Women’s Role in the Church – Part 4

Continuing our examination of women’s role in the Church, it may be better understood by biblical examples of women in leadership, authority, and prophetic roles, and better instruct us in how God views the daughters of Eve. 

A Samaritan Woman’s Leadership to the Messiah (John 4:5-30,39) 

“5 So He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as He was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. 7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, Will you give Me a drink? 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to Him, You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water. 11 Sir, the woman said, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock? 13 Jesus answered, Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life. 15 The woman said to Him, Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water. 16 He told her, Go, call your husband and come back. 17 I have no husband, she replied. Jesus said to her, You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true. 19 Sir, the woman said, I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem. 21 Woman, Jesus replied, believe Me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. 25 The woman said, I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us. 26 Then Jesus declared, I, the one speaking to you — I am He. 27 Just then His disciples returned and were surprised to find Him talking with a woman. But no one asked, What do You want? or Why are You talking with her? 28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah? 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward Him. 39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, He told me everything I ever did” (John 4:5-30, 39 NIV). 

Jesus reached out beyond Israel, even before the disciples discovered the Spirit at Pentecost. He met a woman at a well in Samaria. Turning a drink of water into an outreach to a nation, was not expected by His disciples, who simply “had gone into the town to buy food” (John 4:8 NIV). As we now better comprehend, it is Christ, who arranges our opportunities to witness for Himself. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8 NIV). After recovering from the fact Jesus was speaking to her — a Samaritan woman — He establishes His prophetic ability to speak for God, when He tells all about her past life. Before she can get answers to the favorite question between the Jews and Samaritans, she was further astounded to hear Jesus say that neither the Jews nor Samaritans had any priority in the location of their worship. He then establishes the means of True Worship — for all “true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23 NIV). He then ends the dialogue by identifying Himself as the long sought for Messiah (4:26), which she evidently believes. The Samaritan woman now become the evangelist to the Samaritans, much as the Ethiopian eunuch became the evangelist to Ethiopia. “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, He told me everything I ever did” (4:39 NIV)

The question of the NT role of women in the Church certainly supports women’s faithful witnessing for Christ (John 4:29; Acts 1:8). Strong support for women preaching to other women and children (Titus 2:4; 2Timothy 1:5; 3:15), especially their own children, would greatly contribute to the tranquility of the Church and Nation. Jesus’ use of the Samaritan woman to pioneer the Gospel to a city or nation was wise, for the Almighty must accomplish His Purpose, until “God may be all in all” (1Corinthians 15:28). By our baptism into Christ (Galatians 3:27), there is no spiritual distinction between Jew and Gentile, bond and free, male and female, for we “are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NIV) concerning salvation. However, providence teaches us: (1) In relation to “Jew and Gentile” (Galatians 3:28 NIV), to acknowledge there is still a prophetic future for a modern Jewish State of Israel (Matthew 24:15), (2) In regard to “bond and free” (Galatians 3:28 NIV), to recognize God could not always wisely prevent bonds and indentured servitude (Philemon 1:14), and (3) In regard to “male and female” (Galatians 3:28 NIV), to grant that gender differences do exist for the purpose of procreation and maintaining the family (Genesis 1:28). 

The intelligent, godly counsel of a wife to her husband in leadership (Amos 2:2 KJV) would often have more effect than simply a lone female influencer in either the Church or Nation. Both male and female disciples can test the effectiveness of their private intercessory prayer (Esther 4:16; Acts 12:12) for the affairs of both the Church and State. And, by providence, God may elevate the personage of a woman of good character to public influence by virtue of philanthropy (Helen Keller), commerce, government (Deborah), academics (Madame Curie), athletics, entertainment, literary works (Harriet Beecher Stowe), etc., which are cited as possible examples. 

A public testimony from a woman can be as useful as a man, and more useful. Queen Esther spoke up for her people the Jews in the most public forum of the king’s banquet assembly. “The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng” (Psalm 68:11 NIV). Limitations in speaking for God must be adhered to by both male and female prophets: (1) Only what God has said must be spoken, i.e., “The angel of the Lord said to Balaam, Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you” (Numbers 22:35 NIV). (2) Prophetic predictions must take place faithfully, i.e., “But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true” (Jeremiah 28:9 NIV). (3) Only obedience to God must be promoted, i.e., “But if they had stood in My council, they would have proclaimed My words to My people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds” (Jeremiah 23:22 NIV). (4) Speaking in an unknown language must take place only with an interpreter, i.e., “If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God” (1Corinthians 14:28 NIV). 

