Have you ever wondered what Jesus thinks about women? Or what the Bible really says about women? Whether you’re a woman seeking to learn more about your identity in Christ or a man seeking a deeper understanding of the Biblical truth about women, you’re in the right place. To understand Jesus and women, we must first look at how women were treated and portrayed in the Old Testament, which makes way for Jesus’ radically different approach in the New Testament.
What Does the Bible Say About Women in the Old Testament?
The way women are portrayed in the Old Testament is directly correlated with the criminal and religious laws of the time, as well as social customs and norms. The socio-political and religious spheres were male-dominated, and women had to depend on their fathers or husbands for everything. A woman’s primary role was managing the household and raising many children. In fact, during that time, a woman’s worth and a family’s power and prestige rested on how many children a woman had. Unfortunately, during Biblical times, women were powerless and vulnerable, owned by the men in their lives.
However, what the cultural and even religious laws said about women in the Old Testament is vastly different than how God viewed women. The treatment of women in the Old Testament is undoubtedly considered unfair and unjust in Western culture. And many people wonder why God “allowed” men to treat women so poorly. However, it’s important to remember that we all have free will, and “God must work within the parameters of human freedom and bring out the best good possible in humanly limited circumstances” (Jesus and Women, p. 35).
God cared deeply about women in the Old Testament. This is evident in many instances in which “God is in the background looking after women placed in dangerous and unjust situations within a system that was oppressive to women” (Jesus and Women, p. 31). We see this in Genesis through the stories of Sarah and Hagar (Genesis 16-17, 21) and Leah and Rachel (Genesis 29-31). We also see it in Israelite law which forbid men to rape women in war. If a soldier desired a woman in a war situation, he had to take her as a concubine and provide and care for her and her children (Deuteronomy 21). Although a far cry from being treated as an equal, God worked within the realities of the time to ensure women were cared for.
What Does the Bible Say About Women in the New Testament?
It is the portrayal of women in the Old Testament that provides a foundation for Jesus’ revolutionary treatment of women in the New Testament. In a cultural and religious society where women were excluded from public life, education, and religious teaching, Jesus’ treatment of women was radical. Whereas social conventions led women to be condemned and diminished, Jesus had empathy and concern for women. Not only did Jesus treat women as equals in his relationships with them, but “across all four Gospels, in metaphor, imagery, sayings, parables, and teachings, the words of Jesus reflect a keen awareness of women’s work, joys and tribulations” (Jesus and Women, p. 63).
Jesus’ unconditional love and empathy toward women often feel “hidden” within the Gospel text, mostly due to the cultural landscape Biblical writers were navigating at that time. For instance, we all have heard of Jesus’ 12 disciples–the 12 men who followed and served alongside Him throughout His ministry. But there were women there too (Luke 8) –some women who were held in as high of regard as Peter and John. One such woman is Mary Magdalene, and her relationship with Jesus gives us great insight into understanding what Jesus and the Bible say and believe about women.
What Does Jesus Say About Women?
It is evident through the Gospel texts that Mary Magdalene was the closest woman disciple to Jesus. Some theologians suggest that Mary was the “leader” of the women disciples in the same way Peter was
the leader of the 12 men. However, the emotional depth of Jesus’ relationship with Mary is unlike any other we read about in scripture, highlighted in John 20 when Jesus appears to Mary post Resurrection.
“The joyful tenderness of their post-Resurrection encounter implies that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were extraordinarily close; the fact that it was Mary to whom Jesus first appeared and not his mother, or Peter, or ‘the beloved disciple’ would seem to suggest that she had been more sensitive towards him during his ministry than anyone else… Theirs was certainly a bond of deep love but it was a platonic love” (Jesus and Women, p. 77).
Although it seems Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a relationship with great depth and intimacy, the Gospel text suggests that all the women disciples remained steadfast with Jesus through his ministry and trial. It was Jesus’ female disciples that “loyally stood by him while the male disciples abandoned him at the crucial time of his arrest and passion” (Jesus and Women, p. 79).
In a world where women were treated as the inferior sex and highly sexualized by men, valued only by their ability to be subservient and bear children, Jesus changed the game. He always perceived the true value of the women he encountered, never judging them based on superficialities or upholding the culturally-accepted double standards of the time.
Another example of this is found in the story of the woman at the well, where Jesus asks a Samaritan woman for a drink (John 4). “By doing so, the unconventional Jesus, lover of all humanity, breaks through two major cultural taboos of the time, one grounded in racial bigotry, the other in the powerful and damaging form of sexism…” (Jesus and Women, p. 56).
Jesus and Women: A Relationship of Empathy and Love
So, what does Jesus say about women? Well, they say actions speak louder than words, and Jesus’ life exemplifies this perfectly. The way Jesus loved, respected, and valued women in the New Testament was radical. So much so that male leaders of the time didn’t understand and actually used Jesus’ kindness and care toward women against Him. “The ease and freedom which Jesus showed in relationship with women was, then, especially extraordinary, given the time and place in which he lived, and would undoubtedly be remarkable in any time or culture” (Jesus and Women, p. 60).
Although some countries and cultures have come a long way in their treatment of women, there is still much to be learned from Jesus about the value of women. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, I encourage you to read Jesus and Women, in which I dive deep into theological truth and pull examples from Gospel text that highlight the significance of women in the Bible.