“Revolution does not seem too strong a word…”
Editor’s Note: Dr. Charles C. Ryrie served for many years at Dallas Theological Seminary as professor of Systematic Theology and Dean of Doctoral Studies. He is also known for the Ryrie Study Bible. On Tuesday, Feb 16, Dr. Ryrie went to be with the Lord at the age of 90. As we share a portion of his prolific work, we honor the life and grieve the passing of this faithful and influential theologian.
The following excerpt is from Ryrie’s book, The Role of Women in the Church. This book was re-released in 2011 and addresses the question: “What can a woman do in the church of God?”
The rabbis were willing to teach women because education, except for that which could be given girls in the home, was for men only. But in the ministry of Jesus there is abundant evidence that He taught women privately, and there is every indication that women, as part of the multitudes who followed Him, heard His public teaching. The miracle of the feeding of the five thousand specifically states that there were women present in the crown following the Master on that occasion, for Matthew expressly says so, and the use of aner (Gk. “male”) by the other writers clearly implies it. Further evidence that women were present in the crowds who heard the Lord’s teaching is the interesting use He made of women in His parables and illustrations. For instance, the parable of the mustard seed, which a man took and planted, is followed by the parable of the leaven, which a woman took and hid in the meal. Though the parables teach different truths, it is not at all unlikely that our Lord varied the figure in order to capture the attention of men and women who were in the “great multitudes” who gathered on that occasion.
In addition to this public ministry, our Lord taught women individually and in private. Indeed, some of the most profound revelations concerning Himself and His Father were given in these instances. That He even did such a thing indicates His appreciation not only of a woman’s intellectual capacity but also of her spiritual capabilities.
Jesus Christ opened the privileges of religious faith equally to men and to women. He gave His message publicly and privately to women as well as men. The frequent and prominent mention of women in the Gospels is in itself noteworthy by contrast with their status in Judaism. Christ gladly received certain kinds of service from women, including their public testimony. There can be no doubt that as regards spiritual privilege Jesus considered the two sexes equal.
However, as regards spiritual activity there was a difference between that of men and women. What is not said about women is as important as what is said. That Jesus chose and sent out 70 men is significant. That there was no woman chosen to be among the 12 disciples is to be noted. That the Lord’s Supper was instituted in the presence of men only is important. The apostolic commissions of John 20:19-23 and Matt 28:16-20 were given to men only (though it is true that the Holy Spirit fell upon women as well as men at Pentecost). But it is evident that all these significant facts put together are proof that the activities assigned to women were different from those which our Lord assigned to men . . . . Surely, then, one must recognize that Jesus Himself differentiated between men and women in their spheres of activity.
In light of this evidence, the word revolution does not seem too strong a word to use of the appreciation of women introduced by Jesus. Though there were definite limitations – things that He did not appreciate, if it may be put that way – His free and merciful attitude toward women introduced a revolutionary appraisal of them. Their spiritual privilege was equal with that of men; definite differences, however, existed in their spiritual activity. And to explain women’s activity in the Gospel is the task of the following chapter.
Excerpt from Charles C. Ryrie, “The Attitude of Jesus Toward Women,” in The Role of Women in the Church (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2011), 43-50.