A major issue of our day is the question of equal rights for all people. We have talked about racial issues in the past and considered the conversation Jesus had with a Samaritan woman who represented a despised population in that day. This brings us to the issue of women’s rights in the Bible.
John 4:5-42 describes this incredible story of the total freedom from any prejudice in the practice of Jesus Christ. The Jews hated the Samaritans. The hatred had historical roots, and most Jews would not even walk through Samaria. In addition to being in Samaria, Jesus was talking to a woman. In verse 9 the woman expresses amazement that a Jewish man would talk to her, a Samaritan woman. Verse 40 tells us that Jesus stayed with the Samaritans for two more days. That is something a typical Jew would never do.
Those who accuse the biblical record of promoting male chauvinism and racial bias are making an argument that cannot be well supported. There are many reasons why such charges against the Bible are incorrect, and here are a few:
Cherry picking examples without looking at the time, the culture, and the practices of the day is a dishonest approach to women’s rights in the Bible. In the early days of human existence, survival depended on the entire family being involved in providing food and shelter. This meant that women necessarily were confined to certain roles. Defending the family against animals and enemies didn’t fit the roles of most women, and the times and conditions dictated the functions of each member of the family.
Failing to see the God-given roles for women and ascribing abuse that was done in opposition to God’s commands is an invalid argument. In Genesis 24:54-58 the story of Rebekah shows that in God’s system a woman had the right to control whom she married. Numbers 30:3-16 shows God’s rules that protected women. Proverbs 31 describes the voluntary role of a woman who chose to manage her household. The entire book of Ruth shows women having rights even in the ancient world. Deborah in Judges 4 was a judge and political leader. Esther is a revered figure of the Old Testament.
Women in the New Testament could choose any role they wished. First Corinthians 7:32-40 makes it clear that women have the option of choosing a career instead of marriage. Luke 8:1-3 shows us that women supported Christ financially in His ministry. Acts 16 tells about a woman named Lydia who owned a business and played a vital role in the ministry of Paul.
The whole New Testament plan placed great value on all people, including women, above every other consideration. This is stated plainly in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In Acts 21:9 we read that Philip had four daughters who prophesied. In Romans 16 Paul lists a group of individuals who played critical roles in the work of the early Church. Most of them are women, and he especially tells the Church in Rome to assist a woman named Phoebe.
The Bible has contradicted the practices and teachings of society again and again as it places women in critical roles and includes women in places of respect and honor. Women’s rights in the Bible is a topic worth considering. Jesus Christ never promoted the abuse or denigration of women in any way.
–John N. Clayton © 2019