Of course, there’s a continuing debate on whether women should be preachers, pastors, evangelists, etc. Is this just a role that’s set aside for men? Or is it a role that is gender inclusive? I used to be a part of the camp that thought this kind of role should only be for men. After all, Paul said for women to keep quiet and not to have authority over a man! Also, the requirements for a deacon and elder are in the masculine, not the feminine! That’s surely enough, right? Actually, it’s not. While I’m not going to get into those arguments, I think it’s clear that Jesus supports women preachers, teachers, evangelists, and the whole nine yards.
It’s interesting that whenever Jesus rose from the dead, the first person to witness it was a woman. Mary Magdalene was the one to whom the news of Jesus’ glorious rising from the dead was first entrusted. She ran to tell the rest. This is also pretty good evidence that the gospels weren’t fabricated. You see, people generally saw women as inferior. Who in the Jewish first century would fabricate something that had a woman being the first one to experience an important event? Especially if the author wanted people to believe it was true! However, it is true and a woman was the first to witness it. This isn’t by accident either. It was to challenge the misogynistic atmosphere in the Jewish culture during Jesus’ time and shoot it to the ground. If a preacher’s job is to announce the gospel, the news that Jesus has died, was buried, and then rose for our sins, isn’t this is exactly what Mary Magdalene did? And she was the first person to do so! If that doesn’t rest the case for you, here’s a little more fun facts.
In Acts, the record of the early Church, there were women involved with all of the crazy things that were occurring. Acts 8:3 and 9:2 record both men and women being persecuted for being a part of “the Way”. They were also baptized and considered full members of the kingdom of God. Acts 8:12 records, “But when they believed Philip, who was proclaiming the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” Whatever the Church was experiencing, whether growth, persecution, etc., there were always women along every step of the way, spreading the gospel and sharing in the sufferings of Christ.
Phoebe, a woman mentioned in Romans 16:1-2, was considered a “deacon” or a minister at the church in Cenchreae. Paul spoke highly of her and she is actually the one who he commissioned to deliver the letter to Romans, arguably Paul’s greatest letter. Usually, the person who delivered the letters would be the first ones to read the letters aloud to the church and then answer any questions that they may have concerning it. So, in reality, Phoebe was probably the first person to not only read Romans aloud, but the first one to expound on and preach that great letter from the apostle Paul. Women were definitely essential in the early Church as preachers of the gospel.
In fact, later on in that chapter of Romans, another woman is mentioned. Her name is Junia and Paul says in verse 7 that she and Andronicus were “prominent among the apostles”. This doesn’t simply mean that the apostles knew a lot about them, but that they themselves were apostles. So, Paul considers Junia, a woman, to be an apostle of the Lord, and a prominent one at that. For a woman to be a leader in a “Jewish sect”, as some thought of it, was unheard of to a lot of the people around that time. However, following in Jesus’ footsteps, the early Church did an incredible job of breaking down the misogyny that had infiltrated the culture of that day. Junia would have been preaching and teaching a lot if she was considered an apostle.
To me, that makes it clear that women definitely had the authority in the early Church to preach and teach the gospel. Even the things that seem to contradict this position has to be interpreted in light of these things. If it was the case in the early Church, why do we marginalize women today? Why do we withhold from them the office of preacher, pastor, evangelist, etc.? That’s not something the Church did back then. And it certainly wasn’t something that Jesus did. If we want to mirror Jesus, then I believe we should allow the full inclusion of women into the ministry of the Church.
This is an excerpt from my book, “Church Kid: Restoring Your Faith After Being Raised in Church,” now available for purchase here.