-By Stelman Smith Jr. – Edited by Scott Severn.
During my college years, right after my discovery of apologetics, I was faced with a challenge from the atheists I often had discussions with. They told me the bible was anti-woman. They told me that Christianity viewed women as inferior to men. They said it was a sexist religion, and gave me examples from the Old Testament to support their premise, which at that time, I had no answer for. If you agree with the atheist, then this article is for you. If you’re a feminist, I hope to show you by the end, that despite popular rhetoric, Christianity is the most “Pro-Women” worldview to date, and more specifically, that Jesus held women in a higher regard than any other figure in history.
But before we get into the arguments for why “Jesus was one of the first radical feminists… classical feminist” (Crowder), I want to do a couple of things… First, I want to put the word “feminism” into context. To be clear, I’m not talking about today’s radically-left type of feminism; the kind that would include the types adorned in inappropriate ensemble and safety pins, lecturing us about the wage-gap-myth and rape-culture-myths, while refusing to take any personal responsibility for their lack of success. I’m talking about Classical-Feminism; the basic belief that men and women are equally-intrinsically-valuable, and deserve equal rights under the law. So I want that to be clear. I don’t want anyone walking away from this thinking that I said Jesus was running around with his rape-whistle and lying about income.
Second thing before we get to Jesus… I’m sure you may have in mind Old Testament verses that seemingly degrade women. Now, for my purposes I’m specifically addressing Jesus, however, let me make a quick note regarding the OT: The OT verses one might cite have everything to do with the temporary ceremonial-laws, as well as traditional Jewish culture, and nothing to do with God hating women. Yet despite the surrounding culture, there are many places in the OT where God gives specific honor and glory to women. To name a few: Deborah, Sarah, Ruth, Esther, Hannah, Huldah, Rachel, and Rahab (sources below where you can read about all these women).
Third, I want to pose a question… If you, or any other feminist rejects Christianity, what is it that you must adopt in its place? One might answer with another religion; however, it is typically the case (although not always) that feminists are not merely anti-Christianity, but anti-religious altogether (at least this has been the case in my experience). They see religion as a patriarchal-tool used to oppress women. But ask yourself, “what’s the alternative?” At that point it would have to be some form of atheism (or some form of agnosticism, although that wouldn’t solve the problem). But how can atheism give women worth? On atheism, we’re nothing but relatively advanced primates. There’s nothing special about women, or even men for that matter. One might say, “but at least on atheism men and women are equal, even if not all that special.” However, I see no reason to think that’s the case. If our basis is evolution, then what is more self-evident than the fact that men have evolved to be bigger and stronger than women? It would only stem from reason at that point that men would have some sort of power over women; let me be clear, I’m not saying that men ought to have power over women, but what would stop them. What makes this even worse for the atheist/feminist, is the fact that on atheism, there is no objective-moral-standard by which to judge the bible right or wrong for anything it says about women (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxiAikEk2vU). This is why, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of belief/worldview, if you’re a classical-feminist, I think it’s only fair that we take an honest look at Jesus before we look anywhere else. So let’s do so…
Now, to prove Jesus was a classical-feminist, I’ll cite three things: Jesus’s view of marriage, the fact that He fought against public law regarding women, and finally that He directly connected women with the message of the gospel.
First on the list, marriage. And to talk about marriage we have to address the “S” word… SUBMIT. Which may give you pause right off the bat, because of the negative connotations associated with the word. But what is so important to understand, is the biblical definition of the word “submit” versus what you might think of when you hear the word. Too often people think of some type of oppression to be associated with the word “submit”. Now, while this may be true in Islam where even in the most moderate Islamic country (UAE) men are legally allowed to beat their wives(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PyotLRHMOIk), it isn’t even close to being true in Christianity.
