HomeBeliefs About the Body of ChristRemnant and Its Mission - Fundamental Belief 13EvangelismChrist’s Radical Treatment of Women    


Christ’s Radical Treatment of Women — 43 Comments

  1. Actually Jesus was not all THAT radical when it came to women, because this was a debated topic among the Rabbis. Jesus joined the, what in his day became the minority view that was loosing out to the majority view.

    The Proverbs 31 women and the equality that appears to have been with Abraham and Sarah went along smoothly, until the Hebrews picked up from it's neighbors ideas about women but which in Israel and Judah grew into a difference between the wife, who was equal and the concubine who was lesser. Later in Babylon they lived in a society the men were definitely the head of the house and all of the women being second class citizens.

    Upon the return from Babylon the equality returned. We find that by 200 years before Jesus there were even women priests and rabbis. This started to end about 200 years before Jesus when a Rabbi, Jesus Ben Sirach wanted women to STOP being priests and rabbis and to even stop standing like a laymember when a rabbi sat to speak. Women were to perform hospitality tasks instead. This lead to a debate among the rabbis over the role of women which was continuing to Jesus' day.

    While the Rabbis would have been shocked with Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman, they would have seen his allowing Mary to sit at his feet as part of this ongoing debate over the role of women, with Jesus taking the side that was losing the battle.

    • Thanks, Kevin. This is fascinating information.

      Perhaps the post should have been titled, "Christ's Liberal Treatment of Women"? I'm guessing that the conservative sect of the Pharisees was not all that much interested in regarding women as being in any way equal with men. The common prayer along the lines of “God I thank You that you did not create me a Gentile, a slave or a woman," is not generally disputed, although some try to explain it as not denigrating women.

      • Inge, when focusing on women, let's not lose sight of the "gentile" and "slave" as well. This was not a focus on women exclusively(by "devout"[?!!] men), but on all they felt superior too. I'm sure this ungodly mindset developed over time and is only the result of pride and self-exaltation. It is the opposite of "meek and lowly of heart" which Jesus exemplified in all He said and did. Even today some leaders feel they are to be served rather than be serving. Pride can capture any heart that is not yoked daily with the Lord our Savior, learning of Him.

        Jesus departed from the "norm" because He came to a sinful world to reveal by precept and example what the true "norm" was in the kingdom of heaven. He came to rescue truth from it's companionship with error, and set sinners free from the guilt and burden of sin. Sin will always degrade those who exalt themselves over others.

        Paul describes that a Godly husband will be like Christ who gave Himself for the church, willing to sacrifice for the good of his wife. What Godly woman would not want to submit to such love? This relationship will result in true equality as God has directed it in this life. Two people giving themselves fully for each other, "in honor, preferring(agape) one another".

        This directs women to choose a Godly husband and challenges men to be Godly. No one is second class in this arrangement if they have crucified self.

        As for your title suggestion: "liberal" implies exclusiveness, what about "Christ's equal treatment of women"? Just my 5¢. 🙂

        • One subject at a time, Robert. 🙂

          The subject of women seems to be discussed a lot these days, and the lesson was on the topic. Hence this emphasis. But more important than that subject is the understanding that the principle of the Kingdom of God is mutual service, as Paul put it, "Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God." (Eph 5:21) Or as Peter put it, "Be ye subject one to another." It is this humility of not seeking for power but letting go of power that was rightfully His that Christ modeled. (See Phil. 2:5-8) By contrast, the principle of the kingdom of Satan is to seek to elevate self, to rule over others.

          As for the term, "liberal," I thought it implied inclusiveness. Just goes to show that many misunderstandings hinge on how people choose to define words. 😉

      • Some caution should be applied here. The footnotes are misleading. For example, Inge footnotes a page posted online by Jews For Jesus, not a reliable source of information about anything Jewish. (They advocate eating pork to show how liberated they are from traditional Judaism.) And the Jews for Jesus page claims to get its information from Bereishit Rabbah 18.1. But that is from the Mishnah writings, which must be properly understood. The Bereishit Rabbah 18.1 actually extols the standing of women, that "woman was endowed with more understanding than man." Then there follows, "There are some who say the opposite," laying out the attack on womanhood which Jews for Jesus applies to women of Christ's day as actual history and picked up by Inge as fact.

        The Mishnah is a vast collection of arguments made by various rabbis over time on a variety of topics. Rabbis often disagreed about vital things. It has been said that whenever you have two Jews in a room, you will have at least three opinions. The essential purpose of the Mishnah was to sort through all the known arguments, some of them silly, and try to bring the discussion back to reality. If you read the entire Bereishit Rabbbah 18 in context, you will see that the idea quoted by Jews for Jesus, and repeated by Inge, was scorned as nonsense and out of harmony with both Scripture and history.

        In other words, this position is agenda driven and factually incorrect.

        The problem is compounded by the apparent attempt to draw a moral equivalence between Judaism at the time of Christ and the position of women dictated by the Qu'ran and the Hadiths of Islam, where it is said that women in general are in the hereafter the most wretched and despicable inhabitants of hell, writhing through eternity in the most terrible agony for the sin of being women.

