Some degree of prejudicial, sexist treatment of Christian women began to be considered as part of what became mainstream orthodoxy at least by the first quarter of the second century.
That Jesus’ message included a liberated and liberating view of women and their equality with men may be seen in the both the gospel writings and in what we can consistently read between the lines in those writings. Some of the indications from the gospels of Jesus’ recognition of and/or non-discriminatory treatment of women are the following:
(1) Paul’s and the Gospel of Mark’s representation of Jesus as treating women and men equally regarding matters of marriage and divorce: 1Co 7:10; Mar 10:11,12.
(2) The Fourth Gospel’s representation of Jesus as privately ministering to a woman, who then went back and announced Jesus as the Christ: Joh 4:5-29.
(3) The Fourth Gospel’s representation of Jesus as treating of women and men equally regarding adultery: John 8:1-11. Only the adulterous woman was brought to Jesus as the offender, not the complicit man. Jesus tactfully did not allow the woman to be singled out for punishment.
QUESTION FROM A SEMINAR ATTENDEE: What should we finally make then of Paul’s position towards women? I mean Ephesians has that passage, but it’s not by Paul — from his school. How do you reconcile that with — of course the context is different — but how do you reconcile that with what goes on in terms of equality of the genders… Women in seminary are so down on Paul and his attitude towards women. What are the ends that we should be making of Paul?
HELMUT KOESTER: I think everything that has been said negative about Paul’s attitude — negative attitude to women — is nonsense. I think I know the Pauline epistles very well… I disagree with a number of feminists who sort of take Paul as their target. If they want to take Paul as their target, well, forget it, then you have nothing to stand on.
If Paul mentioned 40 names in his letters — of individuals (and if we must assume that these individuals are fellow workers) — and talked about the big missionary enterprise of which there are dozens of people or participants, well, of those 40 people, 16 are women. That’s a considerable proportion of women involved in the Pauline missionary effort.