Jesus and the Woman Caught in Adultery: Understanding Jesus’ Radical Response

The story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery is found in John 8. “In this scene Jesus is teaching in the temple when the scribes and Pharisees bring a woman to him who has been caught in the act of adultery, in the hope of trapping him into objecting to the law and gaining grounds to bring a charge against him” (Jesus and Women, p. 64). To understand the significance of Jesus’ radical response to the scribes and Pharisees–as well as the woman–we must first take a look at the criminal and religious laws and social customs and norms of the time, particularly in how they unfairly punished women. 

Jesus and the Woman Caught in Adultery: The Law

During the time of the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, women were seen as inferior to men. Women were “owned” by the men in their lives–either a father or husband–and a woman’s worth rested on the number of children she had. Deviating from their socially-accepted roles was not looked upon lightly. Additionally, women were held to much higher standards than men, especially in regard to their sexuality, and the criminal laws were rooted in double standards between men and women. 

 

For example, while it was accepted–even praised–for men to have multiple partners, a woman could only have one. And while it was ok for men to engage in sexual relations outside of marriage (so long as the woman wasn’t married), a woman caught in adultery was condemned to death, no matter the circumstances.

 

So, in John 8:4-5, when the scribes and Pharisees say to Jesus: “‘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 hoping to “trap” Him into speaking out against the law. 

Jesus and the Woman Caught in Adultery: The Response

Naturally, Jesus did not give the scribes and Pharisees the answer they expected. “Jesus’ initial response is to bend down and write on the ground, an act that has been interpreted in various ways” (Jesus and Women, p. 65). Some interpretations include the following:

  • Kneeling as a symbolic act in reference to Jeremiah 17:13, reminding the group of men that they were also breaking the law since they only brought the woman under accusation, not the man with whom she committed adultery.
  • Kneeling as an attempt to spare the woman of further humiliation by directing His gaze–and the gaze of others–on something other than her. 
  • Kneeling as a move to defuse tensions, as “Jesus is dealing with what is, in effect, a wound-up mob, itching to stone the young woman to death” (Jesus and Women, p. 65).

 

Whatever the case, it is the words Jesus speaks next that highlight His revolutionary response to the men. He says, “‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her’” (John 8:7). 

 

“This statement, as well as highlighting the unfairness of their judgemental attitudes, forces each man to think as an individual and not as part of a mob. As a result, they leave one by one, and not as the group which had brought the woman to be stoned” (Jesus and Women, p. 65).

Jesus and the Woman Caught in Adultery: The Meaning

What follows is a conversation between Jesus and the woman caught in adultery: “Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin’” (John 8:10-11). 

 

Jesus neither condones nor condemns the woman’s act of adultery. Instead, He shows her mercy, kindness, and compassion–something that was radically different during such a time in history. By doing so, Jesus acknowledges that “without knowing the circumstances of her life, judgment cannot be passed on her end and, even more importantly, that her character and personhood cannot be defined solely by a sexual affair” (Jesus and Women, p. 65).

Understanding Jesus’ Radical Response to Women in the Bible

The story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery is one of many that highlights Jesus’ empathic and loving treatment of women. It also exemplifies Jesus’ mission to fulfill the law by transcending it when necessary. 

 

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, I encourage you to read Jesus and Women, in which I highlight more stories of Jesus and women in the Bible that point to His unconditional love, respect, and admiration for women. In addition, it offers insight into what the Bible says about feminism and how Jesus’ radical life paved the way for a restoration of harmony between the sexes. 

 

What Does Proverbs 31 Really Mean for Women?

Proverbs 31 is a well-known and quoted text, particularly in reference to verses 10-31. Also known as “Ode to a Capable Wife,” the second half of Proverbs 31 describes an “ideal wife” who is a hard worker and looks after her family with love and integrity. She is worth far more than rubies and can outshine any other woman. She is a model of self-control, diligence, and prudence. She’s a shrewd businesswoman and a skilled housewife. She is kind and just–loved and appreciated by her husband, children, and community. Essentially, the woman described is perfect.

 

So, what does a Proverbs 31 woman look like today? Is the text to be taken literally and applied fervently among the female sex? To understand what Proverbs 31 really means, we must look at the text in relation to the overarching theme of women in the Old Testament and the depiction of females as remarkably good or wantonly bad with no in-between.

What is the Proverbs 31 Woman in Relation to the Social Climate at the Time?

“The Old Testament texts lend themselves with particular clarity to consideration of the effects of the double standard on women’s lives, since in biblical times this standard was enshrined in criminal and religious law, as well as in social custom” (Jesus and Women, p. 22). 

