The New Testament Woman
We will now begin to look at women under the New Covenant, recognising that just as God called women under the Old Covenant to function in ways that He had chosen, likewise, in the New Testament, we have examples of women who were chosen and called by Him to fulfil His purpose here on earth. These women did not call themselves to the positions they functioned in. No, they were chosen and called by God as He determined. Furthermore, they were equipped by Him to do whatever was required of them and because their gifts were recognised by other New Testament believers, they were not prevented from fulfilling their callings but were encouraged to be faithful in the things God had called them to do. Paul taught these principles in Ephesians 2:10, a verse we have already looked at, but will look at again.
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
The New Testament Co-Worker
We will first look at a number of Women whom Paul considered his Co-Workers.
One of them was a woman named Mary. Paul had this to say about her in Romans 16:6
Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.
Paul mentioned two other female Co-Workers in Romans 16:12
Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women, who work hard in the Lord.
He mentioned another woman in Romans 16:12
Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked hard in the Lord.
Furthermore, he spoke about two of his female Fellow-Workers in Philippians 4:2-3
I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellows, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the Gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my Fellow-Workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.
Here we have a number of examples of women whom Paul identified as Fellow-Workers and Labourers with him in the cause of the Gospel. Though we do not have details of their activities, we can be certain that the work of these women would have involved the preaching of the Gospel, very likely at great cost to themselves. In I Corinthians 16:15-16, Paul told the Church in Corinth how to behave towards those who have laboured with him in the Gospel:
You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labours at it.
Paul was saying here to the church in Corinth, that he desired for the whole Church, which would include the leadership of the Church, to submit themselves to those who labour with him in the Gospel. He was not saying here that the believers were to submit themselves to just anybody who happened to be with them. No, he specified the group of people he urged the church in Corinth to submit to: the ones who have laboured with him in the Gospel and as we have already seen this group of Labourers or Co-Workers included women such as Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis to name but a few.
The New Testament Woman Teacher
We will next look at Women Teachers, one of whom was named Priscilla.
Priscilla and her husband Aquila were tent makers by profession, as we can learn from Acts 18:1-3
After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them and because he was a tent maker, as they were, he stayed and worked with them.
This couple then travelled with Paul to Ephesus as we can read in Acts 18:18-19
Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time, Then he left the brothers, and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea, because of a vow he had taken.They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.
It was in Ephesus that Priscilla and Aquila met Apollos as we can read in Acts 18:24-26
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervour and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
From this passage we learn that both Priscilla and Aquila functioned as Teachers in the Body of Christ. One of their students was a man named Apollos who, no doubt because of Priscilla’s and Aquila’s influence on his life as his Teachers, eventually became a fellow-worker with Paul.
The New Testament Woman Prophet
Women functioned as Prophets.
The Apostle Peter spoke about it in Acts 2:17-18
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.
Even on my servants, both men and women will I pour out My Spirit in those days, And they will prophesy.”
Paul confirmed this in I Corinthians 11:5, a verse we have already looked at:
And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head - it is just as though her head were shaved.
This verse implies that Paul expected any woman who had the gift of prophecy to at times prophesy. One specific example can be found in Acts 21:8-9
Leaving the next day we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip, the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.
Even though we do not have specific details of the prophecies spoken by these women we can be certain that they would have fulfilled the requirements outlined by Paul in I Corinthians 14:29-31
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed or encouraged.
This would mean that these prophecies would have included instruction as well as encouragement.
The New Testament Woman Apostle
Next, we’ll look at Women Apostles.
The term “Apostle” was applied in a special way to the original disciples, as Peter spoke about in Acts 1:21-22
Therefore it is necessary to chose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us. For one of these must become a witness with us of His Resurrection.
Paul spoke of his appointment as an Apostle in I Corinthians 15:8
And last of all, He appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
Furthermore, he declared the following in Galatians 1:11-12
I want you to know, brothers that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it. I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
This group, and I believe that Paul was included, was a specific group of Apostles whom we call “the Apostles of the Lamb”.
However, there was another group of Apostles who had never seen Christ but were involved with the Apostles in pioneering missionary efforts. These Apostles we still have today. We might call them missionaries or church planters.
One example is Barnabas. We can read of him in Acts 14:14
But when the Apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowds, shouting.