        It is true that Jesus elevated the status of women. It is not true that Judaism ever, at any time, treated its women like Islam treats theirs. And it is definitely not true that women of Jesus' time were uneducated and required to stay in the house. Right away, in the first chapter of Luke we see Mary, probably still a teenager, traveling on her own to a distant town. Her song, the Magnificat, shows deep acquaintance with the ancient traditions of Hebrew poetry. And Ellen writes, "The child Jesus did not receive instruction in the synagogue schools. His mother was His first human teacher. From her lips and from the scrolls of the prophets, He learned of heavenly things. The very words which He Himself had spoken to Moses for Israel He was now taught at His mother’s knee " (DA 70.1), that is, Mary taught Jesus from the written Scriptures, which means she was literate in Hebrew as well as Aramaic. And throughout the book of Acts we read of women who were active in commerce and prominent in their communities -- among others, Lydia, a seller of purple, purple-dyed cloth being a leading commodity of the time and a person trafficking in such goods would have a prominent and respected position in the world of international commerce. When we say that Jesus elevated women, that is a matter of degree, not a fundamental revolution.

        So let's stay with the facts and not cherry pick off-side comments to try to prove a point that does not exist.

    • For Kevin H.

      There is a tendency to apply 21st century perspectives to the ancient world, which too often leads to gross errors. For one example, the suggestion that the Hebrews picked up ideas about the difference between wives and concubines during the Babylonian captivity. The truth is quite different.

      The episode of Abram taking Hagar as a concubine, at Sarai's suggestion, is straight out of the Hammurabi Code. That is, the treatment Hagar and Ishmael received from Abram and Sarai reads very much like the sections around 180 to 185 of the Code of Hammurabi. Abram and Hammurabi were near contemporaries, and all four of the individuals involved in that episode were acting fully within the accepted legal code of that time.

      The Hammurabi legal system set specific parameters for the relationship of the wife to the various other women a man might sire children by, whether concubines or prostitutes, or whatever. There was one "wife," whose rights, along with those of her children, were fully protected under the law, and all the other women in a man's life, along with their children, took subordinate positions. Jacob broke the code in having two wives and two concubines and treating all the children as equals.

      Throughout the period of the Judges, and extending into the kingdom period, it was common for a man to take under his protection young widows and to treat them as legal concubines according to the legal code of the time. Life was hard. Lions and bears and attacks from neighboring peoples took a serious toll on the young men, and the system provided safety and sustenance for the young widows. After the Babylonian captivity there was a general reversion to monogamy as the factors that depleted the population of young men declined.

      As for Jesus ben Sirach:

      First thing, remember there were sound reasons for not including the books of the Apochrypha in the canon of Scripture.

      Second, I would be curious where you got the information that he argued against women being priests and rabbis.

      I did an electronic search (NEB translation) of the book, The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach, otherwise known as Ecclesiasticus, and the search returned no instance of either "priest" or "rabbi" appearing in its seventy some pages. There are three references to women. Namely:

      19:2 -- Wine and women rob the wise of their wits,
      and a frequenter of prostitutes becomes more and more reckless.

      28:15 --The talk of a third party has brought divorce on staunch wives
      and deprived them of all they have laboured for.

      47:19 -- But you took women to lie at your side
      and gave yourself up to their control.

      So I would appreciate if you could cite a reference where you found his statement that women should "STOP being priests and rabbis," etc.

  2. A good book to study the history of the role of women in the ancient world and in the Bible is: http://www.biblicalresources.net/product.cfm?product=58 The author is biblical archeologist Dr James Fleming who has worked and lived in Israel since 1973, helping to coordinate 12 excavations in Israel. He has been Lecturer in Archaeology at the School for Overseas Students at the Hebrew University in Jeruslaem, and Professor of Geography and Archaeology at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute for Advanced Theological Studies.

    • Thank, Kevin. I would love to get the book, but for the second time, the online order form has stymied me. It won't allow me to complete the order. So I used the contact information to phone the office, and I discovered that only US orders are accepted, and I am in Canada. (I suggested that they explicitly state this on their site.) I am waiting for an email that lets me know how much it would take to ship to Canada.

      The order link should work fine for our US readers.

    • Hi Kevin, is it possible for you to provide verbatim the passage stating that there were woman priests & rabbi with its reference? I would like to be able to share it with a friend.

      • My background is more in the historical and geography and my answer to this is not as strong as I'd like and this is where I will need to do some more homework.

        I have heard a handful of my professors from Atlantic Union College and Andrews state in class that there were women priests in the Old Testament but the only argument I heard from that was from a Methodist archaeologist who I studied with in Israel. And it comes from linguistic studies which is my weak field. But Dr. Fleming said that there are a number of the psalms which are written in feminine language indicating that it was to have had a female priest lead out in the part of worship that used those psalms.

        What Fleming also pointed out and showed us the evidence was that by 200 years before Jesus that the Jews had no issue with what sex a Rabbi could be. But then there was a Rabbi, Jesus Ben Sirach.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Sira He was a very influential Rabbi who's writings were almost included in the Old Testament. He had a very bad marriage and one of the things that he taught was Jews should STOP having women serve as Rabbis and Priests. That the liberal schools of the Rabbis, such as the school of Hillel opposed having women priests and rabbis and the conservative schools such as the school of Shammai continued to ordain women Rabbis. Fleming pointed out that archaeologists have found documents which lists Rabbis including archsynogogueous from around the time of Jesus and that there were women's names on these lists. (He pointed out that an Orthodox Jew upon this discovery said "It must have been the husband who was the Rabbi but they could not remember their names so wrote the wife's name instead.")

