There seems to be much discussion about the place of women in the church, that is, what women can and cannot do. From the entirety of Scripture, there is much more evidence to support the fact that women CAN MINISTER in any and all capacities. This is primarily based on the fact of the empowering of the Holy Spirit upon individuals.
This article will consider how the impact of the Holy Spirit upon the Jews and the Gentiles as recorded by Luke, in the Book of Acts, can inform us today. Luke’s account provides foundational support for both women and men to be called of God, anointed and empowered for pertinent Christian ministry in the church and in the world.
Let us examine Acts 2, 10, and 11 and glean from these passages some pertinent truths of what Luke was intending for his readers to understand and to practice.
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Acts 2—The Believing Jews and Pentecost
So, what was the point of the Day of Pentecost when it comes to ‘how’ women should function in the church today? Obviously it was a significant day in the cycle of Jewish feasts—which pointed to spiritual realties that would come. It is not hard to understand the implications of the Passover. Fifty days after the Passover celebration, came the Feast of Pentecost in the Jewish calendar.
Details after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ are found in the Book of Acts. Though the disciples were living in the joy of seeing their Lord raised from the dead, talking and eating with him again, they also followed through on what they were told to do next, after his ascension: To wait and to expect, as a community of Christ followers, in order to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
I am sure that they wondered what this could mean, but they had the promise, both from the Scriptures and the words of Jesus, himself, that this would be their personal experience. This was the time of huge change—since Christ had come in the flesh and had completed what he was sent to do. In our context, we could ask: Was this Acts 2 event/experience to be only for the apostles, only for the converted male followers of Christ, or was this ‘promise’ for ALL of God’s people–which included women and maybe children too?
Who Was Gathered in the Upper Room?
We read from Acts 1:12-14 that a group of about 120 gathered in a designated place. Many from Jesus’ family were there too. Both women and men gathered together to pray, to wait, and to expect. Notice Peter’s salutation to them when they considered appointing someone to fill the position of Judas.
“12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.”
When the Day of Pentecost had come, Luke records in Acts 2 that:
“All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”
Moving Out into the Open
As this group found their way outdoors, those gathered in Jerusalem at that time were perplexed at the phenomena that they were witnessing–and some even ridiculed them.
Peter wasted no time to clarify what exactly was going on. He based his explanation on a familiar passage to them, found in Joel 2.
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. . . .
22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
Peter gave witness to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and verified the basis for what was happening:
“32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.”
What Jesus told them, based on the OT and NT promises was now being fulfilled—before their very eyes. There was no longer any waiting. Men and women, who had trusted that Jesus was the Messiah of God, were the recipients of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on this Day of Pentecost. There was no going back to the ways that things had been shaped by Jewish culture, based on the OT Scriptures.
A New Era Had Begun!
A new era had unfolded and those who gathered on this day were the first fruits of many more men and women who would boldly declare the Gospel message to many nations. It is quite obvious, from a biblical perspective, that the reader of the Acts account should be able to factor in that women were included and that women have a place in ANY and ALL ministry in the Church today–since the day of this significant outpouring!
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Acts 10 and 11—The Gentiles are Included
To continue with our look at the inclusion of women in the Book of Acts, let us consider the account of Peter going to the house of Cornelius and what transpired there. This lengthy account can be found in Acts 10 and 11.
For the Apostle Peter, to be called and commanded to go to the home of a Gentile was quite a big deal for any serious Jew. It was by direct revelation to this spiritual leader in the early church that this was the divine will of Yahweh.
We are familiar with Peter’s lunchtime vision about the unclean animals. We are intrigued as we recognize the unique timing—at the same instant as his vision, the three men sent by Cornelius, were at Peter’s door. Peter could not avoid going with these men to the centurion’s home. Even still, it was so far out of cultural norms that this story needed to be explained more than once by Luke–in order for the readers to get the full impact of what was so cross-culturally taboo for a Jew to even think of doing. The reader watches this story unfold, blow by blow.
It is noteworthy that Cornelius was expecting them. In fact, he had called together his relatives and close friends to be assembled there upon their arrival. Upon entering this home, there was a large gathering of people—also waiting and expectant—as to what this Jew might say to them.
From his Jewish perspective, Peter made this significant statement before them all: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” (10:28)
Cornelius described his angelic visit. From that report, it solidified Peter’s response which confirmed what he now realized: “. . . God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” From there Peter rehearsed pertinent Jewish history and tied together the recent events regarding Jesus of Nazareth, and established that HE was indeed: God’s Anointed One.
