While some have suggested that the New Testament writers were unkind to women, the simple fact is that for that time in history, the New Testament stories involving women tended to elevate them to a higher level than the non-Jewish society of that time did.
Women were highly involved in Christ’s ministry as well as the ministry of the early church. One writer wrote this about women in the New Testament:
...that women travelled (sic) with and helped support Jesus and the disciples, that women, not men, were the last at Jesus’ cross and the first at his tomb, that Paul in various letters greeted women as co-workers. Women who wholeheartedly dedicated their lives to such religious activities received extravagant accolades from the post-New Testament writers (Clark, Elizabeth. Women in the Early Church. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville (MN), 1983, p. 17).
This brief paper will not cover everything about women and the New Testament Church. It is intended to show how the New Testament writers recorded that women were not to be treated according to rabbinical traditions, and to show that many women were praised and encouraged for their contributions to Christianity. (Here is a link to a related sermon video New Testament Women.)
In ancient Israel, one of the three routine declarations Jewish men made in the synagogue or their morning prayers was, “Thank God I am not a woman.”
Furthermore, in a rabbinic exposition of Jewish law, there were written these words:
A man should ever avoid women; thus he should never make any gestures at them, either with his hands or his feet, nor wink at them, nor jest with them…
A man must not greet a woman under any circumstances, and he is forbidden to send his regards to her even through her husband” (Ganzfried S. Translated by Hyman Goldin. Code of Jewish Law. Volume IV, Chapter 152, Verses 8,9, Hebrew Publishing Company, NY, 2004, p. 20).
Yet these “laws” were not found in the Bible, but were often generally understood improper traditions of men at the time of Christ.
Some of the Jewish leaders saw limited good in women:
Rabbi Hiya taught: A woman is only for beauty, or only for the sake of the children she will bear. (Gemara as cited in The Babylonian Talmud in Selection, by Leo Auerbach, , pp. 164-165. http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/bata/bata10.htm viewed 08/15/13)
But women are more valuable than simply being beautiful objects to bear children.
And while the Bible says that Jesus was without sin, it often showed that He refused to take part in various added laws of Jewish tradition (Mark 7:5-13). And this frequently did seem to involve the role of women.
Notice John 4:7-10:
7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give Me a drink." 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?" For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. 10 Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."
In the above account, Jesus violates two Jewish traditions at the same time: he greets a woman and has interactions with a foreigner. And even this foreign woman knew that this was not the usual practice of the Jews.
Jesus even went a step further and started to talk with her about issues relating to religion and salvation. Hence, He considered that women were as deserving and capable as men in the area. And while that may seem to be self-evident, this does not seem to have been the usual practice amongst Jewish religious leaders of His day.
Furthermore, that woman, a foreigner, realized that Jesus was the Messiah before many men did:
10 Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."
11 The woman said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? 12 Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?"
13 Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."
15 The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw."
16 Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here."
17 The woman answered and said, "I have no husband."
Jesus said to her, "You have well said, 'I have no husband,' 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly."
19 The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship."
21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
25 The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When He comes, He will tell us all things."
26 Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He." (John 4:10-26)
That woman gave testimony of Jesus that others believed:
39 And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all that I ever did." 40 So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of His own word. (John 4:39-41)
Actually, when the Sadducees tried to get Him to decide who would be a woman’s husband after the resurrection (from Matthew 22:23-32), He corrected their poor doctrinal understanding:
23 The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, 24 saying: "Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. 25 Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. 26 Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. 27 Last of all the woman died also. 28 Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her."
29 Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. 31 But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 32 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."
Thus, many people were surprised that Jesus did NOT relegate a resurrected woman to be inferior to any man. This was a radical departure from traditions that they held. Women have the same spiritual potential as men. Those who do not recognize this do not know "the Scriptures nor the power of God."
The Book of Luke starts off by discussing two encounters with the angel Gabriel.
The first was with a man who was also a priest:
5 There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah. His wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7 But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years. 8 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, 9 according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. 10 And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. 12 And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. 13 But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. 14 And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. 15 For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. 16 And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, 'to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,' and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." 18 And Zacharias said to the angel, "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is well advanced in years." 19 And the angel answered and said to him, "I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and was sent to speak to you and bring you these glad tidings. 20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time." (Luke 1:5-21).
Notice that even though he and his wife Elizabeth were both righteous before God, he was made mute for a time because he did not believe the angel Gabriel.
On the other hand, Gabriel also visited someone else. A young woman named Mary:
26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" 29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." 34 Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" 35 And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible." 38 Then Mary said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her (Luke 1:26-38).