The specific limitation of women teaching or preaching to men in the church assembly — “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet” (1Timothy 2:12 NIV) —  is a propriety, not only because it is commanded, but it represents the Church’s submission to God, which requires the wives submit to their husbands. “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything” (Ephesians 5:23-24 NIV). Reflecting on the consequences of that first sin in the Garden of Eden, John Chrysostom (347-407 AD), archbishop of Constantinople, in his “Homilies on Genesis,” reminds our modern sensibilities of the curse Yahweh placed upon our First Parents’ disobedience (Genesis 3:16): “In the beginning I created you equal in esteem to your husband, and my intention was that in everything you would share with him as an equal, and as I entrusted control of everything to your husband, so did I to you; but you abused your equality of status. Hence I subject you to your husband.” Restricting women from teaching or preaching to men in the church assembly is part of the women’s submission brought about because of God’s Curse. “To the woman He said, I will greatly increase your labor pains; with pain you will give birth to children. You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you” (Genesis 3:16 New English Translation). Until the New Heavens and the New Earth come, when “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4 NIV), women’s submission is imposed by God. And, if it is thought that submission is not necessary now, then also (1) Should children not submit to their parents (Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20)? (2) Should citizens not submit to their governments (Romans 13:1; Titus 3:1; 1Peter 2:13-17; 2Peter 2:10; Jude 1:8)? (3) Do employers not have the right to expect employees to submit to company policy (Ephesians 6:5-8; Colossians 3:22-25; Titus 2:9)? (4) Is marriage not an equal rights arrangement with the husband having the tie breaking vote (Amos 3:3 KJV; Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18)? (5) Does God not expect our submission to Him, for Him to protect us from the devil (James 4:7)? 

Priscilla and Aquila Instruct Apollos (Acts 18:24-26) 

“24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:24-26 NIV).

Everything about Apollos tells us he was knowledgeable and eloquent with the Scriptures, even “taught about Jesus accurately” (Acts 18:25b NIV), knowing “only the baptism of John” (18:25c NIV), but he seemed not to understand the specifics of how the New Covenant was ushered in at Pentecost with the giving of the Holy Spirit to those who would “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38 NIV). As important as baptism may sound to our modern ears, even of greater significance was the Promise of the Spirit, which was God’s way of further bringing Himself to dwell with man, and to cause us to willingly obey Him. “And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws” (Ezekiel 36:27 NIV). God was moving humanity further down the road, for the “path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (Proverbs 4:18 KJV). Armed with this new understanding, Apollos could now preach like Peter, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39 NIV). 

Whether it is “Priscilla and Aquila” (Acts 18:2 NIV), or “Aquila and Priscilla” (18:26 KJV); the Greek conjunction kaí, which is translated “and” joins them equally. Those who assert the right of women to teach or preach to men in public assemblies of the church, and those who do not recognize such a right, both would concede to the other that Priscilla taught Apollos. But, since this was not a public assembly of the church, instead “they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:26 NIV), then this would not prove the right of women to teach or preach to men in the public assemblies. Notice also, both Aquila and Priscilla were present at home teaching Apollos. It was not a private conversation simply between Apollos and Priscilla in his or her private quarters. “Abstain from all appearance of evil” (1Thessalonians 5:22 KJV). Nothing indicates that Aquila possessed the greater talent or intellect than Priscilla in teaching Apollos. Priscilla may have had the solution to Apollos’ questions long before Aquila, but only a guess, held back until Aquila could answer. But, most likely, Priscilla and Aquila finished each others sentences. “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10 NIV). It is a blessing to note Aquila and Priscilla are always remembered together in their seven appearances in the NT! 

The following three paragraphs  are the entry from “Fausset’s Bible Dictionary” for “Aquila and Priscilla”:

Always spoken of together. Husband and wife one in Christ. She is named Prisca Rom 16:3 in the three oldest manuscripts; Priscilla is its diminutive (2Ti 4:19), the name of endearment. As she is often named first (only in Act 18:2; 1Co 16:19 Aquila has the first place; Act 18:26 in Sin., Vat., Alex. manuscripts has Priscilla first), she seems to have been the more energetic Christian. Paul found them at Corinth on his first visit there (Act 18:2). They had been driven from Rome by Claudius’ decree (mentioned also by Suetonius, Claud., c. 25, who, confounding Judaism with Christianity, writes: “he banished from Rome the Jews who were constantly making disturbances instigated by one Chrestus,” i.e. Christ). 

