What Are Proper Complementary Roles Like?

The Bible is full of examples of women in proper complementary roles in the Old and New Testaments. Some of these examples are models that help us understand the authority structure inside the New Testament church (although some are not). Women are permitted to teach in the proper complementary roles and should be actively serving the Lord.

Old Testament Examples

  • In the Old Testament there are some examples of women who have the title and ministry of “prophetess”. From these examples we can conclude that: (1) God does use women to accomplish His will and can do great and mighty things through them. (2) God rarely uses women in this role or to address His people through this means. (3) We aren’t given a lot of information about the extent or the characteristics that come with the roles of a prophetess. (4) From the examples that we do have it doesn’t seem like an ongoing ministry but only for a certain time and for certain occasions. (5) None of the Old Testament examples are models for the authority structure in the New Testament church.
  • Miriam was a prophetess. She is the first women mentioned in the Bible with this title.  In this first mention we also find her spiritually leading other women. She was the sister of Aaron and Moses. She spoke against Moses and was cursed with leprosy for seven days. But she is also listed as being one of the three (also with Moses and Aaron) sent by God to the Israelites who were in bondage in land of Egypt.
    Exodus 15:20-21;  Numbers 12:1-15; 26:59; Micah 6:4
  • Deborah was a prophetess, a judge of Israel, a mother in Israel. When the children of Israel were being mightily oppressed, she speaks with Barak about the Lord’s command for victory, but he failed to courageously lead—saying he would only go forward into battle if Deborah would go with him. She agreed to go with him, but as a result he wouldn’t get the glory of winning the battle but a women would. That is what happened and there is a song that reflects this in the following chapter.
    Judges 4:4-24; 5:1-31
  • Huldah was a prophetess. She delivered a message to Josiah through his messengers declaring “thus saith the Lord God of Israel”.
    2 Kings 22:14-20; 2 Chronicles 34:22-28
  • Noadiah was called a prophetess but is listed with Nehemiah’s enemies. Thus, this is hardly a positive or useful example.
    Nehemiah 6:14
  • Isaiah called his wife “the prophetess” which she was possibly given this title because she bore a son that was of prophetic nature. We aren’t told more about her.
    Isaiah 8:3

New Testament Examples

  • In the New Testament, before the start of the church and after Jesus was born, we are introduced to one prophetess named Anna. She was a prophetess who lived at the temple as a widow and served God with fastings and prayers night and day. When Jesus was born she spoke about the child Jesus to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Her title was prophetess and her actions were described as fasting, praying and speaking to others about Jesus.
    Luke 2:36-38
  • After the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus; the coming of the Holy Spirit at pentecost; and the establishment of the church we have many examples that help us understand what the proper complimentary roles for women looks like in the outworking of the New Testament church.
  • Philip the evangelist had four daughters who did prophesy—prophetesses. We are not given anymore details about this (ongoing or only one time), but we can simply suggest is was a fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-18).
    Acts 21:9
  • Priscilla was a helper in Jesus Christ to Paul and whom he appreciated along with her husband. She and her husband, Aquila, together explained the way of God more perfectly to others in a private setting. (Note: this was together and not individually; privately and not to a congregation.)
    Acts 18:2, 18, 26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19
  • Phebe was a women who was a servant (deaconess) of the church at Cenchrea. The word used here can mean servant/deacon/deaconess. For a women this wasn’t the official “office of a deacon” but was an additional type of female servant (deaconess) who had the following requirements: being grave—worthy of respect; not slanderers—not malicious talkers; sober—temperate; faithful in all things—trustworthy in everything (1 Timothy 3:11). It was normal for women to teach other women to love their husbands and take care of their children (Titus 2:3-5), as well as, being full of good works, caring for the sick and reaching out to the poor and destitute (Acts 9:36; 1 Timothy 5:10).
    Romans 16:1-2
  • Junia—(assuming a women) was a Jew and fellow-prisoner with Paul. She was appreciated by Paul along with her husband, Andronicus. Junia and her husband were well known to the apostles, but they themselves were not apostles like Paul was. It is possible they were “missionaries” and thus Junia would have had the normal role for women in the church—probably similar to that of Phebe.
    Romans 16:7
  • Euodias and Syntyche were women who laboured with Paul in the gospel. But here they are mentioned because they have some disagreement and Paul wants them to be of the same mind in the Lord. We aren’t given any more details about these two women nor are they mentioned again in scripture.
    Philippians 4:2-3
  • Finally, when Paul addresses a problem in the church at Corinth with regard to gender he says that “women” will pray or prophesy (or proclaim—but this does not contradict his clear injunction [1 Corinthians 14:34] for women to not hold main positions of teaching and authority over men in the assembly of the church). Then he continues to show that women who minster in the church in a normal manner should do so in accordance with the gender roles that God has ordained—no matter the culture—and not in rebellion against God’s authority structure or against “symbols of authority” according to the culture they are ministering in (the gospel doesn’t void gender distinctions). He even states that if anyone wants to be contentious (not accept this truth—or disagrees with him) about this that they should know that the churches of God have “no such custom” of voiding gender distinctions but always act in a way that properly displays God’s authority structure and our distinctive gender identities—both female and male.
    1 Corinthians 11:5-16

Review Questions

  • What are some of the Old Testament examples?
  • What can we conclude about the Old Testament “prophetess”?
  • What examples do we have before the New Testament church?
  • What examples do we have after the New Testament church?
  • How does Paul help the church at Corinth understand this problem?

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