Despite some perceptions in popular culture, both Judaism and Christianity elevated women above much of what were common beliefs regarding women when those religions were founded. Judaism provided the ability for women to own property, and much of the Mosaic law provided for the protection of women when widowed or divorced. Christianity elevated women even further, as Jesus’ first appearance after His resurrection was to women, who were not considered reliable witnesses in Jewish culture. Women are also given other places of prominence in the New Testament, and commonly mentioned in Paul’s letters as well. As Christianity and Judaism are large, influential religions, the women of the Bible are also among the most important women in history.
Mary, the Mother of Christ
The mother of Christ is arguably the most important woman in the Bible. Hailed by many Christians as theokotos, “mother of God,” Mary holds the privilege of being the mother to Jesus Christ, God incarnate in Christian theology. Her Magnificat, a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God found in the gospel of Luke 1:46-55, rivals, if not exceeds, many of the Psalms with its beauty and expression. She plays a central character throughout much of Jesus’ life.
Eve – The First Woman
The one who, according to the first chapters of Genesis, with Adam, listed to the serpent and ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Eve was the mother of Cain and Abel, Seth and what would become the entire human race. She and Adam were cast out of the Garden of Eden for their sin, and brought evil into the world through their disobedience of God’s one command.
Deborah – the Woman Judge and Prophetess
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In the book of Judges, the Hebrews were not led by kings or chiefs, but by what were referred to as judges, a position that was more of a military role of leadership than interpreter of the law. All of the judges were men except for one, a woman names Deborah. She guided the military leaders through a God-given strategy to defeat the Canaanites not through overwhelming might, but through wise use of a small armed force to prove the faithfulness of God to His people.
Esther – the Queen
Esther was the member of a Harem of King Ahasuerus, King of Persia. He banished his first wife and raised her up as his next queen. However, he was unaware that she was Jewish, and the political machinations of his advisor Haman was about to lead to the destruction of the Jewish people. Esther intervened and was able to convince the king to be merciful to her people by allowing them to defend themselves. The Jewish feast of Purim is held to commemorate this event.
Ruth – the Grandmother of Kings
Ruth was a woman from Moab, a land southeast of Israel. She had married into an Israelite family. When her husband and father-in-law died, she followed her mother-in-law Naomi back to Israel to the town called Bethlehem rather than return to her own land. There she met the rich landowner Boaz, who fell in love with her and they married. Their grandson, David, would become King of Israel, and their descendant would be Jesus Christ.
Other Women of Significance
Various other women have had prominence in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments. The genealogy of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew includes five women – not just Ruth and Mary, but also Tamar, Rahab the harlot, and Bathsheba, mother of Solomon. Jesus Christ had several prominent women among His followers, such as Mary Magdelene and Salome, and women are recorded as being the first witnesses to His resurrection, The Apostle Paul praises various women by name for their contributions to the Gospel, such as Priscilla, Lydia, and Phoebe.
Throughout the Bible, women are given a place of prominence that tended to be above the cultural norms of the time in which a particular book was written. While much debate still persists theologically regarding women’s roles throughout the church, the story of the women in scripture still provides inspiration and insight into the story throughout the Bible and the spread of the Gospel.
By Ryan WatsonMA History, BA HistoryRyan Watson is a husband, father, underwriter, writer, and reseller. He graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s in History from Louisiana Tech University in the early 2000s. He focuses on Biblical, post-Biblical, and medieval history with occasional dabblings in other arenas.