What the Bible says about women

Put this in the wrong forum earlier, sorry!


While I appreciate what the author is trying to say, anyone else think she left someone out?

The most glaring omission is Mary, Mother of Jesus. But, as far as it goes, it’s a good article.

Really the Bible tells us very little about women as a group, but more about individual women and what they did. As to how women were treated, within the kind of society in which they lived, they had many protections we modern Western women no longer enjoy, but on the other hand they had very little life outside the home until Christianity gave them a broader range of possibilities. Considering most of the world was agricultural rather than industrial, it’s not surprising that women were valued more for their contributions to the home than anything else.

Agreed. I didn’t think the message was wrong at all. I was just surprised that one could write an article like that and leave Mary out of it.

They were not valued much at all.

Consider the fact that according to Jewish law at the time:
A bride (but not a groom) could be killed by her husband if he accused her of not being a virgin and she could not prove her innocence.
Deuteronomy 22:13-21
Menstruating women are unclean.
Leviticus 15:19-23
Women are considered unclean for a week after giving birth to a son, but for regarded as unclean for twice as long after giving birth to a daughter.
Leviticus 12:4-7

And just to put everything in context, there is a traditional Jewish prayer where Jewish men thank God that they were not born a woman. Its worth noting that there is no similar prayer for women, where they thank God that they were not born a man (link to source: jewfaq.org/women.htm).

As a former Pentecostalist I’m not surprised that an Evangelical would pass over Mary. To many Evangelicals Mary was merely a vessel and nothing more–as if she had no will of her own and no virtues to admire. Mary is not talked about, except to denounce Catholic “worship” of her. I believe their misunderstanding of the place Mary holds within the Catholic Church is what keeps them from exploring her life and contributions. Mary simply has no place in their hearts and minds. Indeed, I used to hear her name said with contempt and a sneer. Some outright reject the Incarnation in favor of the heretical idea that Jesus was implanted in her womb, so that he was not of her flesh at all. Some of them hate the idea of Mary being chosen or special that much.

Do you even know the context of those verses?

And just to put everything in context, there is a traditional Jewish prayer where Jewish men thank God that they were not born a woman. Its worth noting that there is no similar prayer for women, where they thank God that they were not born a man (link to source: jewfaq.org/women.htm).

How is that putting the above excerpts “in context”? In context of what?

And what’s wrong with thanking God you are who he made you to be?

I figured as much. And I realize that hundreds of years of anti-Catholic indoctrination can lead to that, even by someone who is no longer anti-Catholic but just raised in a culture that emerged from an anti-Catholic one. It still amazes me though.

In the context of an overall pattern of laws that treat women as though they were the servants/property of men. Moreover in the prayer in question a Jewish man thanks God for not making him a gentile (non-Jew), slave, or a woman. In other words, all the things inferior to a free Jewish male in Israeli society.

Jesus’ Extraordinary Treatment of Women

**Jesus Speaks With Women in Public **

First, Jesus refuses to treat women as inferior. Given the decidedly negative cultural view of women in Jesus’ time, the Gospel writers each testify to Jesus’ treating women with respect, frequently responding in ways that reject cultural norms. He recognizes their dignity, their desires and their gifts.

Jesus, for example, speaks to women in public. He steps forward in a crowd of mourners to speak with the widow at Nain, and to call her son back to life (Luke 7:11-17).

He cures a woman who had been crippled for 18 years, laying hands on her in the Temple and saying, “Woman, you are set free of your infirmity” (Luke 13:12). When the leader of the synagogue becomes indignant that Jesus has healed a woman on the Sabbath, Jesus uses a title of particular dignity for her, “daughter of Abraham” (Luke 13:16).

While the expression “son of Abraham” was often used to indicate that a male Jew was recognized as bound by covenant to God, women had never been called “daughters of Abraham.” With this title, Jesus recognizes this woman as having equal worth. In John 4:4-42, Jesus ignores two codes of behavior. He initiates a conversation with a foreigner, a Samaritan. In addition, this foreigner is also a woman. Her surprise is included in the narrative: “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (John 4:9).

