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Women's Exemplary Roles
Doing What?   

Q. I read your articles on biblical feminism and related issues. I agree with you about the Bible being God's Word. So what can women do? If they can't preach in a conservative church and they should just stay home and raise kids, then what's left?


There are many things women can do - even within strictly conservative denominations. As far as I can tell there are needs and requirements for many positions within church offices, private Christian schools and other venues.

For example, there are jobs such as the use of administrative skills, business skills, secondary teaching abilities, ministries to other women, a need for trained writers and seminar speakers, social workers and social services, musicians and other jobs related to church activities - just about anything but serving as a pastor/teacher who holds authority over men within fundamentalists groups. One can always seek out churches less restrictive to women, too, although they may be difficult to find in rural areas.

Phoebe the Deacon

There are many biblical examples of how women served in the early church and many books available in bookstores on this subject (see one recommendation in our Sources, for example).

To illustrate, Phoebe was a "deacon" in the church at Cenchrea. Romans 16:1-2 says, "Our sister Phoebe, a deacon in the church in Cenchrea, will be coming to see you soon. Receive her in the Lord, as one who is worthy of high honor. Help her in every way you can, for she has helped many in their needs, including me" (NLT).

The word for "deacon" means servant and helper. Apparently, Phoebe was wealthy and assisted Paul financially. She may have been enlisted to deliver the letter from Corinth to the church in Rome.

According to MacArthur, women servants "cared for sick believers, the poor, strangers, and those in prison. They instructed the women and children (cf. Titus 2:3-5). Whether Phoebe had an official title or not, she had the great responsibility of delivering this letter to the Roman church. (MacArthur Study Bible 1996, 1723).

Men Waiting Tables?

Just in case you feel this is "sexist," the hero and martyr Stephen who gave one of the best summaries of Old Testament history as it relates to the Christian faith, was one of the seven chosen in Acts chapter 6 to help serve tables. Stephen was chosen to manage food distribution!

Ministry of Food Distribution

This was an important ministry due to the social stigma against Christians manifested by outsiders against the early church. Believers were thrown out of their community and families. They had nothing to eat and no shelter. Believers were needed to help these outcasts with food and other services. The apostles didn't want to spend their time serving food:

Apostles had Better things to Do?

"We apostles should spend our time preaching and teaching the Word of God, not administering a food program," they said. "Now look around among yourselves, brothers, and select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom. We will put them in charge of this business. Then we can spend our time in prayer and preaching and teaching the word" (Acts 6:2-4, NLT).

Social Services - Social Workers

Amazingly, the story goes on to say that "This idea pleased the whole group, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (a Gentile convert to the Jewish faith, who had now become a Christian). These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them" (Acts 6:5-6, NLT).

Yet, the "social worker," Stephen, became the first martyr in the church. Stephen had become so much like Jesus that his last words were,

"Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And he fell to his knees, shouting, 'Lord, don't charge them with this sin!' And with that, he died" (Acts 7:59-60, NLT).

Think about this story the next time you feel that jobs other than pastoring a church are unimportant! Saul of Tarsus (who later became the apostle Paul) was enraged by Stephen's powerful speech and teachings. Stephen was filled with faith, wisdom, grace - and this infuriated Saul. But, Stephen's ministry may have affected Paul's later conversion in ways we cannot know (yet).

Anna the Prophet

Anna is another example of a productive female. Luke 2:36-38 says,

"Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, and was very old. She was a widow, for her husband had died when they had been married only seven years. She was now eighty-four years old. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about Jesus to everyone who had been waiting for the promised King to come and deliver Jerusalem."

Anna was among the first to witness about Jesus to the Jewish community. It doesn't appear that Anna languished at home cooking and cleaning and raising children. She was a widow who devoted herself to prayer and fasting in the Temple.

As an aside, a prophetess "refers to a woman who spoke God's Word. She was a teacher of the Old Testament, not a source of new revelation. The Old Testament mentions only three women who prophesied: Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14&2 Chronicles 34:22). Rabbinical tradition also regarded Sarah, Hannah, Abigail, and Esther as prophetesses" (MacArthur 1996, 1516).

The Virtuous Wife of Proverbs 31

Finally, Proverbs 31 gives a complete description of the "virtuous" wife. The Life Application study notes suggest:

…"some people have the mistaken idea that the ideal woman in the Bible is retiring, servile, and entirely domestic. Not so! This woman is an excellent wife and mother. She is also a manufacturer, importer, manager, realtor, farmer, seamstress, upholsterer, and merchant. Her strength and dignity do not come from her amazing achievements, however. They are a result of her reverence for God. In our society, where physical appearance counts for so much, it may surprise us to realize that her appearance is never mentioned. Her attractiveness comes entirely from her character."

The study notes continue:

"The woman described in this chapter has outstanding abilities. Her family's social position is high. In fact, she may not be one woman at all - she may be a composite portrait of ideal womanhood. Do not see her as a model to imitate in every detail. Your days are not long enough to do everything she does! See her instead as an inspiration to be all you can be. We can't be just like her, but we can learn from her industry, integrity, and resourcefulness."

(Life Application Study Bible 1996, 1289).

Zondervan's study notes conclude:

"The epilogue is an acrostic poem (each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet) praising the 'virtuous woman' (v. 10). It corresponds to 1:1-7 (the prologue) as it describes a "woman that feareth the Lord" (v. 30). Such a wife is almost a personification of wisdom. Like wisdom, 'her price is far above rubies (v. 10, 3:15, 8:11), and he who finds her 'obtains favor of the Lord'" (8:35, 18:22).


References&Recommended Books:

Duncan, J. Ligon and Susan Hunt. 2006. Women's ministry in the local church. Wheaton, ILL: Crossway.

Life Application Study Bible, New Living Translation. 1996. Wheaton, ILL: Tyndale.

MacArthur Study Bible, NKJV. 1997. Nashville, TN: Nelson.

Witherington III, Ben. 1989. Women in the earliest churches. NY: Cambridge Univ. Press.

—-1990. Women and the genesis of Christianity. NY: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Zondervan KJV Study Bible. 2002. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Author Valorie Mays Emilio holds an MA in History from UCLA focusing upon Christian origins, and a V.O.M. Certificate in Persecuted Church Ministries from Oklahoma Wesleyan University. Ken Emilio earned an MA in Biblical Studies from Louisiana Baptist University.

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