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 by Rev. Kathryn J. Riss

Prisca (also called Priscilla) and her husband Aquilla, two of Paul's "fellow-laborers" in the Gospel, instructed Apollos in the way of God according to Acts 18:24-26.  That this instruction was not "out of order" is clear from the context, the beneficial results, and Paul's commendation of Prisca's ministry.  The record in Acts tells us that Apollos was well-versed in the Scriptures and had been instructed in the way of the Lord.  He both taught and preached in the synagogue at Ephesus where Priscilla and Aquilla, having heard him, took him and "expounded to him the way of God more accurately."

This account is an interesting one for a number of reasons.  It is the only occurrence after the Gospels in which the New Testament records that a Christian woman taught an adult male religious leader.  The phrase "to them" found in the Western text and the use of the term "expounded" imply more than a single occurrence, suggesting that Prisca and Aquilla took Apollos into their house church and grounded him thoroughly in the faith. 

Also it is clear from the rest of the passage that their teaching prepared Apollos for outstanding effectiveness in his preaching and evangelistic ministry.  Acts 18:28 says that after Apollos left Ephesus with the encouragement and recommendation of the "brethren," which means the Christian assembly, "he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah."  Here we see an account of a woman teacher, along with her husband, educating an already learned man of great ability and preparing him for his greatest accomplishments in the Gospel.  This example would seem to set a good precedent for women and seminary professors and Bible school teachers.

In the article on women pastors, we have already discussed the prominence Paul and Luke give to Prisca as the more outstanding leader as compared to her husband by naming her before him, contrary to universal ancient cultural practice.  In light of this fact, it cannot be maintained that Aquilla was really the one who taught Apollos and led their house church.  The most likely scenario is that Prisca was the main teacher and pastor with the assistance and support of her husband.

This occurrence creates a difficulty for those who believe that Paul taught in I Timothy that Christian women are not qualified to teach on the basis of the creation order and the Fall.  That difficulty is intensified by Paul's commendation of the many women who labored with him in the Gospel since one can hardly labor in the Gospel without preaching or teaching the Gospel.  This thinking also runs contrary to the words of St.  Peter on the day of Pentecost, who interpreted the women proclaiming the mighty works of God publicly, as the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy that "Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy."  A study of the ministry of Biblical prophets shows that prophecy was not limited to telling future events, but also included expounding God's Word and exhorting His people to turn to God and repent.  So, for women to prophesy necessarily means that they preach and teach God's Word under His authority. 

For example, Huldah spoke a prophetic word to the king and the high priest regarding the interpretation of the Scriptures found in Deut. 29:25-27 which had been troubling the king.  (II Kings 22:8-20, II Chron 34:14-28) It also occurred in the prophecy of Mary (Lk. 1:46-56), who quoted several psalms and applied them to her divine pregnancy.  Many other examples could be given, but these should suffice to demonstrate the relatedness of prophecy, teaching and proclaiming "God's Word."  As a side note, it is interesting that both Mary and Elizabeth prophesied the inspired words of Scripture in Luke 1:39-56 at a time when Zechariah, Elizabeth's husband and a Jewish priest, was unable to speak due to his lack of faith in the angel's inspired message.

It is evident to anyone who will observe with an open mind that God does, indeed, empower and call women to teach and preach His Word and that His Spirit abundantly blesses their efforts with good fruit.  Therefore, since God does not forbid what He Himself initiates, another explanation of the puzzling New Testament passages must be found.  Extensive research of these puzzling passages and a summary of possible interpretations will be given in a later article.  For now, let us look more closely at the accomplishments of women teachers in the early church.

In Paul's letter to Timothy (II Timothy 1:5) he tells us that the apostle Timothy followed the faith of his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice.  Chapter 3:15 tells us that from childhood Timothy had learned the sacred Scriptures.  Timothy's mother was Jewish, but his father was a Gentile.  We may infer that Lois and Eunice taught Timothy the Scriptures, introduced him to Jesus, and brought him up in the faith.  Evidently they did a good job, for Timothy became Paul's closest assistant, accompanying him on his missionary travels and eventually becoming bishop of Ephesus.

Many women in the early and medieval church brought up their children to become major religious leaders by their prayers, example and teaching, Probably the most famous was Emmelia, mother of ten, four of whose children were canonized as saints.  Her mother, Macrina the Elder, was a Christian martyr.  Her sons, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great and Peter became bishops.  Her daughter, Macrina the Younger (327-379 A.D.), was a brilliant thinker and educator who greatly influenced her brothers' development, becoming fully responsible for Peter's education after her mother's death.  She and her brother Basil founded a double monastery for men and women.  There she taught, healed and prophesied for many years and established a hospital as large as a walled city.  All four were declared saints by the Catholic church.

Some other women who followed in Priscilla's footsteps include Marcella (325-410 A.D.), whose Church of the Household in Rome became a center of study, prayer and charity.  Marcella assisted Jerome in combating heresies and settling theological disputes.  She inspired another woman, Fabiola, to establish the first hospitals in Rome, and Marcella established the first retreat for Christian women on the outskirts of that city.  Under Marcella's leadership, Paula and her daughter Eustochium assisted Jerome in his Latin translation of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew.  These women traveled to Bethlehem and dedicated the rest of their lives to translate, revise, and correct the manuscripts, several of which Jerome dedicated to them.  There, Paula founded three convents and a monastery, establishing the model for Scripture study and copying in monasteries which continued until the Reformation.

Many other important women teachers could be mentioned.  One of the most outstanding was Hilda (614-660 A.D.), abess of the convent at Hartlepool, County Durham.  In 657 she founded a double monastery A.D. for men and women at Whitby in Yorkshire, which became renowned as the leading school of theology and literature in 7th-century England.  Five of Hilda's monks became bishops.  One of them, John of Beverly, baptized the Venerable Bede, a medieval historian.  A sixth, Caedmon, was the first known English poet.  When Hilda heard his gift, she took him into the monastery from serfdom, taught him Bible stories, and encouraged him to write poems about them.  Caedmon's lyrics in the Anglo-Saxon tongue brought the faith alive to many who did not know Latin.  Hilda also raised the king's daughter, Aelfled, from infancy and educated the princess to become her successor.  Bede wrote of Hilda, "She never failed to return thanks to her Maker or publicly or privately to instruct the flock committed to her charge."  May the same be said of us.

Perhaps the most important consideration in favor of all Christians becoming teachers of the Christian faith is the need for maturity and growth in the church.  Hebrews 5:12 says, "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of God's Word."  Those who remain perpetual students without passing on their knowledge to others are rebuked by God's Word, not commended.  It is natural, proper and the duty of those who have learned the truth to teach others also.  The church can hardly spread the Good News of salvation if the majority of its members are prevented from doing so on account of their gender!

Learning without a goal to teach results in lesser achievement.  The best students are future teachers because the best way to learn something really well is to take responsibility for teaching it to others.  In that way, you will have to learn it thoroughly, be able to put it into your own words, and commit yourself to living the message you teach.  You will not be able to get away with paying lip service to the Gospel, for your students be watching you! While less is expected of a student, a teacher must set a good example.

I believe God wants ALL mature Christians to teach His Word.  Our society allows women to teach.  It's high time the church caught up! The world isn't refraining from teaching all the evil it can, so why should Christian women refrain from teaching what is good?  It is foolish to waste the knowledge and teaching gifts of Christian women while the lost fill the airwaves with filth.  The Great Commission was given to all, and all who are able have an obligation to our Lord to teach and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

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