When we consider the inferior status of women in Palestine in the first century ... Jesus’ attitude toward women is striking. Jesus revealed himself first to women after his resurrection. The disciples ... thought the women were just dreaming. Paul does not include the women in his list of witnesses to the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:5-7). But the fact still remains: Jesus dared to appear first to women.
The incident of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-30) has radical implications also. Here Jesus blatantly broke three customs: He, a man, talked to a woman in public. He, a Jew, spoke to a Samaritan. Finally, he instructed a woman in religion—a topic reserved only for men. When the disciples saw Jesus talking to this woman they were disturbed, but Jesus ignored them.
Even Paul’s words and actions must have been shocking to his first-century friends. Despite his injunction at one point that women should be silent in the church, he freely recognized women as leaders at other points. In Philippians 4:2 he commended Euodia and Syntyche and called them “fellow workers.” In 1 Corinthians he assumed women were prophesying and participating actively in worship. In Romans 16:7 he saluted Junia, a woman, as an apostle ... In Romans 16:1 he called Phoebe a deacon and, according to the best translation, he said, “she was designated as a ruler over many by me.”
This is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in the August-September 1974 issue of Sojourners. Read the full article here.