s identity. Such things as, what others say, personal accomplishments, possessions, who one knows, and personal appearance.2 Self perceptions are often based on the reactions of others.
Writing to women, one author says,
"When we contrast our appearance, our accomplishments, our friends or our possessions to others we are making a comparison based in large part on fantasy. We have never walked in the shoes of those women to whom we compare ourselves so we fantasize what it would be like. When we do this we compare our worst, of which we are most aware, to their best. And we're really comparing ourselves to a fantasy. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why soap operas and romance novels are so popular today. We are basically dissatisfied with our existence so we vicariously live our lives through other people.
When we believe we are only worthwhile if we are beautiful, if we use the right products, if we know the right people, if we are successful or if we are financially comfortable, we are building our self-image on faulty foundations. Subtly we find ourselves looking to other "significant" people to define for us what it means to be beautiful, what are the right products to use, who are the right people to associate with, and what it takes to be financially comfortable.
When we swallow these faddish opinions, society loves us because we fit its mold. But what happens when the mold changes?"3
The mold has changed throughout history and a great deal of study in the second half of the last century has been devoted to the roles, attitudes, and status of women throughout time.4 One of the difficulties in studying history is the tendency to look at the past from the perspective of the present and to imagine that people lived under conditions similar to our own. In varying conditions though, a consistent contributor to women’s identity is the political and religious teaching of authority figures. They set the mold.
In ancient Greece, Demosthenes, the famous orator and politician of Athens (384 BC–322 BC) said, "We keep prostitutes for pleasure, we keep mistresses for the day-to-day needs of the body..."5 It is believed that the philosopher Aristotle’s discussion of the nature of women was intended to justify the status quo perception of his day.6 He stated quite bluntly that women were inferior to men: “The male is by nature superior, the female inferior; and the one rules, the other is ruled.”7 In the Greek medical system and the texts of the Hippocratic Corpus it has been observed that slaves and women were treated in the same manner.8
Compared to women in Greece, women in Rome were emancipated.9 They did not need to go veiled, they were not entirely isolated from their husband’s company, they could go out of the house to shop, to visit the baths, to pay social calls, and to attend a public function. Some women, probably widows, engaged in business, and there were a few women physicians, probably midwives or with practices limited to treat other women. Their status though, was only relative. Roman women did not play any particularly important place in the religious life of Rome, nor did they have much of a say about their own home.10 One of the most fundamental institutions in Roman thought was the familia. Within the culturally normative Roman family slaves and wives, though differing greatly in power and status, are united in that they are brought into the family from outside and therefore are viewed as outsiders.11 Women thus were thought of as “intimate strangers.”12 While the family was important, it did not assure a personal identity of belonging and value. The Roman world was rampant with divorce.13 Women could not take any legal punitive action against an unfaithful husband, but a husband could against such a wife.14 In the days of Christ it was not uncommon to find houses of prostitution next to temples of worship. Men would enter one door to worship with their spirits and out the other door to worship with their bodies.
The Graeco-Roman period (300 years prior to the New Testament) was time of flux and change. It is a difficult task to simplify culture norms and the status of women.15 What is evident is that the ancient Greeks and Romans relied on the polarities of male/female and free/slave in order to understand themselves and to organize their societies.16
Judaism of the first century communicated a mixed message about women as well. Josephus writes, “The woman, says the Law, is in all things inferior to the man.”17 Women are categorized in the repeated rabbinical formula, “women, slaves and minors”18 demonstrating that a women, like a Gentile slave and a minor child, was under the authority of a man and had limited participation in religious activity.
According to most rabbinic customs of Jesus' time women were not allowed to study the Torah. Eliezer, a first-century rabbi, stated: "Rather should the words of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman. . . . Whoever teaches his daughter the Torah is like one who teaches her lasciviousness."19
The Talmud, which is a commentary on the Mishnah, states, "Let a curse come upon the man who (must needs have) his wife or children say grace for him."20 There was a three-fold thanksgiving in the daily prayers of Jews: "Praised be God that he has not created me a gentile; praised be God that he has not created me a woman; praised be God that he has not created me an ignorant man."21
Judaism’s oral law is recorded in writing in sixty-three tractates and is called the Mishnah. One of the Mishnah’s tractates contains no laws at all. It is called Pirke Abot (usually translated as Ethics of the Fathers), and it is the “Bartlett’s” of the rabbis, in which their most famous sayings and proverbs are recorded. There we read the words of Rabbi Jose ben Johanan of Jerusalem who said, "Let your house be open wide, and let the needy be members of your household; and talk not much with women. They said this of a man’s own wife; how much more of his neighbor’s wife! Hence the Sages have said: he that talks much with women brings evil upon himself, neglects the study of the Torah, and at last will inherit Gehenna."22 The Talmudic Sages so highly valued the Abot Tractate, that they gave the following advice to those who seek to obtain piety: “He who desires to be pious, let him practice the teaching of Abot.” (Baba Kamma 30a).23 To pursue this teaching is to practice it, and not speaking to a person contributes to their perception of a lack of personal worth and value. One extended section of the Mishnah speaks of a woman in the same sphere as that of a slave, cattle, and property.24
Women were not allowed to testify in a court of law. The Rabbis taught, “This is the governing principle: Any evidence which a woman is not valid [to offer], also they are not valid [to offer].”25 It is also interesting to note that in the great temple at Jerusalem women were limited to one outer court which was five steps below the court for men.26
Another rabbinical saying about women was, "they are greedy at their food, eager to gossip, lazy and jealous."27 That indicates not only a deplorable attitude toward women, but a lack of self-respect among the women themselves.28
It has been observed that there are three foundational needs that each one of us has in order for us to be healthy and able to grow as a person and as a Christian also.29 The first is a need to belong. We all need to know and feel that we are wanted, accepted, cared for and enjoyed for who we are. Second there is the need to feel worthy. We all need to be able to say with confidence, "I’m a sinner, but I’m saved by grace. I’m valued and I count." We feel worthy when we know we count, and are valued to others and to God. We don’t need to keep striving in order to feel worthy. God declares us to be of value and each individual is divine original. We are the creative expression of a loving God. Third, there is the need to feel competent. We need to know that we can do something, give something, contribute, and make a difference. All of these needs are evidenced in the way that Jesus dealt with women in the New Testament.
