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Topic 22: Jesus and Women


This is a selection of a few passages from the New Testament which speak to the manner in which Jesus connected with women in a way that contradicted the legalistic customs of his day and demonstrated an egalitarian acceptance of women.

[1] Jesus is more than a culturally conditioned first century Jew.  He is God-incarnate.  As such he reveals his Father’s purposes not just in sayings, teachings, and preaching; his Father’s purposes are also revealed in Jesus’ life style and actions and deeds.

Jesus repeatedly demonstrates in the face of Jewish customs and Laws, which “bound people” into roles and structures, that the Gospel does have social implications: the Gospel, the love and mercy of Christ for sinners, changes people who change even social interactions and relationships and structures this side of eternity.  Jesus refused to acquiesce to cultural norms which kept dispossessed women in subordinate roles.  God’s ordering, reflected in Jesus’ ministry, contradicts our human constructions.  Note the following:


(A)  “But if you are not satisfied with her, you shall let her go free and not sell her for money” (Deuteronomy 21:14).

Compare Matthew 5:28: Jesus allows for no double standard.

(B)  “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days … all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness … Whoever touches these things shall be unclean and shall wash his clothes, and bathe with water, and be unclean until the evening … and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf before the Lord for her unclean discharge” (Leviticus 15:25-30).

Read Matthew 9:20-21, Mark 5:25ff, Luke 8:40-48: Jesus allows a ritually unclean woman to touch him, thus rendering him ritually unclean, yet without condemnation, and neither does Jesus tell the woman to go to the priest.

(C) Talmud, Gittin 9:10: Rabbi Akiba said a man could divorce his wife if he found a woman more beautiful than she.  The school of Hillel said a man can divorce if his wife spoils his cooking.

Read Matthew 5:32, 23-28, Mark 10: Jesus redefines adultery, marriage, and the dignity of women.

(D)  Jesus’ following of women was “an unprecedented happening in the history of that time … Jesus knowingly overthrew custom when he allowed women to follow him …” (Jeremias, page 376).

Read Mark 15:40-41, Luke 8:1-3: There were women disciples around Jesus: Peter, James, and John left fishing boats to follow Jesus, and Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Susanna and “many others” left assigned roles and tasks in the home to travel about as disciples with Jesus.

(E) Talmud, Sotah 3:4: Rabbi Eliezar expresses the opinion that “whoever teaches his daughter Torah teaches her lasciviousness.”

Compare Luke 10:38-42: While Martha does the “feminine” task, Mary behaves as a disciple, listening to the Word, sitting at the Lord’s feet (cf. Acts 22:3: Paul “at the feet of Gamaliel”) and is the one receiving Jesus’ affirmation as having chosen the better part.

(F) “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” (Luke 11:27).

Compare: Luke 11:28: Jesus challenges the common assumption that bearing children (the womb as the unique gift of the woman) was the sign of fulfillment and blessedness in a woman’s life.  “New creation by the Word, not procreation by the womb, is the fulfillment of female personhood” (Morrison, Jesus and Women,  pg. 12).

Cf. also Matthew 13:33; Luke 7:11-17; 7:36-50; 8:1-3; 10:38-42; 13:10-17; 15:8-10; 18:1-8; 23:55-56; 24:1-11; Mark 5:25-34; 14:3-9; 15:40-41; John 4:7ff.

(G) Talmud, Beracloth 24a: Rabbinic tradition taught that a woman’s vice was sexual enticement, so men avoided speaking with and to women in public.

Compare John 4: Against all custom, Jewish, patriarchal, moral, Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman. “His conversation … shows his willingness to dismiss conventions of men which stand in opposition to his purposes” (Commission on Theology and Church Relations (LCMS), Women in the Church, Sept. 1985, pg. 7).

(H) “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death” (Leviticus 20:10).

Compare John 8:1ff: When men betrayed their prejudices by laying hold only of the woman, Jesus confronted them with their sin also.

(I) Talmud, Kiddushin, 1:11: “A man should not teach his son a trade which brings him into association with women.”

Compare: John 12:1-8: Martha serves the table at which the guest, Jesus, sits, a task that custom reserves only for males, whether slave or free.

(J) Talmud, Shabbath, 152a states that a woman is “light-minded” (unreliable) and describes woman as being a “pitcher of filth with its mouth full of blood,” and women therefore were not acceptable as witnesses in a court of law.

Compare Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-11, Luke 24:1-11, John 20:1-2, 11-18: Women were the original witnesses to the angel’s message at the open tomb.

(K) Following its Lord, should not, then, the Body of Christ display that reality which is the “new creation” of God?

◆ ”However, the Lord’s conversation with this woman shows how He disregards these conventions of society in order to communicate about Himself and the Kingdom” (CTCR-WIC, page 7).

(L) John 4:7-30: “…many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony…”: Jesus chooses women through whom his purposes and will is communicated to all, including males, regardless of cultural expectations.

(M) Luke 15:8-9: In the Parable of the Lost Coins, Jesus uses the example of a woman as the finder of the lost.  Jesus is comfortable with having a woman represent him.

(N) Discuss: Should not the Body of Christ, then, also “disregard those conventions of society” which infect the church and subordinate women?