As friends and I met for dinner to enjoy pictures of mutual friends' wedding, their four-year-old joined in the fun. At one stage I asked this child which picture was her favorite, and she quickly pointed to one saying "This one!" When I asked why, she pointed again and said the name of her best friend. Her parents and I strained our eyes to have another look. We'd been focusing on the images of adults and failed to observe a little girl - her best friend - poking her head just slightly around her mother's knee. We all broke into laughter, realizing we had missed something precious to this child. This little girl noticed an individual similar to herself in the photograph while the adults were looking only at the other adults. It was one of those profound moments when you realize how experience shapes observation.
The same is true when women read Scripture. Women tend to observe other women. It should not surprise us that as women entered universities in the 1800s, they were among the first to note women evangelists (Mark 7:24-30, John 4:5-42, John 20:17, Phil. 4:2-3); deacons (Rom. 16:1-2); teachers (Acts 18:24-26, Col. 3:16); leaders of house churches (Acts 16:13-15, 40; Acts 18: 1-3, 18, 24-26; Rom. 16:3; 1 Cor. 1:11; Col. 4:15; Phil. 1-2; and 2 John 1:1); Junia the apostle (Rom.16:7), and women like Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis who "worked hard in the Lord" (Rom. 16:12). To "work hard in the Lord" is how Paul describes his own missionary work.
Women were also at the forefront of recovering the contributions of women throughout church history. Here are a few examples:
The Early Church
The earliest Western translation of Scripture was the work of a 4th century male-female translation team - Paula (347-404 A.D.) and Jerome. Jerome, a prominent early church leader, hailed Paula's mastery of Hebrew and her ability to speak it without a Latin accent. In gratitude for her, Jerome dedicated much of his work to her.
Macrina (330-379) was the older sister to Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa, and both credit her for their theological education. Insisting that humility and love are the fruit of scholarship, Basil (famous for his defense of the Nicene Creed) and Gregory (known for his theological understanding of the Holy Spirit) both called Macrina "teacher."
Apollonia was a prominent deacon in the Alexandrian church who was brutally martyred in 249 A.D. Like all deacons, she cared for the ill, provided a theological education to converts, anointed the sick with oil, and held a position of leadership in the church.