The more we understand the truth of God’s word, both written and Living, the closer and stronger our relationship with Jesus will grow. Dr. Paul Tournier compares Christian growth to the experience of swinging from a trapeze.30 As we swing on the trapeze we cling to the bar because it is our security. When another trapeze bar swings into view, we must release our grip on one bar in order to leap to the other. It is a scary process. In the same way, God is swinging a new trapeze bar into our view. It is a positive, accurate, new identity based on God’s Word. But in order to grasp the new, we must release the old.
God knew about Israel's plight and he cared about its hurting women, just as He does today! "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons." (Gal. 4:4, 5). God, who knew and cared about the individual also, had a worldview. God so loved the world (men and women, who comprise it) that he gave his Son to be the spiritual Head of a new humanity. In this new spiritual relationship, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).
The Lord Jesus Christ, born a male indicating the authority of his deity, born of woman and therefore free of Adam's sin, born under the law that he might fulfill it perfectly in spirit and in truth, was God's solution to the human dilemma. He revealed that redemptive plan, not to the rebellious who fought for their rights, but to the godly who waited before him in humility and faith. Jesus is God’s revelation of himself. He taught truth, but He also lived it out and by His example we learn tremendous truths about how God views us and how we should view him and others.
The question before us then is “How does Jesus minister to women?” The most striking thing about the role of women in the life and teaching of Jesus is the simple fact that they are there.31 He ministered to women and treated each one as a person.32
With great insight Dorothy Sayers said about Jesus: “They [women] had never known a man like this Man—there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized…who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for the, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious."33 Both in his teaching and in his activities, Jesus reached out to women as persons who were equally worthy as men in his saving activity.
We see in the gospels that Jesus treated women with incredible respect. A classic passage in this regard is Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman.34 This is a remarkable exchange, since Jesus was not only interacting with a Samaritan, a member of a race that was despised by Jews,35 but also a woman. And Jesus’ conversation with this woman is probably the most profound discussion of theology in the gospels. Women were not encouraged to have interaction with male strangers.36
But Jesus went beyond the cultural ethnic and gender barriers and treated her as a person who was worth his offer of the living water of eternal life.37 He didn’t treat her in reference to what others said about her, her accomplishments or possessions, and he didn’t deal with her based on her appearance. He establishes through this woman that whoever accepts his offer of living water, that person will receive it. The woman saw the barrier as ethnic,38 whereas the disciples returned and made an issue of gender.39 But for Jesus, gender and ethnicity are irrelevant in his offer of salvation.
She comes to the well at noonday, the hottest hour of the day, which whispers a rumor of her reputation. The other women come at dusk, a cooler, more comfortable hour. They come not only to draw water, but to take off their veils and slip out from under the thumb of a male-dominated society. They come for companionship, to talk, to laugh, and to barter gossip—much of which centers around this woman. So shunned by these women, she braves the sun’s scorn. Accusing thoughts are her only companions as she ponders the futile road her life has traveled. She’s looked for love in all the wrong places, going from one dead-end relationship to another. For her, marriage has been a retreating mirage. Again and again she has returned to the matrimonial well, hoping to draw from it something to quench her thirst for love and happiness. But again and again, she has left that well disappointed.
And so, under the weight of such thoughts she comes to Jacob’s well, her empty water jar a telling symbol of her life. As her eyes meet the Savior’s, he sees within her a cavernous aching, a cistern in her soul that will forever remain empty unless he fills it. And there she meets Jesus.40
This encounter shows to all women that regardless of past mistakes, hurts, pain, and failures Jesus wants to fill women with his love because women are people intrinsically whom he values. Every woman is created in his image, a daughter of Eve, and he offers the greatest ministry ever; cleansing, forgiveness, hope, meaning, significance, and a life of power and purpose.
