Yes, scripture is God-breathed. Yes, it is alive and applicable today. Yes, we can and should mold our lives to mirror its tenets. Yet, we cannot mimic a culture from which we are 2,000 years removed. So must do our best to take off our twenty-first century goggles, and peer back through eons to the time when Jesus walked among humans.
Lynn Cohick, in Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Illuminating Ancient Ways of Life, asserts that “for most women in the ancient world, and in the majority of cultures today, the home is the primary workplace; [as] tending to children, preparing meals, making clothing, soap, and so many other necessities of life bound women’s lives tightly to the home.”* We cannot read scripture and assume that these women had the opportunity to choose between being a professional or staying home, or even a finely balance mixture of both. Nor can we assume that they, after weighing all the options, made the best [and therefore generalizable] choice. They had no choice, home was the only place for them; as soon as a woman married, her father transferred her proprietarily into the household of her husband. Unless she was unwed and abandoned by her family of origin; in which case she may have been sold into slavery as young as the age of six. Modern women may not be able to relate to these circumstances, however we must note that neither today nor in the first century did any of this preclude women from participating in religious ceremonies or festivals, nor from daily public life in the marketplace.
Thus we can conclude that the women with whom Jesus interacted, the ones whom we’ll look at over the next four weeks, were likely not well-educated. Some may have been financially secure, though most were probably impoverished outside of daily survival. Each one was considered inferior to the males of her time. Yet, Jesus interacts with these women with a great deal of intimacy, respect, and a focus towards inclusion, so that the culturally-held ideas and norms might give way to unity within the coming Kingdom of God.
Enjoying this study? Here's a link to other articles in this series: The Women Who Knew Jesus
*Lynn H. Cohick, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians: Illuminating Ancient Ways of Life (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 160.
**Cohick, Women in the World, 83.
***Cohick, Women in the World, 83.