Jesus not only speaks with her but also enters into a prolonged dialogue, a dialogue which recognizes and honors her thirst for religious truth. Ultimately, he reveals his identity as the Messiah. When his disciples return, they are clearly uneasy with Jesus’ behavior. John includes the questions they are afraid to verbalize: “What are you looking for? Why are you talking with her?” (John 4:27).

The Gospel writer does not hesitate to conclude the story with a comment that, although in Jewish thought a woman’s testimony was not trustworthy, here the Samaritan woman’s excited words are heard and acted upon. “Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified” on his behalf (John 4:39).

**Respect and Compassion **

Second, Jesus refuses to view women as unclean or especially deserving of punishment. Women who were menstruating or persons who had any flow of blood were considered ritually unclean. In this condition, women were not allowed to participate in most religious rituals. Anything or anyone she touched was deemed unclean.

The most dramatic story concerning a woman in this state is the account of the woman who had a flow of blood for 12 years (Luke 8:43-48). Luke emphasizes Jesus’ compassion for the woman by the way he situates the story.

Chapter 8 features Jairus, an official of the synagogue, coming to Jesus to beg him to cure his daughter. While they are on the way, this frightened, suffering woman, who has been ill and consequently isolated for years, touches his cloak. Jesus turns his attention from the synagogue official to the woman. He wants to know who touched his garment. By religious norms, the woman’s touch—even of his cloak—rendered Jesus unclean.

If the woman expects him to be angry with her for approaching, she is greatly surprised. He says nothing of her ritual impurity, but instead addresses her as “Daughter,” says that her faith has saved her and tells her to go in peace (8:48).

Jesus recognizes the dignity of women in situations that seem by ritual law to demand judgment, for example, the sinful woman who anoints Jesus (Luke 7:36-50) and that of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11).

In both cases he sees the person as someone deserving compassion. In Luke’s narrative of the anointing woman, after Jesus is touched and anointed by a woman who is a recognized sinner, we hear the expected reaction from Simon, his host. This prominent religious leader, a Pharisee, is dismayed and says, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner” (Luke 8:39).

Not only does Jesus tell the woman that her sins are forgiven, but he also uses her actions and the love which prompted them to teach his offended host! Jesus’ question is pointed: “Do you see this woman?” (Luke 8:44).

The question urges Simon to look beyond the categories by which he has always lived and to see her as a sincere woman, as a woman of great love.

Jesus clearly teaches that the one who keeps all the rules is not necessarily the better person. “Her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love” (Luke 8:47).

In John’s account of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11), a trap is laid for Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees who bring the woman to Jesus present the case, the judgment and the punishment, and wait to see if he will reject the Mosaic law in favor of the woman.

Jesus wisely evades the entire legal debate and confronts them instead with a more fundamental truth—that none of them is without sin. When the accusers have all left, Jesus speaks compassionately with the woman. He does not gloss over her sin, but in his refusal to condemn her, he invites her to a new place of freedom and a new image of herself.

**Women Disciples **

Third, Jesus steps over expected boundaries between men and women by his acceptance of women as disciples. Unlike rabbis of his day, Jesus taught women about Scripture and his way of love. Matthew tells of Jesus’ mother and brothers asking to speak to him. “He said in reply…, ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers’” (Matthew 12:46-50). His use of both masculine and feminine words
clearly indicates that some of his disciples were women.

The familiar story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42 highlights Jesus’ acceptance and blessing of Mary’s desire to learn. She is described as one who “sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak” (Luke 10:39). This is the typical position of the male disciple. To sit at the feet of a rabbi meant that a person was one of his disciples.

Martha, on the other hand, takes the expected woman’s role of providing hospitality. Perhaps she herself thinks it improper for Mary to act as a disciple. Regardless, Jesus will not deprive Mary
of her opportunity. “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:42).

Of particular interest is the fact that Jesus not only taught women, but some women traveled with him and ministered to him.

In Luke 8:1-3, Jesus is described as journeying from village to village, preaching and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. “The Twelve” were with him and several women: “Mary, called Magdalene, from whom several demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.”

Mark, too, says of the women present at Jesus’ crucifixion, “These women had followed him when he was in Galilee and ministered to him” (15:41). This picture of women disciples is astounding, given that Jewish women at this time were not to learn the Scriptures or even to leave their households. Jesus was doing something startlingly new.