To properly understand the biblical definition of “submit”, let’s take a look at Ephesians chapter 5:
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Paul is the one talking here, but in verse 31 he directly quotes Jesus from Matthew 19:5. Now, do you notice something in verse 21? It says to submit to one another! In other words, submitting is not just for the woman, but for the man as well. But there are different ways for each the man and the woman to do so. When we examine the passage above, we come away with a couple of things regarding the biblical understanding of submission: First, is what is often referred to as “Complementarianism”; the belief that men and women are different, and play complementary roles within marriage and within the home. Now, while the radically-left-feminists would like us to believe that this is sexist because, according to them, there aren’t any differences between men and women, the fact is that there is nothing “anti-women” about this. Ravi Zacharias points out that “The word ‘equality’ ought not be confused with the roles and responsibilities in a household and in a family.” Men and women both bring different strengths to the table, which is beautiful because it makes up for each other’s weaknesses; and it’s this very principle which is foundational to our society. The founding fathers believed that married-mommy-and-daddy-with-child came before federal government, before state government, and before municipal government as the foundational principle on which a successful society must be built. And whether you agree with that or not, they had good reason for believing so. Steven Crowder, host of Louder with Crowder, points out,
“Married mommy and daddy is the biggest statistic we have to determine if that child graduates high school, goes to college, gets a job, is mentally-well-adjusted, is gainfully employed, goes on to have a family of his own, doesn’t go to prison… you may not like it, and that’s fine; but if mommy and daddy aren’t married, the likelihood of that kid ending up in prison, not graduating high school, having mental/behavior issues, go up an alarming amount. That’s just reality!” – (Crowder) – (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BUKLbDrrDY)
No matter where you fall on the political spectrum regarding the nuclear-family, this is exactly why the founding fathers set it up that way. I know it may seem like this has gotten us away from the bible, but the statistics regarding children provide evidence that Jesus got it right on marriage; that there really are differences between men and women, and that those differences are important and, when brought together in marriage, create the best possible environment for children to grow up in. “Men and women are created equal in value, but not equal in ability and role… But you’re supposed to serve one another, you’re supposed to be subject to one another” (Gerald Morgan Jr. – Louder with Crowder employee).
Second thing we come away with regarding submission; Ephesians 5:21-28 is a prescription which is telling husbands and wives how the other receives love. Anyone who studies the love-languages online or takes any of the love-language tests, knows that, generally speaking, women receive love through things like quality time, kindness, gentleness, and physical-touch. Men on the other hand, tend to receive love through things such as respect, words of affirmation, and acts of service. Again, this is very important for understanding the biblical definition of submission. To once again quote Steven Crowder,
“Submission, meaning respecting the authority. In other words, a man receives love – not by ‘sweetie I love you, honey, honey’ – but when he slaps his ‘kill’ on the table, having a woman who will help him to put his feet up and recharge for the next day because his wife loves him enough to take care of him. That’s what’s occurring in the bible. It’s saying ‘this is clearly how men receive love (which we now know to be true); this is how women receive love. Therefore, you should give love this way, it’s the best way to treat your spouse.’”
Clearly, this kind of submission is not at all oppressive, but rather a way for husbands and wives to love each other better.
The last thing we come away with, and perhaps the most important, is the condition on which women are to submit to their husbands; “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25 NIV). In other words, “Men, be ready to die for your wives”. See, God loved humanity so much, that He suffered a brutal punishment and gave His life so that we could be reconciled with Him, and be brought freely into a loving relationship with Him. This reiterates what was said earlier about both the husband and the wife submitting, but both having different ways to do so. The wife is told to submit in the sense of respecting the authority of her husband; and the husband is told to submit by protecting and providing for his wife, and being ready at all times to give his life for her. Anyone who can twist the idea of a woman submitting to a man who loves her so much he would risk his life for her into being oppressive, has no business speaking on behalf of what the bible teaches. As Ravi Zacharias brilliantly says, “That is the greatest compliment [God] ever paid to you or me, that [women] were as valuable as humanity is to Him.”
Now, time to move on to Jesus’ view of the status of women against the backdrop of the surrounding Jewish culture at that time. In fact, this goes all the way back to what I said at the beginning of this article about the criticism of the Old Testament regarding women; it is in light of that culture that made Jesus’ view of women so radical. Take for example, the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4. This woman had five broken marriages and had been looked down upon by society; not even the disciples could believe that Jesus was so much as talking to her. Yet despite the fact that she had been “ethnically barred” because Jew’s didn’t have anything to do with Samaritans at that time, Jesus made her the first ever evangelist to the Samaritan world. In doing so, Jesus showed everyone that they were not superior to her in any way.
