How Jesus Treated Women

(4) How Jesus

Treated Women


Jesus’ attitude to women was to have far-reaching consequences. Whereas many rabbis regarded women as unworthy of religious instruction, he addressed his teaching and message to men and women alike. In the crowds who followed him to listen and to receive healing there were men, women and children (Matthew 11:7, 12:46, 14:21, Luke 11:27). But gender did not matter: the important criterion for being part of Jesus’ family was doing the will of God.

... a crowd was sitting about him.... And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.”                                                                                                 (Mark 3:32-34)

Matthew’s account (12:49) refers to these people as Jesus’ disciples.

... stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.”         (Matthew 12:49-50)

The word disciple means “one who learns”. Jesus considered that women should learn religious truth. He treated women with the honour and consideration which God had originally intended. He applied the Golden Rule consistently. Several times in the Gospels he is recorded as holding conversations with women on religious issues.


Martha and Mary

When Jesus was staying with Martha and Mary it is recorded that Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (Luke 10:39). This expression is characteristic of a disciple learning from a teacher, as with Paul who was educated “at the feet of Gamaliel” (Acts 22:3). When Martha complained that Mary was not carrying out her domestic duties, Jesus did not approve her complaint but commented significantly:

“ thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”                                       (Luke 10:42)

From the traditional point of view, Martha’s complaint was justified. A woman’s job was to run the home, she was exempt from rabbinic training, and there was no need for her to study the Law for studying the Law was seen as a man’s activity. This incident shows how Jesus thought otherwise, and was not prepared to allow the restrictive, traditional position to be enforced on Mary. She had chosen to learn (“the good portion”) and it was not to be taken away from her.

Whereas in Luke 10 Martha had complained because Mary was taking a religious interest and not helping with the housework, in John 11 it is Martha with whom Jesus mainly discussed. Martha made a confession of belief in Jesus which is fuller than the better known confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27-30).

She said to him, “Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.”                  (John 11:27)

It is noticeable too that she previously referred to Jesus as “Lord” but when she went to call Mary, she referred to Jesus as “the Teacher”, evidently a role which had meant a considerable amount to Mary and probably to them both.

When she had said this, she went and called her sister Mary, saying quietly, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”  (John 11:28)

It is worth comparing Jesus’ attitude with that of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus (c 80-120 AD). When approached by a woman with a Biblical question, he rebuffed her, refusing to answer her question. Only to males would he reply.

A woman of importance (an elderly married woman) asked Rabbi Eliezer: “Why is it that following Israel’s general sin (of worshipping the golden calf) there were three different kinds of death: beheading, plague, and destruction of the body by water?” He avoided answering her question, and replied: “A woman’s proper job is spinning, as it says (Exodus 35:25) ‘All the hard-working women spun with their own hands’.” (According to him, it is useless to teach the Law, or explanation of the Law, to a woman.) His son, Hyrcanus, said to him: “Since you haven’t replied to this woman with a Biblical explanation, you have made me lose three hundred a year ... (which she used to give me as her priestly offering)”. “It is better for the words of the Law to be burned”, replied his father, “than to hand them over to a woman,” (and it’s even worse to do so for money). When this woman went out, the disciples said: “Master, now that you have rebuffed this woman’s question, what answer will you give us on this subject?”        

            (Sotah III, Moïse Schwab, Le Talmud de Jerusalem IV, Paris, 1885, page 261, translated from French)


The Woman at the Well

In John 4 not only did Jesus break accepted conventions by talking to a Samaritan but he discussed religious truth with a woman. The disciples were surprised, reflecting the same kind of restrictive attitude as shown by Rabbi Eliezer.

They marvelled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, “What do you wish?”                 (John 4:27 )

The conversation was detailed, contained some of Jesus’ deepest teaching about true worship, and elicited such a response from the woman that she went and told many others in her town about Jesus.

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.”  (John 4:39)

As a consequence Jesus himself was invited to stay two days with them and he converted many more. They had believed first because of the woman’s words, but on seeing Jesus himself they were fully convinced.

They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.”         (John 4:42)


Women Followers and Associates

The Mishnah did not approve of a man being closely involved with a woman, not even his wife.

“Jose b. Johanan of Jerusalem [c. 150 BC] said: ... talk not much with womankind. They said this of a man’s own wife: how much more of a fellow’s wife! Hence the sages have said: He that talks much with womankind brings evil upon himself and neglects the study of the Law and at the last will inherit Gehenna.”