        Dr. Fleming has a 5 sermon series on the role of women in the Bible in which he points out the information. Sadly they are not selling recordings of the lectures at this time. But they are selling the lecture notebook which has a fantastic bibliography. http://www.biblicalresources.net/product.cfm?product=58

    • Actually, James Fleming is not a professional archaeologist. Rather, he is an aggregator and teacher who spent much of his life acting as a tour guide in Palestine, showing tourists the results of the work of real archeologists. He also taught classes at various universities, describing the work of archeologists. I think he is a genuine believer in the validity of Scripture, as opposed to many archeologists who, it seems, are dedicated to proving the Bible false. He has done some significant work in stripping away the Medieval European Christian overlay and showing how people really lived in Palestine in Jesus' time and how Bible passages should be interpreted from that perspective.

      One of my reservations about his work is related to his position as editorial adviser to “The Biblical Archaeology Review,” a magazine I used to take, which often showcases strictly anti-biblical archaeological studies. I would like to believe Fleming objected to some of the things the magazine published. I just don't know.

    • I ordered the book. On page 6 I read that "...Naomi served as a matchmaker and introduced Ruth to Boaz." Anyone who has redd the book of Ruth should recognize that is not what happened. Boaz saw her gleaning in his field and began doing favors for her, She told Naomi about it, and Naomi instructed her as to Israelite customs in such matters. Over the next few pages there were several more cases of direct contradiction of the Bible record or raw unsubstantiated speculations. For example, on page 23 Fleming writes that "... Mary was in a position of leadership in the [Jerusalem] church." I don't recall any reference to that anywhere in the Bible or in the Early Church Fathers.

      I stopped reading there, and I regret spending the $25 to buy it.

      I should also mention that the book has nary a word about the inter-testamentary period, If Fleming ever said in a lecture that Jesus ben Sirach complained about women priests and rabbis, he elected not to include it in his book. Maybe he recognized that he could not afford to stretch the truth that far in print.

  3. Not that I doubt that sexism existed in the time of Christ but I'm finding it hard to believe that women were oppressed on the level being described here. The Jews for Jesus article you cited had a few Talmudic quotes about women but without context those quotes could very well be misconstrued. Most of the descriptions of the supposed treatment of women in that article and this one have no historical references but a "take my word for it folks" vibe instead.

    Certainly Jesus treated women with dignity and respect but what historical work can be cited to show that this was "a radical departure from the societal norms of his day"?

    • I must of overlooked the other links when I first read this post. There was a lot of citations from the mishna and Flavious Josephus that offer a picture of the repugnant views that some held toward women in those days.

      • Just want to be clear that while there is evidence that some men held sexists views toward women in Chirst day it's still not clear that society as a whole treated women this way.

        It's a bit like quoting a mysogynistic lyric from Snoop Doggy Dogg in the 90's and claiming that everyone in the 90's treated women this way.

    • Thank you for the comment, Bensheh. My post was admittedly not anything like a well-researched paper. It was meant to provoke thought and discussion. What I shared is fairly common understanding.

      I imagine there were a lot of differences in the various levels of economic and social levels in society. For instance, poor or slave women could not stay inside the home but had to go out to work. Women of higher classes were the ones who stayed home under the "protection" of the men in the family. Although Maxwell's paper deals only with women in the Greco-Roman world, I consider it likely that some Jewish women were educated, even though it was not the rule for women to be educated alongside men during the time of Christ.

      As we share here, we can pool our knowledge, little though it might be.

      One thing remains sure: Jesus paid no attention to class or gender distinction but treated all persons as individual prospects for His Kingdom.

    • Bensheth, I have done some thinking about what you have said. I don't think that the situation back then was as radical as some of forms of Islam is today where women are not even allowed to go into town to buy food without a male escort or that women always have to follow behind the man and be totally covered up. So in that respect they were not completely dominated. We see in the Bible many women that rose to prominent positions politically and economically which is also something documented very often by ancient historians concern other cultures besides the one in Israel.

      What I do notice is the very strongly patriarchal treatment of gender in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. The Jews were very much aligned with the instructions given through Moses which were mostly directed to men. When we read the account of the fall in the Garden of Eden what God said to Eve comes very prominently to mind, "Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you" (Gen. 3:16 NKJV) which is something the Jews took to heart, even to some extreme, I think. Personally I view what God said as more prophesy than command but still I see that played out in the way society was ordered under the patriarchal system where the head of house was always a male and even the inheritance was given to sons rather than daughters (it was the practice that daughters did get a dowry upon marriage which was mostly arranged by her father).

      This whole thing goes to the point that in Lot's dealing with the unruly crowd at Sodom he attempted to placate the situation by saying, "Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly! See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man; please, let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish; only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof." (Gen. 19:7-8 NKJV). And again this same kind of a thing happened in Israel as documented in Judges 19:22-25. Why this willingness to sacrifice one's own daughter or concubine in preference to maintaining the dignity of a man? We could also ask why polygamy existed along with harems. Why was it always the many wives and concubines for one man rather than the many men for one woman? Is it only because that is the way it is in the animal kingdom or was it based on the pronouncement in the garden?

