Priscilla – The Leader?

Luke continues telling the stories of women serving in the Kingdom throughout his second volume, which we call “Acts.” Today we’ll begin with Priscilla. Paul first meets Aquila and Priscilla, fellow tentmakers, in Corinth after they had been ordered to leave Rome by Emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2-3). Later on these two were missionaries traveling with Paul to Syria, staying for a time in Ephesus, and later returning to Rome (Acts 18:18-19, 2 Tim. 4:19, Rom.16:3).

Of all the times that these two co-workers of Paul are mentioned (seven times total), two of these times Aquila is mentioned first: When Paul meets Aquila, and then Priscilla, and when Paul sends greetings to the church in Corinth on their behalf. The other five times this ministry team is mentioned it is the female, Priscilla, who is mentioned first.

What does this tell us about Priscilla? She played a very active role in these events, likely the lead role. When we tell stories we tend to include the key player in the discussion first. We say “Tom Brady and the Patriots,” not “Jarrett Stidham and the Patriots.” Stidham is one of the backup quarterbacks. Does he play a role in the organization? Of course. Is he the key player? Not usually. Luke does this in other places as well. At the beginning of his relationship with Barnabas, Luke refers to the two as “Barnabas and Saul/Paul” (Acts 11-13). But after chapter 13, Paul becomes the main player, except for occasionally like Acts 14:14, and 15:12. When Paul is the main player, he is mentioned first. When Barnabas is the main player, he is mentioned first.

Priscilla is mentioned as the main player five of the seven times she is mentioned with Aquila. This includes the teaching of Apollos (Acts 18:26), the missionary work in Ephesus (Acts 18:19, 2 Tim. 4:19), and on three other occasions. Saying Priscilla helped her husband is inadequate. They are both called co-workers with Paul (Rom. 16:3), and Priscilla is mentioned first 71% of the time.

There are some who teach women are not allowed to minister in this way, yet time and time again Scripture shows them doing so. And they are never rebuked or criticized for doing so! Luke mentions numerous other women prophesying on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14-15, 2:1, 4, 17-18), or Mary, who had a sizable church meeting in her home (Acts 12:12), Lydia, who also hosted a church (Acts 16:40), or Philip’s four daughters, who were prophets (Acts 21:8)?

Many have tried to take two verses from Paul’s writings out of context and use them to silence women in the Kingdom. The problem is the rest of Scripture, and even Paul’s own writings and ministry, show them doing the very things they are supposedly not allowed to do. So do we allow tradition to shape our understanding of what women may or may not do in the Kingdom, or will we allow the examples set forth in Scripture to set those guidelines?

Next week we’ll look at Paul’s conclusion to the Romans, and look at a few of the women he mentions there, as well as their roles in the Kingdom.

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Jesus and the Female Disciples – Part 2

Today we continue our look at the female disciples that Luke mentions throughout his Gospel. Their introduction in the opening verses of chapter 8 leads to a thread throughout Luke’s story of the “others,” or the “rest” of those that followed Jesus. Luke makes it clear that his story isn’t one of Jesus and the 12. It is also a story of the “others.”

As Luke’s narrative unfolds, we find Jesus arrested and on trial after being betrayed by Judas. At this point the 12 disappear from the story, except for Peter. Peter follows Jesus through part of the trial, but ultimately denies his relationship with Jesus three times, then disappears from the narrative until after the resurrection. Luke does focus on a particular group throughout the crucifixion and resurrection: the women. 

“A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.”

Luke 23:27 NIV

After Jesus breathes his last, and the centurion confesses Jesus’ righteousness, we are told that many of the witnesses of the crucifixion leave, except for some who stayed.

“But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”

Luke 23:49 NIV

“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfume.”

Luke 23:55-56 NIV

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.”

Luke 24:1 NIV

“When they (women) came back from the tomb they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.”

Luke 24:9-10 NIV

“While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Luke 24:36 NIV

So who were the first preachers of the resurrection? The women. Who did they tell? The Eleven and “the others,” both male and female.  And who does Jesus appear to and commission after the resurrection? All of them! (And in case you are unsure of this, go to Acts 1:13-15 to see this continue.)