During another encounter with a woman, Jesus made a radical statement of value to the hypocritical religious leaders that were standing around. Luke recounts a narrative in which, in a synagogue one Sabbath, Jesus heals a woman crippled for eighteen years by a demonic spirit.41 The head of the synagogue protests Jesus’ performance of a healing on the Sabbath, but neither the woman’s presence is the synagogue nor her subsequent praise of God in response to her cure evokes any comment. Jesus showed his regard for her by calling her a "daughter of Abraham," a term which is paralleled to Zacchaeus, who later will be called a "son of Abraham."42 Both are God’s chosen people and heirs of the promises to Abraham, so both equally deserve the spiritual status and salvation guaranteed Abraham’s descendants. As Jesus offered salvation and healing to the people, women were equally worthy of his full-orbed ministry.
It has already been expressed that as people we have a need to belong, to feel worthy and to feel competent.43 Observe how these needs are satisfied in the manner in which Jesus dealt with women in the New Testament.44
He engaged in spiritual conversation. He talked to women about God, reality, and issues that count for eternity. To the woman at the well Jesus gives the most profound discourse in Scripture on the subject of worship. That God is spirit and that worship is not an approach of the body to a church, but an approach of the soul to the spirit of God. That was a cutting revelation to one who has lived so much of her life in the realm of the physical rather than the spiritual. In their spiritual conversation this stranger (Jesus) was first simply "a Jew"…then "Sir"…then "a prophet." Finally she sees him for who he really is—"Messiah." And in that moment of spiritual perception, she lives to tell his good news to the city that has both shared her and shunned her.
When Jesus was teaching about discipleship Matthew recalls, "And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, he said, "Behold, my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother."45 Women are here included as disciples. Obedience to the will of the Father was the hallmark of Jesus’ disciples, whatever the gender. Women are granted the status of being active full-fledged followers of Christ.46
In the Judaism of Jesus’ day, discipleship was oriented toward acquiring particular skills in the religious arena and therefore was primarily restricted to men.47 But Jesus’ form of discipleship is instead oriented toward transformation of the person’s life to be like him.
We also see Jesus’ appreciation of women’s spiritual capabilities in that it was a women (Mary Magdalene) who was first to receive news of His resurrection and then she was given the honored position of telling the disciples.48 She is a woman who was once possessed by demons and at the empty tomb she finds herself in the presence of angels. She is despondent and she tells them the reason for her tears. Then, from behind, another voice reaches out to her. Maybe the morning is foggy; maybe tears blur her eyes. Maybe Jesus is the last person she expects to see. Whatever the case, she doesn’t recognize him. That is, until he says, "Mary!" She blinks away the tears and can hardly believe her eyes. She had been there when he suffered at the cross; now he is there when she is suffering. She had stood by him in his darkest hour; now he is standing by her in hers. He had seen her tears; now he is there to wipe them all away.49
Jesus interrupts the embrace to send her on a great commission—to tell the disciples the good news. In his triumph, Jesus could have paraded through the streets of Jerusalem. He could have knocked on Pilate’s door. He could have confronted the high priest. But the first person our resurrected lord appears to is a woman without hope and he gives her a ministry.
While there were conflicting attitudes about the education of women among the rabbis,50 there was no confusion with Jesus. We’ve already seen Him instructing the woman at the well about spiritual truth. Not only did Jesus talk with women, he also taught them. She was the first person to whom he revealed he was the Messiah.
As Jesus and the Twelve disciples were traveling, they were invited into the home of Mary and Martha. While Martha was busy with the preparations for the guests, Mary was “listening to the Lord’s word, seated at his feet.”51 Three times in Scripture, when we observe Mary (sister of Martha and Lazarus) she is sitting at the feet of Jesus.52 This is the traditional posture of a learner, a student, and a disciple.53 What is of critical importance is the fact that Jesus would be willing to sit in conversation with women in such a manner, or that he might have instructed them privately as a rabbi might instruct a promising student. Jesus valued her enough to teach her and her physical posture reflects the posture of her heart -- humble, reverent, and teachable -- all the qualities of a good disciple. What Martha was cooking in the kitchen will be gone in a meal, but what’s being prepared in the other room with Mary is eternal and will go on forever.54 Jesus doesn’t want food, he wants fellowship. Jesus desires that all believers think, grow, learn and He is an equal opportunity teacher to both men and women. It is interesting to observe that often in his teaching Jesus would use a pairing of men and women and of illustrations from both a man’s world and a woman’s world to communicate the truth being taught.55
Women participated in the ministry of Jesus, accompanying him in his travels. Luke mentions a number of women by name that were part of the entourage which followed Jesus.56 On a number of occasions they gave public testimony to Jesus’ ministry. A woman who needed healing from a bleeding hemorrhage touched his garment and was healed, and Jesus paid attention to her and Scripture says, "…she came trembling and fell down before him, and declared in the presence of all the people the why she had touched him and how she had been immediately healed."57
In Luke 7:36-50 and John 12:1-11 Jesus was anointed by women which means he received worship and adoration from them. There is no greater service to Jesus than worship,58 and they served him through their worship.
