women preachers in the Bible, preaching words

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In the past few days, I’ve seen or been involved in online conversations about whether or not there are New Testament women who preached. The way “preaching” words are used in the New Testament, however, is different from what many Christians today regard as “preaching.” This difference causes problems when arguing from scripture about what women supposedly can and cannot do in the church. In this article, I look at how “preaching” words (particularly those in the kērug– family) are used in the New Testament and I mention the men and women who preached.

The “Preaching” Nouns

Kērux: herald, proclaimer, preacher

The Greek noun translated as “preacher” is kērux and it has the sense of “a herald.” In first-century usage, a kērux is a person with a message to proclaim publicly. This connotation of public proclamation is seen in all words in the kērug– family (which includes kērux).

In the New Testament, this noun occurs only three times. It is used of Paul (twice) and Noah (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11; 2 Pet. 2:5). So technically, Paul and Noah are the only people in the New Testament who are actually called “preachers.” Other people—John the Baptist is one clear example—ministered like heralds.

Kērugma: proclamation, preaching

The related abstract noun kērugma refers to the message of heralds.[1] C.H. Dodd studied this word in the New Testament, especially in the context of Christianity, and explains that the preached message, the kērugma, is primarily concerned with the lordship and resurrection of Christ. Dodd defines preaching (kērugma) as “the public proclamation of Christianity to the non-Christian world.”[2]

The Samaritan woman had become increasingly aware of who Jesus was during their long conversation recorded in John 4. At the end of the conversation, Jesus revealed to her that he was the Messiah, the Christ (John 4:25-26). In response, she went and publicly announced to the townfolk of Sychar: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:29) Further in John 4 it says, “Now many Samaritans from that town believed in [Jesus] because of the woman’s word (logos) when she testified (martureō), ‘He told me everything I ever did’” (John 4:39).[3]

Mary Magdalene also had a message to proclaim which is encapsulated in the words, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:17-18). She delivered this message when the gospel was brand new. She proclaimed it to people who did not know that Jesus had come back to life.

The Samaritan woman and Mary Magdalene were witnesses of Jesus. And while kērug– words are not used of their speech, they spoke about what they knew to a group of people who did not yet know about the lordship or resurrection of Jesus. Their important messages fit the pattern of New Testament preaching (kērugma).

The “Preaching” Verbs

The verb for “preach/proclaim,” kērussō, and verbs with similar meanings―euaggelizomai (“tell/preach the gospel/good news”) and kataggellō (“announce/preach a message”)―are used of the ministries of John the Baptist (Acts 10:37), Jesus, the Twelve, the Seventy-Two, Philip the evangelist (Acts 8:12), and Paul the apostle and his companions.[4]

In Matthew 10, Jesus gives the Twelve several instructions including, “As you go, preach/proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near’” (Matt. 10:7; cf. Mark 6:12-13; Luke 9:1-2; cf. Acts 10:39-43; Matt. 10:27). The larger group of his disciples, the Seventy-Two, are given the same message. Jesus told the Seventy-Two, “Tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:8-9).

The Seventy-Two, most likely, included women. Women were among Jesus’ most faithful disciples. And from the beginning of the Christian mission, there were male-female missionary couples such as Priscilla and Aquila, Andronicus and Junia, and Peter and his unnamed wife (cf. 1 Cor. 9:5).[5]

Richard Bauckham writes,

If we read on from Luke 8:1-3 in the company of Joanna and the other women, it will not be possible to read Luke 10:1-20 where Jesus sends out the seventy-two disciples to participate actively in his own mission of preaching and healing, without assuming that women are included among these disciples.[6]

In Acts and in Paul’s letter, the verb kērussō is used several times for Paul’s ministry. As soon as he was converted, he started preaching that “Jesus is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). In his letters, Paul sometimes says, “I preach(ed) …,” but at other times he uses the plural, “we preached …” (Rom. 10:8; 1 Cor. 1:23; 15:11; 2 Cor 4:5; 11:4; 1 Thess. 2:9.) And he tells Timothy to preach (2 Tim. 4:2).

