Christian Women Deserve Honor and Respect
“You husbands, continue dwelling . . . with them according to knowledge, assigning them honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one.”—1 PETER 3:7.
1, 2. (a) Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman by the well prompted what concern, and why? (See also footnote.) (b) By preaching to the Samaritan woman, what did Jesus demonstrate?
AT THE old well near the city of Sychar one noontime toward the end of 30 C.E., Jesus revealed how he felt that women should be treated. He had spent the morning trekking through the hilly country of Samaria and arrived at the well tired, hungry, and thirsty. As he sat beside the well, a Samaritan woman approached to draw some water. “Give me a drink,” Jesus said to her. The woman must have stared at him in amazement. She asked: “How is it that you, despite being a Jew, ask me for a drink, when I am a Samaritan woman?” Later, when his disciples returned from buying foodstuffs, they were taken aback, wondering why Jesus was “speaking with a woman.”—John 4:4-9, 27.
2 What prompted this woman’s question and the disciples’ concern? She was a Samaritan, and Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. (John 8:48) But evidently there was also another reason for concern. At that time, rabbinic tradition discouraged men from talking to women in public.* Yet, Jesus openly preached to this sincere woman, even revealing to her that he was the Messiah. (John 4:25, 26) Jesus thereby showed that he would not be bound by unscriptural traditions, including those that degraded women. (Mark 7:9-13) On the contrary, by what he did and by what he taught, Jesus demonstrated that women should be treated with honor and respect.
How Jesus Treated Women
3, 4. (a) How did Jesus respond to the woman who touched his garment? (b) How did Jesus set a good example for Christian men, particularly overseers?
3 Jesus’ tender compassion for people was reflected in the way he dealt with women. On one occasion a woman who had been suffering from a flow of blood for 12 years searched for Jesus in a crowd. Her condition made her ceremonially unclean, so she should not have been there. (Leviticus 15:25-27) But she was so desperate that she slipped in behind Jesus. When she touched his garment, she was instantly healed! Even though he was on his way to the home of Jairus, whose daughter was gravely ill, Jesus stopped. Having felt power go out of him, he looked around for the one who had touched him. Finally, the woman came and fell down before him trembling. Would Jesus scold her for being in the crowd or for touching his garment without his permission? On the contrary, she found him very warm and kind. “Daughter,” he said, “your faith has made you well.” This was the only time Jesus directly addressed a woman as “daughter.” How that word must have put her heart at ease!—Matthew 9:18-22; Mark 5:21-34.
4 Jesus looked beyond the letter of the Law. He saw the spirit behind it and the need for mercy and compassion. (Compare Matthew 23:23.) Jesus noted the sickly woman’s desperate circumstances and took into consideration that she was motivated by faith. He thereby set a good example for Christian men, particularly overseers. If a Christian sister is facing personal problems or an especially difficult or trialsome situation, elders should try to look beyond the immediate words or actions and take into consideration the circumstances and the motives. Such insight may indicate that patience, understanding, and compassion are needed instead of counsel and correction.—Proverbs 10:19; 16:23; 19:11.
5. (a) In what way were women restricted by rabbinic traditions? (See footnote.) (b) Who were the first ones to see and bear witness about the resurrected Jesus?
5 Hemmed in by rabbinic traditions, women living when Jesus was on earth were restricted from serving as legal witnesses.* Consider what happened shortly after Jesus was resurrected from the dead on the morning of Nisan 16, 33 C.E. Who would be the first to see the resurrected Jesus and bear witness to other disciples that their Lord had been raised up? It turned out to be the women who had stayed within view of the impalement site until he expired.—Matthew 27:55, 56, 61.
6, 7. (a) What did Jesus tell the women who came to the tomb? (b) How did Jesus’ male disciples at first react to the testimony of the women, and what can be learned from this?
6 Early in the morning on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and other women went to the tomb with spices to treat Jesus’ body. Upon finding the tomb empty, Mary ran off to tell Peter and John. The other women remained. Soon, an angel appeared to them and told them that Jesus had been raised up. “Go quickly and tell his disciples,” the angel instructed. While these women were hurrying to deliver the news, Jesus himself appeared to them. “Go, report to my brothers,” he told them. (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1, 2; John 20:1, 2) Unaware of the angel’s visit and overcome with grief, Mary Magdalene returned to the empty tomb. Jesus appeared to her there, and after she finally recognized him, he said: “Be on your way to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father and to my God and your God.’”—John 20:11-18; compare Matthew 28:9, 10.