      The point I am making is that the Jews during the time of Christ were very strongly oriented to Old Testament law and practice which included the consistent bent to male authority and preservation. We see indicators of this in such things as the problem with divorce:

      The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?" And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning`made them male and female,'" and said, `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh '? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."
      They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?" He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery." His disciples said to Him, "If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry." (Matt. 19:3-10 NKJV)

      Consider what was said by all parties in that conversation. It obviously wasn't God that made the social rules but man and it was bent to favor the man rather than the woman.

      • It is worth reminding ourselves that we still have a lot to learn about gender equality even today. It is not just a "religious" issue but a societal one.

        For instance: as an academic, I am surprised at the gender biases in some academic disciplines. I am a computer scientist and the number of males studying computer science clearly outweighs the number of females. This is somewhat surprising considering that there are some well documented women computer scientists - Ada Lovelace (arguably the first programmer), and Grace Hooper (one of the driving forces for computer programming in the 1940-50 era)

        I have had a number of women colleagues while I have been involved in computer science research and learned very quickly that when it comes to analysis and development, these women are every bit as good as a male. Part of the issue is that we have taken a long time to recognise that women are just as capable as men at solving problems. We have tried to convince ourselves that men and women are intellectually different, when in practice there are more differences within a gender.

        It is high time we learned to accept men and women as equals.

        • Maurice, The problem comes when we confuse social with physical issues. It is well known that boys and girls pre-puberty perform equally on average in mathematics, but post puberty the girls tend to fall behind. There are some exceptions of brilliant women mathematicians, but just going by the overall average. Recent research has shown that the brains of men and women reorganize themselves differently during and after puberty -- the women's brains wired across the two hemispheres and the men's brains wired front to back within the hemispheres. One result is that women's intuition is often better than men's examination. The cross-hemisphere wiring seems to give a broader input of usable information about things not distinctly defined.

          It seems different in computer science. Some thirty-five years ago when I was struggling with machine code and Assembly, my wife, looking over my shoulder, picked it all up quickly, to the extent that she was making rapid binary, octal, decimal, and hexadecimal conversions in her head, what I was struggling with on paper. Later I learned the wisdom of letting her proof my C++ code before I tried to run the program.

          The moral of the story is: men and women tend to do different things better. But that has no moral value, only describes physical capabilities. One tragedy of current society is that too many women have been led to believe that woman things have less value and they are not fulfilling their potential unless they learn to do man things as well as men can.

          • Ben, I would conclude from your comment that if following God's leading in their individual lives, a greater balance will be the benefit for any couple who recognizes and utilizes each other's God-given strengths.

            As an after thought, this would place any same-sex union in a position of lacking the advantage of this God-given balance.

            As for the idea that "woman things" are of less value, we need only look at the lives of men such as Moses to see the powerful influence of a Godly mother. Through the life and character of the son she faithfully nurtured and raised for only 12 years, she has in my estimation been the one human who has positively influenced more individuals than any other human in history, simply doing a mother's appointed work. All that Moses has given to the world in faithful service, even affecting the Son of God who learned His purpose from the books of the law, came as the result of his mother's faithfulness to her appointed task. Her career was raising the man who's name is linked forever with the Lamb in the song of the 144000. What could possibly compare in importance with this?

      • Maurice, I have no argument with what you are saying concerning present day gender problems even though I do think there are definite differences and I am not talking about biology. There are simply some things women do better than men and some things men do better than women. I still think that God made the two sexes to complement each other.

        As far as my comment is concerned I was discussing the gender problems of ancient Israel not what the situation is today. I don't think we probably know as much about how it was 2000 years ago as we think we do and as a Christian the only thing I can do is to glean as much out of scripture and other extra-biblical sources that I can. Even with that I remember all too well what a head librarian once told me that something like 70-80% of all information that comes out of a library is wrong and the way it was presented to me is that it is common knowledge within that discipline.

        What matters to me is that when it comes to salvation there are no differences. We are all in the same sinking boat with the same way of getting out but I choose not to push things much beyond that point. There is much I do not understand and probably won't this side of Heaven.

        • A lot of the literature that I read on Biblical gender issues selectively quotes from the available sources. Like most periods of history, there is a spectrum of ideas and social behaviours. One always needs to remember that written history is generally about a very small part of the population. With respect to Israel/Jewish culture, the situation is more complex than most people like to admit. Jewish women for the most part had rights and respect that was better than the surrounding nations and cultures. Having said that, there was for much of the population a big difference in male/female equality.

          My earlier comment was that we still have gender-biased perceptions of inequality in our current society and we are still having difficulty of divesting ourselves from those perceptions. The effectiveness of our Gospel message can sometimes by lessened if we continue to maintain those perceptions.

          • "Equality" does not mean ignoring physical and mental differences. On a baseball team (sorry, all you cricket players around the world) the first baseman is tall and skinny with a long static reach and the shortstop is short and stocky and quick on his feet. A baseball team which put the tall skinny guy at shortstop and the short quick guy at first base would not win very many games. That does not mean that the two players are not equal or that the first baseman is morally superior to the shortstop, or vice versa. Morality, equality, have nothing to do with it. Different physical types are better suited to do different things.

            Here in America some years ago there was enacted the ADA -- Americans with Disabilities Act -- which was intended to make people with disabilities equal with everyone else. The problem came with defining just what a disability is. For one example, alcoholism was eventually defined legally as a disability, and based on that, trucking companies were forbidden to discriminate against alcoholics, with the obvious result that it increased the number of accidents caused by drunk drivers.