There’s no reason to think that when Paul says “we preached” he does not include women like Priscilla, Euodia, Syntyche, Phoebe, or Junia. Women such as Priscilla went on missionary journeys with Paul (Acts 18:18-19; Rom. 16:3-5; etc). Women such as Euodia and Syntyche ministered “in the gospel” with Paul (Phil. 4:2-3). Women such as Phoebe travelled and represented Paul to others as his agent (Rom. 16:1-2). Junia, as one half of a missionary couple, may have often preached the gospel and, at least once, it landed her in prison with Paul (Rom. 16:7). These women, and others, were also involved in ministry in their local churches.

It is important to note that Paul uses the same ministry terminology for these female ministry colleagues (who he identifies by name) as he does for his male ministry colleagues (who he identifies by name): coworker, minister (diakonos), apostle, brother/sister, labourer. I’ve previously written about this here.

Women Speaking and Preaching

Church gatherings in the first century looked very different to how church services are run today. Most congregations met in a house and attached themselves to the household which was sometimes overseen by a woman such as Nympha or Lydia. And in at least some churches associated with Paul, if not all, both men and women participated and contributed spoken ministries, sometimes spontaneously (1 Cor. 14:26 CSB; Col. 3:16 CSB).[7]

Moreover, in his lists of ministries in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:28, or Ephesians 4:11, Paul never says that some of these ministries are off-limits to women, this includes the ministries of teaching and leading.[8] Paul doesn’t include “preaching” in his lists of ministry gifts and functions. Perhaps because preaching is not something that usually happened in church gatherings. It was not a ministry to fellow believers. Preaching in the New Testament, in the context of Christian ministry, is practically synonymous with evangelising.

Conclusion

When we use scripture to discuss what women can or cannot do, we need to understand and use scriptural terms in the way the original authors understood and used these terms. When we do this, we see that the idea that New Testament women didn’t preach is flawed. We also see that New Testament preaching has little bearing on ministry within the local church in either the first century or today.

Instead of looking at what the Bible doesn’t say about women, an argument from silence, it is more profitable to look at what the Bible does say about women: women such as Deborah, the wise woman of Abel Beth Macaah, Huldah, King Lemuel’s mother, Mary and Martha of Bethany, Mary Magdalene, the Samaritan woman, Tabitha, Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, Nympha, Lydia, and many others.[9]

We should also look at what the Bible says about Christian ministry in general and at the verses that apply to gifted women as well as to gifted men: Acts 2:17-18; Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:28, 14:26; Ephesians 4:11; Colossians 3:16, etc. Some New Testament women performed the ministries listed in these verses. And some women preached the lordship and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let’s not deter women from preaching the gospel.

“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.” Romans 10:14-16 CSB (Italics added)

Footnotes

[1] Information on kērugma is here. All occurrences of kērugma in the NT are here.

[2] C.H. Dodd, The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments (Harper and Row, 1964), 261.

[3] The Greek word logos is also used for Jesus’ words in John 4:41. Martureō (“testify/witness”) and its cognates are words often used for the ministry of the Twelve. One of the main ministries of the Twelve was to be a witness of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
The Samaritan woman’s message sounds a bit vague, but it may have been a clever and disarming way of introducing Jesus to the people in her town.

[4] Information on kērussō is here. All occurrences of kērussō in the NT are here.

[5] More about Paul’s reference to “sister-women” in 1 Corinthians 9:5 here.

[6] Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of Named Women in the Gospels (London: T. & T. Clark, 2002), 200.

[7] The way women were respected in the ancient world varied from city to city. In some cities, especially Roman colonies and cities in Macedonia, it wasn’t an issue for women to speak and lead in house churches. Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia and we see women being leaders in the church at Philippi. More about women church leaders in Philippi here. More about the ministry of women in first-century churches here.

[8] Paul’s restrictions in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 and in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 are in reference to unedifying, disorderly speech in the Corinthian Church and about the faulty teaching and bad behaviour of a woman in the Ephesian Church. I have written about these verses here and here.

[9] I have written about all these Bible women, and more. Use the search field to find articles on these women or click here.

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