What is the Biblical picture of women?
People in our day forget how much of human history has discriminated against women. Within the last hundred years in the United States, there was a time where banks would not give women an account in their own names, nor could women get credit cards in their own names in many places. Women would very often be legally named “Mrs. Henry Jones” or similar. Often this was voluntary, for many women wanted to identify with their husbands as much as possible.Women were not allowed to vote in the US until the twentieth centrury. In the first century, women were often not considered capable of giving testimony in court. Into this context, the New Testament was written. The Old Testament was written over several centuries, and completed much earlier than the New.
Often today we find people lambasting the Bible as being wrong to women. However, this is almost always due to people assuming what is in the Bible and not reading it for what it says. Many critics paint the Bible in an imbalanced way and sometimes invent an attitude against women that is not found in the Bible. In reality, and in contrast to the values of most societies, the Bible lifts up women, protects them from abuse, and sets several guidelines that ensure women’s rights are maintained.
Old Testament Law
- Women who were indentured servants were not blamed for adultery, since they were considered to have no choice in the matter (Lev. 19:20. This helped protect women’s rights and keep them from being powerless.
- To keep jealous husbands from irrationally blaming their wives for unfaithfulness that the wives did not commit, the law required a series of tests that would protect innocent women, and only implicate a woman if she had an overwhelming sense of guilt. (Numbers 5)
- Divorce laws prevented a first husband from re-marrying a woman after she had been married again. This protected women from being passed around like property (Deut. 24)
- If a husband dies, his brother is to marry the wife. This protected women from being left to poverty. (Deut. 25)
- Newly married husbands were prevented from going out to war, so that they could stay home and make her happy. (Deut. 24:5)
- People with money were required to include widows and orphans in their celebrations. (Deut. 26:12)
Old Testament History
- Deborah was the leader of the country during the time of the judges (Judges 4 – 5)
- Women were praised for working both inside and outside the home (Proverbs 31:15-16)
- The book of Ruth tells of Ruth and Naomi, both of whom were blessed by God and blessed due to the laws God gave.
- The book of Esther tells of how Esther was wise and saved her people.
- Abigail was a wise and discerning woman who was a leader of the servants. She was praised for taking charge and saving her husband. (1 Sam. 25)
- The queen of Sheba was a wise and wealthy woman who was able to ask Solomon difficult questions. (1 Kings 10:1)
- The book of Hosea tells of God’s prophet who was commanded to take a prostitute for a wife, then go buy her back when she returned to prostitution. This is often viewed as God’s love for His people.
- Jesus revealed some of His most important secrets to an outcast woman (John 4)
- Jesus refused to stone the woman caught in adultery, since she was likely being used by the religious leaders. Instead, He forgave her and gave her sound advice. (John 8)
- The apostle Paul entrusted his most important book to a deaconess of the church, Phoebe, to take to Rome. (Romans 16:1-2)
- Priscilla is in joint ministry work with her husband, called a fellow worker of Paul, and often mentioned first when Paul addresses them. She had a church in her home. (Romans 16:3-4)
- Lydia was a businesswoman who sold purple fabric, likely to the wealthy. She was held up as an early member of the church. (Acts 16:14, 40)
- Women were mentioned as an equal part of Paul’s ministry team (Philippians 4:2-3).
- Jesus healed women equally with men. (Matt. 9:20)
- The apostle Paul commanded that widows with families be taken care of, and widows without families should be taken care of by the church. (1 Tim. 5:16)
- Husbands were to be understanding and honoring to their wives. (1 Peter 3:7)
These are but some of the passages in the Bible that lift up and protect women. Therefore far from holding women back, the Bible gives women an important place alongside men in ministry work, an equal protection under the law, and an honoring place of blessing by the Lord Jesus.
Any criticism of the Bible must take into account these many passages that show how women were viewed in the Bible.
NOTE (added 6/2/13): An additional place in the Bible that treats women well is the end of the book of Job (42:15), where Job’s daughters were given equal inheritance as their brothers.