I’m not a feminist, but it doesn’t take a feminist to see the mysogeny in some Judeo-Christian circles when King David is so glorified while persons like Michal, David’s first wife, are vilified. If Michal can be so maligned, then any woman can. David treated Michal (and his other wives) like his property in more ways than one, and many “believing” men still see David’s actions in a righteous light.
King David, Israel’s most revered king , who was chosen by God for that role and for his part in God’s redeeming plan, was a poet and a bit of a prophet, but he did things that God did not approve of and which are utterly un-Christlike/un-Christianlike  (read about Judah and others that God used and you’ll see that He didn’t forcefully make them “saints”). As always, we should recognize and praise the good, but we need to also recognize the bad and not repeat it. We are also called to recognize and help the oppressed.
What got “me going” on this subject at this time was a biography of David. In the introduction the author claimed that the only thing David did wrong was have Uriah the Hittite murdered because he wanted the man’s wife (Bathsheba). Though the author didn’t provide the reference for his claim, it comes from 1 Kings 15:5: For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life—except in the case of Uriah the Hittite. Since there are other things written in the Old Testament that David did that displeased God, this statement can be taken as a generalized commendation, just as other kings received generalized condemnations; and “in the case of Uriah the Hittite” David committed many deep sins, not just one. (Note, however, that this particular verse seems to have been added to scripture later since it is not in the oldest versions of the Greek Old Testament).
This is the second part of New Testament Views of Women: 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Due to the length of this study, I decided to divide it up. Please see Part 1 here [forthcoming] as they relate to each other.
1 Timothy 2:13-15
For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women [or she] will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.
There is so much seemingly wrong with this passage in relation to basic Christian doctrine and belief that it seems hard to take it seriously. If the epistle is authentic—which not all early church leaders believed was the case–Paul surely wrote it for a specific local situation and/or a particular false teaching. Verses 13 and 14 read: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.” There are at least two implications here, so let’s go through them in detail.
Christ is primarily known as the savior of the world – his sacrifice being for all who want to dwell with God (Jesus’ blood removes our sin so that we are able to be in the presence of the sinless God). But Jesus did something quite significant and often overlooked (as evidenced throughout the writings of the New Testament): He raised the status of women to the same level as men. Many would argue that men and women have a few different responsibilities in regard to the family and church, but in God’s sight the sexes have equal standing: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
There is a great deal that can be written on this topic–including the contradictory teachings of, and actions by, some church leaders and Christian men. But first, let’s look at some social mores that exhibit the status of women in Israel and the surrounding cultures at the time Jesus walked the earth, and some that are still with us today in various parts of the world.
Female babies are of low worth: In past and present non-Christian cultures, female worthlessness is widespread. Female babies were commonly the victims of infanticide. While that continues today, in places where ultrasound is available many more female fetuses are aborted than male fetuses (especially in China and India). Christians do not value females less than males and do not abort or kill female babies.
Polygyny and divorce: Polygyny was permitted though not very common in ancient Israel; it was relatively common elsewhere. In Greece, a man had one wife but he also had a legal mistress (so, essentially, a 2nd wife). Polygyny was not approved by God, though there are a number of instances of it recorded in the Bible. The NT clearly reiterates God’s will that one man be married to one woman; polygyny is not allowed in Christianity. A man could divorce his wife easily in ancient Israel, but the NT does not allow for this.
Complete control of wife and children by father or husband: In Rome, fathers had total control over family members, and a husband had absolute power over his wife; he could sell a daughter to her future husband. All these powers became illegal some years after Christianity became legal in Rome (374/313). Women also were granted the right to own property and have guardianship of their own children. In Greece, wives had segregated quarters and could not visit male guests of her husband’s in her own home. As in ancient Israel, women in Greece were not to speak in public. Women simply had a very low status in Greece and ancient Israel, and in Israel at the time of Christ, women’s legal witness was virtually non-existent. This obviously changed with Christ’s work.