Another example is Epaphroditus. We read about him in Philippians 2:25
But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow-worker and fellow-soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs.
And we have an example of a couple Andronicus and Junia(s). Their names are mentioned in Romans 16:7
Greet Andronicus and Junia(s), my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the Apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
Paul mentioned that these two people were relatives of his and that they at some point in time had been imprisoned with him. Obviously they both functioned as Apostles, as his words “they are outstanding among the Apostles” prove. The one thing we may not realise is that these two people were in fact a man and a woman, very likely a married couple, named Andronicus and Junia. Though some translators in due course translated the name “Junia” into “Junias” this is not a correct translation and should be read as “Junia”, which is a female name. This means that we know of at least one woman who functioned as an Apostle in the Early Church.
The New Testament Woman Deacon
We will now look at Women Deacons one of whom was named Phoebe. She is mentioned in Romans 16:1-2
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant at the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.
The Greek word used here to describe Phoebe’s function is the word “diakonos”and it can be translated as servant, attendant, minister, or deacon.
This word has been used many times in the New Testament to describe the ministry of, for instance, Apollos, as in I Corinthians 3:5
What is after all Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe - as the Lord has assigned to each his task.
Paul, as in Ephesians 3:7
I (Paul) became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of His power.
Timothy, as in I Thessalonians 3:2
We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow-worker in spreading the Gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith.
Tychicus, as in Ephesians 6:21
Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing.
Epaphras, as in Colossians 1:7
You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow-servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf.
Likewise Phoebe functioned as a female Deacon in her local church. Furthermore, Paul praised her for the help she had given to many people, including himself. The word “help” in this text is the Greek word “prostatis” which means “a Patroness, a woman who protects others, a woman set over others”.
This word has been used by Paul in other passages in Scripture when it refers to a leading, guiding role, for example I Timothy 5:17
The Elders who direct the affairs of the Church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.
Paul considered these Elders to have a leading or guiding function. Since he used the same term for Phoebe it would indicate that, likewise, she would have had a leading, a guiding and a protective function in her church.
Though she is the only specific example of a female Deacon, we can be certain that as the church grew and developed and as more and more women were being taught the Word of God, in due course a number of them would have begun to function in this position. Perhaps I should mention that we do not find the term “Deaconess” in Scripture. This term was later introduced but it was not used in the Early Church.
The New Testament Women Overseer
Did Paul open the way for Women to become Overseers? I believe he did, as we may be able to see from I Timothy 3:1
Here is a trustworthy saying, “If anyone sets his heart on being an Overseer he desires a noble task.
The Greek word for the word “anyone” is the word “tis” and can be applied to either a male or a female person. This means that Paul did not specifically state that only men could be Overseers.
In I Timothy 3:2-7, he gave the qualifications for male Overseers:
Now the Overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his own children obey him with proper respect. If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s Church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgement as the devil.
He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil ’s trap.
Furthermore, in I Timothy 3:8-10 and verse 12 Paul gave his qualifications for male Deacons:
Deacons, likewise, are to be worthy of respect, sincere not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as Deacons…. A Deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well.
After having focused on male Overseers and male Deacons, Paul in I Timothy 3:11 turned his attention to women when he wrote:
In the same way, their wives are to be women, worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.
Although translators believed these women were the wives of Overseers or Deacons, this was, in fact, not the case. Now we know from the original text that Paul did indeed address women in this verse. However, we know too that the original text does not imply these women were the wives of Overseers or Deacons but were women who themselves functioned as Overseers or as Deacons. A better reading of the text would therefore be:
In the same way, women are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers, but temperate and trustworthy in everything.
Their qualifications are very similar to those of the male Overseers and Deacons. There is one exception, for Paul did not specify that they must be the wife of one husband. This is because in Paul’s days men were allowed to have more than one wife at the same time while women were allowed to have only one husband. There was therefore no need to bring up this particular issue when speaking to women. Though Paul did not mention here that these women were to manage, to govern their households well, he did mention this in I Timothy 5:14
So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.