 

When reading Proverbs 31:10-31, it’s important to understand that the text was written during a time when women were treated more as property than equal partners, especially in marriage. There were stark double standards between what was socially acceptable for males vs. females. For example, “it was acceptable for men to engage in premarital and extramarital sex so long as it did not involve the wife (property) of another man. On the other hand, women who were caught engaging in fornication or adultery were liable to be executed” (Jesus and Women, p. 40).

 

This is evident in the theme of the Proverbs as a whole. The “subject” of the Proverbs is a young, innocent male who must learn how to “recognise and avoid the wiles of the seductress/adulteress” (Jesus and Women, p. 40). This adulteress woman uses her female sexuality and “painted” eyes (makeup) to lure men into her bed. The Proverbs equate the adulteress with a prostitute because of her eyelashes (6:26-27), “which logically gives rise to the implication that a woman who wears eye makeup is on the whore spectrum” (Jesus and Women, p. 42).

So, What Does Proverbs 31 Really Mean? 

Understanding the context and cultural expectations of the time, what does Proverbs 31 really mean? In one sense, the passage is complimentary to the female sex. But in another sense, it sets an impossibly high standard for women and wives to achieve. “The ode to the good wife is highly original in its recognition of and praise not just for womanly abilities and achievements, but also for its depiction of the good wife as an exemplar of Wisdom and its associated virtues. Where it falls short from a female perspective is in its classification of women as either remarkably good or wantonly bad. Most women are a mixture of good and bad, as are men. However, in Old Testament texts men are judged on their overall characteristics and not just on their flaws” (Jesus and Women, p 42). 

 

Women, on the other hand, don’t receive such courtesy, as is evident in the biblical stories of Jezebel (the bad girl) and Ruth (the good girl). Here is the breakdown:

Jezebel: The Bad Girl of the Bible

Jezebel, although a foreign Princess from Sidon, was the wife of Ahab, King of Israel. She is most famously known for her powers as a queen: she vigorously promoted the worship of Baal, the primary god in Sidon’s religious pantheon, which prompted much anger among Elijah and other followers of Yahweh. She also gave questionable advice to Ahab that went against Israel’s ancestral property laws. Ultimately, her actions resulted in her being thrown out of a window, trampled to death by horses, and eaten by dogs (2 Kings 9:33-35). 

 

But was Jezebel as evil a villainess as she is biblically and culturally depicted? While there’s no doubt that her actions were cruel and deceitful, overall, “her tactics are comparable to those of the kings of her era” (Jesus and Women, p. 44). Additionally, “the final image of Jezebel beautifying herself before her death are meant to round off and cement her image as the type of seductress and femme fatale who leads men astray. However, there is no evidence of this in the biblical texts, which reveal her as a loyal, faithful and supportive wife to her husband. From a female perspective, her beautification of herself before the arrival of her assassin, king Jehu, is the equivalent of a man putting on his suit of armour” (Jesus and Women, p. 45). 

Ruth: The Good Girl of the Bible

The story of Ruth focuses on her transformation from a pagan to an adherent of the God of Israel and her loyalty and self-sacrifice in regard to her mother-in-law Naomi. Throughout the text, Ruth displays true covenant faithfulness–her love and devotion toward her late husband’s family and religion despite being a foreigner herself. Ultimately, she is rewarded for this loyalty with acceptance into the house of Boaz, who marries her and secures safety and security for both Ruth and Naomi. 

 

But was Ruth as pure and innocent as she is biblically and culturally depicted? Upon meeting Ruth for the first time, Boaz is quickly smitten by her. He invites her to eat with him and instructs his servants to treat her well. “When Naomi hears of Boaz’s kind and noble treatment of Ruth, she speculates that he could be a potential husband for her and begins to devise a plan of seduction. She tells Ruth to wash and perfume herself and put on her best clothes. Once she is all dressed up, she is to go to the threshing floor where Boaz will be working and bide her time until she discovers where he will sleep for the night. When he is asleep, she is to creep under his blanket (3:5)” (Jesus and Women, p. 46).

 

Ruth does as Naomi suggests, and when Boaz awakes to find her in his bed, he lets her know he does intend to marry her. The story ends favorably for all. However, “it is interesting that the wiles of Naomi and the seductive behaviour of Ruth are not criticised and have not detracted in the slightest way from the popularity of the story, from admiration for Naomi or from Ruth’s status as the ultimate good girl” (Jesus and Women, p. 49). 

 

I believe that the story of Naomi and Ruth exemplifies the power of female solidarity in defeating the double standard and generating joy and harmony.

