Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

The Holy Spirit and Equality in the Book of Acts

The Holy Spirit and Equality in the Book of Acts

This article is also available in SpanishUrduand Sindhi.

When I first began this website in 2009 I anticipated writing articles about Holy Spirit-led living, as well as a few Bible studies. I soon discovered (thanks to site statistics) that most visitors were especially interested in my articles on the equality of men and women in Christian marriage and in the church. Seeing this interest and need, I have focused much of my writing on equality.

Sometimes, though, I questioned whether I should be focusing on the issue of equality so much, and I wondered whether I should be writing more about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. And then it dawned on me: “equality” is a significant feature, and consequence, of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. So my writing about Christian equality is writing about Holy Spirit-led living.

In the earliest days of Christianity the effects of the Holy Spirit’s ministry were immediate and profound; the Holy Spirit’s presence was both a great energiser and great equalizer in the Christian community.

On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was poured out on the followers of Jesus—on both men and women—who had been waiting in Jerusalem in obedience to Jesus’ instructions. (Acts 1:4-5). Immediately after the outpouring, Peter stood up in the temple courts, where the Christians often met, and addressed a crowd of thousands who were attracted by hearing the Christians declaring the wonders of God in their own foreign languages (Acts 2:11).

Peter, quoting from the prophet Joel, told the crowd of Jewish pilgrims that the Holy Spirit was for all people: for young and old, for male and female.  The Holy Spirit was no longer just for a few select people, as in Old Testament times.

In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your youths will see visions, your seniors will dream dreams.
Even on my male servants and on my female servants
I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” Acts 2:17-18

In the Church age the Holy Spirit equips both men and women for ministry. In every New Testament passage that speaks about spiritual gifts there is no gender distinction implied or stated, even for leadership and teaching gifts.[1] The Holy Spirit gives his gifts as he determines without an apparent regard for gender (1 Cor. 12:11; Heb. 2:4).

Furthermore, in the weeks and months following Pentecost, the Christian community was characterised by generosity and sharing. Those who were richer sold some of their property, and the proceeds of these sales were distributed among the poorer people. No one was in need. Distinctions in wealth were reduced and favouritism minimised[2] —perhaps even abolished—as people graciously and willingly responded to the apostles’ teachings that were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God . . .  Acts 2:44-45

But there was still more “equality” work to do. In chapter 10 of the book of Acts we read that God was trying to teach Peter that the Gentiles were included in the New Covenant. Peter was led to Caesarea to the house of Cornelius, and invited to speak (Acts 10:19, 33). While Peter was speaking:

. . . the Holy Spirit came on all who heard [Peter’s] message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.  Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”  So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Acts 10:44-48

Peter was convinced that the Gentiles were included in the New Covenant because the Gentiles in Cornelius’ home were filled with the Holy Spirit.  This infilling by the Holy Spirit was an unmistakable sign.

In the book of Acts we see that the Holy Spirit brought equality between young and old, between men and women, between rich and poor, and between Jews and Gentiles in the early days of the Church (cf. Gal. 3:28). And Church history has shown that time and time again, when there is a fresh move of the Holy Spirit, old prejudices are forgotten, caste systems are ignored, and genuine, radical unity and equality is fostered.

The Holy Spirit’s presence and ministry was, and continues to be, the great equalizer in the Church. My hope is that I am working with the Holy Spirit by promoting and fostering equality and a truly caste-less Christianity. I do not want to be working against the Holy Spirit by being silent while there remains stifling, unjust, and damaging hierarchies and caste systems in the Body of Christ and in the world.


Endnotes

[1] In the Greek, there is no hint in any of the verses which speak of spiritual gifts (including those of leadership and teaching), that they apply more to men than to women. On the contrary, every New Testament verse which speaks of spiritual gifts, manifestations or ministries is completely free of any gender bias in the Greek: Acts 2:17-18; Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-11 & 27-28; 1 Cor. 14:26-33; Eph. 4:11-12; Heb. 2:4; 1 Pet. 4:9-11. The verses which seem to restrict the ministry of women are few indeed.  [My articles on 1 Tim. 2:12 and 1 Cor.14:34-35 here and here.]

[2] Favouritism is forbidden in the New Testament (cf. James 2:1ff.)

Image credit: The painting of Pentecost is by Canadian artist Gisele Bauche. The website of the Bauche family is here, and their facebook page is here.


Related Articles 

“Equality” in Paul’s Letters
Galatians 3:28: Our Identity in Christ and in the Church
Gender Division divides the Church
Race and Gender Discrimination in the Church
Being Filled with the Spirit
Following Jesus, Led by the Holy Spirit
Speaking in Tongues and its Uses: Xenoglossia

Posted August 28th, 2012 . Categories/Tags: Christian Living, Equality and Gender Issues, The Holy Spirit, , , ,

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

31 comments on “The Holy Spirit and Equality in the Book of Acts

  1. Don Johnson says:

    A God-fearer is one who had initiated the process of conversion to become a Jew, but for whatever reason had not completed it, perhaps because they had not had enough time yet or because they did not want to be circumcised or because there was something else in full Torah-observance that they did not want to do.

