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Women served in many prominent roles that many modern Christians would exclude them from. These roles include:
At the initial convening of the Christian church, Peter mentioned the role of the prophetess as indicative of the arrival of the kingdom prophesied of in Joel 2:28 (see Acts 2:17). It doesn't take long before we find the first recorded example of a prophetess in the church, when Acts 21:9 tells us that Philip's daughters prophesied. Also, the women in Corinth prophesied in the presence of men, and were not rebuked for doing so (1 Cor. 11:5-6). Rather, they were rebuked for their failure to honor their "heads" while prophesying. It is important to notice that prophecy was a PUBLIC ministry and a PUBLIC witness of the Spirit. The role of the prophet was to communicate God's message to his people. This is precisely the kind of role that women are prohibited from holding today.
Many women are presented in the New Testament as being "fellow-workers" with Paul. Label this how you will, but the term "fellow-worker" is typically used by Paul to indicated those who participated in his evangelistic and missionary activities. This number includes Euodia and Syntyche in Philippi (Philippians 4:2-3); Priscilla in Corinth (Rom. 16:3). Many others are mentioned in the New Testament as participating in this kind of work with Paul.
While the 12 were all men (discussed last week), it is interesting that Junia (a feminine name) as "highly respected among the apostles." I'm not sure exactly how to understand this. It could mean that she was viewed as holding an apostolic/ambassadorial role even though not one of the 12 (like Paul??). Or it could mean that she was highly respected BY the apostles. The problem with this latter interpretation is that most ancient and modern writers have always understood the verse to be referring to her as an apostle.
We will discuss this passage at a later date, but it should be noted that Phoebe is referred to as a deacon of the church at Cenchrea in Romans 16:1.
While some of these have more ambiguity than others, this overview should show that women certainly had a much greater claim to leadership roles in the early church than they are allowed in many churches today. They led men, had authority over men, taught men, spoke in the presence of men, etc.