February 2007


Priscilla and Aquila:  Models of Equality and Submission In Marriage and Ministry

Romans 16:3-5

By

William Dwight McKissic

 

Romans chapter 16 (sixteen) reveals the fact that there was a husband-wife missionary team in the early church who held a warm spot in the heart of the Apostle Paul.  After Paul expressed a word of commendation to the Roman Church concerning the bearer of the Roman Epistle (Phoebe), he then expressed greetings to twenty-six persons by name.  It is interesting to note that the first persons Paul sent greeting to in the Roman congregation was a woman by the name of Priscilla and her husband Aquila.  Paul expressed greetings and appreciation to Priscilla and Aquila because they were fellow workers, risk takers and cross-cultural missionaries.  Priscilla and Aquila enjoyed and experienced a healthy marriage and successful ministry because of their commitment to cross-gender equality and mutual submission.  Couples in ministry today would do well to model their marriages and ministry after Priscilla and Aquila. 

Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned six times in the New Testament (Acts 18:2, 18,26; Romans 16:3; I Corinthians 16:19; II Timothy 4:19). The two are always mentioned together.  This suggests to me that couples in ministry ought to work so closely together that you can’t hardly mention one without mentioning the other.  Three times where their names are mentioned, Priscilla’s name is mentioned first (Acts 18:18; Romans 16:3; and II Timothy 4:19).  The other three times where their names are mentioned Aquila is mentioned first (Acts 18:2, 26; I Corinthians 16:19). 

Priscilla must of played a prominent role in the life of the early church and in the ministry that she shared with her husband because it was most unusual for a wife’s name to be mentioned before her husband’s name in the Greco-Roman world.  Both Luke ( the author of Acts) and Paul mentioned Priscilla’s name before Aquila.  There are three reasons commentators give for Priscilla’s name being mentioned first:  (1) Some speculate that she was converted before Aquila (2) Some say she was from an aristocratic prominent family in Rome (Her name seems to inidciate this).  (3) Her contributions to the early church were equal to or greater than Aquila.  Whatever the reasons were, it is significant, noteworthy and most unusal for a woman’s name to be mentioned before her husbands at this juncture in history. 

Paul greeted this couple as his “fellow workers.”  Paul shared a common secular profession with this couple.  They all were tentmakers (Acts 18:3).  Paul shared a common religious faith with this couple.  They were all “in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16:3).  They all shared a common ministry and sometimes traveled and ministered together (Acts 18:18).  Paul called them fellow workers.  They were workers not shirkers.  Priscilla and Aquila together taught Appolos a deeper understanding of their house at Ephesus (I Corinthians 16:19) and at Rome (Romans 16:5).  This was long before the days when there was any such thing as a church building.  Aquila and Priscilla’s home served as a meeting place for a group of Christian folk.  They housed Paul in their home at Corinth (Acts 18:3) and instructed Appolos in private, perhaps at their home in Ephesus (Acts 18:26).  Priscilla and Aquila sent “heartily” greetings by Paul to the Christians at Corinth.  Paul said this couple risked their necks for his life.  Perhaps this was associated with the riot at Ephesus (Acts 19:21-41).  Aquila was Jew (Acts 18:2) and probably Priscilla as well.  Yet, they were able to reach the gentiles for Christ. 

It is quite obvious that Priscilla played a prominent role in the early church as a missionary, teacher, co-host, and leader of the church in her house.  She was a “fellow worker”of Paul.  One thing is for certain.  She didn’t operate independent of Aquila.  Nor did Aquila operate independent of her.  They were co-equals and mutully submissive.  Therefore, they enjoyed a successful marriage and ministry. 

Priscilla, was afforded an opportunity to function with great freedom in ministry because she was empowered by her husband and supportive and submissive to him.  Paul said with regard to church corporate gatherings, “that the head of every man is Chist and the head of woman is man and the head of Christ is God” (I Corinthians 11:3).  Although Jesus was equal with God, He didn’t mind submitting to God (Philippians 2:5-8) so that there wouldn’t be conflict in the “godhead”.

