Perspectives on Women
Women in the New Testament
Despite pronounced and lingering patriarchy and the contemptuous treatment of women as well as their contributions to the society and virtually all human endeavours, studies have proven women’s enormous contribution to humanity and divinity. Descriptively and objectively, this study appraises women’s enormous contributions to the Church, particularly in the New Testament era as well as in relation to the contemporary era. God, knowing woman more than man can ever attempt, created Eve for Adam’s companionship, help, support and procreation and chose Mary Blessed virgin to be the mother of Jesus. The most distinct role the woman had played to divinity is her conception, carrying and bringing of God the son, Jesus Christ, to the earth for the redemption of mankind. This study has found that women contributed enormously to apostolic work in the New Testament in several ways. It recommends that it is high time we devoted more literature and other forms of arts appreciation to women, past and present, rather than playing down such roles. There is need to appreciate women for whatever role they have played right from the beginning of Christ’s ministry through His disciples’ apostolic work to the present Church’s activities, well being/fare, growth and development. The study is anchored on the modernisation feminism theory, which rejects patriarchy. Qualitative approach, text-content analysis and both primary and secondary sources of data collation are employed. Several library print materials and the internet sources make up the secondary data sources, while interview, observation and intuition form the primary sources.
Keywords: Women, Contribution, Appraising, Apostolic work, New Testament Selected
Most Christians, theologians, scholars and authorities agree and can readily point to numerous facts that women were full and active members of the New Testament Church, and are even more now. Among several scriptures that point to women’s contribution in the Epistles are 1Corinthians 11:4-5;14:33-35; Colossians 3:18-19, Titus 2:1-10. Shimawua (2013:36) observes that such people however disagree on the exact functions of the New Testament (NT) women. He adds that the submissive relationship of wives to their husbands is clearly spelt out (1Peter 3:1-7), underling gender differences which needed to be recognised for healthy relations between the two sexes. Such did not, however, give any licence for chauvinism, or its militant opposite, feminism.
Apostle Paul informs that ‘there is no difference between men and women in Christ. You are all one in union with Christ Jesus’ (Gal.3:28). Often times, in the scriptures, we discover that Paul recognises women as friends and co-workers in the Gospel (Rom. 16:1-4). Paul does not differentiate between Priscilla and her husband, Aquila. Rather, he calls them by the same name ‘fellow workers’ or ‘companions in labour’. He does not distinguish between the work each can do because one is male and the other is female. Later on, in Romans 16:21, he calls Timothy by the same name. In Phil.2:3, he calls all men who were his co-workers among whom was Luke, by the same name.Calling women co-workers clearly testifies to the role played by women in the apostolic of the disciples (and apostles) as well as in the ministry of their master, Christ Jesus, before and after his death. When Jesus resurrected, he first appeared to Marry Magdalene and the other Mary (Matt. 28:9). Women were part of his ministry. He healed many women; delivered them form demons and life predicaments; taught, commune with them and so on. Women had more pity on Jesus at crucifixion, as the women of Jerusalem, the entire women perhaps, mourn for Jesus. Luke 23:27 read viz:
A large crowd of people followed him, among them were some women who were weeping and waiting for him. Jesus turned to them and said, women of Jerusalem! Don’t cry for me, but for yourselves and your children. For the days are coming when people will say, how lucky are the women who never had children, who never bore babies, who never nursed them!
Again, John reports in chapter 20:
‘Mary Magdalene stood crying outside the tomb...’ (v. 11). ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ the two angels asked her. She answered, ‘They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!’ Then she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ Jesus asked her. ‘Who is it that you are looking for?’ ‘...If you took him away, sir, tell me where you have put him and I will go and get him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ she turned towards him and said in Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’ (This means ‘Teacher’) (v.13-16). ...So, Mary Magdalene went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and related to them what he had told her (v.19).
Similarly, Matthew’s account (chapter 28) reads,
...Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb (v.1). …The angel spoke to the women. ‘You must not be afraid,’ he said. I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified; he is not here. He has been raised, just as he said… (v.5-6). Go quickly now, and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from death, and now is going to Galilee ahead of you; there you will see him. Remember what I have told you (v.7). Suddenly, Jesus met them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ …’Do not be afraid,’ Jesus said to them. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.
From the above accounts, it is clear that women played a pivotal role in every phase of Christ ministry, including His resurrection. Mary Magdalene was willing to go anywhere and get back his body since she thought that they had secretly removed His body and laid somewhere else. In that case, the women cared more about Christ than men; else Peter, Paul and/or one or two other apostles would have done what these two women did. This their single role is symbolic in the resurrection story of Jesus Christ. It was Mary Magdalene that got the message of Jesus’ resurrection revealed to the disciples as well as the subsequent spread of the news. Being ‘joint heirs of the grace of life’ (1Peter 3:7), women own a vast place and share of his Kingdom and Ministry, and cannot be displaced. Displacing them thus means depriving them from being ‘shared (joint) heirs to the grace of life, the Kingdom of cum Ministry of God and the Earth.
