Probably the most astonishing and revolutionary feature of Jesus’ ministry was his attitude toward women. At a time when man was not supposed to even greet a woman in public, Jesus dared to teach them publicly and personally as in the case of the Samaritan woman. (John 4:7-42) And Jesus had the courage to do this in the face of the rabbinical teaching that "It is better that the words of the Law be burned than be delivered to a woman!"
But more than just teaching them, it appears that Jesus was also training women to become preachers and teachers of the good news right alongside the men. We reach this conclusion based on the faithfulness of the women who followed Jesus (Luke 8:1-3; Luke 23:48-49) and the numerous accounts of effective women preachers in the book of Acts.
For example, many times, Jesus told his apostles that he would die and be raised on the third day.
“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”
– Matthew 16:21
The women disciples were apparently present at these discourses. But when Jesus was arrested, most of the apostles – all men – lost faith. All scattered, with the exception of Peter, and possibly John (John 19:26), and most of the women corp. Even though Peter boldly asserted that he would not stumble in connection with Jesus, within hours of his expression, he denied Jesus three times. (Matthew 26:33-35, 69-75) Neither did any one of the apostles come to the grave site, and when they were told that Jesus had been resurrected, they did not believe it.
However, the women disciples were different. They had followed Jesus to Jerusalem and remained close during his trial and execution:
“Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.”
– Mark 15:40-41
“When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”
– Luke 23:48-49
These women were different from the general ‘crowds’ that followed Jesus. They were singled out by the gospel writers as a specific group of followers of Jesus.
After the Sabbath celebrations, it was the women who went to the grave site to prepare Jesus’ body, and they were the ones who first discovered that Jesus had been resurrected. The women immediately believed, but the men did not:
“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered his words. When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”
– Luke 24:1-11
Then, at Pentecost of 33 C.E., within about 10 days of Jesus’ ascension to heaven, 120 believers, men and women, were gathered together in an upper room.
“Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty).”
– Acts 1:12-15
As they sat there praying, the spirit was poured out on all 120 men and women, equally:
“They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.”
– Acts 2:3-4
When a crowd gathered, Peter explained that this is what the prophet Joel prophesied when he said:
“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”
– Acts 2:17-18
How was it that the women were equally qualified with the men to teach about Jesus to the crowd that gathered at Pentecost within ten days of Jesus’ ascension? Clearly, they had been trained by Jesus along with the apostles and the male disciples!
From this point on, in the brotherhood of the kingdom, woman stood before God on equal ground with man. The women received this special visitation of spirit and shared in the blessings equally with the men believers. No longer was man to monopolize the ministry of religious service. The Pharisee might go on thanking God that he was not born a woman, but among the followers of Jesus, woman has been forever set free from all religious discriminations based on sex. Pentecost obliterated all religious discrimination founded on racial distinction, cultural differences, social caste, or sex prejudice even as Paul wrote:
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
– Galatians 3:26-29
Yes, the women were included as the “sons of God” and the “seed of Abraham.” The term “brothers” is just a colloquialism. No wonder these believers would cry out:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
– 2 Corinthians 3:17
Later, however, the spiritual equality of women was sacrificed on the altar of male ego. Within a few years, some of the male disciples returned to their comfort zone of male domination in religious matters. Even Paul was among them, though in his letter to the Corinthians, he was careful not to attribute his restrictions on women to the Christ:
“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”
– 1 Timothy 2:11-12
“To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.”
– 1 Corinthians 7:12-13
Paul also made it clear that some of his other directives as to personal conduct were not from Jesus, but sprang from his own judgment or opinions:
“Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.”
– 1 Corinthians 7:25
Therefore, it cannot be said that a religious association that allows women to teach from the platform or the pulpit is not approved by God. Having said that, we recognize that a religious association has a right to set up administrative rules as to personal conduct and the conduct of their meetings according to their opinion, as did Paul, as long as those rules do not harm the association. Jesus indicated that he would not interfere in such matters:
“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
– Matthew 18:18-20
However, when the rules become oppressive and suppressive, such associations will have the types of problems that result from such discrimination. They will reap what they have sown. (Galatians 6:7) The women in such an association can lose their spiritual self-respect and abandon their faith to the direction of men. Men in such an association can lose their spiritual balance and begin to belittle women or throw ‘spiritual bones’ by making patronizing comments about them. They begin to think more of themselves than they should and will be humbled by God as Jesus explained in his illustration of the self-righteous Pharisee:
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
– Luke 18:9-14
Men who carry on this farce of superiority cause their entire association to lose out on the wealth of spiritual potential that lies suppressed within their women. Children raised in this environment can develop a lack of respect for both men and women, and become entangled in all sorts of misbehavior and vices. How can we expect them to honor God whom they cannot see if they cannot honor men and women whom they can see? (1 John 4:20)
But when the wisdom of the Lord permeates a religious association, the combined nature of the power of male and female working together, side by side, generates a spiritual phenomena that surpasses all male-dominated cultures. Many men can testify that their wives are the spiritual fulcrum of the family. And women are invaluable teachers, not only in their home, but also in the public ministry. Because of their innate attunement to the emotional needs of their children, women have a natural ability to perceive spiritual matters in common things. Thus, when a religious association fails to utilize these ‘gifts in women,’ they are missing out on a valuable asset that would add balance to the association.