Notice that even though this could cause Mary to become a social outcast, that she, unlike the male priest Zacharias, believed what the angel Gabriel said.
Furthermore, immediately after this, Mary met with the wife of Zacharias:
39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord" (Luke 1:39-45).
Notice that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and said that Mary was blessed because she believed.
Mary, by the way, did not just believe at that time. According to traditions, she believed until she died apparently in Ephesus (some say Jerusalem) many decades after the visit from Gabriel (you can access photos of what is claimed to have been the site of Mary's last house at Photos of Ephesus).
(It should be understood, however, that devotion to Mary is NOT part of the Bible, and according to The Catholic Encyclopedia, "we do not meet with any clear traces of the cultus of the Blessed Virgin in the first Christian centuries." In other words the devotion to Mary now seen in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches was not an original belief or practice of the Christian church. More on Mary can be found in the article Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Apparitions.)
Shortly after Jesus was born, His family visited the Temple that contained a very important woman. Notice:
36 Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; 37 and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. 38 And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)
36 Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee's house, and sat down to eat. 37 And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, 38 and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, "This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner."
40 And Jesus answered and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you."
So he said, "Teacher, say it."
41 "There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?"
43 Simon answered and said, "I suppose the one whom he forgave more."
And He said to him, "You have rightly judged." 44 Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. 45 You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little."
48 Then He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."
49 And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"
50 Then He said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace." (Luke 7:36-50)
The Pharisee (male) did not observe social norms, the sinner woman did. And she was forgiven, yet it never says that the Pharisee was.
Perhaps it should be mentioned that Jesus' ministry, in fact, was highly financed by women. Notice this account from Luke:
1 Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, 2 and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities--Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, 3 and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance (Luke 8:1-3).
Sometimes, women (and men) can have the wrong priorities:
38 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus' feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me."
41 And Jesus answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42)
Paying attention to the word of God was more important to God for a woman to do then meal preparation/housework.
Jesus also healed a woman on the Sabbath:
10 Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. 12 But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, "Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity." 13 And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
14 But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, "There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day."
15 The Lord then answered him and said, "Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? 16 So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound — think of it — for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?" 17 And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him. (Luke 13:10-17)
Jesus put the religious leaders to shame by suggesting that they treat animals better than women, who were also children of Abraham.
Women have unique abilities and insights.
6 And when Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. 8 But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, "Why this waste? 9 For this fragrant oil might have been sold for much and given to the poor."
10 But when Jesus was aware of it, He said to them, "Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. 11 For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always. 12 For in pouring this fragrant oil on My body, she did it for My burial. 13 Assuredly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be told as a memorial to her." (Matthew 26:6-13)
Notice that whereever the gospel was proclaimed, the woman who had the insight to anoint Jesus for burial would be commended. The male apostles who should have known better that Jesus was about to die, not only did not anoint Him, but instead criticized a woman who did the right thing. Something to think about.
Women played many unique and critical roles in the New Testament church.
Who were the first people to see Jesus after His resurrection?
Was it His disciples?
No, it was a woman. Mary Magdalene.
11 But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. 13 Then they said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him." 14 Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, "Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away." 16 Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to Him, "Rabboni!" (which is to say, Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, "Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, 'I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.'" 18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that He had spoken these things to her. (John 20:11-18).
So not only was it a woman who first saw Jesus after His resurrection, it was a woman who had to tell the disciples Jesus was risen. It was a woman who had the bravery needed at this time.
Women who professed Christ were also often persecuted in New Testament times:
3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison (Acts 8:3).
Being a Christian woman was no protection, as Christian women along, with Christian men, were subject to imprisonment and other punishments (see also Acts 9:2).
Women were encouraged to be part of the Christian Church as much as men were. They were taught about the kingdom of God and were baptized upon conversion as the Book of Acts shows:
12 But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized (Acts 8:12).
Some women in the New Testament Church were apparently ordained as deaconesses, but this is not always clear in various translations of Greek into English. For example, Romans 16:1-2 states:
1 I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, 2 that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and assist her in whatever business she has need of you; for indeed she has been a helper of many and of myself also.
The word translated as servant means deaconess. Notice:
diakonos (dee-ak'-on-os); probably from an obsolete diako (to run on errands; compare NT:1377); an attendant, i.e. (genitive case) a waiter (at table or in other menial duties); specially, a Christian teacher and pastor (technically, a deacon or deaconess):
KJV - deacon, minister, servant. (Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright (c) 1994, Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc.).
The same word is most frequently translated as minister in the New Testament and tends to mean one ordained to serve.
Hence, this was position of deaconess was apparently a role for some women in the New Testament church.