            The US Army has been trying to incorporate women into the regular fighting forces. So far nineteen women have attempted Ranger school, and all flunked out because they could not master the physical regime. (A number of men also failed.) Some have claimed that the physical requirements should be eased because they discriminate against women. That, of course, ignores the functions a Ranger is expected to perform on the battlefield.

            Mental activities fall into a different category but with similar effect. Many women have been outstanding airplane pilots. But an airline company would not equate a down syndrome person and a bright normal woman as potential pilots. Both are equal before God, but not equal in the workplace. People with elevated IQs do some things; people with lower IQs do other things. That is not discrimination. That is recognizing physical differences.

            It is cruelty against women to insist that every woman has a right and obligation to try to do what men do. There are some gender distinctions which work to the benefit of women as a whole.

            Note that golf courses put the the tee off point for women some yards ahead of the tee off point for men. There are reasons for that, and it is not discrimination.

          • I believe that when we get into the subject of what men and women can or cannot do in the work place we get far off the original subject which was how Christ treated women.

            When we use the work "equality," it might be best to specify equality in what? Being equal does not mean being "the same" or undifferentiated. Among other things, equality is not intended to erase all gender distinction. Normally equality refers to being equal in value, being equal before the law, and, in modern society, equal pay for equal work.

            I believe that Christ and Paul clearly indicated that men and women are of equal value before God. And I hope no one would argue against men and women having an equal connection with God - that both may be directly led by the Spirit. That is something on which not all religions agree. In some, a woman can be saved only through a man - i.e. men mediate the salvation of women. But the Bible tells us that there is only one Mediator between God and humanity (2 Tim 2:5 KJV says "between God and men," but I trust readers would recognize this as a generic term for humanity).

            Some in the Seventh-day Adventist Church are currently struggling with whether or not men have roles of equal authority in the church, under God, but that is not something we will discuss under this post.

        • I understand the point you are making, Maurice, but should we stay completely away from discussing those perceptions and understanding why they existed and how Jesus was dealing with them?

          I think what has been said about how Jesus treated people should be our model not the wrongs done in history. However, if we are to understand any of the principles given in the Bible we need to know something about the background and environment in which the counsels are given. We need to know what the problems were that they were addressing otherwise we can come to conclusions that are totally unwarranted.

          A good example is what Paul tells his readers, "But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved. For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered" (1 Cor. 11:5-6 NKJV). How are we to interpret that without understanding the issue he was talking about or the culture they were living in?

          Maybe all women should cover their heads before entering church as Paul says they should; that would be taking it literally of course. Would that be a wise thing to do? Besides, today there are a good number of women that have lost their hair due to chemotherapy or radiation treatments for cancer. Is it now shameful for them to go to church and pray? Or what about women who are more comfortable with short hair - in fact quite a bit shorter then a lot of men have today. Should they also be considered shameful? You see the problems we can get into if we ignore the context in which those counsels are given. That is why I go into the background and certainly not as an expert but in an effort to understand Christ's ministry better even if it is imperfect.

          • "How are we to interpret that without understanding the issue he was talking about or the culture they were living in?"

            Scripture can interpret scripture without the need for extra biblical sources. While scripture can be trusted as 100% true, historical accounts cannot. Who's interpretation of historical events should we place our trust in as the one that can unlock the mysteries of the Word and the way of salvation? The day we do that is the day that historical account becomes more trustworthy than the Bible. I mean we can't even be sure if ancient Jewish society was like today's Saudia Arabia or not. Why then should we trust someone's account of history enough to interpret how we should live our lives for God?

            So how are we to understand Paul's text on head covering? It's simple, we don't. That's right. There are some things in the Bible that cannot be explained, and that's ok. God winks at ignorance and will not punish us if we fail to follow something that we sincerely don't understand. If we could fully understand and be able to fully explain every verse in the Bible then it would cease to be of Divine origin. We do not serve a God that demands we understand all things or else.

            "A certain pride is mingled with the consideration of Bible truth, so that men feel impatient and defeated if they cannot explain every portion of Scripture to their satisfaction. It is too humiliating to them to acknowledge that they do not understand the inspired words." {SC 108.2}

          • How can I not agree with statements like, "scripture can be trusted as 100% true" unless I choose to call God a liar. Do you believe in the ministry of Ellen White, Bensheh? Have not seen how often she is careful to describe the circumstance of an event in the Desire of Ages for instance. Have you not read in "Christs Object Lessons" the many times she gives the background information associated with a parable? Do you think there might be good reasons why she did that? She quotes from historical works of non Christian authors in the Great Controversy in the same general way that the Bible quotes from people outside the circle of faith on occasion (Ezra 1; Dan 4:34-37 are examples). She also speaks of history and science and uses that to reinforce what she says. Is all of that wrong?

            To me there is a problem in cloistering ourselves into a tight cocoon and becoming intellectual hermits. Paul certainly didn't do that for he understood the arguments of those philosophers in Athens and Jesus fully well understood the arguments of Pharisees and Sadducees. While it is true as it is written, "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isa. 8:20 NKJV) it most certainly does not bar us from studying other sources. It only states that the truthfulness of those other sources are to be judged according to the Word and the Word is anything but exhaustive (Jn 21:25).

