“Egalitarian Claim 5.10: Priscilla Taught Apollos: Since Priscilla and Aquila both “explained” to Apollos “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26), women can teach men in the church” (Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, 177).
The above statement comes as an egalitarian response regarding women in the church. Wayne Grudem opposes the idea of women teaching, and, as always, attempts to find a way to debunk the egalitarian argument. His response to the above claim? First, he points out the difference between public teaching and private teaching. According to Grudem, the case of Priscilla teaching Apollos was a private event (Answer 5.10b) and there is a difference between women teaching in private and women teaching in public. His final conclusion in the matter of Priscilla, however, is the following (Answer 5.10C):
“…it is specifically in situations where the whole church is assembled that Paul restricts governing and teaching activities to men (see 1 Corinthians 14:33-36; 1 Timothy 2:11-15; see also qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1). The example of Priscilla and Aquila instructing Apollos privately in Acts 18:26 does not contradict this” (Grudem, 179).
Go back to page 75 of Grudem’s book and notice that he talks about this passage in direct relation to 1 Timothy 2. As I’ve stated so many times before, Grudem uses 1 Timothy 2 as a “proof-text” for his inherent gender bias. Here, he argues that, since Priscilla taught him in private, this passage does not contradict 1 Timothy 2.
But Grudem makes a mistake. The emphasis of Acts 18:26 is not about women teaching in private (notice that Aquila aids in this endeavor). Rather, it is about a couple knowledgeable in the faith teaching someone who is not. The focus of the passage is on how to correct fellow believers in a loving and gentle manner. All of Scripture focuses on correcting others first in private, then, if need be, in public. To demonstrate this, the following discussion will start with the New Testament. But first, let’s look at Acts 18:24-26 (NASB):
“Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, BEING ACQUAINTED ONLY WITH THE BAPTISM OF JOHN; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But WHEN PRISCILLA AND AQUILA HEARD HIM, THEY TOOK HIM ASIDE and explained to him the way of God more accurately.”
The two “all caps” phrases are the emphasis of these three verses. Note that Apollos was “an eloquent man…mighty in the Scriptures.” He was not only a good orator, but one very well-versed, one who studied Scripture assiduously. He knew Scripture backwards and forwards. However, there was one problem: he was “acquainted only with the baptism of John.” He only knew of John’s baptism, although John had told of Christ’s baptism to follow. He knew a lot, but he didn’t know everything!
Priscilla and Aquila hear him speaking boldly in the synagogue. The moment they hear him, do they correct him in public? No—they take him aside in private and correct him. This response is a response of love and gentleness that God’s Word requires of us. But this passage is not focusing on women teaching men in private. Grudem claims to be a strict literalist when it comes to 1 Timothy 2: but if he was, he would know that Paul writes (according to Grudem’s own view) that a woman should not teach a man—but it doesn’t say under what context a woman could teach a man! Paul says that a woman can’t (to use Grudem’s belief)! If Grudem believes women can teach men, just not in a public setting, then it must cause a person to pause and wonder if something else isn’t driving Grudem’s belief about women in ministry. If God can use a woman’s ministry gifts in private, why can’t He use them in public? God acknowledged Mary in public as a woman favored by God who was chosen to bear the Christ child…and Mary’s faithfulness to God is something only God saw. David was one who loved God in his heart, and yet, God anointed David publicly, not just in his household among his brothers but also announced him later in the presence of the nation of Israel. God is not one to just use people in secret; He also exalts them in public. Other examples would include Joseph, who was sold into slavery privately by his brothers (Genesis) but later became prime minister of Egypt, as well as Esther who, although a Jewish queen in private, was allowed to save her people publicly. Notice in the Esther story that Mordecai, Esther’s cousin (acting as uncle) exhorted Esther in private, but was exalted by God in public after the Jews’ lives were spared from extinction. Last but not least, look at Jesus—He was born in a little manger in Bethlehem, but later was crucified publicly on a cross in order to redeem and reconcile mankind back to God. Jesus often said many times while on earth that “My hour has not yet come” (John 2, John 7:6), and “my time is near” (Matthew 26:18) to indicate a set time in which He had to be publicly displayed on the cross (see Galatians 4:4 about “the fullness of time”).
Now that we’ve spent time showing examples of private to public displays of God’s ordained gifting of His children, let’s look at some passages that display correction of God’s people in the New Testament. We will look at the Old Testament examples in the days to come.
I. Correction in the New Testament
The example of Priscilla and Aquila with Apollos (Acts 18) seems to show us what love the couple extended to Apollos, while he possessed no knowledge of Christ’s baptism. His ignorance of the subject explains why Priscilla and Aquila took him aside. After all, Apollos is the subject of Acts 18:24-26, not Priscilla. She, like Aquila, is an innocent bystander who simply wants to teach Apollos so that the Gospel would not be blasphemed. The emphasis is Apollos, not Priscilla.
Matthew 18:15-17 shows a person how to teach someone regarding their sin:
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private…if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED…if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church…”
There is a three-step process here for dealing with a person who is wrong: first, tell them one-on-one; then, take another person or two with you; finally, tell the church; and if the person refuses to listen after that, reject him and walk away. Jesus told the disciples this process of how to encounter individuals in the body of Christ within the context of “becoming like children” in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 18:3) and going after those who are astray (Matt. 18:12-14). To confess sin and see one’s fault is what it means to be like a little child, to humble oneself (Matt. 18:4). To go after those who are astray involves chasing down those who have sinned in your presence (Matt. 18:15). This is part of what it means to do evangelism—go after those who are like that one stray sheep (18:12).
In the case of Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila were both present when Apollos began to teach of John’s baptism, so they both were present to inform Apollos of Christ’s baptism. With the words of Christ, we see that the first step to conducting church discipline is to go to that person IN PRIVATE, not humiliate him in public just to prove a point, or show how sinful he is. The purpose of discipline is to help the person turn from their sin, not make them look like the “chief of sinners” (although Paul labeled himself as such—1 Timothy 1).
However, if a person continues to sin, then other measures are to be taken—next, you take others with the person. After that doesn’t work, then it is time to exercise church discipline, and the church must take action in the problem. We will cover the justification for further action in the next blog on teaching.