Jesus Was a Feminist 

Jesus, a feminist

Jesus, a feminist

Looking at mainstream Christianity today, few would guess that Jesus was a feminist.

Jesus’ life story is found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And there is no sexism in any of them.

Instead, Jesus recognized the worth and dignity of everyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity or class (feminism is concerned with all of these).

Jesus spoke to a woman?! Of an “inferior” race?!

For instance, one day Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman who was drawing water from a well. His apostles were shocked.

Why bother talking to a woman? They’re not worth the trouble.

And Samaritans are dirty, horrible people. Best keep your distance!

Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well

Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well

Merely talking to this woman acknowledged that both women, and people of a despised group, are worth talking to.

Jesus placed women and men on an equal plane

Under Jewish law women were not allowed to divorce their husbands. (The early Christians came out of Judaism and saw themselves as Jews.)

So Jesus said that men should not divorce either. A married couple should work together as helpmeets — coming together to support one another.

And under Jewish law men could have sex with single women without punishment (sex with a married woman constituted a sin against her husband). Women were only allowed to have sex with their husbands. But as men gathered stones to punish one adulteress, Jesus cautioned,

He who is without sin, let him cast a stone.

The men dropped their stones and walked away.

In Jesus’ time men could be students but a woman’s place was in the kitchen, cooking for men. But one day a woman named Mary sat among Jesus’ students (disciples). Her sister, Martha, asked him to tell Mary to get in the kitchen, where she belonged. But Jesus said Mary was doing something more important and should stay.

The most sacred anointing is performed by a woman

When Jesus was at the home of Simon the leper, a woman approached and poured an expensive ointment on his head. The disciples were indignant, and asked her to leave.

But Jesus quieted the crowd, saying that she was preparing him for burial.

Woman anoints Jesus before his death

A woman anoints Jesus before his death

The anointing of Jesus before he went to the cross is surely the most sacred ordinance ever performed in the Christian tradition.

Women were the first witnesses to the resurrection

The Bible says that the first witnesses to the resurrection were women, too. Jesus met two women disciples who had come to his tomb, and told them to tell the apostles that he had risen.

If you are a believer it’s pretty significant that Jesus first appeared to women after his crucifixion.

If you aren’t a believer, it’s still remarkable that anyone from biblical times would even consider the possibility of a woman being a witness. That just wasn’t done back then.

The Gnostic Movement

All of that feminism fermented a Gnostic movement, which was ripe with gender equality, including calling women to be prophets and leaders. And in 1945 papyrus scrolls, dating from the second to the fourth century, were discovered. These Gnostic Gospels included “The Book of Mary Magdalene.”

Female leaders of the church are acknowledged

All of the sexism in the New Testament comes from the Apostle Paul, who joined Christianity after Jesus had died. His letters (epistles) advising various congregations seem to be trying to mainstream the church. Like this one:

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church…  so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands

All are one in Christ

All are one in Christ

Yet Paul also thanked 28 outstanding leaders, 1/3 of whom were women:

I commend Phoebe, a deacon of the church…  Greet Andronicus and Junia…  they are prominent among the apostles.”

Paul also says this,

In Christ, Jesus there is no Jew and no Gentile, No male and no female.

That’s because Jesus was a feminist, believing that we all hold equal worth and dignity.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 3, 2015, in feminism, LGBT+, sexism, women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 44 Comments.

  1. Interesting input on Christ’s feminism, Georgia. Gender discrimination is a human creation. It did not, as far as known, exist in spiritual figures in any religious beliefs. According to Indian scriptures, the universe was born out of ‘Kaama’ (meaning ‘desire’ in Sanskrit) of the primeval energy, splitting into the male and female form, of which ‘Shakti’, the female form, was the more powerful. Hence the prevailing gender divide cannot boast of any scriptural sanction.

    • Jesus, Mohammed and the Buddha were all much more egalitarian than the cultures they came out of.

      And the very earliest religions don’t seem to have been sexist toward women either, worshipping a great goddess. Made sense that life came from a woman since that’s how it worked here on earth.

