During the latter years of Israel’s history as God’s chosen people, as they turned away from God again and again, the prophets of God began foretelling a new day that would dawn for God’s people.  Isaiah prophesied a day when the house of the Lord would be established in Jerusalem and the word of the Lord would flow from there so that those who came to Him would go and and say, “Come, let us go up to the house of the Lord, the house of the God of Jacob that he may teach us His way and we may walk in his path.”  (Isaiah 2:2-4)  Daniel foretold a coming kingdom that would be established in the days of the Roman kings that would be ruled by the Lord and would spread through all the nations in Daniel chapter two.  Jeremiah told of the day when God would make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Jacob that wouldn’t be like the covenant he had made with Israel when he took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt.  This new covenant would be written on their hearts and known and read of all men.  In this covenant he would be our God and we his people and all would know the Lord so that no one needed to go and say to another “know the Lord.”  He would forgive our transgressions and our sins and iniquities he would remember no more. (Jeremiah 31:31ff).  Joel gave one of the more vivid pictures of that coming day in chapter two of his book beginning in verse 28.  “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants both men and women I will pour out my Spirit in those days.  I will show wonders in the heavens and on earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke.  The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance as the Lord has said even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.”

It is primarily this last promise, that Peter on the day of Pentecost quoted and declared, “This is that that was spoken by Joel the prophet”.  Think for a moment of the things that this promise would change from what had been true during the old order of things.  First, God promised that he would pour out his Spirit on all people, not just the Israelites any longer.”  God had a mystery that had been hidden from their view for centuries and that was that the day was coming when the chosen people wouldn’t be a special nation but those who committed their lives to Jesus to become part of the church or kingdom of Christ.  Second, it was amazing because God said when that special day comes it won’t be just for the men, but my sons and daughters will prophesy, old and young will receive the Spirit and servants, whether men or women will be blessed with this Spirit.  Third, whoever will may call on the name of the Lord and be saved.  While it was the case always that God made a way for the Gentiles to be saved, by providing them witnesses all along, it wasn’t the case that they were treated with the same favoritism that the Jews were.

It is powerful to think of all three of these since all of them speak of an entirely different attitude than had been the case.  Now it wasn’t the case that all of these happened immediately.  The church began under the commission of Jesus to be witnesses of him in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth in Acts 1:8.  It took several years for the message to move from Jerusalem to Judea then Samaria.  It took even more years for the gospel to be preached to the first Gentile when Peter went to the family of Cornelius under God’s direct charge.  But it didn’t take long for the message to spread even more to those gentiles and head toward the “Around the world” plan.  What about with the plan to have men and women receive the Spirit and to prophesy, dream dreams or see visions?  While it could be true that the 120 on Pentecost received the baptism of the Spirit there are several points that indicate it was only the apostles, such as the people saying, “Are not all these who speak to us Galileans?  Yet we hear them speak in our own language in which we were born,”  The first clear time of women receiving this gift of the Spirit that led to gifts such as prophesy is in Acts 10:44-46 when all those of Cornelius family had come together to hear Peter preach and “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the 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.”  Peter then raised the question, “Can anyone forbid water that these should be baptized with water.  They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”

It might be argued that when Peter referred to this gift of the Spirit that he was talking about that gift given to all Christians at the point of their baptism (Acts 2:38).  But that was for everyone and Joel was specific about what would happen when they received this spiritual gift.  It would lead to prophesying, visions and dreams from the Lord.

In Acts 21 some twenty years after the beginning of the church and Peter’s quotation of Joel Luke told us that when Paul and his company came to Caesarea they staying in the home of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven.  He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.”  The text doesn’t say where or when they prophesied.  Was it before the church or was it more private in the homes of the people?   We don’t know that.  What we know is that it is an example of what Joel prophesied would happen.  Later in I Corinthians 11 there is an illustration of women praying and prophesying in some kind of gathering of the Christians.  There are many very specific issues going on in the church in Corinth that lay behind Paul’s instruction.  Both at the beginning and conclusion of his points Paul speaks of “Traditions” or “Customs”.

Two major things were going on that we know about.  One is that Corinth was home to a temple to Aphrodite the goddess of love or sex and that prostitution was part of the practice of worship in that temple.  The prostitutes cut their hair short and went out without a veil in the city.  Thus women in the church without a veil identified them with the immoral ladies in the area.  Second, we know that Corinth was filled with some 70% slaves.  Veils were worn by married women almost as a wedding ring is in our time to demonstrate their being married.  But slaves were not allowed to have a legal marriage.  A man and woman might be devoted to each other and establish a home together but their marriage wasn’t recognized as legal.  So when they came together as God’s people those slave women were without the veil.  Part of Paul’s point is that in Christ there is no place for these distinctions.  In Christ there is neither male nor female, slave or free (Galatians 3:28).  So Paul was telling them that anyone, whether slave or free, married or single, even if they had been prostitutes in the past should now be allowed to wear that veil and be accepted in the body on the same basis as these married women.  It was also a declaration that the man in the church wasn’t allowed to wear such a veil.  It dishonored their head when they did.

But notice that he didn’t tell them to stop the women from praying and prophesying in the presence of the men.  Instead he told them to wear the veil to demonstrate their submission to the man.  But it was clear that they could speak to the group and pray before the group including the men.  Here was a time when Joel’s promise was actually being carried out on two levels.  Men and women would prophesy and that men and women slaves would prophesy, see dreams or have visions.  The real question here is whether the limitation of submission was part of the custom to be followed to keep from harming the reputation and acceptance of the preaching of the church or was it a principle laid down for all time.  It is certain the veil was a local, present custom.  We will look closer at the next part of the question in the next article.

About leoninlittlerock

Preaching minister for Central church of Christ in Little Rock. Author of over 20 books including: When a Loved one Dies, Spiritual Development, Skid Marks on the Family Drive, Challenges in the church, To Know Christ and A Drink of Living Water.
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