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Women in the Bible are victors, victims, leaders, servants, and more. Their varied roles are viewed through conflicting biblical interpretations ranging from feminism, which prioritizes female views, and the egalitarian perspective which sees equality in all things, to the complementarian perspective supporting moral equality with differing roles, and its more patriarchal versions of male supremacy.[1]

Views of women in the Hebrew Bible are predominantly but not exclusively patriarchal. The iconic role of Eve as Everywoman has been interpreted to support both patriarchy and egalitarianism.[2]:48 Multiple scholars support the view of the Hebrew Bible as patriarchal, yet some such as feminist scholar Tikva Frymer-Kensky say women such as Deborah, the Shunnemite woman, the prophetess Huldah, and king David's wife Abigail rise above societal limitations and provide examples of the egalitarianism of the Hebrew Bible which does not attempt to justify cultural subordination with an ideology of superiority or "otherness".[3]:160-161

New Testament views on women are diverse with particular controversy over women teaching, being in leadership, and having authority over men. Professor Margaret Y. MacDonald says, historically, there is evidence of egalitarianism in early Christianity,[4]:127 while historian Shulamith Shahar says the church was primarily patriarchal in the middle ages. Both egalitarianism and patriarchy in the church historically impacted the roles open to women and the sexual mores that affected them.[5][6]:88

The number of named and unnamed women in the Bible is uncertain. Professor Karla Bombach says the number ranges from 111 to 173 named individuals, and over 600 unnamed women.[7] "Despite the disparities among these different calculations, ... women or women's names represent between 5.5 and 8 percent of the total [names in the Bible], a stunning reflection of the androcentric character of the Bible."[7] A study of women whose spoken words are recorded found 93, of which 49 women are named.[8][9]


Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)Edit

The Hebrew Bible (also called Tanakh in Judaism, Old Testament in Christianity and Taurat/Tawrah in Islam) is the basis for both Judaism and Christianity, and a cornerstone of Western culture.[2]:5 The Hebrew Bible includes books by various authors produced over a period of centuries using primarily Hebrew and some Aramaic.[10] These books are divided into four categories: (1) the first five books, or Pentateuch (Torah); (2) the history books telling the history of the Israelites, from their conquest of Canaan to their defeat and exile in Babylon; (3) the poetic and "Wisdom books"; and (4) the books of the biblical prophets.[1]

Hebrew Bible views on genderEdit

The majority of scholars agree the Hebrew Bible is a predominantly patriarchal document from a patriarchal age, yet there are also evidences of "gender blindness" present in it.[3]:166-167 Author Edith Hamilton says Old Testament writers considered women as impartially as men, free from prejudice and even from condescension.[11] Theologians Evelyn Stagg and Frank Stagg say the Ten commandments of Exodus 20 contain aspects of both male priority and gender balance. In the tenth commandment, a wife is depicted in the examples not to be coveted: house, wife, male or female slave, ox or donkey, or 'anything that belongs to your neighbour.' On the other hand, the fifth commandment does not make any distinction in the honor to be shown between one parent and another.[12]

Professor Ben Witherington III is quoted by theologian Scot McKnight as saying: "The dominant impression left by our early Jewish sources is of a very patriarchal society that limited women's roles and functions to the home, and severely restricted: (1) their rights of inheritance, (2) their choice of relationship, (3) their ability to pursue a religious education or fully participate in synagogue, and (4) their freedom of movement."[13] Feminist professor Phyllis Trible says "considerable evidence depicts the Bible as a document of male supremacy."[14][15]

Author Christine Elizabeth Yoder says that in the book of Proverbs, the divine attribute of Holy Wisdom is presented as female. She points out that "on the one hand" the sages elevate women, and "on the other hand", the "strange" woman also in Proverbs "perpetuates the stereotype of woman as either wholly good or wholly evil."[16]

Frymer-Kensky says the Hebrew Bible often portrays women as victors, leaders and heroines with qualities Israel should emulate. Hagar,Tamar, Miriam, Rahab, Deborah, Esther, and Yael, are among many female "saviors" of Israel: "victor stories follow the paradigm of Israel's central sacred story: the lowly are raised, the marginal come to the center, the poor boy makes good."[3]:333-337 She goes on to say these women conquered the enemy "by their wits and daring, were symbolic representations of their people, and pointed to the salvation of Israel."[17]

The Hebrew Bible also portrays women as victims using them symbolically as images of an Israel that is also small and vulnerable..."[3]:333-337 Frymer-Kensky explains "This is not misogynist story-telling but something far more complex in which the treatment of women becomes the clue to the morality of the social order."[3]:174 Professor of Religion J. David Pleins says these tales are included by the Deuteronomic historian to demonstrate the evils of life without a centralized shrine and single political authority.[18]

Historian Carol Meyers says the common, ordinary, everyday Hebrew woman is "largely unseen" in the pages of the Bible, and the women we see are the unusual who rose to prominance.[2]:5 Frymer-Kensky adds that, though the Hebrew Bible does focus primarily on "movers and shakers", most theologians agree it does not depict the slave, the poor, or women, as different in essence from other ordinary Israelites, though some women in the Hebrew Bible are victims of violence.[3]:166-167[19]