Clitoridectomy: The removal of the female clitoris, and often other genital parts, is a common practice in many African countries (and is found in countries where Africans have immigrated to). This is condemned and outlawed in Christian-based countries.
Binding feet, China: In order to be more attractive to men, girls used to have their feet bound so that they remained “small.” The fact is, the foot only became very disfigured and it often became severely infected. Because of Christian missionary pressure in the 19th century, the Chinese government outlawed the practice of female foot binding in 1912.
There are other practices around the world (past and present), like burning or burying widows alive (in India), arranging marriages of female children (this still occurs in China, India, and parts of Africa), maintaining double standards for adultery, and the forced wearing of veils, that make obvious the widespread low status of women but which are condemned by Christianity. As Alvin Schmidt, author of How Christianity Changed the World, said in an interview, “Geroge Sarton, a historian of science, once said, ‘The birth of Christianity changed forever the face of the Western world.’ As far as I know, Sarton had no love for Christianity. He merely said what history revealed to him. Another historian, for instance, has said, ‘The birth of Jesus Christ was the turning point in the history of women.’”
Now let’s look more specifically at how women were viewed and treated by Israel when Christ lived, and what Christ did to elevate women. Today when we read the New Testament (NT) text alone, we simply cannot understand how radical so much of what Jesus did was; our culture reflects in so many ways the changes that Jesus began. The radical things Jesus did seem normal to us now, so we must look into the context of the times to fathom the changes that he wrought.
At the time of Christ¹ women existed for the pleasure of men. If a woman did not bear a male child or didn’t please her husband in some way, he could divorce her with ease. A woman could not divorce her husband. Women were not to speak in public with men (men should not even give a greeting to a woman in public), they were not to testify in court, they were not supposed to read the Torah (Law), nor were they to be taught. As a rabbinic teaching advised (Sotah 3.4), “Let the words of the Law be burned rather than committed to a woman . . . . If a man teaches his daughter the Law, it is as though he taught her lechery.” Also, women were set apart from men in synagogue worship, either by a partition or by being in separate rooms.
Each one of the above negative aspects of womanhood in ancient Israel was reformed by Jesus, as it was never God’s will that such treatment of women exist. First, regarding a man’s ease in divorcing his wife, Jesus told his disciples that it was not to be—that instead a man could divorce his wife for unfaithfulness only (Matthew 19:4-9). Second, what about women speaking to men in public? To the great shock of his disciples, Jesus not only spoke to women in public, but also to a Samaritan woman publicly (she was very shocked as well) (John 4:5-29)–both no-nos in ancient Israel. In speaking with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, Jesus also taught her. Jesus both spoke and taught to Martha in public (John 11:25-26). Jesus taught Mary, Martha’s sister, and commended Mary for wanting to learn from him (Luke 10:38-42). Another woman followed Jesus in order to be healed. She was not only healed by him, but he talked with her and blessed her publicly (Mark 5:25-34).
These are not the only interactions that Jesus had with women. There are very many recorded in the NT. Of very real significance, however, is Jesus’ appearing to women first after his resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18). This put women in a whole new realm of being chief witnesses. Remember, women could not testify or be a witness in court. The fact that Jesus appeared to women first, and told them to go and tell the male disciples of his resurrection, had to have really driven home the message of women’s spiritual equality to the disciples—once they accepted the truth of Jesus’ resurrection that the women were telling them. After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the believers, both male and female, met and prayed together (Acts 1:14). As the fellowship of believers grew they met in houses for “church,” and many of these houses were owned by women. The possibility of the women as leaders in these early churches will be included in another of this series.
Note 1. How Israelite men viewed and treated women changed and varied through time, and was no doubt influenced by the cultures that surrounded them. This essay is interested only with the status of women at the time of Christ.
The second and third articles in this series can be found here:
A sermon of a well-known evangelist was being broadcast one day, and I just can’t forget him talking about how we should never lie. A little white lie? No, we should never go there. Well, Ok, but what about lying to save someone’s life? There are Christians who think it is wrong to lie in order to save someone’s life. But is this stance biblical? Is it always wrong to tell “a” lie, or is it only wrong to be a liar?
