Handling social issues is a problem for many Christians today. A woman’s place in society is such an issue.
An incident with Martha gives us some vital information about Jesus’s opinion. She came to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:40-42).
From this account, we know exactly what Jesus would say about a modern woman who chooses to study theology or do scientific research, instead of being a “proper homemaker”!
Jesus’s encounter with a Greek woman also demonstrates his attitude toward women. When she begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter, he told her, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
“‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said, ‘for such a reply, you may go, the demon has left your daughter’” (See Mark 7:26-29).
Her retort and his statement are both very significant. For a woman and a foreigner to even speak so boldly to a man was astonishing and dangerous.
But Jesus’s response shows us that he didn’t desire or reward submissiveness and weakness. Instead, he was intrigued by her show of wit and determination.
Then we notice that the same passage that says, “Wives submit to your husbands,” also says, “Slaves, obey your masters” (see Col. 3:18-22). We only insist upon obeying one of these verses, but both of them promote bigotry and discrimination.
Instead, Jesus showed over and over again that individuals are equal.
In his daring defense of the woman taken in adultery, he opposed the tragic evils of a society which condones double standards.
When he approved Mary’s desire for the intellectual involvement that was usually reserved for men while Martha carried out a “woman’s role” in the kitchen, he was strongly protecting each person’s right to serve God in his or her own way.
Paul, on the other hand, seems to vacillate when he wrote to Timothy saying, “I don’t allow women to teach or have authority over men; they should remain quiet and keep silent in religious meetings” (see 1 Tim. 2:12).
But, when he wrote to the church in Corinth, he said, “Any woman who prays or prophesies (in public) without covering her head, dishonors her head” (see 1 Cor. 11:5).
These two scripture passages give conflicting and contradictory advice. This clearly indicates that local customs and special situations varied.
In fact, the issue of women in ministry must be considered in the total context of Jesus’s teachings, and the spirit, not the letter, must be emphasized.
We know that Jesus worked within the cultural framework of his times, but the whole theme and the very heart of his message was to elevate the worth and dignity of individuals!
If women are considered as different or looked upon as less worthy, then the door is immediately opened to everything Jesus hated most. Once this deadly precedent is set, there is no end to the discrimination.
Those who maintain that “if the Bible says it, we must obey” should be aware that many other explicit commandments that deal with cultural matters are still not obeyed.
We don’t speak in miraculous “tongues” (see Acts 10:46). Few women in our congregations “cover their heads” (see 1 Cor. 11:6). The elders no longer “anoint the sick with oil” (see James 5:14).
We don’t advocate for slavery (see Col. 3:22). We certainly don’t give up personal possessions and hold everything “in common” (see Acts 4:32). Few pastors obey Paul’s advice to “drink wine instead of water” (see 1 Tim. 5:23).
In most cases, we use common sense and disregard those precepts that we deem irrelevant in today’s society. Why, then, has this one tenet concerning women faced such opposition and intolerance?
The role of women in the early church was influenced by social customs. Women and other groups had little respect and few rights. But in all of these areas, Jesus clearly presented the principles of human worth and expected steady growth.
Both Joel and Peter explain that there will be progress and change, stating that both men and women will preach (see Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:17-18), while Paul offers guidance on the proper attire for prophesying women (see 1 Cor. 11:5).
Even those who are most adamant on limiting women’s positions by claiming that 1 Timothy 2:11 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 are timeless, universal truths do not really advocate a literal interpretation!
Women write books, read minutes at business meetings, serve on committees, take part in discussions and cast votes, which often means they “have authority” over men since women are usually in the majority.
Let’s be honest! If they want to insist upon literalism, then women would have to be removed from every aspect of ecclesial life to follow these controversial passages to the letter!
It’s unfortunate that after 2,000 years, the church, whose mission should be to free and elevate people, is still lagging behind government, industry, sports and even entertainment in this crucial matter.
A multi-talented teacher and prolific writer, Maralene and her husband Miles are known for their no-nonsense style, clear illustrations and willingness to face controversial issues. The Wesners are authors of many books, with nine published by Nurturing Faith Books.