We see Jesus appreciate one woman’s act of service at the end of a weeklong prelude to His last Passover. He had road into town to the crowd singing hosanna and everything had gone downhill from there. After a lot of confrontation, Jesus was able to lose himself in the holiday crowd and he finds a quiet place on a bench opposite the temple treasury. For a change, all eyes are not on him. Instead, they are on the 12 trumpet-shaped coffers where people are filing by to deposit their offerings. Standing among them is a woman who is a widow.59 There is a place for widows in the ancient Jewish world, but it is not a place of importance, like the priest’s. It is not a place of influence, like the merchant’s. It is a place with orphans and transients.60 A dependent place with little income and barely surviving. The place she’s at now is the treasury, where she’s standing in line with the little she has left palmed in her hand; two copper coins. The smallest offering the temple allowed. And there she waits, quietly, patiently, until it is her time to give.
Jesus sees her standing there and he waves over his disciples so they can see her, too. The coins in her hand are so small and thin that when she drops them in the coffers, they don’t even clink. Heaven heard the sound, but on earth it fell on deaf ears…even the disciples, but this day Jesus makes sure they hear. And 2000 years later the service of this poor widow is still being talked about in lessons, lectures and literature.61 What a remarkable thing! Jesus stopped and noticed this act of service. He took such pleasure in so small a gesture. She served by giving. All that she had she gave. Her gift may not have meant a lot to the ministry of the temple, but it meant a lot to God. That is why the Savior, on his way to the costliest of sacrifices, stopped to honor this woman’s sacrificial act of service.
Whenever ministry is spoken of in the New Testament as being rendered directly to Jesus, it is the ministry of either angels or women. In the earthly life of Jesus we see women who glorified Jesus through their domestic responsibilities with which they ministered to him.62 The key word in "ministry" is "service." And again Jesus is the supreme example. Jesus’ entire redemptive purpose for coming to earth is encapsulated in Mark 10:45, "For even the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
The question we began with was, “How does Jesus minister to women?” The answer is, “really good!” He came to serve. We see his service to women through talk, through teaching, through touch, and through thankful praise for their faith. As we all have a need to belong, feel worthy, and feel competent, we see that Jesus brings dignity, value, and worth to women and their roles of service as "daughters of God."
Arndt, William F. and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 2nd edition. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979). S.v. “ swfronevw.”
Balsdon, J.P.V.D. Roman Women. London: Bodley Head, 1962.
Baumgarten, Joseph M. Studies in Qumran Law. Leiden: Brill, 1977.
Bullough, Vern L. The Subordinate Sex: A History of Attitudes Toward Women. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1973.
Carcopino, Jérôme. Daily Life in Ancient Rome. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940.
Clark, Stephen B. Man and Woman in Christ: An Examination of the Roles of Men and Women in Light of Scripture and the Social Sciences. Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1980.
Congo, Jan. Free to Be God’s Woman. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1988.
Edersheim, Alfred. Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ. London: James Clarke, 1961.
Ferguson, Everett. Backgrounds of Early Christianity. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1987.
Foh, Susan T. Women and the Word of God: A Response to Biblical Feminism. N.p.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980.
Friedrich, Gerhard, ed. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. VII, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1971), s.v. “ swfronevw,” by Ulrich Luck.
Gire, Ken. Moments with the Savior: A Devotional Life of Christ. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998.
Goldin, Hyman E. ed. Ethics of the Fathers. New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1962.
Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1997.
Grudem, Wayne. Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth. Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah, 2004.
Guthrie, Donald. Jesus the Messiah. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1972.
Heine, Susanne. Women and Early Christianity: A Reappraisal. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1988.
Holley, Bobby Lee. God’s Design: Woman’s Dignity. Mission III:10, April, 1975. Quoted in Lesly F. Massey. Women and the New Testament: An Analysis of Scripture in Light of New Testament Era Culture. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 1989.
Hurley, James B. Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.
Josephus, Flavius. The New Complete Works of Josephus. Translated by William Whiston. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1999.
Joshel, Sandra R. and Sheila Murnaghan, eds. Woman and Slaves in Greco-Roman Culture: Differential Equations. New York: Routledge, 1998.
Kraemer, Ross Shepard and Mary Rose D’Angelo, eds. Women and Christian Origins. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Lauterbach, Jacob Z. Studies in Jewish Law, Custom, and Folklore. New York: Ktav, 1970
Massey, Les F. Women and the New Testament: An Analysis of Scripture in Light of New Testament Era Culture. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 1989.
McKeon, Richard, ed. The Basic Works of Aristotle. New York: The Modern Library, 1941.
Neusner, Jacob. The Mishnah: A New Translation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988.
Piper, John and Wayne Grudem. Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991.
Ryrie, Charles C. The Role of Women in the Church. Chicago: Moody Press, 1970.
Saucy, Robert L. and Nancy Hadesty. Women and Men in Ministry: A Complementary Perspective. Chicago: Moody Press, 2001.
