a look at the 120, women of YHVH, and ministry…
Do you remember a really strong woman that has influenced your life somehow? Maybe it was your Mom. An amazing Aunt that you loved spending time with? Perhaps a best friend who lifted you up in times of stress and made you forget that bad break-up or an awful day you just had. Remember how those long talks taught you a wisdom and gave you a courage you maybe still carry? That woman, for me, is my Aunt Judy. She helped shape me in ways that she isn’t even aware of. I lost my birth mom at a very early age and Judy was always there for me. Always understanding. Never without love. She made an impact that I hope to carry on to my own kids.
We really love our strong women, don’t we? They are so special to us. Of course, we love our boys and our men too, but our girls and our women can become a well of strength that will get us through some pretty tough times. (Think of the courage of single moms!) They have a softness that helps ease our stress and suffering, and when spoken well, their words have the power to really heal us. We need our girls. You see, YHVH is no slouch, and when it came to creating women- He made something beautiful.
I want to take a minute to remember some really strong women from scripture and hopefully shed some light on a teaching that has served to interrupt, subvert, and injure Yeshua’s view of these amazing ladies and cause strife between them and our amazing men. I want to unpack the idea of women’s equality and women in ministry. It’s a subject that can leave you uncomfortable, especially in today’s climate! I understand that this may not be the easiest subject to tackle, and that’s exactly why I want to confront it head-on. Let’s get started!
I know almost no one who might take issue with a qualified older woman teaching younger women, a female prayer warrior, or a lady Bible School teacher for the kinder class. In fact, these roles are traditionally filled by women, much like a lot of the music ministry and administrative positions within the church. It just seems like it’s something we women naturally tend to gravitate towards, and there’s no problem with that. But what if we gravitate towards them out of a subconscious fear that, as women, we are not suited to more upfront leadership positions within the church? What if we attend a church that flat out denies women access to these functions? Even more puzzling is this…what if The LORD has put it in your heart to fill one of these roles? What if you know that He has called you to preach? What then? What’s a girl to do?
We can’t just ignore YHVH… remember Jonah? I really don’t want to end up in the belly of a fish. It probably doesn’t smell great in there, and if you finish the story- after YHVH made the fish spit Jonah out of his mouth (gross!) poor Jonah still had to go and do what YHVH had sent him to do. I don’t know about you but I do not want to smell like fish guts and I certainly don’t want to try and argue with the Almighty. Lesson: Don’t be like Jonah…When YHVH tells you to go, you GO. So what if YHVH has called you to a teaching or preaching ministry as a woman? Well, let’s dig deep into scripture and find out what the good book really says on it. And just a side note, I’m not going to break out 1 Corinthians 14, or 1 Timothy 2, because we’ve all whipped that dead horse. If it’s really your most fervent desire to dredge up some ideology that Paul was a misogynist and Messiah agreed then I really don’t think this article is for you. Bless your heart, and I wish you well.
Now, back to women in ministry… There are a few things we will need to talk about in this writing but first, I want to make it clear that my sincere hope for you, dear reader, is that you will leave with a better understanding of the heart and intent of Messiah, as well as a more in-depth cultural understanding of the times that He and His disciples lived in.
When Yeshua began His ministry after fasting in the wilderness, He began to call His 12 disciples. What is often overlooked is the fact that some of the men that became the “Dirty Dozen” as my friend lovingly refers to them, had wives and families- and contrary to popular belief- they didn’t abandon them to follow Yeshua. That would have clearly violated the command to “love your wives” as well as the warning that “if any of you does not provide for his own family, he has denied the faith…” so we see here that even though they are not really mentioned, some of the very first followers of Christ were women and children. But those weren’t the only disciples He had. There were several. Mary Magdalene, His mother, Martha, Salome, The Mother of James, Pheobe, Pricilla, Joanna, Suzanna, Chloe, and several others. And most of these women were there with Him from just about the beginning of His ministry. In Luke 8:3 we read that these women financially supported the ministry of our Lord and helped in any way they could. What’s awesome, though, is understanding the cognitive dissonance this most certainly caused. How so? Well, we have to put ourselves in the cultural shoes of these women. Remember that this is first-century Israel and the overbearing Pharisees ruled over everything. They were quite the Patriarchal bunch, to be sure. Women were regarded as just above slaves during this time and had very few if any rights (Please note that these cultural norms were in direct contrast to the Torah of YHVH, which made many provisions for the care, respect, and protection of women). Also, it was unheard of to be a woman and part of a caravan of mixed company. It was radical and almost certainly inappropriate to behave that way, but they never questioned society or it’s made up rules- they only followed Yeshua.
For the entirety of this- the ministry, the miracles, the movement that was the Christ, these women were right alongside the men- serving, learning, and beginning to understand the mysteries of the gospel with Yeshua as their faithful Rabbi and their budding faith. Interestingly, during the account of the last supper, we all assume that only Messiah and the 12 were present, but it’s much more likely that the last Passover meal included a lot more loving followers than just those. Though the Bible doesn’t directly give us a headcount or a seating chart of all guests in attendance, you need to understand that to a first-century Hebrew, the Passover is the most important meal of the entire year- and Yeshua, having a much deeper understanding of the importance of THIS Passover than anyone else in the room, would have most likely wanted everyone available to be present, so He could impart His last portion of human love to those who had been with Him all this time. Even so, the Bible is not direct on this subject.
After the hymns were sung and the first communion held, Messiah says something that we so rarely look at beyond face value- He says that the disciples will desert him. All of His chosen 12 but one. His friends. Peter tried to argue, but He tells Peter of his own denial thrice before dawn. The reason that this is of vital importance is that that means that with the exception of John, no men were even present at the crucifixion of our Christ.
