“The Status of Women in Judeo-Christian Thought,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
Many people in our present society make the claim that the Church is anti-woman. This statement is largely based on the position of the Roman Catholic Church and several other churches such as the Orthodox Church and certain more conservative Protestant denominations that do not ordain women for the priesthood or ministry.
More to the point, many people have lighted upon certain statements or comments about women that Saint Paul makes in his letters. For example, in his first letter to the Corinthian Church in chapter 7:39, Saint Paul states a wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives, but if her husband dies she is free to marry whomever she wishes. In that same letter, in Chapter 11:3-15, Saint Paul states that the head of a woman is her husband. He further states that any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled is dishonoring her head and that if a women will not veil herself then she should cut off her hair. Saint Paul further states that the woman is the glory of man and that women were created for man. He then concludes that that is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, and in the Lord’s eyes, a women is not independent of man. Saint Paul further states in the Letter to the Ephesians 5:22 that wives should be subject to their husbands because the husband is the head of the wife and wives should be subject in everything to their husbands. He further states that husbands should love their wives. In the first letter to the Corinthians 14:34, Saint Paul states that women should keep silence in the churches, and it is shameful for a women to speak in the church. In the letter to the Colossian church, Chapter 3:18, Saint Paul again states that wives should be subject to their husbands.
These statements of Saint Paul must be weighed against the entire revelation of the bible about women and their completely equal status. In Genesis 2, we are told that a woman is created as a helper for man and that both bear the stamp of the divine image. This statement does not mean inequality. It simply means that women in the world have a slightly different role than men. Women create homes and raise families. This does mean that this activity is inferior or less important than other activities. The teaching in Genesis is that God created both man and woman in his image and that both bear that same divine stamp and image. The Book of Judges 4:5 tells the story of the Judge Deborah who, as a wife, was judging Israel. It is quite clear that this particular story should not be read not as lowering a woman to a lesser status since in fact Deborah had a high societal role in Israel.
Let me now look at Jesus’ relationships with women in the Gospels. In Matthew 2, we are told about the birth of Jesus to Mary. The fact that God himself chose to be born of a woman is a statement of the real status women in the eyes of God. The very God of God was born of a woman and had a mother. In Matthew 5:27, Jesus again raises the status of woman in saying that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her. Again, in verse 31, Jesus states that anyone who divorces his wife except on the ground of lack of chastity makes her an adulterer and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Once again, Jesus Christ is significantly raising the status of women in the world. In Matthew 15:21, Jesus heals the daughter of a society outcast a Canaanite woman. In Matthew 27:55, Matthew says that many women followed Jesus from Galilee, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary went to see the sepulcher after the crucifixion.
In Mark 15:40, we are told that many women looked on Jesus from afar, including Mary Magdalene and Mary. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him and many other women came up with him to Jerusalem. Again, in Mark 16, we are told that Mary Magdalene and Mary were at the tomb of Christ after his crucifixion. In Luke 1 and 2, we are told of the birth of Christ. In Luke 7:37, we are given the story that a woman of the city who is a sinner brought a flask of ointment and standing at Jesus’ feet wet his feet with his tears, wipe them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.
The Pharisees asked, “What sort of person are you? Associating with this sinner?” And Jesus pointed out for Simon that when he entered his house he gave him no water for his feet but this woman has we t my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. Jesus says, “You gave me no kiss but from the time I came, she has not ceased to kiss my feet. And you did not anoint my head with oil but she has anointed my feet with ointment.”
In Luke 10-38-42, we are told that Martha received Jesus into her house and that she had a sister called Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to his teaching. In Luke 23:36, we are told that the woman who followed Jesus from Galilee stood before him from a distance at the crucifixion. In John 8, we are told a story of a woman caught in adultery. Jesus prevents her execution. In John 12, again we are told the story of Martha and Mary. Six days before Passover, Jesus came to Bethany and Martha served Jesus and that Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with oil and wiped his feet with her hair.
This essay reveals that although it is basic and superficial in its examination of the status of women in the church, it is quite clear that both in the Hebrew Bible and the gospels that women have an equal status in society for Jesus. Apparently, Jesus had many women friends and women who followed him and he had friendships with them. The passages I have taken from the gospels clearly reveal that, to put it bluntly, Jesus had no problem with women. Thus, what I just have taken from the gospels and the Hebrew Bible should be weighed against the statements and comments of Saint Paul. Saint Paul was possibly addressing particular situations in the churches he had established. Perhaps his comments about the role of women may have emanated from his background and culture which had a slightly different view of the role of women in society.
My conclusion is that the Son of God was born of a woman; had many women followers who were present at the cross event; and were first present at the empty tomb and in the course of his ministry were actively present and involved with him in his work. And so, by his actions, he not only significantly raised the status of women in society, but he insisted on their total equality and equal value.