Women in Ministry: A Hermeneutical and Historical Approach Part 7

It is no secret that Jesus broke many Jewish customs. One of which was to encourage female followers.

This fact is of extraordinary significance. In Judaism, women were exempt from learning the Torah. They might learn a great deal informally, as they did through synagogue teaching, but a woman would not on her own enter into an association with a rabbi to become his disciple. Further, women were not to be in close association with men, and it would be unheard of for women to travel with a rabbi.[1]

It is interesting to note that it was the women who stayed with Jesus during his trial and crucifixion, while his disciples ran and hid. “Their devotion to Jesus may have resulted from the compassion and dignity he gave to women in a culture that favored men.”[2]

The true dignity placed on women in Biblical times, however, goes back much further than Jesus. Regardless of the Jewish tradition, it is evident that God gave women dignity through the way He treated them throughout the Old Testament scriptures. There was a long line of heroines in the Old Testament, which continued straight through to the New Testament—Miriam, Deborah, Rahab, Esther, Ruth, Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, among others. Jesus’ treatment of women was just the continuation of this honor which came from his Father.

If women were treated with dignity in the Old and New Testaments, then at what point did it become unfavored? Exactly when is unknown, but archeological findings show that by the end of the second century, writings from theologians and pastors repeatedly condemned women acting in ministerial roles, citing Paul’s writings. However, women could instruct other women and their husbands in private, while others forbade women to even write about their faith because it was so similar to teaching.

Yet women were allowed at this time to fill the roles of prophet and deacon. At this time also, widows were given the task of praying for the whole of the church and were encouraged to pray and lay hands on the sick. In some instances, widows could disciple younger women. They were given high regards by being ordained and could occupy special seating with priests and bishops; and during communion, were seated with clergy behind the veil that hid the sacrament.

Women, however, were not exempt in sharing in the sufferings of persecution along with men.


[1] Ruth A. Tucker and Walter Liefeld, Daughters of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 29.

[2] Barbara J. MacHaffie, Her Story: Women in Christian Tradition (Philadelphia, PA: Zondervan), 17.

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4 thoughts on “Women in Ministry: A Hermeneutical and Historical Approach Part 7

  1. Pingback: Women in Ministry: A Hermeneutical and Historical Approach Part 8 | A Closer Look

  2. Pingback: Women in Ministry: A Hermeneutical and Historical Approach Part 9 | A Closer Look

  3. Pingback: Women in Ministry: A Hermeneutical and Historical Approach Part 10 | A Closer Look

  4. Pingback: Women in Ministry: A Hermeneutical and Historical Approach Part 11 | A Closer Look

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