See Matthew 7:55-56, “And many women who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, were looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the Mother of James and Joses, the mother of Zebedee’s sons.”
And again, after Yeshua’s body was taken down from the cross and sealed inside the tomb, we see that only women had gone out to the burial site to anoint His body and found that the stone had been rolled away; so what did these faithful women do? Well, the gospels only give the account of Mary Magdalene running to tell Simon Peter that the tomb was empty and Christ had risen. Remember, she was weeping and looking for Christ, certainly shaken from the last few days events, and was most likely distraught that now someone had stolen the body of the Messiah and when He appeared to her she actually thought He was the Gardener! After realizing that Yeshua had risen and broken the chains of darkness, Messiah addressed her by name and told her to go quickly and tell the other disciples (the men) that He had risen and was going before them to Galilee where they would see Him. In truth, that makes Mary Magdalene the first Apostle! The first person to preach the gospel of a resurrected Christ. What an honor!
Let’s remember that we are still in a first-century setting where women are little more than property. Let’s also remember that YHVH is sovereign over all things, and if He wanted to show the world that women were not to be given such privileged information or such important jobs, then He could have easily chosen any of the other male disciples- but He chose Mary. A woman. Finally, let’s understand the very real and startling revelation that if it had not been for what the Bible calls these “Certain Women”, then you and I would never have had a complete account of the death, burial, and resurrection of our Messiah! The very cornerstone of our belief and faith was entrusted to women. I am certain that YHVH does not make mistakes, and I am certain that He allowed this to turn first-century misogyny on its head.
Whew! How great is this story? YHVH doesn’t do anything in small measure! I love it!
Now, let’s get straight into the following sections of the Bible that shed a great deal of light on the subject of women in ministry. The book of Acts. I have heard so many people, mostly men in leadership positions within a group or a church body that firmly believe in their heart of hearts that Paul said that women cannot preach the Gospel. (I know, I know, I said I wasn’t going to bring up 1 Timothy!) They say that Paul doesn’t permit women to preach. They would be incorrect. 2 Peter 3:16 says this of Paul- and it should be taken with a great deal of reverence.
“And also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which some things are hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable twist, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”
Remembering all that we have discussed so far, and are going on to discuss even more, please keep this in the back of your mind. It just might be that those who cling so tightly to things Paul says when they seem to contradict the words and actions of our Savior, might simply be misunderstanding the Apostle to the Gentiles. If it was important enough for Peter to write it down, I’m betting that people have misunderstood Paul since he was still alive. (It should be noted that Paul was a Pharisee. He was brilliantly educated in both Torah and Rabbinic traditions. He had a tendency to write in a very stream of thought style, so he taught, thought, and wrote over the average person’s base understanding- not out of superiority, but just because he was highly educated and intelligent…)
We see by now that Christ has risen, made an appearance at the tomb, relayed His message through Mary to Simon Peter with instructions to go to Galilee, and evidently appeared also to some 500 people. (1 Corinthians 15:6) He tells His followers to stay in Jerusalem to await the promise of the Father (the Holy Spirit), and then He ascends into Heaven. Shortly after, we have 120 people, all disciples, in the upper room of the home they were staying in. They were praying. They were most probably scared, unsure, and anxious. The King they had longed for was gone, and they had thought He was going to restore the Temple. They were already under the watchful eye of Rome and were awaiting certain persecution, perhaps even annihilation. So they prayed in earnest. They appointed Matthias. They waited. They waited for 50 days. Then on God’s Holy Feast Day of Shavuot (Pentecost), a rushing wind came, startling the 120 people in the house. They perceived blue flames on their heads, began speaking in tongues and converted three thousand people. The true church was born!
But wait! I thought you were talking about women in Ministry! Yep. Let’s recall what Jesus said to them concerning the promise of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 1;4-8 “And being assembled together with them (men and women) He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, ‘Which’, He said, ‘you have heard from me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’…’ It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.'”
This is the great commission- the charge to go and win souls for Christ- and it can only be done through going out and preaching the word and teaching the scriptures. This was before the New Testament. It didn’t even exist until about 400 years after this event. There was a chauvinistic society- not decreed by YHVH- but taught through the extra-Biblical practices of the Pharisees. There were 120 men and women in that room, all of them having been gifted with the Holy Spirit of YHVH who also opened their minds to understand the scriptures preparing them for their great and terrible task- to preach. If it weren’t for those first male and female preachers of the beautiful gospel of our Lord and Savior, our entire story would be different. And it was all the work of YHVH and His Christ. They chose ordinary people to do extraordinary things- people… not men. Let that sink in.
It is my hope that any of you women out there that know for a fact that you are called to preach and pick up a sword for the Lord–Do Not Give Up! Don’t end up in a spiritual fish! I’ve been there for the last few years myself- out of fear that I somehow misheard YHVH- but really it has only been out of the fear of those misguided voices that keep telling me I’m not allowed. I chose to stop listening. I chose to remember the 120 in the upper room. I chose to remember the amazing first Apostle, Mary Magdalene, and to listen only to Yeshua who tells me that I am to be His witness. I pray for you that you will gain clarity from the Lord- whether from misunderstood scriptures or toward your calling. I hope this article has helped clean up some of the stains of a terribly misguided idea and helps- maybe- to close the gap between men and women. I hope that you find your peace in Christ alone, and not in anything I have said. I hope you search the scriptures. Peace be with you.