1. The New Testament, A Student’s Introduction, Stephen L. Harris. Mayfield Publishing.
2. Women and World Religions, 2nd Ed. Denise Lardner Carmody. Prentice Hall.
3. Women in the World Religions, Past and Present, Edited by Ursula King. Paragon House.
4. Searching the Scriptures, A Feminist Introduction, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. Crossroad, NY.
5. Women in the Early Church by Elizabeth Clark. Michael Glazer, Inc. Publishing.
6. The Role of Women in the Early Christianity by Jean LaPorte. The Edwin Mellen Press.
7. Out of the Garden. Edited by Christine Bachmann and Celina Spiegel. Fawcett Columbine Press.
8. Character Counts. Charles R. Swindoll published by Insight for Living.
9. Women's Bible Commentary, Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Binge, Ed.
10. Women and Religion, Edited by Elizabeth Clark and Herbert Richardson
11. A History of the Ancient World. Chester G. Starr. Oxford University Press
12. Jesus was a Feminist. Leonard Swidler
13. History of the Christian Church by George Park Fischer, Scribner and Sons.
• Cultural View of women at that time
Women in the first century were viewed through patriarchal eyes. Women were not given the same rights as men, or for that matter, slaves. They were objects who were meant to please and serve men. A woman’s main function was to run the home and raise the children and her locus of purpose was the home. Women were not allowed to vote. Women not permitted in public prayer nor could a man talk to a woman in public, or for that matter, women were not even allowed to talk in public, and they had to keep their heads covered. (Searching the Scriptures p.120). Early Christian women lived under the rule of the Roman Empire consisting of male authority (Women's Bible Commentary p.482). Most ancient cultures by law or custom, excluded women from religious worship or public domain which comprised a large part of the world's ideas and cultural and creative contributions (Women's Bible Commentary p. 43). Also women were viewed as "unclean" during menstruation and after childbirth.
The Ancient Greco-Roman political writers, however, understood the household to be the basic building block of the state because of the influence the household has on shaping children. It has been widely quoted “the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that runs the world”. Still, women were considered second-class citizens who had as much value as slaves or cattle. Women did have some privileges, though. We read in The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus (p.488) “and then Antigonus, without regard to past or present circumstances, came down from the citadel and fell at the feet of Susius; who took no pity on him but called him Antigone [i.e. a woman, not a man] yet he did not treat him as if he were a women, by telling him to go at liberty; but put him into bonds.” What can be inferred by this passage is that a woman would not be prosecuted for a crime, but the man would. In the same way, a woman who had gained wealth through inheritance or investment was in a position of affluence and power, even though society expected women to have a subordinate position (The New Testament in its Social Environment p.115). On the periphery of the empire and just beyond its borders, a few exceptional women held political power. In a Roman-controlled region southeast of the Black Sea, a woman named Pythodoris ruled in the late 1st Century. She inherited it from her late husband and was able to retain it by marriage to a nearby king (The New Testament in its Social Environment p.128).
• Other faiths view of women at that time
During the first century, Christianity’s main competition was Mithraism and other mystery religions. Christians baptized women and let them participate in services whereas other mystery religions did not. This practice made Christianity very attractive to women. There was a Hellenistic thought called “chthonic” which was a more “mother earth” type of philosophy and that gave rise to women having significance in society.
Some of the Greek gods were depicted in female form. Demeter, Persephone, Hera were worshipped. These mythological goddesses were concerned with the hearth and agriculture and food. Athena was given the “manly” role of warrior. Isis represents motherly compassion to the Mithra and there is a hymn she spoke that echoes of the "I am" statements of Jesus (The New Testament, A Student's Handbood p. 200). Artemis was worshipped throughout province of Asia (see Acts 19:27). Although Greeks honored Artemis as the virgin patron of wildlife and the hunt, Ephesian sculptors depicted her as a Near Easter fertility goddess (Student Handbook p.254). The women in other faiths are viewed as sexual objects and only objects of fertility. Fertility cults flourished. The level of fertility cults plays virtually part in Homer, but the physical evidence and later references show abundantly that is was significant throughout Greek history that the earliest figurines are often of a goddess nursing a baby. This female force evolved into the historical Artemis, Athena and Demeter, but elsewhere continued to be revered simply as the reproductive element of life (A History of the Ancient World p.240).
Jesus' treatment of women at that time
Although Jesus was not a champion of women’s rights, he treated women like people which contrasted his Jewish background and runs counter-culture to how a man treated women (Searching the Scripture p.120).
Jesus went against prevailing traditions and attitudes toward women. Men did not speak to women in public, did not allow them public prayer and certainly did not allow them to serve in worship services. Jesus spoke to women in public, such as the Samaritan woman at the well (referred to in John Chapter 4) and allowed women to become deaconesses. This is contrary to rabbinical trends (Women and World Religions p 312). His attitude of women being individuals makes his statements and action deliberately rebellious. Jesus’ attitude toward women [is] depicted as being un-Jewish (Searching the Scriptures p.120).
