Jesus – pioneer of women’s education

These days more women than men enrol in higher education, but it wasn’t always this way.

Women did not begin studying at university in Britain until 1869. In the US, the first college to admit women was Oberlin College, in 1837. The University of Bologna in Italy was reputedly the first in the world to teach women. It began conferring degrees upon women in the 13th century. In the history of women’s education, these are significant milestones.

Yet Jesus beat them all by a thousand years.

Jesus was the first man of influence to empower and elevate women. One of the ways he did that was by accepting them as his disciples. He welcomed them into his circle and he trained them.

This would’ve been unthinkable to the rabbis and sages. Teaching women was a waste of time, they said. “It would be better to burn the words of the law than teach them to women,” said Rabbi Eliezer.

At the time of Jesus, women were regarded as inferior. Thanks to the Greeks, every educated man knew that women were mentally deficient. They could cook and spin wool, but that was the limit of their abilities. Women belonged in the kitchen, they said, and this is why Mary’s departure from that room ought to be hailed as a seminal moment in the history of women’s liberation.

Mary of Bethany crosses an ancient line

Like an ancient Rosa Parks, Mary sat where she was not supposed to sit. She stepped across the threshold, entered the front room where the men sat, and placed herself at the feet of Jesus.

Like a disciple.

Any other rabbi would have blanched and waited for her to leave. Not Jesus. He welcomed Mary with a smile and commended her courageous act. Then he encouraged Martha to follow Mary’s example (Luke 10:38-42).

Something that we may not appreciate is just how many women followed Jesus. Paintings of our Lord teaching typically show him surrounded by men. If women are depicted, they are usually hidden in the background. But when Jesus hung on a cross, the men fled while “many women” remained (Matt. 27:55). Who were these many women? They were his disciples.

After this, Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women… (Luke 8:1-2a)

Wherever Jesus went, men and women followed. This was highly unusual. In those days, women didn’t follow men who weren’t their husbands, but they followed Jesus because he loved them and treated them better than any man ever had.

No gender discrimination in the kingdom

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me,” (Luke 9:23). When Jesus outlined the qualifications of a disciple, he made no restrictions for gender. Again, this was unusual. Although Socrates and a few others made noises about educating and empowering women, Jesus actually did it. He took them on and he trained them.

On another occasion Jesus asked,

“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50)

Jesus did not point at Peter and John and call them his mother and sister. Clearly there were women among his disciples.

Tradition teaches that the women in his group were little more than hangers-on. They were there because they had money or because Jesus was too kind to send them away. They weren’t real disciples.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In recent history visionary men like D.L. Moody and John Wesley sought to educate and empower women, and we are all the richer for it. But Jesus did it first. If women have unprecedented opportunities today, it’s because Jesus resisted the sexist norms of his day and practiced the partnership of the kingdom come.

Some of Jesus’ most famous teachings were uttered exclusively to women. Jesus told Martha he was the resurrection and the life. He revealed the good news of no condemnation to the woman caught in adultery. He discussed the meaning of true worship with the woman at the well, and his first Gentile convert was a Syrophoenician woman. Most famously of all, he revealed his resurrection first to a woman.

It’s as if Jesus saved some of his best stuff for his women disciples.

This was no accident. Jesus was building something the world had never seen – a church where men and women would serve together as equal partners in grace.

To learn about the many ways Jesus elevated women, check out my draft chapter “How did Jesus empower women?” available now on Patreon.

And to learn how God’s plan for women has been corrupted by philosophy and religion, check out “From Athens to Aquinas,” also on Patreon.

14 Comments on Jesus – pioneer of women’s education

  1. Earl Hendricks // July 9, 2020 at 6:27 am // Reply

    That is why it is so rediculous to me that there is still so much sexism ( not mention racism) that is still so prevalent in the modern so called christian church!

  2. Univ of Balogna! 😂🤣😂🤔😂🤣😂

  3. Neil Campbell // July 9, 2020 at 1:43 pm // Reply

    ” This was no accident. Jesus was building something the world had never seen – a church where men and women would serve together as equal partners in grace.”

