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 equaliser 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 young adults 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 equaliser 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