WHEN on earth, Jesus perfectly reflected his heavenly Father’s personality and way of doing things. He said: “I do nothing of my own initiative; but just as the Father taught me I speak . . . I always do the things pleasing to him.” (John 8:28, 29; Colossians 1:15) Thus, by noting the way Jesus interacted with women and his attitude toward them, we have a window into understanding God’s view of women and his expectations for them.
Based on what is recorded in the Gospel accounts, a number of scholars have acknowledged Jesus’ view of women as nothing short of revolutionary. How is that so? And more important, do his teachings still have a liberating influence on women today?
How Jesus Treated Women
Jesus did not consider them to be mere sexual objects. In the view of some Jewish religious leaders, contact with the opposite sex could lead only to lust. Since women were feared as a source of temptation, they were not allowed to talk to men in public or to go out without wearing a veil. On the other hand, Jesus advised men to control their own fleshly desires and treat women with dignity instead of cutting them off from social relations.—Matthew 5:28.
Jesus also said: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her.” (Mark 10:11, 12) He thus rejected the prevailing rabbinic teaching that allowed men to divorce their wives “on every sort of ground.” (Matthew 19:3, 9) The concept of committing adultery against his wife was alien to most Jews. Their rabbis taught that a husband could never commit adultery against his wife—only a woman could be unfaithful! As one Bible commentary puts it, “Jesus, by putting the husband under the same moral obligation as the wife, raised the status and dignity of women.”
The effect of his teaching today: In the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, women associate freely with men at meetings. However, they need not fear indecent looks or undue familiarity, because Christian men are careful to treat “older women as mothers, younger women as sisters with all chasteness.”—1 Timothy 5:2.
Jesus took time to teach women. In contrast with the prevalent rabbinic view that kept women in ignorance, Jesus taught them and encouraged them to express themselves. By refusing to deprive Mary of the joy of being taught, Jesus showed that a woman’s place is not only in the kitchen. (Luke 10:38-42) Mary’s sister, Martha, also benefited from his teaching, as shown by her intelligent answers to Jesus after Lazarus’ death.—John 11:21-27.
What women thought mattered to Jesus. At that time, most Jewish women believed that the key to happiness was to have a worthy son, if possible one who was a prophet. When one of the women cried out: “Happy is the womb that carried you!” Jesus seized the opportunity to tell her about something better. (Luke 11:27, 28) By indicating that spirituality was more important, Jesus pointed her to something more than the traditional role imposed upon women.—John 8:32.
The effect of his teaching today: Teachers in the Christian congregation welcome the comments by women at congregation meetings. They respect mature women for being “teachers of what is good,” both in private and by example. (Titus 2:3) They also rely on them to tell publicly the good news of God’s Kingdom.—Psalm 68:11; see the box “Did the Apostle Paul Forbid Women to Speak?” on page 9.
Jesus cared for women. In Bible times, daughters were not valued as much as sons. The Talmud reflects this view, saying: “Happy is he whose children are males, and woe to him whose children are females.” Some parents regarded a girl as a greater burden—they would have to find her a mate and give a dowry, and they would not be able to depend on her for support in their old age.
Jesus showed that a little girl’s life is as important as a boy’s—he resurrected Jairus’ daughter, as he did the son of the widow at Nain. (Mark 5:35, 41, 42; Luke 7:11-15) After healing a woman troubled by “a spirit of weakness for eighteen years,” Jesus called her “a daughter of Abraham,” an expression almost unknown in Jewish writings. (Luke 13:10-16) By using this respectful and kind expression, he not only regarded her as a full-fledged member of society but also recognized her great faith.—Luke 19:9; Galatians 3:7.
The effect of his teaching today: An Asian saying goes: “Raising a daughter is like watering the neighbor’s garden.” Far from being influenced by that mentality, loving Christian fathers care well for all their children, sons and daughters. Christian parents make sure that all their children receive proper education and health care.
Jesus trusted women. In the Jewish courts, the testimony of a woman was considered equal only to that of a slave. Josephus, a first-century historian, advised: “From women let no evidence be accepted, because of the levity and temerity of their sex.”
In sharp contrast, Jesus chose to have women bear witness to his resurrection. (Matthew 28:1, 8-10) Though these faithful women had been eyewitnesses of the execution and burial of their Lord, to the apostles, the women’s words were hard to believe. (Matthew 27:55, 56, 61; Luke 24:10, 11) However, by appearing first to women, the resurrected Christ regarded them as worthy of bearing witness as his other disciples were.—Acts 1:8, 14.
The effect of his teaching today: In congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, men who have responsibilities show consideration for women by taking into account their observations. For their part, Christian husbands ‘assign honor’ to their wives by listening carefully to them.—1 Peter 3:7; Genesis 21:12.
Bible Principles Contribute to Women’s Happiness
When men imitate Christ, women are given the respect and freedom that God originally purposed for them. (Genesis 1:27, 28) Instead of supporting male chauvinism, Christian husbands let themselves be guided by Bible principles, which contribute to their mate’s happiness.—Ephesians 5:28, 29.
When Yelena began to study the Bible, she was silently suffering harsh treatment from her husband. He had been brought up in a violent environment, where the kidnapping of brides and physical abuse were common practices. “What I learned from the Bible gave me strength,” says Yelena. “I understood that there was someone who loved me very much and valued and cared about me. I also understood that if my husband studied the Bible, it could change his attitude toward me.” Her dream came true when her husband eventually agreed to study the Bible and then got baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “He became an example of self-control and restraint,” Yelena says. “We learned to forgive each other freely.” Her conclusion? “Bible principles have truly helped me to feel needed and protected in my marriage.”—Colossians 3:13, 18, 19.
Yelena’s experience is not unique. Millions of Christian women are happy because they and their husbands together endeavor to apply Bible principles in their marriage. They find respect, comfort, and freedom in the association of fellow Christians.—John 13:34, 35.
Christian men and women both recognize that as sinful and imperfect humans, they are part of God’s creation that has been “subjected to futility.” However, by drawing close to their loving God and Father, Jehovah, they have the hope of being “set free from enslavement to corruption” and enjoying “the glorious freedom of the children of God.” What a marvelous prospect for both men and women under God’s care!—Romans 8:20, 21.