Women in Christianity
22 August 2010
In yesterday's article we took a look at Women in Islam, which was the bad news. Today it's the good news: Women in Christianity.
Some people may wonder: What good news? Hasn't there been just as much oppression of women in 2,000 years of "Christian" cultures as there has been in 1,400 years of Muslim cultures? Haven't women in "Christian" cultures also suffered from physical violence, sexual exploitation, second-class status, seclusion, lack of employment opportunities, unequal pay, lack of voting rights, murder, adultery, divorce, and all the rest? Is there really a difference between how women in Islam and women in Christianity are treated? Aren't Islam and Christianity both patriarchal cultures at heart, which look upon women as inferior?
There are two related responses to these questions. The first is that you have to compare what these two religions actually teach. As we saw in yesterday's article, the Qur'an actually teaches and promotes the inferiority and oppression of women. In contrast, as we will see today, the New Testament does not. So, when men oppress women under Islam, they are simply obeying what the Qur'an says. But when men oppress women under Christianity, they are NOT obeying what the New Testament says. Which leads us to our related second point....
In this imperfect world of sin, we unfortunately have to differentiate between what a religion teaches and what it adherents actually practice. Just because supposedly Christian men oppress and abuse women does not mean, as we have noted above, that they are following the teachings of the New Testament. Therefore, we cannot get an accurate picture of what the New Testament teaches by simply studying the behavior of Christians. No, to really understand what the New Testament teaches we need to look directly at the New Testament itself.
Institutional Christianity as we know it today is largely a man-made religion that bears little resemblance to Yeshua (Jesus), the Messiah (Christ), who was the supposed founder of this new "religion". If this concept is shocking to you, then you will definitely want to read the future article I will write on the subject — we don't have the time to go into it here. Otherwise, you already understand what I'm talking about. Yeshua did not come to earth and die for our sins in order to establish another religion — He came to establish relationship with us. There is a night and day difference between the two. It is humans who have contorted this relationship into a religion.
After a brief look at women in the Old Testament, we will turn our attention to encounters Yeshua had with women, and how He interacted with them.
Even though Jewish culture in Bibles times was patriarchal, there are numerous Old Testament stories in which women are prominent. The book of Genesis recounts the history of high-profile women like Eve, the mother of the human race; Sarah, the wife of Abraham; Rebekah, the wife of Isaac; and Rachel and Leah, the wives of Jacob (Israel).
Judges 4 tells the story of Deborah, a prophetess who was leading Israel. The entire book of Ruth (one of two books of the Bible named after a woman) tells the story of a foreign young woman who pledges her allegiance to the people and God of Israel, and who becomes the great-grandmother of King David. King David himself was involved with a number of women who became his wives, for good or for bad: Michal, Abigail, and the infamous Bathsheba, the mother of the famous King Solomon. In the other book of the Bible named after a woman, Esther (pictured above) rises to become Queen of Persia (Iran!) and the savior of the Jewish people. Of course, there are other women mentioned in the Old Testament too — just read the whole thing and you will find out all about them!
In the New Testament, Yeshua (Jesus) — God in the flesh — has quite a number of beautiful and moving encounters with women, without a hint of exploitation or superciliousness. In fact, these encounters are so beautiful that they have inspired artists over the centuries to create beautiful artwork depicting them. We won't be able to touch on all of them here, but we will look at some of the highlights.
One of the most famous is Yeshua's encounter with the woman caught in adultery. In the Jewish religion of His day, just as in Islam up to this day, the penalty for adultery was death by stoning. This account is short, but profound:
At dawn Yeshua appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around Him, and He sat down to teach them. 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 Yeshua, "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.Contrast this with the account in the Hadith of Muhammad and the adulterous woman: Muhammad commanded her to be "put in a ditch up to her chest and he commanded people and they stoned her." Then she died and was buried.
But Yeshua 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, "If any one of you is without sin, let him 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 Yeshua was left, with the woman still standing there. Yeshua straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She replied, "No one, Sir." Yeshua declared, "Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin." (John 8:2-11)
Next, we will consider Yeshua's encounter with a woman with chronic bleeding.
