The Practices of Females Believers in the Epistles
Remember from the previous study the example Jesus made of female disciples. He placed them (contrary to standard practice) right among the male disciples. With that action he sets his standard. Females were to be students right along side their male counterparts. So it is not at all amazing we find women (after believing Christ’s teachings and witnessing his suffering, resurrection and ascension) preaching and teaching right along side their male counterparts.
This study is much less some new insight and more of a list. That is a list of activities with some reasoning offered along side. This is primarily a reminder of what was being done by female believers. Be forewarned: females were doing things in the Epistles we currently consider inappropriate for female believers. Just remember that Jesus promoted behavior regarding teaching women that was considered inappropriate as well. And there is that other lesson from the Gospels, a reminder that we as humans are more than capable of “making void the word of God by our traditions.” So, let us examine ourselves and pray not be named among such.
Go Forth and Make Disciples of all Nations: A Public Effort
Jesus commanded his apostles to “go forth and make disciples of all nations.” The epistles are replete with many believers doing just that. So let us assume the command was never understood to be limited to the twelve Apostles. Clearly Jesus taught his disciples the good news of the Gospel’s message. This teaching was for the purpose of sending them out to teach it to others. Is there any reason to suggest he taught it to female disciples for a different purpose? (Matthew 28:19; Acts 1)
Female Disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit. At Pentecost Peter points to a new era. This era was heralded by the spirit being poured out on your “sons and daughters.” Four young women prophesied by the spirit. The Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit meant they were to be accepted with without restriction or prejudice. Then that same spirit poured out on females might suggest the same. (Acts 1)
Female Disciples were publicly preaching the Gospel. And as they preached, women and men were responding to the contents of its message. Priscilla preached along side Aquilla and Paul, and she preached to men. (Acts 18: 26)
Female Disciples were publicly teaching the Gospel. Priscilla taught the way more accurately to Apollos. Apollos then became an outstanding worker in the faith along side Paul and others. Females were clearly teaching in the Gospel effort, and their students were not only other women. (Acts 18:26-28)
Female disciples were public “fellow laborers” along side male disciples in the “official” preaching campaign. Priscilla, Euodia and Syntyche, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Mary, Persis – these labored in the effort to promote the Gospel. “Side by side” surely suggests the exact same work. There is no distinction drawn in any text to suggest the work female believers did in the Gospel effort was different then their male counterparts.
(Romans 16; Philippians 4:2-3)
Female Disciples suffered publicly along side their male counterparts. Saul’s efforts before his conversion included the imprisonment of females as well as males. Most Jewish women were secluded at home and walled and veiled in Synagogue worship. One can suggest that Christian women’s public presence while preaching the Gospel made them equal targets. It is well documented that as the first century progressed, females suffered persecution and death without deference to their sex. (Acts 8)
Establishing and Ministering to the Ecclesia: A Public Service
Jesus was a “diakonos”, a minister to the circumcised. Paul was a “diakonos”, a minister to the Gentiles. Paul and Apollos were “diakonos”, ministers through whom others believed. Phebe was a “diakonos”, minister to the Ecclesia of Cenchrea. She is also called a “helper”. That is in the Greek “prostatis”, a word which means “leader”, here in its feminine form. “Help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper (prostatis) of many and of myself as well. (Romans 16:1-2)
Female believers had authority in the Ecclesia. Lydia had an ecclesia in her home, Priscilla had an ecclesia in her home, and Nympha had an ecclesia in her home. Kyria (elect lady), to whom the second letter of John is addressed, is the one to whom the care, protection, and doctrinal purity of her ecclesia is entrusted. (Colossians 4:15; 2 John 1)
Paul, speaking of those who labor in the ecclesia, says “I urge you to be subject to such and to every fellow worker and laborer.” That subjection is to those that serve your needs in the Lord. Clearly this includes the women listed above who are noted as “ministers” and “fellow workers.” (1 Corinthians 16:16)
Females shared the responsibilities of ministering in the Ecclesia. We know there were female deacons, and it is clearly a position of leadership. Christ taught “but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister” (diakonos). Paul uses diakonos, which means “one who serves” or “servant”, as they who are ministers to the Gospel in all aspects. Those so ministering were preaching, administering, supporting, guiding, teaching and being living examples of these teachings. These females are listed right along side their male counterparts with no suggestion they are rendering a different kind of work. This was a “service” which Paul described as hard work or labor.
