Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Pentecost, Holy Spirit, Acts 2

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, or mutuality, of men and women in marriage and in the church. Seeing this interest and need, I have focused much of my writing on equality.

Sometimes, though, I’ve questioned whether I should be focusing on the issue of equality so much, and whether I should be writing more about the ministry of the Holy Spirit. But 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 early decades of the Christian movement, 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, the church.

On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on all 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 when they heard the Christians declaring the wonders of God in 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 previous times.

“And in the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh (i.e. all people).
Your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
and your youth will see visions, and your seniors will dream dreams.
And indeed on my male servants/slaves and on my female servants/slaves
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 and ministry abilities, 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 any 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, as people graciously and willingly responded to the apostles’ teachings that were inspired by the Holy Spirit.[2]

The author of Acts writes,

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 his 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 (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 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 mutuality, 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 prejudices, hierarchies, and caste systems in the Body of Christ and in the world.

Footnotes

[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 that 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; Eph. 4:11-12; Col. 3:16; Heb. 2:4; 1 Pet. 4:9-11. The verses that seem to restrict the ministry of women are few indeed.  [My articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 here, and on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 here.]

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

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Image

“Pentecost” by Canadian artist Gisele Bauche. Gisele’s website is here.

Related Articles

“Equality” in Paul’s Letters
Galatians 3:28: Our Identity in Christ and in the Church
The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith … Gender?
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

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

19 thoughts on “The Holy Spirit and Equality in the Book of Acts

  1. 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. Thanks Don. I agree.

    I’ve written about the restrictive qualifications of who could be an OT priest here:
    https://margmowczko.com/old-testament-priests-new-testament-ministers/

  3. 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!!

  4. Thanks Peter. God bless you too!

  5. 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?

    1. 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.

  6. My wife and I were “surprised by the Spirit” in 1970 and had a house church of rag tag students from the U of Cincy with others as well. A key to the Jesus Movement was the universal engagement of every believer regardless of race or gender or educational status.

    It is a mark of all “Spirit filled groups” that everyone can and must have and apply the gifts daily. When the “Whole body works as a unit” many people come to faith and many works of charity are accomplished.

  7. I never realized that women may be present in Acts 2:1-4. I suppose the women of Acts 1:14 would be the many women that followed Jesus, and were probably present at Pentecost. If that’s the case, many women were filled with the Spirit and spoke in tongues. I can’t help but think that that has implications for 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. If the Holy Spirit enabled many women to speak in a group of 120 believers (Acts 1:15) and with even more unbelievers nearby, why would God stop women from speaking in much more private and smaller house churches? It’s also interesting that Peter explicitly defends the women’s prophesying with quoted Scripture. (Of course, I am assuming that women were prophesying and speaking in Acts 2:1-4 and that it wasn’t just the apostles mentioned in Acts 2:14; but since Acts 2:1 says they were all together and Acts 1:14-15 mentions women, I think it’s a reasonable conclusion.)

    1. Yes, women were very much part of the first community of believers. And Peter’s quotation of Joel, including the words “your sons,” “your daughters,” “my male servants/slaves,” and “my female servants/slaves,” makes it’s hard to imagine that women weren’t among the original group that received the infilling of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

      Women in the Corinthian Church prophecied and they ministered vocally in other ways too (1 Cor. 11:5; cf. 1 Cor 14:26 CSB, 1 Cor. 14:39 CSB). It was only disorderly speech that Paul silenced in 1 Cor. 14: 28, 30, 34-35.

  8. The only people who received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost were the Twelve Apostles. They were men of Galilee. (Acts 2:7,14) Start in 1:1 and follow the pronouns. The spirit was imparted to others by the laying on of the apostles’ hands later on in Acts.

    1. Dave, I’ll respond to three ideas in your comment.

      1. Masculine language and the pronoun οὗτοί

      I don’t understand why you would want to make such a flimsy and flawed point about pronouns. In Greek, the masculine grammatical gender is the gender used for groups that include only men or groups that included men and women. John 3:16, for example, has a masculine adjective, article, and participle for “everyone who is believing” (πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων). Despite the masculine language, female believers are not excluded from the promise in John 3:16.

      Acts 2:17 has a masculine adjective, demonstrative pronoun, article, participle, and noun in a question which includes this phrase: “these ones speaking were Galileans” (πάντες οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ λαλοῦντες Γαλιλαῖοι) (cf. Acts 1:14). But this does not mean that only men were speaking.

