What Jesus Thought About Women: His Regard For Them Was Unusual For His Time—Even Scandalous. -- By: Douglas Groothuis

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 16:3 (Summer 2002)
Article: What Jesus Thought About Women: His Regard For Them Was Unusual For His Time—Even Scandalous.
Author: Douglas Groothuis


What Jesus Thought About Women: His Regard For Them Was Unusual For His Time—Even Scandalous.

Douglas Groothuis

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., is associate professor of Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at Denver Seminary. His article is a chapter from a forthcoming book, On Jesus (Wadsworth/Thompson Learning, 2002). He is the author of numerous other books and journal articles.

World religions have been charged with not only permitting, but also with perpetuating ingrained patterns of sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny. These religions, it seems, must either change or be left behind by all who believe that women and men are equal in their rights, abilities, and potential. Some charge that Christianity demeans and marginalizes women, that it is a male religion in which men are given the preponderance of power, prestige, and influence. But what did the founder of Christianity teach about women?

Jesus And Women’s Dignity

In the ancient context of Jesus’ day, women typically had little social or cultural influence. Their roles were usually limited to domestic life, and in the home and family they had very little control over money or possessions apart from their fathers or husbands. A Jewish man would pray three benedictions each day, one of which thanked God for not making him a woman—al-though nothing like this is contained in the Hebrew Scriptures. Though written within and for patriarchal cultures, the Hebrew Scriptures present several women as leaders worthy of respect, especially Deborah, who was a prophet and judge over Israel (Judges 4-5). Other women, such as Miriam, Huldah, and Esther, play important roles as well. While some women in ancient Judaism enjoyed some opportunities for leadership and respect, this was more the exception than the rule.1 Within this cultural context, Jesus’ respectful regard for women was unusual and sometimes even scandalous to those around him.

Although the New Testament is often assailed for being sexist and patriarchal, it fares far better than other ancient documents. Consider Gnosticism. Elaine Pagels champions the Gnostics as proto-feminists who had a higher regard for women than did writers of the New Testament.2 This conclusion is quite speculative and probably based on spotty evidence and selective quotation.3 The last saying of the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas expresses contempt for women:

Simon Peter said to them, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.” Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spi...

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