Peter reported that both men and women in the early New Testament church were to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit including prophecy. Luke reports:
14 But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. 15 For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 'And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God,
That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your young men shall see visions,
Your old men shall dream dreams.
18 And on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days;
And they shall prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in heaven above
And signs in the earth beneath:
Blood and fire and vapor of smoke.
20 The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.
21 And it shall come to pass
That whoever calls on the name of the Lord
Shall be saved.' (Acts 2:14-21).
Women were included in the above.
And notice that the evangelist Philip's daughters did receive the prophetic gift:
8 On the next day we who were Paul's companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9 Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8-9).
But it should be noted that there is no scriptural indication that women were to be presbyters/priests, elders, or bishops (see 1 Timothy 3:1-13). But those that were prophetesses must have provided major assistance to the New Testament Church.
Perhaps around the early-middle of Paul’s ministry, he encountered the married couple of Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth (Acts 18:1-3). They were tent-makers from Rome. Priscilla was Aquila’s wife.
They were also apparently quite brave and also had church services in their home in Rome:
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house (Romans 16:3-5).
Notice that Paul included Priscilla as a fellow worker in Christ. Paul often violated that false Jewish restriction passed on through tradition.
When Paul was imprisoned in Rome, they still had church services in their home, and they apparently continued to support Paul, as he wrote:
19 The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house (1 Corinthians 16:19).
Later, they apparently moved again. In his letter to Timothy, who was then in Ephesus, Paul wrote:
19 Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus (2 Timothy 4:19).
The Catholic Encyclopedia states, "It is not known why Scripture several times names Priscilla before Aquila." But the simple fact is that it does.
These verses show that Priscilla, and not just her husband Aquila, made major contributions to the ministry of Paul as well as to the New Testament church (additional information can be found in the article Priscilla and Aquila).
Lydia was a wealthy woman who lived in the town of Thyatira. The story of Lydia shows that in the New Testament church, a woman did not need to be married in order to serve:
Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." So she persuaded us (Acts 16:14-15).
Notice that Lydia was so respected, that her entire household was baptized. Also, it appears that she probably had Christian church services in her home, as the following verse suggests concerning Paul and his colleagues:
40 So they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed (Acts 16:40).
The fact that Paul and those imprisoned with him found the brethren (not just Lydia’s household) at Lydia’s house, suggests that church services met there. She probably provided financial and other support to the Apostle Paul as well.
The Apostle Paul seems to suggest that Timothy’s mother and grandmother properly passed their faith to him:
2 Timothy 1:3-5 3 I thank God, whom I serve with a pure conscience, as my forefathers did, as without ceasing I remember you in my prayers night and day, 4 greatly desiring to see you, being mindful of your tears, that I may be filled with joy, 5 when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also. (2 Timothy 1:3-5)
14 But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 15 and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 3:14-15)
Hence, women are acknowledged for their faith, being proper mothers, as well as apparently for helping to pass their faith to one of the leading evangelists in the New Testament.
The Book of Hebrews gives various examples of faith.
Notice something about Abraham's wife Sarah:
11 By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude — innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. (Hebrews 11:11-12)
Although the Hebrew scriptures state that Sarah was beautiful (Genesis 12:11), notice the New Testament does not commend her for her genetics, but her faith.
And there were others:
23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king's command. (Hebrews 11:23)
It was both Moses mother and father that had that faith.
30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. 31 By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace. 32 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented — 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us. (Hebrews 11:30-40)
Both men and women had faith and were heirs to the promises. Equally.
Notice that Paul taught:
I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life (Philippians 4:2-3).
So although he did not allow them to preach, Paul considered that women labored with him in the gospel and had their names listed in the Book of Life.
Furthermore, various duties and responsibilities were encouraged for, and rights provided for, women in the New Testament Church. Including being a proper Christian example.
1 But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: 2 that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; 3 the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things — 4 that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. (Titus 2:1-5).
Women who are discreet and chaste do not attempt to dress like prostitutes or immoral women.
Paul has this to say to women who are married to unbelievers:
13 And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. 15 But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:13-16).
Hence, there is a suggestion of evangelical involvement for women in both of these passages.
And, according to various passages in other parts of the New Testament, Christian women realized that they could and should support the church.
Women do have some unique admonitions. Notice something that Jesus taught men:
27 "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. (Matthew 5:27-29)
Notice also the following from the Book of Proverbs:
23 For the commandment is a lamp,
And the law a light;
Reproofs of instruction are the way of life,
24 To keep you from the evil woman,
From the flattering tongue of a seductress.
