The Labor of Women in the Gospel

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Questions frequently come to us respecting woman’s place in the gospel, and we have not attempted to answer them all in the question department. The darkness of the apostasy has left such a great shadow over the minds of the sectarian world, and tradition has blinded the minds of many honest souls who might have understood the truth on this subject were it not for these things. We will view this subject first from the positive side and then from the negative. Let us call upon the prophet and have him as the first witness.


“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.” Joel 2:28, 29. At the ushering in of the Holy Spirit dispensation the apostle Peter declared this scripture was then being fulfilled. “But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judea, and ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words: for these are not drunken, as ye suppose, seeing it is but the third hour of the day. But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” Acts 2:14-18. Women were there. “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.” Acts 1:14.


They had taken part in the prayer and in the supplications, and were in one accord with the rest when the Holy Spirit was given. “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost,” the women with the rest. The gift of the Spirit was poured out upon all alike. “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.” “And they began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language.” Acts 2:4-6. With the gift of tongues they were able to speak in the different languages, but what did they speak? Now let the hearers tell what they said: “We do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God.” Verse 11. In speaking with tongues and prophesying they told of the wonderful works of God. Their worship was public. “Prayers and supplications” were public; their prophesying and speaking with tongues was public also; the multitude heard them


And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.” Acts 18:24-26. Aquila and Priscilla, though husband and wife, both were gospel workers, and, laboring together, instructed this eloquent preacher into the way of God more perfectly. They were gifted teachers but did this privately, or in their own home. Each of them possessed the gift and nobly exercised the same. In the original, the name of Priscilla comes before that of Aquila and they are given in that order in the Revised Version. Priscilla was the wife, but she evidently took the initiative in this case.


“And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.” Acts 21:8, 9. Philip’s four daughters did prophesy; Luke says they did, who dare say they did not? Paul in the fourteenth chapter of first Corinthians, exhorts the members of the church to seek the gift of prophecy for the edifying of the church: and, speaking to those having the gift, he says, “Ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.” Paul defines the term “prophesy” by saying, “But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” 1 Cor. 14:3. In this chapter prophecy is numbered with the gifts of the Spirit. The same thought is brought out in the following texts: “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation.” Rom. 12:6-8. Teaching, exhortation, and prophecy are gifts. In order to teach, we need the gift of teaching; to exhort, we must have the gift of exhortation; and to prophesy, we need the gift of prophecy. The daughters of Philip had this gift and possessed grace enough to use it.


Inasmuch as edification, exhortation, and comfort are in this gift of prophecy, it might be profitable to analyze it. In connection with this analysis, bear in mind that the prophet of the Old Testament, Joel, by name, said: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,” and “on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.” Thereby women were to become laborers in the gospel.


1 Cor. 12:1-11 is a dissertation on spiritual gifts. From verse 8 to 10, the elementary gifts are specified, namely, wisdom, faith, knowledge, healing, miracles, tongues, interpretation, prophecy, etc. Teaching and exhortation are not mentioned in this list, only as they are comprehended in the gift of prophecy. Utterance is also a gift of the Spirit. See Acts 2:4; Eph. 6:19; Mark 13:11. We can not teach what we do not know; we need the gift of knowledge in order to teach, and wisdom to be able to teach the proper thing at the right time. We must have utterance, or we can not tell what we do know. We must teach according to the proportion of faith, then we must have faith. It takes the rudimentary gifts of knowledge, faith, wisdom, and utterance in order to be apt to teach. Exhortation comprehends the same gifts and differs only in this respect, that teaching operates by way of analysis, expounding, explaining, unfolding, revealing, reasoning, etc., which appeals to the intellect, and convinces the judgment; while exhortation is more explosive, and appeals to the emotions, to stir up action after the judgment has been convinced through teaching. Prophecy contains all the rudiments that are found in teaching and exhortation, and holds a somewhat more extensive knowledge in the mysteries of the salvation plan, prophetic utterances, types, shadows, symbols, etc. See 1 Cor. 13:2. “Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge.”