The fact that Jesus even conversed with woman must have been an outrage. Jesus went against prevailing traditions and attitudes toward women. Lukan text validates the importance of women and their contribution to Jesus' ministry and gives detailed descriptions of how Jesus interacted with women. If Jesus really did treat women as equals, listen to their opinions, taught them and loved them without judgement, women must have flocked to him. Luke commonly uses Jesus’ interaction with women to reveal his concept of Jesus’ character. Two specific examples include Jesus comforting the widow of Nain and having compassion on a prostitute. A practice unheard of in that society or for our own society. Do we have compassion on prostitutes? Do we see them as lonely, lost and exploited or do we look at them as drugged-out women who don’t deserve compassion or forgiveness? Jesus looked beyond externals to the constitution of the soul. The first extensive interpolation of Lukan material concludes with a summary of the part women played in Jesus’ ministry (Luke 8:1-3). Accompanying him are numerous female disciples whom he has healed and who now support him and the male disciples “out of their own resources” (The New Testament, A Student’s Introduction Textbook p.172)
If we take Lukan account as actual history, it appears that women were supporting Jesus. In first Century Jerusalem, it was not common practice for a woman to support a man. It isn’t common practice today. It goes against social mores, yet Jesus allowed these women to support him so he could be free about “his Father’s business”. “Unlike his contemporaries, Jesus was not derogatory about women’s nature, ability or religious capacities.” The family of faith was more important than the physical family. (Women and World Religions p. 321). “He also opened the door to women leaving their natal families and rejecting marriage for a life of religious service” thus allowing women some autonomy. Women and much as men came into Jesus’ vision as individuals, people who don’t have the burden of stereotype (Women and World Religions p. 163). [Jesus’ position on marriage] presupposed a feminist view of women; that they have rights and responsibilities equal to men’s (Jesus was a Feminist p. 1177) In Luke 7:37-50, we see Jesus dealing with a woman personally, intimately and against the grain of prevailing male-female relations and boundaries.
Luke also records that Paul converted several "Greek women in high standing" in Macedonia. (Acts 16:14, 17:4) It may be relevant that in Hellenistic times Macedonia was famous for producing aristocratic and royal ladies of outstanding vigor, from Olympias, mother of Alexander the Great, to Cleopatra VII last of the great rulers of Egypt. For early Christian women, economic status shaped significantly the ways they could participate in Christian Communities (Women's Bible Commentary p.482).
• Church's treatment of women (Paul, John, Luke etc.)
The Book of Ephesians endorses rigid social and domestic hierarchy of the day but makes the system more humane by insisting that Christian love apply to all and that men love their wives as Christ loves the church (The New Testament, A Student’s Introduction p.317). Women whose husbands die were “better off” because they didn’t have divided loyalties and could be of more service to the church (ibid. p. 278). If an unbeliever leaves believing spouse, she is “exonerated” from the stigma of divorce. The advantages sometimes belonging to the unmarried state as furnishing better opportunities for doing good, did much to create the impression that to abstain from marriage is a praiseworthy act of self-denial. The most esteemed writers, from Cyprian back as far as Justin Martyr, give special honor to the class of women who from early times chose to remain single and devote themselves to doing good (History of the Christian Church p. 62). Women allowed to become deaconesses. Although limited as to their functions, women could become deaconesses but they were not allowed to baptize or preach. There was also a custom of Soprano range women singing at funerals (The Role of Women in Early Christianity P. 135). In Shepherd of Hermas, a kind of note-book of a Second Century preacher in the Church of Rome, women are used as symbols of the church. The symbols being Faith, Temperance, Power, and Long-suffering (ibid. p.136). Many women opened their homes to the church which is comprised of a body of believers rather than a building. Lydia is mentioned in Acts for opening her home. And Paul thanks Phoebe in
Romans chapter 16 for her administration of church duties and asks other believers to support her administration. The Book of 2 John is a "letter to a Lady". He cautions the "lady" who scholars argue that the lady could be an actual person or a sister church, to be cautious about whom she allows to stay with her, as there are many false teachers taking advantage of the Christian community. The author of the 2 John letter is protecting her honor. Women played a critical role in the development of the church and in the Christian movements. Women's words and achievements and women’s lives were an integral part of every Christian community. Women made considerable contributions to the development of Christianity in the first four centuries (Searching the Scriptures p. 291). The book of Acts also mentions Tabitha, Lydia and Mary who opened their homes as well. Women were given the opportunity for service and purpose in the home and outside of the home in the community. One of the most exalted women in Christianity is of course, Mary, mother of Jesus. The Roman Catholics worship Mary alongside Jesus. It is ironic because in Jesus' day his own family didn't recognize his divinity or validate his claims of being God's son. The problem arises because Jesus’ family and neighbors refuse to see him in any way but the old relationship of conventional blood ties and social connections. Although they hear his words of wisdom and witness his mighty acts of healing; they still choose to relate to him out of patterns of the past.
