• Christ's Emancipation of Women in the New Testament


  • New Testament

During His ministry, Jesus Christ restored sight to the blind and mobility to the lame. He restored the higher law of love and forgiveness. He restored Melchizedek Priesthood authority to act in God’s name. However, one of the most important things He restored is rarely discussed: He restored the sacred nature of the family and marriage by re-establishing a noble image of women and children. In order to appreciate the dramatic change that Jesus made to the role of women and their relationships, we need to place His teachings in their context of His day. How did Jewish, Greek, and Roman men treat women and children? Combing through their volumes of documents, letters, poems, plays, histories, and holy books leaves the impression that in many cases, their family relations went awry. We find startling differences when we compare their pages of misunderstandings, oppression, and dysfunctional relationships, to the New Testament stories of Jesus’ tender interactions with women and children.  



I. Historical Background of New Testament Times ***
Roman Empire Population: 54 million—1/3 were slaves—10% were Jewish--Life Expectancy=35 years     
The Jewish world was patriarchal (as were Roman, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian societies).  This hierarchal system directly impacted interpersonal relationships. Generally speaking, at the time of the New Testament, women and children were kept at home as much as possible so as not to be exposed to things of the world. The public domain was man’s domain. Only a husband could deal with land and financial matters. Many did not value women as an equal to men and considered them inferior “in all things” (Josephus: Against Apion, II. 25). In one case, women were blamed for all evil, “the wickedness of a woman is all evil” (Ben Sira, Ecclesiasticus, 25:17; 25:19).      Most often, Jewish records spanning two centuries before and after the New Testament show little evidence that their authors understood the benefits of a mutually supportive, sensitive, affection-based companionship with one’s spouse—let alone the relationships eternal importance.  Eve and her daughters were seen as the cause of most troubles in life; “Of the woman came the beginning of sin, and through her we all die” (Ben Sira, Ecclesiasticus, 25:24). Many from this period shared this view and felt that women should be “punished for bringing death into the world,” hence they must suffer to bring forth life (Encyclopedia Judaica, 2nd ed; 21:161). One went as far to blame women for men’s sins, “For from garments cometh a moth, and from a woman the iniquity of a man” (Ben Sira, Ecclesiasticus, 42:13-14). This became a breeding ground for pride: “Give not the power of thy soul to a woman, lest she enter upon thy strength, and thou be confounded” (Ecclesiasticus, 9:2). This type of baggage damaged the image of women and human relationships. But it was not all bad. Jewish thought at the time covered a spectrum of attitudes toward women and children.  Positive sentiments like this “Children, and the building of a city shall establish a name, but a blameless wife shall be counted above them both” were also recorded (Ben Sira, Ecclesiasticus, 40:19).  More frequently, though, the positive feelings were a bit dubious:  “If she [a wife] have a tongue that can cure, and likewise mitigate and shew mercy: her husband is not like other men” (Ecclesiasticus, 36:25). This cultural stereotype infiltrated the many aspects of family life and inhibited relationships for generations. By the time of the New Testament, respect, cooperation, and love between spouses were not necessarily the aim of marriage. Righting these wrongs was one of the powerful legacies of Jesus’ ministry.  By placing the cultural background adjacent to Jesus teachings one can see the emancipation he offered. The truths He taught transformed the cultural worth of women.