    P.S. The final step of conversion for both men and women was immersion (baptism) in a mikveh and when they rose up, they were said to have been born again (as a Jew) and from henceforth be subject to all the commands of Torah that applied to them.

    A God-fearer was allowed in a synagogue to learn and was able to be in the court of the gentiles in the temple, but not further. They were considered a group between pagans and Jews and were considered to have a place in the world to come, unlike pagans.

    —–

    As you point out, it is important and significant to see that the gifts of the Spirit, including leadership ministry gifts, are not restricted by gender when defined. In the Mosaic covenant, either gender could be a prophet or a judge, the only restrictions were on a priest, who besides being a male, needed to be from Aaron of Levi’s tribe and other physical things and these restrictions were given when the priestly ministry was first defined, that is, the restrictions were given when expected to be given. So NOT giving such restrictions when the new covenant leadership ministries are discussed is very significant.

  2. Marg says:

    Thanks Don. I agree entirely.

    I’ve written about the restrictive qualifications of who could be an OT priest here:
    http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/old-testament-priests-new-testament-ministers/

  3. […] The early church strived to be egalitarian, and inclusive of Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free (Gal 3:28). While this goal was wonderfully achieved wherever the Holy Spirit was moving powerfully and freely (Acts 2:44), equality was not always easy to maintain. So Paul taught that distinctions – which could lead to tensions and divisions – should be avoided. […]

  4. […] The Holy Spirit and Equality […]

  5. PETER says:

    In Christ there is no gender nor race: we are all one. Gender and race are physical or flesh, not Spiritual. Spirit we hear and feel. But we can’t touch Spirit. Be all Blessed family!!

  6. Marg says:

    Thanks Peter. God bless you too!

  7. […] Being Filled with the Spirit; The Holy Spirit and Equality […]

  8. […] Some people do not believe that this patriarchal gospel is harmful. They do not see any sexist behavior in their churches or in any Christian communities they are involved in.  (For rebuttals of these teachings see posts by Rachel Stone, The Junia Project, God’s Word to Women, Rachel Held Evans one & two, and NewLife.) […]

  9. […] Some people do not believe that this patriarchal gospel is harmful. They do not see any sexist behavior in their churches or in any Christian communities they are involved in.  (For rebuttals of these teachings see posts by Rachel Stone, The Junia Project, God’s Word to Women, Rachel Held Evans one & two, and NewLife.) […]

  10. […] We need to be wary that we do not quench the Spirit by discriminating where he does not.  [More about equality and the Spirit here.]  […]

  11. […] The Holy Spirit and Equality […]

  12. […] The Holy Spirit and Equality […]

  13. […] Only the Holy Spirit can change hearts. We must not rely on ourselves or on our arguments (no matter how biblical or articulate) but trust and pray that the Holy Spirit is working in another person’s life. I truly believe that “equality” is a fruit of the Spirit. […]

    • I love studying what the Bible really says about God’s creation of male and female in his image, and of the Holy Spirit’s equal treatment and empowerment of men and women in the Book of Acts and other New Testament documents. Equality as a fruit of the Spirit–an interesting thought to ponder. Endeavoring to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace would inspire us to accept male and female believers as equal in Christ. What about holding offices in the church?

      • Marg says:

        Many women were leaders in the very early church. Paul gave them the same titles as he did the male ministers, titles such as “apostle” (Junia), “deacon” (Phoebe), and his favourite designation “co-worker” (Priscilla, Euodia, Syntyche, etc).

        Some people have an understanding of church leadership and an understanding gender roles which excludes women from some ministries, but I believe their views on church leadership and gender roles are not based on the teachings of Jesus or the apostles. More on authority in the church here.

  14. […] The Holy Spirit and Equality in Acts […]

  15. […] The Holy Spirit and Equality in Acts […]

  16. […] The Holy Spirit and Equality in the Book of Acts […]

  17. […] If we put women in the corner we will lose a Kleinod, a jewel. It is peculiar that when the Holy Spirit says your daughters will prophesy, we tell them ‘no.’ […]

  18. I love this. Absolutely beautiful and true. Am linking and quoting in tomorrow’s post. Would you be willing to give me permission to use the photo with my blog post for tomorrow?

    • Marg says:

      Thanks Keri!

      I love this picture, but the permission isn’t mine to give. Gisele, the artist, seems quite free about who uses her art, though. At the bottom of my endotes is some information about her.

  19. […] The Holy Spirit and Equality in the Book of Acts […]

  20. […] The Holy Spirit and Equality in the Book of Acts […]

  21. […] I advocate for women in ministry because I see in the New Testament that ministry and leadership was shared in the dynamic, inclusive, Spirit-led culture of the very early church, and was not restricted to men. […]

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