                                                (Mishnah: Aboth “The Fathers” 1:5)

The Talmud added:

Our Rabbis have taught: Six things are a disgrace to a disciple of the wise: He should not ... converse with a woman in the street....                                      (Babylonian Talmud: Berakoth “Benedictions” 43b)

Being alone with a woman was considered improper, even more so if outside a town.

[The statement that a woman may be alone with two men] pertains only to a town. But as to a trip there must be three.

                        (Babylonian Talmud: Kiddushin “Betrothals” 81a).

A wife could be divorced without her marriage-portion for transgressing Jewish custom by speaking to a man.

... what conduct transgresses Jewish custom? If she goes out with her hair unbound, or spins in the street, or speaks with any man.

                        (Mishnah: Ketuboth “Marriage Deeds” 7:6)

But Jesus not only conversed on his own with a woman at the well but could be described as one who “talks much with womankind”. He travelled with a group of women who provided for him and the twelve “out of their means”:

And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.             (Luke 8:1-3)

“Many others” is feminine. Evidently women formed a large proportion of those who travelled with Jesus. Like the twelve disciples, these women found a relevance in Jesus’ message and in his treatment of them. Like the twelve disciples too (Luke 18:28), these women appear to have given up their family life (at least temporarily) and put Jesus first. Because they were women they would not have been given a hearing had they tried to preach as did the twelve, but they supported the movement financially and practically, and followed Jesus to Jerusalem. The manner of Jesus’ involvement with these followers shows a change in the understanding of the part women could play. Marriage was not their only role, the home not their only place, honourable and important though these are. The women remained with him until the last.

There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome, who, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered to him; and also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.                                                                           (Mark 15:40-41)

The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and saw the tomb, and how his body was laid.                             (Luke 23:55)

No other rabbi, as far as we know, travelled with a group of women followers.

Though the women were not part of the twelve, they listened closely to Jesus, as Luke’s account of the Resurrection indicates.

… two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.              (Luke 24:4-11)

The account records that the women “remembered his [Jesus’] words” (verse 8). The words are those contained in verse 7 “that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” And the angels said: “Remember how he told you” (verse 6). When did Jesus tell the women this? There are four occasions in Luke where we are told that this information was presented by Jesus. In Luke 9:22, 9:44, and 17:25 Jesus warns his disciples of his coming rejection and crucifixion, and resurrection. So too in Matthew 16:21

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  (Matthew 16:21)

On the fourth occasion, in Luke 18:31-33, and in the parallel accounts in Matthew 20:17-19 and Mark 10:32-34, Jesus says this only to the twelve, though he may have intended it to be passed on to the others by them. It is evident from the Resurrection account, however, that the women had been told this directly by Jesus himself (“remember how he told you”), either on an unrecorded occasion, or on the same occasions in Luke 9:22, 9:44, and 17:25 where the term “the disciples” therefore needs to be understood to include the women. They are described as “the women who had come with him from Galilee” (Luke 23:55) and some are named in Luke 24:10, “Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them”. Two of these were mentioned as accompanying Jesus and the twelve in Luke 8:2-3. Apart from providing for Jesus “out of their means”, they were paying close attention to what he told them, as the Resurrection account indicates. Jesus, unlike other rabbis of his day, was willing to teach women and include them in his circle of followers. These details about the women should caution us against assuming that when we read “the disciples” the text means “men disciples”.


Physical Contact

Jesus also broke with convention in allowing women to touch him in a way which alarmed his more orthodox critics. He did not cringe or disapprove. Instead, he commended the women for their actions.

And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”                   (Luke 7:37-39)

So too in the case of the woman with a haemorrhage. When touched by her, though this would have made him ritually unclean, Jesus did not shrink back as if offended by this act but called her “daughter”, and commended her faith (Mark 5:24-34). The significance of “daughter” is illustrated further when he healed a crippled woman.

“Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?”

                                                                                    (Luke 13:16)

Jesus treated these women with compassion, understanding, and as people who should be treated as worthy individuals in the family of God (“daughter of Abraham”). Compare this with how Jesus addressed Zacchaeus using the parallel term “son of Abraham”: “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9).


