Jesus and Women
by Ed Vasicek
The DaVinci Code has been, in some ways, a boon to pastors. As more Christians realize that their assumptions are open to challenge, they are interested in subjects that used to draw yawns. A few years ago, no one wanted to hear about the Gnostic Gospels and why we reject them. Most people could not have cared less how the Bible came to be, and even fewer seemed concerned about the real Jesus. (I am convinced that the real Jesus is the Jesus of the Bible, but this Jesus is not the passive, feminized version many Christians and churches present.)
If you participated in our "Focus on Jesus" series, we examined the entire life of Christ as recorded in all four Gospels. We started the series in early 2001 and completed it during 2003. The handout material is still available on our website. Fortunately, while some soldiers in the Lord's army were daydreaming, many of you took your training seriously!
One issue raised by The DaVinci Code is Jesus' relationship to women. In a previous article, I discussed why Jesus was neither married nor fathered children. He was truly a "eunuch for the Kingdom of God," dedicated to become the sacrificial Lamb.
But what was Jesus attitude toward women? On the one hand, He established the church by training her basic leaders, the apostles. Only men were chosen as apostles, and the concept of male leadership in the church is consistent throughout Scripture: the Old Testament priests had to be male (Moses), the New Testament Apostles were male (Jesus), and Paul teaches that church leaders who teach doctrine/Bible to men must be male, as must elders (1 Timothy 2:9-15, 3:1-2). Yet, on the other hand, God used prophetesses as a channel of communication (e.g., Miriam, Deborah, in the Old Testament and the daughters of Agabus in the New), and both men and women were encouraged to prophesy in the early church (1 Corinthians 11:3-11). The reasons for these restrictions on leadership have nothing to do with competence or ability, nor are they justified on the basis of that day's culture. Instead, they are anchored to the order of creation and the events of the Fall, past events that do not change (as does culture). The leadership of men in the home or in the church rises or falls together, since they are mandated with the same justification. However, it takes quite a stretch to translate this concept into the political or work world.
Just because Jesus did not appoint women to positions of leadership does not mean that he did not hold women in high regard. As a mater of fact, the Jews had a long heritage of respecting womanhood. The Pharisees are often given a bum rap for thanking God daily that they were not born women. But what is typically left out of the discussion is WHY they were thankful for this. You see, Jewish women were not required to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year for the three festival seasons. Since many women would be pregnant or caring for young children, this would have been a hardship. The Old Testament Law allowed women to make the trip (and many did, as did Mary when Jesus was a boy of 12), but did not require them to do so. The Pharisees were glad they were men so they could better observe the Law without exemption. It was not that they looked down upon women. Nor did Jesus.
We read about some important women in the Kingdom of God in Luke 8:1-3: "After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means."
Please note the variety and crucial ministry these women served. Some had been demonized, others were wealthy. They also provided the financial backing for Jesus' ministry. Ponder that. Most Christians are unaware of this almost invisible group of supporters.
When they traveled, the women would caravan together and make a separate camp. Some of the Apostles were married (like Peter), and so were some of these women but they traveled in distinct groups, as was the custom. When Jesus addressed the crowds, these women took in his teaching. They probably counseled women and children, baptized female converts, and, in a sense, were the forerunners of the office of deaconesses.
Although fictitious stories about Jesus being involved with or married to Mary Magdalene are popular right now, not only was Jesus never romantically involved with any woman, his closest friends were two sisters and a brother, Mary (not Magdalene), Martha, and Lazarus. We will call them Mary or Martha Bat Bethany (daughter of Bethany) or Lazarus Ben Bethany (son of Bethany) after their hometown. Mary Bat Bethany was the woman who sat at Jesus feet while her sister Martha fussed in the kitchen.
Mary Bat Bethany was the only disciple who really seemed to comprehend that Jesus was actually going to die. Although earlier an immoral woman (possibly Mary Magdalene) had expressed repentance by anointing Jesus' feet, Mary Bat Bethany prepared Jesus for burial by anointing his head with perfume (Matthew 26:6-13) the day before His crucifixion. She was the only disciple (male or female) who really knew how to listen. She was the only believer who comprehended what was about to happen. Ponder that as well.
Women have always played a prominent role in the Kingdom of God. Their influence is every bit as great as the influence of men, although the way they influence might be more discreet. Sarah certainly influenced Abraham, Deborah served as a reluctant judge (like a mother to Israel; see Judges 5:7) and military strategist, and it appears that Aquilla would not have been very aggressive without the initiative of his wife, Priscilla (who is usually mentioned first) in Acts 18:18-28.
Jesus' view toward women -- and the view of the original church He established-- is neither the traditional (put-down/inferiority) view we inherited from Medieval culture nor that of the Feminist movement. God created both man and woman in His image (Genesis 1:27), and they are more alike than different. But the genders are different to a degree; like apples and oranges, it is moot to argue which is superior. In the Kingdom of God, men may seem to have more overt influence, but women have plenty of covert influence. And sometimes the covert is more influential than the overt. Together, through teamwork, brothers and sisters in Christ serve God as laborers in His field. Jesus respected women far more than many men do, but He was far removed from the feminist agenda or the push for a unisex society. Perhaps the best summary was written in 1 Corinthians 11:11, "In the Lord, however, woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as the woman came from man, so also man is born of woman...."