BY JAY BARRETT
From its opening chapters, the book of Acts seemingly presents women equivalently in status with the men at the formation of the church.1 After seeing Christ taken up, the apostles and other followers find themselves gathered with women, including Christ’s mother, in a house in Jerusalem – Acts 1:12-14. All those gathered prayed together leading up to the famous moment of Pentecost. The language which is laying the foundation of the book shows women to be active participants in the prayer gathering with even the great male apostles.
As the author of Acts moves into the second chapter and the Holy Spirit comes upon the people, there is no reason offered to suppose the same women seen in the upper room previously are not included in the “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit…” – Acts 2:4. Thus, women are seen participating in one of the greatest kick off events of the church, not only as equal in prayer, but equal in receipt of God’s Spirit.
That the women were filled with the Holy Spirit and were also speaking in tongues on public display, is further supported in Peter’s subsequent sermon. He tells the crowd that they are seeing the fulfillment of the last days where God’s Spirit will come upon “sons and… …daughters…, both men and women…” – Acts 2:18. Certainly for God’s word to be declared 100% true by Peter and recognized by his audience, it would necessarily have been completely fulfilled at that time with both sexes being represented as the prophecy required.
Moving on from equal inclusion in the launch of the church, women are seen as equal in conversion. The book of Acts does not speak of subservient woman who followed their converted husbands into the man’s choice of belief. Rather, the book speaks with terms of equality of simply both men and women becoming believers – Acts 5:14. The principle of self-agency in the salvation of women is shown further with the distinction that both men and women are spoken of individually as being baptized – Acts 8:12.
Furthermore, women are equally demonstrated as recipients of miracles and workers of good works. A woman, Tabitha, is even raised from the dead. This woman is spoken of with the term disciple, and is told to have been very charitable – Acts 9:36, 40. Another woman, Mary, is seen as instrumental in providing her house as a meeting place for the church – Acts 12:12.
Perhaps the most blatant work a woman is shown to have done for the church is to correct Apollos, an experienced public speaker, in his understanding of Christian doctrine. Pricilla and Aquila, wife and husband, are both seen to be involved in the correction of Apollos, but the order of names as written in Acts names Pricilla first, seemingly giving her the prominent position in the act of correction – Acts 18:24, 26.
Alongside the positive light Acts places upon women next to the men, the book also presents women as equal in persecution received and given. Saul is seen to have given no preferential treatment to women over men when he persecuted the church, but punishing them both – Acts 22:4. On the other hand, women of high status are shown just as involved as the “chief men” in persecution of the apostles – Acts 13:50.
There are a few more examples that could be pulled from Acts, and many more thoughts that could be discussed relating to the presentation of women in the book of Acts. However, further consideration will not fit within the context of this post, so I leave readers with my personal dilemma. If we believe today that the role of women is to be limited in the church, are we missing the message of equality presented in the book of Acts?
1. Aside from the all male apostolic leadership which would be understood to place them by office above the status of even the other males.
This blog article was originally written as part of the course “The Book of Acts,” at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. You can audit the course or talk to us about starting your own journey at Trinity today by filling out the evaluation form to the right of this article.