The Woman Taken in Adultery

When the scribes and Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery, they no doubt thought they had set Jesus a clever trap (John 8:6). Jesus not only skilfully avoided their stratagem to incriminate himself, but he avoided also the male prejudice which lay behind their action. Why had they brought only the woman, not the man too? One answer can be seen in the Mishnah where women were considered to be specially prone to sexual misbehaviour.

Rabbi Joshua says: A woman has more pleasure in one kab[1] with lechery than in nine kabs with modesty.

                                          (Mishnah: Sotah “The Suspected Adulteress” 3:4)

Jesus turned the accusation on to the accusers, without approving or justifying her behaviour. He talked to her without reserve or embarrassment, and sent her home to make a new start. In contrast to the uncaring, discriminatory and condemnatory attitude of the scribes and Pharisees, he showed deep insight into human nature. He demonstrated both concern and morality in his treatment of the woman.



In his attitude to marriage and divorce Jesus likewise cut across the teaching of his contemporaries.

There were two schools of interpretation, each seeking to expound the rules for divorce given in Deuteronomy.

When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favour in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a bill of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house....                                                                 (Deuteronomy 24:1)

The followers of Rabbi Shammai took “some indecency in her” to refer to unchastity alone but the majority took the view of Rabbi Hillel that this phrase could refer to anything a husband disliked about his wife.

He that desires to be divorced from his wife for any cause whatsoever (and many such causes happen among men), let him in writing give assurance that he will never use her as his wife any more....

                                                (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 4.253) Each group spoke only from a male viewpoint. When Jesus was asked about divorce, instead of siding with one of the two parties (easy divorce or restricted divorce) he confronted both by referring to God’s will from the beginning.

Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.         (Matthew 19:3-6)

The discussion had been entirely from the man’s angle; by objecting to divorce, Jesus protected the wife from being treated as a disposable object. He also disallowed polygamy which had been permissible in Judaism, and, in the case of levirate marriage, often inevitable. By saying that divorce was against God’s original intention, Jesus again reasserted the worth of women and the worth of the marriage relationship where the two become one.


Separation from Women

The rabbis dealt with the problem of men’s lustful thoughts by seeking to remove women from their company and their sight.

One outcome of this approach was the exclusion of women from taking part in the religious activities of the synagogue and their physical separation from the men. Jesus, however, taught that men should control their thoughts.

I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away....                    (Matthew 5:28-29)

By this approach Jesus opened the way for men and women to mix together socially and ecclesially without the need for the artificial barriers erected by the rabbis. This was a necessary step towards the new male/female relationships which the early ecclesias were able to enjoy.


JesusPositive Image of Women

In taking examples of faithful conduct, Jesus several times chose women: the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8), the widow who threw her “two copper coins” into the treasury (Mark 12:42-43), the woman who searched until she found her lost coin (Luke 15:8-9).

Though women are nevertheless mentioned less than men in the parables and in the Gospels, the positive manner in which their conversations and actions are recorded is significant because of the background attitudes to women in Jesus’ day and afterward. There is no hint of the anti-women attitudes shown elsewhere:

From a woman sin had its beginning,

and because of her we all die.             (Ecclesiasticus 25:24)

Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good;

and it is a woman who brings shame and disgrace.                                                                                        (Ecclesiasticus 42:14)

Ecclesiasticus (also called the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach) is 3rd century BC.


Tertullian (c. 200 AD) wrote to women:

You are the devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that [forbidden] tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert – that is, death – even the Son of God had to die.           (Tertullian, On Female Dress 1:1)


Jesus is totally and refreshingly free from this kind of approach to women. There is no suggestion that women are evil, worse than men, unreliable, liars, the cause of this world’s ills. In a very male-orientated society he is shown as revolutionary in his approach to women, as he was in his attitudes on many other matters. No longer was the only approved role of women to be childbearing, staying at home and serving husbands (honourable and God-approved though this, of course, is). Discipleship on a wider scale was now open to women. They could study and learn Christian teaching; they could promote and teach the Good News, though the conventions of society would still restrict them. On Jesus’ part there was no barrier.

Baptism for a woman underlined how much she was now valued as an individual believer. Previously, under Judaism, her commitment was through the male, for circumcision applied only to men. But in Jesus she was received into the new movement as an individual in her own right. Baptism was the same mode of commitment for male and female believers, underlining the essential unity of the new movement in Jesus.

