Some observations of the roles of women in the New Testament

by Robert Nguyen Cramer


Women had some very prominent roles as spokespeople for Christianity in the first few decades of Christian history, as described in Paul's writings and in the gospels.

Priscilla and Aquila are described by the writer of Acts (in Acts 18) as wife and husband. When Apollos "began to speak boldly in the synagogue" about Jesus, "Priscilla and Aquila... took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately." (Acts 18:26, NRSV)

In two different letters indisputably written by Paul, he mentions this wife and husband team. In Romans 16 Paul refers to them as "Priscilla and Aquila" (Rom 16:3), and in 1 Corinthians 16 he refers to them as "Aquila and Priscilla" (1Co 16:19) The order in which Paul refers to them (i.e., male first or female first) does not seem to be important to Paul, but it may have been important for his intended purpose. As well-articulated by Dr. Helmut Koester of Harvard Divinity School,

In Gal 3:26-28, Paul articulates that there is no distinction "in Christ" between male and female; therefor, "in Christ" there doesn't seem to be any place for ranking between male and female, "for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

It is also worth considering that "Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome" (Mark 16:1, NRSV) were found worthy to be the ones to "go, tell his disciples and Peter" (Mark 16:7, NRSV) where they would meet Jesus. In the longer ending of Mark, in Matthew, and in John, Mary Magdalene was described as being the first (or among the group of women) who saw Christ Jesus after his resurrection. What a precious privilege! What a commission! Was it not part of their mission to teach the faithless students of Jesus a lesson in discipleship? We may recall how Jesus frequently used the Samaritans (who were not his students) as examples of what he was teaching his students and followers. After Jesus' resurrection, he used his non-male (female) students to teach his officially commissioned male apostles a lesson in commitment and faith. (Has it maybe taken longer than necessary for us all to learn this lesson?)

Hans Conzelmann makes a very strong argument against the authenticity of 1 Cor 14:33b-36, which states, "Women should be silent in the churches... If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home." (NRSV) Conzelmann convincingly states that 1 Cor 14:33b-36 was not written by Paul, but was inserted by a later editor of Paul's writings. (Dr. Koester shares this conclusion.) An excerpt from Conzelmann's Hermeneia commentary on 1 Corinthians is available on the Web at

May we all humbly learn from and with each other, with the life and words of Jesus as the lens through which we all look to understand and genuinely practice our faith as Christians. May our lives embody the "Sermon on the Mount" (Mat 5:1-7:29) and the "Sermon on the Plain" (Luk 6:20-49), so that we are truly fit to understand and witness the grace of God "with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power," so that our "faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God." (1 Cor 2:4,5, NRSV) May the ever-active Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth (Joh 14:17; Joh 15:26; Joh 16:13), the Paraclete (the Advocate, the Counsellor, the Comforter) -- so real in the lives of our early Christian brothers and sisters and throughout Christian history -- today defend, guide, and edify each of us, as one body lovingly united in Christ, to worship and glorify God . (See 1 Cor 12:12 to 13:13; My 125:1; My 131:7)


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Copyright 1996-2003 Robert Nguyen Cramer
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