We are not here recommending any particular congregational arrangement, but we are suggesting that a more balanced approach would lead to a more balanced spirit in the congregation. But whatever the situation or administrative rules in a religious association, women should know and have full faith that they stand before God in full equality with the men.
Even in our secular culture, women are not accorded the honor due the “feminine vessel.” (1 Peter 3:7) Though predominately weaker in physical strength, they are more often stronger in social fortitude and intellectual prowess.
We wonder how many men could endure a woman’s burden. How many men could care for a home and children, and hold down a full time job in the face of abuse, discrimination and disrespect? How many men have the wisdom and humility to maneuver and endure systemic social humiliation and degradation with their faith in tact?
While many men are fine examples of ‘Christ in man,’ an examination of 21st century culture reveals that many more men than women run away from their responsibilities in pursuit of selfish pleasure. The inordinate number of single mothers testifies to this fact. And while much can be said about the choices some women make that often leads them into these circumstances, it must be recognized that if more men saddled up to their social responsibilities, fewer women would be alone in this most important work.
The matter of spiritual equality does not rest solely on the men. Women, too, must wake up to their responsibilities. They cannot defer their spirituality to the custody of their menfolk. They must endeavor to become exalted spiritual thinkers. A woman who is content to wait on men to decide how she should worship God is abandoning her spiritual life. For even if the men have led her correctly, she gains no credit in the eyes of the Father. She is still a follower of men.
This is not a move toward feminism – it is a move toward spiritualism. In a civilized society, there are roles each of us must play to allow for the safe and successful encounter with life’s vicissitudes. For example, in the family arrangement, the wife may take on a supportive role while her husband goes into the work force. However, these roles may be reversed, or the roles may be shared. Those are matters for the couple to work out for themselves.
The point is that whatever role one chooses to play, a woman’s spiritual standing should not be adversely affected by secular responsibilities. She continues to be an honored vessel of whom the Father expects the same things he expects of her male counterparts – personal and whole-souled devotion to Him and service to her brothers and sisters. (Matthew 22:35-40) She, too, is a citizen of the Kingdom of the Heavens who will be held accountable for her actions.
The goal of 21st Century Christian life should be as Jesus taught – full spiritual equality between men and women. The equality of gender is truly the show of proof of a maturing religious association dedicated to the advancements of Kingdom of Heaven. Idolizing the old ways of a concluded religious system is what retards spiritual growth. There must be a complete dissolution of the backward and retarded ideas about women. If modern day religion hopes to be a ‘light shining in a dark place’ (2 Peter 1:19), then both its men and women must become the physical expression of the Christ on earth. We are certain that true equality and true partnership of evenly paired men and women will reign supreme on our planet once man’s selfish need to dominate and rule something or someone is eradicated.
The mandate to ‘be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48) is a universal obligation which requires men and women to respect each other so that all can ‘be about the Father’s business’ of reconciling mankind to God. (1 Corinthians 5:18-20) As Jesus said:
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
– Matthew 5:14-16
The command to ‘shine our light’ is equally applicable to all, whether we be man, woman or child. The command to ‘go and make disciples’ is also equally applicable to all. (Matthew 28:19-20) The command to love one another as we love ourselves (Matthew 23:39) has no racial, social, national or gender limitation. And the inestimable honor of being joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17) knows no gender.
He who would deny a woman’s spiritual equality is a man who does not know the authentic Christ. Nearly 2,000 years ago, Christ set a sterling example of what a God-oriented man looks like. Therefore, all who wish to be ambassadors substituting for Christ must deal with one another in the same way Christ would if he were physically on earth today. And if a man cannot honor a woman and accord her spiritual equality, he might as well return to the forest like an unreasoning animal. For him, the life and death of Jesus means nothing.