Contrary to some popular teaching about biblical submission, the Bible never portrays women as silent shadows who have little to contribute mentally or spiritually. In fact, women played an important role in Jesus' ministry and in the spread of Christianity. The following list chronicles just a few of the valuable spiritual contributions women have made in the history of the church.
• Mary and Martha were close friends of Jesus (Luke 10:38-39)
• Mary anointed Jesus prior to his death. (John 12:3)
• Many women lamented Jesus' crucifixion (Luke 23:27-31 and John 19:25)
• Women were the first to visit Jesus' tomb on Resurrection morning (Luke 23:55-24:1)
• Early church leaders responded positively to widows' complaints (Acts 6:1-6)
• Dorcas was "abounding with deeds of kindness and charity" throughout her community. When Peter later raised her from the dead, many townspeople believed in Christ (Acts 9:36-42)
• The church gathered in Mary's home to pray for Peter (Acts 12:12)
• Women gathered for worship at Phillipi, where Paul spoke to them (Acts 16:13)
• Lydia was a successful businesswoman. She became a Christian and prevailed upon Paul and his colleagues to meet in her home (Acts 16:14-15)
• In Thessalonica " a number of the leading women" were responsive to Paul and Silas' teaching (Acts 17:4)
• In Beara "many…believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women." (Acts 17:12)
• Priscilla and Aquila, her husband, were partners in church work (Acts 18:2 and 18:19)
• Both Priscilla and Aquila corrected Apollos theology (Acts 18:26)
• Paul mention Phoebe as a "servant of the church… a helper of many and myself" (Romans 16:1)
• Paul calls Priscilla "a fellow worker" (Romans 16:3)
• "Chloe's people" gave Paul information on the Corinthian problems (1 Cor 1:11)
• Paul lets unmarried women "stay as they" are so they can serve the Lord and not be forced into marriage (1 Cor 7:28)
• Widows were given special attention, assistance and care (1 Timothy 5:3-6)
• The second letter of John is addresses to "a chosen lady" (2 John)
• How today's feminism is rebellion
The Christian church and society have had to respond to the Feminist movement that gained prevalence in the 1970's. In response, seminaries and institutes of higher education have had to open their doors to women that they had previously held closed. “In the past decade more attention has been given to women in the Bible.” (Women in the World Religions, Past and Present p. 33)
The Book of Genesis sets the precedent for the placement of women in relation to man. In the Genesis account (Genesis 1:27) God created both man and woman [in our own image]. God must have masculine and feminine qualities. Woman was not created as a second thought, but as helper who has qualities and strengths of her own. The two became one unit. After the fall, it is then that the woman became the submissive partner.
For evangelical Christian women there are three basic teachings pertinent to proper biblical understanding of women:
1. God created both male and female in His own image (Genesis 1:27)
2. The revelation of life Jesus, a true feminist in his own time, in the context of a patriarchal society
3. St. Paul's "major biblical statement" in Galatians 3:28 "There is no such thing as Greek or Jew, slave or freeman, male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
(Women and World Religions.139)
Feminism, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is the principle that women should have political, economic and social rights equal to those of men. If women felt equal to men in personal worth, they wouldn’t need to be equal to men in responsibility. God created man and then woman (according to the Genesis account).
The feminist movement was in response to the failure of some or certain kinds men to think clearly, lead fairly, release unselfishly, and treat women respectfully. Scripture’s model for men is Jesus Christ who always treated women with respect and dignity whether they were prostitutes or women of social and economic standing.
He warmed them with his compassion and decentralized responsibility of service; he released women to use their talents, intelligence and abilities for the kingdom of God and Christian service. Women have not been given the ability to pursue their dreams and use their talents, skills and intelligence. Therefore, taking the “I’m sick of it and I’m not going to take it anymore” attitude, women garnered an uprising which led to the feminist movement (Swindoll p. 67).
• Strengths of women (grace, hospitality, nurturers) balancing strengths of men.
Many women are quoted in the bible for their strengths which are meant to balance the strengths of men. The Hebrew bible mentions Deborah who was a judge and a prophetess (Judges 4-5) and she is credited with a military victory.
Modern Judaism can claim such outstanding women as Henrietta Szold who is Founder of the Hadassah Medical Organization and Golda Meir, the Prime Minister of Israel.
Whereas men have physical strength, logical thinking and can see things in only black and white, women are the nurturers, add emotional depth and can see the gray areas; women also have the ability to give birth, which requires a high tolerance of pain! Women and men however can share similar qualities such as intelligence, a sense of humor creativity and the ability to lead and teach.
Referring once again to the Genesis account of creation, we read how God created both men and women. Women are of equal value in God's eyes. Although men and women are created for different purposes and as many psychologists can attest, have different thinking patterns, women were meant to be an integral part of humanity and have purpose and significance in God's creation and purpose. If not, why would God ignore half of the population He created?