Did the coming of the Holy Spirit change the role of women in the family and in church? This article shows that the distinction between male and female roles is maintained throughout the New Testament.

Source: Diakonia, 1991. 2 pages.

Pentecost: The Role of Women in the Church

On the day of Pentecost, God's Spirit was poured out equally upon men and women. Joel's prophecy was fulfilled,

Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy .... and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.Acts 2:17-18

Does this mean that women have exactly the same role of preaching the Word in the New Testament age as men have?

Pentecost was the coming of the Comforter whom Christ had promised would come as a consequence of His death and Ascension to heaven (e.g. John 16:7). The Holy Spirit was not, however, for a select few, an elite; rather He was poured out upon and indwelt every believer. "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:4). Paul, indeed, says that if any do not have the Spirit of Christ they do not belong to Christ. Pentecost was a redemptive-historical event as important for women as for men. The signs of the coming of the Spirit were the sound as of the rushing mighty wind, cloven tongues as of fire resting upon each of them, and their all speaking with other tongues (Acts 2:2-4).

This speaking with other tongues Peter identi­fies with prophecy in verse 17,

I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh: And your sons and your daugh­ters shall prophesy.

All the one hundred and twenty disciples, male and female, received the Spirit and the accompanying signs. They spoke of the salvation of God in the different languages of the foreigners who were present. They were prophets in that they had direct supernatural revelation and proclaimed it to others. All Christians must be as the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), showing others the way of salvation. These early believers, by the illumination and revelation of the Spirit who now dwelt in them, understood the gospel as they had never understood it before and so began to share their understanding with the ignorant around them. There are no barriers between male and female in Christ. They both receive redemption in Christ, the gift of the Spirit, and the revelation of the truth. Both are equally to be God's witnesses testifying concerning Him. However, when it comes to the public preaching, a distinction is drawn between the leaders and the others. It is Peter and the eleven who stand up to preach, i.e. men not women (verse 14).

With the arrival of the new dispensation on the day of Pentecost, considerable changes occurred in the practice of religion for both men and women.

Most significant of all, is, of course, the abolition of the Levitical priesthood and the new priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5, 9). Now, all believers, men and women, have direct access to God through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:16). Circumcision, which could only be administered to males, was the sign of the covenant under the old dispensation. It has now been replaced by baptism which is administered to men and women (see Acts 16:15). The Levitical laws on uncleanness constituted the woman unclean for a large section of her life. Following the birth of a girl the mother would be unclean for much longer than following the birth of a boy (Leviticus 12). Now these laws had passed away allowing continual freedom of worship to both man and woman in the fellowship of the congregation. Just as Pentecost instituted the priesthood of all believers, so also it constituted them prophets and kings (1 Peter 2:9).

But ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that ye may show forth the excellence of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.1 Peter 2:9

As royal or kingly priests, all believers are at present reigning with Christ although the fullness of this reigning will only be in the life to come.

Their office is to mediate the divine power and blessing to all mankind. The prophetic function of all believers is also closely connected with the priestly and kingly functions and entails showing for "the excellencies of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Peter 2:9). We have already seen men and women on the day of Pentecost receiving the Spirit and exercising this prophetic function. As ambassadors of the Great King they proclaim His will to unkind. In these early days of transition from the old to the new economy of redemption, supernatural gifts often manifested themselves in connection with the exercise of the prophetic office, e.g. the speaking in other languages in Acts 2. These supernatural gifts were necessary in order that God's will would be known since the New Testament was not as yet written, and also as God's attestation to the truth of the gospel. Both men and women had these gifts because in the New Testament dispensation all believers must act as the prophets of God. In Acts 21:9 we are told that Philip had four virgin daughters who prophesied. However, al­though all believers have a teaching function, not all of them are called by God to be preachers. Paul asks the question "How shall they preach except they be sent?" (Romans 10:15). The doctrine of the prophethood and the priesthood of all believers is irrelevant in discussing who should be rulers and teachers in the church. Ordination does not admit one to the priesthood of be­lievers, nor does the withholding of ordination exclude one from it.

Although fantastic changes took place at Pentecost, yet the God-ordained pattern of male/female relationships which existed in the garden of Eden was not changed. The rest of the New Testament shows clearly that the man continued to be the head of his wife and males, not females, ruled and led in the worship of the church.

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