  2. Here’s what we were taught in the seminary: “Better to marry than to burn.” Yup, Paul taught that. I am glad you brought him up. What a contest for the Top Spot. And Peter got it. Strange.

    • Yeah, I remember that. Paul was a pretty sex-negative guy. And a little sexist too. Where there is a contradiction between Jesus and Paul, makes more sense for believers to go with Jesus, seems to me.

  3. For further reading: The Woman with the Alabaster Jar: Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail is a book written by Margaret Starbird in 1993, claiming Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married.

    • It’s an interesting theory. I first heard of it in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci code. In one of the Gnostic Gospels, which were hidden away when they were excluded from the canonized version of the Bible, some apostles ask Jesus why he likes Mary the best. Well duh.

  4. Wow- I would call him ‘humanist’ instead of feminist. Somehow, the later word has got tainted and tarnished with an image of rabid, foaming at mouth enraged females.

    It’s wonderful to know that the ‘real’ divine ones understand the equality and accept it with grace. I wish their followers did too.

    P.S- I thought ‘Good Samaritan’ was a praise. So what did you mean by samaritans were looked down upon? I didn’t understand that bit.

    • People reading the Bible today miss a lot of its points because they don’t understand certain words or the culture.

      Someone sees Paul naming Junia and Andronicus as being prominent among the apostles and don’t realize that these are women’s names. Of course, the Bible is the most widely purchased and least read book, so most people won’t actually read the Bible and see that verse.

      Similarly, Samaritans were despised during the time of Jesus. But people don’t realize that. They read “The Good Samaritan” story and think that Samaritans are good. Jesus was much more radical than that. What he did would be similar to going into a homophobic Christian church in Indiana or Arkansas, where you hear chants like, “No Homo going to Heaven.” And one day Jesus would speak to the congregation and say, “There was a man who was robbed and beaten and left for dead. A priest walked by and did nothing. A bishop walked by and did nothing. I pastor walked by and did nothing. And then a gay man ministered to this man. You should all be like that gay man.”

      I wrote about it here: https://broadblogs.com/2012/06/08/the-gay-samaritan/

      “The Good Samaritan” story would have been shocking and world-turning at that time. But because people today don’t understand that culture they don’t get it.

      I would call Jesus both a humanist and a feminist. Because he was both.

      And I’m sure you mean well when you say that you would call Jesus a humanist instead of a feminist. People often tell me that I should call myself a humanist instead of a feminist. I am both, But I think it’s important to have both terms, And to talk about both of them. Here’s why:

      A lot of people who insist on using the word humanist instead of feminist, in all situations, are trying to drain energy from the work toward gender equality. If you take a word that means “work for gender equality” out of the lexicon, it’s harder to think about working toward for gender equality.

      It’s an Orwellian move. Remove the language –> remove the thought –> remove the behavior –> remove the reality.

      It’s so sad that people who work to promote the idea that women and men are equal in dignity and worth, and deserving of equal opportunity, should be portrayed as rabid, foaming at the mouth, and enraged. It says a lot about what a strong patriarchy we still live in.

      And I so agree with you on this:

      “It’s wonderful to know that the ‘real’ divine ones understand the equality and accept it with grace. I wish their followers did too.”

      🙂 Thanks for your thoughts.

      • wow-that’s quite a lot of foo for thought. No I didnt know the Samaritan story at all. Thank you.
        And yes, i did mean humanist to encompass a wider spectrum of nicety , rather than narrowing the zone based on gender. Feminist does narrow the perceived filed as females fighting against males, while in actuality it means much more than that. I’m sorry if I sounded wrong, but I meant humanity as on a higher scale than the narrower feminist.

      • Don’t mean to make you “wrong.” A lot of people see things that way so it’s important to have these conversations. So thanks! 🙂

      • Yes, and more important is to clear misunderstandings in these conversations. I’m glad we cleared those out instead of allowing them to linger on.
        Cheers!

