Why Call Jesus a “Gentle” Savior?

January 24, 2015

It has been a long time coming, I guess, but it finally dawned on me that I should clarify the use of the word gentle to describe Jesus on my website and in the Bible study I developed.

I fear that some readers may assume I mean that Jesus had to be gentle with women because he found them too weak, soft, fragile, or unintelligent to treat them the way he might treat men.

That’s not what I have in mind at all.

“Gentle and humble in heart” is the way Jesus described himself in Matthew 11:29. His use of this phrase recalled Old Testament messianic prophecies of God’s king, who was envisioned as the helper of the poor and of those who have been deprived of their rights. Throughout the prophets and wisdom literature of the Old Testament, God positioned himself as a defender of those who are oppressed, cheated, exploited, and defenseless. In fulfilling the messianic prophecies, Jesus took up that role as a humble peacemaker who came to rescue without force (see also Matthew 21:5 and Luke 4:18-19). [a]

What I see of Jesus in the Gospels is not that he handled women with kid gloves but that he recognized what women were up against. He knew the attitudes of the ancient culture at large and the systemic marginalization of women. He knew the double standards and sometimes even cruelty of popular Jewish religious thought. He also knew the specific circumstances faced by some individual women in destitute and distressing conditions, dysfunctional families, abusive relationships, and intolerant communities.

When a gentle Savior sees and acknowledges these conditions, here’s what he does:

He heals, liberates, casts out, defends, and forgives.

Then there’s more. He asks questions of women, giving them a voice as he listens to their responses. He offers living water. He reveals his true identity. He teaches – even hard truths (mothers might lose their children because of the Gospel; daughters may turn against their mothers or mothers-in-law; you might even lose your life, but take up the cross daily and follow Jesus anyway; see Matthew 10:34-39).

And more … He admires women’s faith and generosity; he accepts them and welcomes them among his traveling disciples; he commissions them to evangelize.

In no way did Jesus find women too delicate for kingdom work. He met them where they were, gave them what they needed, and empowered them every bit as much as he empowered men to follow him.

And women did. Ancient secular sources tell us that the percentage of women converts to Christianity was larger than that of men. Based on both biblical and non-biblical sources, many scholars believe that women held positions of prominence in the first 500 years of early church life. Paul certainly considered many women to be valuable fellow workers in ministry (Romans 16:1-15, Philippians 4:2-3). And when the Romans persecuted Christians, a significant proportion of women were among the martyrs. [b]

I believe Jesus, this gentle Savior, reflects the nature of God the Father and that his stance toward women today is the same as it was in the first century. He knows our past and present circumstances; he gives us what we need to restore our hearts; and he sends us back out to show the same grace and mercy to others that he has showered on us.

Good news indeed.

“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”

Philippians 4:5


[a] Source: The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol 2, pp. 256-262. (Zondervan, 1986)

[b] Source: The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark, “Role of Women” chapter. (Harper Collins, 1997).

Leave a Reply