Exodus 20:16 (the 9th commandment) states, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Does this command somehow imply that if your neighbor is evil and is about to rape your wife or daughter, that you can’t deceive the neighbor somehow in order to save your loved ones? When faced with evil and/or murderous intent, we cannot defend ourselves with words? A person in this situation could defend themselves or others physically and not be questioned, yet there are Christians who will deny the use of words in self-defense. The motive of one’s heart is what God sees and knows.
There are many verses in the bible indicating that God hates a deceitful heart, a person who deceives for fraudulent or exorbitant gain. Proverbs 11:1, Proverbs 20:23, Hosea 12:7, and Amos 8:5 all show that God hates “dishonest scales” and “false weights,” used by those who boost prices and cheat; Micah 6:11 states, “Shall I acquit a man with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights?” Merchants like this are stealing (commandment 8, “You shall not steal”) through deception. There are other verses about usury and excessive interest as well: “He lends at usury and takes excessive interest. Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he will surely be put to death and his blood will be on his own head” (Ezekiel 18:13). Other relevant verses are: Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-37; Deuteronomy 23:19; Nehemiah 5:7, 10, 11; Psalm 15:5; Proverbs 28:8; Ezekiel 18:8, 17, 22:12.
People who bear false witness, and people who deceive innocents as a way of life in order to take their money and resources, are liars. God is against those who hurt innocent people. There are a number of instances in the bible where persons have lied in order to save innocent life, especially in time of war, or to right an injustice that no one else had stepped in to right. For instance, in Exodus 1:15-21, Pharaoh orders the Hebrew midwives to kill newborn boys, but not girls. The midwives did not comply and when called before Pharaoh, they lied to him, because “they feared God.” God was then kind to the midwives and gave them families of their own. In this situation, the midwives did what they had to do in order to save their own lives and the lives of others; the situation was evil and not the midwives, who, “fearing God,” would not think of lying generally in life. We live in a corrupt world, not in heaven, where there will be no necessity to defend life in this way.
Before continuing our look at whether or not it is OK to ever lie, let’s look at what “sin” and “repentance” mean. Sin means “to miss the mark,” to miss the target of God’s law. Sin can be committed against God’s law, or sin can come from not doing what God commanded, like not loving your neighbor. Also, there are greater sins and lesser sins; thus a gradation of sins (see Matthew 11:20-24) is acknowledged by God. Repentance means to undergo a change of mind. When a person comes to faith in God, they undergo a change of direction in their lives, away from sin and toward Christ. Also, the will and power to repent for individual sins by the believer is assisted by the Holy Spirit.
A problem (for some) with situations like the midwives in Egypt and with the following stories, is that persons lied or deceived, yet did not repent. However, the situations required deception in order for a greater good to result, or a wrong to be righted. Some theologians view the lies in these cases as common sense morality that any child would know to be “right,” while some say that the persons must have repented of the deception in order to have been blessed or saved by God (and they were, as recorded in the Bible), and that the repentance simply was not recorded. It should be noted that in other stories of the bible where deception was committed for selfish ends, but by a person declared righteous or blessed, repentance is recorded (as with David’s adultery and murder, for example).
Tamar and Judah (Genesis, Chapter 38)
This event is placed within the story of Joseph, which may seem incongruous. However, it was this event created by Tamar that exposed Judah’s “callous hypocrisy” and is the beginning of Judah’s personal transformation that leads to his thoughtfulness shown in the rest of the story (Dunn p. 65). Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law. She was married to Judah’s eldest son, who died, and then to the next son, as was the custom, but he also died. Judah promised his youngest son to Tamar, following the custom again; she was to live with her own family until the son was old enough to marry. However, Judah did not keep his word. At a time when Tamar knew that Judah was coming to her area, she dressed as a prostitute. Judah voluntarily came to this “prostitute” and Tamar became pregnant. Later, when it became obvious that Tamar was pregnant but did not have a husband, Judah declared that she should be burned to death. Being brought before Judah, Tamar presented items that Judah had left with the prostitute. At that the shamed Judah declared, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” Judah did not sleep with Tamar again. Jesus’ genealogy includes Tamar.
