The topic of ‘women in ministry’ can scarcely be addressed without a single reference to a prophecy recorded in the book of Joel. This same prophecy was quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on all who were gathered in the upper room. These are the words of the prophet Joel:
“And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
in those days, I will pour out my Spirit.” – Joel 2:28
The outpouring of the spirit of God in the last days, as prophesied by Joel, is not limited to men. Two times in this very prophecy Joel tells us that both men and women will experience this. All flesh means all flesh. Does this in any way mean that until this prophecy women were not able to prophesy in scripture? Certainly not. The bible is replete with examples of women operating in the prophetic ministry from the Old Testament even to the new. In this particular write-up, I will talk a lot about women in both the Old and New Testaments who instructed men, prophesied and operated in any of the 5-fold ministries.
In the Old Testament, we see quite a number of prophetesses, amongst them are Prophetess Miriam, Huldah, Deborah and Isaiah’s wife. Deborah was not only a prophetess, she was also a Judge. In the Old Testament, before Israel had kings, judges were ordained by God himself to lead his people. Gideon and Sampson were judges too. Deborah was so influential during her time as a judge that Barak refused to go to war if Deborah wouldn’t go with the army. The story of Deborah is proof that God himself can raise a woman to lead his people. The reason why this point had to be made is that in Paul’s instruction to Timothy, he made reference to an Old Testament reality as the reason why he, under the inspiration of God, prohibits women from having authority and instructing men in the church. The reason he gave was that Eve sinned first, therefore women are to learn in humility and not allowed to exercise authority over men. How is it that Deborah who was in the Old Testament wasn’t affected by this (if we insist that the apostle’s instructions meant women should never exercise authority over men anywhere in the body of Christ)? If indeed Paul meant that because of events that took place in the garden a woman cannot exercise spiritual authority over a man in the church, how is this instruction only being enforced in the New Testament when there were women like Deborah in the Old Testament who had both political and spiritual authority over the whole of Israel?
All these prophetesses mentioned above were in the Old Testament, the question is were there any prophetesses in the New Testament as well? The answer is a resounding YES! Before Jesus’ birth, we read of the 84-year-old prophetess Anna who fasted and prayed for the birth of Christ. Concerning the prophetess Anna, it is written that at the time Jesus was brought to the temple to be presented to the Lord, she walked into the temple and ‘began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem’ (Luke 2:38). The prophetess entered the temple and began to speak about God to all who were gathered there. We were not told that anybody shut her up for being a woman. All we know is that a prophetess entered the temple, started thanking God and telling all who were there about him. That could have been a sermon, you know?
Also, we are reliably informed in Acts 21 that Philip the evangelist had 4 daughters who prophesied. We weren’t told whether they were prophetesses or not, all we know is that they could prophesy. So yes, women can prophesy and can operate in the prophetic office as prophetesses. The fact that women can prophesy has never been under contention anyway. However, the point had to be made for the benefit of people who think Paul meant women should keep their mouths completely shut in the church. If that was the case, how are women supposed to prophesy in the church? Looking at the instructions Paul gave concerning how prophecy must be spoken in the church, he expected the entire congregation to be quiet while the person with the prophecy spoke. Therefore if a woman had a prophetic word for the church, that alone afforded her the opportunity to have everyone’s rapt attention while she spoke.
Can women instruct men in the word of God?
Well indeed they can and there is one example of such a woman in the New Testament. Her name is Priscilla. Paul himself stated that he traveled with Priscilla and her husband Aquila. In Romans 16 Paul also salutes the church in their house, meaning the couple had a thriving church in their home. It is recorded in Acts 18 that the couple came across a man who taught diligently the things of the Lord. However, this man, Apollos, didn’t know much as he only knew the baptism of John. Aquila and Priscilla took him unto themselves and ‘expounded unto him the ways of God more perfectly’ (Acts 18:26). Apollos’ ministry grew and he became very influential in Alexandria and it is remarkable to know that at some point in his ministry a woman helped him better understand the things of God. Paul refers to Priscilla and her husband as his fellow workers in Christ Jesus. Indicating that Apollos definitely wasn’t their only student. If they had a church in their house, then they probably taught the word of God to a lot more people. We are admonished by the apostle in Colossians 3:16 to ‘let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom …’. Was this instruction gender-specific? Are men the only ones instructed to let the word dwell in them richly so they can admonish others?
Can a woman have genuine authority over a man in the church?
