Some believe the Bible is antiquated and that Christianity is unfavorable toward women. But what do the Scriptures say?
Women are depicted positively in the New Testament most explicitly in Theotokos, the Virgin Mary (Lk 1:28). It was women who were at the Cross with Jesus (Mt 27:55–56; Mk 15:40). Other than John, all of the other Apostles abandoned Christ when he was taken into custody (Mt 26:56; Mk 14:50; Jn 19:25–27).
The first witness to the resurrected Christ was Mary Magdalene, a woman (Jn 20:16). The Scriptures tell us that women were important disciples of Christ (Lk 8:2–3) and that women performed important ministries in the early Church (Rom 16:1–2).
St Paul tells husbands and wives to submit to one another (Ep 5:21). He also says wives have authority over their husbands and vice versa (1 Cor 7:4). Though St Paul sees husbands and wives as having different roles in the Christian family, he views men and women as equal in dignity.
While the language in Ephesians 5 makes some people uncomfortable, one could argue that St Paul calls husbands to even greater submission than their wives because, while wives are called to be subordinate to their husbands, husbands are called to die for their wives (both by putting her first in everything and also literally dying for her if the circumstances warrant it) as Jesus died for the Church (Ep 5:25).
The role of women in the early Church was progressive for the times, but if we look at the Old Testament, we see positive depictions of women there as well. Jewish women like Judith, Deborah and Ruth are Old Testament heroines and within the book of Proverbs there are some very beautiful verses about the mysterious “Lady Wisdom” and the “Woman of Valor.”
Here is some of what Proverbs says about Lady Wisdom,
Her [wisdom’s] profit is better than profit in silver, and better than gold is her revenue;
She is more precious than corals, and no treasure of yours can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand, in her left are riches and honor;
Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace;
She is a tree of life to those who grasp her, and those who hold her fast are happy. Proverbs 3:14–18
Another chapter says,
Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven columns;
She has prepared her meat, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table.
She has sent out her maidservants; she calls from the heights out over the city:
“Let whoever is naive turn in here; to any who lack sense I say, Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed!
Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.” Proverbs 9:1–6
Some might believe the verses depicting wisdom as a woman are simply poetry. The language is poetic, but the divinely inspired author shows us what wisdom looks like in action when he talks about the Woman of Valor.
The “noble woman,” “woman of worth” and “good wife” in the language at the end of Proverbs literally translates from the Hebrew (eshet hayil) as “woman of force,” “woman of valor” or “woman of strength.”
Who can find a woman of worth? Far beyond jewels is her value.
Her husband trusts her judgment; he does not lack income. She brings him profit, not loss, all the days of her life.
She girds herself with strength; she exerts her arms with vigor.
She enjoys the profit from her dealings; her lamp is never extinguished at night.
She reaches out her hands to the poor, and extends her arms to the needy.
She is not concerned for her household when it snows — all her charges are doubly clothed.
She makes her own coverlets; fine linen and purple are her clothing.
Her husband is prominent at the city gates as he sits with the elders of the land.
She is clothed with strength and dignity, and laughs at the days to come.
She opens her mouth in wisdom; kindly instruction is on her tongue.
She watches over the affairs of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband, too, praises her. Proverbs 31:10–12,17–18,20–23,25–28
Therefore, the divinely inspired author of Proverbs not only presents the idea of wisdom as feminine in Lady Wisdom in the early chapters of the book, but in the summation of the text, he shows us wisdom incarnate, wisdom in action, as an excellent wife, the Woman of Valor.
The Woman of Valor is excellent at just about everything. She makes warm clothes for her family, her investments make profits, and she supports her husband. Her children bless her and her husband praises her. The Woman of Valor is “clothed with strength and dignity” and “laughs at the days to come,” confident in herself and trusting in God.
Wisdom then is truly beautiful and truly feminine.