7 Jesus could have appeared first to Peter, John, or one of the other male disciples. Instead, he chose to favor these women by making them the first eyewitnesses of his resurrection and by commissioning them to bear witness about it to his male disciples. How did the men initially react? The record states: “These sayings appeared as nonsense to them and they would not believe the women.” (Luke 24:11) Could it be that they found the testimony difficult to accept because it came from women? If so, in time they received abundant evidence that Jesus had been raised from the dead. (Luke 24:13-46; 1 Corinthians 15:3-8) Today, Christian men act wisely when they take into account the observations of their spiritual sisters.—Compare Genesis 21:12.
8. By the way he dealt with women, what did Jesus reveal?
8 It is truly heartwarming to note the way Jesus dealt with women. Ever compassionate and completely balanced in dealing with women, he neither exalted nor belittled them. (John 2:3-5) He repudiated the rabbinic traditions that stripped them of their dignity and that invalidated the Word of God. (Compare Matthew 15:3-9.) By treating women with honor and respect, Jesus revealed firsthand how Jehovah God feels they should be treated. (John 5:19) Jesus also set a splendid example for Christian men to imitate.—1 Peter 2:21.
Jesus’ Teachings Regarding Women
9, 10. How did Jesus refute rabbinic traditions regarding women, and what did he say after the Pharisees raised a question about divorce?
9 Jesus refuted rabbinic traditions and dignified women not only by his actions but by his teachings as well. Consider, for example, what he taught about divorce and adultery.
10 Regarding divorce, Jesus was asked this question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on every sort of ground?” According to Mark’s account, Jesus said: “Whoever divorces his wife [except on the ground of fornication] and marries another commits adultery against her, and if ever a woman, after divorcing her husband, marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:10-12; Matthew 19:3, 9) Those simply stated words showed respect for the dignity of women. How so?
11. Jesus’ words “except on the ground of fornication” indicate what about the marriage bond?
11 First, by the words “except on the ground of fornication” (found in Matthew’s Gospel account), Jesus indicated that the marriage bond is not to be viewed lightly or broken easily. The prevailing rabbinic teaching allowed for divorce on such minor grounds as a wife’s spoiling a dish of food or talking to a strange man. Why, divorce was even allowed if a husband found a woman who was more attractive in his eyes! One Bible scholar notes: “When Jesus spoke as he did he was . . . striking a blow for women by seeking to restore marriage to the position it ought to have.” Indeed, marriage ought to be a permanent union in which a woman can feel secure.—Mark 10:6-9.
12. By the words “commits adultery against her,” what concept was Jesus introducing?
12 Second, by the expression “commits adultery against her,” Jesus introduced a view that was not recognized in the rabbinic courts—the concept of a husband’s committing adultery against his wife. Explains The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: “In rabbinic Judaism a woman by infidelity could commit adultery against her husband; and a man, by having sexual relations with another man’s wife, could commit adultery against him. But a man could never commit adultery against his wife, no matter what he did. Jesus, by putting the husband under the same moral obligation as the wife, raised the status and dignity of women.”
13. Concerning divorce, how did Jesus show that under the Christian system, there would be one standard for both men and women?
13 Third, by the phrase “after divorcing her husband,” Jesus recognized the right of a woman to divorce an unfaithful husband—a practice apparently known but not common under Jewish law in that day.* It was said that “a woman may be divorced with or without her will, but a man only with his will.” According to Jesus, however, under the Christian system, the same standard would apply to both men and women.
14. By his teachings, what did Jesus reflect?
14 Jesus’ teachings clearly reveal a deep concern for the welfare of women. It is, therefore, not hard to understand why some women felt such love for Jesus that they cared for his needs out of their own belongings. (Luke 8:1-3) “What I teach is not mine,” Jesus said, “but belongs to him that sent me.” (John 7:16) By what he taught, Jesus reflected Jehovah’s own tender consideration for women.
“Assigning Them Honor”
15. What did the apostle Peter write about the way husbands should treat their wives?
15 The apostle Peter observed firsthand the way Jesus dealt with women. Some 30 years later, Peter gave wives loving counsel and then wrote: “You husbands, continue dwelling in like manner with them according to knowledge, assigning them honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one, since you are also heirs with them of the undeserved favor of life, in order for your prayers not to be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7) What did Peter mean by the words “assigning them honor”?
16. (a) What is the meaning of the Greek noun translated “honor”? (b) How did Jehovah honor Jesus during the transfiguration, and what do we learn from this?
16 According to one lexicographer, the Greek noun translated “honor” (ti·meʹ) means “price, value, honour, respect.” Forms of this Greek word are rendered “gifts” and “precious.” (Acts 28:10; 1 Peter 2:7) We get insight into what it means to honor someone if we examine Peter’s use of a form of the same word at 2 Peter 1:17. There he said with reference to Jesus’ transfiguration: “He received from God the Father honor and glory, when words such as these were borne to him by the magnificent glory: ‘This is my son, my beloved, whom I myself have approved.’” At Jesus’ transfiguration, Jehovah honored his Son by expressing his approval of Jesus, and God did so in the hearing of others. (Matthew 17:1-5) The man who honors his wife, then, does not humiliate or downgrade her. Rather, he demonstrates by his words and his deeds—in private and in public—that he esteems her.—Proverbs 31:28-30.