Again, from the writings of Paul, we can draw the conclusion that women can hold positions in the church. In Romans 16:1 Paul speaks about Phoebe who was a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae. She was a leader in the church and Paul was writing to the Romans to help her in any way they could especially if she asks for their assistance. Paul also made mention of Junia (or Junias in other translations) and stated that this person was highly respected amongst the apostles. Ken Bailey made the point that some scholars believe this person was a woman. According to him:
The word ‘Junia’ in this text was taken to be feminine by Origen of Alexandria, Jerome, Peter Abelard and others. A Catholic scholar, Bernadette Brooten writes that she was unable to find any Latin commentary on the Book of Romans that has this name as masculine before the late 13th century.
Some versions of the Bible spell the name as ‘Junias’ implying that this person was a man. Ken Bailey again says:
The difficulty with Stapulensis’s suggestion of ‘Junias’ is that the name Junias is unattested in any Latin or Greek text at any time in history. The name Junia, however, has been found over 250 times.
Adoniram Judson also states in his essay ‘Women in Ministry’ that:
Yet Chrysostom, who, as a Greek Father, ought to be taken as a high authority, makes this frank and unequivocal comment on the passage; “How great the devotion of this woman is, that she should be counted worthy of the name of an apostle!”
From all that is stated above, it is possible that Junia was a woman and an apostle. This brings to mind another question, can women operate in any of the 5-fold ministries? Because it seems by stating that Junia was a woman then it implies that she was an apostle which is the first of the 5-fold ministries. Have we not already concluded that women can operate in the prophetic office? Are there specific instructions concerning the gender of people permitted to operate in each of the offices? .
It is clear that both men and women are instructed in the great commission to preach the word of God to all creation, the bone of contention, however, is whether women can operate in any of the ministerial offices. The reason is that, by operating in any of these offices, they would definitely exercise authority over men and instruct them in one way or the other hence some Christian denominations are against the ordination of women into any of these ministries. When Paul spoke about the 5-fold ministries he said nothing about the gender of the persons operating in them. Neither did Jesus say anything about the gender of the Christian who is supposed to go into the world and preach the gospel. Some people who believe that women cannot operate in any or some of the offices have no problem with women carrying out the great commission. They do this forgetting that as part of the great commission, we are expected to preach and MAKE DISCIPLES. Making disciples requires authority. One has to exert a certain level of spiritual authority over people he/she is leading. How can a woman make disciples of men without having authority over them?
In Romans 16 Paul makes mention of a number of women who have served the Lord in different capacities. Some I have mentioned above. Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis are also mentioned in the same chapter and saluted by the apostle because of their work in the Lord. Also in Philippians 4, we see the Apostle mention the names of two other women, Euodia and Syntyche. He claims they labored with him in the gospel. Had he just said they labored with him, then we could come to the conclusion that they probably labored in different capacities other than direct ministry work of sharing the gospel. But the apostle stated that they labored with him in the gospel together with other laborers whose names are in the book of life. This is a bold reference to direct ministry work. It is very interesting to know that women played a major role in the ministry of Paul as they did in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus had women amongst his disciples too. In Luke 8 we are told that these women who followed Jesus supported his ministry financially from their own purses.
We can also see how Jesus made messengers out of women in his ministry. Firstly, he turned the whole city of Samaria upside down with the woman at the well. This was somebody who was probably despised because of her lifestyle yet Jesus managed to use her to draw the whole city to himself. Does he still use women as evangelists, send them into cities and use them to draw men to himself? Secondly, at the resurrection, we would expect that Jesus would reveal himself to his disciples first. I don’t see it as a mere coincidence for him to appear to the women first. He was literally walking through walls when he resurrected, so he could have just walked into the room where his disciples were hiding. However, he permitted the women to be the first witnesses of his resurrected body. Thereby making them the first messengers of the gospel of the resurrected Christ. Ravi Zacharias said that ‘all of Easter hangs on the testimony of a woman’ and it is true. Jesus did this in a time when a woman’s testimony meant nothing in court. If indeed the created order and Eve sinning first is the reason why women are not allowed to teach men and exercise spiritual authority over them, why did Jesus literally bypass his disciples to reveal his resurrected body to women first?
Very few things about the Christian faith have been contested by skeptics and secular historians than the resurrection of Christ. The Christian faith hangs on the resurrection of Jesus from the grave. This is why Paul said ‘and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain’ (1st Corinthians 15:14). Jesus went against the created order and the fact that Eve sinned first and revealed himself to women thereby placing the gospel of the resurrected savior in their mouths first. If women were the first to proclaim the message of the resurrected savior, is there any other message in the bible they are not allowed to preach to men?
Ken Bailey – “Women in Ministry – Woodstock Q and A”
Adoniram Judson – “Women in Ministry”
Hugenberger – “Women in ministry”
Kaiser – “Women in Ministry, commentary on the text”