Friday, September 28, 2012

Christianity and Women Part 1

One criticism I often hear fired at Christianity is that it looks down on and oppresses women. “It is a male-dominating religion,” they say, implying that men use it like some lodge or club to rise to power while making women serve them.

While there have no doubt been some periods in history in which women were looked down on or mistreated, that is no reflection on Christianity as a whole or of God’s love for both genders.

In America, more women go to church than men. No matter whose poll you look at, women outnumber men in church on average of almost two to one.

But beyond culture, let’s look to the Bible to see how God views women. God told Eve that her Seed would one day destroy Satan and sin; this was not a promise given to Adam (Genesis 3:15). A male-dominating religion would emphasize the work of the man over the woman.

We see this promise finally carried out through Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary is the one given credit for raising Jesus and being with Him until the end. Joseph, her husband, is not seen again in the Gospels after Jesus is twelve years old. He most likely passed away, but the woman Mary is the parent elevated in Jesus’ life.

When Jesus was on earth, consider that the very first and most blatant claim He made to His deity was to a woman. In John 4 Jesus talks to “the woman at the well,” and in verse 26 He boldly tells her that He is the Messiah.

“Never before in any of the biblical record had He said this so forthrightly to anyone. Never again is it recorded that He declared Himself this plainly until the night of His betrayal.”[1] 

Not only did He make His Messianic claim first to a woman, He also appeared first to a woman following His resurrection. Instead of appearing to Peter or John, Jesus chose first to present Himself to Mary Magdalene.

We also see Jesus come to the aid of a woman who was being unfairly criticized by His disciples. When Mary (a different Mary) was pouring her expensive perfume on His feet and wiping them with her hair, Judas Iscariot began to complain and rally the other 11 against her. But Jesus scolded Judas Iscariot and defended her act of worship (John 12).

And this favorable treatment of women was not unique to Jesus. After Paul received the Macedonian Call, the first convert he had to his new church was a women named Lydia (Acts 16).

Even back in the Old Testament we see laws put in place for the protection of women. Consider the levirate marriage, for example. Widows were once considered to be “damaged goods” because they had been with a man, and the cultural trend was that they were off limits for remarriage. In fact, the Hebrew word for widow comes from a word that means “unable to speak.” “Without a father, husband, son, or other male relative to speak and act in her defense, a woman had no voice, no legal rights, and no recourse against injustice.”[2]

Because men did not want to marry widows these women were left with no voice; therefore, God gave Moses a law to protect them (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). This law of the levirate marriage said that a brother of the late husband would step in and marry the widow, thus allowing her to be provided for, raise children, and stay in the family and share in the inheritance. If there was no brother willing or able to perform his duty, then a kinsman redeemer, a near relative of the late husband, could step in and perform the role.

We see this illustrated in the life of Ruth. In the book that bears her name we also see another law, called gleaning, created to protect widows. Field owners were required by law to leave any crops that were dropped while the fields were being worked. Widows were allowed to go into the fields and legally take anything that had been dropped. This was a way that they could provide food, and also a means for them to work instead of simply receiving it as a handout. This empowered the women instead of degrading them as a “charity case.”

There are certainly more examples that can be given, like the New Testament commands to take care of widows. But the point is clear: Christianity does not, and has never looked down on or mistreated women. There have been times when cultures have mistreated them—treating them as second class, denying the right to vote, etc., but Christianity in no way diminishes women.

(Read Part 2)

[1] MacArthur, John, Twelve Extraordinary Women, Thomas Nelson Publishers p.149,
[2] James, Carolyn Custis, The Gospel of Ruth, Zondervan, p.62

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