Peter affirmed that: “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Right in the Middle of Peter’s Sermon!!
What happens next arrests the reader and demonstrates that what had happened to the believers on the Day of Pentecost was indeed happening right here and right now in this Gentile home!
“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. 46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.”
Just as on the Day of Pentecost, Peter gave voice to what had just happened to his fellow Jews. Here again, Peter acknowledged what exactly was happening among these Gentiles. “Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”
Peter Now on the Red Carpet
In chapter 11, we read how Peter had to defend his actions after being rebuked by fellow believers for having overstepped Jewish cultural boundaries. “So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Peter had to rehearse the entire story about his vision and about the angelic encounter of Cornelius.
Peter emphasized the fact again that the ‘voice’ that spoke from heaven made it clear that he was NOT to ‘call anything impure’ that God, himself, had made clean. Peter words, recorded by Luke, endorsed again what the message was: “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”
With those words, there was no more need to defend this multi-ethnic situation any longer. There were no further protests and praise was given to God!
“When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Again the teaching from Acts 10 and 11 is clear. Though Peter was slow to grasp the full message—that the Holy Spirit had come upon all, not just the Jews–he eventually got it, at least this time. This account of the significance of the coming of the Spirit upon those gathered in the home of Cornelius, underscores again that the Spirit ‘came upon ALL’—both men and women assembled there.
The Gentiles heard the Gospel and in their hearing and receiving the impact of the Good News, they were empowered by the Holy Spirit–identically as the believers waiting in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. Luke’s thorough description of this event in Acts highlights the empowering of the Spirit upon all who believe!
In summary, we see that a host of both Jewish and Gentile men and women were filled with the precious Holy Spirit beginning with these two momentous events. It was God’s timing for change and for the new era of the Spirit to commence. We can thoughtfully conclude that: there are no restrictions between the calling of women or men today–to fulfill all that God calls them to be and to do in His Kingdom!
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For Further Reflection
How did the early church deal with the challenge of including Gentiles into the church? What were the criteria that they used to establish that the Gentiles were ‘worthy’ of inclusion in the church—that is, the Redeemed Community of God’s people?
Acts 15 gives details of the sharp dispute regarding the inclusion of the Gentiles as believers by teaching them that it was imperative that they be circumcised, “according to the custom taught by Moses” OR they could not be saved!
From this passage we see that there was strong contention about this crucial and Jewish traditional issue. We also observe how the early church dealt with such strong controversy. It was a time of huge change and the leaders of the church needed the wisdom from God, patience, tenacity, and the witness of both the Word and the experience of their ‘sent forth’ ones to establish any purposeful change.
We listen in on the Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15:
“Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.
5 Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”
6 The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:
16 “‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, 17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’ 18 things known from long ago.
19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
From all of the contributors to this tense situation, we observe the following:
- Peter verified from the Scripture and from his own recent life experience that God accepted the Gentiles–since the evidence was that they had received the filling of the Holy Spirit ‘exactly as they had’ on the Day of Pentecost.
- Barnabas and Paul also recounted their experiences of the signs and wonders that God had done among the Gentiles through them from their recent missionary adventures.
- When Barnabas and Paul had finished, James spoke up. James confirmed Peter’s description that “God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles.” James also pointed them to the words of the prophets which were in agreement with this.
To conclude, these chosen leaders proved by the Old Testament Scriptures, the very words of the prophets, and the verifiable recent life experiences of Peter, Barnabas, and Paul on the frontlines of mission that this was God’s divine will. They corroborated how the Gentiles were filled with the Holy Spirit and signs and wonders were done among the Gentiles–as a further witness to God’s working among them. All of these factors pointed to the need to no longer carry on the ‘Moses’ tradition’ of circumcision.
Instead, there were four main guidelines instituted for the discipling of the Gentiles after their conversion to Christ. A letter was written and taken to the church at Antioch by Paul, Barnabas, Judas, and Silas.
That which had been done for centuries by the Jews–to show their covenant devotion to the words of Moses and Yahweh’s Law–was now set aside since there was a new season of the Spirit’s visitation in the lives of Jews and Gentiles. This became the new path for followers of the Christ, the Son of God.
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Two sites which provide Free Articles for personal research are: Christians for Biblical Equality and God’s Word to Women.
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© 2015 Barb Orlowski, D.Min.