  5. Beautiful passages from the Bible , love each other is the greatest virtue Jesus gave humanity to live in peace and equally treated.Happy Easter.

  6. That’s what bothers me about organized religions, is the poltiics and how it has been revised and manufactored whether from the apostles or leaders later on. During the Constantine era, they revised and took out things and put the bible to be a unified form. Something such as the aferliffe and God should be pure, but this shows how humans can corrupt and tweak religion to their own personal agenda and go forward with it. When as you see, the pure form like from jesus was not sexist and probalby not homophobic and so strict with who deserves to go to heaven and who doesn’t.

    Too many times it feels like religions unforuntatley is used for bad or for propaganda. I mean it’s powerful, who is going to oppose the chance of going to an afterlife after death? LEaders and ministers can use that to control people’s minds or use for their own agenda and then people believing it absorb it without thinking outside of the box and pass it to their children and so the ignorance carries on to the next generations.

  7. “coming together to support one another.” and He who is without sin, let him cast a stone.
    both are good values!

  8. A very interesting post. And you’re very right to say that ancient tribes had much more relaxed and equal views towards women.
    It is also said, in ancient times, society was matriarchal.

  9. Can we cc certain political movements on this? Because “Christian values” as espoused by some, don’t seem to have much in common with what that Jesus fellow had to say…
    Great post!

  10. Loved this- and that you posted in time for Easter. Interesting that Jesus’s feminism gets missed in the Bible… or, rather, like most holy stories, is framed so that women and their value are marginalized.

    • Well there’s patriarchy for you. I was surprised when I got into this and realized how feminist Jesus was – and other great religious leaders, as well.

  11. I wouldn’t be surprised to know that Jesus was a feminists. In fact, from what I was taught that he was raised by his mother which would explain why he would have so much respect to women. I was also told another story where he stood up for the “sinful” woman when men wanted to stone her. Jesus said something like, whoever is without a sin can go ahead and stone the lady, so everyone put down their stones. Obviously, Jesus had mercy and value where he defended that woman.

    I think its just a matter of who is in power to explain and how the rules should be, because at the end of the day, religion should be equal to both men and women. Our problem with my religion is that everyone understands it differently based on their point of view and specially that no one now speaks the language that is used in the Qur’an, so is just a matter of different dialects and accents and bunch of people fighting over whats right or wrong.

  12. I recall reading about the hatred the early established church had for the Gnostics. Their suppression added greatly to female suffering through the centuries.

    The Gospel character, Jesus, however, never overturned most of the OT laws, leaving slavery and most laws that suppressed women, in place.

    Still, I consider most of the Gospels to be plagiarized and amended from the Gospel of Mark, and the Gospel of Mark to be mostly fiction (hearsay).

    Note, for instance, The Gospel of Mark, having been the first to be written, never mentioned the birth of Jesus (especially his “virgin birth”)–a major founding keystone for Christianity. That was added years later by the writer(s) of Matthew, and other second century writers codified the virgin birth by other writings and faux definitions of Hebrew words in an effort to add faux evidence.

    Thus, after the brutal suppression of the Gnostics, the Roman Catholic church was free to build their empire on fake doctrine that continued to suppress women. In order to maintain a comfortable lifestyle, right wing “leaders” always must have someone (or some group) on whom to focus the emotional condemnation of society.

    Thus, as it is now written, it was a woman who opened Pandora’s Box of evils in the “Garden of Eden,” and Lilith, the original wife of Adam who would neither submit to his authority nor be pinned beneath during sex, was deleted from the translations.

    In addition, Lilith was relegated to mythology as a succubus–an evil demon who has sex with sleeping men, the results of which are more succubi and incubi (male demons that have sex with sleeping women). I suppose the Church’s “proof” was the natural product of wet dreams.

    You see, women? All of man’s problems were your fault for wanting to be independant! That’s why you were called, “woe-man.” 😀

    • I don’t know about all of the laws that suppress women which were kept in place. Maybe you could clue me in. But just because he didn’t decree certain things doesn’t mean that the women didn’t stop practicing them. So I have no clear evidence that Mary Magdalene took a ritual bath to cleanse herself of menstruation’s pollution. But Christians didn’t seem to continue that practice, for instance, suggesting that she, and the other female followers probably didn’t do that ritual bath.