17. (a) Why is honor due the Christian wife? (b) Why should a man not feel that he has more value in God’s eyes than a woman does?
17 This honor, Peter says, should be ‘assigned’ by Christian husbands to their wives. It is to be rendered, not as a favor, but as their wives’ rightful due. Why are wives entitled to such honor? Because “you are also heirs with them of the undeserved favor of life,” explains Peter. In the first century C.E., the men and women who received Peter’s letter were all called to be joint heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:16, 17; Galatians 3:28) They did not have the same responsibilities in the congregation, but they would eventually share in ruling with Christ in heaven. (Revelation 20:6) Today, too, when most of God’s people have an earthly hope, it would be a serious mistake for any Christian man to feel that because of the privileges he may have in the congregation, he has more value in God’s eyes than women do. (Compare Luke 17:10.) Men and women have an equal spiritual standing before God, for Jesus’ sacrificial death opened up to both men and women the same opportunity—that of being freed from the condemnation of sin and death, with everlasting life in view.—Romans 6:23.
18. What compelling reason does Peter give for a husband to honor his wife?
18 Peter gives another compelling reason why a husband should honor his wife, “in order for [his] prayers not to be hindered.” The expression “to be hindered” comes from a Greek verb (en·koʹpto) that literally means “to cut into.” According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, it “was used of impeding persons by breaking up the road, or by placing an obstacle sharply in the path.” Hence, the husband who fails to assign his wife honor could find that there is a roadblock between his prayers and God’s hearing. The man may feel unworthy to approach God, or Jehovah may not be disposed to listen. Clearly, Jehovah is greatly concerned with the way men treat women.—Compare Lamentations 3:44.
19. How may men and women in the congregation serve together with mutual respect?
19 The obligation to show honor does not rest with husbands alone. Whereas a husband should honor his wife by treating her lovingly and with dignity, a wife should honor her husband by being in subjection and showing deep respect. (1 Peter 3:1-6) Moreover, Paul admonished Christians to ‘show honor to one another.’ (Romans 12:10) This is a call for men and women in the congregation to serve together with mutual respect. When such a spirit prevails, Christian women will not speak out in a manner that undermines the authority of those taking the lead. Rather, they will support the elders and cooperate with them. (1 Corinthians 14:34, 35; Hebrews 13:17) For their part, Christian overseers will treat “older women as mothers, younger women as sisters with all chasteness.” (1 Timothy 5:1, 2) Wisely, the elders will give kind consideration to the voice of their Christian sisters. Thus, when a sister shows her regard for theocratic headship and respectfully asks a question or even points out something that requires attention, the elders will gladly give consideration to her question or problem.
20. According to the Scriptural record, how should women be treated?
20 Ever since the introduction of sin in Eden, women in many cultures have been relegated to a position of dishonor. But that is not the kind of treatment that Jehovah originally intended for them to experience. No matter what cultural views toward women may prevail, the record of both the Hebrew and the Christian Greek Scriptures clearly shows that godly women should be treated with honor and respect. It is their God-given due.
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia explains: “Women did not eat with male guests, and men were discouraged from talking with women. . . . Conversation with a woman in a public place was particularly scandalous.” The Jewish Mishnah, a collection of rabbinic teachings, advised: “Talk not much with womankind. . . . He that talks much with womankind brings evil upon himself and neglects the study of the Law and at the last will inherit Gehenna.”—Aboth 1:5.
The book Palestine in the Time of Christ states: “In some cases, the woman was put almost on a par with the slave. For instance, she could not give evidence in a court of justice, except to attest the death of her husband.” Referring to Leviticus 5:1, The Mishnah explains: “[The law about] ‘an oath of testimony’ applies to men but not to women.”—Shebuoth 4:I.
First-century Jewish historian Josephus reports that King Herod’s sister Salome sent her husband “a document dissolving their marriage, which was not in accordance with Jewish law. For it is (only) the man who is permitted by us to do this.”—Jewish Antiquities, XV, 259 [vii, 10].
What Is Your Answer?
□ What examples demonstrate that Jesus treated women with honor and respect?
□ How did Jesus’ teachings show respect for the dignity of women?
□ Why should a husband assign honor to his Christian wife?
□ What obligation to show honor do all Christians have?
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To their delight, godly women were the first to see the resurrected Jesus, who had them bear witness to his brothers