Jesus and Women

The biblical defense of hierarchy in male-female relationships is built on a select number of Pauline passages, while the gospels and the book of Acts are often ignored. The hermeneutical principle that undergirds this position is that the gospels are to be read “through” Paul. Yet proponents of this position have been quick to accuse feminists of having a “canon within the canon” because of the significance they assign to Galatians 3:28: “In Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free.” It is past time that this beam in the critic’s eye was exposed.

One of the ironies of this preoccupation with a handful of Pauline passages is that the gospels are filled with stories of Jesus’ encounters with women. For example, to read Luke’s gospel, it becomes evident why the New Testament scholar Alfred Plummer, as far back as 1896, called it “The Gospel of Womanhood.” Nearly one-third of the material unique to Luke deals directly with women. And one discovers on examining the literary structure of this gospel how its author frequently parallels material about men with material about women. The birth narratives feature Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, Anna and Simeon. The first recorded healing of a man (Luke 4:31-37) is followed by the healing of a woman (4:38-39). The parables in Luke reflect this same parallelism: Jesus describes the nature of the kingdom by drawing upon the work of a man who plants mustard seeds and a woman who makes bread; persistence in prayer is illustrated by the friend who wakes his neighbor at night and the woman who succeeds in obtaining a hearing with the judge; the nature of God who seeks the lost is described metaphorically in the parable of a shepherd who searches for the one lost sheep and of the woman who searches for the one lost coin.

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