“The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy”; but prophesying includes something more than testimony; it includes teaching, exhortation, and edification, by unfolding the deep mysteries of the kingdom, and it also may include foretelling of events, etc. Prophecy is no inferior gift in the church, and those who possess it are called prophets. Prophets in the New Testament are second to the apostles in point of qualification and responsibility, etc. “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers,” etc. 1 Cor. 12:28. When Jesus first gave gifts to his ministers he said, “Freely ye have received, freely give.” Again, “Having gifts . . . whether prophecy, let us prophesy.” Rom. 12:6. “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” 1 Pet. 4:10. “Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Eph. 4:8, 11-13.


Through the distribution of these gifts officers are constituted in the church. Without these gifts neither men nor women are fit for office in the church. God made no discrimination of sex on Pentecost: all alike were baptized with the Holy Ghost. Cloven tongues like as of fire sat upon each of them, and they spake as the Spirit gave them utterance. They (men and women) spake in tongues and prophesied. The daughters of Philip prophesied. Phebe, a sister, was a servant (minister) of the church at Cenchrea. See Rom. 16:1. Priscilla and Aquila, wife and husband, became helpers with Paul in his ministerial work (Rom. 16:3), and on a former occasion instructed a young preacher by the name of Apollos (See Acts 18:24-28), and he got sanctified and became more efficient in the ministry. The church at Philippi sent a bounty to Paul at Rome, by the hand of Epaphroditus, at which time Paul dictated the epistle to the Philippians, and sent it back with Epaphroditus, in which he says, “And I entreat thee [Epaphroditus], true yokefellow, help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with others my fellow-laborers.” Phil. 4:3. This epistle is addressed to all the saints at Philippi, with the bishops (overseers) and deacons. Evidently, ‘those women which labored with him in the gospel’ were included among the overseers and deacons; for that was their mission, according to the nature of the offices mentioned. In Rom. 16 several women laborers in the gospel are mentioned, and in verse 7 one Junia (a woman’s name) is referred to as an apostle.


Paul discusses the propriety of the oriental veil in connection with women praying and prophesying. The custom of the veil he declares to be a custom of the people, and not of the church, etc. See 1 Cor. 11. Had the church and the apostle been opposed to women praying and prophesying, Paul never would have given directions for their service in that line.


What office may women hold in the church? Answer. Any office wherein God sets them by virtue of the gifts he bestows upon them, and they may hold no office for which they have no corresponding gift from God. The same is true with men.


The Negative of This Question


There is no negative to this teaching and testimony except that which denies the Word of God. The word “man” has been used as argument, but that betrays gross ignorance respecting the use of that term in the Scriptures, which in general applies to mankind or the human family in common, without reference to sex. The context usually determines whether the term man is used specifically to denote sex, or in general to denote the human family, male and female, in common.


Two Scripture texts have been cited by our opponents. One is: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.” 1 Cor. 14:34, 35. This can not refer in any wise to women who have spiritual gifts, but to those who do not have them and are anxious to learn; and only their interrogative interruptions are here prohibited, and that wisely too. The second text our opponents offer is the following: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” 1 Tim. 2:11, 12. This can not refer to women ministering through spiritual gifts, for God always gives with the gift the authority for the ministration of the same. Even in case of a husband and wife, if the wife is gifted and the husband not, she has the authority to exercise the gift, and she is not usurping any authority which belongs to him. The authority in the church belongs with the gifts to those possessing them, and not to some relative, wife or husband. Neither can this refer to officers in the church, as it is the gifts which determine the office to be filled, etc., and the authority comes by virtue of the gifts. Evidently, husband and wife are under consideration, and as such, both have their place and responsibility. Their authority always corresponds with their responsibility. And if woman tries to take or usurp the authority which belongs to the responsibility of her husband, she gets out of her place.


—G. L. C.

Cole, G. L. The Labor of Women in the Gospel. Gospel Trumpet, 28 December 1905, 1-2.


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