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The Role of Women in the Bible
God's Intention Versus Sinful Society
There are so many misinterpretations today about how the Bible views women. Critics of Scripture say that women are seen as little more than property and certainly aren't seen as equal to men in any way. They attribute this to the Bible being written by men in a male dominated society which, in some way feared the empowerment of women.
What they don't realize is the fact that God never intended women to be seen as inferior in any way. While women have been treated poorly in history, that is not a result of God's view of women as written in Scripture. The poor treatment of women has come about as a result of sin, just like all evils in the world. And like slavery in the Old Testament, it was allowed as a concession to the sinful society of the time. To totally eliminate these things, there would have to be a complete restructuring of the society of that day; a society which had been brought about by the sin of mankind in the first place.
With the advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have the complete revelation of God to mankind, and the way He treated women was nothing short of revolutionary. Further, His death, burial and resurrection gave mankind the ability to overcome sin and to bring about a society that treats women with the dignity that they were originally intended to have. And though not all of society has become Christian in any way, all society has benefitted from Christ's influence.
I. The Role of Women in the Beginning
We get our understanding of men and women from God's perspective in Genesis 1. Genesis teaches that mankind was created in the image of God. Genesis 1:26,27 tells us
"Then God said: 'Let us make man in Our image, according to our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them."
The next verse tells the man and the woman that they are to be fruitful and multiply, and to subdue the earth, taking dominion over it. In other words, the man and woman, as God's representatives, created in His image, were to be co-regents, given the job to rule over and take care of the earth.
According to Genesis 2 we find out that Adam was created first. He was alone, which God says is not a good thing, because mankind was created for community. So God created the woman from the rib of Adam in order to be a helper for him. The word here is the Hebrew word 'ezer. This does not mean that she was in any way inferior. Rather 'ezer is a word used of God Himself later in Scripture, and is used of someone who is , in some way stronger. In this case her help was stronger than and helped Adam with his aloneness. (2:18-25).
II. Sin Entered Society
Because sin entered society, it changed it. The man and the woman sinned in the garden and God gave them both punishments and evicted them from paradise. Man had to work at the sweat of his brow the rest of his life and have to deal with the thorns and thistles that plagued his work to provide food for his family. The woman now had painful childbirth, and also the husband began to rule over her (Genesis 3:16-19). Thus began more of an adversarial relationship of dominance and subjugation, more than one of equality.
So sin started the problems that we are still trying to overcome today, including the problems regarding the way women came to be treated in the ancient world and the problems that some are still living under today in many cultures.
III. Women in Old Testament Jewish World
Even in the world in which the Jews were living, women were treated with more respect and dignity than the cultures around them. Women enjoyed much liberty and esteem. As an example, many women became prophetesses and leaders and many played important roles in the history of the Jews. For example we have strong women such as Deborah who was both a prophetess and a judge during the era of the judges. We have Esther who acted decisively and saved the Jewish people from destruction. And though we can't name them all there were women such as Hannah, Huldah, Jochabed, Miriam, Rachel, Rebekah, Ruth, Rahab and Sarah who made great contributions to the world of their day.
We also have places in Scripture that give the woman great dignity, such as the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 that tell us to honor both father and mother. And we have such places as Provebs 31:10-31, which talks about the virtuous woman. Far from being a slave, this woman literally ran the household, and bought and sold fields and had servants who answered to her.
IV. Women in the New Testament Jewish World
We sometimes forget how many years had passed between the end of th Old Testament and the beginning of the New. It was over 400 years. During that time the Jews went into captivity, and were under the rule of other nations and things changed. Women lost much of their position that they enjoyed in the Old Testament Jewish world. They began being seen as more inferior and it was here that they were assigned to almost the same status as slaves. They weren't educated, not allowed to have leadership roles. And they were confined to mostly domestic tasks.
V. Jesus and the Early Church
Under Jesus women were treated with great dignity. Jesus allowed women to travel with him and the twelve disciples, which was unheard of then (Luke 1:26-38). Even though a proper Jew would never speak to a Samaritan or a woman in that day, Jesus had a conversation with a Samaritan woman at Jacob's well. This lead to her conversion to faith in Him (John 4:4-42).
Mary, the sister of Martha, sat at Jesus feet like any disciple, as he taught, even though women at that time were not allowed to be educated. Jesus told her sister Martha that Mary had chosen wisely in doing this, and that Martha should do the same (Luke 10:38-42).
Jesus had many devoted followers who were women. And women were said to be the first to witness His resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-7; Luke 24:1-11).
It is clear that Jesus had a very high view of women. This carried on into the early Church where women were given positions of responsibility. Just to name a few prominent women there were Dorcas, Lydia, Persis, Priscilla, Phoebe, along with Tryphena and Tryphosa (Acts 9:36; 16:14; 18:24-26; 21:7-9; Romans 16:1-16).
Some people say Paul didn't like women, but it was he who said that there is no difference between Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28). This was revolutionary for this time in history, in the world in which Paul was living.
It is no wonder that wherever the Christian religion takes root, the status of women in society starts to raise. God's original intention for women was certainly to be a position of dignity and great worth. Though sin has marred that position, and women have not always been treated as they should, the advent of Jesus Christ has made it possible for them to be restored to the position that they once had before the fall. It is in Christ that womanhood is, once again, seen in all of its glory.