Women have been affirmed or empowered in Christianity and also, restricted and controlled in Christianity. The Jesus Movement began with a virginal Jewish woman who was visited by the Holy Spirit. She became pregnant before her marriage to Joseph. “According to the New Testament of Christian Bible: an angel appeared to her with news that she would conceive outside her marriage, to be called Jesus, a child whom God would give the throne of David- the great King of the Jews,” (Fisher, 188). While virginal births are not uncommon, nor is Christianity the first to have a virginal birth in their religion, Mary’s conception and Jesus’ birth shows an important example of Christianity’s affirmation or empowerment of women. The Christian bible includes Mary’s conception. The movement was unique in that Christianity accepted all levels of society, especially those considered unclean by Jewish temple priests and Rabbis. This is the first religion we have studied in this class that seems to see all followers as equal. “Women had been considered impure because of their bleeding during menstruation and childbirth and were thought of as possessions of men, (Fisher, 188).” This is also restated on page 188 in Women in Religion, Jesus referred to them as “poor” and invited them to eat together at the same table in a community that excluded no one from God’s grace and recognized not hierarchy.
Women were involved in the Jesus Movement despite the surrounding male dominant society. “Significantly, it was women who dared to stay with Jesus during the crucifixion, attempted to tend his body in the tomb, and first witnessed his resurrection.” (Fisher, 194) These must have been very strong women. Women were the majority of Jesus’ followers and supporters and stood by him during the crucifixion when even the men were too frightened, or ignorant. Page 191 of Fisher’s book tells of Jesus’ women visiting his tomb, and that Mary Magdalene is said to have seen Jesus, along with other women, after the Crucifixion. Yet when the women told their men, they were not believed because the men’s religion discounts women’s credibility as witnesses. Later the men see for themselves that the women were correct. This must have been frustrating for the women of that time. To be brushed off like that when something so important had happened!
The story of the Samaria woman on page 193 of Women in Religion, who asks Jesus why he would ask her to give him a drink of water describes of how Jesus, a teacher, spoke about theology with a woman, which shows that Jesus saw women no differently to men. Jesus was criticized when the sisters of Bethany anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive oil to prepare him for death. (Fisher, 193) I don’t know if this was criticism of the expensive oils more than the women taking care of Jesus, or not? Either way, it is a great example of the roles women played in the Jesus Movement.
“Early Christianity opened counter-cultural roles for women, but these were gradually withdrawn from the second to fifth centuries” (Fisher, 194). Apostle Paul, the most influential figure in the shaping of what became Christianity, writings marked a shift away from the egalitarian impetus of the Jesus Movement toward a more hierarchical, institutional faith. Paul proposed many restrictions on women in Christianity such as, women should be silent in churches, should not teach or have authority over man, and women were to keep their place at the bottom of the order of Creation. “Thus women are to be submissive to men because they were created last and because they brought the downfall of humanity by their susceptibility to deception and sin. Their only hope of redemption is through faithfully carrying on the traditional role of motherhood” (Fisher, 199).
I believe the main reason for the double emphasis that has run throughout Christian religious history is due to society. “Generally these movements challenge the norms of their society and when the founder dies, in order to survive, the movement usually modifies its more radical views and begins to conform to their society’s practices, especially with regard to women” (Serinity, 41). This statement mirrors my own opinion on why there is contradiction in the history of Christianity. I read a statement on page 42 of Anthology of Sacred Texts By and About Women which stated, “While for both Luther and Calvin women and men were spiritual equals, they also believed that woman’s subordination to men was ordained at the time of creation and must be maintained in order to fulfill God’s will.” How can men and women be equal with women being forced to be subordinate to men? The whole statement contradicts itself! Unless, they meant that men and women are equal but for society’s sake, women must appear to be less than men.