Eve and GenesisEdit

Creation of Eve, marble relief by Lorenzo Maitani, Orvieto Cathedral, Italy, c. 1300

The two creation myths in Genesis provide different perspectives on the relationship between men and women; in Genesis 1:26-27 male and female are created together, in the image of God, while in Genesis 2:24, Adam is created first, and Eve is created out of him.[12]:18-19[20]

Anthropological comparisons of Mesopotamian and other Near Eastern creation stories with the Genesis story shows a few common themes: humankind is created by a god from clay mixed with some aspect of the god himself, making humans both earthly and divine.[3]:1-18 There are two distinct traditions in Sumerian literature with one having humankind created from clay and the other having man sprouting up from the earth like grass--imagery also found in the Hebrew Bible.[3]:19 Babylonian literature has numerous references to creation from clay. This imagery is twofold: man is "crafted" from clay then gestated and "born". "The two images are juxtaposed rather than harmonized, for both the creation of man which is analogous to the creation of a statue, and the birth of the first man, which is like the births of all subsequent humans, are understood as parallel metaphors."[3]:20 Carol Meyers says, "Despite such similarities, sociological and anthropological theories allow ancient Israel to be categorized and comprehended as a socially distinct formation in the Near Eastern world of the late second and first millennia."[2]:6

Trible and Frymer-Kensky each find that the story of Eve implies no inferiority; the word helpmate (ezer) connotes a mentor in the Bible rather than an assistant and is used frequently for the relation of God to Israel (not Israel to God).[15][3]:168 Trible points out that, in mythology, the last-created thing is traditionally the culmination of creation, which is implied in Genesis 1 where man is created after everything else--except Eve.[15]

New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg says ancient Jews would have seen this in terms of the laws of primogeniture (both in their scriptures and in surrounding cultures) and might have interpreted Adam being created first as a sign of privilege.[21] Susan Lanser said that biblical authors could have expected their readers to respond in culturally conditioned ways, relying on patriarchal attitudes to condemn Eve.[22][3]:168


Deborah Beneath the Palm Tree (c. 1896-1902) by James Tissot

The Book of Judges states Deborah was a prophet, a judge of Israel, and the wife of Lapidoth.[23][24] She rendered her judgments beneath a date palm tree between Ramah in Benjamin and Bethel in the land of Ephraim.[25]

The people of Israel had been oppressed by Jabin, the king of Canaan for twenty years. Deborah sends a prophetic "message of the Lord" to Barak, the son of Abinoam, at Kedesh of Naphtali, and tells him the Lord God has commanded him to muster ten thousand troops, where to put them, and where the enemy will appear. Barak refuses to go to war without Deborah present. Deborah consents, but declares that the glory of the victory will therefore belong to a woman.[24]

As Deborah prophesied, a battle is fought (led by Barak), and Sisera, the enemy commander, is completely defeated. Sisera escapes on foot, comes to the tent of Jael, and lies down to rest. While he is asleep, she hammers a tent-pin through his temple.[24]

The Biblical account of Deborah ends with the statement that after the battle, there was peace in the land for 40 years. (Judges 5:31)

The Shunammite womanEdit

Elisha and the Shunammite woman. Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, 1649.

Biblical scholar Burke Long focuses on the "great woman" of Shunnem who appears in the Book of Kings.[26] He says the Shunammite woman is seen to acknowledge and respect the prophet Elisha's position yet is a "determined mover and shaper of events." The Shunammite was an independent woman. She is able to extend patronage then becomes a determined petitioner willing to confront prophet and King in pursuit of the well being of her household.[3]:164 According to Frymer-Kensky, this narrative demonstrates how gender intersects with class in the Bible's portrayal of ancient Israel. These stories "take place among the rural poor" creating a "backdrop of extreme poverty. The Shunammite is wealthy, giving her more boldness than poor women or sometimes even poor men."[3]:164


Frymer-Kensky says, an example in 2 Kings 22 shows it was not unusual for women to be prophets in ancient Israel even if they could not be priests.[3]:167 Josiah the King was having the Temple repaired and the people were donating toward the project when the High Priest Hilkiah found the Book of the Law which had been lost. He gave it to Shaphan the king's scribe, who read it, then Shaphan took it and gave it to King Josiah. The king tore his robes in distress and said "Go and inquire of the Lord for me ..." So they did, going to the prophet Huldah the wife of Shallum. The text does not comment on the fact this prophet was a woman, but says only that they took her answer back to the king (verse 20).[3]:161


Abigail was the wife of Nabal, who refused to assist the future king David after having accepted his help. Abigail, realizing David's anger will be dangerous to the entire household, acts immediately. She intercepts David bearing gifts and, with what Frymer-Kensky describes as Abigail's "brilliant rhetoric", convinces David not to kill anyone. Frymer-Kensky says "Once again an intelligent determined woman is influential far beyond the confines of patriarchy" showing biblical women had what anthropology terms informal power.[3]:166