      Jesus, like Mohammed and the Buddha — and Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton — and pretty much any feminist today — were all very feminist: acting to create equality between the sexes. All of them – and us – were/are still prisoners of culture, which blinds us to much of the sexism that exists. In the future, if we ever attain equality, people will look back at my blog, and other current feminist blogs, and think that we aren’t all that feminist.

      • Interesting view, but authenticity is very important to me. Without question, Christians, even fundamentalists, pick and choose the biblical laws they will follow, regardless of what Jesus was alleged to have said, and even hold contradictory beliefs to be true.

        I think the writers of the Gospels were inspired by two factors: 1. The growth of humanistic thought (reason) as promoted by Cicero ~30 bce, and 2, a desire to extricate themselves from some of the ancient, brutal laws. This goes especially for the writer of the Gospel of John.

        I say, “some,” because it is clear that many, if not most of the old laws were kept in place when they had the character, Jesus, say;

        “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. . . For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” –Matthew 5:16-17

        But then there is the statement;

        “So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” –John 8:7  

        This seems a contradiction to Matthew 5:16-17.

        Note that the Gospel of John likely was written somewhere between c. 90–100 CE, by an unknown writer and never mentioned much that was in the first three (i,e., John is not considered one of the Synoptic Gospels [Matthew, Mark, and Luke]).

        Note, too, that the admonition of John 8:7 is, to my knowledge, not found in the Synoptics. Thus, it seems to me that John was trying, though the ideas of forgiveness and reason, to overturn most of the old laws (judging others).

        Here is one example of Jesus advocating the subjugation of women:

        “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.”–Matthew 5:32  

        My overriding point remains. Exclusive dogma in religion is the main obstacle to peace and brotherhood. All such tenants should be thrown out in favor of benevolent reciprocity–the Golden Rule.

        I do not recall if I’ve posted this excerpt before on this blog, but in case I haven’t, here it is:
        ——————-

        The Graveyard of History is strewn with the bleached bones of dead gods, each and every one laid low by the Broadsword of Disbelief. And for whom shall the requiem play next? It shall play for thee, dear Yahweh, and for all of our gods du jour. For the forgotten gods of antiquity were once the living gods of today, and the living gods of the today shall tomorrow be the forgotten gods of antiquity.

        It must be understood, therefore, that universal empathy, peace, and love, can be achieved only through reason, and reason shall reign only when the gravediggers have no more gods to bury. (M. Jefferson Hale, Beyond Paine, 2025)
        ——————

        For some years, I’ve lived my life vicariously through Jeff, I suppose. Or was he living his life vicariously through me? Sometimes I’m not sure.

        In any case, I do not hold it against anyone who wants to continuing picking out the benevolent statements of Jesus or any other person in history (false or authentic), and living their life by them. I salute them all.

      • People are often drawn to great leaders who raise up the lowly and who work to bring down those who hold their noses high.

        That the Jesus movement was radically egalitarian is seen in the surprising level of equality you find among women and men at the time of Jesus. Suddenly women are named among the apostles and other leaders of the church, there is a book of Mary Magdalene, it is considered fine for women to be disciples, the Gnostic movement was radically egalitarian…

        You can argue about authenticity of biblical sources all you like, and it won’t matter one bit to believers. (They are more likely to question the Biblical expert than their scripture.) But if you care about social justice, it helps to talk about the social justice that came about, and which was inspired by, their leaders.

  13. I wish I had time to take the Women in the Bible class. Women were a vital part of the Church at its beginning and we still are today. Although, in my state, from what I’ve seen, women tend to be assistant pastors or youth/children’s ministers. I don’t know if I’m unaware of statistics suggesting otherwise, or if it is a significant trend. I wonder how many women actually want to be the lead pastor?

