God does not always approve of what is culturally acceptable.
A few years ago I read a statement that is so simple I wondered why I had never thought of it. I don’t remember the exact words but the concept was that just because God deals with people within their culture does not mean that He approves.
For example polygamy is found in the lives of David and Abraham and God blesses them, but it does not mean that polygamy is God’s way. We find God’s way in the original plan for marriage in Genesis 2 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” It doesn’t say wives, and it is impossible to be “one flesh” with more than one other person. It is clear that our God, who does not change, did not choose polygamy as His plan for marriage.
While the actions of Jesus in relating to women may seem normal in contemporary culture, they were revolutionary in the Israel of two thousand years ago. Jesus was born into a patriarchal culture, one ruled by men. Women’s lives were restricted in many ways.
Jesus is of one mind with the God the Father
To find the truth of what God desires for women we must look closely at the actions and teaching of Jesus. We know that Jesus only did what God the Father desired. As it says in John 5:19 in the New King James Version of the Bible;
Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.
For better understanding let’s look at it in The Message—an excellent English paraphrase.
So Jesus explained himself at length. “I’m telling you this straight. The Son can’t independently do a thing, only what he sees the Father doing. What the Father does, the Son does.
Jesus alone among the founders of religions did not discriminate against women
There are no recorded instances where Jesus disgraces, belittles, reproaches, or stereotypes a women, instead He repeatedly liberated and affirmed them. Leanna Starr writes that of all founders of religions and religious sects, Jesus stands alone as the one who did not discriminate in some way against women. Neither by word nor by deed did He ever encourage the disparagement of a woman.
The closest story to a reproach is found in Luke 11:27-28.
And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
Picture the scene. A woman in the crowd is thinking how wonderful it would be to have a son like Jesus. She would be so proud. It would give her great status to be the mother of such a man. Her attempt to give a complement reveals her belief that women are of value because they can bear children, preferably sons. Jesus recognizes that the statement puts limitations on a woman’s worth and uses this incident to declare God’s desire for women to be allowed full membership in His family. No longer were they to be valued only as “baby machines,” restricted to the function of producing children. They were not limited to traditional roles.
When Jesus makes the revolutionary statement, “More blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it,” He is declaring God’s desire for women as well as men to know and keep the Word.
Jesus reinforces this principal in Luke 10: 38-42. He is visiting the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Martha is in the kitchen preparing the food and is frustrated over being left with the work while her sister, Mary, is in with the men sitting at the feet of Jesus.
Martha complains saying, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Mary’s choice was not the traditional one for a Jewish women. Sitting with the men as Jesus taught was not acceptable in their culture. She was not being “politically correct.” A rabbi did not instruct a woman but here was Jesus, who was a prominent rabbi, involving her in a teacher-discipleship relationship, and confirming His approval of her actions. He admitted her into “the study” and commended her for her choice. By His words and actions Jesus showed his approval of a woman’s right to choose study and not be compelled to be in the kitchen fulfilling other traditional roles.
The command of Jesus was to go into all the world and preach the gospel. The gospel opens all avenues to women to use their gifts and meet the calling of God in their lives. Christian women are not limited to traditional roles. If God is calling you, be like Mary and answer that call. It starts with knowing the Bible well.
1. Malachi 3:6
2. Starr, Lee Anna, The Bible Status of Woman. Zarephath, N.J.: Pillar of Fire, 1955
3. Joyce, Pat and McGrath Cheryl, She Shall Be Called Woman, Part Two Session Four http://www.womenforthenations.org/#!two-four/c1a71
4. If God is calling you to something that is outside traditional women’s roles you would do well to have a clear understanding of scriptures used to limit women. Cheryl McGrath and I have written a course on this subject that is available at www.womenforthenations.org Other sources of www.Godswordtowomen.org and www.cbeinternational.org/
Thank you for an excellent article. A person who tries to read the OT in particular as if God approved of the cultural practices runs into all kinds of problems. The book of Judges can be particularly problematic, because some pretty awful things happen which aren’t clearly condemned. I think the book invites the reader to take their knowledge of God – slow to anger, quick to love, merciful, just, compassionate, defender of the weak and downtrodden and so on – and make their own judgement.
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Some days, it seems like we’re going backward into bondage instead of into freedom in Christ.
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