As Yeshua was on His way, the crowds almost crushed Him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Yeshua, she came up behind Him in the crowd and touched the tzitzit (tassel) of His cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed." Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
At once Yeshua realized that power had gone out from Him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched My clothes?" When they all denied it, His disciples answered, "You see the people crowding and pressing against You and yet You can ask, 'Who touched Me?'" But Yeshua kept looking around to see who had done it. "Someone touched Me; I know that power has gone out from Me." Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her and seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came and fell at His feet and, trembling with fear, told Him the whole truth. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched Him and how she had been instantly healed. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering." (Combined from Mark 5:24-34 and Luke 8:42-48)
Now we come to the story of Yeshua and the woman at the well:
Yeshua came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there; and Yeshua, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Yeshua said to her, "Please give Me a drink." He was alone at the time because His disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Yeshua, "You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?" Yeshua replied, "If you only knew the gift God has for you and Who you are speaking to, you would ask Me, and I would give you living water."
"But Sir, you don't have a rope or a bucket," she said, "and this well is very deep. Where would You get this living water? And besides, do You think you're greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can You offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?" Yeshua replied, "Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life." The woman replied, "Please, Sir, give me this water! Then I'll never be thirsty again, and I won't have to come here to get water."
"Go and get your husband," Yeshua told her. "I don't have a husband," the woman replied. Yeshua said, "You're right! You don't have a husband — for you have had five husbands, and you aren't even married to the man you're living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!"
"Sir," the woman said, "You must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?" Yeshua replied, "Believe Me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the One you worship, while we Jews know all about Him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming — indeed it's here now — when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship Him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.
The woman said, "I know the Messiah is coming — the one who is called Christ. When He comes, He will explain everything to us." Then Yeshua told her, "I am the Messiah!"
Just then His disciples came back. They were shocked to find Him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, "What do you want with her?" or "Why are you talking to her?" The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, "Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could He possibly be the Messiah?" So the people came streaming from the village to see Him. Many Samaritans from the village believed in Yeshua because the woman had said, "He told me everything I ever did!" When they came out to see Him, they begged Him to stay in their village. So He stayed for two days, long enough for many more to hear His message and believe. Then they said to the woman, "Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard Him ourselves. Now we know that He is indeed the Savior of the world." (John 4:5-30,39-42)
Then there is Yeshua's encounter with the Syrian-Phoenician woman. At first glance He seems very standoffish and prejudiced against this non-Jewish woman. But as we look deeper, we sense that He is testing her resolve and her faith. As we can see, she passes the test with flying colors, and Yeshua is really impressed with her. It is from this passage that I heard John Wimber teach many times: "Healing is the children's bread."
Yeshua left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet He could not keep His presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about Him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at His feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. "Master, Son of David, have mercy on me!" she cried out. "My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession."Next we will consider the only two women in the New Testament who are specifically mentioned to have been loved by Yeshua, although in fact He loved everyone. These women are the sisters Martha and Mary (whose brother was Lazarus). They actually show up a few times throughout the four Gospels. We first meet them somewhat early in Yeshua's ministry:
Yeshua did not answer a word. So His disciples came to Him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." The woman came and knelt before Him. "Master, help me!" she said.
"First let the children eat all they want," He told her, "for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." She rejoined, "Yes, Master, but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then He told her, "Woman, you have great faith! For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter. She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. (Combined from Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30)
As Yeshua and His disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Master's feet listening to what He said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Him and asked, "Master, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" Yeshua answered, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is required. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42)Later we read about the encounter between Yeshua and the two sisters after their brother Lazarus had died:
On his arrival, Yeshua found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. When Martha heard that Yeshua was coming, she went out to meet Him, but Mary stayed at home. "Master," Martha said to Yeshua, "if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give You whatever You ask." Yeshua said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha answered, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Yeshua said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?" Martha answered, "Yes, Master, I believe that You are the Messiah, the Son of God, Who was to come into the world.
