A continuing look at women in the New Testament:
Phoebe was a valued minister in the church in Cenchrae, one whom Paul commended to the church in Rome (Romans 16:1). In fact, of the twenty-seven different named people in Rome mentioned in that chapter, eight are women. Six of them are described as laboring in some way with Paul. One of them, Junia (verse 7), is even singled out as being an apostle. Her name has sometimes been changed to Junias, a man’s name, to avoid the issue of her gender. According to British theologian, Martin Scott, in his book about women For such a Time as This, Junia was a very common woman’s name at that time. Quoting Lampe in World Commentary Series by James Dunn, he states that there are over 250 contemporary references to Junia (a female name)—not a single one to Junias.
What about women teaching? Priscilla and Aquila instructed Apollos in Ephesus (Acts 18:26), Priscilla’s name being mentioned first in the original Greek manuscript. Actually, in four of the six times that Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned as a couple, Priscilla is named first—unusual in a time when women were often not even counted if the number in a crowd was being assessed. She may well have had the more dominant role of the two of them in the church. When Jesus chastised the church of Thyatira in Revelation 2, it was not because a woman was teaching, but because she was promoting immorality.
I am thankful to John Walker for some additional insights on this subject:
A glaring example of this (a male bias because of church hierarchy) is found where Paul provides us with a list of the spiritual gifts which are distributed amongst the members of the Body of Christ. The NIV translated it as follows:
“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:3-8)
The Greek for this passage, however, is completely gender neutral. The NIV translators have actually inserted the words “man’s” (once) and “him” (7 times) where there are no equivalent words in the Greek. The word translated “his” is a general purpose word used thousands of time and is translated in hundreds of different ways, both feminine and masculine as well as neuter. In the later version, “Today’s NIV,” this error is corrected and the passage is rendered as gender neutral. It is quite clear that in the distribution of these gifts (which include teaching, leadership and prophesy) no distinction is made between men and women. The other two passages which list spiritual gifts, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11; 12:27-31, are both gender neutral in the Greek and are so translated in the NIV.
Society is often prophetic for the church. Think, for example, of the business trend towards a much flatter and participatory leadership style, and compare that with the simple/organic church movement that the Lord is using throughout the world. Nowadays women function as doctors and lawyers, business executives and politicians. Any group that prevents women from functioning in leadership because of their gender will be dismissed as archaic and irrelevant by today’s world.
What could happen if women took their rightful place co-laboring alongside men in the Kingdom?