25 Do not lust after her beauty in your heart,
Nor let her allure you with her eyelids. (Proverbs 6:23-25)
Since men are not to lust after women, women should not try to provoke such lust. Women, like men, are to love their neighbor as their selves (James 2:8)--and public seductive appearance is not love. Seductresses are condemned in scripture (Proverbs 2:16-22; 7:21-27; 23:27-28), as seemingly are enticers (cf. Job 31:9; Proverbs 1:10; 7:21-27).
Furthermore, notice what the Apostle Peter warned against:
14 having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children. (2 Peter 2:14)
The above applies to women as well as men. No one should try to entice others to sin. Christian women should set a proper example in dress and conduct.
While some have oddly claimed that Christian women can wear as little as they like in public, that goes against the idea of love, propriety, and modesty, as well as the following that the Apostle Paul wrote:
8 I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; 9 in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, 10 but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. (1 Timothy 2:8-10)
Propriety refers to rules of polite, not provocative, public behavior.
Dressing modestly makes it easier for men to follow the instructions that the Apostle Paul gave them about treating women:
Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them (Colossians 3:19).
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church (Ephesians 5:25-29).
Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger as sisters, with all purity (1 Timothy 5:1-2).
Note that women are to be loved by their husbands, and never hated by them. And unmarried older women are to be honored (that is how one treats one as their mother) and younger women are to be respected in purity. Women (like men) also are not biblically-required to get married (1 Corinthians 7:34). These are specific rights of women in the New Testament Church.
In addition, there are three Old Testament sections that I would like to quote here:
6 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 7 "The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father's brothers, and cause the inheritance of their father to pass to them. 8 And you shall speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'If a man dies and has no son, then you shall cause his inheritance to pass to his daughter. (Numbers 27:6-8)
6 This is what the Lord commands concerning the daughters of Zelophehad, saying, 'Let them marry whom they think best, but they may marry only within the family of their father's tribe.' 7 So the inheritance of the children of Israel shall not change hands from tribe to tribe, for every one of the children of Israel shall keep the inheritance of the tribe of his fathers. (Numbers 36:6-7)
5 "When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and bring happiness to his wife whom he has taken. (Deuteronomy 24:5)
So, women do have the right to decide who to marry, they have certain property rights, and when they are married, they have their husbands have the obligation to try to bring them happiness (at least for the first year--there is no limitation on that in the Bible).
There were several roles, however, that women did not have. The Apostle Paul wrote:
34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. 35 And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).
11 Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. 12 And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. (1 Timothy 2:11-12).
The New Testament also shows:
3:1 This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach (1 Timothy 3:1-2).
5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you-- 6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination (Titus 1:5-6).
Thus, the New Testament does not support the concept of women being elders/bishops over a church as only males are shown to be in those specific roles.
But as this article shows, the Bible does not prevent women from having important roles in the church.
While many understand the concept that the New Testament supports the idea that a woman is an analogy of the New Testament Church (Ephesians 5:22-32), some do not understand that this was realized right after the New Testament was finished.
Second Clement (which Clement did not write) is called "the oldest complete Christian sermon that has survived" (Holmes M.W. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, 2nd ed. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2004, p. 102). While there are one or two unusual statements in this document, it does give clues to beliefs held in the early 2nd century (100-140 A.D.) among those who professed Christ.
It has this point to make about the New Testament Church:
14:2 And I do not suppose you are ignorant that the living Church is the body of Christ: for the scripture says, "God made man, male and female." The male is Christ and the female is the Church.
This passage shows that many in the early Church understood the Apostle Paul’s analogy of a woman representing the church. This strongly shows the importance that Paul and others give to women. An importance that simply does not seem to have an equivalent in the Jewish customs of the time.
Also in the second century, Polycarp wrote:
The young women must maintain a pure and blameless conscience...
I am writing these things to you via Crescens, whom I recently commended to you, and now commend again, for his conduct while with us has been blameless, and I believe that it will likewise be with you. And you will consider his sister to be commended when she comes to you (Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians, Verses 5,14. In: Holmes M. The Apostolic Fathers--Greek Text and English Translations, 3rd printing 2004, pp. 213,221).
Notice that Polycarp commended both and man and his sister. He felt that young women needed to lead a pure life and should be commended by those in the church.
Furthermore, certain women, such as the daughters of the Apostle Philip had a reputation for being faithful in the early church. Notice that Philip's daughters are mentioned among the important leaders who kept the Passover on the 14th of Nisan:
We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord's coming, when he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who fell asleep in Hierapolis; and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter, who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus; and, moreover, John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate. He fell asleep at Ephesus. And Polycarp in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who fell asleep in Smyrna. Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito, the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead ? All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven. I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ' We ought to obey God rather than man'...I could mention the bishops who were present, whom I summoned at your desire; whose names, should I write them, would constitute a great multitude. And they, beholding my littleness, gave their consent to the letter, knowing that I did not bear my gray hairs in vain, but had always governed my life by the Lord Jesus (Eusebius. Church History. Book V, Chapter 25).
