top of page
  • Writer's pictureMeera



Gender and patriarchy in the church . The Jewish and Christian religions grew out of a world where men dominated in all areas of life: politics, religion, the economy and in the home. Everyone assumed it was true that women are slaves, and even children to some extent, were less than human, and simply possessions of men.

This is called a patriarchal society, and many societies in the world still operate on the assumption of male superiority. 

The Gospel stories, however, show that Jesus defied this patriarchal view of the world: 

*He spoke to women in public and risked public disgrace. He had women as close friends, discussed theology with them, and even trusted women with the news of his resurrection. 

*He affirmed the courage of a woman with a menstrual disorder for breaking a taboo and coming out in public in hope of obtaining healing.

* He challenged women’s traditional service role when he told Martha that Mary had the right idea when she preferred to sit and talk with him and learn from him rather than doing housework. 

*He scolded his disciples when they would not let children come to him. He put children at the center of things.  He openly criticized authoritarian leadership; he directly challenged those who lorded it over others and taught his disciples that service, love and acceptance of everyone was how God calls us to live. 

So what went wrong in the Church?

Some say it was when Christianity became formally accepted as a state religion in the Roman Empire when Theodosius I, the successor of Constantine the Great, formally made Christianity the state religion in 380 AD. Others say it was much earlier, when some disciples of the early church began to argue about which of the apostles to follow and a competitive spirit set in. And still others refer to selective uses of texts in the Old Testament that describe God as an authoritarian figure who demands absolute obedience to a strict code of rules, rather than using Scriptures that demonstrate the love, grace and mercy of God, who loves all of creation equally. 

The Bible: Tool of oppression or liberation?

In the Bible there are examples of both patriarchal and liberating ideas about women. We explore some of these in this tool, and talk about more positive ways to use Scripture. Many Christians ignore the liberating strands in our Scriptures. They tend to focus on the patriarchal ideas which support their own social or cultural views about women’s inferiority. This raises questions about the way that our cultural and social prejudices affect the way that we read the Scriptures.  

Patriarchal attitudes towards women have continued throughout the life of the Church all over the world. Even though women were very active in the early missionary activity of the church, they were gradually excluded from leadership positions. Reasons given were that women were sexually impure, intellectually limited and passive. Even today, some churches say that women are psychologically unsuited to be ordained. The church has also insisted that women should focus on the home because of their natural roles as caregivers, since they give birth.

A number of passages in the New Testament make reference to the creation story to justify or try to impose unequal power relationships and restrictive roles on men and women. We have seen above that this contradicts the original intention of the texts.

The role of women in the Church

There are 3 passages that are often used to argue against women in leadership roles in church. The writer of 1Timothy 2:11-14, who used his own patriarchal interpretation of the creation story to argue that women can only have a subordinate role in the church: “A woman must be a learner, listening quietly and with due submission. I do not permit a woman to be a teacher, nor must woman domineer over man; she should be quiet. For Adam was created first, and Eve afterwards; and it was not Adam who was deceived; it was the woman who, yielding to deception, fell into sin. Yet she will be saved through motherhood – if only women continue in faith, love and holiness, with a sober mind.” The same argument can be found in other New Testament Epistles, such as 1 Corinthians 14: 34- 35, which was written by Paul. 7 Prof Christina Landman offers a reinterpretation of the story of Eve, when she points out that after being cast out of paradise, Eve actually restored humanity’s relationship with God as the God of Grace (not of punishment) when she gave her children names reminding us of God’s grace. There are a number of reasons for this, and theologians and church historians have grappled with this question for many years. This is beyond the scope of this publication. 

The Good News Jesus’ positive view of women is consistently evident throughout all four of the Gospels. Jesus treated women as equals and definitely not as sex objects or legal possessions. Jesus considered women worthy of being a part of his circle. This section explores some inspiring examples.

Jesus respected women During the time of Jesus, the women in Jewish culture were not educated, were only seen to be saved through the faith of their husbands: in fact they were not thought to have souls at all! Men who spoke to women in public had to undergo cleansing rituals for having been defiled publicly. Women were regarded as ritually unclean during their menstrual period, and were forbidden from preparing food or going out in public.

Women as sex objects or ‘war trophies’ Jesus challenged the attitudes held by many people towards women as sex objects. There was a Jewish practice (Deuteronomy 21:10-14) that allowed a man to take any woman captured in war as his wife. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:28 against adultery prohibits men to lust after any women in his heart. This means he may not even think about her as a sex object, let alone take her as a sexual possession or trophy of victory in war

Jesus took women’s lives and struggles seriously Jesus had many interactions with women during the course of his ministry, showing that he cared deeply for the plight of women in his day. For example:

1. the healing of the widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7:11-17)

2.the healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter who was possessed by demons (Matt 15:21-28; Luke 13:10-17)

3. the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Matt 8:14-15; Mark 1:29-31; Luke 4:38-39);

4.Jesus’ encounter with the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11).

Women were the first to proclaim the Good News The Gospels of Mark, Luke and John record that women were the first to receive the Good News of the Risen Christ. Both Mark and John record Mary Magdalene as the first person Jesus appeared to. Jesus recognized that women can be witnesses and messengers of important news, which was not permitted for women then. In Luke, we see that the disciples first refused to believe Mary (Luke 24:11), but they were proved wrong. Mary Magdalene is now often called the first evangelist, because Jesus sent her to go and share the Good News with the disciples. (John 20:17-18)

The man and the woman are partners in exercising dominion over God’s creation. The man and the woman jointly receive God’s mandate to multiply and fill the earth, and to subdue it, exercising dominion. God creates the two as genuine partners, and this partnership envelops the man’s leadership and the woman’s support and participation in such a way that the two work in tandem, with complementarity. This genuine partnership can be fully reflected today where men exercise godly leadership without domination and encourage women’s robust participation within biblical boundaries.

Who we are as men and women defines the core of our existence, not merely its periphery. Having been created male and female, we are husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. Thus the way in which we live our lives is in and through our divinely created gender identities. These gender identities, in turn, are not merely superficial but run deep, affecting who we are as persons, family members, church members, and citizens. While the gospel extends to all of us, we do not cease to exist as men and women.

God’s design is best. God’s design of humanity as male and female cannot be improved upon! God’s ways are far superior to our own. God’s design for man and woman—expressed in male leadership with male-female partnership—is an expression of his beauty, wisdom, and goodness. Through faith, and faith alone, we can appropriate God’s power to live out this design individually and in relation to each other.

Every generation must model and explain God’s design for man and woman to the next. God’s way is for men to lead their families, fathers to mentor their sons in biblical, God-honoring masculinity, and for mothers to mentor their daughters in biblical, God-honoring femininity. Not only is this to happen in the natural family, it is also to take place in God’s family, the church (e.g., Titus 2), especially where family structures are broken. How are you and I preparing our sons and daughters for living out their God-given design as men and women? How are our churches equipping those without role models?

8 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page