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? The answer is no. However we can see that some were and some of those were women. Females were prophets, Junia was an apostle, and Priscilla was a teacher. Lydia, Phebe, and Kyria all ministered ecclesias in their homes for the Gospel’s sake. (Matthew 20 & 26, 2 John, Romans 16, 1 Corinthians 16, Colossians 4)
Female believers exhorted in the ecclesia. As moved by the spirit and exhorted by Paul
to “earnestly desire to prophesy”, females are addressed along side males and told to desire and employ those gifts. “They who prophesy edify the whole church” he states. This is the more valuable expression of the spirit in the ecclesia. Earlier in a casual reference Paul refers to “when a woman prays or prophesies”. When Paul exhorts all to use their gifts he offers no qualifying statement while addressing his remarks to “brothers and sisters.” (1 Corinthians 11 and 12 and 14, Romans 16)
Female believers prayed in the Ecclesia. Again Paul makes reference to that in 1 Corinthians 11. In his letter to Timothy he advises the public “demeanor” for women who are offering prayers. (1 Timothy 2, 1 Corinthians 11)
Female believers taught in the Ecclesia. Priscilla, Lydia, Kyria, and Phebe, all had churches in their care. Kyria is exhorted by John to be alert to false doctrines and not to welcome false teachers in her home ecclesia. Is it reasonable to think she held this position of refuting false doctrine without authorization in teaching correct doctrine? Is it reasonable to imagine that among her “children” there were no males? (Romans 16:1-2, Titus 2, 2 John)
Female believers served in their homes
Female believers taught in their families. Paul remembers to Timothy his sincere faith, a faith that came from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. Their teachings were clearly of great benefit to Timothy. The mature woman was to devote herself to Christ-like living and thus training and teaching the younger women the Gospel. Women were to be living examples in marriage and family life of the truths of life in Christ. The way they lived at home was in every one of its aspects a true testimony to the Gospel. (2 Timothy 1, Titus 2)
Female believers taught in their marriages. Women are exhorted to submit to their husbands, acquiescing willingly to their needs “out of reverence for Christ”. Knowing new freedom in Christ never means manipulating those to one’s own advantage. Wives must set their personal desires aside in the name of love, as “love does not insist on its own way”. Subjection of this type was especially helpful if their husbands were not believers. In that case they were unlikely to be accepted as teachers. But even in those circumstances they are exhorted to teach with any avenue left to them, and thus win their husbands over, even without a word, by their behavior alone! (Ephesians 5, Titus 2, Corinthians 13, 1 Peter 3)
Female Believers were Active in Every Aspect of Life in Christ:
Public Gospel Preaching, Public Ecclesial Service, Private Lives
The facts of these accounts reveal a stark contrast to what we allow female believers to do. So first we must answer that contrast if we are going to claim to be true Bible students. Second it needs to be clearly understood that the reason for looking deeper or questioning the validity of what we’re doing is because of this contrast.
The teachings we promote that limit females believers in their public service to Christ do not hold up very well when contrasted with these passages and their examples. If these were the only scriptures that applied to the issue it would be absolutely clear we are in error. However there are passages that seemingly contradict this activity. Truly these must be considered as well. It seems unlikely that Paul would practice one thing and teach another thing. However we must view and consider the other passages in the light of the documented female activity described in the epistles. Praised and endorsed by Paul these activities must be accounted for in light of our current understanding of these passages of scripture.
So, our next consideration will challenge one of the longstanding Christadelphian teachings – a teaching on which I believe we rest when restricting female believers’ ecclesial service as compared to their male counterparts:
What do women and men “represent” in the Body of Christ?