      The masculine demonstrative pronoun οὗτοί does not exclude women in Luke 8:11-15 X3 (the parable of the sower explained); Luke 8:21 (Jesus showing who are his family/followers); Luke 13:2 (“these Galileans” killed by Pilate); Luke 19:40 (a crowd of disciples joyfully and loudly praising God as Jesus enters Jerusalem); Luke 21:4 (people giving money into the temple treasury); etc.

      2. “All flesh” includes Galilean women

      Many Galilean women were faithful followers of Jesus. (I write about this here.) After Jesus’s ascension, women were with the Twelve and with Jesus’s brothers praying in the upper room (Acts 1:13-14). Mary the mother of Jesus was there and other women who probably included Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, Salome, and several other Marys. In Acts 1:16 we are told of a gathering where about 120 believers met together. Perhaps half of these 120 people were women. If information from early church documents as well as church statistics from more recent centuries are any indication, however, there would have been more women than men. This gives us the rough figure of sixty-plus female followers of Jesus meeting in Jerusalem at this point in time.

      Acts 2:14 specifically mentions Peter and the Eleven, Acts 2:7 does not.

      In Peter’s speech, which he gives with the Eleven by his side and after the Spirit had been initially poured out, he quotes from Joel who said that God will pour out the Holy Spirit on all flesh. Peter quotes Joel as biblical confirmation of what has just taken place. All flesh, that is, all people, includes women. I have no doubt women were among the first to receive this powerful blessing on the Day of Pentecost. Peter’s quotation makes mention of sons and daughters, and male servants and female servants. Again, Peter chose this passage from Joel to prove that what had just happened, the Holy Spirit being poured out on all flesh, was biblical. Joel had foreseen this day.

      3. The Holy Spirit doesn’t need middle-men

      The Holy Spirit is freely given to all followers of Jesus and he doesn’t need a middle-man.

      The New Testament shows that the Holy Spirit is not dependent on the laying on hands of the apostles. For example, Peter observed that the Gentiles in Cornelius’s home “have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” No one laid hands on these people. (See Acts 10:44-48.) And the Holy Spirit gives his gifts as he determines (1 Cor. 12:11). The Holy Spirit is not owned and operated by apostles only.

      As I said, I have no doubt that women were in the first group that received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Peter’s words about “all flesh” were not just heard by the crowd, they were demonstrated.

  9. Hi Marg,
    I realized when teaching this passage in Acts to teens that children and teens were almost certainly included in the group at Pentecost too! Luke’s emphasis that ALL the 120 believers were “together together” for 10 days means family units were almost certainly present. Doesn’t Luke say that the Spirit came upon ALL present? That would include children. Joel’s prophecy mentions young and old.

    1. That’s a wonderful insight, Julie. I’m sure you’re right.

  10. Marg, my guess is that Dave comes from a Church of Christ background, as I heard this argument many times growing up. It’s an anti-Pentecostal/charisimatic argument, not an anti-female argument, though it is convenient that it excludes women. The idea is that the apostles received the holy spirit on the day of Pentecost, and they were able to pass it to others through the laying on of hands. Important here is that only the apostles could do this. So when the apostles died, no one else was able to pass on the miraculous gift of the holy spirit. The pronoun argument says that all pronouns refer back to the Twelve, not anyone else present. However, that argument ignores everything you laid out in your points 2 and 3. Saying all that now, it sounds most absurd to me.

    1. Thanks Jenny-Isabella. Thankfully, I’ve heard this argument only a few times. It really is baseless and it ignores the fact that many women were front and centre with the men in the apostolic church.

      In Australia, some Churches of Christ are charismatic. I was a member of a wonderful Church of Christ for several years where I was music director. It was a loving community.

      I actually thought Dave was Roman Catholic. I think the Roman Catholic Church believe the Holy Spirit is only imparted by the Twelve and by men who the Roman Catholic Church regards as successors of the Twelve.

  11. Some people are ardent promoters of the law of first mention & I believe it has distinct hermeneutical value. Acts 2 is the birth of the church (or 1st mention if you like) and here there is definitely no distinction in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit including men & women. They are equally empowered, anointed & equipped.
    Certainly the role of women in church is dealt with in other NT passages & it’s vital that we hear what they have to say however the fact there is no distinction in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit says a lot about the equality of women in ministy

    1. Thanks, Chris. It does say a lot. 🙂

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