    I agree……but as you have stated with University enrollments, not anymore! Same in the workplace, affirmative action and mandates for more women in positions of authority. Women are weaker than men physically, yet movies show the ultimate Alpha female warrior kicking the tripe out of misogynist baddies.

    My point is Paul, you are too late to the party…..in the West Women as rulers & dominates has won the narrative. Think I’m being hysterical? Look at today’s current Marxist ideologies that are totally accepted by society, academia & the msm, pull down the statues, justify violence, defund the Police, it is anarchy and part of this stream of unconsciousness is the fallacy that women (as of today) are not EQUAL., they are more than equal……what did Orwell say; ‘ Some are more equal than others!’

  4. Neil Campbell // July 10, 2020 at 12:21 am // Reply

    Oh Paul where hast thou been? I’ve been in the church for over 50 years and Pentecostal for over 30 years – women are treated as equals in the West. I’ve served under plenty of women Pastors. No worries mate! (A Kiwisim or Straylian?). Would agree that women don’t have the lay of equality in developing nations – but I am talking of the Western Churches, you would need to specify which Church, as the Apostle John specified the different Churches with different traits. Iron sharpens iron! Time to All Black up my main man!

    • When you say it’s time to man up, what exactly are you suggesting? That I stop pushing for women’s equality in the church? Because I fail to see how abandoning a fight is particularly manly.

      It’s true that in the UK, Australia, NZ, and some northern European countries, women in some denominations have enjoyed equal opportunities for years. But read the comments under any of my articles where I promote women in leadership (this isn’t one of them), and you will find it is far from true in much of the world. Even in Australia and NZ, two of the world’s most egalitarian countries, there are churches that do not permit women leaders or that insist a women leader must be spiritually covered by a man. Recently I visited a church where all the men sat on one side and the women sat on the other, just like in the synagogues of Jesus’ day. The fight is not over.

      • Neil Campbell // July 10, 2020 at 12:48 pm //

        Just having a joke at your NZ ness! I’m married to a Kiwi, so I’m having some fun. This is my opinion and it won’t change your stance – I think writing on women’s issues is very contemporary relevant, du jour and safe in the West. Outside of the Church it is promoted all the time like we really have problems, but equality is going too far the other way. If that offends, then I’m sorry. Do I have a personal gripe in this matter? Yes, relatives that are strong feminists and being in workplaces where women are promoted because they are women. Back in the day I used to play Rugger with members of the Australian Rugby team who had the pleasure of beating NZ for the first time in nearly 50 years in 1986. It is a bit like the racist situation as well, the average punter is led to believe that the Indigenous are about to be wiped out by the KKK in Australia, but the reality is this is not true. I’ve worked with the Indigenous in remote contexts for over 11 years. Just saying their is always another side of the story that for whatever reasons cannot or wont be told. All the the best.

  5. Very true Paul… I’m currently finding myself in the weird position of being treated as a “woman” not as a sister in Christ. Which is weird because our culture is very patriarchal and I’ve now found myself having a “defender” as though Christ doesn’t exist and can’t fight my cause. Lol, really???😄

  6. This was very telling about where we need to experience growth. Good article

  7. Thank you Paul. Many churches here in the Southern U. S. do not treat women as equals. Lip service is often paid to this concept but the reality is not practiced. Blessings!

  8. M. Caleb Sannoh // July 24, 2020 at 7:04 pm // Reply

    I think the assumption people are making here is solely based on their cultural shades and experiences. In the Western World, women may have gained some freedom and some equality with men, but the gap between the sexes is still wide.

    My wife and I are missionaries in a Third World Country. We have a radio ministry and preach in churches that invite us to preach. During one of our morning programs, we asked the audience if they would allow their 50 year old widowed mother to marry a 30 year old man. 95% of those who responded to the question were violently opposed to their mother marrying a younger man. When those same people were asked if they mind their widowed 50 year old father marrying a 25 year old woman, 100% of respondents said that they would have no qualms about it.

    In Christ, we are all ONE BODY!

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