            I have nowhere suggested that we use extra biblical sources as the base and judge the Bible according to them. To say so would be to misquote me in a big way. I also love the quote you gave at the end of your comment. Does that mean that Ellen White condemned studying to great depth in order to find answers to what we don't understand? What if we applied that quote literally in the sense that you obviously intended it to be understood to the newbie in the church who doesn't know very much, how much do you think he or she would know after a while? How do we reconcile that kind of thinking with what Hebrews has to say, "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Heb. 5:12-14 NKJV).

            Could it be that your understanding of what she was addressing is not the issue Ellen White was actually dealing with? Maybe we need to read the context of that quote in order to understand that she was basically, although not exclusively, talking about, "the skeptic and the infidel" who "reject God's word." Perhaps we should also consider that in the same paragraph she also said, "It is right to study closely the teachings of the Bible and to search into 'the deep things of God' " and yet we should understand what she meant by "so far as they are revealed in Scripture" as well; rather than as though she was saying that things like history was off limits in associated study.

          • Tyler, in regards to the purpose and influence of Ellen's writings, she states herself that IF God's people had simply studied and faithfully followed God's Word, "not one testimony" would have been needed or written. She states that God's Word is sufficient if we will only follow it's teachings with genuine faith. Prophets were always sent to God's people when they turned from following Him. Through these messengers He called His people back with many promises, warnings, rebukes and always, it was His established Word they were reminded to study and follow.

            I have read Ellen for the past 33 years faithfully, but find nothing in her writings that would be needed to understand scripture perfectly. But her work has a purpose due to Laodicea's problems which affected my life until I began to study with a purpose, helped greatly by her faithful messages from God that have made the Bible now be in my life what it should have been all along. But we are the result of generations of unbelief, and God is merciful and gracious to save however He can.

            Once the scriptures become "alive", we need only the Holy Spirit in addition to them. No, I will not cease to read Ellen daily as I am richly blessed in doing so, but scripture holds all the answers and has the dominant part which increases, until one day it will be all. While I memorize scripture, I don't work to memorize Ellen, though many thoughts are deeply embedded as a result of close, careful study.

          • Robert, I can appreciate your point of view and yes, she has said that, but to be honest about the whole thing the same can be said of the entire New Testament which quotes largely from the Old Testament. Likewise, there is a lot of additional information that comes out of Ellen White that is not in the Bible, many details that if put in the Bible would have made it unwieldy to say the least (Jn 21:25).

            I think what she was referring to had to do with principles of the Kingdom that she enlarged upon in the testimonies which is something Jesus also had to straighten out during His ministry and the disciples had to deal with after the ascension. It was what a lot of the reformation was about as well.

  4. Christ's mission on earth was certainly a broad one. When He was asked to read from the Scriptures in the synagogue of Nazareth, He read the familiar words of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:18,19).

    Who were the captives Christ came to free? Did He envision a reconstruction of society when He said those words? Was it part of His mission to overthrow slavery? To redefine the roles of men and women in the home and church? Certainly He came to show us how to love one another in every human relationship.

    I think we should be aware that equality is not in opposition to the roles God has given to men and women. We may have different functions within the family of God but that difference is not demeaning if it is one that God puts into our hands.

  5. There is a thoroughly footnoted, 24-page, 1988 paper by Dr. C. Mervyn Maxwell, WOMEN IN THE GRECO-ROMAN WORLD, A Study Paper for the Biblical Research Institute. It is online at www.adventistarchives.org/women-in-the-greco-roman-world.pdf It puts the lie to any suggestion that ALL women were deemed of little worth in Jesus' time. Clearly some were, but many others were very much otherwise--possessing influence, respect, economic independence etc. admirable & enviable even by today’s standards.

    • Thank you for this. I will prayerfully read it as I search for concrete answers to the questions this article has raised.

  6. I was wondering something.

    People often talk about the "roles of men and women".
    Where can we find these roles outlined?
    A reference and a small list might be appreciated--i.e. what are the things that women must do that are forbidden to men and vice versa?
    I think this will inform discussion better; because people use this expression all the time without defining what they mean.

    Often I say that one's role should be defined by one's gifted-ness. In other words, if I like to draw and I am good at it, that could be in a sense--a calling of mine.

    Secondly, sometimes I find the whole idea of the "role of women" to be a bit strange. It's as if "they" do not "fit" and we (non-women) must "find something to do with them".
    So again, I think that's demeaning. Just as how men find their purpose as individuals through their talents and gifts and interests (without shame and opprobrium), I think women should be allowed to do the same.

    Is something wrong with this?

    • "what are the things that women must do that are forbidden to men and vice versa?"

      Conventional wisdom says there are three things that God has given us that differentiate the sexes. Body parts, clothing (Deuteronomy 22:5), and desiring a partner of the opposite gender (Leviticus 18:22). So long as we stay within the parameters of these three things defining manhood and womanhood should be a cinch.

      However, serious problems arise with defining the genders in this way. Consider David's charge to his son Solomon when he said "...shew thyself a man" 1 Kings 2:2. What did David mean by this? How was Solomon to show himself to be a man? Wear pants instead of a dress? Drop his trousers and reveal his manly parts? Display his sexual prowess with women? Of course such a definition of manhood (or womanhood) would be no different than how gangster rap defines manhood. Is this what God has given us to differentiate the sexes?

