Why do women seem to have a small role in the Bible?
While there are relatively few women mentioned in the Bible when compared with the number of men, the Bible actually records more about women than would be expected of a book written during ancient times. Most societies throughout history have been patriarchal ones where women had little influence in the home, in politics, or in religion. This historical reality is accurately reflected in the Bible with accounts mostly of men being influential during biblical times. However, the Bible does record many instances of women playing vital roles in God's plan for humanity.
The first instance of a woman with an important role is Eve, the very first woman. God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Genesis 2:18). The Hebrew word for "helper" is `ezer, which elsewhere in the Bible refers to God saving His people from dire circumstances. God had pronounced Adam's circumstances as "not good" and then pronounced that a woman was the solution to save Adam from his aloneness.
Both Moses' mother, Jochebed, and his sister, Miriam, played a vital role in saving his life as an infant when the Egyptian ruler had ordered the death of all Israelite baby boys (Exodus 2). For that matter, Pharaoh's own daughter played perhaps the most important role as adoptive mother raising Moses in Pharaoh's palace (Exodus 2). After the exodus, Miriam led the Israelites' worship in response to God's rescue (Exodus 15:20–21).
Rahab, a prostitute in Jericho, hid and saved two Israelite spies as they prepared to enter the land God promised them (Joshua 2). She eventually became an ancestor to Christ Himself (Matthew 1:5). After entering the Promised Land, Israel used judges to rule rather than kings. Deborah was the famous female judge who led the army to victory which brought peace for forty years (Judges 4—5). It was another woman, Jael, who assassinated the opposing army's commander during that battle (Judges 4:18–22).
Ruth, due to her faith in God, followed her mother-in-law to Israel and eventually became the great grandmother of King David and ancestor to Christ (Ruth 1—4; Matthew 1:5). Hannah took her grief about infertility to God and in return was blessed to become the mother of Samuel who anointed Israel's first king (1 Samuel 1:1—2:11). Abigail prevented David from avenging himself and becoming guilty of bloodshed (1 Samuel 25:33). For this good judgement, she later became King David's wife. Another wife of King David, Bathsheba, saved her son, future King Solomon, by alerting David to Adonijah's plot to overtake the throne (1 Kings 1:11–21). After Israel's fall to the Babylonians, it was again another woman who saved the Israelites. Esther entreated King Xerxes to spare her people (Esther 7:3). These women did not play minor roles, but rather were influential in advancing God's plan.
Women's influence did not stop with the Old Testament accounts, but rather continued during New Testament times as well. Elizabeth was a great source of encouragement to Jesus' mother Mary during her pregnancy (Luke 1:39–56). Jesus' ministry was supported by women's own money (Luke 8:3). Martha and Mary of Bethany often hosted Jesus and His followers in their home (Luke 10:38). The widow offering her final two copper coins inspired Jesus' teaching on giving (Luke 21:1–4). At Jesus' death, "There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him" (Matthew 27:55). In fact, the first people to learn of Jesus' resurrection and see His resurrected body were women (Matthew 28:8–10).
Lydia was a wealthy cloth dealer who hosted the church of Philippi in her home (Acts 16:40). Priscilla ministered under Paul's tutelage and, along with her husband, even taught Apollos, another missionary, a more complete understanding of the gospel (Acts 18). Timothy's grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice, were credited for raising Timothy in the faith and giving him a foundational understanding of scripture (2 Timothy 1:5).
Women played a vital role throughout the Bible in contrast to the roles open to them historically in the societies in which they lived. Thus, we can conclude that God values women more than those societies did. He created both male and female in His image. In Christ, men and women are equal: "there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).
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