In recent posts we’ve been seeing how, in the First Testament, God’s inbreaking redemptive activity wasn’t limited by present-age considerations such as primogeniture or the youth, sex, social status, or ethnicity of the redemptive agent. What happens as we move into the New Testament?
As the new creation is inaugurated, God forms a new covenant community that embodies his inbreaking work by pouring out His Spirit on “all flesh,” that is, upon redeemed people without distinction. We see this most clearly in Peter’s quotation from Joel on the day of Pentecost to the effect that membership in the community and possession of the Spirit do not depend on considerations such as whether a person is male or female, young or old, slave or free: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions and your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” Paul writes similarly in Galatians that “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith . . . There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Spirit-filled, “charismatic” ministry becomes not an exceptional occurrence, but the norm within the inbreaking community. In the New Testament we thus see God gifting and using young people, servants, Gentiles and women in positions of spiritual ministry and leadership, and insisting on their full privileges within the covenant community. (At the same time, people in all of these groups are told to continue to respect the first-creation order in which they are still living. But in keeping with the gospel of grace, this respect consists in their heart attitudes and gracious conduct, not in their ineligibility for spiritual leadership roles.)
Timothy is told not to let anyone look down on him because he is young, but to set an example for other believers. Paul asks Philemon to welcome Onesimus back “no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.” All of the seven deacons chosen in Acts to assist the apostles in the distribution of food have Greek names and are likely (at this point in the movement’s growth) Gentile converts to Judaism who have come to believe in Jesus. Shortly afterwards Gentiles will be welcomed directly into the community. (This happened to such an extent that Paul could specify to the Colossians that Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus Justus were his only Jewish co-workers!) And as I noted in my last post, women had active leadership roles in the new community. Phoebe read Paul’s letter to the Romans; Priscilla and her husband Aquila were Paul’s valued co-workers and hosted a church in their home; Paul says that Junia is “outstanding among the apostles”; Philip’s four daughters were prophets; Nympha hosted the church of Laodicea in her home.
To me the record of God using women in precisely the kind of roles that some people would restrict them from is so clear and consistent throughout the Scriptures that the only remaining question is, “Then how do we account for those controversial sayings in Paul’s letters?” I’ll start looking at those next time.