Aquila was a Jew, born in Pontus (as was the Aquila who translated the Old Testament into Greek); the name is Latin, assumed as Jews often took a Roman name, when thrown into much intercourse with Romans. Their common work, making the Cilician hair or tent cloth, threw Paul and him together, and probably led to his and Priscilla’s conversion. A year and a half after Priscilla and Aquila accompanied Paul from Corinth to Ephesus on his way to Syria. There they remained and taught Apollos the way of the Lord more perfectly (Act 18:18-28). (See APOLLOS.) In 1Co 16:19 we find them still at Ephesus, and having “a church (assembling) in their house.” So also at Rome (Rom 16:3-5): “My helpers in Christ Jesus; who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Greet the church that is in their house.” 

Afterward we find them near Timothy, in or about Ephesus (2Ti 4:19). The use of opportunities is one great lesson from their history. Paul probably availed himself of his intercourse in their common trade to bring the gospel home to the Jew Aquila, he to his wife. She and he together, as true yokefellows in the Lord, to all within their reach; to Apollos, who became the mighty champion of Christianity, convincing the Jews from the Scriptures at Corinth; setting up “a church in their house” wherever they were: in Ephesus; then at Rome, risking their lives for Paul, and earning thanks of “all the churches of the Gentiles.”

Phillip’s Daughters  Prophesied — Acts 21:8-9 

“8 Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. 9 He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:8-9 NIV)

During Paul’s third missionary journey (53-58 AD), Paul had determined to return to Jerusalem. “After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem” (Acts 19:21 NIV). Paul was in Ephesus, writing his letter to the Corinthians, where he proposed to visit them, collect their gift to relieve the distress of the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem, and to personally deliver the relief funds (1Corinthians 16:1-4). On that relief trip to Jerusalem, Paul stopped at the “house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven” (Acts 21:8 NIV). Just the expression, “one of the Seven,” indicates the esteemed status of Philip, for he was one of the Original Seven along with Stephen the Martyr, chosen to serve the physical needs of the Church (6:5). The very fact that Paul the Apostle was at the home of Philip the Evangelist, where Agabus the Prophet delivered a prophecy warning Paul of impending bonds and imprisonment, if he continues his journey to Jerusalem (21:11), demonstrates the active status of the Holy Spirit working in their midst. Here, we see that Stephen’s four unmarried daughters “prophesied” (21:9). If the gift of prophecy is only for men, then Philip’s daughters disproves that position. We are not told to whom they prophesied, but it would be difficult to assume they did not prophesy in the presence of Paul, while in their own home. This is the same Apostle Paul — a short time earlier in Ephesus — who had warned the Corinthians, “Women should remain silent in the churches” (1Corinthians 14:34 NIV). But, in the Church, church rules, while in the Home, home rules. The distinction becomes more unclear, when the church assembly is at home. The spirit of our understanding must be clear. Women’s silence is not the primary issue. Women’s submission is the point, and only because Christ’s Headship over His Church must be honored. The Spirit will find a way for this to take place. “And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy” (Colossians 1:18 NIV). Christ’s supremacy is the Church’s subordination. 

Phoebe, Priscilla, & Junia Minister in the Church — Romans 16:1, 3-4, 7

“1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. 3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was” (Romans 16:1, 3-4, 7 NIV)

Could Paul campaign for an anti-female Church, when by his own declaration, they were often worthy of more eminence than he? “Our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae” (16:1 NIV). The Greek diákonon is feminine, properly translated “servant” (KJV) or “deacon” (NIV). Ministering to the physical needs of the church was the concept of the deacon (Acts 6:1-7; 1Timothy 3:8-13). Though both Stephen and Philip conducted the office of a deacon, Scripture does not label them as such. Church history has accorded them that honor. Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin was not an expected duty of deacons. But, it was prophesied by Jesus and assisted by His Spirit. “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:19-20 NIV). The very fact that Saul’s persecution of the Jerusalem church disrupted the daily ministrations of the deacons, and scattered both the poor brothers, sisters, and Philip, brought Philip to the backside of the desert to minister to the Ethiopian eunuch. Only God’s Spirit and Providence would furnish enough water for Philip’s believing listener to say, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” (Acts 8:36 NIV). Phoebe, as a servant or deacon of the church in Cenchreae, would cause her to minister to the physical needs of the church without the need of teaching or preaching to men in a public assembly. 