In order for there not to be conflict in the church and in the home, God has granted a constitution for the church and the home and given the headship to the husband or male in the home and in the church.  Aquila and Priscilla are great models for how homes and churches can operate with equality and submission for the unity of the church and home.  The roles of elders and Senior pastors according to I Timothy 3:1-7 has been assigned to males.  However, the biblical principle of mutual submission in interpersonal relationships and the example of Priscilla and Aquila dictates that males in leadership in home and in the church would be wise to empower and release the gifted and godly sisters that God has given to the church for the maximum impact on the church and community (Ephesians 5:21; I Peter 5:5).

In conclusion, there are at least seven lessons couples in ministry can learn from Priscilla and Aquila.  

(1) Spend time in the company of an experienced minister (Paul). 

(2) Spend time sharing with a lesser-experienced minister (Appolos).

(3) Do ministry where you can when you can (in a house).

(4) Greet people heartily (I Corinthians 16:19).

(5) If unmarried pray for a ministry partner.

(6) Your mate can make or break your ministry. 

(7) Minister across socio-economic – ethnic lines.

(8) Put your neck on the line for ministry (Fight for the faith).

Questions Concerning Women in Ministry

By

William Dwight McKissic, Pastor

Paul and Phoebe:  Partners In Ministry

Romans 16:1,2 

Note:  This is the second question addressed in a three part series concerning women in ministry.  Today’s message addresses the question can women serve as deacons in light of the Pauline requirement that deacons be the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:12).

Romans chapter sixteen (16) reveals tremendous insights into the life of the Apostle Paul, the lives of early Christians, and into the nature and character of the first century church.  There are thirty-five persons listed in Romans chapter sixteen (16).  Twenty-seven (27) men and eight (8) women.  At the top of the list is a woman named Phoebe.  Phoebe distinguished herself in early church history as a deacon in her local church, a devoted assistant to Paul, and a helper to many.  Paul instructed the Roman Christians to receive and assist Phoebe in a hospitable, holy and honored manner because of her service and stature in the body of Christ.  If the twenty-first century church is going to impact society, as did the first century church, we need not only modern day “Pauls” today’s church also needs “Phoebes”. 

Paul wrote the Roman epistle from Corinth about A.D. 57.  Phoebe was a resident of Cenchrea.  Cenchrea was a neighboring port city of Corinth.  Acts 18:11 tells us that Paul stayed in Corinth a year and six months, “teaching the word of God among them”.  During this period Paul became acquainted with a lady named Phoebe.  The Lord said to Paul in Acts 18:10 that he had many people in Corinth.  Phoebe was one of those people in the neighboring port city of Cenchrea.  During Paul’s stay at Corinth, he penned this epistle to the Romans and he asked Phoebe to physically carry this letter from Corinth to Rome.

There were, of course, no copier or carbon paper in those days, and even the simplest writing materials were very expensive.  Paul knew that his writings were the Word of God (1 Corinthians 2:6,7,12,13).  Peter recognized Paul’s writings as the Word of God (II Peter 3:5, 16).  Paul knew that the journey from Corinth to Rome would not be easy, and would involve considerable sea as well as land travel.  There was a public mail system in the Roman Empire that was very slow.  Paul did not trust transportation of this epistle to the Roman Post Office.  He would only place this letter in the hands of the most reliable of persons and that person was a woman named Phoebe.  The name Phoebe means “bright and radiant,” and from Paul’s brief comments about her, it seems that those words characterize her personality and her Christian life.  Paul wrote this epistle.  Phoebe carried this epistle.  After Paul wrote this epistle from Corinth he handed it to Phoebe and he was headed to Jerusalem (Romans 15:25) to minister to the saints.  Phoebe headed to Rome to deliver this letter and conduct business.  In order that she may be properly received, Paul wrote her these brief words of commendation.

