"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; ... do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Gal 5:1) This study is presented with great enthusiasm because I am convinced that new vitality, joy. blessing and witness will be experienced by the Church when each and every believer comes to know who he or she is in Christ. and who his or her brothers and sisters are in Christ. It is exciting to begin to provide the environment for the Holy Spirit to free sisters in Christ to realize their equality and ministry in the Body, and to free brothers in Christ by enabling them to free their sisters in Christ.
I am presenting this study also with a sense of humility. I am deeply concerned that what I present be true to the written Word of God. I am committed to a high view of the inspiration of the Scriptures. My conviction is that the Bible is the Infallible and authoritative guide for the Church's belief and practice. Further, I have sought the illumination of the Holy Spirit in the interpretation of the passages of scripture with which this study deals. I have been desirous that this study not simply present human wisdom. Nevertheless, I must make it clear that what is presented here represents my best understanding of the Biblical truth on this subject to the present point in my life and study. I do not present this with dogmatism. Each believer ought to study the Scriptures on this subject for himself or herself with diligence, prayer and yieldedness to the Holy Spirit.
II. CONTEMPORARY INFLUENCES
Believers today often find themselves caught between the views of the secular "women's liberation" movement on the one hand, and those of a large portion of organized Christianity on the other. The secular women's movement has called attention to much real prejudice of males against females and the mistreatment of females by males. At the same time this movement manifests some unbiblical attitudes (rebellion being the most obvious) and presuppositions (for example, moral relativism, especially in the realm of sex and marriage). Believers fear becoming identified with the secular women's movement, at least without qualification. Yet many believers are equally uncomfortable with the traditional stance of the institutional church which by and large imposes a second class status among women while claiming Biblical sanction. Roman Catholicism and a majority of evangelical and fundamentalist groups are the most prominent representatives of those adhering to the dogma to which I refer.
Must our interpretation of the Scriptures be dictated by either of these positions? No. While contemporary trends and traditional views raise vital questions for us, the answers will be found only as under the Spirit's guidance we allow the Bible to speak for itself!
III. BACKGROUND: WOMEN IN BIBLICAL HISTORY
Before dealing with specific New Testament principles that relate directly to the role of women in the Body of Christ it is necessary that we have in mind as background the role and influence of women in the sweep of Biblical history. This review is not meant to be exhaustive. I have sought here to highlight and summarize what God has said about women and how He has used women in His historical and eternal purpose. I am compelled to state at the outset that we will find that in Biblical history women have an honored position and an indispensable ministry.
In the opening pages of the Bible a decisive affirmation regarding women is found. "And God created man in His own image, in the image of Cod He created him; male and female He created them." (Gen 1-27). God created all human beings in His own image! What a wonderful statement about both men and women! Nowhere is the beauty, worth, dignity and equality of women set forth more clearly. In the very next verse (1:28) we find that God commissioned both male and female to subdue the earth and rule over it. Finally, we are told that "God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good" (1:31. Italics mine).
In the latter part of the second chapter of Genesis (verses 18- 25) we read of the need of male and female for each other. Both male and female have their origin in one flesh and are brought together to become one flesh in a new sense. Marriage confirms that man and woman are correlatives of the same kind and are equally necessary in Cod's social and historical purpose.
The account of mankind's fall in Genesis 3 makes clear the dignity and responsibility of the woman. She has ben given freedom, no less than the man, to choose to obey or disobey God.
Mention should also be made of the Genesis account of the wives of the Patriarchs. The position of these women was much higher than that of most women of ancient times. Instead of being put into harems, being objects for sexual pleasure and reproduction. and being restricted to serving, Sarah, Rebekah and Rachael had a place of dignity in which they could mingle and converse with men. Above all, each of these women had a special role in God's plan for His people and His redemptive purpose.
The woman who stands out in Exodus is Miriam, Moses' sister. Her Biblical title is "Miriam the prophetess" (Exodus 15:20). The prophetic gift and power was manifested through her in a way similar to that of the prophets and prophetesses of the periods of the judges and the kings. We read of her leadership in poetic praise accompanied by music and procession (Ex 15:20,21).