Violence against womenEdit

Many have attributed the incidents of violence toward women in the Bible to the breakdown of ancient society. Old Testament scholar Kathleen M. O'Connor explains: "The period between the death of Joshua and the anointing of Saul...was a period of uncertainty and danger... lack of human leadership is viewed as disastrous, for when "every one does what is right in their own eyes, the results are awful" and that is evinced by violent acts against women. [27][28]:277,278 Yet others have alleged such problems are innate to patriarchy.[14]


Phyllis Trible says Abraham is an important figure in the Bible, yet "his story pivots on two women."[14][15]:9 Hagar was Sarah's personal slave and Abraham's concubine. According to Trible, the text says Sarah used, abused then finally rejected Hagar for good.[15]:9-17 Frymer-Kensky says "This story starkly illuminates the relations between women in a patriarchy." She adds that it demonstrates the problems associated with gender intersecting with the disadvantages of class: Sarah has the power, her actions are legal not compassionate, but her motives are clear: "she [Sarah] is vulnerable, making her incapable of compassion toward her social inferior."[29]:98

The Levite finds his concubine lying on the doorstep, James Tissot
The Levites concubineEdit

The Levite's concubine in the book of Judges is "vulnerable as she is only a minor wife, a concubine".[3]:173 She is one of the biblical nameless. Frymer-Kensky says this story is also an example of class intersecting with gender and power: when she is unhappy she runs home, only to have her father give her to another, the Levite. The Levite and his concubine travel to a strange town where they are vulnerable because they travel alone without extended family to rescue them; strangers attack. To protect the Levite, his host offers his daughter to the mob and the Levite sends out his concubine. Trible says "The story makes us realize that in those days men had ultimate powers of disposal over their women."[15]:65-89 Frymer-Kensky says the scene is similar to that in Sodom and Gomorrah when Lot sent his daughters to the mob, but in Genesis the angels save them, and in the book of Judges God is no longer intervening. The concubine is raped to death.[3]:173

The Levite butchers her body and uses it to rouse Israel against the tribe of Benjamin. Civil war follows nearly wiping out an entire tribe. To resuscitate it, hundreds of women are captured and forced into marriage. Fryman-Kensky says, "Horror follows horror."[3] The narrator caps off the story with "in those days there was no king in Isarel and every man did as he pleased." The decline of Israel is reflected in the violence against women that takes place when government fails and social upheaval occurs.[30]:14[31]

According to Old Testament scholar Jerome Creach, some feminist critiques of Judges say the Bible gives tacit approval to violence against women by not speaking out against these acts.[30]:14 Frymer-Kensky says leaving moral conclusions to the reader is a recognized method of writing called gapping used in many Bible stories.[3]:395

Jephthah's daughterEdit
The Daughter of Jephthah, by Alexandre Cabanel (1879).

The story of Jephthah's daughter begins as an archetypal biblical hagiography of a hero. Jephthah is the son of a marginal woman, a prostitute. He is vulnerable. He lives in his father's house, but when his father dies, his half-brothers reject him. According to Frymer-Kensky, "This is not right. In the ancient Near East prostitutes could be hired as surrogate wombs as well as sex objects. Laws and contracts regulated the relationship between the child of such a prostitute and children of the first wife... he could not be disinherited. Jephthah has been wronged, but he has no recourse. He must leave home." Frymer-Kensky says the author assumes the biblical audience is familiar with this, will know Jephthah has been wronged, and will be sympathetic to him.[29]

Jephthah makes a name for himself as a mighty warrior--a hero of Israel. The threat of the Ammonites is grave. The brothers acknowledge their wrongdoing to gain his protection. Frymer-Kensky says Jephthah's response reveals negotiation skills and deep piety. Then he attempts to negotiate peace with Ammon but fails. War it is, with all of Israel vulnerable. Before the battle he makes a battle vow: "If you give the Ammonites into my hand...the one who comes out of the doors of my house...I will offer to YHWH." This turns out to be his daughter. Jephthah's reaction expresses his horror and sense of tragedy in three key expressions of mourning, utter defeat, and reproach. He reproaches her and himself, but foresees only his doom in either keeping or breaking his vow. Jephthah's daughter responds to his speech and she becomes a true heroine of this story. They are both good, yet tragedy happens. Frymer-Kensky summarizes: "The vulnerable heroine is sacrificed, the hero's name is gone."[29] She adds, the author of the book of Judges knew people were sacrificing their children and the narrator of Judges is in opposition. "The horror is the very reason this story is in the book of Judges."[29]:115

Some scholars have interpreted this story to mean that Jephthah's daughter was not actually sacrificed, but kept in seclusion.[32][33]

