An argument that many of the feminist persuasion make is that the Bible, and by association, all of ancient Israel, was paternalistic and that women were degraded – nothing but chattel – almost on the equivalent of slaves. In their thinking, the culture that Scripture portrays is rife with offensives because women were housebound and subject to the whims of men at every turn. This is foolishness to the utmost.
For one thing, those who would tar and feather Israelite society, its men, and thus the God of the Bible, as not caring for women and only using them, are imposing modern Western standards upon an era decidedly different from our own. What these feminists fail to take into account is that times were actually different back then. That’s a patently obvious statement, but most people who criticize Biblical accounts simply don’t recognize that in their bias.
The nations surrounding Israel were warlike in that Mesopotamian region. War required strength and stamina with which to engage. In this day and age the truthful statement that men are stronger than women is deemed as hateful, but science – yes, science – shows the accuracy of this assertion.
In addition, children were valued because they contributed to the ability of a family, tribe, and nation simply to exist. Women as childbearers and nurturers were crucial to this function. Because men were required to do the heavy work of war and being the principle workers in the fields, women by necessity ran the households. This didn’t make them lesser; it made them co-equal.
These were realities in that day. In fact, it is unlikely that women saw themselves as oppressed and needing liberation from such duties. Because this is when they lived, and this was how life was, they did what they had to do. Otherwise, all would perish.
The fallacy that Biblical accounts treat women with contempt is more than silly. In the Old Testament we see women laboring with their husbands in the fields; we see the prophetess Deborah as a Judge in a most difficult time; we read about the woman, Jael, in that same period who killed the enemy commander, Sisera, with a tent peg and brought victory to the Israelites. Women are shown as critical co-laborers with the men.
In the New Testament, we again see many women as prophets, from Anna at the time of Jesus’ birth, to Philip the Evangelist’s four daughters. When the time of Jesus was at hand, many women followed him as His disciples. They traveled with him from place to place as He fulfilled His mission, likely served the company of disciples by cooking meals, and doubtless sat listening and learning along with the men.
Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, anointed Jesus for burial with expensive oil in preparation for His upcoming death and burial (John 12:1). She, and the woman who had sinned greatly and was forgiven, likewise anointing Jesus earlier (Luke 7:36-50), were both recognized by Him as those who would be remembered for their exceptional deeds.
When Lazarus died, and Jesus delayed coming to Bethany, we see Mary and Martha, each very different from the other, but both of great faith. Mary was quiet and sat at Jesus’s feet to listen and learn (Luke 10:39). Martha was a doer, a helper, someone who had to be constantly on the move and serving (Luke 10:40).
Upon hearing that Jesus was on His way following Lazarus’ death, Martha went out to meet Him. They spoke about her brother and the resurrection, and look at what she then said in John 11:27:
… “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”
This was probably after Peter had declared the same exact truth (Mark 8:27-30), but we don’t know if Martha heard or necessarily believed this at that time. Regardless, just as Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:17 that this was revelation from God:
… “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
… so it was with Martha. At this time, for her to make this statement, it had to be revealed to her; she didn’t come to this knowledge on her own.
Here’s the point: both a man and a woman were given this understanding equally from God.
Not long following Martha’s encounter with Jesus, Mary went to Him. Again, in John 11:32 watch what she does and says:
Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
She bowed down to Him. As a Jew, she was quite familiar with the Ten Commandments that prohibited worship of anyone but Yahweh Himself. Note that Jesus did not deter her from revering Him in this manner, confirming His deity. More than that, she declares that if He had been at Lazarus’s side, her brother would not have died. She knew the power and authority of Jesus Christ as God. The Bible shows us these things to help us understand that women were of great esteem in God’s eyes. After all, they also were made in God’s image. There is nothing here that depicts them as lesser than men.
We could go on with how the women were the first to see Jesus upon His resurrection; why would Scripture record that and show their deep faith if they weren’t important?
The bottom line in all this is that God’s plan and purposes encompass both men and women. We must go back to the Garden of Eden to fully comprehend the equality the Lord intended for them both as co-stewards of the earth. What we see in the Bible isn’t perfect in this sense. Our time on the earth following Eden should be seen as a waystation. This is not our home. Our eventual goal is through our redemption to return to an Eden-like world and God’s original plans that were interrupted by sin.
This current time will come to an end. The imperfect will be replaced with perfection. All men and women who know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord will partake of that utopian existence. Together we will enjoy the Lord forever. How wonderful that will be!