Have We Misjudged The Bible’s View?
There is a common understanding that the Bible is the basis for a lot of patriarchal behaviour within our society. That the Bible has given men through the ages the excuse to belittle and control women, which has then become the societal norm whether religious or not. Women are forever trying to smash glass ceilings and fight for a place in a male dominated world.
I don’t think this is the plan God has for us. We have examples throughout the Bible of women stepping outside of the traditional roles and serving Christ, God and the church. When I sat down to write this, I thought I would only find examples in the New Testament. The Bible, as it continues to do, surprised me!
Midwives and Prostitutes
The story of the Israelites as a people in Egypt is introduced to us through the birth of Moses. We are told that Pharaoh feared the large numbers of Israelites in his land and, in an effort to cut them down to size, ordered the slaughter of all Hebrew boys born. The two Israelite midwives burdened with this unspeakable task are named as Shiphrah and Puah. We read their story in Exodus 1. Where we are told:
but the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive
Exodus 1 v17
This was such an incredible act of bravery from a sex that many try to portray as weak. This action would have no doubt cost these women their lives had it been discovered. These women were instrumental in helping to ensure the survival of God’s people.
The Old Testament story of the fall of Jericho was one of my favourites as a child. It meant I was allowed to do a lot of shouting and banging when imitating the Israelites march around the city! Have you ever stopped to realise though, that at the heart of this story was a prostitute? Even today, prostitutes are belittled not only by society but also by governments and even the very clients who use them.
In those days they were the very lowest of the low and yet, in Joshua 2, the two spies chose to lodge with one such person, Rahab. She was instrumental in allowing these 2 spies to return safely to their camp after she lied to the palace officials searching for them.
Why is this remarkable? Well, being in such a low societal position, the king of Jericho would not have been expecting to be outwitted by a woman of the night. She was a God fearing woman and her actions saved not only her family, but afforded the Israelites God’s victory over that city. The Israelite spies did not recoil from her job title when they were in need. They allowed this woman to guide their next steps and saw her worthy of being saved, no matter how low society thought she may have fallen.
Moving to the New Testament, let’s consider how it was that Jesus and his disciples were able to afford to travel around and eat during his ministry. They hired boats, upper rooms and appear to have supported themselves for 3 1/2 years. Luke’s gospel sheds some light on this.
…And the twelve were with him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities – Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for him for their substance
Luke 8 v1-3
Christ’s only job was to spread the gospel, the disciples had all left their day jobs to follow and assist him. They weren’t working to support themselves. It would appear that Christ also had female disciples who supported his work from their own pockets. You won’t find any male pride here! These woman were with Christ and followed him just as the twelve apostles did, learning at his feet and supporting all he did. I find this to be a humbling and inspiring lesson.
Paul – The Woman Hater?
Even the apostle Paul, who you could say appears to be the one who silences women in church, breaks with convention and talks about women in church roles. Firstly, we hear about Priscilla. She is mentioned in Romans 16 v3-4 where Paul mentions her along with her husband, Aquila. Paul does not treat Priscilla (named as Prisca here) as lower than, or subject to, her husband. She is spoken of fondly when Paul describes how her and her husband supported him in his work and put themselves at risk to do so.
They both had important roles in the early church. We hear in Acts 18 of how they instructed Apollos more accurately in the way of God (Acts 18 v26). Priscilla was not a woman sitting meekly in the synagogue – she was instrumental in Apollos’ instruction.
Going back to Romans 16, we see Paul even refer to a woman as a deacon of the church. This word means servant, and implies that she held a role in the leaders of the church. She was held in high regard by Paul and, unlike Priscilla, there is no mention of a husband. As a woman in her own right, Phoebe was seen as worthy of mention.
God Has The Final Word
As Christians, we know that there is a place in God’s people for both genders. God does not favour one sex over the other. Paul himself tells us this in his letter to the Galatians.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3 v28
God does not belittle woman and does not expect man to treat her differently. Yes, we all have different skills and strengths, but that does not mean that one is better than the other. As Christians we should be looking to treat everyone equally and not use God’s word to excuse our judgement or belittling of any of his creation.