Notice that by the end of the second century, those women were considered to have been "great lights" and "saints" who had died, yet were faithful, just as the apostles were. (It should be noted that these daughters are not the same as those in Acts 21:8-9, as that Philip was one of the seven, while this Philip was one of the twelve apostles).
However, it should be noted that there is no early historical indication that women were to be presbyters/priests, elders, or bishops.
There are many stories about Christian women who were martyred. One will be briefly mentioned here:
One of the most famous accounts of female martyrs is The Martyrdom of Perpetua. This martyrdom reports that Vibia Perpetua, its heroine, was from a prominent family in Turburbo, North Africa. She, together with other Christians, including her slave Felicitas, was martyred probably in the year 203 A.D…
If Perpetua herself wrote the first section of the Martyrdom…this account is one of the earliest pieces of Christian literature written by a woman. It perhaps suggests that women were allowed more freedom in early Christian prophetic movements than they later enjoyed (Clark, Elizabeth. Women in the Early Church. The Liturgical Press, Collegeville (MN), 1983, pp. 97-98).
While I believe that a woman named Perpetua was martyred, I cannot be certain of the facts as there are many fanciful stories about her that do not appear to be true.
But the fact is that women, as well as men, were often killed for the profession of faith in Christ in the early New Testament Church. And the other fact is that women had more influence in the early church than they seem to have in many churches today.
What about more modern times?
Women can serve the Church in many capacities and many do. From being deaconesses to assisting others in or interested in the Church of God to being fellow laborers of the gospel.
Here is something related to former head of the Church of God, Seventh Day, A.N. Dugger, in the 1925:
...in the "Question Corner" section of the Advocate, Dugger said that women were not to be in religious authority over men, but they could be used as workers and have a part in evangelistic work (I Corinthians 14:34-35, I Timothy 2:12 and Romans 16). (Nickels R.C. History of the Seventh Day Church of God. 1988, p. 94)
As one who had assisted the church in some of those capacities for decades in an unordained capacity, I will simply add that just because someone is not an ordained deacon, elder, or deaconess, does not mean that one cannot serve the Church of God in many ways.
And I believe that when Jesus taught:
37 The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. 38 Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest (Matthew 9:37-38).
That this was not limited to men only, but includes women.
Currently in the Continuing Church of God women assist with videoing and other aspects of church services, edit publications and letters, and are involved in various activities that support the final phase of the work.
I also believe that as we approach the end of the church age, that God will use many men and women, who have not been used as much in the past, to truly be laborers for the Lord's harvest.
Well biblically it would appear to be those that:
18... grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).
15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
Women need to be instructed so that they can instruct others. Some will be persecuted for that as Bible prophecy teaches:
32 Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. 33 And those of the people who understand shall instruct many; yet for many days they shall fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plundering. 34 Now when they fall, they shall be aided with a little help; but many shall join with them by intrigue. 35 And some of those of understanding shall fall, to refine them, purify them, and make them white, until the time of the end; because it is still for the appointed time. (Daniel 11:32-35)
Despite views of certain ones, even though they often have different roles, women have the same spiritual potential as men:
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 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. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)
Women have the same potential to be deified in the God family as men (Deification: Did the Early Church Teach That Christians Would Become God?). And that is the position not only of the Bible, but also the Church of God throughout history.
The New Testament reveals that women had more freedom and influence within the Christian church than they apparently did in the Jewish religion in the first and second centuries.
Woman in the New Testament church were apparently more respected than many women in other settings at that time.
These New Testament women were intended to set an example of faith and faithfulness, for future women, as well as men, who profess Christ.
The New Testament reveals that women had both rights and responsibilities, rights and responsibilities that they still should have to this day.
While there are some differences in the roles that God has for males and females now, that is not the case after the resurrection. Women have the same potential as men.
Women have and will have important roles in the Church of God and those faithful have their names written in the Book of Life.
Here is a link to a related sermon video New Testament Women.
More on the roles of women can be found in the article: True Womanhood: A Lost Cause? (see also Abortion, the Bible, and a Woman's Right to Choose).
Back to Early Christianity Page Back to COGwriter Home Page
Thiel B. Ph.D. Women in the New Testament Church. www.cogwriter.com (c) 2006 2007, 2008, 2009/2011/2012/2013 0905