One example of a female Overseer can be found in 2 John, where the Apostle John wrote:
To the chosen lady and her children whom I love in the truth and not only I but also all who know the truth - because of the truth which lives in us and will be with us forever. Grace, mercy and peace from God, the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father ’s Son, will be with us in truth and love.It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love; that we walk in obedience to His commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the Antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not bring him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work. I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face so that our joy may be complete. The children of your chosen sister sent their greetings.
It is clear from the contents of this letter that the Apostle John wrote this letter to a female Overseer, who had spiritual children, advising her on things she needed to be aware of. John mentioned the children of a chosen sister at the close of the letter, undoubtedly referring to spiritual children of another female Overseer. Furthermore, Paul mentioned a woman named Nympha in whose home the church met, as we can read in Colossians 4:15
Give my greetings to the brothers in Laodicea and to Nympha and the Church in her house.
In some Bible translations the name“Nympha” has been changed into “Nymphas” and the words “in her house” have been changed into “in his house”. This is not a correct translation. The name should have been translated as “Nympha”,“in her house”. The fact that Paul specifically mentioned this woman may well mean that this woman was the Overseer of this Church.
Paul in I Corinthians 1:11 spoke about “some from Chloe’s household” when he wrote:
My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.
Very likely, he implied that a Church met at Chloe’s house and that this woman was the Overseer of the Church.
I want to mention here the couple Priscilla and Aquila. We have already learned that Priscilla and her husband Aquila functioned as Teachers in the Body of Christ, but in Romans 16:3-5 Paul mentioned that a Church met at their home:
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow-Workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the Churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the Church that meets at their house.
This couple was very probably overseeing this Church together and they are a wonderful example of a partnership in Christ, where both partners functioned together on an equal basis serving the Body of Christ with the gifts given by the Holy Spirit.
The New Testament Woman Elder
Paul also wrote about Women Elders on a number of occasions. Now, Scripture uses the term “Overseers” and the term “Elders” to describe the same function as we can see in I Peter 5:1-2
To the Elders among you, I appeal as a fellow-Elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who will also share in the glory to be revealed.
Be Shepherds of God ’s flock that is under your care as Overseers - not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money but eager to serve.
The Greek word for “Elders” is the word “presbutero” in the case of male Elders. This word has occasionally been translated as “older men”.
The female version of this word is “presbuteras”, which has normally been translated as “older women”. However, this word could be translated as “female Elders”. One example would be Titus 2:1-3
You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Like wise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.
Here the text could read:
You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.Teach the male Elders to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. Likewise, teach the female Elders to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or to be addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.
We have abundant evidence that God never told women to be silent. On the contrary He called them to function as Evangelists, as Teachers, as Prophets, as Apostles, as Deacons, as Elders, as Overseers alongside men. We have seen as well that men have not always been in agreement with God on this issue. Regardless, men and women of God are to abide to by the words of the Apostle Peter in Acts 5:29
“We must obey God rather than men.“
May we all be obedient to God’s design for men and women for the sake of His Glory and for the furtherance of His Kingdom.
Do we have examples in the New Testament of God choosing women to fulfil His purpose here on earth?
Did God equip these women for their task?
Were these women able to fulfil their task?
Can you give an example of women who functioned as female co-workers with Paul in the Book of Romans?
Can you give an example of women who worked as female co-workers with Paul in the letter to the Philippians?
Can you give an example from I Corinthians how Paul told the church in Corinth to behave towards those who laboured with him in the Gospel?
Can you give an example of a woman who functioned as a female teacher in the New Testament?
Can you give an example of women who functioned as female prophets in the New Testament?
Can you give an example of a woman who functioned as a female apostle in the New Testament?
Can you give an example of a woman who functioned as a female deacon in the New Testament?
What Greek word did Paul use when praising Phoebe because she had been a great help to many people?
Did Paul open the door for women to function as female overseers in the New Testament?
Did Paul address the wives of overseers or deacons in I Timothy 3:11?
Can you give an example of women who functioned as female overseers in II John?
Can you give an example of a woman who functioned as a female overseer in the letter to the Colossians?
Can you give an example of a woman who functioned as a female overseer in the first letter to the Corinthians?
Can you give an example of a woman who functioned as a female overseer in the Book of Romans?
Does Scripture use the terms overseer and elder to describe the same function in the New Testament?
Can you give an example of women who functioned as female elders in the New Testament?
Did God have women function in different roles in the New Testament?