Summary: The teachings of Christianity were revolutionary. The ideas and doctrines found in the New Testament were radically different from the ideas and doctrines found in the rest of the world. One area where this was true was the status and rights of women.
The advent of the Feminist Movement in our Country in the late 1960s and early 1970s promoted the assertion that women were oppressed, being deprived of their equal rights and equal opportunities in society. They attacked Christianity as being patriarchal by denying women the opportunity to be in leadership positions in the Church. While New Testament Christianity may reserve positions of leadership to men, it is terribly false to accuse Christianity as being guilty of oppressing women.
The teachings of Christianity were revolutionary. The ideas and doctrines found in the New Testament were radically different from the ideas and doctrines found in the rest of the world. One area where this was true was the status and rights of women.
From ancient days, there was always a prejudice against women and they were considered inferior to men. The Greek philosophers considered women to be inferior to men. According to Plato (427 - 347 BC), women came about through a physical degeneration of the human being. “It is only males who are created directly by the gods and are given souls. Those who live rightly return to the stars, but those who are ‘cowards’ or lead unrighteous lives may with reason be supposed to have changed into the nature of women in the second generation.” In other words, females are the reincarnation of men who failed in life during their first go-around.
During Roman rule, women did not enjoy equal status and rights along with men. Roman law attributed to women very low status. According to Roman family law, the husband was the absolute lord and master. The wife was the property of her husband and completely subject to his disposition. He could punish her in any way he liked. As far as family property is concerned, the wife herself did not own anything. Should the husband die, his property would pass to his children (or, in the case of being childless, to the nearest male relative). In Roman civil law, too, women’s rights were very limited. The reasons given in Roman law for restraining women’s rights are variously described as ‘the weakness of her sex’ or ‘the stupidity of her sex’. Women were grouped with minors, slaves, convicted criminals and persons who were dumb and mute; that is, with people whose judgment could not be trusted. Women could not act in their own person in court cases, making contracts,acting as witnesses, and so on. Women could not hold any public offices.
Even in the Jewish culture, women enjoyed few rights. She could not own or inherit property. In practice, she was more a servant than a co-equal in the marriage relationship. And, the husband could divorce the wife but the wife could not divorce the husband.
Religiously, the woman had a second-class status. No woman could be a priest. In the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish men could enter the inner courts and offer -up their sacrifices to the priests. However, the women were restricted from coming near the inner court and they had to remain outside like the uncircumcised Gentiles. Even in the small Jewish villages, in Jesus’ day, the women and men sat on different sides of the synagogue.
Clearly, before Christianity arrived, women in most parts of the world were marginalized or relegated to second-class status in every sphere of life. She was regarded as being inferior.
Jesus changed that way of thinking.
Throughout the Gospels, we find Jesus reaching-out to women. In fact, fairly early in His earthly ministry, we find that some of Jesus’ most dedicated disciples were women - Luke 8:1-3, “And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, and certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.” Note that these women actually financially supported Jesus and His ministry.
Spiritually, women do not have second-rate status. Galatians 3:26-29, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
In the last verse - verse 29 - it mentions that women are also “heirs”. Women who were not known to have the right to be heirs of earthly goods are told in Christianity that they are heirs on a equal footing with men when it comes to spiritual, eternal goods. They are “heirs of God.” 1 Peter 3:7 reminds men to treat their wives as spiritual equals, “being heirs together of the grace of life.”