When the women of the New Testament speak

When the women of the New Testament speak, their lives tell a radical, redemptive story. 220px-Tizian_050

Make no mistake, they were:

  • Open to being divorced if they could not bear children. [1]
  • Generally not allowed as official eyewitnesses in court.
  • Jewish women were allowed to worship in the Temple's outer courts only or in a separate section of the Jewish synagogue.
  • Missing—in the ancient Greco-Roman world there were about 100 women for every 140 men. Many were left to die when they were born the wrong sex. [2] 

Though some wealthy women enjoyed a measure of freedom, most were defined by their husband, their father or another male relative. If they were widowed, they were expected to attach to a man for survival's sake.

Until a rabbi named Jesus arrived on the scene, scattering seeds of freedom that would grow up to shatter the chains of patriarchy.

He was nothing if not radical when it came to interacting with women. And he moved among these females with such ease, with no pretension or worry about what others might think. Over and over again, he did the unthinkable, talking to them as his equals.

Because of his actions, their lives speak:

  • Mary Magdalene supported him to the end, then ushered in a new post-Resurrection reality in which women not only speak, they proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Mary of Bethany sat at his feet, just like a good disciple would learn from a rabbi, and Jesus praised her.
  • The Samaritan Woman found his manner shocking, until his offer of living water broke through her defenses, causing her to abandon her water pot in favor of becoming the local evangelist.
  • The Woman with the Issue of Blood approached him as she bled, making him unclean. Instead, he called her "daughter," declared her whole and showed us women are no longer defined by their monthly cycles but by his promise of redemption.
  • Priscilla came after Jesus as a teacher of the word, a church leader, and a winsome companion to her husband Aquila and to Paul the apostle.
  • Lydia came, too, a seeker of Yahweh, and in one day, she and her whole household were baptized. The church at Philippi started in her living room, which for some reason no longer seemed unusual.
  • Then there was Phoebe, serving as a minister in the church of Cenchrae, carrying the book of Romans for Paul,  and quite possibly serving as the first commentator on this important doctrinal book. (Can you imagine?)
  • Finally, there was Junia. Though silenced for years, a look back at Romans 16:7 in the original Greek shows she was a female apostle, joined with her relative Andronicus and distinguished among the other apostles.

Lest there is any doubt at all, the introduction of Jesus Christ—and his life, death and Resurrection—brought a new era of freedom for women. It still does. He carried with him a new kingdom that still shatters the business-as-usual nature of our relationships, making us whole again:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” -Matthew 20:25-28, NIV

The lives of these New Testament women speak with glorious freedom, wholeness and joy. Are you listening? And what do their life stories say to you?

[1] Jeffers, James S. The Greco-Roman World of the New Testament Era: Exploring the Background of Early Christianity. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 241.

[2] Ortberg, John. Who Is This Man? The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 46.

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