Rahab and the spies (Joshua, Chapter 2)
In following the command and gift of God, the Israelites were entering the promised land after their long trek from Egypt. Joshua, Moses’ successor, sent two spies to Jericho to obtain information about the city. The spies, perhaps questionably, went to the house of a prostitute, Rahab. Amazingly, they found a confession of faith and loyalty to the God of Israel there, in the person of Rahab. Somehow the king of Jericho knew there were spies in the city, and that they had gone to see her. Because of Rahab’s faith, she hid the spies and deceived the city guards into thinking that the spies had already left. She assisted the spies in escaping and asked that they give protection to her and her family when Israel attacked Jericho. This they did, and Rahab and her family became a part of Israel. Jesus’ genealogy includes Rahab, and her faith is commended in Hebrews 11:31. As something to consider, it seems that there was no other way for Rahab to respond in this situation. Without her deceit, it seems certain that the spies would have been goners; also, it can be seen that it was because of her faith and loyalty to God that she lied to the guards. If she did not want to protect God’s people, she would not have had any reason to lie.
Jael and Sisera (Judges, Chapters 4 and 5)
The story of Jael and Sisera is as astonishing as it is gruesome. A short description does not do the tale or context justice and it is recommended to the reader to study a few commentaries on Judges 4 and 5 (such as the Eerdman’s reference given below). The event takes place while Israel was under the jurisdiction of Canaan, and a woman prophet, Deborah, was leading her people in this state. Through God’s word, Deborah told Barak to ready men so that Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army, could be given to him. Barak showed a lack of confidence, so Deborah prophesied that Sisera would be delivered into the hands of a woman instead. Barak, along with Deborah, attacked Sisera and his men. After intense battle, Sisera fled, but Barak followed the rest of the troops and defeated them. In the meantime, Sisera entered the tent of Jael, a member of a clan friendly to the Canaanite king. Jael, however, was loyal to Israel (and maybe she was angry since from the wording in Judges 5, she may have been raped by Sisera). She pretended to be friendly with Sisera and encouraged him to rest, but after he fell to sleep she hammered a tent peg through his temple, killing him. Jael is called “most blessed of women” in the Song of Deborah (Judges 5).
Other instances of deception in the Bible
We covered the stories of some interesting ladies of the bible, like Tamar who deceived in order to obtain what was rightfully hers (after it was clear that the other party was not honoring an agreement), and Rahab, a foreign prostitute who turned to God and lied in order to save Israelites, and Jael, a female who, through deception, defeated the powerful commander of Canaan who had attacked Israel. The reader should not get the impression that the Bible shows only females deceiving when necessary, however.
King David, before he was king and running from murderous King Saul, went to live in Philistine territory, though the Philistines were Israel’s enemy. Since David wasn’t alone but had 600 of his men with him, and their families, they needed a large area to stay in. King Achish of Gath agreed that David and his men could live there. While David lived there he went and raided towns outside of Israel, toward Egypt, and killed all who lived there so that there would be no witnesses. This was necessary for David’s deception, since he told King Achish that he was raiding Israelite towns. The king was led to believe that David was loyal to him and that Israel surely despised David. The king eventually called on David and his men to join in attacking Israel, and he had to agree. However, when the King’s commanders insisted that David and his men might turn on them and so shouldn’t fight, David went out of his way to show loyalty to the Philistine king (1 Samuel 27; 29:1-11).