What Does a Proverbs 31 Woman Look Like Today?

So, what does a Proverbs 31 woman look like today if the passage was written during a time when women were characterized as either all good or all bad? The qualities listed and celebrated in the passage are excellent. All women (and men) should strive to be kind, loving, hard-working people. However, it is important to understand that nobody is either all good or all bad. The perfect Proverbs 31 woman simply does not exist because nobody will ever be without flaws, and expecting Christian women to be all good all the time is unrealistic at best.

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, I encourage you to read Jesus and Women, in which I dive deep into the double standards women face in the Old Testament and how Jesus’ loving and accepting attitude toward women illuminates the way forward.

Christianity and Feminism: Understanding What the Bible Says About Feminism

What does the Bible say about feminism? Because the teachings of Christianity have been traditionally male-dominated, it leads some to wonder whether Biblical scriptures align with feminism. To uncover feminism in Christianity, we must start by understanding the core of feminism and revisit the events that occurred at the beginning of creation.

What is Feminism?

Feminism is not a movement toward female domination over males, as some so like to argue. Rather the goal of feminism is gender equality, in which every person is valued equally and provided with the same opportunities regardless of their sex. It is a movement that works to discover and combat social, economic, and political issues that impact the lives of women around the world. When it comes to feminism and religion, what the Bible says about feminism is directly correlated to God’s perfect design for gender equality. 

What Does the Bible Say About Feminism in Christianity and Gender Equality?

What the Bible says about gender equality is quite straightforward. Genesis 1:27-30 states: 

 

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”

 

This passage makes it painstakingly clear that “God has given man and woman joint dominion over creation… Adam and Eve, who can be taken to represent the male and female sexes, have both been given dominion by God over creation” (Jesus and Women, p. 3). Joint–equal–dominion over creation represents perfect gender equality between the sexes. 

Christianity and Feminism and the Will of God

The perfect harmony between the sexes was the will of God at creation. He intended that “men and women should live in mutual and self-giving love for one another” (Jesus and Women, p. 4). This is how Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden at the start of their relationship. However, because of their disobedience, sin entered the world and, as a result, fractured the perfect harmony of the sexes. 

 

Genesis 3:16-17 states: 

 

“To the woman he said, ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’ To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat from it,” ‘Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.’”

 

The will of God was perfect, complementary harmony. However, once sin entered the world, equal dominion was no longer the case, as it states a woman’s husband would rule over her. “The loss of this joint dominion means that the human species is deficient in lacking the complementary gifts of men and women. Over time, relations between the sexes became tragically characterized by lust, domination and the subordination of women” (Jesus and Women, p. 4). 

Jesus and Women: Restoring Harmony of the Sexes

The restoration of harmony between the sexes is essential to the restoration of all creation. Therefore, “the healing of relationships between the sexes… would have to have been the main aim of the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ” (Jesus and Women, p. 4). This is evident in the astonishing (for the time) relationship between Jesus and women and how He interacted with and treated women during His time on the earth. It’s also apparent in the female authority in ministry that occurred after Jesus’ ascension. It all points to the goal of the restoration of the sexes to God’s intended will for humanity. 

 

Jesus began the work of restoring harmony between the sexes. As I see it, “in order to achieve the kind of love exemplified by Christ, the input of female ministries will be essential” (Jesus and Women, p. 167). Jesus preached and exemplified loving, personal relationships throughout his ministry. If put into practice by his disciples in the current day, the harmony of the sexes can and will be facilitated by female ministries, which should also “lead to an equal voice for women in the public sphere and, hence, to a warmer, more harmonious world” (Jesus and Women, p. 169). 

 

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, I encourage you to read Jesus and Women, in which I dive deep into the biological explanation for “the battle of the sexes,” as well as the revolutionary attitude of Jesus towards women which gives great hope for the future of humanity.

Women and the Church: Understanding What the Bible Says About Female Leadership

Many people seek to find biblically-sound answers to questions about the relationship between women and the church. Can a woman be a pastor? What does the Bible say about women preaching? What is the role of women in Christianity? The first step in understanding how women should be involved in the church is uncovering what the Bible says about women. When you learn about Jesus’ deep love, care, and admiration for women, the answers to questions related to women and the church start to become more clear.   

What is the Role of Women and the Church?

There is “scriptural, theological, and pastoral justification for female ministry and authority in all Christian denominations” (Jesus and Women, p. 118). However, to understand the role of a woman in the church today, we must dive into the role of women during Jesus’ earthly ministry and the Early Church after His ascension.    It was Jesus who showed unconventional (for the time) love and respect to women. Jesus accepted women as his disciples. He ensured a positive place for them in the ministry of the earliest churches. Although there is still much debate over the role of a woman in the church today, the ministry of Jesus paved the way for women to have equal leadership opportunities. 