      Some will say that outside of body parts, clothes, and sexual partners manhood (or womanhood) is culturally conditioned by society. Things like chivalry and so forth. So long as society doesn't violate Gods three gender rules by asking us to mutilate our parts to be the opposite genders parts, or cross dress, or be homosexual, then whatever society says is fine by God. Unfortunately society's track record on defining gender identity is dubious at best. Consider a societal rule that says women cannot read or vote. Such a rule doesn't violate the big three but it hardly seems fair and just. Someone may say that that's exactly how it should be, fair and just. But, if society says that all things are equal between the sexes then it isn't defining manhood or womanhood at all. If there is nothing that one can do which the other cannot do then there is no difference between them. Leaving it up to society to define the roles of men and women is a recipe for chaos and oppression.

      Which brings us back to 1 Kings 2:2. What did David mean by "...shew thyself a man"? Giftedness? How does a gift for singing or construction work make me a man, or a woman?

      Is it genetics? As in men are stronger, women are better at multitasking etc. If so how do we stop ourselves from pigeon holing people into specific tasks that are more suitable for their gender? Or belittling each other for exhibiting certain behaviors that are genetically exclusive to the opposite gender? Which would lead us right back into the very sexism that we're trying to escape.

      In conclusion our church is in the grips of gender identity confusion. Before we can argue about male and female roles we need a working definition of what a male and female is.

      • That is fraught with danger as you can imagine.
        Everyone has their own idea about what a man or woman is and how that should be expressed ideally; and they feel strongly about it too.

        That is often shaped by their experiences growing up. Eg. "My grandfather was a real man!"

        Also people do not understand how closely the media shapes their understanding of things.

        That's not even discussing those with challenges like intersex individuals.

        • I believe the best way to understand what is a man or woman is to consult their Maker.

          No manufacturer creates a product and leaves it up to the public to determine what it is and how to use it. Anything that is made is made with an identity and a purpose by its maker. Certainly the public can find new uses for a product, but these uses were not part of the manufacturers plans nor are they found in the owners manual.

          The same thing applies to humanity. We must prayerfully consult everything the Bible has to say about what a man or woman is. Beyond body parts, clothing and sexual partners we must also consider what it says one gender should do that the other should not. No matter how objectionable we may find it.

          Until then we are at the mercy of the shifting sands of human opinion which gives us hyper masculinity/feminity with its focus on sex on the one hand and androgyny with its insistence that there is nothing that one gender can do that the other cannot on the other. Which is a false choice.

      • Bensheh, regarding 1 Kings 2:2, the context does not require us to interpret "man" as in contrast to "woman". On the other hand, the next verse includes encouragement to "keep the charge of the LORD your God: to walk in His ways...." Since the speaker is the dying King David as he hands over the role of leadership to his son, "a man" would mean "a strong leader" in contrast to "a boy" or even "a weakling", with no emphasis at all on gender.

        • Even if we understand the text to mean "...shew thyself an adult" it still doesn't answer the question of what exactly is a man (or woman).

          Being a man must mean more than just having the right parts, wearing the right clothes, or sleeping with the right partners. We would cringe if we heard a father teach his son that these are the things that make him a man. Equally cringeworthy is the notion that beyond these superficial distinctions men and women are virtually the same. Which is just androgyny by function rather than form.

          If God created man and woman as biological distinctions only, with no unique behavioral expectations between them then there is no such thing as a "man" or a "woman". Such terms would be just short hand for describing the complex biological parts unique to the genders and nothing more. Unlike say how the automobile terms "truck" and a "sedan" are not just terms that denote difference in parts or the function of those parts but in behavior as well. If both vehicles were used to perform the same tasks then the difference between them would only be the sum of their parts. At that point the terms "truck" and "sedan" would be meaningless. However, there are things we expect from one vehicle that we do not from the other not simply because of how they are built, but what the manufacturer built them for. If the manufacturer saw people using "truck" or "sedan" as simply being a marker for physical distinction, whilst using the vehicles identically, the manufacturer would rightfully conclude that there is confusion as to what these things are.

          If God, our manufacturer, has given us anything in His Word that tells us there is something He expects from one gender that He does not from another, then He has given us true manhood and womanhood with a meaning beyond biology. If not then "manhood" and "womanhood" is meaningless and we are gender confused.

          • Bensheh, the subject of gender roles today takes us far off the subject of how Christ treated women.

            That said, I believe we should recognize that societal roles for men and women (aside from reproductive functions determined by biology) differ from one culture to another and from one part of the world to another. The culture from the time of Jesus was different from the culture now. And the culture from the time of Jesus was different from what it was 200 years previously and 2000 years previously. And it seems that the culture in the early church - including male and female roles - seems to have been different from the Jewish culture in which Jesus lived.