**Women Disciples **

Fourth, not only did Jesus have women disciples, but the Gospel writers also assure us that they were prominent recipients of Jesus’ self-revelation. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that he is the Messiah.

Martha, who is the sister of Jesus’ friend Lazarus, in the midst of her confusion and grief over her brother’s death, struggles to name what she believes about Jesus. While they stand at the tomb, Jesus reveals to her, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

In all of the Gospels, women disciples are the first witnesses to the Resurrection. Mary Magdalene sees Jesus but is not believed (Mark 16:11). In John’s account (20:11-18), she recognizes Jesus when she hears herself called by name, testifying to the close relationship they had. Jesus tells her to go to the other disciples and tell them, “I have seen the Lord.”

In Matthew, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary and sends them to tell the disciples that they will see him in Galilee (28:1-10). Luke’s version also has the women announce the Resurrection, but he adds, “Their story seemed like nonsense and they [the apostles] did not believe them” (24:11). The two disciples on the road to Emmaus seem to doubt the women’s story as well (Luke 24:22-24).

I was talking specifically about how the ancient Jews treated and regarded women.
Which even you’re admitting was generally negative.

Sometimes things are not as obvious as they may seem.

The religious duties of Jewish men are more onerous than those of Jewish women and Jewish men are celebrating that in the prayer.

As to inferiority, who do you think has been minding the shop all this time while Jewish men have been busy studying Torah?

The problem is that Jewish Law is much more complex than taking bits from the Torah might suggest. There is Torah and there is Oral Torah, the great mass of interpretation and tradition that goes with it - it was, for example, awfully difficult to get yourself executed even in Biblical times.

As to ‘unclean’, there is a difference between ‘unclean’ meaning ‘dirty’ and ‘unclean’ in the sense of ‘ritually unclean’ - one can be ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ at the same time.

I suppose its debatable.
We have no way of knowing how much (or how little) the more misogynistic laws (like the one that says a man can kill his bride if she’s not a virgin) in the Old Testament were enforced:shrug:

Nevertheless the way that Christians (including Catholics) have traditionally interpreted those passages of Scripture leads me to believe that the ancient Israelites looked down on their women to a remarkable extent. As do the excesses and abuses (most of them related to distaste for women) of the Ultra-Orthodox in Israel today (here’s a link to one of the many news articles about it: ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4115422,00.html).

It is my understanding that the 10 Commandments alone were the LORD’s original plan for Israel but because of Israel’s persistence in sin the purification laws of Leviticus and later the “second law” (which is what Deuteronomy literally means) were given.

Certainly, Jewish legalism would have been a developing thing. What were not untypical Middle Eastern Bronze Age, stopping family and tribal internecine strife, rules and regulations were becoming something different as Jewish society changed and settled.

Judaism sees what Christians call the ‘Old Testament’ very differently from Christians as can be understood if one knows how the Tanakh (what we call it) is organized - Law, Prophets, Writings. The Law is central but the rest is seen as different levels of influential commentary, to which you would have to add the mass of legal argument (the Oral Torah bit), a means of understanding and interpreting ‘the Law’ - you can even see it in the New Testament where people are constantly rowing about what “it is written” actually meant.

An analogy would be with something like the US Constitution, the US had its Constitution (and a lot of English Common Law) but it didn’t just stop at that point, did it? As US society changed, so has its law within the spirit of that Constitution, Judaism has just been at it for a few millennia more.

Nevertheless the way that Christians (including Catholics) have traditionally interpreted those passages of Scripture leads me to believe that the ancient Israelites looked down on their women to a remarkable extent. As do the excesses and abuses (most of them related to distaste for women) of the Ultra-Orthodox in Israel today (here’s a link to one of the many news articles about it: ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4115422,00.html).

Well, most of us have moved on from the family/tribal needs of the Bronze Age. Certainly we have our eccentrics, as do any group of people.

You know, when you talk here on CAF about ‘Ultra-Orthodox’ Jews it all rather sounds to me to be a bit like the tendency some masculinists have to take writers like, shall we say, Mary Daly or Valerie Solanas to characterize the nature of feminism.

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