Desolation of Tamar by J.Tissot

The story of Tamar is a literary unit consisting of seven parts. According to Frymer-Kensky, the story "has received a great deal of attention as a superb piece of literature, and several have concentrated on explicating the artistry involved."[29]:399 This story focuses on three of King David's children, Amnon the first born, Absalom the beloved son, and his beautiful sister Tamar.[15]:38

Amnon desires Tamar deeply. Immediately after explaining Amnon's desire the narrator first uses the term sister to reveal Tamar is not only Absalom's sister but is also Amnon's sister by another mother. Phyllis Trible says the storyteller "stresses family ties for such intimacy exacerbates the coming tragedy." Full of lust, the prince is impotent to act; Tamar is a virgin and protected property. Then comes a plan from cousin Jonadab "a very crafty man."[15]:39

Jonadab's scheme to aid Amnon pivots on David the king. Amnon pretends to be sick and David comes to see him.[15]:43 He asks that his sister Tamar make him food and feed him. The king orders it sending a message to Tamar. [15]:44 Amnon sends the servants away. Alone with her brother she is vulnerable, but Tamar claims her voice. Frymer-Kensky says Tamar speaks to Amnon with wisdom, but she speaks to a foolish man. She attempts to dissuade him, then offers the alternative of marriage, and tells him to appeal to the king. He does not listen, and rapes her.[15]:45

Amnon is immediately full of shame and angrily throws Tamar out. “No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.” But he refuses to listen. Trible says that Tamar is desolate: ruined and miserable. King David is furious but he does nothing to avenge his daughter or punish his son. Frymer Kensky says "The reader of the story who expects that the state will provide protection for the vulnerable now sees that the state cannot control itself."[3]:174 Absalom is filled with hatred, and kills Amnon two years later. Absalom then rebels against his father and is also killed.[15]:48

New TestamentEdit

The New Testament is the second part of the Christian Bible. It tells about the teachings and person of Jesus, as well as events in first-century Christianity. It consists of four narratives called gospels about the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus. It includes a record of the Apostolic ministries in the early church, called the Acts of the Apostles; twenty-one letters called "epistles" written by various authors to specific groups with specific needs concerning Christian doctrine, counsel, instruction, and conflict resolution; and one Apocalyptic book, the Book of Revelation, which is a book of prophecy, containing some instructions to seven local congregations of Asia Minor, but mostly containing prophetical symbology about the end times.[34]

New Testament views on genderEdit

There is no consensus on the New Testament view of women. Psychologist and professor James R. Beck points out that "Evangelical Christians have not yet settled the exegetical and theological issues."[1]:343

The New Testament names many women among the followers of Jesus and in positions of leadership in the early church.[35][36] New Testament scholar Linda Belleville says "virtually every leadership role that names a man also names a woman. In fact there are more women named as leaders in the New Testament than men. Phoebe is a "deacon" and a "benefactor" (Romans 16:11-2). Mary, Lydia and Nympha are "overseers" of house churches (Acts 12:12; 16:15; Colossians 4:15). Euodia and Syntyche are among the "overseers and deacons" at Philippi (Philippians 1:1; cf, 4:2-3). The only role lacking specific female names is that of elder--but there male names are lacking as well."[37]

New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg and other complementarians agree there are three primary texts that challenge egalitarianism that are also critical to the traditional view of women: "1 Corinthians 14:34-35, where women are commanded to be silent in the church; 1 Timothy 2:11-15 where women (according to the TNIV) are not permitted to teach or have authority over a man; and 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 where the male and female relationship is defined in terms of kephalē commonly translated head."[21][37]:97

Jesus' interactions with womenEdit

Orthodox icon of Photina, the Samaritan woman, meeting Jesus by the well.

The New Testament refers to a number of women in Jesus’ inner circle. There are several Gospel accounts of Jesus imparting important teachings to and about women: his meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well, his anointing by Mary of Bethany, his public admiration for a poor widow who donated two copper coins to the Temple in Jerusalem, his stepping to the aid of the woman accused of adultery, his friendship with Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, and the presence of Mary Magdalene, his mother, and the other women as he was crucified. According to New Testament scholar Dr. Frank Stagg and classicist Evelyn Stagg, the synoptic Gospels of the canonical New Testament[38] contain a relatively high number of references to women. The Staggs find no recorded instance where Jesus disgraces, belittles, reproaches, or stereotypes a woman. They say these examples are instructive for inferring Jesus' attitudes toward women.[12]

Egalitarianism in the early churchEdit

Sociologist Linda L. Lindsey says "Belief in the spiritual equality of the genders (Galatians) and Jesus' inclusion of women in prominent roles, led the early New Testament church to recognize women's contributions to charity, evangelism and teaching."[39]:131 Pliny the Younger explains in his letters to Emperor Trajan that Christianity had people from every age and rank, and both sexes, with women in leadership roles.[40] Professor of religion Margaret Y. MacDonald uses a "social scientific concept of power" which distinguishes between power and authority to show early Christian women did in fact play a significant role in Christianity's beginnings.[41] According to MacDonald, much of the vociferous pagan criticism of the early church was linked to this "female initiative".[4]:126

