The ancient world generally did not value women as people. They were often pawns, barter, simply property — even in temple worship, their role was temple prostitution. They were often viewed as defective men. The biblical world had a different view. Genesis records that Eve is “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone” a partner to Adam, who walks with him and with God in the garden. Throughout Scripture, God interacts with women, and knows their intimate struggles. When Jesus became flesh and lived on the earth, women were his disciples and supporters, and he treated them with respect and affection.
Jesus began his earthly elevation of women before his birth. God chose Mary as the highly favored one who would carry the Messiah, the first to hear of his imminent, long-awaited arrival. His first miracle at the wedding in Cana was in response to her pleas.
The woman at the well in John 4 should have been unnoticed by Jesus. She was a woman — one to whom he was unrelated, so culturally, he had no cause to speak with her. She was also a Samaritan, seen as foreign, other, disliked by Jews who attempted to avoid mixing with non-Jews. In addition, she was living with a man not her husband. In fact, she was likely at the well at noon because she was shunned by the others in her village. Not only did Jesus speak to her, he offered her life through the living water of God’s spirit, prophesied to her about spirit and truth and revealed that he was Messiah. In response, she told all in her village about God’s hope and redemption.
Once, an immoral woman was paraded before Jesus. The religious leaders hoped to trap him into rendering independent judgment (death by stoning for adultery — which because of Roman rule, they no longer had the authority to carry out) or appear to negate the Torah. Instead, Jesus acted as he had declared in Mark 2:15-17 — he came to call sinners to repentance. He turned the tables on the accusers and forced them to examine their own hearts, and taught an important lesson about equality in the eyes of God — we have all sinned, male and female.
At Jesus’ crucifixion, the women were the last to leave, and the first at the tomb, implying that they had courage and boldness to follow him openly — even after he’d been executed as an enemy of the state. Their eyewitness testimony of the resurrection, at a time a woman could not give testimony in a legal proceeding, shows God’s view of them as trustworthy.
Jesus’ disciples continued in this vein. Peter warns husbands that their prayers may go unanswered unless they treat their wives with respect, recognizing them as coheirs of all God’s promises. Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The apostles did not learn the full value of women from their culture. They learned it from their Master, Jesus. And Jesus treated women with the same love and respect with which He treated men.
Though the Church has not always lived up to this ideal, it is clear that Jesus valued women as he did men. He treated them with dignity and respect, and included them in his ministry as companions, disciples, and supporters. He countered the prevailing cultural mores of his time with his actions and his attitudes. He valued all people, men, women and children, and calls his people to do the same.
Terri Starcher attends Church of the Messiah in Xenia, is on the worship team, and teaches in various formats.