A number of other prophetesses are mentioned in the Scriptures. These include Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (1 Kings 22:14-20), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), the wife of Isaiah (Is 5:3), Anna (Luke 2:36) and the daughters of Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8.9).
The prophetess Deborah was also one in the succession of the judges who ruled Israel (Judges 4:4). After Israel's victory over Jabin's army at the river Kishon. Deborah and Barak, the commander of Israel's army, sang Deborah's song (Judges 5). This song represents a level of education and spiritual maturity and leadership that stands in contrast to the status of women in most of the surrounding cultures of that day. Hannah's prayer as recorded in I Samuel (2:1-l0) likewise attests to this fact.
Esther, a Jewish woman, was raised up by God to the position of queen of Persia (Esther 2:17). At great personal risk she appealed to her husband, King Ahasuerus, to spare the Jews within the kingdom (7:1-4). She acted courageously in obedience to God and out of love for her people even though custom regarding the place of women demanded passivity (4:4-17). God used her mightily for the deliverance of the Jewish people frown annihilation (8:7-11).
Our review of what the Old Testament says about women would be incomplete without reference to the passage in Proverbs 31 (verses 10-31) that sets forth the exalted and responsible role of the wife. She is one in whom her husband trusts (v.11). With skill and creativity she provides for her household (13-15). She is involved in business affairs, specifically, the purchase of real property (16). She ministers to the poor (20). Her virtue, skill, creativity, accomplishments and ministry result in her husband being well known and highly regarded by his peers (23). She is a person of strength and dignity (25). She speaks wisdom (26). Her family praisesher (28). She is an example of inner, spiritual beauty (30).
No greater example and affirmation of woman's honored role in human history and in God's purpose for history can be found than the choice of a woman as the vessel through which the Son of God would enter this world. Mary of Nazareth, a virgin, was chosen as the mother of the Incarnate Son. No doubt God could have chosen other ways to send His Son, but He did not. He chose the process of human conception (in Mary's case, conception by the Holy Spirit), gestation and birth (see Luke 1:26-56 and 2:1-20).
Ministry was revolutionary with regard to women. He simply did not allow sex to be a basis for determining those with whom He would converse and to whom He would minister. His treatment of women was a radical departure from the customs of His day that tended to discourage public contact between men and women on an informal and equal basis. We are reminded of His conversations with, and ministry to, the woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years (Mk 5:25-34), the Canaanite woman with a demon-possessed daughter (Mt 15:21-25), the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well (Jn 4:5-30), and the woman caught in adultery ( Jn 8:1-11).
Among Jesus' closest friends were a number to women. These included Mary and Martha of Bethany (Lk 10:38-42; Jn 11:1-46; 12:1-11) and Mary Magdalene (Lk 8:1-3; Jn 19:25; 20:1,2.11-18; Mt 27:55,56; 28:1). We should not overlook the fact that women were the first to view the empty tomb and the first to whom Jesus disclosed Himself after His resurrection!
Women had a vital role in the life of the early Church. Acts records that many women were among the 120 devoted to prayer in the upper room awaiting the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (l:l3-15). On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit fell on all of them. All were filled with the Spirit and spoke with other tongues (2:1-4).
Acts reminds us frequently that women were the object of evangelism no less than men. Great numbers of women were saved and added to the Church (for example, 5:14). When Peter came to Caesarea. Cornelius called together his relatives and close friends, among which, no doubt were many women (l0:24). We are told that after Peter spoke the Holy Spirit fell on all of them (10:44). Women were an important part of the nucleus of the churches in Thessalonica arid Berea (17:4,12). When Paul spoke in Athens very few believed. In that tiny nucleus, though, a woman, Damaria, was prominent (17:34).
