Strong on Women's Rights

In stark contrast to Middle Eastern culture, here is how Jesus upheld women's rights.

feminist perspectivesOften, religions have been criticized for their view of women. And they should be! You can easily find illustrations of religious abuse of females throughout the world. Have you ever seen Jesus’ view on women?

Jesus Christ lived 2,000 years ago, in today's Israel. His perspective toward women ran entirely against his Middle Eastern culture then and now. In Jesus’ time, women were often treated as property more than as persons. The woman's role was confined to meeting the needs of her husband and children.

Jewish rabbis comfortably began every temple meeting with the words, "Blessed art thou, O Lord, for thou has not made me a woman."

All women were excluded from public religious life. It was rare that women were taught the Torah, even in private.

Jewish law allowed a husband to divorce his wife for any reason. The wife had no legal rights to object, or to be cared for. The husband simply handed her a bill of divorce and she was sent away. Imagine the insecurity and cruelty that this law brought to women. And, of course, a wife could never divorce her husband, on any grounds.

In certain Arab countries even today, especially where governed by Sharia law, we see cultural and religious restrictions, where women are required to wear full or partial coverings. Women are not allowed to leave their home alone or with friends. They can only be in public with a proper male escort. Women are not allowed to drive. Or have any say in whether their husbands take other wives.

Yet Jesus gave great honor to women. Constantly.

Jesus publicly included many women as his disciples. He taught crowds of both men and women. And he healed and performed miracles as readily for women, as for men.

Author Philip Yancey comments, "For women and other oppressed people, Jesus turned upside down the accepted wisdom of his day.... Jesus violated the mores of his time in every single encounter with women recorded in the four Gospels."

Here is just one example. All the people had heard Jesus' teachings about love and kindness. The strict and demeaning religious leaders thought they could capitalize on this. One of their more severe laws against women required stoning to death any woman caught in adultery. They found such a woman, instigated a mob and dragged her before Jesus. She stood alone in the seething crowd ready to stone her. The religious enforcers then said to Jesus:

"Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?"1

They had Jesus in a no-win situation. If he gave her mercy, he was condoning adultery and proved to be an enemy of their law. If Jesus stoned her, then so much for his uniquely respectful treatment of women, and all his teaching about mercy and forgiveness.

Here's what happened.

Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. They continued to press him. Jesus straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.2

One by one they walked away, "beginning with the oldest" until it was only Jesus left with the woman. Jesus asked her,

"Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
"No one, sir," she said.
"Neither do I condemn you, " Jesus declared. "Go and sin no more."3

Jesus so honored women that when he rose from the dead, he chose to appear first to women. This is remarkable. Women had such little standing in that culture that they had no religious or legal authority as spokespersons. Yet Jesus gave them the role of being the very first to inform others of his resurrection.

Why? Maybe Jesus wanted to solidify that it was for the sins of both women and men that he came to die. Maybe Jesus wanted women and men to know that he offers them complete forgiveness and can also give them direction, peace, and eternal life.

Jesus proved this in a conversation he had with another woman. She likely dealt with shame and constant criticism, having been married and divorced by men five times. Can you imagine her humiliation to be rejected by five men?

Jesus saw her at a public well where she came to draw water. It was at the hottest point of the day when no one else from her town would be there. Jesus told her,

Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."4

This was always Jesus' desire. That we would experience his life in us. Eternally.

Their conversation continued and the woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”5

For more on Jesus' perspective and what he offers, please see this helpful article, Beyond Blind Faith.

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 How to know God...

(1) John 8:4
(2) John 8:6-8
(3) John 8:10,11
(4) John 4:13,14
(5) John 4:25,26