First of all, Paul tells the Roman Christians that, “I commend to you Phoebe our sister.”  To refer to Phoebe as our sister meantthat she was a devoted member of the family of God and the context makes clear that she was very dear to Paul.  Paul commended her as a sister in the Lord.

Secondly, Paul commended her as a “servant of the church in Cenchrea.”  The word “servant” here translates “diakonos” the term from which we get the word “deacon.”  This is the same term used in Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8, 12.  The Revised Standard Version of the Bible translates this word in Romans 16:1 as “deaconess.”  According to John McCarthur, there was no such word in the Greek language as “deaconess;” the masculine form of “diakonos” was used of both men and women.  This term “deaconess” evolved in post-biblical Greek to refer to female deacons.  Paul’s language in Romans 16:1 suggests that Phoebe was a church official in her congregation at Cenchrea.  We know from church history that females served as deacons in the early church of the first and second centuries. 

In 1 Timothy 3:12, Paul said that a deacon must be the husband of one wife.  Doesn’t this mean that a woman can’t be a deacon?  Paul is discussing church leadership in 1 Timothy 3:1-13.  In his discussion of bishops, pastor or elders there was no mention of wives or women (1 Timothy 3:1-7).  In his discussion of deacons in verse eleven: (1) In a discussion of church leadership, Paul initiates the discussion of female leadership with the term “likewise”.  Likewise is a key transition word that serves to introduce a new category within the over all topic of church leaders.  In addition to elders/bishops/pastors and male deacons, the term “likewise” argues strongly for seeing a distinct third group who are discussed within the context of male deacons.  (2) The Greek word translated “wives” in verse eleven (11) literally means women.  There was no way to say “deaconess” in the Greek language.  The only way Paul could distinguish them from male deacons was to refer to them as women.  (3) Paul gave no qualifications for elders wives, why would he state qualifications for deacon wives?  (4) The qualification for the women paralleled the qualifications for men.  They held the same office; therefore they had similiar qualifications.  (In the Roman world men were allowed to have more than one wife.  Females were not allowed to have more than one husband.  That explains why Paul restricted the men to one wife, but did not restrict the women to one husband.) 

The fact that Phoebe was identified as a deacon of the church at Cenchrea clearly reveals that the early church had female deacons.  Paul told the Romans to receive Deacon Phoebe for truly she was his sister in the Lord and co-laborer in the ministry.  Paul wanted the Romans to treat Phoebe with respect and dignity.  The church ought to be in the welcoming business.  Phoebe was not only going to Rome to deliver the Roman epistle; she was also going to conduct business (perhaps for Paul) in Rome.  Paul told the Romans to assist her.  Paul commended her to the Romans not only as a sister, and a servant but also as helper…”for indeed she has been a helper of many of myself also.”  Women can and should serve as deacons or deaconesses in the local church.  Why?  Because the success of the church’s ministry not only requires a Paul, the church also needs Phoebe.  

Questions Concerning Women in Ministry

Part I

William Dwight McKissic, Sr., Senior Pastor

Cornerstone Baptist Church

5415 Matlock Rd.

Arlington, TX 76018

817-468-0083

This is the first of three consecutive posts that I plan to present regarding women in ministry.

Q. Does I Timothy 2:12 preclude women from preaching or teaching in a public worship service, or a seminary classroom?

A. The Apostle Paul stated in I Timothy 2:12, “and I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence” (NKJV). The Bible clearly teaches that when the church comes together for corporate worship, the general rule and practice is that the ministry of teaching/preaching is to be in the hands of men. Specifically, the elder(s), bishop or pastor of a congregation was primarily responsible for disseminating scripture to the church in public worship (I Timothy 3:2-7; 5:17; Titus 1:7-9, I Peter 5:1-4). The elders, bishops and pastors in scripture were always male (I Timothy 3:1, 2). 

