I’ve always been interested in how women in the Bible were viewed. I know numerous women were mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments, but how many had speaking roles?
I was recently on an internet site called Word Counter and discovered that of the numerous women mentioned in the Bible – 93 had speaking roles. The site said that in the Kings James Version there are a little over 783,000 total words, and those spoken by these 93 women add up to a little over 14,000 words – which was about 1.8 percent of the entire Bible.
That isn’t a big percentage, but those words are like pearls or precious gems lying in a field – just waiting to be discovered. And while 93 speaking women is a relatively small number – I don’t believe there are any other existing historical documents that quotes that many women.
I know that some of the women in the Bible were healers, warriors, business leaders, diplomats, judges, musicians, and prophets. There were even prostitutes and murders among the ranks. Two of the books of the Old Testament were named after women – Esther and Ruth. And those men who wrote the other books of the Bible, certainly felt free to mention women by name – and to write concerning their achievements.
The ten women who talk most in the Bible are primarily in the Old Testament. But the New Testament is unique because against the backdrop of first-century – Middle-Eastern, patriarchal, Judaic culture – Jesus treats women with SO much respect and as equals to men.
In fact, Jesus’s longest recorded conversation with anyone was with a woman – the woman at the well – recorded in John 4:4-42. Remember, she had five husbands and was living with a sixth man. Jesus initiates the conversation with this woman – a Samaritan – unheard of. Her surprise is expressed in the narrative: “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”
Jesus then enters, into a prolonged dialogue which honors her thirst for truth. Ultimately, He reveals to her His identity as the Messiah. And, because of her excitement in witnessing to the town folks – many believed in Jesus.
Jesus refused to view women as unclean or deserving of punishment. Women who were menstruating or persons who had any flow of blood were considered ritually unclean. And, anything or anyone she touched was considered unclean. We find in Luke 8:43-48, the account of a women who had been bleeding for 12 years. She was considered an untouchable – a nobody. Yet, she is healed instantly upon touching the border of His garment. Jesus turns to her and addresses her affectionately, calling her “Daughter.” He tells her that her faith had made her whole and to go in peace. How tender!
Jesus recognized the dignity of women in situations that seem – by ritual law – to demand judgment. As examples: the sinful woman who anoints Jesus in Luke 7:36-50, and the woman caught in adultery in John 8:3-11. In both cases Jesus sees the women as someone deserving compassion.
When Simon, the Pharisee, was upset that Jesus allowed a sinner to touch Him – not only does Jesus tell the woman her sins are forgiven, but asks Simon “Do you see this woman?” The question urges Simon to look beyond the prejudice he always had for women of reputation – and to see her as a woman of humility and great love.
Then there’s the woman caught in adultery who is brought before Jesus to be judged according to the Law. Jesus says that none of the men who brought her themselves are without sin. When her accusers departed, Jesus speaks compassionately to the woman. He doesn’t gloss over her sin, but in his refusal to condemn her, He invites her to a new image of herself.
I noticed how Jesus stepped over the boundaries between men and women by His acceptance of women as disciples. The story in Luke 10:38-42 of Martha and Mary, highlights Jesus’s acceptance and blessing of Mary’s desire to learn. In Mary we see what it means to be a lover of Christ, for she is seen three times in the Gospels – each time at the feet of Jesus. This was the typical position of the male disciple. But Jesus welcomes her desire to learn, and says “Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Jesus not only taught women, but some of them traveled with Him and ministered to Him – like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Chuza, and Susanna.
Then there is, the account of Martha who was grieving over the death of her brother, Lazarus. While they stood at the tomb, Jesus reveals to her, in John 11:25 “I am the resurrection and the life.” Then He calls Lazarus to come forth from the grave.
Women were present at Jesus’s crucifixion. And women were the first witnesses to the Resurrection. In Acts 1:12-14, women joined in prayer between Jesus’s ascension and Pentecost. Even the apostle Paul regularly ministered in the gospel alongside women. He applauded their faithfulness and their giftedness.
It is clear, that God elevates the status of womanhood throughout the biblical record.