The biological God-created differences and the negative role played by Eve and others like Jezebbel, that pulled man down and made him to loss friendship with God –e.g. Adam and Samuel, among such others, had been over stressed and stretched by men and thus their contempt for and fear about women since time being. As a result, men resorted to contemptuous placing of women and their contributions of whatever magnitude below average or the supposed status/standard. This is replicated in the kind of scholarly and theological attention and regard apportioned to women in the Church history, growth and development then and now. In other words, while different men’s contributions to the Church in the Old Testament, the New Testament and the contemporary generation are appraised (appreciated) in various ways by numerous scholars, authorities and individuals, only but scanty, inconsequential volume of such works exist on women and little or no attention is yet paid to them and their contributions. The lacuna created by such scholars and this underlying knowledge prompted this study. As it bridges some knowledge gap anticipated, contributing to the literature and joining force in bringing this area to limelight, its significance cannot be over-emphasised.
Annie Muscopole’s words on women’s contribution to the church from time being give credence to the thrust and position of this paper thus:
Women are the backbone of the Church. They hold the revival meetings, convert people and form them in the faith, teach Sunday school and adult education classes, visit the sick, and carry out other charitable acts. She [they] relates on proverb of her [their] people that describes their situation. The hen knows when it is daylight, but it leaves it to the cock to make the announcement (Annie in Cowles, 1993).
The Church remembered the instructions on church order and worship which Paul had taught when he was with them. But some were slipping into some practices and customs that were questionable and the Church leadership needed clear instruction to guide these customs (Preacher’s Outline and Sermon Bible, 2000:752). Shimawua (2013:1) observes that custom and tradition are often controversial issues in both society and the church. Some maintain that custom and tradition help to maintain values and order; whereas, others maintain that they prevent change, change that is essential to progress. Analysing the Corinthian text, Horward (1977) informs that the church brought with it a variety of problems. The series of admonitions that Paul gives to the Corinthians regarding their life in Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 6:1-11; 12:20; 7:1-40; 8:1-13; 10:1-11; 11:1-16; also IICor. 6:14-18) seem to point to at least one underlying characteristic of the Corinthian– a peculiar kind of moral that tended to detach itself from the law of Christ, thus giving occasion to all sorts of divisions and irregularities.
This study is anchored on modernisation feminism, which rejects the bio-sociological roles of men and women across cultures and rather maintains that gender roles are culturally determined. Every culture by its traditional value system determines its gender roles; the roles for men and those for women. The theorists thus argue that since gender roles are so-determined, they can be changed by the people. They then call for a change from the old traditional values that are patriarchal and negative to women development to modern values that are favourable to women and development (Idyorough, 2005:31; Robert, 2016:10). This is the position of this paper, advocating favourable radical all-round changes in the Church and society, towards getting rid of patriarchy for gender equality, women’s full participation in all spheres and wide recognition and appreciation of her contribution to the society.
Thomas-Emeagwali cited in Ityavyar (1993:14) has summarised the thrust of modernisation feminism thus:
Once women are offered elective posts, exposed to formal education in large number, given easier access to credit facilities, exposed to technical innovations and the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, organized into co-operative, and made the beneficiaries of progressive land reform, the fundamental problems could have been resolved.
Perspectives on Women
Afolayan (2009:4) describes woman as a man with a womb, designed by God to carry a womb for reproduction and to be a help meet [sic] for a man, her husband. Her definition, which is based on religious perspective, reflects woman’s generic and biological domestic roles of complementality, complementing man and procreation. Beyond the peripheral religious insinuation, the definition points that woman is equal or same withe man in all regards but generi differences from man; e.g. woman has a womb. She is a man because she was made out of man by God. Her natural role that God has assigned to her is to help man. Yet, man most often feels that she only has to assist him in domestic and menial functions, relegating her (the woman), which should not be. Little would one wonder that a maxim says, Besides every successful man is a woman.’
In the words of Robert (2015:8), ‘By generality, a woman is a woman, likewise man, but there are women and women, likewise men. Thus the Bekwarra woman is a mature female human being, like every woman, but a distinct woman in her own peculiar unique ways.’ Robert insinuates that there are varied (say, good and bad) women. He also likens woman to man. He points out that a woman is a mature female human being. Ajayi (2011) defines woman as
‘the feminine’s component of human species, who apart from serving as a vehicle for nurturing human life, is also a producer, a consumer and an equally endowed agent for fostering a wholesome political, social and economic development in society.’
