When Jesus rose from the dead, the first person to see Him was important. They would be the first person to preach the gospel, to teach people the good news that the Son of God had been raised from the dead – indeed, to tell Jesus disciples He had been resurrected. Such an amazing privilege, and a huge responsibility – whoever that person was would be remembered for the whole of history.
Now some theological standpoints would say this role – to teach the gospel, the give the message of Christ to His people, would of course have to be a man. Of course it’s a man, only a man would be trusted to teach the gospel for the first time.
It has to be, if the traditionalists and complimentarians are correct in their theological beliefs. Otherwise their views would simply fall apart wouldn’t they? Anyway, at that point in history, in that culture, a woman’s testimony wasn’t valid in a court of law, so there’s so chance it could be a woman.
Hold on a moment.
Let’s have a look at scripture for a second. In Luke, we see it was three people named Mary Magdalene, Joanna and another woman named Mary who were the first to see the empty tomb and tell the disciples of the resurrection. In John, Mary Magdalene is the first one to see Jesus risen and tell the disciples.
So what do these three people have in common?
That’s right. They are all women.
Appearing to women and ensuring they preach the gospel first is a strange thing to do for someone who according to some doesn’t want women anywhere near the front in church, anywhere near doing a sermon, teaching the gospel or leading anyone.
Don’t you think?
(As an aside, it’s even stranger thing to do if you’re trying to pass a fake gospel, a fantasy or mythological story, as fact – as many still accuse the gospel writers of doing. If someone were trying to convince people of a lie, it’s not exactly smart to have a woman – whose testimony was invalid – as the first witness to Jesus resurrection. But I digress.)
But for Jesus to have a woman be the first preacher of the gospel, then later to forbid them from leading and teaching, makes absolutely no sense.
The reason? Simply put, the traditional and complimentarian views of the role of women aren’t Biblical and don’t fit with the way of Jesus, and how Jesus treated women, at all.
I wrote a lot about the role of women in church last autumn and dissected a few of the key scriptures concerning the issue, how they are about Paul empowering and educating women (who weren’t at the time) and also about warning those who followed the cult of Artemis – which said women were superior to men – that they were not better than men, but equal to them.
Today I want to share more about the dangers of the traditional and complimentarian view and how it’s shaped our culture.
This view of the role of women was held and accepted by most people for centuries. It came from when the scriptures were originally interpreted – by men.
Because culture at the time was male-dominated, and men liked being dominant, there was no way they were going to interpret them in a way which would lessen their influence. Rather they ensured it was interpreted in a way that reinforced what they already believed. Their preconceptions and cultural understandings ultimately got in the way of a more authentic interpretation.
Truth is they may have genuinely believed that their interpretation was correct.
But there is no question that their own prejudices would have impacted their thinking.
Today, we live in a culture where women are treated more equally, and are finding their voice rightly. Still there is a lot of work to do, even in a culture which pursues equality. But there is one place where this old perspective is still accepted, encouraged and even promoted.
We’ve mentioned it already. It’s in church.
More accurately, in churches which hold to this complimentarian and traditional view of the role of women. In these churches, there are good men and women who believe this view, and trust it and accept it completely.
However, in many instances the impact of these views, especially on women, can be extremely damaging.
This view disempowers women, limits them, restricts them, and at its worst it leads to demeaning and patronising treatment by men – in both their attitudes, behaviour and the words they speak.
I’ve heard sermons by some well-known male pastors (and I’m sure you know who I’m talking about…) where I’ve heard this kind of language and it’s been treated as perfectly acceptable – by both men and women in their churches & theological groups.
So how does this compare with how Jesus treats women?
Does He set limits on their roles and responsibilities?
Does He restrict them?
We’ve already seen how Jesus empowers and frees Mary, and sends her to preach the gospel – giving her identity and purpose.
Jesus speaks truth and love into her life. He sets her free from her past and empowers and encourages her to live a new life – and she, like Mary, goes and tells everyone about Jesus.
She plays a kind of teaching and leadership role in making sure her everyone in her village knows who Jesus is.
Jesus consistently empowers and encourages women. He liberates them to be who they were made to be, sets no restrictions on them and treats them with respect, as equals.
One obvious question traditionalists and complimentarians would ask here is:
‘If Jesus wanted to empower women and let them lead, then why didn’t Jesus pick any female disciples? He could have done.’
That question is simple to answer.
Women weren’t educated in Jesus day. Jesus knew that He needed educated people who knew the basic scriptures (which all Jewish boys had to study at some level) in order to spread His message most effectively. He would explain His teachings in greater detail to His disciples, and He needed them to be educated.
It has nothing to do with Him wanting to exclude women in any way.
Knowing this, it makes even more sense then, that Jesus chooses a woman to spread the news of His resurrection, which needed no education at all to understand.
When He gets the opportunity, He empowers women and gives them the opportunity to teach, to lead others. He believes in them and sets them free to be who they were always capable of being.
The traditional and complimentarian views of the role of women don’t do that.
They can and do restrict, hold back, put down and bind women – and when misinterpreted or taken to an extreme can easily lead to disrespectful, demeaning treatment of women which is somehow ‘authorised’ as it’s scriptural.
Some argue it does give freedom – but it’s freedom within very specific and restricted boundaries.
If he didn’t there wouldn’t be female leaders anywhere.
Above all though, as I’ve discussed previously, scripture doesn’t actually back it up.
What’s so painful is to see women who resign themselves to the belief they can’t play certain roles in church or even in life – even though something inside of them is crying out to do them – and eventually just resign themselves to a life which they feel is unfulfilled or can’t play certain roles.
So how do we respond?
Well, first off, we must not respond with judgement. It is not our place to judge those we disagree with. We can hold opinions, argue our case strongly and be strong advocates for them – which I have tried to do today – but never should we sit in judgement.
That’s God’s job, not ours.
But what can we do practically?
First off, to women who already are free, who know this truth – seek to encourage and advocate this view wherever you go, to show other women – and men too – that God made us equal, that women does call women to lead and be a living example of that.
Secondly, as a man, I would say we as men must be empowering, encouraging, supporting and respecting the women we come into contact with. We must treat women as the equals they are, and be in the business of encouraging them and setting them free to be whoever and whatever God has called and made them to be. We must show by our actions what God’s real destiny and purpose for women is, be an advocate and set an example for those who believe differently.
Finally, if you’re a woman who believes this view but feel trapped, I want you all to know that Jesus wants to empower and equip you – and that there is no limit or restriction on what you can be in Him.
If God’s plan for you involves leadership and/or teaching, so be it. Don’t let fear or a false theology restrict you. Jesus wants to set you free, not restrict you.
You are equal to all the men you know, not second or beneath. You are loved infinitely and bear the divine spark.
God has a divine destiny for you – for us all.
Whatever it is, whatever gender we are, let us not be afraid to embrace it.
What do you think – do you agree or disagree with me?
If you’re complimentarian or traditionalist, why do you believe what you believe?
What other ways can we seek to advocate and encourage Jesus empowering and liberating view and treatment of women in our churches and our daily lives?