Lest anyone should think that David was rewarded by God for his violent deeds here and elsewhere, he was not. David loved God, but committed sins; his later life was full of the consequences of these, and in addition, God forbade David from building His temple because of his bloodshed (1 Chronicles 22:8). Another example of a man lying in the Bible, though not anywhere near as fully and heinously as David, is in Jeremiah the prophet. In Jeremiah 38:24-27, Jeremiah is consulted by King Zedekiah, who was appointed to that position by the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah was surrounded by scheming men and simply asked Jeremiah to not tell these men of a private conversation they had regarding Nebuchadnezzar’s impending invasion. Jeremiah obeyed and was not truthful about the conversation when asked. This simple act of deception appears to be in line with God’s wish to spare Zedekiah’s life (Jeremiah 38:20-23).
So, was it OK or even desirable that the midwives in Egypt, Tamar, Rahab, Jael, and Jeremiah, were deceptive? What does your moral common sense say? Is it alright to lie in order to save someone else’s life (or right a wrong that no one else can, or will, do)? Is it still “evil” when one does so? If Rahab saved lives by lying, was it something she needed to repent of?
Theological and New Testament considerations
Peter Kreeft, a Christian and a philosophy professor, wrote an easily accessible essay on this issue in response to criticisms over an abortion-related “sting” operation (Kreeft 2011). His stance is that it was good that the persons conducted this sting operation, despite the deceptions involved. When faced with a great evil in this corrupt world, deception – while in other types of situations is wrong – can be right. Were those who hid Jews and lied to the Nazis about it, wrong? No, what they did was right. Was it wrong to use spies to help stop the Nazis from using nuclear weapons? Is it wrong for the police to conduct undercover work and sting operations? No, these activities that involve deception are not wrong, but right, Kreeft argues.
Why do so many people these days take an absolutist stance and argue for the wrongness of these works by people who are only trying to save life? Kreeft says, “I think they are so (rightly) afraid of moral relativism that they have (wrongly) fallen into moral legalism.” He says that there is moral truth and moral reality, but that people in this age have become like computers, not listening to their moral intuition. They deal with abstractions and not with people. For those who cannot or will not acknowledge that saving Jews from the Nazis using deception was right and good, Kreeft says, “If you don’t know that, you’re morally stupid, and moral stupidity comes in two opposite forms: relativism and legalism. Relativism sees no principles, only people; legalism sees no people, only principles.” He concludes that perhaps, as Jesus called us to become like children, He meant “for us to remember our more simple and innocent moral wisdom.”
We have looked into some Old Testament people who lied in order that good may result, and how God commands against bearing false witness and using deceptive means for personal gain. Does the New Testament convey anything different? No, but it does perhaps convey more. In Acts 5:1-11, a married couple who had tried to deceive fellow Christians found that they were in fact lying to God. Ananias and Sapphira had sold some property in order to donate it to fellow believers, but for some unknown reason, they secretly decided to hold some back for themselves. God had not demanded that the couple, or anyone, give at all. All donations were voluntary and Ananias and Sapphira simply needed to be honest about what they wanted to do. Instead, they collapsed in death in front of Peter and other witnesses. The message seems pretty clear: God was with the new church and God knows people’s hearts.
Revelation 22:15 states, “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” Who will go to hell? Everyone who loves and practices falsehood. Those who practice being deceptive, who walk in that way of life, will end up separated from God. Ultimately, why is this the case? Because liars will never accept the truth. This dovetails with how John defines “liar:” “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony [God’s, not man’s] in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:10-11).
Further, the author of Romans talks of those who suppress the truth: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (3:18-20). God’s qualities are clearly seen and all men know it, according to these verses; men are without excuse . . . period. This is why in the next group of verses (3:21-22) it states: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools . . . .” Men know God but some choose to deny Him, and then fall deeper into darkness.
So we can see that there are those people who walk in a way of life that is against God, and those who walk in the way of God. Those who walk away from God can still show kindness in life (Luke 11:11-13), and those who walk with God can still sin at times in various ways. What matters is the way (which path) in which one is walking. “If we claim to have fellowship with him [God] yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 5:6-7). Through Jesus we become righteous and are purified, even if we stumble here and there (1 John 1:8-10).