Luke makes it very clear. The commission to preach this news starting in Jerusalem (Lk. 24:47-48, Acts 1:8) is the responsibility of the Eleven, the women, and the others, as we’ve already seen them do! This commission by Jesus has not been retracted. Next week we’ll see how Luke carries this commission into the mission of the early church in Acts 1 & 2.

Jesus and the Female Disciples

Today we continue our look at Luke’s gospel and some of the women he includes in his story about Jesus. Luke has a major focus on the role of women in the ministry of Jesus and this week we look at some of the female disciples and supporters of Jesus’ ministry.

Luke 8:1-3 tells us about “many” single and married women who not only traveled with Jesus, but supported his ministry financially. These women are not the twelve, but they are disciples and benefactors nonetheless. Benefactors (financial supporters) in the ancient world would financially support an effort they supported, but that did not mean they would physically participate in that effort. These women are not simply benefactors, they are disciples traveling with Jesus, involved physically in his ministry, and learning to be just like the Messiah. A disciple would eventually go on to have their own students and teach in a way similar to their own teacher.

The fact that Luke tells us of Jesus and these women as disciples, a very unusual practice in the ancient world, tells us something about Jesus. Their presence in support and practice of Jesus’ ministry shows that Jesus wasn’t constrained by, nor concerned with cultural ideas about the roles of women. Culture considered them property to be kept in the home, but Jesus included them as disciples, ones who could travel along side, support, and assist in his ministry.

This detail sets up the often misunderstood story of Mary and Martha at the end of Luke 10. Many tell this story as a lesson on priorities; Jesus is more important than housework. While this is true, it misses the context of what Luke is telling us about Jesus. Luke always gives a female counterpart to the males in his gospel, showing that following Jesus and serving in the Kingdom is not a job relegated to men. Luke gives us Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, the widow of Zarephath and Naaman (ch. 4), the centurion and the widow (ch. 7), the widow with the coins and the shepherd (ch. 15). Here in chapter 8 and chapter 10 we see the female complement to the male disciples.

Luke tells us that Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (10:39). In doing so, Mary is taking up the role of a disciple, something a male would do in that culture. She is breaking a cultural rule (that many other women from ch. 8 did as well). Martha wants Jesus to rebuke Mary, but Jesus affirms that “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (10:42)

This story goes with the preceding story of the good Samaritan, and is an example of the Greatest Commands lived out. The Samaritan is the hero of the first story, and a female disciple is the hero of the second story. These are two upside down images of obeying the Greatest Commands in a culture that valued neither of these heroes. Luke is clearly portraying Jesus as being against the rules and boundaries of the culture in which they lived. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t follow societal norms, it follows Jesus. These stories also call us to radically break with tradition and culture, disregard all else, and follow the example of Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel, the teachings and actions of Jesus remind us that the Kingdom of Heaven is a place where Jews and Samaritans, as well as men and women can serve as equals. (See Gal. 3:28)

Why the Church Needs to Talk About Huldah

I was at a Bible conference recently and the speaker asked for a show of hands by asking the question, “Who here has heard of Huldah?” Almost nobody raised their hands. Sadly this important prophet has been forgotten about, even though the king sought her out! Her story is part of the narrative around king Josiah restoring worship in the Temple in Jerusalem, and can be found in both 2 Kings 22, and 2 Chronicles 34. King Josiah is not like his father or grandfather. They were wicked, but Josiah decided to follow God like his ancestor, King David (2 Kings 22:2). Josiah removed all the idols and altars to pagan gods. He drove out the spiritists and mediums, all the household gods and brought the nation back to worshipping Yahweh.

Part of this was due to the discovery of the book of the Law when the Temple was being repaired, likely the complete Torah scroll or at least Deuteronomy. At this point in history Israel had no know knowledge of the Torah. After hearing the book read to him, Josiah responds:

 “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”

2 Kings 22:12-13

This is where the high priest and the advisors consult a prophet. Now during this time there were several well known prophets in Jerusalem who had been prophesying against the wickedness of idolatry. You’ve probably heard of them too, Jeremiah and Zephaniah. You can read their prophecies in your Old Testament. Yet when it was time to “inquire of the Lord” as to the validity of the words in the Book of the Law, the leaders of Israel go to Huldah. 