Sayers, Dorothy. Are Women Human. Downer Groves, IL: InterVarsity Press,1971.
Stambaugh, John E. and David L. Balch. The New Testament in Its Social Environment. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1986.
Stedman, Elaine. A Woman’s Worth. Waco: Word Books, 1975.
Swidler, Leonard, Women in Judaism: The Status of Women in Formative Judaism, Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1976 [database on-line]; available from http://global-dialogue.com/swidlerbooks/womenjudaism.htm.
Tournier, Paul. A Place for You. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.
Wright, H. Norman. Questions Women Ask in Private. Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1993.
1 The Greek word use here, swfronevw means “to observe the proper measure” (Friedrich, Gerhard, ed. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. VII, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1971), s.v. “ swfronevw,” by Ulrich Luck), and “to be reasonable, sensible, serious, and to keep one’s head (Arndt, William F. and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 2nd edition. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979). s.v. “ swfronevw.”). Paul defines this measure as mevtron pivstis, the measure of faith. Our identity is to be found in spiritual realities, not the false standards of culture or society.
2 H. Norman Wright develops a biblical and accurate approach to self-esteem and identity in chapter two of Questions Women Ask in Private, (Ventura, CA: Regal Books), 43-58. He presents the basis for a healthy self-image as containing the need to belong, the need to feel worthy and the need to feel competent. All of these needs are evidenced in the way that Jesus dealt with women in the New Testament.
3 Jan Congo, Free to Be God’s Woman, (Ventura, CA: Regal Books), 27.
4 One of the early and groundbreaking studies of the history of attitudes toward women is by history professor Vern L. Bullough, The Subordinate Sex, (Chicago: University of Illinois) written in 1973. This study traces ideas about women in the ancient Near Eastern Law Codes, Greek attitudes, attitudes about women in early Judaism and Christianity as well as Muslim and Hindu views. Though dated, pages 355-366 contain a helpful guide to further reading.
6 Nancy Demand in her chapter “Women and Slaves as Hippocratic Patients” from Sandra R. Joshel and Sheila Murnaghan, eds. Woman and Slaves in Greco-Roman Culture: Differential Equations, (New York: Routledge), 70, discusses the marginalizing characteristics in Greek culture of both slaves and free women. She states, “Neither was allowed full development of potential beyond the limited roles they were to play, and both were inducted into these roles as soon as they were capable of performing them.” (69) Commenting on Aristotle she points out that his view was that the inferiority of the female was not limited to the body but extended to the soul as well. He conceived of the soul as having two parts, the rational and the emotional. She says, “in free adult males both the emotional and the rational parts of the soul were fully developed and the rational was naturally in control. The souls of women, however, had less well-developed rational parts, although their emotional souls were fully formed. As a result, women were ruled by emotion.” (70).
7 Aristotle. Politics 1254b. The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed., Richard McKeon. (New York: The Modern Library), 1132. Also [database on-line] at http://classics.mit.edu/ Aristotle/politics.1.one.html.
8 Demand, 83. While in one sense the Hippocratic doctors saw no natural distinction between slave and free, Nancy Demand states, “…such an idealistic conclusion ignores the abundant evidence for occupational injuries and illnesses and the probable treatment of slaves as instruments of the oikos, and the focus on successful reproduction in women, which also relegated them to the instrumental category. Doctors reflected the larger society and its values, when they saw, and treated, slaves and women as uni-dimensional beings.” Nancy Demand is a professor in the Department of History at Indiana University, Bloomington. She has done extensive research in the field of women and medicine and social history.
9 Jérôme Carcopino, Daily Life in Ancient Rome, (New Haven: Yale University Press), 76-100.
10 Vern L. Bullough, The Subordinate Sex: A History of Attitudes Toward Women, (Chicago: University of Illinois Press), 95. Bullough says, “It was as wife and mother that the woman had a place in Roman society, and as the mother of sons that she earned her reputation…Rome was a man’s world and women’s purpose was to serve men.” (96).
11 Holt Parker states in his chapter, “Loyal Slaves and Loyal Wives: the crisis of the outsider-within and Roman exemplum literature” from Sandra R. Joshel and Sheila Murnaghan, eds. Woman and Slaves in Greco-Roman Culture: Differential Equations, (New York: Routledge), “This split in the composition of the familia is encoded in the standard legal definition: “The various persons who are subject either by law or nature to the legal power (potestas) of a single person, namely the father of the family (paterfamilian).” The law thus recognizes two distinct groups: children, subject to the father’s power by the natural bond of blood kinship, and his wife and slaves, subject to his power only by law and lacking any “natural” kinship.…Both slaves and wives are intimate parts of the family, yet both are still thought of as foreign, as outsiders.” (154)
12 Ibid., 155.
13 Carcopino, 95-100. An epidemic of divorces is recorded. Carcopino states, “thus in the Rome of the Antonines Seneca’s words were cruelly just: “No woman need blush to break off her marriage since the most illustrious ladies have adopted the practice of reckoning the year not by the names of the consuls but by those of their husbands. They divorce in order to re-marry. They marry in order to divorce: exeunt matrimonii cause, nubunt repudii.” (100).
