The question often comes up in the church and in the minds of men and women alike: “what role do women play in the church?” While I certainly don’t suppose for a moment we can solve that question presently, perhaps we can begin to address one element of the question. In Acts 18:24-26 we encounter an under-educated Apollos teaching in the Synagogue, but only knowing “the baptism of John”. The passage reads:
Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak 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. (ESV)
I want us to notice the description Dr. Luke has for this man, Apollos. Certainly he is a man. Yet he is not just any man, but a learned man! In fact, Luke points out at least six remarkable qualities about this man. Those include eloquence, having a thorough knowledge of the scriptures, having been instructed in the way of the Lord, speaking with great fervor, being a gifted teacher (‘taught about Jesus accurately’), and he was bold. What we essentially have before us is a pastor-in-the-making, a man who is nearly finished with his seminary training, if you will.
At this point you might be wondering why we are spending so much time talking about Apollos, when after all, ‘I thought we are dealing with women’s role in the church!?’ The reason we have focused on Luke’s description of Apollos presents itself in what happens next. Priscilla and Aquila (a wife and husband team) pull this well-learned man aside privately, “and explained to him the way of God more accurately”. Many commentators on this section of Acts rightly make note of Priscilla’s name being mentioned first. Essentially all commentators who mention the importance of the name order (wife first) in some way point out that she had precedence in these interactions.
I don’t want us to miss the significance of what is going on here. A wife and husband take a missionary-to-be aside privately and more adequately train him up, that later he might be sent out by the church, and it is Priscilla who takes point in the private instruction!
At the least we can be thankful that Priscilla and Aquila don’t do what many women and men do when they find something disagreeable in the preaching — grumble about his deficiencies privately and behind his back.1 No, this loving and godly couple get the private portion right, and pull aside this (future) shepherd and constructively minister to him.
But if that is all we take away from this interchange, while we will still be the better for it, we would have missed the main application we are aiming toward. Women, like Priscilla, the church needs your voice! There are plenty of ways in the Church of Jesus Christ for you to speak, talk, correct, contribute, encourage, ask, support, admonish, bless, and thereby strengthen your hearers! These things do not require a husband to be there by your side before you may be permitted to privately communicate God’s word. Instead, the church is better when there are feminine voices speaking into one another’s lives. After all, Paul’s command in Romans 15:14 is to all in the church, not the men only.
In biblically conservative circles, there is an unspoken and implicit belief that the limitation of elders to males only, eliminates much of women’s potential speaking contributions to the people of God. But let us recall that the office of overseer is not given to all males compared with zero females. Rather, the office is limited to but a handful of certain men — the few whom Christ has called to the office. The fact that most men are not elders does not restrict them from playing a significant role and having a much needed voice among the people of God; and so it is with women in the church.
No, instead dear sister in the Lord, the church needs you. The church needs your wisdom, your moderating voice of reason, your gentle peacemaking, your private instruction to one another, and your speaking of the word of the Lord into brothers' and sisters' lives. Women, the church needs your voice; please bless us with it.
- Gordon Keddie, Acts: You Are My Witnesses, 2000 edition (EP BOOKS), 230-231.
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