Often when someone is arguing for the ordination of women he or she will turn to Jesus as the model for how women are to be viewed in today’s society. They see the number of women who were mentioned as followers of him, or even the fact that he included women at all, as biblical evidence for no gender distinctions for clergy. And if we believe that our Bible is true (and I do), we can’t deny the fact that women were the first witnesses to his resurrection (Matt. 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18). All of the Gospels talk about the women who were around Jesus, but Luke includes more accounts of women than any of the other Gospels. But does Jesus’ seeming endorsement of women present a clear directive for our churches today?
Yes and no.
Jesus healed women. Jesus engaged women in conversation. Jesus taught women. Jesus was served by women. Women were the first witnesses to his resurrection and given the directive to go and tell his disciples that he had risen. And while some would see Jesus’ interaction with women as a stamp of approval on the ordination of women today, I think there is something far deeper happening here.
In Galatians 3:28 Paul says:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Some have said that Paul, similar to Jesus with women, is saying that gender is no longer a barrier to giftedness or service in the church. For them, Paul is saying that gender is not the defining identity of your life, Christ is. This identity now frees you to minister and serve according to your gifting. But rather than establishing a new order for the way God created gender, or eradicating gender distinctions, Paul is showing us that Christ’s salvation is for all people—regardless of gender or ethnicity. Paul is simply building on the foundation laid by Jesus when he welcomed sinners, prostitutes, women, diseased, Gentile, and broken people to come and drink from his abundant streams of mercy.
In addition, Jesus’ treatment of women wasn’t implying that gender is not important, women should be pastors, or that either gender is superior to the other. But he was doing something profound for women (and for men). Mark Dever says that part of Jesus’ “manliness” was expressed in his concern for the vulnerable, namely women and children (The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept, 88). In his day women were viewed as less than men. Women did not have a voice in many things. A woman’s testimony was not as strong as a man’s. But Luke’s Gospel gives attention to Jesus’ great concern for women and their plight. This is a profound statement considering the culture he was writing to.
Jesus’ dealing with women was radical in his day, but not in the way we so often think. His care for women was radical not because it was so new, but because it was so old. Jesus went to women with a Father-like heart that viewed them as bearers of the divine image. And we could expect no less from our Sovereign King because he was there when they (and we) were formed (Jer. 1:5; Ps. 139). Jesus was doing far more for women in his life on this earth than simply opening up new ministry opportunities. If Jesus wanted to change a structure he instituted in the Garden he would have told us. But he didn’t. Instead he did something greater. His life, death, and resurrection restored what was lost in gender, families, relationships, and more importantly, in our own souls.