Second-class status has often been accorded to women in both Judaism and Christianity. To a large extent this has been mainly due to the influence of other religious and social cultures, which have given women a position of social inferiority. Unfortunately, it was the customs and traditional teachings of the rabbis and other leaders in the pre-modern era that tended to render to women a place of lesser standing.
When Christ entered upon the scene, however, it was like a breath of fresh air to the freedom of womanhood and the restoration of her dignity. Women were treated by Jesus with the respect owed to them. They accompanied Him on His missionary and preaching tours and ministered to Him (Luke 8:1-3). Women (the two Marys) were the first to bear witness of His resurrection (Mark 16:1-6). Women were numbered among the 120 disciples who gathered in the Upper Room and who received the Holy Spirit’s power for witnessing (Acts 1:12-14; 2:16-18).
Several women in scripture times were viewed as prophetesses, including Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14), Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 8:3), and Anna (Luke 2:36-38). The promise that daughters (as well as sons) would prophesy (Joel 2:28) found fulfillment after Pentecost since Philip’s daughters at Caesarea were recognized as prophetesses (Acts 21:8, 9).
In Romans 16:3-5, Paul greets Priscilla and her husband Aquila and calls them his “helpers” or fellow workers in Christ Jesus, a term applied to Timothy (Romans 16:21) and others of Paul’s companions in the ministry (Philemon 24). Priscilla was probably considered the most prominent and gifted in ministry, since in five of the seven times she and Aquila are mentioned, her name is listed first. They taught Apollos (Acts 18:26) and made their home available as a meeting place for the church (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19).
The following women are some others to whom Paul sends greetings. They are Junia and Andronicus, “who are of note among the apostles” (Romans 16:7); Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and the beloved Persis are commended for their “labor in the Lord” (Romans 16:12). Paul also refers to Apphia, in whose house there was a church (Philemon 2); Euodias, Syntyche, and other women who were fellow workers with Paul and struggled with him to spread the gospel (Philippians 4:2, 3); and Lydia, who was considered an outstanding convert in the church at Philippi (Acts 16:12-16, 40).
Is it any wonder then that the Apostle Paul, in Galatians 3:26-28, points that out because we are “all children of God by faith in Christ Jesus”? In the same way, Paul shows that there are no longer inequalities or exceptions between Jew or Gentile, slave or free, and there is to be none also between male and female, since all are baptized members and have become one in Christ Jesus.
In the light of Scripture, it is clear that God bestows spiritual ministry gifts on women, whose place in the church is equally important and vital to the spreading of the gospel. (See “The Leadership Ministry of Women” on page 18 of this issue.) What matters most is the infusion of the Holy Spirit on all committed workers as seen in the following quote by Ellen G. White, one of the most prominent females in the Adventist Church: “It is the accompaniment of the Holy Spirit of God that prepares workers, both men and women, to become pastors to the flock of God”—Ministry to the Cities, p. 76.
Even though the Seventh-day Adventist Church does not currently ordain women, the church continues to encourage, empower, and celebrate women’s spiritual gifts of pastoral leadership and ministry.
—Donald G. King is president of the Atlantic Union Conference and chairman of the Atlantic Union College Board of Trustees.