It distresses me greatly when I hear of people, especially our young people, being taught that Christianity is degrading to women. It is not uncommon to hear, especially among the more radical feminists, that the greatest hindrance to the “liberation” of women is the Bible. And Christianity is often lumped together with some of the major world religions which do indeed take a very dim view of women. But is this a fair and accurate depiction of the teaching of the Bible, particularly the New Testament?
Consider the status of women when the New Testament was written. Under Roman law, women had no right to vote, or to hold public office. All women were under the control of some man, whether her father, her husband, or her legal guardian. Many women were slaves. In the out-lying cultures more distant from Rome, women fared far worse. They were often regarded as the property of their husbands, and limited to child-bearers or objects of male sexual gratification. Polygamy was common. Even in the more advanced Roman districts, women were not permitted to serve in the military in any capacity. Children of a woman’s marriage were deemed to be the exclusive possession of their father, and women had no rights to child custody or support. A woman could not enter into legally-binding contracts or conduct certain transactions without male approval, and she was under the exclusive legal control of her father, then her husband.
Under these conditions, the teachings of Christianity were revolutionary for women generally. For example, when the apostle Paul addressed a person’s moral status or access to God, he said, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye are all one man in Christ Jesus,” (Gal. 3:27-28). Those words, so commonly acknowledged today, ran completely contrary to the culture. They went far—very far in obliterating moral distinctions among the races and genders.
When Paul informed the brethren at Ephesus that a husband has the moral duty to not only love his wife, but to sacrifice his life for her if necessary, he would have been mocked by the culture of the day outside the church. His insight reflected God’s view that the woman is of equal worth and value, and harked back to the creation itself, (Gen. 1, 2).
When Jesus confronted the male-dominated marriage customs of his day, he rejected them without hesitation. Again, he directed attention back to God’s original plan, in which women are to be treated with dignity and respect. In every interaction and in all of his dealings with women, he treated them with courtesy, forthrightness, and respect.
Wherever Christianity has gone, and its principles have been thoughtfully considered and respected, women have advanced spiritually, domestically, and politically. They have stood as coequal companions and supporters of their husbands, rather than merely part of a harem-like brood, held in place to satisfy the lusts of men.
To the extent that the portraits of womanhood painted across the pages of the Bible have been examined and emulated, women have been summoned to their nobler potential, and their immense contributions to society have been fostered and recognized. Women like Esther, Rachel, Abigail, Deborah, Rebekah, Mary, Naomi and Ruth have been immortalized by the Bible, and allowed to inspire young women throughout the ages. Rather than being forgotten in history, the Bible has preserved and extended their influence for future generations. The record of their lives has empowered young women centuries distant to be the very best they can be.
Further, the enduring and compelling moral codes of the Bible have effectively held men to the highest standards of righteousness and decency in their dealings with other men and with women.
Godly men, directed by the principles of God’s word, have been taught to admire women, and have helped them steadily advance and thrive as God intended. Christianity has done a very great deal for women. And women have done a great deal for Christianity, a way of life that appeals to godly women and men alike. Thank God for creating women, and for showing them the path to true fulfillment and happiness.
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.