Pagan cultures in Biblical times devalued women, granting them little more dignity than animals. Even Greek philosophers, with their great learning, regarded them as inferior creatures by nature. Aristotle once said, “Woman may be said to be an inferior to man.”
Jewish Scriptures respected women
But the Jewish Scriptures respected women, their role in society, and women held had value in Old Testament Jewish culture. They were portrayed as esteemed partners and cherished companions to their husbands. And venerated as mothers to be respected and obeyed. (Pro. 19:20, Ecc. 9:14, Exo. 20:12, Col. 3:20, Pro. 1:8)
They sometimes held prominent roles
Women participated in all aspects of society, holding prominent and influential roles outside of the home also. They owned property, farmed, and performed manual labor. They also engaged in commerce, like Lydia who was a seller of purple. (Pro. 31:16,18; Exo. 35:25; Ruth 2:7)
From the very first chapter, God makes it clear that men and women are created equally. They are equally created in the image of God, and equally blessed by him. And they share joint dominion over every living thing; coworkers laboring side by side.
God also established his Mosaic covenant, or agreement, with all of the Israelite people, including women. They were equally responsible for following God’s laws, and equally shared in the blessings God poured out on his people. (Deu 29:10-11; Josh. 8:34-35)
And although excluded from the Levitical priesthood, women participated in temple worship and prayer. And even served in the temple, as Anna did. [Deu. 31:12; 1 Sam. 1:12; Exo. 38:8]
They also joined in religious processions, singing and playing music. [Psa. 68:24-25; 2 Sam. 6:5]
The Old Testament also commends many women for their wisdom. Queen Esther who bravely risked her own life to save her people. Abigail who saved her household by helping King David, 1 Sam. 25:32-33. And the woman personified as wisdom itself in Proverbs 31.
On occasion, women even held important leadership roles in Israel. Miriam was a prophetess who helped lead the Israelites in the desert, Mic. 6:4. Deborah, another prophetess was also a judge in Israel, Jud. 4:4. And Huldah, was both a prophetess and adviser to the king, 2 Kings 22:14.
Women’s low status in ancient times
But in most ancient Oriental cultures, women held a low position in the social structure.
In the Roman empire, based on Hellenistic thought, a woman was the property of a husband, or father. With a social status slightly above that of slaves, she was usually confined to the home. And, unless from a wealthy or prestigious family, not even entitled to an education.
From the time of the Babylonian deportation, Jewish culture also became increasingly influenced by other cultures, including the Greek. The Jewish Talmud (largely written in Babylon) stated: “It is the way of a woman to stay at home and it is the way of a man to go out into the marketplace,” and “Never speak to a woman in the street, even if she is your wife.”
It is no wonder Christ’s disciples showed such consternation at him talking with an unknown Samaritan woman. Or that women in the New Testament were restricted to the women’s court in the temple. Even though no such court is ever mentioned in Solomon’s Old Testament temple.
Only Hebrew culture elevated women
But overall women continued to hold a high place in Jewish culture, unlike most of the surrounding cultures. Jewish women were free to mingle in society at home and abroad. They also fulfilled important roles, both in private and public life.
Anna the prophetess stayed in temple night and day, fasting and praying, Luke 2. Lydia of Thyatira, a convert to Judaism, engaged in the commerce of selling purple goods, Acts 16. Dorcas, possibly a wealthy widow, dedicated her time to sewing clothing for the poor, Acts 9. And in Romans chapter 16, Paul sends greetings to several women whom he considered diligent coworkers: Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Rufus’ mother, and Julia.
The sisters Mary and Martha of Bethany had the prerogative of offering frequent hospitality to Christ and his disciples. And although neither they nor their brother Lazarus appeared to have an occupation, Mary was free to purchase and use an expensive perfume on the Lord, John 12.
Christ and the church elevated women even more
Women were among some of Christ’s earliest followers. They supported his ministry. He stopped to talk with them. Ministered to them, touched them, healed them. He was born of a woman, and showed concern over his mother’s care. It was mostly women who stayed by him at the cross. And they were first to pay their respects at his tomb, and therefore to see the risen Christ.
Following in his footsteps, the early church likewise held women in high esteem.
Women were present on the Day of Pentecost, and active in the early church. They helped the poor, ministered to the sick, and showed hospitality.
They also played a significant role in the church and in the spread of the gospel. Phoebe, respected by Paul, was a deaconess in the Corinthian church, Romans 16. Priscilla, one of Paul’s valued coworkers, helped instruct Apollos, an influential scholar, Acts 18. Eunice and Lois, Timothy’s mother and grandmother, were credited for having instilled such strong and sincere faith in him, 2 Timothy 1.
The Scriptures show that man and woman are created equally in God, but wonderfully different. The greater leadership roles were given to men. Yet, women also held an important role. From creation onward, women were coworkers with men. Serving with them side by side in their usually quieter, and often more gentle, leadership roles.
They are both tools in God’s hands, neither greater than the other. Just as both needle and thread are necessary to a seamstress, men and women, with their differing roles were tools in God’s hands, equally useful in his service. For Christ came to offer true equality and true freedom to all — women included.
As thread and needle are both necessary to the seamstress, so men and women each stand equal before God and useful in his service.Tweet
Sketches of Jewish Social Life, chapter 9 (Bible Study Tools)
The Biblical Portrait of Women (Grace to You)
Jesus and the Role of Women (Jews for Jesus)
Roman Education (The History Learning Site
Images: 3 Bible women by estall | Thread by PublicDomain Pictures;
From FreeBibleImages.org Woman pouring olives by David Padfield | Women at river by Boettcher+Trinklein Television Inc | Elderly woman and Jesus, Mary & Martha by http://www.LumoProject.com.
10 thoughts on “The Role of Women in Bible Times”
Amen! Jesus has been showing me this view for the last few years of my journey. I came out of a church that was patriarchal in nature and had a non-Biblical view of women. Thank you for your post<3
Oh Julia, I am so glad that this post encouraged you. It seems there is much confusion about the role of women, and the teaching often leans too far in one direction or another. I really worked at researching this one, and what I discovered is that it’s really a much more complex situation than I realized. My hope is that this post, by presenting balanced and objective information, will help to remove some of this confusion. And as women, let us rejoice that we are highly valued and honored by the Lord himself!! Be blessed.
I am very honored that you are now following my blog. (Our internet has been so spotty this last week so forgive me for not commenting until now.) Off to church but I look forward to reading your words of wisdom very soon. Blessings back,
Thank you so much Ellie. I learn so much from your healthy insights!! Thank you! Be blessed.
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Just what I needed to read! Thank you for strengthening me through this post!
Thank you for strengthening me with your comment! So glad this helped you! Be blessed.
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Thank you for posting this. Enjoy the blessings of this day!
Thanks Doris, and you too! I’m glad it encouraged you! Be blessed.
Honey, i so appreciate your wisdom and commitment in the things of God. You are a constant source of inspiration.
Sure love you so, Your hubby
Thank you so much, dearie, for your encouragement. It is your constant love and devotion to the Lord that encourage me! I am so glad we are on this path together! Be blessed.