Women in the Acts of the Apostles

IMG_0994Women played a larger role in the early church than we often give them credit for. We go looking for them around Mother’s day but they often go overlooked the other 51 weeks of the year. Women played a vital role in the ministry of Jesus and in the early church. I want to highlight a few ladies from the book of Acts just to give you an idea. When we think of women in the New Testament Luke comes quickly to mind because he seems to have an eye for including stories that mention women. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that he does so not just in his Gospel but also in his second volume, Acts.

Acts 1 tells us that after the ascension of Jesus the disciples met together in Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives to an upper room (1:12),

Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” (1:13)

When Acts 2 kicks off we learn the disciples “were all together in one place” when the Holy Spirit came on “each of them.” “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

If you are following the story closely Luke tells us that male and female disciples were present at Pentecost (“they were all together”) and that they all received the Holy Spirit’s power enabling them to speak in other languages (“came to rest on each of them”). The only way around this is if you link the pronouns back to the end of chapter 1 and make all refer to the apostles as they replaced Judas. However, there is one more point that knocks that line of thinking off its feet and that is the fulfillment of prophesy. Peter quotes Joel 2 in his explanation and saying “this [event] is what was spoken of by the prophet Joel…”

“‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17/Joel 2:28).

This all points to prophesying women at Pentecost. If that troubles you, then you should be aware that there are other “troubling” verses. My point is, I hope it doesn’t trouble you but if it does then there is more to consider about what actually happened back there in Acts that is very plain in the text but that we don’t hear about very often. This wasn’t a “one off” event in Acts. We later find out in Acts 21:9 that Phillip has four daughters who prophesied. If we think about it for a moment, there were women who were prophets in the Old Testament as well but we will save that for another time. What is more we know that Paul later instructed the ladies of Corinth in how to pray and prophesy (1 Corinthians 11:1-16). That is paired with Agabus who gives his own prophesy regarding Paul’s future in 21:10-11 which is a mirror of Acts 2 where both men and women are prophesying. Prophesy is not always or even usually future telling. Prophesy is inspired teaching for the edification of the body of Christ.

That brings us to the next point. In Acts we have women who are able to teach others the Gospel. This is not reserved for Acts 2 or for Phillip’s daughters. We find a lady named Priscilla in Acts 18 who, along with her husband, teach Apollos more specifics about Jesus than the baptism of John.

We have ladies who open their homes for the gathering of other Christians. We saw this in the ministry of Jesus and we saw this throughout Paul’s letters (Nympha, Phoebe, Aquila and Priscilla, etc). We also see this in Acts 12 where Mary’s (the mother of John) house is being used for the Christians to gather and pray for Peter’s release (12:12). When Peter miraculously escapes from prison he heads to the house and is “greeted” by Rhoda who is called a servant. The word there is paidiske which means a female slave and the gate she opens is not the gate into the home but a gate from the street into the interior courtyard of the house. Mary must have been fairly well to do and able to provide space for these Christians to assemble and worship.

That brings us to another common theme in the New Testament. The women often financially back a lot of ministry. You see this in Jesus’ ministry in Luke 8:1-3 where Luke lists women who supported Jesus financially. You see this in the ministry of Paul with Phoebe. Most of our discussion around Phoebe centers around what it meant for Paul to call her a diakonos (deacon or servant) but Paul also calls her a prostasis which means a benefactor. Phoebe probably bankrolled some of Paul’s ministry.

Women are all over these stories if we are willing to stop and listen. This shouldn’t come as any surprise. We shouldn’t look for these stories once a year. We all know how vital a role women play in church life today. They are half of the body and without them the body would not be the body.

 

 

 

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  1. When I first learned this passage, I was always taught it this way: “the lot fell on Matthias, and he was added to the eleven apostles. When the day of Pentecost came, they were all in one place . . .” the “they” in that passage supposedly meant “the apostles”, and that was why only the apostles got the Holy Spirit when it came from heaven. Has there ever been a grammatical study done on whether the “they” meant “the apostles” or “the 120 believers”?

  2. Two other points about Acts 2:1 and the women receiving the Holy Spirit. The Greek there doesn’t have a personal pronoun to have antecedents; the 3rd person plural is expressed in the form of the verb. Also, Hapas (all) means ‘absolutely all’ or the entire group. Acts 1:26 mentioned the Eleven + Matthias, but vv 15-25 had been speaking of the larger group of the 120, including the women. So Hapas jumps over the 12 back to the larger group that was gathered together that Sunday morning, the 50th day following the resurrection of our Lord, of which the women were the first witnesses.

    • Had Luke wanted to mean the 12, he would’ve used pas instead of Hapas, which is a stronger form of all. In other words, he said ‘absolutely all, not just the 11 + Matthias, were gathered together in one place.’

      Also remember the pint Matt made that Joel’s prophecy included women as well as men ‘prophesying.’

    • Jerry is right in that there is no pronoun here. We have the verb “to be” (ειμι) in the 3rd person plural (=they were) with “all” (πας) so there is no pronoun to refer back. The word pas has to do with the totality or highest degree of something.

      The reason it cannot mean only the 12 is because only the 12 have not been alone as a group to be referred back to at this point. Everything we get in Acts 1 is the group of believers always inclusive of more than the 12. If you read Acts 1 through you will see that. Even in the replacement of Judas, where the 11 are present, you get this “In those days Peter stood up among the believers and said…” The context of the replacement of Judas is not a meeting of the apostles but a gathering of the disciples/believers that is a bigger group than just the 11. So there isn’t anything in Acts 1 that leaves the 11/12 by themselves. Everything to this point in Acts 2 is them all together. The burden of proof would be on why one would all of a sudden shift in Acts 2 to make it only the 12 when nothing of the sort has happened to that point.

