In the search for a more inclusive understanding of God, the feminine “Sophia” has for many persons become a bridge between traditional Christianity and feminist concerns. So we ask: Who is Sophia, and where did she come from? Is she the long-awaited answer to this search?
In studying the Old Testament, we uncover the unmistakable narratives of women who took leadership and teaching roles among God’s people. Deborah, Miriam, and Huldah stand out as impressive examples of these OT women leaders. Similarly in the earliest days of the Christian church, women were teaching and proclaiming Christian doctrine to men. Anna, Priscilla, and Mary were listed as outstanding among the apostles (Junia). Women even prophesied before the congregation of God’s people (the daughters of Phillip).
This article originated as a paper that I presented at the Pacific Coast Region/Society of Biblical Literature meeting, New Testament Epistles and Apocalypse Section, at St. Mary’s College, Moraga, California, in March 2002. I wish to focus here on the distinctive theology of Hebrews and how it relates to gender equality.
My field of research is Adolf von Harnack’s hypothesis that Priscilla is the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews.1 I argue for the theory. There are two main objections to the Priscilla theory that I want to state and refute in order to assure its plausibility.
Impairment is any loss or abnormality of structure or function, be it psychological, physiological, or anatomical. A disability is any restriction or inability to perform an activity in the manner or range considered normal for a human being. The restriction or inability results from impairment. A handicap is a disadvantage for a given individual that limits or prevents the fulfillment of a role that is normal. As traditionally used, impairment refers to a problem with a structure or organ of the body; disability is a functional limitation with regard to a particular activity; and handicap refers to a disadvantage in filling a role in life relative to a peer group.
Was Priscilla one of the most successful teachers, evangelists, and writers in the early church? A survey of Priscilla’s ministry in Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus reveals a woman whose abilities and life’s circumstances beg the question: Was it Priscilla who wrote Hebrews?
Paul is concerned with gender in 1 Timothy because the women at Ephesus were individuals whose leadership did not demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. Paul is objecting not to their gender, but to their leadership that domineered over men. We understand this because of the unique verb Paul selects for “authority” (1 Tim 2:12).
Rather than using the most common Greek terms for authority or oversight, like exuosia or proistemo, Paul uses the term authentein—a term that would have caught the attention of first century readers! Why? What does this word mean?
Apollos was an impressive speaker; he was eloquent, knowledgeable, fervent, and bold. Priscilla and her husband, Aquila were in a synagogue in Ephesus one Sabbath, listening to him speak about Jesus when they noticed something lacking in his message. Apollos did not know about Christian baptism.