Based on these things, and what has been presented earlier, can we tell if it always wrong to deceive? Can anyone really claim that lying to murderers, like the Nazis, in order to keep innocents from death, is wrong? Could Jesus have had something similar in mind when he said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd [or sly] as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16)? After all, we know “that the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19b). Will not all of our choices in some situations, then, be evil (if you consider any deception at all evil)? Do we not have free will in order to choose what seems best, while lacking the power to create other choices (change reality)? Should we not choose “the lesser of two evils” instead of doing nothing? In the case of persons lying to the Nazis in order to save lives, wouldn’t greater evil have resulted from doing nothing? This seems very much like common sense, common moral sense as Kreeft is shown to have pointed out. What we are not to do is “be” liars who: (1) bear false testimony against someone, (2) deceive for personal profit and gain, and (3) deny and suppress the truth about God.
This is from a very short article in Bloomberg online, and there are other articles to be found by googling:
Nigeria has protested to Saudi Arabia’s authorities over the detention of more than 1,000 female pilgrims who arrived in the kingdom for the annual Hajj pilgrimage without male guardians, state-run Radio Nigeria said. . . . Saudi Arabia enforces restrictions that are interpreted from the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. Women can’t travel or get an education without male approval or mix with unrelated men in public places.
As a Christian, I am at a loss as to why anyone would voluntarily become a Muslim in the first place, but when I see stuff like this, I am out-and-out flummoxed. So, women must be controlled and herded like lesser beings, AND, they can’t even be in public with other men because . . . why??? Oh, men can’t control themselves. They’ll just start doing some Mardi Gras moves in the street. Really?? Belong to a religion that is so controlling, that seems to acknowledge and even promote the idea that human males are as good as randy rabbits, and that seems to not control its tyrannical and extremely violent members no matter what it does? (And I won’t even get into all the persecution that goes on in the world against Christians at the hands of Muslims.)
Wow. Sorry, but there is simply no comparison between Christianity and Islam. And don’t go whining (atheists) about ancient pockets of “Christian” history (a lot of actual Christians died in trying to get false and violent actions to stop). Sure, there have been wolves in sheep clothing that have done bad things in the name of Christianity. It happens everyday in every area of life – I mean, charlatans seeking power and all of that, using whatever thing people have positive feelings about. What you do is look at the founder of the faith. Is s/he like that (false, after power, money, etc.)? I won’t get into Muhammad here and the history of Islam, but I think it worth looking at Christ and the history of those who actually follow Him and his teachings.
Christ was sin-free and was not married; he didn’t go after multiple wives or even minor wives; he didn’t leave any heirs for everyone to argue about or over. He lifted women UP from their low status at the time He visited us here on earth. Women could follow Him and learn from Him. In fact, He said it was better for a woman to learn from Him, to take the time and do that – as it was more important – than to serve Him or other men!!! Wow!! Why would any woman NOT want to follow Jesus? If you want to know more and discover some pretty cool information that you just don’t hear about all that often, see New Testament Views of Women. You may want to read about the woman at the well whom Christ talked with too.
In the future, I’ll try and post an article about the good in the history of Christ’s true followers, like those who founded hospitals (hospitals that were free) and universities. People seem to have forgotten the parts of Christian history, too, when Christians died in order to stop those who did violence in Christ’s name. In the meantime, if any Muslims come here, don’t go hatin’ on me. Actions are actions, and the action reported on in the press was done and promoted by a whole country, and a whole section of Islam. It’s no secret. If you want to explain how your own sect of Islam is not like that in the comments, go ahead, but know that WordPress comments are always moderated.
The story of the Samaritan woman, or the woman at the well in the gospel of John, chapter 4, is a good example of two items related to our topic: what Jesus thought of women and what later interpreters have done with this (you will need to know the story to understand this article, and it can be read here). Many commentaries you can read today, or pastors whom you can hear, unfoundedly portray the woman at the well in a very negative and biased light, which both degrades and takes away from the full meaning of the event.
