Education Week: Christ changed roles for women in the New Testament

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According to Lynne Hilton Wilson, women in the New Testament were treated differently until Christ “emancipated them.” The story about the Woman at the Well is an example of how Christ broke Jewish traditions that stated that Jewish men did not usually associate with women not in their families (Mormon Newsroom). 

Author and teacher Lynne Hilton Wilson kicked off her three-part lecture series on “Women in the New Testament” for Education Week on Wednesday, August 17, by describing how Christ “commissioned” women.

Wilson began by talking about the value of biblical studies, especially when it comes to women in the scriptures. Many scholars attack Judeo-Christian traditions for the treatment of women at the time of Jesus.

Wilson’s graduate studies have included research into the culture of Greco-Romans. Wilson found that Jesus did not follow the traditions of his time, especially with treatment towards women. In the New Testament alone, there are 180 women referenced — 45 named, 94 unnamed and 14 fictional.

Wilson also explained how Christ restored the role of interdependent relationships between men and women while on earth.

“The role of a woman was removed from the title of ‘slave’ and placed in the role of a partner and a daughter of God,” she said. “I feel as decisively as Christ cleansed the temple, he emancipated women.”

These factors are often overlooked because of historians’ perspectives and the lack of a venue for women’s history, she said, adding that chronicling women’s activities or thoughts was not a priority for Jewish historians at the time.

“The patriarchal society (meant) women were in the category of slave,” Wilson said.

When women were enslaved, they became property and in general were never released, she said.

Christ emancipated women in his day by ending segregation between men and women, initiating more communication with women, and allowing them to act as witnesses throughout the stories chronicled in the New Testament, she said.

Segregation of women was common in the era prior to Christ’s mortal ministry. Wilson talked about how men and women were often segregated within their homes and in synagogues. Women needed to be “unseen and unheard” to protect the righteousness of a man, hence the reason for segregation, according to Wilson.

“We don’t see this segregation when we talk of Christ,” she said.

Christ encouraged women and children to attend his discourses and rebuked those who removed them. The New Testament shows he also spoke to women throughout his ministry, even though Jewish men traditionally did not associate with women not in their families.

Wilson also expressed sorrow at the treatment of women and children during the New Testament era because it was not only hard on women, but it was spiritually harmful for men.

“Is it good to think you’re better than other people?” Wilson asked. “This culture was as damning to the men as it was hard on the women.”

Wilson explained how Christ acted as a great example for the treatment of women when he talked to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, and befriended Martha and Mary — who became witnesses of Christ now chronicled in scripture.

Women were forbidden from being witnesses in public because of another false notion that all women were liars, since Sarah lied to God when he asked her if she laughed. But Christ allowed women such as Mary, Martha and others to witness many miracles because of their faith, Wilson said.

She reminded the audience that women were among the witnesses of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. “The women at the tomb receive angelic visitations as Joseph Smith did,” she said. “The women at the tomb are receiving the same treatment as Peter, James and John did at the Mount of Transfiguration, to a degree.”

Wilson bore testimony of Jesus Christ and how he changed the culture of his time and healed families in his day. “I know that our Savior is a champion for everyone… and it (applies) for everyone today,” she said.

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