Christianity was considered a threat to Roman society. Rome had a social caste system where female initiative was seen as similar to sorcery.[42] Such accusations were used to oppose Christianity and influence public opinion.[4]:126[43]

MacDonald says "The [pagan critic's] focus on women is to draw attention to the essence of a group where power is exercised in dangerous, illegitimate ways, where the norms of household order are subverted, where traditional male control of house and school is compromised, where the public practices of religion are ignored in favor of a god who is worshipped in private, and where the only wisdom comes from magic lore."[4]:126

Some New Testament texts (1 Peter 2:12;3:15-16; 1 Timothy 3:6-7;5:14) explicitly discuss early Christian communities being burdened by slanderous rumors because of this perceived threat. Such negative public opinion played a part in violence and martyrdom of early Christians.[2][4]:127[44] MacDonald alleges some New Testament texts concerning the behavior of women were written in response to these dangerous circumstances.[4]

Paul the Apostle and womenEdit

Paul the Apostle was the first writer to give ecclesiastical directives about the role of women in the church. Some of these are now heavily disputed. There are also arguments that some of the writings attributed to Paul are pseudepigraphal post-Pauline interpolations.[45] Scholars agree certain texts attributed to Paul and the Pauline epistles have provided much support for the view of the role of women as subservient.[46]:22-34[37][47]

1 Corinthians 14:34-35Edit

Traditional complementarianists explain that Paul distinguishes between "public and private, authoritative and non-authoritative, formal and informal" types of instruction. Linda Belleville says those distinctions are not reflected in the Greek. She also asserts the traditional English translations of these verses is colored by hierarchical bias. She uses 1 Corinthians 11:2-5 to demonstrate this by showing Paul approved women "praying and prophesying," which requires speaking in the church, adding that the context of 1 Corinthians 14 is about the order of worship and is corrective not directive.[37]:80-97

1 Timothy 2:11-15Edit

According to Belleville, there is no other New Testament letter in which women figure as prominently as they do in 1 Timothy. "All told, 20% of the letter focuses on women."[37] Theologian Leland Wilshire says English translations of 1 Timothy 2:12b (which contains the clause authentein andros) have traditionally been translated "to have authority." Wilshire conducted a computer study and concluded "a whole theology excluding women has been built on this clause" which the computer indicates is a mis-translation in the English.[46]:22-34 Wilshire says there is a "strange and unusual verbal infinitive, (authentein), in the original language," which is used only this once in the New Testament. He adds "no other usages of this particular word in its infinitive form can be discovered in the whole of extant Greek literature outside of later repetitions" of this verse. This word "is not one of the common words used throughout the New Testament for "exercising or having authority" nor is it the same word used to describe the activity of "ruling" by any church office within the pastoral epistles."[46]:9-10 Wilshire says there has been little to no attempt within the traditional church to solve these linguistic difficulties using philological and historical methods.[46]:10

1 Timothy 5:3-16 and 3:1-7Edit

Writings such as 1 Timothy 5:3-16 and 3:1-7 concerning the behavior of widows "reflect a heightened concern for the honor of the community" and offer a clear indication of what those who wanted to slander the community were saying.[4]:157 Widows in Greco-Roman society could not inherit their husband's estate[42] and could find themselves in desperate circumstances, but almost from the beginning the church offered widows support.[4]:137 Roman law required a widow to remarry[42]; Paul says a woman is better off if she remains unmarried.[4]:138 "Through their deeds, the widows may have confirmed the suspicion of critics that early Christianity largely involved female initiative."[4]:158

MacDonald says "...we have been able to trace a shift in perspective concerning unmarried women from Paul's [early] day to the time of the Pastoral epistles. ...the presence in the community of [a strong inclination among single women to remain unmarried and celibate] and the increasing public scrutiny [it brought] were catalysts for this change of perspective, which manifests itself in a return to traditional [Roman] patterns [and the requirement to marry]."[4]:164

She concludes that concerns about the public visibility of women are evident in the return to Roman concepts of traditional household roles in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and in 1 Corinthians 14:34-5.[4]:164 There is ongoing dispute over their correct translation.[37][47][48]

1 Corinthians 11:2-16Edit

Wilshire says the issue in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 is whether the term kephalē translated head implies domination or subjection.[46]:49 "To say that the woman is the glory of man may have the concept of ennobling rather than a subservient or demeaning meaning."[46]:49

Apostle Peter on womenEdit

In 1 Peter 3 wives are exhorted to submit to their husbands "so they may be won over." Theologian Scot McKnight says: "This is entirely consistent with Peter's agenda at 2:11-12, that Christians live such holy lives that nothing can be lodged against the gospel because of their behavior;" this reference may be a reflection of cultural circumstances of negative pagan opinion.[13][4]

Professor James B. Hurley presents the complementarian view saying Peter's statements are not just a strategy for converting pagan husbands but are a reflection of Peter's belief that marriage is modeled after Christ and the church, Jesus' suffering and self-sacrifice, the lives of holy women, doing right, with both husbands and wives as "fellow heirs". Hurley says Peter presents the woman's role as "of great worth" to both God and the woman herself.[49]