Huldah is a prophet, a married woman, and the keeper of the garments (NIV translates “wardrobe”). This must tell us something about Huldah. The great prophets Jeremiah and Zephaniah are prophesying in Jerusalem and yet they go to Huldah. Why? We can speculate all day about her social status, her past prophecies, why she is more highly sought than prophets we know more about today. But in the end what we do know is that when Israel’s leaders wanted to “inquire of the Lord” and validate the Book of the Law, God sends Huldah into the story.

In this narrative we find for the first time someone validating the words of the Law as being God’s word. We find that the Book of the Law is actually Scripture by the Lord’s prophecy through Huldah. Nowhere in this passage is Huldah criticized or reprimanded for teaching these men. Nowhere are these men condemned or criticized for allowing a woman to teach them. This leads to a question: If we say it’s wrong for a woman to teach a man, why does God teach these men through a woman? The story of Huldah is preserved twice in Scripture because it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. 

So what can we learn from Huldah? We learn that even though Jeremiah and Zephaniah had God-given prophetic roles in Jerusalem during this time, God gave Hulda a job too. And that job was to teach the men leading Israel about God’s Word. Perhaps we would be wise to remember that God gifts “each one” as he determines (1 Cor. 14:4-11). We don’t make the rules. God does.

The Song of Deborah

Last week we looked at Deborah: judge of Israel, prophet, wife,  and as we’ll discover today she was also a worship leader. Due to the Lord’s work through the leadership of Deborah, and the bravery of Jael, Israel enjoyed peace for forty years. Today we will look at Deborah’s celebratory song in Judges 5, and what it tells us about God and his people.

The beginning of verse 2 is problematic for translators, literally beginning with “In the breaking forth of the breakers in Israel.” NIV translates this as “When the princes in Israel take the lead.” I believe the ESV’s rendering to be clearer:

“That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the Lord!”

Judges 5:2 ESV

This is the story of Deborah! When the leader God had ordained, regardless of gender, took the lead and offered herself willingly, it brings praise to the Lord. All people should offer themselves willingly and lead in the mission of God as their divinely given gifts allow (1 Cor. 12:7).

The song is clear that it is God’s power that won the victory for the nation (v.4-5, 31) but the song clearly exalts the acts of Deborah in motivating and leading the people (v.7-9) and Jael for defeating Sisera (v. 24-27). And once again, we have a clear statement that this is not a story of renegade women usurping authority because of weak males in the kingdom. That belief is making assertions that the text does not. In fact, it states quite the opposite: God is behind this. God chose the leaders of Israel (2:16, 5:8) to accomplish his will and bring the people back into line with God’s covenant.

7 Villagers in Israel would not fight; they held back until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel.
8 God chose new leaders when war came to the city gates, but not a shield or spear was seen among forty thousand in Israel.
9 My heart is with Israel’s princes, with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the Lord!

Judges 5:7-9 NIV

The further you go into Judges, the further Israel drifts from the knowledge of God. Eventually, even the Judges know so little about God that they do detestable things thinking it pleases God. Most of the judges failed to follow God, and by the end of the book the people no longer knew God. Judges sadly ends by saying this:

In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.

Judges 21:25 NIV

Deborah’s story at the beginning of the book shows us what good Godly leadership should do: bring people back into line with God’s will. God raised up Deborah and she followed God. She didn’t issue excuses as to why her situation wasn’t ideal. She simply offered herself and her God given abilities willingly. Our world is in desperate need of more women and men like Deborah!

Deborah: Prophet & Leader

Last week we looked at Miriam: leader of Israel (Mic. 6:4), a worship leader (Ex. 15:21), and a prophet of God (Ex. 15:20).  She was also the namesake of the mother of Jesus, Mary (Miriam in Greek). Today we look at the story of Deborah as told in the book of Judges. We will take this week, and next to look at Deborah.

Deborah lived somewhere between 1200-1100BC. Just as Moses and Joshua had done before hand, God appointed people (judges) over the people to help rule the nation and settle disputes. Don’t think courtroom judge. Think about judges like a governor, or tribal military leader. Judges 2 makes this process pretty clear.

18 Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them. 19 But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their ancestors, following other gods and serving and worshiping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.