What Does the Bible Say About Women Preaching?

Lydia in the Bible is a perfect example of this. “In Acts 16:15-15 and 40, we are told about a prominent female Christian called Lydia, who, impressed by the preaching of Paul, is baptized along with her household into Christianity and then becomes the head of a house where a Christian community meets in Philippi” (Jesus and Women, p. 119). During Lydia’s time, there weren’t dedicated church buildings like there are today. Instead, Christians gathered in homes to fellowship with one another. Therefore, it is understood that Lydia was the head of a house church–what one might consider a “pastor” or “religious leader” today. 

Can a Woman Be a Pastor?

Lydia wasn’t the only prominent woman leader in the Early Church. In Acts and Corinthians, we learn of many people whose service involved leading house churches, either independently or as co-workers with their husbands (Acts 18:2 and 26; 1 Corinthians 16:19).     However, much changed from that time, and “by the end of the first century, the Church had become a bastion of male superiority” (Jesus and Women, p. 122). It wasn’t until Martin Luther’s reformation in 1517 that steps were taken to dissolve the elitist barrier between clergy and laity, providing everyone with the opportunity to read biblical texts and encounter God without the need for a priestly intermediary.    Through his Biblical studies, Luther encountered a very different God than the one he encountered in medieval culture. He found that the God of the Bible was kind and merciful, and His son Jesus was loving, compassionate, non-judgmental, humble, and unconventional. It was clear to Luther that love was the central theme of the ministry of Jesus and, through Jesus, everyone could have direct access to God.    “Unsurprisingly, the abolition/reduction of clerical hierarchical systems, along with belief in the priesthood of all believers has led, in many Protestant denominations, to the ordination of women” (Jesus and Women, p. 134). 

What Does the Bible Say About Female Leadership?

Lydia, along with other women’s roles in the Early Church–influenced by Jesus’ radically inclusive treatment of women–highlights the equal leadership roles of both genders. Still, “the fact that Jesus did not send any of his female followers out to proclaim him is often cited by church authorities as justification for the non-ordination of women. It needs to be acknowledged that he could not have sent them out to proclaim him publicly in his lifetime as it would have been culturally impossible, an argument that no longer holds” (Jesus and Women, p. 144-145).    During Jesus’ time on Earth, He had to navigate an extremely male-dominated society characterized by laws and religious practices that alienated women. While He showed His care and consideration for women in many ways, He still had to work within the parameters of human freedom.   However, “in the Early Church, women and men were equally involved in church ministries. With its change of status into the state religion of the Roman Empire, however, it became highly patriarchal and developed attributes common to religion, in general, that are at odds with the ministry of its founder” (Jesus and Women, p. 129). Therefore, it’s clear that the historically-founded, cultural and religious barriers placed on women in the church today are very different from what the Bible says about female leadership, evident through women’s active involvement in the Early Church.

The Future of Women and the Church is Characterized by Empathetic Love

During a time in Church history when “Aquinas’ formulation of the doctrine of transubstantiation had established the necessity of priestly mediation for access to God,” an essential group of women was testing the validity of such claims (Jesus and Women, p. 124). These women, known as “mystics,” were experiencing the power and ability to relate with God directly through love, praying to God as Mother and as Father. The women mystics held firm to the belief that all people could have equal access to God, regardless of gender, status, or wealth. These women experienced love, intimacy, awe, wonder, and mystery in their unconventional (at the time) direct relationship with God.    As you might imagine, it wasn’t well received during a time in which status and knowledge were the ruling factors over access to God. The result was the brutal death of the women mystics, along with their radical understanding of individual spirituality and mystical relations with God.   Yet, their work was not in vain. As we discuss the future of women and the church, the understanding of the women mystics becomes a central theme. “I would argue that the way forward for women in the Church can be inspired by the lifestyles and courage of the medieval women mystics” (Jesus and Women, p. 143). Their emphasis on love and compassion is inherently female and is also essential for the future of the church to focus on developing close relationships of loving kindness with God. 

Church Unity in Love Requires Women Leadership

As Paul states in 1 Corinthians 12:27-28: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.”   I believe “women’s abilities for empathetic and compassionate service, as well as serving at an individual level, would have a great contribution to make to the ordained pastoral ministry” (Jesus and Women, p. 147).    If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, I encourage you to read Jesus and Women, in which I dive deep into the historical significance of the evolution of religion in relation to women’s rights, roles, and the essential presence of women and the Church.