While in Asia Minor, on his second missionary journey, Paul was given. a vision from the Lord calling him to Macedonia. He came to Philippi and began his ministry there by speaking to a group of Jewish women, A woman in this group named Lydia was the first person in Europe to receive Christ through Paul's preaching (16:6-15, 40). She likely remained a leader of the church in Philippi.
Priscilla was a special friend and colleague of Paul. He met Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, in Corinth on his second missionary journey. They, like Paul, were tentmakers. They had come to Corinth from Italy (18:1-3). We are told that they traveled with Paul to Ephesus where he left them to teach the believers there (15:18,19). Apollos was among their students (18:24-25). Four of the six New Testament references to this couple list Priscilla's name first (Acts 18: 18.26; Romans 16:3; Il Timothy 4:19). This suggests that her part of their ministry was at the forefront. After Priscilla and Aquila had returned to Rome from Ephesus, Paul sent greetings to the church that was in their house (Romans 16:5). It is likely that they co-pastored this fellowship.
Finally, mention should be made of chapter 16 of Paul's letter to the Romans. This chapter is a unique and personal view into the church at Rome and its diverse composition. Many women were prominent in this church. There was Phoebe, the newcomer whom Paul commends to them (1.2). Phoebe was identified as a deacon of the church at Cenchrea (1). (Phoebe was likely the bearer of the letter). Then there was Prisca (3), or Priscilla, who has already been introduced to the reader. Paul also spoke of Mary (6), Junia (7, though this name could also be masculine), Tryphaena. Tryphosa and Persis (12), the mother of Rufus (13). Julia and Nereus(15).
IV. OUR POSITION IN CHRIST
Too often attempts to deal with the matter of women in the Church involve lifting one or two brief Passages out of their immediate context and the context of the Scriptures as a whole. The Scriptures are not a compilation of rules. They are a witness to the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the living principle of interpretation of the whole. In order to understand individual passages we must have the Holy Spirit's revelation of Who Christ is and who we are in Him!
Galatians 3:28 states clearly the truth of who we are in Christ. "There is neither Jew nor Greek. there is neither slave nor free man. there is neither rate nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This verse virtually sums up the Letter to the Galatians. There is only one basis for becoming a child of God. There is only one basis for the ongoing life of the fellowship of believers. That one and only basis is Christ Himself!
We are all one in Christ! We are one person in Him. All earthly distinctions are done away with when it comes to how God regards us and how we regard each other in Christ. Religious, racial and national distinctions do not exist in Christ. Social and economic distinctions are done away with. Furthermore, sex is not at all determinative of our position in Christ!
Admittedly, it is difficult for us, because of our tendency toward pride and favoritism, to understand and appropriate such a radical statement of the truth. Nevertheless, it is a fact that earthly distinctions are not a part of the eternal kingdom. There is no favored status, no rivalry, no hierarchy. There is only Christ. Male believers and female believers are one in Christ.
Paul was not saying that we are to disparage the uniqueness of each brother or sister in the Lord. Rather, he was reminding us that we must not ascribe the wrong meaning to the earthly differences between us. We must ask the Holy Spirit to enable us to regard each other as Cod the Father regards us-- one in Christ. These differences must not determine acceptance of each other, valuing each other, ministry to each other, or receiving ministry from each other.
I am aware that the objection might be made that position or status must not be equated with role or function. This is true. For example, a husband and wife are equal before God but have differing roles in marriage. This distinction in principle is also true in the Body of Christ. All believers have the same position in Christ though not all have the same function. However. the question that is immediately raised is this: Upon what basis do we recognize differing function in the Body of Christ? Are functions (ministries) in the Body determined by earthly distinctions (for example, as they are in marriage)? Or is there some other basis? I believe that the principle of our position in Christ as set forth in Galatians 3:28 has a direct bearing on the issue of function or ministry as well. It seems that the answer to the question is suggested in a negative way in this verse. Earthly distinctions are not only the basis for God's acceptance of us and our acceptance of each other, they are not the basis for recognizing and calling forth ministries. The positive side of the answer can be found in the next principle with which we will deal.