The Basis in the Early Church

The Book of Acts shows clearly that women were part of the first church in Jerusalem and were included as the church grew and spread. The group of 120 disciples (Acts 1:15) who waited in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit included women such as those previously mentioned in Luke as disciples who followed Jesus and Mary the mother of Jesus (Acts 1:14). That women continued as part of the growing church in Jerusalem is attested by Luke’s comments that “more and more me and women believed in the Lord and were added to the number” (Acts 5:14), and that Saul, in his persecution of the Jerusalem church, “dragged off men and women and put them in prison” (Acts 8:3; see also 22:4). Women are frequently mentioned in Acts as the account of the spread of the church is given, including the widows in Joppa, Timothy’s mother in Lystra, the women in Philippi, the prominent women who joined the church in Thessalonica, the prominent women in Berea who believed, Damaris in Athens, Priscilla in Corinth, the wives in Tyre, and Philip the evangelist’s four daughters who had the gift of prophecy in Caesarea.

Apart from documenting the widespread presence of women in the early church, the account in Acts presents us with three additional items of importance. First is the fact that when the Holy Spirit came in power and in fulfillment of God’s Word (Joel 2:28–32) both men and women were present (Acts 1–2). Peter interpreted the events of Pentecost to mean that the “last days” of God’s time had come and that God’s Spirit was poured out on both women and men enabling them to prophesy. This foundational role was significant in the early church (see Acts 21:8–9; 1 Corinthians 11:5). Throughout the history of the modern church, the events of Acts 2 have been one of the major arguments in favor of women in ministry.

Second, the involvement of women in the establishment of the Philippian church is noteworthy (Acts 16:11–40). Paul begins the church in Philippi, the leading city of its district, with a group of women gathered for prayer outside the city gate (Acts 16:13–15). The “place of prayer” here is probably to be understood as a synagogue. Clearly one of the leaders of this remarkable women’s synagogue was Lydia. She and her home became the center of the new Philippian church (Acts 16:14–15, 40). This data is very significant background for the two women of Philippi who worked with Paul in the gospel ministry (Philippians 4:2–3).

Third, Acts gives some indication of the importance of Priscilla (Acts 18:2,18, 26). She, along with her husband Aquila, instructed Apollos, who became a noted teacher in the church (Acts 18:26). There has always been debate over the significance of the fact that Priscilla taught Apollos at home rather than in the church, but it must be recognized that she did teach Apollos (see 1 Timothy 2:12).

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