14 J.P.V.D. Balsdon, Roman Women, (London: Bodley Head), 230-234.
15 James B. Hurley states, “the rapid rate of change created a situation of virtual chaos with respect to customs. We can discern general trends among the wealthy and within the legal situation, but we are at a loss to demonstrate how these relate to most specific locations.” Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 75. John Stambaugh and David Balch state that, “the women of the upper classes—mother, wives, and daughters—were expected, both in Greek and in Roman tradition, to be modest and unobtrusive and to lead uneventful and unexciting lives….Nevertheless, many fine stories were told of strong Roman women operating behind the scenes, influencing their men folk to take some public action….” The New Testament in Its Social Environment, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press), 111.
16 The slave/free contrast is mentioned specifically six times in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 7:21, 22; 9:19; Ephesians 6:8; Revelations 6:15) and the male/female contrast is included in one of those (Gal. 3:28). What a powerful and radical statement for the Apostle Paul to level the differential equation when talking about our equal access to a spiritual relationship with God!
17 Josephus, Against Apion 2.201.
18 M. Berakoth 3.3; m. Sukkah 2.8.
19 J. Sotah 3.4. The comment about the words of the Torah being burned is from the Jerusalem Talmud and is omitted in the later Babylonian Talmud. In general, whenever the Jerusalem Talmud (JT) contradicts the Babylonian Talmud (BT), the law follows the BT. Only on matters where the BT is silent or unclear does the authority of the JT prevail. The word translated “lasciviousness” is also translated “licentiousness” or “sexual satisfaction.”
20 B. Berakoth 20b. Accessed March 9, 2005 at http://www.come-and-hear.com/ berakoth/ berakoth_20.html. The question under discussion is whether the obligation of women to say grace after meals is rabbinical or Scriptural. It was the Sages that said it was a curse for a wife to say grace.
21 Tosephta Berakoth 7:18. The Tosephta are legal opinions that continue and comment on the Mishnah which were collected around 300 C.E. The Tosephta sites sources older than the Mishnah and is four times longer but has not achieved the same status as the Mishnah. In some editions of the Talmud the Tosephta commentaries are inserted at the end of each tractate.
22 M. Aboth 1.5
23 From the introduction to Ethics of the Fathers. Translated and annotated by Hyman E. Goldin, (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company), XIII.
24 M. Kiddushin 1.1-6.
25 M. Rosh Hashanah 1.8 (Neusner), 301. Joseph Baumgarten states, “there are many practices and traditions commonly accepted in all periods, which do not appear in any codes of law. In the Mishnah, too, the disqualification of women was not specifically codified but referred to indirectly as a matter of common knowledge….Similarly, it has been inferred from the general practice of Athenian and Roman law that women were, with few exceptions, excluded from the witness box. Josephus (Antiq. IV, 8.15) attributes the incapacity of women as witnesses to the Law of Moses, thus indicating at least that this was the general Jewish practice in his time.” Studies in Qumran Law, (Leiden: Brill), 185.
26 Josephus. War 5.2.
27 Midrash, GnR. 45, 5. Leonard Swidler states that in the Midrash Rabbah on Deuteronomy, Tanna Rabbi Levi is said to have characterized women as “greedy, inquisitive, envious, and indolent” and other rabbis added that women were “querulous and gossips.” Women in Judaism: The Status of Women in Formative Judaism, (Metuchen, N.J.:Scarecrow Press), [database on-line]; accessed March 12, 2005 at http://global-dialogue.com/swidlerbooks/womenjudaism.htm.
28 While there are numerous rabbinical statements that devalue and present an inferior position of women in Judaism, it must also be noted that at other places rabbinical literature reiterates the Old Testament directive to honor both father and mother (Exodus 20:12; Leviticus 19:3, 9:1). It would be unfair to say that women were totally marginalized in Jewish society in that the Mishnah itself contains one whole division (Nashim) dedicated to women. Though mostly regulatory, it nevertheless highlights their presence in society. Michael Wilkins, in his chapter titled “Women In the Teaching and Example of Jesus” states, “It is quite likely that women experienced a more elevated status and more personal freedom than the somber picture painted in much of the rabbinical literature. The gospel record of Jesus and His relationship with women seems to confirm a more balanced attitude toward women.” Robert L. Saucy, and Nancy Hadesty, Women and Men in Ministry: A Complementary Perspective, (Chicago: Moody Press), 95. For helpful background information on the status of women in Judaism that recognizes the paradox of rabbinical statements see Charles C. Ryrie, The Role of Women in the Church, (Chicago: Moody Press), 7-13. Orthodox Jewish scholarship has traditionally understood the difference between functioning roles and personal value. Similar to evangelical complimentarians today, when asked about women being ordained as rabbis, Jacob Lauterbach wrote in the Central Conference of American Rabbis Year Book in 1922, “…there is…no injustice done to woman by excluding her from this office. There are many avenues open to her if she choose to do religious or educational work. I can see no reason why we should make this radical departure from traditional practice except the specious argument that we are modern men and, as such, we recognize the full equality of women to men, hence we should be thoroughly consistent. But I would not class the rabbis with those people whose main characteristic in consistency." Jacob Z. Lauterbach, Studies in Jewish Law, Custom, and Folklore, (New York: Ktav), 246. It also is interesting that the wife of a rabbi is referred to as a “rebbetzin,” practically a title of her own, which should give some idea of her significance in Jewish life.