Official teaching of the modern Catholic church[50]:61 considers women and men to be complementary (equal and different), but some have argued the teachings attributed to St. Paul and those of the early Fathers of the Church and later Scholastic theologians advanced the notion of a divinely ordained female inferiority.[51]:465


Paul wrote in Romans 16:7 "Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was." Bible translator Hayk Hovhannisyan says Junia was a woman and there is consensus supporting this view.[47]:297[48]:241,242 "Some scholars argue that Junia was really a man by the name of Junias... Whether this name is masculine or feminine depends on how the word was accented in Greek. ...scribes wrote Junia as feminine. Examination of ancient Greek and Latin literature confirms this idea. The masculine name Junias is nowhere attested, whereas the female name found more than 250 times..."[47]

Belleville says some traditionalists translate [outstanding among the apostles] as "esteemed by the apostles." "The justification for this change is the contention that all biblical and extra-biblical parallels to Romans 16:7 are exclusive (esteemed by apostles, well known to apostles) rather than inclusive (honored as one of the apostles, "among" the apostles)...[but] proof is wholly lacking. ...The preposition en plus the dative plural with rare exception is inclusive "in/among" and not the exclusive "to". ...the parallels... plus the dative plural bear the inclusive meaning "a notable member of the larger group."[37]:36-40[47]:280 Professor of New Testament Craig S. Keener says the early church understood Andronicus and Junia to be a husband and wife apostolic team. "Paul nowhere limits the apostolic company to twelve plus himself as some have assumed." Keener says "it is unnatural to read the text as merely claiming that they had a high reputation with the apostles."[48]:242

Minister and Professor Leland E. Wilshire says New Testament critic Eldon Jay Epp's work comparing the Junia passage to Lucian's second century Dialogues of the Dead "has resolved the Junia controversy" by convincingly proving the phrase should be rendered with Junia as a female and as one of the apostles.[46]:4


In Romans 16:3-5 Paul refers to the married couple Priscilla and Aquilla as his "fellow workers" saying they risked their lives for him. Paul worked and seemingly lived with them for a considerable time, and they followed him to Ephesus before he left on his next missionary journey. In Acts 18:25,26 Luke says Apollos, a "learned man," came to Ephesus and began speaking in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquilla heard him, they took him with them and "explained the way of God more accurately." Hayk Hovhannisyan says "either Priscilla was unaware of [Paul's doctrine that a woman shouldn't teach a man], which is virtually impossible; or she knew about it and decided to rebel--or the doctrine did not exist."[47]:275

Mary of BethanyEdit

Theologian and ethicist Stanley Grenz with Professor Denise Muir Kjesbo say it was the norm in first century Palestine for the education of women to end sometime around puberty, and that most Rabbis believed it was inappropriate to instruct women in the study of the Torah. In the story of Mary of Bethany, Jesus demonstrates His willingness to turn accepted cultural expectations upside down. In Luke 10:39, the author says Mary sat "at Jesus feet." The author "chooses terminology associated with rabbinic study (compare Acts 22:3), suggesting that Mary became Jesus' student."[52]:75

Mary MagdaleneEdit

Appearance of Jesus Christ to Maria Magdalena (1835) by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov. In John 20:1-13, Mary Magdalene sees the risen Jesus alone[53][54] and he tells her "Don't touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my father."[54]

New Testament scholar Mary Ann Getty-Sullivan says Mary Magdalene, or Mary from the town of Magdala, is sometimes "erroneously identified as the sinner who anointed Jesus according to Luke's description in Luke 7:36-50. She is at times also confused with Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (John 12:1-8)", and is sometimes assumed to be the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11), though there is nothing in the text to indicate that. Luke qualifies her as "one who was healed" but otherwise little is known about her. Mary Magdalene is named first in all lists of women except the one in John 19:25 which likely indicates a position of leadership among the women. The leadership of women prompted negative pagan response.[4]:102-105 There is nothing to directly indicate Mary Magdalene was a former prostitute, and some scholars believe she was a woman of means who helped support Jesus and his ministry.[55]:183-187

New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III says John is the only evangelist with a "keen interest" in portraying women in Jesus' story, yet, the "only Easter event narrated by all four evangelists concerns the visit of the women to the tomb of Jesus."[56]:161 Mary Magdalene and the other women go to anoint Jesus' body at the tomb, but find the body gone. Mary Magdalene is inconsolable, but she turns and Jesus' speaks to her. He calls her by name and she recognizes him.[56]:173,178 Witherington adds, "There are certain parallels between the story of the appearance to Mary and John 20:24-31 (when Jesus appears to Thomas) [however] Mary is given an apostolic task (to go tell the men) and Thomas is not... There is little doubt the Fourth evangelist wishes to portray Mary Magdalene as important, perhaps equally important for Jesus' fledgling community as Mother Mary herself."[56]:179, 181