In character, women are sinners like men. Jesus’ teaching about the heart is applicable to all (Matthew 15:18). Both men and women need to repent, and both find new life and salvation in him. Both need to become “a new creation” in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17).

In view of the above it might be expected that Jesus would have appointed at least one woman among the twelve disciples. Considering, however, the common religious and social attitudes towards women, it would be surprising if he had done so.

Market places and council halls, law courts and gatherings, and meetings where a large number of people are gathered, in short all public life with its discussions and deeds, in times of peace and of war, are proper for men. It is suitable for women to stay indoors and to live in retirement, limited by the middle door (to the men’s apartments) for young girls, and the outer door for married women.     

                                                            (Philo, De Spec. Leg. III, 169)

Philo’s comment is in the context of upper or middle class households in Alexandria, but the same sort of attitude can be seen in how the disciples responded when they found Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well:

Just then his disciples came. They marvelled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, “What do you wish?” or, “Why are you talking with her?”                                                                                (John 4:27).


Little success could have been expected, therefore, if Jesus had attempted to appoint women followers in general in a preaching mission, for Jewish attitudes towards woman’s authority would have hindered his message. He wished people to respond to his message, and many did, as reported in Luke 10:18. There was no guarantee that they would respond (Luke 10:10). People were not forced to believe, and putting unnecessary barriers to repentance (such as sending women two by two round the villages), would have been counter productive.

Although Jesus’ mission was soon to spread to the whole world, it started among the Jews, and was therefore restricted to what was possible within the Jewish environment. No Gentiles or slaves were included among his twelve disciples either. It was only after the resurrection, when the message began to spread world-wide, that women, Gentiles and slaves were able to take a fuller part.


The First Witnesses to the Resurrection

The women were the first to go to the tomb and the first to hear of the resurrection. It seems in line with the attitude of Jesus that it was to the women also that the message of the resurrection was first entrusted. They were the first witnesses, which from a conventional point of view might have been considered of doubtful validity. But the angel at the tomb and then Jesus himself, entrusted them with witnessing the message of the resurrection to the disciples. There is no suggestion here that women are not to be trusted or that it is wrong to listen to a woman’s voice.

“Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee: there you will see him.”                                  (Matthew 28:6-7)

Then Jesus said to them [Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, verse 1], “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”                                                                 (Matthew 28:10)

The disciples did as the women had said:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always to the close of the age.”            (Matthew 28:16-20)

According to the text, this Great Commission to evangelise the world was given to the eleven disciples. Does this mean that only males are to preach and teach? If we consider Jesus’ words, this cannot be a correct conclusion. The command itself is to “make disciples” and teach them to observe “all that I have commanded YOU”; once disciples have learned all Jesus’ commands, then this commandment applies to them. They in turn are under the command to teach others. It is therefore a command which is self replicating; all disciples should seek to make disciples and to teach them to observe all of Jesus’ teaching.

The similar passage in Luke mentions that Cleopas and his companion returned from Emmaus and “found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them”. While reporting that they had seen the risen Lord (Luke 24:36), “Jesus himself stood among them”.

Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high.”

(Luke 24:45-49)

As we see from verse 33 this is not just to the eleven disciples but also to “those who were with them”; and Luke reports at Pentecost that “they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1-4) when they were “clothed with power from on high”.


Here then indeed are commands that involve both men and women learning and then teaching: “… repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” And who is to say that women disciples are not to teach if Jesus says they should?

Throughout history many famous men have been distrustful towards women and have made disparaging or condescending comments about them. No such attitude can be seen in Jesus. He was positive towards them in his speech and his actions, attracted a large number of female followers, and thus set the scene for the fuller involvement of women in the early ecclesias.


Jesus’ Choice of 12 Male Disciples

It is often suggested that Jesus’ choice of 12 male disciples indicates that rulership in the church should be male.

This is a deduction, for Jesus does not state maleness as the reason, and good reasons for choosing males are readily apparent from the text.

Here is the description of Jesus’ appointing the Twelve.

…And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and to have authority to cast out demons…                         (Mark 3:14-15)

In Matthew we are given Jesus’ instruction to his twelve disciples.

These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.                                         (Matthew 10:5)

On another occasion (Luke 10:1) he chose seventy (or seventy-two) “and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come.” These seventy are not named but are presumably male too.

Would it have been appropriate for Jesus to choose women to go on these preaching and healing missions?

