Women in Jesus’ Ministry -- By: Grant R. Osborne

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 51:2 (Fall 1989)
Article: Women in Jesus’ Ministry
Author: Grant R. Osborne

Women in Jesus’ Ministry

Grant R. Osborne

Too often discussions on women in the church center only upon Paul and ignore the formative example of Jesus’ attitude toward and use of women in his own ministry. For this reason several recent works on women and ministry have stressed Jesus’ relationship with women.1 However, they often simply categorize Jesus and Paul as separate models and fail to note the very real correspondences that exist between the two. This paper hopes to redress this imbalance. There will be three sections: the Jewish and Hellenistic background to the issue, Jesus’ relationship with women, and correspondences between Jesus’ and Paul’s attitudes.

I. Jewish and Hellenistic Attitudes Toward Women

Some might argue that only Jewish backgrounds need be consulted in a paper on Jesus, but as Martin Hengel has shown2 we can no longer separate Palestine from Hellenistic influences. Moreover, since0 Jesus grew up in Galilee with its greater pagan population, these effects could be even greater. However, it is just as erroneous to go too far and see a purely Gentile origin, as some more extreme history-of-religions advocates may argue. Jesus’ attitudes toward women must

be seen against the broader framework of Jewish and Greco-Roman feelings.

1. Jewish Attitudes

There have been many misunderstandings about the ancient Jewish attitudes toward women. Some have interpreted all Judaism in light of certain misogynistic statements on the part of later rabbis, like “Let the teachings of the Torah be burned, but let them not be handed over to women” (y. Soṭa 3:4) and “Blessed art thou…who hast not made me a woman” (b. Menaḥ 43b). As Leonard Swidler points out,3 this latter prayer was not just an obscure quote but is found three times in rabbinic writings, and in the Babylonian Talmud was said to go back to Rabbi Akiba himself. Therefore this was no insignificant strain, and many have made it predominant.

Indeed there was a negative side to first-century Jewish attitudes. The OT made women subordinate to men but not inferior.4 Women could even take a position of prominence at times, as in the cases of Miriam and Huldah, called prophetesses (Exod 15:20; 2 Kgs 22:14), and Deborah, who was both a prophetess and a judge (You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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