The Roman writer Celsus left one of the primary anti-Christian works still in existence. Margaret MacDonald says his study of Christian scripture led him to focus on Mary Magdalene as the witness to the resurrection, as someone deluded by the "sorcery" by which Jesus did miracles, and as someone who then becomes one of Jesus' primary "instigators" and "perpetrators". McDonald explains that, "In Celsus' work, Mary Magdalene's role in the resurrection story denigrates its credibility... From beginning to end, [Celsus says] the story of Jesus' life has been shaped by the 'fanciful imaginings' of women."[4]:104

MacDonald sees this negative view of Mary as reflecting a challenge taking place within the church of the second century to Mary's role as a woman disciple and to leadership roles for women in general. "The challenge to Mary's position has been evaluated as an indication of tensions between the existing fact of women's leadership in Christian communities and traditional Greco-Roman views about gender roles."[4]:105 MacDonald adds that "Several apocryphal and gnostic texts provide evidence of such a controversy."[4]:105

Patriarchy of the Middle AgesEdit

By the middle ages, a return to patriarchal views meant women were largely excluded from religious, political and mercantile life.[6]:88

There had been a rite for the ordination of women deacons in the Roman Pontifical (a liturgical book) up through the 12th century, but by the 13th-century Roman Pontifical, the prayer for ordaining women as deacons was removed.[57] The formation of convents (and monasteries), distinct from either political or familial authority, gradually carved out a series of social spaces with some amount of independence thereby revolutionizing social history.[58] These institutions also helped form the concept of chivalry which was influenced by a new Church attitude towards Mary, the mother of Jesus.[6]:25 Historian Shulamith Shahar says the increasing popularity of devotion to the Virgin Mary secured maternal virtue as a central cultural theme of Catholic Europe of the period.[6]:25

Some leading churchwomen gained powers unavailable to women in Roman or Germanic societies.[59] The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia references the Comte de Montalembert, (1810-1870) as having recorded that "Medieval abbesses and female superiors of monastic houses became powerful figures whose influence could rival that of male bishops and abbots. They treated with kings, bishops, and the greatest lords on terms of perfect equality;... they were present at all great religious and national solemnities, at the dedication of churches, and even, like the queens, took part in the deliberation of the national assemblies...".[60]

Woman-as-witch became a stereotype in the 1400's until it was deliberately codified in the Summis desiderantes affectibus in 1487 by Pope Innocent VIII who declared "most witches are female." Harvard librarian Margaret Schaus says "The European witch stereotype embodies two apparent paradoxes: first, it was not produced by the "barbaric Dark Ages," but during the progressive Renaissance and the early modern period; secondly, Western Christianity did not recognize the reality of witches for centuries, or criminalize them until around 1400."[61] Sociologist Don Swenson says the explanation for this may lay in the nature of Medieval society as heirocratic which led to violence and the use of coercion to force conformity.[62]

The New Testament and female sexualityEdit

New Testament teachings on sexuality, marriage, and family life have been both influential and controversial. Rodney Stark says these teachings have affected the status of women by promoting monogamy, condemning marital infidelity by both genders alike, limiting divorce, forbidding incest, polygamy, infanticide (female infants were more likely to be 'exposed' and killed), and abortion.[5]:104 Classics professor Kyle Harper says the central Christian prohibition against porneia, (which is a single name for an array of sexual behaviors outside marital intercourse), "collided with deeply entrenched patterns of Roman permissiveness where the legitimacy of sexual contact was determined primarily by status. Paul said the body was a consecrated space, a point of mediation between the individual and the divine."[63]:12 Harper explains this impacted Paul's belief that:

same-sex attraction spelled the estrangement of men and women at the very deepest level of their inmost desires. Paul's over-riding sense that gender—rather than status or power or wealth or position—was the prime determinant in the propriety of the sex act was momentous. By boiling the sex act down to the most basic constituents of male and female, Paul was able to describe the sexual culture surrounding him in transformative terms.[63]:92

Christianity began within the meta-social environment of the Roman empire which had inherited some of its sexual views and mores from the Greek world. Both the ancient Greeks and the Romans cared and wrote about sexual morality within categories of good and bad, pure and defiled, and ideal and transgression.[64] But the sexual-ethical structures of Roman society were built on status, and sexual modesty meant something different for men than it did for women, and for the well-born than it did for the poor, and for the free citizen than it did for the slave—for whom the concepts of honor, shame and sexual modesty could be said to have no meaning at all.[63]:7 Slaves were not thought to have an interior ethical life because they could go no lower socially. Roman literature indicates the Romans were aware of these dualities.[64]:12,20

Scholars of early Christianity such as McDonald and Harper, and classics Professor John Younger, say shame was a profoundly social concept that was, in ancient Rome, always mediated by gender and status.[65] Classics Professor Rebecca Langlands adds "It was not enough that a wife merely regulate her sexual behavior in the accepted ways; it was required that her virtue in this area be conspicuous."[64]:38 Younger says men, on the other hand, were allowed live-in mistresses called pallake.[65] Langlands points out this permitted Roman society to find both a husband's control of a wife's sexual behavior a matter of intense importance, and at the same time, see the husband's sex with young boys as of little concern.[64]:12,20 Christianity sought to establish equal sexual standards for men and women and to protect all whether slave or free. Harper says this was a transformation in the deep logic of sexual morality.[63]:6,7

