Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What about Priscilla?

“Does God allow women to teach?” she asked, looking to me for clarity.

This bright, gifted college student was being trained to join a church planting team in France, and she wanted to fully play her part. Through her training she discovered a preaching gift, but she wasn’t sure what to do with it. As a pastor’s daughter, she had been bathed in the faith since infancy; yet, questions like this one remained unanswered. Taboo.

“Does God allow women to teach?”

It’s a question that I, too, have been forced to wrestle with since moving to France. In the States I kept plenty busy using my preaching gift in the realm of women’s ministries, which is generally not controversial. But since moving to France, where there really is no such thing as “women’s ministries,” I’ve been asked to preach or teach to mixed-gender groups. That is to say, when I preach in church these days, both men and women are present. And we have lost one supporter due to this fact—a man who wrote to tell us that God does not allow women to teach men.

I wish I could be so sure.

Again, scholars—experts who love Jesus with all of their hearts—have studied the scriptures pertaining to this subject and come to different conclusions. I, too, delve into the Word of God, seeking wisdom, guidance and truth. While my questions are clear, the answers are not so simple. However, I have discovered a few insights that help me to make my way.

At the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans, right after he commends Phoebe, Paul sends greetings to his friends Priscilla and Aquila:
 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house.

Priscilla is a married woman who is mentioned six times in the New Testament, always with her husband Aquila.  Four of the times that they are mentioned, Priscilla’s name comes first—a detail that carried significance, as it was contrary to standard practice.  According to the New American Commentary on Acts, “That she is usually mentioned before her husband is indeed remarkable for first century usage but probably is less due to her social status than to her prominence in Christian circles.”

Priscilla and Aquila make their Biblical debut in Acts 18, where they are identified as tentmakers who worked alongside Paul both in vocation and in ministry. Later in that same chapter, they teach a man named Apollos. Apollos was a highly educated man from Alexandria who knew the way of the Lord and spoke boldly and accurately about Jesus. Priscilla and Aquila recognized that he had a gift, but they also noticed some minor faults in his theology concerning baptism. So they invited Apollos to their home and taught him the truth. Luke writes this in Acts 18:26:

He [Apollos] began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

Apollos went on to become a powerful preacher and evangelist, due in part to his humble acceptance of the teaching that he received from Priscilla and Aquila.  

The New American Commentary on Acts says, “It is noteworthy that Priscilla took an equal role with her husband in further instructing Apollos.” In other words, everything in the passage, including the phrasing in the original Greek, indicates that the teaching of Apollos was a joint effort, shared by husband and wife.

In the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul sends heartfelt greetings and expressions of gratitude to his friends Priscilla and Aquila, calling them both his “co-workers,” which I imagine was a double entendre. So when people say that in 1 Timothy 2:12 Paul strictly forbids women to teach men, I have to ask, “What about Priscilla?”

Tune in next week when I ask, "What about Junia?" 

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