“He who is called as a man is a woman before God. And she who was called as a woman is a man before God.”
So writes Luther in 1523, commenting on Galatians 3:28:
“For things will be as St. Paul says in Gal. 3:28: ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ There we have the same faith, the same possessions, the same inheritance—everything is equal. One could even say: He who is called as a man is a woman before God. And she who was called as a woman is a man before God.”
In a time when some sections of medieval society were still debating whether women had souls, Luther’s understanding, that in Christ women and men were not only equal, but received from Christ the same possessions and the same inheritance, to the extent that before God it doesn’t matter if you are called a man or a woman, was a direct challenge to both the social and religious attitudes of his day. The resulting Lutheran Reformation had a direct impact on raising the status of women in medieval society.
In 1528, commenting on 1 Tim 2:15, Luther declares:
“If the Lord were to raise up a woman for us to listen to, we would allow her to rule, like Huldah”
10 years later, in 1537, commenting on Jesus love for the poor and outcast he notes:
“…He might even select poor harlot Mary Magdalene as a disciple”
And nearly 500 years before modern debates, as he wrestles with his understanding of the role of pastors, what they do, who they are, and how they relate to his understanding that all believers are actually in reality priests; he speaks of women being able to baptize:
“So when women baptize, they exercise the function of the priesthood legitimately, and do it not as a private act, but as a part of the public ministry of the church..”
And he continues:
“…A woman can baptize and administer the Word of life, by which sin is taken away, eternal death abolished, the prince of the world cast out, heaven bestowed; in short by which the divine majesty pours itself forth through all the soul.”
Luther includes women in what he considers to be the Church’s greatest role:
“…To baptize is incomparably greater than to consecrate bread and wine, .. it is the greatest office in the church—the proclamation of the Word of God.”
It may be argued that Luther did not campaign for women’s ordination and that he supported a male pastorate, but his passion, and his challenge of the cultural prejudice against women of medieval times ought to be noted and celebrated. Not only did Luther recognize the way God blesses the world through women, he was even prepared to speak of God with feminine imagery: In the year 1529 he talks of “The breasts of the Holy Spirit”
Why? Luther is reflecting on the beautiful imagery in Isaiah, of God as a mother, comforting her children.