            I am not at all convinced that God puts a great deal of emphasis on gender role distinctions - especially since there will be no such distinctions in the heavenly kingdom. Rather "true manhood" would include a character like that of Christ. Likewise, "true womanhood" would include a character like that of Christ. Since there are certain typical gender distinctions, the way men and women would display such a character would be a little different. But the distinctions are "typical," rather than absolute, since male and female personality traits run along a spectrum, rather than certain characteristics being unique to males and others unique to females. (Examples: Most men are better at judging spatial relationships, but some women are better at it than some men. Most men may be better at mathematics and science than the average woman, but some women are a great deal better at mathematics and science than the average man. Women are deemed to be "more emotional" than men, but some men are much "more emotional" than many women. And we could go on and on ... and on. These characteristics are neither right nor wrong, but a function of hereditary and environmental influences. )

            I believe God is far more interested in our characters than in any "roles" we perform in society. Whatever "roles" we perform, we should perform them in the spirit of Christ. And we need to treat each other with deferential respect. I believe that any emphasis on either men or women functioning in roles that supposedly give them a "higher" position than the other sex is contrary to the teachings of Christ and of Paul.

      • Bensheh, this raises a number of interesting questions, but there are some immediate answers available -- if we will only see them.

        Some years ago an experiment was conducted for gender characteristics where a group of young children, about two to three years of age, was divided into two rooms, boys in one room, girls in another. The girls were given boy toys to play with, model trucks and accessories. The boys were given dolls to play with. Within a few minutes the girls were talking to the trucks, and the boys were throwing the dolls around the room.

        In the news recently a lesbian mother was complaining that she was having no success in raising her daughter to be a lesbian. In spite of the mother's best efforts, the girl wanted to play with dolls and wear frilly dresses.

        There are many similar examples available. What it shows is that there are deep-seated differences between the genders which largely determine how they respond to the outside world.

        Such differences can be modified somewhat by society, but the root instincts remain. With glaring exceptions, a man's instinct is to protect his woman, and a woman's instinct is to look to her man for leadership.

        Gender identity can become confused -- by same gender attraction or by desire for cross dressing, or in other ways -- but for the overall general population the gender characteristics are beyond question. The problems arise when the basic instincts are carried to excess -- for example, when a man's instinct to protect his woman causes him to lock her up in the house and keep her ignorant, or when a woman becomes co-dependent to a man's weaknesses and vices and helps him destroy himself.

        The reference to 1 Kings 2:2 becomes curious in this context. Until recently, under the assault of Marxist-driven second and third wave feminism, there was seldom any question about the question of manliness. Among the primary characteristics were courage, integrity and chivalry. These characteristics are demonstrated, sometimes in their absence throughout the Bible, where contrasts are given between men who acted in manly or unmanly ways. Without delving into the well-known details, Joseph was manly, Samson was not. Jonathan was manly, his father was not.

        The medieval epic literature is rich with examples. From one point of view, the entire focus of the medieval epics was to define manliness. Der Arme Heinrich, Parzival, and Gawain and the Green Knight are outstanding examples.

        Among other things the Bible stories show us is how the unmanly may become manly. The apostles Peter and John are major examples. In contrast to their pre-resurrection lives, post resurrection they demonstrated the manly traits of courage, integrity, and humility. Of course, Jesus demonstrated these characteristics at a high level throughout his life.

        Which raises the immediate question, is it not womanly to be brave and honest and humble? Yes, of course, these are fundamental human values, but they are expressed in different ways. For example, a woman will huddle for safety and fight to protect her young, while a man will go out to defeat the foe on the foe's ground.

  7. Very interesting. Made me think. In a biological sense function is always determined by and related to structure. Would that be same other areas of existence? Bearing in mind that similarities in male/female structures are vastly greater than the differences from the molecular in the genome right up to the entire organism. Just a thought and wondering how far one can extrapolate the functionality of the physical world into the spiritual realms.

    At the end of the day the spiritual gifts are for us all that we along with the others for whom we labour may be perfected by and in CHRIST.

  8. I thoroughly enjoyed this article. I have always thought that my Jesus was something of a radical in His time - in many different ways. That He did it through living example and not just talk is wonderful to me. Even more impactful is that He did it with love and kindness.

    For a while now I have wondered where Jesus would be purposefully different today? With what groups would He deliberately go out of His way to find and associate with? Whom would Jesus choose to befriend and share His life-changing water with? Where and how would Jesus seek out those needing kindness and compassion where today there is only scorn, hate and derision? How can I walk like Jesus walked and be a radical element of hope, love and kindness in the world I live in today?

    Thank you Inge, for the thought-provoking article. I believe that too many are being wound up in details of being perfectly correct and in doing so lose sight of the bigger picture Jesus came to paint for us to follow. I'm praying that God will lead me to see how I can be more like Jesus. I'm praying for wisdom and discernment to recognize the opportunities to bring others into a relationship with my Jesus. And I'm praying for a willing heart to go where God points me.

    • Chris, to answer your question, I would add "all" to the list of whom Jesus would seek to save. If they are lost, He will seek them in the person of those who serve Him faithfully. He came to all classes, even those who nailed Him to the cross. High or low, rich, poor, free, slave, Jew, Gentile, male or female, Jesus was given to us because "God so loved the world", that "whosoever believes" can be saved. Though the original post focuses on one class as a wonderful example of God's love shown through the actions of Jesus, He reached out to all, and today His servants will do the same. Any who are wounded and left dying from sin and it's consequences, those yoked together with Jesus will not pass by on the other side.

      Jesus followed always the leading of God's Spirit which empowered Him, the same Spirit He promised those who believe in Him.


Please leave a comment long enough to say something significant and considerably shorter than the original post. First and last name required.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please leave a comment long enough to say something significant and preferably significantly shorter than the post on which you are commenting.

HTML tags allowed in your comment: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>