Jdg 2:18–19 NIV

During this time Israel struggles to maintain its identity as God’s people. In many ways they became just like the Canaanites they were to drive out, but God would raise up leaders to bring them back in line with who they were supposed to be. It is the Lord who appoints judges, not the people. And when the judges passed away, the Israelites rebelled against God. It is in this context that we are told about Deborah. Ehud, the previous judge, died and Israel returned to doing evil again. As punishment, God allowed Israel to be ruled by the Canaanite king Jaban, and his army commander Sisera. For twenty years the Israelites were mistreated by the Cannanites, and then Deborah is chosen as judge of Israel to correct, instruct them as prophet, and rescue them from the Canaanites.

The very first statement about Deorah tells us that she is a prophet and a wife (Jdg. 4:4), as well as a mother (Jdg. 5:7).  Deborah was so well respected that the people, including Barak the military commander, didn’t want to go into battle unless Deborah was with them, a role that is usually reserved for a king! (Jdg. 4:8).

Usually at this point someone chimes in claiming that Deborah had to do these things because there was a lack of men to lead. That is an assertion that Scripture doesn’t support. Nothing in this story indicates Deborah should not be doing any of these things because she is a woman. Remember, the Lord appoints judges. In fact, the story elevates women greatly! Sisera is eventually killed by a woman, Jael, who drives a tent peg through his head into the ground. The name Sisera means snake, and Jael means Yahweh is God. Through two women, Deborah and Jael, the head of the serpent is crushed by God! (Gen. 3:15).

Due to the Lord’s work through the leadership of Deborah, and the bravery of Jael, Israel enjoyed peace for forty years. Next week we will look at Deborah’s celebratory song (Judges 5), and what it tells us about God and his people.

Miriam: Prophet of God?

This week we’ll look at Miriam, who is much more than the sister of Moses. She is a child of God with an important role to play as one of the three deliverers of Israel from Egypt, as well as the namesake of the mother of Jesus! (Our English translations notoriously anglicize names in Scripture. “Mary’s” literal name is “Miriam,” which should draw us to compare the two.)

We first encounter Miriam in Exodus 2 as she looks after the ark in which her baby brother Moses is hidden. When Pharaoh’s daughter discovers Moses, it is Miriam who suggests finding a Hebrew woman (Jochebed, the mother of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam) to nurse the baby. The Exodus narrative shifts to focus on the power of God over Egypt through many signs and wonders, and we once again find Miriam after the crossing of the Red Sea.

Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.”

Exodus 15:19–21 NIV

If you are reading, thinking, “I didn’t know women could be prophets,” this is exactly why I’m writing this article. Let’s remove any cultural biases we may have and see Scripture the way the writers (and the Holy Spirit) intended. So Miriam is a prophet! That means she is a spokesperson for God responsible for teaching, preaching, and instructing the people of Israel in the word of God. One of the ways Miriam proclaims the word of God is by leading the women in singing and dancing in praise of God! Scripture also informs us that Miriam was considered a leader of Israel right alongside Moses and Aaron.

“I brought you up out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you, also Aaron and Miriam.”

Micah 6:4 NIV

I feel it important to comment on efforts to dismiss Miriam’s role, or status as a prophet and leader of Israel because she is a female. Yet if we simply let Scripture speak for itself and accept it for what it says, we will have a more accurate view of who God is, and be blessed in doing so. The truth is God uses who he wants, regardless of what we think he should do. He chooses people who bring him glory and accomplish his purposes in this world. God created both male and female in his image (Gen. 1:27) to proclaim his message, and Miriam did just that! She was not perfect, and was punished by God for treating Moses with contempt, but Moses and Aaron pleaded for God to restore her (see Numbers 12). Nevertheless, she is one of many female prophets listed in the pages of Scripture and deserves to be appreciated as such.

Consider the parallels between Miriam in the Hebrew Scriptures and Mary/Miriam in the Gospels. Besides sharing the same name, both protect the savior of Israel in Egypt (Ex. 2:1-10/Mt. 2:13-18), both write and sing songs to tell of God’s salvation (Ex. 15:20-21/Lk. 1:46-56), and their placement is important – Miriam at the beginning of the story of Israel as well as Mary/Miriam at the beginning of the story of the renewed Israel through our savior, Jesus.

Next week we will take a look at another female prophet who is often minimized, contrary to what Scripture tells us about her.