Christianity’s Revolutionary Recognition of Women as Equals
For millennia, marriage has been universal to civilization with most marriage ceremonies involving religion.
Yet for years, traditional marriage and the family have been subjected to secular ridicule, with the family increasingly politicized and socialized by “progressive” government bureaucracies.
The result has been an unprecedented decline of the family in America, producing increasing rates of non-marital births, divorces, juvenile crime, substance abuse, and other pathologies. However, this trend need not be permanent. Put simply, the progressive narrative that supports it is unfounded and refuted by the witness of cultural experience.
The biblical account of marriage begins with one man and one woman: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them.’” And, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Jesus later called humanity back to these records (Matthew 19:4–5, Mark 10:6–8), and the Christian story is viewed as ending with the wedding of Christ with His bride, the Church, from which all Christian discussions of marriage stem.
In Christianity, marriage is hence a sacred union of the highest order. However, since the Enlightenment, secularism has defined marriage as a civil union. Many academics view traditional marriage as a patriarchy to dominate and oppress women, all supported by despots animated by their Christian faith. Such a narrative is based on the theory that primitive mankind was egalitarian, matrilineal, and socialist, with communal sexual relations, despite the biological and kinship basis of heterosexual pairing.
However, for thousands of years around the world, a wife was considered a husband’s property. In ancient Jewish communities, almost every adult was married. By age thirteen, a man chose a wife who was betrothed (committed legally to marriage) and, thus, considered de facto married. The man headed the family, with the wife his property. In the Greco-Roman pagan world, marriage was reserved for citizens, and a woman shared her husband’s station as mother of his children, but she and the offspring were his.
While adultery was prohibited for women, no fidelity obligation existed for men. Older men could force marriage on pre-pubescent girls and compel them to have abortions, usually certain death for not only the baby but also the girl. Moreover, according to sociologist Rodney Stark in his book The Rise of Christianity, infanticide was a commonplace, with baby girls disproportionately abandoned, resulting in “131 males per 100 females in the city of Rome, and 140 males per 100 females in Italy, Asia Minor, and North Africa.”
Only with the arrival of Christianity did the status of women change as obligations were placed on husbands. As Stark has shown, “Christians condemned promiscuity in men as well as in women and stressed the obligations of husbands toward wives as well as those of wives toward husbands…. The symmetry of the relationship Paul described was at total variance not only with pagan culture but with Jewish culture as well.”