Continuing my biblical study of women and leadership I am examining Jesus’ relationships with women as well as women’s roles in the Book of Acts. Some of the observations might surprise you.
Photo Credit: Engraving by Annibale Carracci,1597
I. 5 OBSERVATIONS OF JESUS’ RELATIONSHIPS WITH WOMEN
A. Women Knew the Scriptures about the Messiah and They Knew Jesus Was Him
Numerous examples show that women in Scripture knew about the awaited “Messiah.” Furthermore, these women noticed that Jesus was that Messiah. One example is in Mark 7:24-30 where a woman went to Jesus and fell at his feet knowing that Jesus could heal her sick daughter. Within that same story the woman appeared to correctly understand who Jesus was by calling him “Lord” (Mark 7:28). With that title ascribed to Jesus he said to her, “Good answer” (Mark 7:29).
One of the most famous interactions Jesus had with a woman was with a Samaritan woman at a water well. The woman correctly understood who Jesus was, saying, “Give me this water [living water]!” (John 4:15). This woman knew that the “Messiah is coming-the one who is called Christ” (John 4:25). And when she discovered that Jesus was that Messiah she went back to her town to tell everyone about him (John 4:28-30).
Another woman, Martha, knew that Jesus was related in some way to God because she knew that the Father would do whatever Jesus asked (John 4:21-22). Martha further revealed her understanding of the Scriptures when she told Jesus that her brother would rise again in the last days during the resurrection of the dead (John 4:24). Furthermore, she knew that Jesus was the Messiah-the Son of God-who came into the world from God (John 4:27).
B. Women Were Trusted to Tell the Message of Jesus to Others
One of the surprising elements of the Gospel narratives is that women were given a unique role in talking about Jesus and sharing his message. One instance of this was when Mary Magdalene and Mary ran from the empty tomb to tell the disciples about Jesus being raised from the dead (Matt 28:8).
After Jesus’ resurrection women were the first people that Jesus revealed himself to (Matt 28:8-10). When he met Mary Magdalene and Mary after his resurrection, Jesus told them that they should tell Jesus’ brothers to leave for Galilee (Matt 28:10).
The Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 was also entrusted to tell the good news that the Messiah had come to earth (John 4:28-30), and with that woman’s message many people from the village believed in Jesus (John 4:39). John’s gospel also attests to Jesus appearing to Mary and Mary Magdalene, telling them to go and find Jesus’ brothers (John 20:17-18).
C. Jesus Regularly Felt Compassion for Women and Healed and Cared for Them
A strong example of Jesus’ humanity on earth was the compassion he felt for women and how he cared for them numerous times. On one occasion he fed women (Matt 14;21; 15:38). On another he took time to heal a woman and a young girl (Mark 5:34-43). When he encountered a widow whose only son died, he had great compassion in his heart for her and brought her son back to life (Luke 7:11-15). A woman was being criticized for pouring expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet so he stood up for her and what she did saying that her many sins had been forgiven (Luke 7:44-48).
Jesus healed women who had diseases and freed them from evil spirits (Luke 8:1-3). Jesus even cured a woman on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-16). When a woman was about to be stoned to death he stepped in and prevented her from certain death (John 7:53-8:11). The Bible even says that Jesus “loved” Martha and Mary (John 11:5).
Later, when Jesus saw Mary weeping and in pain he felt a deep emotional conviction to do something about Mary’s pain (John 11:32-33). When Judas said it was a waste of money for Mary to anoint Jesus with a jar of perfume Jesus stood up for what Mary did (John 20:17).
D. Jesus Included Women in His Tours of Ministry
The Graceo-Roman culture was dominated by males and excluded women from many parts of that culture, but Jesus went against that cultural norm by including women with him in his tours of ministry. “Many women” (Matt 27:55) saw Jesus’ crucifixion because they had come with Jesus from Galilee. When going on tours of nearby towns Jesus took several women with him (Luke 8:1-3). (Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna are named specifically in the text.)
E. Women Cared for Jesus Financially and in Servant Acts
Numerous times throughout the Gospels women cared for Jesus both financially and through their actions. Women who followed Jesus from Galilee cared for him (Matt 27:55). Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to visit Jesus’ tomb to care for his dead body (Matt 28:1). While touring towns and villages Jesus was supported financially by the women who were with him (Luke 8:1-3).
II. 5 OBSERVATIONS OF WOMEN IN THE BOOK OF ACTS
A. Both Men and Women Were Persecuted for Their Faith
Those who persecuted Christians for their faith in Jesus Christ did not discriminate between female and male believers in the book of Acts. Saul persecuted both men and women because of their faith (Acts 8:3) and wanted to bring both men and women in chains to Jerusalem (9:2). When summarizing his work before becoming a Christian Paul admited to having arrested, killed, and thrown both men and women in prison who were following Jesus (22:4). When Ananias and Sapphira lied to God they both were punished (5:1-11).
B. Women Participated in and Received the Gift of Salvation
When the Holy Spirit came women were included in the group of believers who received him (Acts 2:1, 4, 14). Lydia, a merchant of expensive purple cloth became a Christian and was baptized by Paul (16:13-15). As Paul was speaking about the resurrection a woman among the group became a believer (17:32-34). Four unmarried women are said to have the gift of prophecy (21:9).
C. Women Played a “Prominent” Role in the Ministry of the Church
Women played a strong role in getting the first century church started. The book of Acts starts out saying that the women were with men united in prayer (Acts 1:14).
When a dispute broke out between Greek-speaking and Hebrew-speaking believers women were included in the decision making process about what to do (6:1-7). A believer named Tabitha was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor (9:36-39). A woman named Lydia hosted Paul and his companions in her home (16:15). Some “prominent women” were persuaded by Paul to believe in Jesus Christ (17:4, 12).
Women’s role in the ministry of the church was exemplified by Priscilla. With her husband, Aquila, Priscilla worked with Paul (18:2), set sail for Syria (18:18), and explained the way of God (18:26). Although not contained in Acts, Priscilla is said to have been Paul’s coworker in ministry in Rom 16:3-4 and she is mentioned by Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 16:19) and in his letter to Timothy (2 Tim 4:19).
D. Women Worked with Men to Teach and Build the Church
In the book of Acts it is said that “everyone” decided who were to be the ones to serve food to the poor (Acts 6:1-7). A woman named Tabitha (she is called “Dorcas” later in the chapter) was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor (9:36, 39). During Paul’s travels, he and his companions stayed at a woman’s home (16:15). During Paul and Silas’ preaching, Acts tells of “prominent” women being among the people who heard the gospel message and believed it (17:4, 12).
As mentioned above, Priscilla worked with her husband and Paul (18:2) to explain the way of God to an eloquent teacher named Apollos (18:26). During Paul and Luke’s travels they came across Philip the Evangelist in Tyre who had four unmarried daughters who had the gift if prophesy (21:9).
E. Women Participated in Decision Making
In the book of Acts, it appears that women might have participated in decision making with men. When a decision needed to be made there does not appear to be any reason that women were excluded from being involved a decision (Acts 1:15-25). Acts 5:1-2 says that Ananias kept the money from the sale of their home with his wife’s consent. (On a side note, some argue that women in Acts 15 participated in that decision too, but I am not sure if the text lends itself to the implication that women were present.)
Based on this evaluation of women in leadership in the Old Testament and New Testament it appears that women had an important role in the ministry of the church. They were important, served in leadership, and helped ensure the success of the nation of Israel and first century church.
Question: What other observations should be made about Jesus’ relation to women and the role of women in the book of Acts?