29 Wright, 50.
30 Paul Tournier, A Place for You, (New York: Harper & Row), 163.
31 Hurley, 82. He goes on to say, “Although the gospel texts contain no special saying repudiating the views of the day about women, their uniform testimony to the presence of women among the followers of Jesus and to his serious teaching of them constitutes a break with tradition which has been described as being ‘without precedent in [then] contemporary Judaism’.” (82-83). Of course this must all be approached and understood in balance with Jesus’ redemptive plan for all of mankind and not used as a platform for a personal or social agenda. Biblical theology does not allow us, as many have attempted, to redefine Jesus and “the feminine man” or using Jungian archetypes, the “integrated man.” Susanne Heine, Women and Early Christianity: A Reappraisal, (Minneapolis: Augsburg) is one such feminist attempt. Jesus cannot be thought of as a religious reformer. Although he pointed out the hypocrisy among religious leaders and the vanity of legalism and impractical dogma, he was not concerned with reforming Judaism. His aim was to establish a completely new doctrine and a new kingdom, founded upon a new covenant, new sacrifice and new priesthood with new and better promises. Early in his ministry Jesus walked into the synagogue of Nazareth, where he was reared, and opening the scroll of Isaiah read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). After returning the scroll to the official, Jesus sat down and declared, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). This was the manner of Jesus. The change he brought to culture was not by means of military conquest, financial gain or social subjugation, but through humility and service to others. His ultimate sacrifice formed a new community through which he continues to manifest his love and the value of each person.
32 “In Jesus’ actions and attitudes, in his willingness to come up against the traditions of cultures, in his loving concern, he was revealing the will of God….Jesus treated women of whatever sort as persons of value and worth, as genuine human being, not just as inferior or despised females. There was never in his manner any condescending, sentimentalizing, jeering, patronizing or putting them in their place.” Holley, Bobby Lee. God’s Design: Woman’s Dignity. Mission III:10, April, 1975., 294. Quoted in Lesly F. Massey. Women and the New Testament: An Analysis of Scriptire in Light of New Testament Era Culture, (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.), 6.
33 Dorothy Sayers, Are Women Human, (Downer Groves, IL: InterVarsity Press), 47.
35 In Jesus’ day, relations between Jews and Samaritans were generally characterized by bitter hostility. Samaritans were considered to be impure half-breeds and although recognized in the Torah, they were suspected of being an idolatrous cult on the basis of their veneration of Mount Gerizim as a holy mountain. Josephus portrays the Samaritans (Shechemites) as being “evil and enviously disposed to the Jews (Ant. 11.4.9) and a refuge for Jewish religious apostates (Ant. 11.8.7). He also records an occasion when some Samaritans tried to desecrate the Jerusalem temple on the eve of the Passover (Ant. 18.2.2), and another instance when they attacked Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem (Ant. 20.6.1). In the Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sotah, the term “Samaritan” is used as an insult along with “boor” and “magician” (b. Sotah 22a), [accessed March 12, 2005 at] http://www. come-and-here.com/sotah/sotah_22.html. Jesus broke with his Jewish contemporaries’ hostility toward Samaritans. His coming had created a level playing field where ethnic distinctions gave way to spiritual considerations bound up with obedience to God and acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah as evidenced in his encounter with the Samaritan woman.
36 M. Ketuboth 7.6 This passage is from the Mishnah’s tractate on marriage contracts and states that if a woman transgresses the law of Moses and Jewish law, she is not entitled to payment of the marriage contract on the termination of the marriage. The text provides three instances of what is meant by the term “Jewish law.” If (1) she goes out with her hair flowing loose, or (2) she spins in the marketplace, or (3) she talks with just anybody.”
38 John 4:9. Another aspect of this may be the attitude of the Jews toward Samaritan women as reflected in the Mishnah. There it says, “Samaritan women are deemed menstruants from their cradle” (m. Nidda 4.1). Since a Samaritan woman was regarded as unclean at all times, any vessel she held or drank from would likewise be rendered unclean. It is this regulation, perhaps, that Jesus ignored by asking a drink from a vessel carried by a Samaritan woman. On all counts he cared more about her as a person, than about any social, cultural, or religious taboo.
40 Adapted from devotional writer Ken Gire, Moments with the Savior: A Devotional Life of Christ, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 88-89.