It has been reported that women constitute half of the world’s population and have contributed significantly to the well-being of the human race. Rural women in particular are said to be significantly contributing to their national economies, but they are the poorest of the poor, illiterate, ignorant, disease-ridden, correspondingly occupying low social economic and political status (UNDP, 1997:9). This ageing situations of women are clear manifestations of the chauvinistic ills against them by men who tend to keep them stagnant at where they had been placed naturally. Ihimodu (1996:1) observes that the role of women, especially in the rural areas, was for a long time regarded as secondary in the socio-economic development of Nigeria. Women therefore tend to be ignored. It has also been the case with the women in the Bible and the Church then and now. That is, even though women have contributed enormously to the Bible, Christinity and the Church, they tend to be ignored.
Against the above backdrop, Ochelle (2014:2) maintains that ‘there is [an] overwhelming evidence, however, regarding the immense contributions of women to development in many developing countries. We agree with her and add that women’s contributions from time immemorial cut across all continents and areas; women in the developed world have also contributed immensely to the development and growth of the developed nations. Historical evidence indicates that African women’s participation in economic life was deeply rooted everywhere, on the continent. For example, it has been shown that women, in addition to carrying out their domestic chores, which include food production, firewood collection and provision of household water, as well as reproduction, contribute significantly to the force in agriculture and informal sectors. They constitute one-fourth of developing countries’ industrial labour force but still carry the main burden of child care and household chores. She argues that if the economic contribution of rural women is properly evaluated, it could be seen that they provide about half the family income; this contribution has not been fully appreciated hitherto.
Similarly, Adegboyega (2015:1) observes,
An attempt to situate the place of the traditional African woman accurately could not be found in Western cast of mind. An outsider’s summation on the true position of a people’s way of life is most often preposterous or pigeon–holed. Notwithstanding the universal chauvinistic disposition, the Yoruba traditional society gives a pride of place to women in all spheres of existence. …One area of women contribution to the society, the preservation of people’s ethos and crucial identity where men depend on brawn to settle perceived injustice or to make non-conformist tractable, women are invaluable in the areas of conflict resolution and sustenance of those virtues that define a people.
Again, Ochelle (2014:1) contends,
The study of the place of Nigerian women in history is perhaps the most neglected theme in its past. The need to study the place of women has been made valid and necessary not by the present day problems faced by women in these societies but also by the lip service paid to the need for women to get into the realm of the social, political, economic and cultural development of Nigeria.
Ochelle (2014:14) observes that a given economy is the result of a set of processes that involves its cultures, virtues, education, technological, evolution, history, social organisation, political structure and legal system as well as its geography, natural resources endowment and ecology as main factors. These factors give context, content and set the conditions and parameters in which an economy functions. Robert (2015) has given credence to the foregoing as he states,
It is imperative to assert that if women are given the opportunities, they could contribute much more to their own well-being and liberation, particularly if various negative constraints like limited access to education, healthcare, information, technology, credit, market, cultural restrictions, patriarchy, etc. were expunged. The challenges thus are how to incorporate women more effectively into formal development activities as recommended during the UN Decade for Women between 1975 and 1985.
James (1990:3) posits that a nation’s development can be judged by its treatment of women. Makokha (2014:11) submits that ‘both in the act of writing and on the choice of what and how to write, female authors can help in constructing role models and/or debunking male myths about women.’ In the New Testament, this creative role, potentials and contributions of women were played down by the canonization team to have, perhaps purely on gender bais basis, rejected all the supposed books of Scripture submitted by women, including that of Mary, the Blessed Virgin Mother, whose scriptural literary contribution, the Book (Gospel) of Mary was dropped too. Such books are among those the Catholic Church (or the Orthodox Churches) later reviewed, scrutinised, canonised, adapted and incorporated into the Good News Bible as books of the Apocrypha. Such rejected books are what have been used by some esoteric groups as their doctrinal books. Some of them form the ‘Six and Seven Book of Moses’. Whenever one googles books of the apocrypha or the uncanonised scriptures or books of the Scripture, the ‘Gospel of Mary’ and several good supposed books of the scriptures written by women are found. Imagine the genuity of the Blessed Mary’s account as the mother of the Lord and saviour, Jesus Christ, without whom the bible would not have been written. But merely because Blessed Mary ever virgin was a woman, her scripture (account) was rejected by the canonisation team. Her book and those of the other women cannot be said to be more human and perhaps inciting than the canonised the Book of Songs of Solomon. Or is it that God refused to guide women to write scriptures in the New Testament? The answer of course is ‘No!’. The simply reason is that human authority disobeyed God in such regard on gender-basis.