For people who focus on belittling others and judging, the woman is seen as a (very big) sinner – apparently one that is worse than they are. They claim that Jesus was making the woman realize her sin to feel guilty about it, in order to come to salvation – but this goes against at least some theological views about repentance and salvation. “If repentance is cited as a condition of salvation in terms of feeling sorry for one’s sins, then it is wrong usage of the term” (Enns 342).
There is nothing in the story to actually confirm the view that the woman was “loose,” which could be an explanation for her having had many (five) husbands and current “common law” spouse. It would seem easier to think this of a woman with such a background today, but how in biblical times? Women could not divorce. A man could divorce his wife easily, however. This woman could have been married to some that died, and some that divorced her. She could have been divorced for fairly simple things, or for not producing children.
Did this woman come to the well with any of her children? No. If she had older children, it would seem that at least one would help her. If she had no children, she would feel shame for this (one could only imagine how she’d feel if they were taken from her, which was common in divorce, or had died in some way). Being barren would be shameful for a woman at this time, as much of a woman’s worth was based on her producing children. If she were barren and divorced, then she would have a very hard time of it in life. It seems possible that she lived with a man because she simply needed to survive, and for whatever reason (legal or social), the man did not marry her. All of this could be shameful to the woman, and it could simply be her “lot in life” without her being intentionally immoral. We don’t know, but all these things are possibilities, and maybe more probable than the hussy theory.
And, it is biased for commentators or pastors not to mention that it would not exactly be righteous for a man to divorce a woman for being barren. Men could have caused her, through no fault of her own, to be in the predicament she was in. Remember Abraham and Sarah? Abraham did not divorce her for not producing a child (Sarah was quite old when she gave her handmaid to Abraham so that “she” might have a child); is was not until she was considered beyond the age of conceiving that Sarah became pregnant as God said she would, with Isaac. Remember John the Baptist’s parents? Zechariah was a priest, and his wife Elizabeth had been barren. Zechariah did not divorce Elizabeth because she was barren; she was quite old when she gave birth to John. Abraham and Zechariah (and Elizabeth, too!) are called “righteous” in the bible (Genesis 15:6; Luke 1:6).
So this woman, who came to the well outside of town, alone, is feeling what? We can’t know for sure. The fact that she came to this more distant water source (Bruce 106), in the middle of a hot day, seems to indicate that she was in shame and perhaps something of an outcast. She must not have had a great outlook on life. Probably childless, older now, living in shame . . . And what happens? The creator of the universe meets her there. Did he need to do that to make her feel guilty? No. He came for something much better. He came to lift her up. If indeed her husbands had died and/or divorced her, Jesus came to bring her new life, removing the sadness and disgrace. Did she repent of her sins there? No (not outwardly, anyway) — she got happy.
If you read the story, you will see that Jesus said some things that could have made any Samaritan quite angry. But she was starting to guess that he was the Messiah, not just a prophet, since Samaritans did not believe in any prophets accept the One to come after Moses. She called him a prophet, but the only prophet possible was the Messiah. So then, what truly remarkable thing did Jesus do? He told HER that he indeed was the Messiah! An “unclean” Samaritan woman; at this time, many Jewish men held both women and Samaritans in contempt. Search the New Testament and you will find that Jesus told very few people who He really was. What happens next? She believes him, loses all her shame and goes and tells the whole town about Jesus! No doubt it was her transformation, and her seeming sheer nerve, that so impressed the townspeople who they believed her.
Jesus is delightful. He did not trudge all the way to Jacob’s well in order to condemn the woman for her sins, whatever they might have been, but to transform her. Transformed she was, running to town and preaching to and teaching men. Both Origen (died 254) and Theophylactus (died after 1071) considered her an apostle. That other church leaders have not thought this, or acted upon their knowledge, has nothing to do with God’s view of women, but everything to do with men’s view of women.
Sources: The Gospel & Epistles of John (FF Bruce); The Moody Handbook of Theology (Paul Enns); Believer’s Bible Commentary (W MacDonald); How Christianity Changed the World and Veiled and Silenced: How Culture Shaped Sexist Theology (Alvin J Schmidt).