Another (perhaps more popular) example is the woman who committed adultery in John chapter 8. According to the laws of that culture, she was to be stoned to death for committing adultery. But clearly the law was not similar for the man. We know this because according to the text she had been caught in the act. This means they could have easily brought the man to Jesus as well to be stoned, but they didn’t. Once again, Jesus flies in the face of the law like only He can. He forces those who wanted to stone the woman to recognize themselves as hypocrites when He utters the popular phrase, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”. Clearly none of them want to be stoned, so one by one they all leave. Jesus shows incredible compassion on the woman when He forgives her and tells her, “Go, and from now on do not sin any more”; showing everyone that none are superior to the other in merit of forgiveness.
Lastly, we come to the fact that Jesus directly ties women to the greatest event in history, the resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15:14, Paul says, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (NIV). This means that all of Christianity could be falsified by simply proving that the resurrection never happened. The entire bible, all of scripture, and the message of the gospel are completely dependent on this one truth of history. So question… If God were discriminatory against women, why on earth was it the women to which Jesus first revealed himself, to go and tell the message of His resurrection? Every single gospel records Jesus revealing Himself to the women before anyone else immediately after rising from the dead. First was Mary Magdalene, then Mary the mother of James, Salome, and Joanna. Also, consider who wrote the gospels… Men! And first century Jews at that! If these guys were simply inventing the resurrection of Jesus as a piece of fiction, why would they invent that Jesus first appeared to the women? Especially taking into account that, in that culture and at that time, a women’s testimony was not considered as valuable as that of a man. The fact is that Jesus could have appeared to anyone to be the first ones to go and spread the message of His rising from the dead. And if Jesus wanted to be politically correct about it, He could have easily visited the men first. But He didn’t! Once again, Jesus flies in the face of the cultures view of women, and gives them special honor above everyone else.
Second thing regarding the message of the gospel (all though not in chronological order seeing as how this took place right before Jesus would be arrested), is the woman who anointed Jesus with the alabaster oil. While all the men there are looking down upon and scolding this woman, as though she was not worthy to even touch Jesus, Jesus in return scolds them in Mark chapter 14 when He says, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for Me… she has anointed My body in advance for burial. I assure you: Wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told in memory of her” (HCSB). What an incredible honor! The fact that Jesus would put this woman’s act of service to Him right alongside the message of the gospel, speaks volumes of the special place God has in His heart for women. I would go as far as to argue that of all the people in the entire bible, this woman right here, is paid the greatest respect of all by Jesus Himself.
To summarize, yes, Jesus was indeed a classical-feminist! He proved it by His view of marriage in that He recognized the different ways in which men and women receive love, and commanded them to love each other in that way. And while the idea of submitting to the authority of your husband may trigger the gag-reflexes of modern-day-radically-left-feminists, – guess what? – men are commanded to be ready to die for their wives! And as Jesus Himself said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 KJV). Second, Jesus time and time again scolded the Pharisees and Jewish people of the time for their discriminatory view toward women. Whether it was the Samaritan-woman at the well, the woman who committed adultery, or the woman who washed Jesus’ feet, Jesus continually lifted women up as an example, so that everyone should strive to be like them. And finally, not only did Jesus first reveal to women the greatest event in history, but He commanded that wherever the message of His resurrection is told, that it also be told of the woman who anointed His with the alabaster oil, as to honor her memory.
Regardless of your reason for coming to this article, I hope it has been enlightening for you. I hope I’ve been able to shed light on the fact that not all anti-bible slogans you hear are true. It’s really easy for atheists to take Old Testament passages out of context to make Christianity look like a sexist religion. But we have to remember to not read the bible against the backdrop of today’s cultural norms, but instead understand it in its proper context. And when we read the bible against the backdrop of the ancient near east, we see not only God raising women up, but Jesus specifically holding them to a high regard, and encouraging others to strive to be like them. So I’d like to encourage you, if you have a worldview in which you want to affirm the invaluable worth of women, then you should embrace Christianity, or at the very least, embrace Jesus. Because even in His last moments while hanging on the cross, when Jesus looks at His mother and sees her mourning for Him, He tells the disciples to make sure that His mother is taken care of. Ravi Zacharias hits the nail on the head when he says, “There is no other worldview – I repeat – no other worldview, that gives the respect to women that Jesus does.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fpmu42g6mDs Ravi Zacharias–Atheism, Feminism, and the Bible
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MD3CsFfLxlo Ravi Zacharias-Does God favor a gender?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mm9-fCzsltI&t=44s Ravi Zacharias-Bibles inspiration on women
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZ3Yz_uvj0Y&t=318s Steven Crowder-Is Feminism “Anit-God”?