A Cloud of Female Witnesses: Women Leaders in the New Testament -- By: Aída Besançon Spencer

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 23:4 (Autumn 2009)
Article: A Cloud of Female Witnesses: Women Leaders in the New Testament
Author: Aída Besançon Spencer


A Cloud of Female Witnesses:
Women Leaders in the New Testament

AÍda BesanÇon Spencer

AíDA BESANçON SPENCER is Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton, Mass,. and an ordained minister of the word with the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. She has co-edited Global Voices on Biblical Equality and Marriage at the Crossroads, among other books and articles. She serves as book review editor with Priscilla Papers and is on the board of reference of Christians for Biblical Equality.

As illustrated by Lydia and the other women at Philippi, many ancient women became devout believers in the new Way (Acts 16:13-15, 17:12; Luke 23:27). God gave these women different spiritual gifts in order to equip them for leadership in the church as ministers of the word and ministers of service.

Women served as “ministers of the word” using words to preach, prophesy, evangelize, pastor, and teach others in obedience to Christ (1 Pet. 4:10-11, Acts 6:2-4, Eph. 4:11-13). Included in this category are the apostle Junia (Rom. 16:7), the prophet(ess) Anna (Luke 2:36), and teacher Priscilla (Acts 18:26). Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and Salome the mother of James and John were the first witnesses of the resurrection commissioned to tell the good news.1 Philip’s four daughters were active prophets whom Polycrates, the bishop of Ephesus, called “great luminaries” in the ancient church.2 Many women at Corinth were prophesying and praying (1 Cor. 11:5). Women elders at Crete were teaching younger women (Titus 2:3-4). Within the lifetime of the Apostle John, Governor Pliny tortured two women ministers as the leaders of a congregation in Bithynia-Pontus in Asia Minor, during the reign of Roman Emperor Trajan (a.d. 98-117).3

Women were also functioning as church overseers, the equivalents of today’s “head” pastors. The Apostle John addresses his second letter to a woman overseer and the members of her house church. Phoebe, a minister at Cenchreae, was commended by the Apostle Paul to the church at Rome, as “a woman set over others,” a “leader” over many and even over Paul (Rom. 16:1-2).You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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