Christian sexual ideology is inextricable from its concept of freewill. Kyle Harper explains that "In its original form, Christian freewill was a cosmological claim—an argument about the relationship between God's justice and the individual... as Christianity became intermeshed with society, the discussion shifted in revealing ways to the actual psychology of volition and the material constraints on sexual action... The church's acute concern with volition places Christian philosophy in the liveliest currents of imperial Greco-Roman philosophy [where] orthodox Christians offered a radically distinctive version of it."[63]:14 The Greeks and Romans said our deepest moralities depend on our social position which is given to us by fate. Yet according to Harper, Christianity "preached a liberating message of freedom. It was a revolution in the rules of behavior, but also in the very image of the human being as a sexual being, free, frail and awesomely responsible for one's own self to God alone. It was a revolution in the nature of society's claims on the moral agent... There are risks in over-estimating the change in old patterns Christianity was able to begin bringing about; but there are risks, too, in underestimating the Christianization of sexual mores as a watershed."[63]:14–18

Post-biblical theologies and interpretationsEdit

Theologically, the story of Eve has been used as a justification for the subordination of women as well as "for the rejection of Genesis as a source for male chauvinism."[66] Sociologist Linda L. Lindsey says "women have born a greater burden for 'original sin'... Eve's creation from Adam's rib, second in order, with God's "curse" at the expulsion is a stubbornly persistent frame used to justify male supremacy."[39]:133,397

Women from the Bible in art and cultureEdit

There are hundreds of examples of women from the Bible as characters in art and opera.

Historically, paintings tend to reflect the changing views of women in society more than the biblical account that mentions them. Eve is a perennial favorite subject, with the courageous and victorious women, such as Jael, Judith and Esther, popular "moral" figures in the Middle ages. The Renaissance, which preferred the sensuous female nude through the eighteenth century, and the "femme fatale", such as Delilah, from the nineteenth century onward all demonstrate how the Bible and art both shape and reflect views of women.[3][67]

Accounts of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden[Gen 2-3] have been the subjects of considerable sociological, anthropological, and theological debate regarding the patriarchal family order, male dominance and female oppression.[39][68][69]

Art historian Mati Meyer says society's views of Eve are observable in the differing renderings of her in art over the centuries. Meyer explains: "Genesis 2–3 recounts the creation of man and the origins of evil and death; Eve, the temptress who disobeys God’s commandment, is probably the most widely discussed and portrayed figure."[70] Near Eastern scholar Carol Meyers says, "Perhaps more than any other part of the Bible, [Genesis 1-3] has influenced western notions of gender and identity."[2]:72 According to Mati Meyer, Eve is historically portrayed in art in a favorable light up through the Early Middle ages (AD 800's), but by the Late Middle ages (1400's) artistic interpretation of Eve becomes heavily misogynistic. Meyer sees this change as influenced by the writings of Augustine "who sees Eve’s sexuality as destructive to male rationality".[70] By the seventeenth century, the Fall as a male-female struggle emerges, and in the eighteenth century, the perception of Eve is influenced by "Paradise Lost" where Adam's free will is emphasized along with Eve's beauty. Thereafter a secular view of Eve emerges "through her transformation into a femme fatale—a compound of beauty, seductiveness and independence set to destroy the man."[70]

Salome by Richard Strauss was highly controversial when first composed due to its combination of biblical theme, eroticism and murder.[4] Samson and Delilah by Camille Saint-Saëns is one of the pieces that defines French opera.[5]

See alsoEdit


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  2. ^ a b c d e Meyers, Carol (1988). Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context. New York: Oxford University Press. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Frymer-Kensky, Tikva (2006). Studies in Bible and Feminist Criticism. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society. ISBN 0-8276-0798-9. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q MacDonald, Margaret Y. (1996). Early Christian Women and Pagan Opinion The power of the hysterical woman. NY: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0 521 56174 4. 
  5. ^ a b Stark, Rodney (1996). The Rise of Christianity. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-02749-4. 
  6. ^ a b c d Shahar, Shulamith (2003). The Fourth Estate: A History of Women in the Middle Ages. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-30851-8. 
  7. ^ a b Craven, Toni; Kraemer, Ross; Myers, Carol L., eds. (2000). Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books and New Testament. Houghton Mifflin. p. xii. ISBN 978-0395709368. Retrieved 30 January 2017. 
  8. ^ Freeman, Lindsay Hardin (2014). Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter (3rd ed.). Forward Movement. ISBN 978-0880283915. 
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  11. ^ Quoted in Tanner, Stephen L. Women in Literature of the Old Testament. University of Idaho, 1975. ERIC ED112422.
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