    • Seems to vary from church to church. In some churches, like the Unitarians and United Church of Christ, there is a pretty high percentage of women leadership. I think half of the unitarian ministers are women. Overall, Christianity grew more patriarchal overtime.

  14. I have studied in a Christian school for 12 years, and yet I didn’t really think about this issue till now. Based on what I learned and what I read just now, Jesus was the only one who was truly treating people of different genders equally. Back in past, when almost every people think male are superior to women, Jesus was still able to leave aside all factors and treat them all equal, especially for women. Even in this century, where many claim that they are justice and don’t hold any bias towards others, they still treat people differently based on their gender, race, social states, etc. I hope that someday, we can all be “Jesus”, and let women and all minorities have all the rights they deserve.

  15. Joselyn J Ingram

    When you first mentioned this post, “Jesus was a Feminist,” in class, I was so excited to be able to come and read it, and it definitely did not disappoint. Growing up in a strict Christian household, feminism has never really been an option for me, but, from what I could tell from the scripture, it appeared to me as if Jesus was as well. Not only that, but I’ve also been had the experience of trying to explain to people who are not believers why this is true, and being met with ignorance and not having the right information down to help my argument. I feel like this post does a great job of displaying the facts with a simplicity that make it accessible to anyone.

  16. It’s almost comical how far the modern interpretation of the bible has gone, and the different ways that people in positions of power twist religion to suit their personal views and needs. Being raised as semi-religious, it took me time to realize the ways that religion could be manipulated to be harmful to others, as I only experienced the polished and cute side of religion that’s used to bring in younger audiences through families. It’s humorous that The Bible, the most translated book in the world, with for the most part the same message and words, could have so many vastly different interpretations that are contorted to become hate speech. The literal interpretation/strict interpretation often includes passages that are contradictory to most conservative beliefs, yet people still blatantly pick and choose passages that aid them, while at the same time denying other parts of the book

  17. Thanks for this post… As a Christian (Lutheran), I have always felt that the patriarchal nature of the Christian church today didn’t mesh with the teachings of Jesus…

  18. But how do we really know that crist actually felt this way or that his views where like that and that he was a feminist people will never for sure know what he really was for, i fell as though people are trying to say that because he was a great and kind person. So they are trying to make him seem even more of a noble person.

    • How do we know whether Jesus Christ was a feminist? It depends partly on whether you believe the scriptures accurately reflect his life. If you think so, then I don’t understand your question. Because I gave A LOT of evidence (Did you actually read the whole post and see the evidence?) that he said and did things that were feminist — that he deemed women equal to men. Also, a Gnostic movement arose among his followers, which was strongly egalitarian.

  19. Victoria Butterfield

    absolutely love this article and I shared it with a couple people in my church. it’s true that jesus was all about equality and multiple times in the book of john he mentions that he isn’t here to judge people and that tends to get forgotten in christianity.

    • So glad you got a chance to share the article. I was shocked when I read the New Testament and saw what a liberal progressive Jesus was. You’d never know it from a lot of the Christians out there.

  20. Thank you for posting this! Today in your lecture I know you went through many of these points, but I appreciated going back and reading it again. I was raised in a pretty liberal Christian home, but now I am discovering my own faith. I believe in a higher power and I believe in the teachings of Jesus. I am not sure that Jesus was indeed the actual son of God, yet aren’t we all sons and daughters of God? Maybe he was just an extremely forward thinking man that was spiritually close to God. Nonetheless, he was a man that I respect and care for deeply. I believe if people made his teachings the true center of Christianity then the religion would look very different. I am sharing this blog on my Facebook!

  21. Great article! I believe that men and women are neither superior to one another, because realistically speaking, there are some things that men can’t do but women can, and vice versa. And the reason for that, is because Jesus created us quite equal. I believe that Jesus came up to the two women first, because he wanted to created the sense of equality. And for the most part, religions today have a harder time accepting equality, maybe because they’re a little bit too competitive. And they want males to feel good. And unlike males, women are more understanding, and they have no issues addressing their flaws.

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