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Topic 24: Women in the Book of Acts


In this topic we briefly survey the Book of Acts and observe the ministries of women.

 Acts 1:14 All of these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Mary and the other women shared in the community life with the original disciples and ministered to each other in prayer.

Acts 1:15-25:  Specific references biblically to election of church officers make no mention of excluding women from serving or voting.

Acts  2:1-21: [17] And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; [18] yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy … [21] And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

◆”Men and women have the same Bible, the same God, the same sinfulness, the same Savior, the same hymns, the same Sacraments, the same Church, the same heaven.  But God did not give them the same roles — not in the home, not in the Church.  The women may serve God in a thousand ways — outside the ministry.  God honored them by making one of them the mother of his Son.  Then, what a privilege to be able to bear the bodies and to shape the souls of immortal beings, children!  This is the proper sphere of women, 1 Timothy 2:15.  Why should they yearn for what is denied them by God?” (Christian News, 23 February 1976).

Contrary to such thinking, the Spirit does not limit his empowering of persons for full ministry to only one gender.

(A) “[vs 17] .. your sons and your daughters shall prophesy …”: women are recognized as having the gift of prophecy and the privilege of prophesying.

(B)  Both male and female are gifted by the Spirit for the sake of the Gospel so that those who hear and “call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Acts 12:12: When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.

Mary was one of the leaders of the early Christian community and opened her dwelling to house a church.

Acts 15:22Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and  Barnabas.  They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men …

Women — as part of the “whole church” participated in the decision making process of the early church.

(A) “[22] … the whole church …”: The church includes women.

(B) This would include women, who then participated in the process of choosing whom to send.

Acts 16:13-14: [13] And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together.  [14]  One who heard us was a woman named Lydia …

The conversion of women was an important feature of Paul’s ministry.

(A) That Paul addresses a group of women with none of their men present reflects his attitude, an attitude like Christ’s (cf. John 4:1-41).

(B) Although the Jews would not let women form a synagogue, or even count them in the number required for the formation of such, or give them access to the systematic teaching offered therein, Paul draws on this group of women to form the nucleus of the Philippian congregation.

(C) Lydia housed the congregation in her home.

Acts 17:4, 12, 34:  [4] And some of them were persuaded, and joined Paul and Silas; as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women … [12] Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men…. [34] But some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.

Luke considers the women among the converts on a parity with the male converts.

(A) He makes no distinctions.

(B) Note the pairing: “… not a few Greek women … as well as men” and “among them Dionysius … and … Damaris…”

Acts 18:26: He [Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately.

◆ “The responsibility for oversight (supervision) in the church is given to the pastor/bishop.  All teaching of the Word is subject to his oversight.  Even if there are women who teach in the church (as did Priscilla) or Sunday School teachers  and/or others, the substance of the teaching is under the supervision of the pastoral office” (Dr. George Wollenburg, Synodical Vice President, as quoted in the Christian News, 2 April 1990).

Important teachers of theology in New Testament ministry included women.

(A) Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned six times in the New Testament.

(B) Priscilla is mentioned first four of these times, an indication of the order of importance (Note “Barnabas and Paul” [Acts 11:25, 12:25, 13:2,7] becomes “Paul and Barnabas” [Acts 13:13, 13:34, etc.]).  “This precedence of Prisca cannot be accidental.  It is taken to mean that she possessed decidedly greater ability than her husband and, all in proper sphere and manner, made it count for the work of the Gospel; an example appears in Acts 18:24, etc.” (Lenski, Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, pg. 903).

(C) “Prisca…is named first.  This is most unusual, and the only possible explanation is that she was more important than her husband.  In what sense? … If by secular standards, this would mean that she outranked Aquila in terms of social status or independent wealth; if by Christian criteria, this would mean she had been converted first or was more prominent in the life of the Church.  The choice is not easy, but the balance of probability favors the second alternative.  The fact that she worked manually with her husband (Acts 18:3) suggests that she neither outranked him in social status nor had independent wealth.  A woman of noble birth would not know how to do the heavy needle-and-palm work of tentmakers, nor would her hands be adapted to it, and a woman of independent means would not need to work.  Hence the standard of judgment is Christian.  The public acknowledgment of Prisca’s prominent role in the Church, implicit in the reversal of the secular form of naming the husband before his wife, underlines how radically egalitarian the Pauline communities were” (Murphy-O’Connor, “Prisca and Aquila,” Bible Review, December 1992, pgs. 40-41).

(D) Romans 16:3: “…all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks …”: Would the churches have known her well if she had remained silent and been submissive in the traditional women’s role?

(E) Romans 16:3: Priscilla is called a “fellow worker”, sunergos, a term used also for Titus (2 Corinthians 8:23) and Timothy (Romans 16:21), both pastors and teachers.  A “fellow worker” in this sense would hardly have been silent, submissive, and subordinate.  “By using these terms Paul raises a theological claim for himself and his helpers.  Their assistance in proclaiming the Gospel means that they share with the apostle the burden of the ministry of reconciliation” (Bertram, TDNT, VII, 875).

(F)  Acts 18:26: Priscilla is involved in the instruction and teaching of males in the Ephesian church, the recipient of Paul’s first letter to Timothy (“let the women keep silent”).   She exercised her Christian freedom to nurture her own particular spiritual gifts for the growth and blessing of the church.

(G) Priscilla is involved in teaching Apollos, a public proclaimer of the Gospel,  on behalf of the church.

(H) The verb “expounded” [ektithemi] is the same verb which describes Peter’s public teaching when he defends his eating with the Gentiles against the criticism by the “circumcised believers” (Acts 11:4) and is the verb used to describe Paul’s public teaching of “the kingdom of God” (Acts 28:23).

(I) There is no indication in this passage of Priscilla being “under the supervision of the pastoral office.”

Acts 21:9: And he (Philip) had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.

◆ “Acts 21:9 and 1 Corinthians 11:5 specifically indicate that women functioned as prophets in the early church” (Commission on Theology and Church Relations, “Women in the Church,” pg. 10).

Women filled the role of public teachers (prophets) in New Testament times.

(A) Compare 1 Corinthians 11:5.

(B) Compare Ephesians 2:20.

(C) “The church is built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles.”

Women were involved in all aspects of the early church, teaching, worship, hosting house churches.