After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. "The Teacher is here," she said, "and is asking for you." When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Him. Now Yeshua had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met Him. When Mary reached the place where Yeshua was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and said, "Master, if You had been here, my brother would not have died." When Yeshua saw her weeping, and the others who had come along with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. "Where have you laid him?" He asked. "Come and see, Master," they replied. Yeshua wept.
Then they said, "See how He loved him!" But some others said, "Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?" Yeshua, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. "Take away the stone," He said. "But, Master," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days." Then Yeshua said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"
So they took away the stone. Then Yeshua looked up and said, "Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that You sent Me." When He had said this, Yeshua called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Yeshua said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go." (John 11:17-43)
The story of Mary and Martha continues a short time later:
Six days before the Passover, Yeshua arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Yeshua had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Yeshua's honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Yeshua's feet and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.Finally, we have the story of two other Marys who were at Yeshua's tomb on the morning of His resurrection:
But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray Him, objected, "Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. "Leave her alone," Yeshua replied. "It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of My burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have Me." (John 12:1-8)
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Yeshua's body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?" But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.In these encounters with women, Yeshua is full of love, compassion, respect, tenderness, understanding, empathy, and more. No wonder many women followed Yeshua to care for His needs, helping to support Yeshua and His disciples out of their own means (Matthew 27:55-56, Luke 8:2-3).
There had been a violent earthquake, for an angel of Yahweh had come down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Yeshua, Who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen, just as He said. Come and see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him.' Now I have told you."
Mary Magdalene stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Yeshua's body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" She replied, "They have taken my Master away and I don't know where they have put Him." At this, she turned around and saw Yeshua standing there, but she did not realize that it was Yeshua.
"Woman," He said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him." Yeshua said to her, "Mary." She turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher). Yeshua said, "Do not hold on to Me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to My brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.'"
The women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell His disciples. Mary Magdalene exclaimed, "I have seen the Master!" And she told them that He had said these things to her. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. (Combined from Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-11, Luke 24:1-11, John 20:1-18)
Contrast this to Muhammad's view of women which we documented in yesterday's article. With his thirteen wives and concubines, one of which was his daughter-in-law, and one of which was six years old when they were betrothed (and Muhammad was in his 50's — but he had great self-control and didn't have sex with her until she was nine years old!) — it's very apparent that Yeshua, the source of Christianity, and Muhammad, the source of Islam, had very different views of women. I know for sure which one I would trust my daughters with!
The rest of the New Testament goes on to communicate the value which the God of the Bible places on women. The Apostle Paul frequently mentioned a woman named Priscilla, the wife of Aquila, who together were some of the early apostles who worked with Paul and helped establish the New Testament churches. Later Paul would write: There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Yeshua the Messiah (Galatians 3:28). Regarding the relationship between men and women, Paul wrote:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Yeshua loved the Church and gave Himself up for Her to make Her holy, cleansing Her by the washing with water through the word, and to present Her to Himself as a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Yeshua does the Church — for we are members of His Body. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Yeshua and the Church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:25-33)In yesterday's article, we read that Muhammad declared that if a man's prayer was disrupted by a woman passing in front of him, his prayer was not acceptable. As usual, the Qur'an has everything backwards, because the Apostle Peter wrote in the New Testament that if a man did not treat his wife properly, then his prayers will be hindered:
You husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God's gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)From what I have read of Muhammad's life, he must have had a LOT of hindered prayers!
But from what I have read of Yeshua's life, He's the one man in history who really knew how to treat a lady right. By looking at the encounters Yeshua had with these women, a picture is painted of who Yeshua really is, what He is really like, and the great love that He has for each individual, both female and male. In a spiritual sense, Christian men walk in the same shoes as Christian women, for collectively all followers of Yeshua, male and female, make up His Bride. THAT wedding will be unimaginable — like NO other! Will YOU be part of it?
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: "Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made Herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given Her to wear." (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Then the angel said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'" And he added, "These are the true words of God." (Revelation 19:6-9)
The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Master Yeshua. The grace of the Master Yeshua be with God's people. Amen. (Revelation 22:17,20,21)