We can observe, especially as they were going two by two, that if two female disciples had been sent on their own from village to village, or one male disciple and one female, this would have been completely unacceptable. Two women would have been ultra-vulnerable travelling on their own. A male and a female disciple, if not married, would be considered immoral, as we quoted earlier in this chapter from the Talmud:

Our Rabbis have taught: Six things are a disgrace to a disciple of the wise: He should not ... converse with a woman in the street....

(Babylonian Talmud: Berakoth “Benedictions” 43b)

[The statement that a woman may be alone with two men] pertains only to a town. But as to a trip there must be three.

(Babylonian Talmud: Kiddushin “Betrothals” 81a).


Attitudes to women’s uncleanness would also hamper any attempts to heal or have physical contact. Jesus showed no reservation in this regard but other people obviously did. Such restrictions would also apply in the wider Jewish world even after the resurrection. Paul could enter synagogues, address the congregation and debate with the Jews, but obviously women could not do this in the way that men could.

Was Jesus constrained, then, by cultural considerations? We might like to answer, “No”, but the answer needs to be, “Yes, to some extent”. He used the women at the tomb as witnesses to the disciples of his resurrection but could not use them as witnesses outside his own group because women’s witness was not accepted. When a replacement was chosen for Judas, the criterion for an apostle was “a witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:22). The witnessing was to be “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8) – witnessing the important message of the resurrection in a male-orientated world which refused to accept women as witnesses, even though they were witnesses. Inevitably, therefore, a male was chosen; nevertheless from Pentecost onwards God’s intention in Jesus was made clear that both men and women would speak forth the word of God and this we see happening in the early ecclesias as reported in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14.

As regards the idea that he chose male leaders, teachers and preachers because only males are acceptable in these roles, we need to balance the other evidence. He used the Samaritan woman at the well to preach to the Samaritans, and the women to announce the news of the resurrection to the disciples. And – as we go on to observe in Chapter 5 – the women workers described in Romans 16, and people like Euodia and Syntyche were carrying out his work when, as Paul says, “these women ... have laboured side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Philippians 4:3). Is there any reason to suppose that when Paul describes and names both men and women workers as labouring “side by side” with him “in the gospel” that these were not preaching, teaching and being leaders – at least in so far as they could be in the society of the time?

Since Jesus makes no comment that male leaders, not female, were his desire, it goes beyond the evidence to assert that male leadership for all time in the future was indicated by his choice of the twelve or the seventy. It was appropriate in a strongly male-dominated world that male apostles (the twelve, with Matthias substituted for Judas, and Paul as a thirteenth apostle) handled the initial work. But no apostolic succession is taught in the Bible, and no instructions were given about appointing male successors when the apostles died.


What Jesus “began to do and teach”

Luke comments about his gospel:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.                                                                   (Acts 1:1)

There are numerous issues which only became clear as God guided the development and spread of the early ecclesias. In the inspired teaching of the apostle Paul, and the other New Testament writers, we see how in the new creation in Christ Jesus, the work which Jesus began during his earthly ministry was extended and developed. Often there is little directly said in the gospels, and the disciples frequently failed to understand Jesus’ teaching and attitude. Jesus’ comments to the woman at the well indicate the change which would take place under the New Covenant:

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”                                                                                  (John 4:24)

With hindsight we can understand how later New Testament teaching is a direct outcome of what Jesus started. This is evident in several areas: the attitude to Old Testament food laws (Romans 14:20), keeping festivals and the Sabbath (Colossians 2:16), circumcision (Galatians 5:6), the involvement of Gentiles and women (Galatians 3:28, Ephesians 2:11-22), and the Temple and sacrifices (1 Peter 2:4-5). It took a long time before these changes were understood. For example, although Mark says, “Thus he declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19), it was not until Peter was given a direct revelation that he understood the change in attitude he was to have both to food and to Gentiles (Acts 10:9-16). Even then he backtracked and he was therefore rebuked by the apostle Paul (Galatians 2:11-14). Many early Christians did not properly see the implications, such as those who sought to continue keeping the Jewish law in full (Acts 15:1). In his attitudes and relationships with women, Jesus was distinctly different from his contemporaries, and he accorded them the respect and value which God intended “at the beginning”. This attitude to women was likewise developed and extended in the early ecclesias.


[1] A kab is a measure of food or drink.

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