42 Luke 10:16 cp. Luke 19:9. Lest this passage, and others, be viewed only through the eyes of the gender issue, Donald Guthrie expresses the opinion that the incident was recorded primarily to illustrate the weakness of legalism in its approach to human problems. He says, “Enthusiasm for the Law is admirable, but when religious observance becomes more important than human needs, decay has set in. Jesus did not advocate slavish devotion to legalism. If most Christians had always followed him in this, much of the tragic acrimony in church history would have been avoided. Cherished forms, liturgies and church order need reexamination so that we may discover whether or not, in our enthusiasm to retain them, we are preventing “bent” lives from becoming straightened.” Jesus the Messiah, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 207.
43 Wright, 50.
44 The following points of the outline are taken from the table of contents in Ryrie, The Role of Women in the Church, (Chicago: Moody Press), ix.
46 The book of Acts confirms this. Luke clearly uses the word disciple to refer both to men and women (Acts 6:1-7; 9:10, 36; 16:10). Luke even uses the rare feminine form of the word “disciple” ( maqhvtria) to refer specifically to Tabitha (Dorcas) in Acts 9:36.
47 Saucy and Tenelshof, 98.
48 John 20:1-18. Wilkins states, “The Crucifixion and Resurrection accounts tell us a decisive number of things about God’s purposes for women in the life and ministry of Jesus….women are validated as worthy of the most privileged service in the community of faith, bearing witness to the reality of the risen Lord Jesus. This is an indication that within the community of faith they are to be restored to be co-laborers with men in the community of faith, a role they had been assigned from the beginning of creation (Gen. 1:26-28),” 111. As to the uniqueness of Jesus giving this privilege of bearing witness see note 25 above.
49 Adapted from Gire, 379-381.
50 It is difficult to sort through just what the rabbis felt about the education of women. In the same passage of the Mishnah where Rabbi Eliezer excluded daughters from being taught the Torah (m. Sotah 3.4.H) Rabbi Ben Azzai says, “A man is required to teach Torah to his daughter (m. Sotah 3.4.F). Also in another tractate, a father is encouraged to teach “his sons and daughter Scripture” (m. Nedarim 4.3). Examples that support the education of women are within the sphere of the home and family. Formal education, for women, by the rabbis does not seem to be the accepted practice.
53 Luke also records the Apostle Paul as saying, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today” (Acts 22:3) The Greek reads, paraV touVs povdas GamalihVl, (“at the feet of Gamaliel”).
55 Just using the gospel of Luke we can observe the following mention of women and women related items in Jesus’ teaching along with many literary pairings:
Widow of Zarephath (4:25-26) [paired with Naaman]
Peter's Mother-in-Law (4:38-39) [paired with possessed man]
Widow of Nain's Son (7:11-17) [paired with Centurian's servant]
Those Born of Women (7:28) [no pairing]
Sinful Woman (7:36-50) [paired with Simon the Pharisee]
Women with Jesus (8:1-3) [paired with the Twelve]
Jesus' Mother and Brothers (8:19-21) [no pairing]
Jairus' Daughter and Woman with Hemorrhage (8:40-56) [Gerasene demoniac?]
Mary and Martha (10:38-42) [no pairing]
Woman praises Jesus' mother (11:27-28) [no pairing]
Queen of the South (11:31) [paired with Ninevites]
Mother vs. Daughter (12:53) [paired with Father vs. Son]
Crippled Woman (13:10-17) [paired with man with dropsy]
The Leaven (13:20-21) [paired with Mustard Seed]
Discipleship and Family (14:26) [paired with Father and Brothers]
The Lost Coin (15:8-10) [paired with the Lost Sheep]
The Divorce Saying (16:18) [no pairing]
Lot's Wife (17:32) [paired with Lot]
Women Grinding (17:35) [paired with men in the field]
Widow and Judge (18:1-8) [paired with Pharisee and the Tax Collector]
Leaving House, Wife, Etc. (18:29) [no pairing]
Woman with seven Husbands (20:27-40) [no pairing]
Devouring Widows' Houses (20:47) [no pairing]
Widow's Offering (21:1-4) [paired with Scribes, see 20:47]
56 Luke 8:1-3 list Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and “many others.” We do not know the extent, if any, that they traveled with Jesus, but there is no evidence of criticism from the Pharisees in this regard. One commentator says of these women that they “are thus characterized as (1) persons who mirror the graciousness of Jesus’ own benefaction, (2) persons who, like Jesus, “serve” others (cf. 22:24-27), and (3) exemplars of Jesus’ message on faith and wealth…whose lives anticipate Luke’s portrait of the early Christian community among whom “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4:32). In its current co-text, 8:1-3 thus parades these women (and not the twelve) as persons who both hear and act on the word of God (8:21; cf. 6:46-40).” Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans), 1997.
60 James 1:27. Widows were a disadvantaged class in Hebrew society. To help counter their plight, the Mosaic Law contained a number of very specific provisions to protect and provide materially for the often needy widow (Lev. 22:13; Deut. 14:28-29; 16:10-11). This included the principle of Levirate marriage, which required a man to marry his deceased brother’s widow if there had been no children.
61 A google search (March 15, 2005) on “widow’s mite” resulted in 26,500 entries.