Priscilla and Aquila are commended by Paul: (1) As fellow laborers, i.e., “my co-workers in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16:3 NIV). (2) Risking their life for Paul will be a wonderful story to be re-told in Heaven, i.e., “They risked their lives for me” (16:3 NIV). (3) Gratitude, like comrades in arms share after the war, i.e., ”Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them” (16:3 NIV)

“Andronicus” (16:7) is Greek for man of victory, while “Junia” (16:7) is Iounias in the Greek, and is feminine, which means youthful. Could Andronicus and Junia be another Aquila and Priscilla?  Both had been imprisoned with Paul, well regarded among the apostles, because they were “in Christ before” Paul (16:7 NIV)

The textual evidence that Junia was a female apostle seems to be supported by the Greek text, but is it demanded by the Greek text? The question of Junia being a female apostle is legitimate, but most likely, she was the sister or wife of Andronicus. And, both were “well known to the apostles.” 

Dr. Michael S. Heiser’s article, “Junia, A Female Apostle?” is reprinted below for you to decide for yourself. Dr. Heiser is the Academic Editor of Bible Study Magazine. 

Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Logos Bible Software. Originally published in print: Copyright Bible Study Magazine (Sep–Oct 2011): pg. 44. 

Paul’s final greetings to the Roman church seem typical. We might just skim over the list of names without a second thought. But one name within that list has become the focus of controversy and heated debate: Junia. 

“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me” (Rom 16:7). 

“Junia” is most likely the name of a woman. When you read the phrase “among the apostles,” you understand how a simple salutation has become a prooftext in the debate over the role of women in ministry. Was Junia a female apostle? It most certainly appears she was among the first converts and given the role of an apostle in building the church. 

The evidence that Junia is a woman is compelling. The Greek spelling (Iounian) could point to either a man or a woman. However, the addition of an accent mark would specify gender – depending on what mark was chosen (Greek has several) and on which syllable the accent mark was placed. 

The earliest manuscripts of the New Testament were written in an uppercase Greek script (uncial) that did not include accents. But copies of the Greek New Testament from later periods in a cursive script (minuscule) accent the name as female. 

In ancient Greek literature, outside the New Testament, the masculine form of the name has only surfaced once. Ancient Latin texts have also been searched, with some theorizing that Junia might be a shortened form of the male “Junianus.” Of the 250 or more citations of the name Junia, where a shortening of the name is possible, all have referred to women. According to the Commentary Critical and Explanatory of the Bible, “Junia,” the person meant was no doubt either the wife or the sister of Andronicus. 

The phrase “among the apostles” can also be translated as “to the apostles,” placing Junia within or outside this ministry category. Either translation is possible within the scope of Greek grammar. External examples, though, statistically favor the first option. 

However, there are other issues that are rarely raised in this debate. New Testament apostles, for instance, are not all described on equal terms. The original 12 disciples, along with Paul, were a special group. They were firsthand pupils of Christ, some of whom God endowed with supernatural spiritual gifts (Acts 5:12) and divine revelation in the form of the New Testament.

Not all apostles had such gifts, however. Aside from the 12 disciples and Paul, it is not clear that the term “apostle” spoke of high authority or even expectations of the role. The Greek word apostolos simply means “messenger” or “sent one”—someone sent out for a specific task, akin to our concept of a missionary. Although the apostle Barnabas did preach and teach (Acts 15:35), Epaphroditus is not described in such terms. “Apostles” were also sent out to represent churches, but we are not told in what capacity (2 Cor 8:23). Paul did not appoint apostles for local church leadership. As a result, the precise relationship of “apostle” to modern church leadership ministry is evasive. 

Although there are all these uncertainties, the issue of Junia as a female apostle teaches us that paying attention to the details in the Bible matters. Things can get complicated, but they’re certainly interesting. And we also learn from this example that women played a strategic role in the early church. No matter the conclusion we reach about the exact role of Junia, we can all agree that Paul found her very valuable as an apostle of Jesus Christ.