      The one thing to the contrary to point out is that pas is used in 1:14 to refer to the 11 and then includes the rest in the group. I don’t think that derails my point in the least but it should be pointed out. However, here is what Keener says that makes this a moot point (he finally gets to Acts 2 on page 794 of volume 1!),

      “Some scholars think that the disciples united here include only the participants from 1:13-14…and not the rest of the 120 from 1:15. Jacques Dupont, for example, links ‘all’ in 2:1 with the same term in 1:14 (where it refers to the 11), but pas is a difficult term to build a case on by itself, occurring more than twenty times in the first two chapters of Acts (and roughly 170 times total in Acts)…But as argued above on Acts 1:4-5 and 1:8, the promise applies to all believers (2:39); although perhaps only the Twelve would stand to minister on Pentecost, Dupont himself admits that the women and Jesus’s brothers of 1:14 received the Spirit (hence not the Twelve alone.)

      The ‘all’ of 2:1 must include the Twelve (1:13, 26; cf.2:14), the women, and Jesus’s brothers (1:14), and presumably some others as well; the total number present some of the time rose at least to as high as 120 (1:15). Many argue that we would also have to suppose more than twelve disciples together in 2:1 whoe will be filled with the Spirit at 2:4; more than twelve languages are spoken (2:5-11).” Keener, 794-795.

      Among the church Fathers we do find this addressed by Chrysostom in his sermon on Acts 2 where he believes it was the 120,
      “Was it upon the twelve that it came? Not so; but upon the hundred and twenty. For Peter would not have quoted to no purpose the testimony of the prophet, saying, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith the Lord God, I will pour out of My spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Joel 2:28.) “And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” (v. 4.) For, that the effect may not be to frighten only, therefore is it both “with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. And began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Matthew 3:11.) They receive no other sign, but this first; for it was new to them, and there was no need of any other sign. “And it sat upon each of them,” says the writer. Observe now, how there is no longer any occasion for that person to grieve, who was not elected as was Matthias, “And they were all filled,” he says; not merely received the grace of the Spirit, but “were filled. And began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” It would not have been said, All, the Apostles also being there present, unless the rest also were partakers. For were it not so, having above made mention of the Apostles distinctively and by name, he would not now have put them all in one with the rest. For if, where it was only to be mentioned that they were present, he makes mention of the Apostles apart, much more would he have done so in the case here supposed.”

      It seems a lot of commentaries don’t address this but here are a couple that I can find that do

      Fitzmyer in Anchor,
      ” “All” presumably refers to the 120 (1:15), hence including those mentioned in 1:13–14″

      Ben Witherington,
      “There is no indication that this phenomenon was only experienced by the Twelve, as some sort of empowerment for leadership. To the contrary, what follows in Peter’s speech suggests the Spirit empowers the witness of all God’s people, including those of lowest social status. All in the room were filled with the Spirit and began to speak in “other tongues” as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

      C.K Barrett in the ICC says it could go either way.

      I am just trying to provide what information I can to help us understand what is going on here. I hope it is helpful.

      • When Paul addressed misunderstandings and abuse of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12-14, he stated quite clearly that ‘in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.’

        Yet I was taught that only the apostles received ‘the baptismal measure’ of the Holy Spirit while some others received a ‘miraculous measure’ and everyone else the ‘ordinary measure.’

        This doctrine is based on John 3:34 where John says, ‘…God giveth not the Sporit by measure unto him’ (KJV). This is the sole scripture that speaks of a measure of the Holy Spirit. BUT in this text, the words ‘unto him’ are in italics, which in the KJV means they were added by the translators. There are no words corresponding to these, and no other translation of which I am aware has these two words (except the jubilee Bible, which has a rather strange translation philosophy) . The JB, a production of a group of Messianic Jews, claims to translate each Hebrew word by the same English word, which is also matched up with the same Greek word. This is supposed to make it easier to understand – but it ignores the wide varieties of meaning in the Hebrew that can’t all be expressed in a single English or Greek word, since words in one language seldom match words in another language in all shades of meaning.

        But back to the main point. John 3:34 says God doesn’t give the Spitit by measure. The KJV adds ‘unto him’ [jesus], italicizing those two words to show they are supplied by the translators. We developed an elaborate theory based on the assumption that if God did not give the Spirit by measure to Jesus, it must mean he does give it by measure to others – so we went looking for measured gifts of the Spirit. Usually if you look for something in the Bible, you’ll find something that you can plausibly say is what you were looking for, whether the text actually says what you are making it say or not I believe that’s what some in the SCM have done with measures of the Spirit. Then we said none but the apostles received the baptismal measure poured out on Pentecost, which meant we had to limit Acts 2:1f to the twelve – without considering the wider context of those verses.

    • You are correct. Just to point out what is in the article,

      “When we think of women in the New Testament Luke comes quickly to mind because he seems to have an eye for including stories that mention women. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that he does so not just in his Gospel but also in his second volume, Acts.”

      Luke’s gospel has some great stories about women. Delving into those in particular wasn’t the purpose of the article. I appreciate your comment and hope you have a great day.