However, does the fact that preaching and teaching in corporate worship (biblically speaking) is primarily in the hands of men mean that women cannot ever under any circumstances exercise the spiritual gifts of prophecy (preaching), teaching, exhortation or evangelism in corporate worship to edify the body? If a woman gifted of the Holy Spirit with the gift of proclamation or teaching, uses her gift (assuming she’s married) with permission from her head (her husband) and at the discretion and invitation of the bishop, elder or pastor of a local church will she be in violation of I Timothy 2:12? ABSOLUTELY NOT.

Spiritual gifts are not given according to gender (I Corinthians 12:7). They are given according to God’s grace and sovereign will. The God of all grace (I Peter 5:10) anoints, gifts and equips women with supernatural abilities to minister just as He does men. Therefore women should be allowed to exercise these gifts in a local assembly at the discretion of the pastor – the same way in which gifted men in the congregation or outside of the congregation are given an opportunity to exercise their spiritual gifts of proclamation and teaching by invitation of the pastor.

There are two New Testament examples of women exercising proclamation and teaching gifts that illustrate my point. In I Corinthians 11:3-16, the same Paul who wrote I Timothy 2:12 says that it is perfectly permissible for a woman to prophesy or pray in a corporate worship setting with her head covered. Surely if Paul intended for his instruction in I Timothy 2:12 to have been an absolute injunction against women teaching or preaching in a corporate worship setting or a seminary – he would not have written affirmatively about women prophesying (preaching – expounding and proclaiming God’s truth – edifying, exhorting and comforting according to I Corinthians 14:3) in a public worship setting with her head covered. Men most certainly were present in this Corinthian assembly, that’s why it was necessary for the woman prophesying (preaching) to have her head covered as a symbol that she was under authority (I Corinthians11:10). Had men not been present the head covering would have been unnecessary. In our culture, a woman’s head being covered does not represent or symbolize that she’s under authority. If so, I would believe it would be necessary for women who address a public assembly to still wear a head covering. In the Middle Eastern culture then and now the head covering symbolized submission to authority. The principle behind the symbol remains the same – those women who address a corporate worship must do so by permission and the authority of their husband (if married) and the pastor. Furthermore, Paul permitting women to address a coed assembly defied Jewish tradition and he emphasized men and women codependence on each other in ministry (I Corinthians 11:11, 12). Twentieth Century women often read Paul’s words with disdain.  First Century women read Paul’s word with delight, because he elevated their status.

There is a second example of women addressing a corporate worship setting in Revelation 2:20-22.  Jesus is speaking in these verses. He is addressing the “angel” of the church in Thyatira. Most Bible scholars agree that the “angel” of the church was the messenger or pastor of this congregation. Jesus said to the pastor at Thyatira (Revelation 2:20-23 NKJV), “Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works.”

Jesus rebuked the “angel” (messenger – pastor) of the church at Thyatira, not for allowing a woman to teach – but for allowing her to teach false doctrine. (Men are rebuked repeatedly in the New Testament for teaching false doctrine). This woman was judged not for being a woman teacher but for failing to repent of false doctrine. If the problem at Thyatira was a woman preaching (prophesying) or teaching there is no mention of this in the text. Had the notion of a woman preaching been unacceptable to the Thyatiran congregation she would not have been allowed the opportunity to address the congregation.

Throughout the Old and New Testaments we see women exercising proclamation and teaching gifts without rebuke of their gender or doctrine. Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (II Kings 22:25), Anna (Luke 2:36) and Phillip’s daughters (Acts 21:9). Peter preached at Pentecost, “And on my men servants and on my maid servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy.”

In conclusion, since God was pleased to incorporate songs and statements by women in the Bible (Exodus 15:21; Judges 5; Luke 1:42-25, 45-46, etc.), is it improper to think that He may use women in expounding and applying His Word? Judge ye?