7 Women in the New Testament & Their Example to the Church

An image of Mary, the mother of Jesus, to represent poweful women in church history for Women's History Month

If I asked you to name a woman in the Bible, who would come to mind? How many could you name?

Countless sermons have been preached about Esther and Ruth. We’ve scrutinized the woman at the well’s encounter with Jesus and celebrated Rahab’s strategic participation in the Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land. Throughout Scripture, women have faithfully proclaimed the gospel, offered their time and expertise, ministered to the marginalized, and actively contributed to the life and growth of their communities and the church. What richness can we gain by studying the influence of women like Lydia and Priscilla, Miriam and Deborah, Anna and Phoebe?

This Women’s History Month, let’s explore the stories of seven women in the New Testament. Their narratives are sometimes overlooked, but they were profoundly significant to the life and growth of the early church. The lessons woven through their stories endure for us today.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, an example of trusting through obedience (Luke 1:38–56)

Mary, the mother of Jesus, plays an important role in God’s plan of redemption throughout the Gospels and is even depicted briefly in Acts during Pentecost (1:14). The Gospel writers consistently portray Mary as exemplifying faithful obedience and submission to the will of God, as shown in some of her first words in Luke: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

She receives God’s word through Gabriel that she will bear the Son of God, and she responds by reminding herself again and again of God’s faithfulness to her and to Israel through the coming of Jesus. Nowhere is this more on display than within Mary’s song of praise (Magnificat) in Luke 1:39–56. 

Nijay Gupta characterizes Mary’s Magnificat as “resembling Old Testament hymns of divine victory.”1 Gupta led me to another writer, Barbara Reid, who likened the Magnificat to “militant songs that exalt the saving power of God that has brought defeat to those who have subjugated God’s people”2—like those sung by Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1–10, Deborah in Judges 5, and Miriam in Exodus 15.

Verse by verse, Mary articulates God’s enduring favor towards the lowly, the hungry, and the oppressed “from generation to generation” (Luke 1:50–55). She contrasts her own humility in worship of the “Mighty One who has done great things” (Luke 1:48–49).

With her proclamation, Mary becomes one of the earliest New Testament heralds of Christ’s redemptive coming and fulfillment of God’s covenant to Abraham, a message that comes into clearer focus as the Gospels progress through Jesus’s life and ministry. Recognizing her privileged role as the bearer of Jesus, Mary obediently submits herself to God’s plan of redemption in her and through her. 

Anna, an example of seeing the Savior (Luke 2:36–38)

Amid the familiar narrative of Jesus’s presentation in the temple in Jerusalem in Luke 2, we meet Anna. She’s called a “prophetess”—a woman “inspired to proclaim or reveal divine will or purpose,”3 akin to the women given the same designation in the Old Testament, such as Miriam (Exod 15:20), Deborah (Judg 4:4), Huldah (2 Kgs 22:14), and Isaiah’s wife (Isa 8:30).

screenshots of the Logos Bible app open to a Word Study for prophet and prophetess in the NT Greek and OT Hebrew

Use the Logos Bible Word Study to examine the words for “prophet” and “prophetess” in New Testament Greek, and “prophet” and “prophetess” in Old Testament Hebrew.

Despite the absence of direct quotations from Anna in Luke’s Gospel, these are women who receive a word from the Lord to speak. The text notably highlights Anna’s advanced age as a widow (“a widow until she was eighty-four”) and her steadfast devotion through worship, fasting, and prayer “night and day” (Luke 2:37).

Her age and position in society as a widow do not exclude her from active participation in God’s kingdom. She abides in the temple, worshiping God in his holy place, and it is there where she recognizes Jesus as Mary and Joseph bring him to the temple for consecration.

Anna beholds her Messiah, the long-awaited fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel, and she immediately worships, giving “thanks to God” and goes “to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

Anna embodies a harmonized hope and expectation who was given eyes to recognize Jesus the Messiah and a prophetic calling to proclaim God’s redemption to all who would listen.

Martha & Mary, an example of resting in the presence of God (Luke 10:38–42; John 11:1–46, 12:3–8)

Many are familiar with Luke’s portrayal of Mary and Martha, two sisters eager to welcome Jesus as a guest into their home in Bethany (ch. 10). Mary prioritizes hospitality and the physical needs of Jesus and his disciples while Mary sits in the presence of Jesus the Teacher—much to Martha’s chagrin, as she implores Mary for help with a home full of guests.

While modern interpretations often pit these sisters against one another in conflict, Jesus’s words to Martha in Luke 10:41 are not a rebuke, but an invitation: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is necessary.”

Lynn Cohick suggests that Martha, in her earnest efforts, “misjudged her priorities,” failing to set aside distractions to rest in Jesus’s presence like her sister Mary.4 Reflecting the parable of the Good Samaritan in the preceding chapter (Luke 10:29–37), Jesus’s message is clear: hearing the Word leads to obedience. Yet how can we faithfully obey if we fail to pause and listen to his teaching? Despite Martha’s sincere intentions of service, “only one thing is needed” (Luke 10:42): to sit at his feet, hear his words, and rest in his presence.

Before we completely discount Martha’s love and care for Christ, take a look at John 11, which recounts the death of their brother Lazarus. There it is Martha who declares her belief in Jesus as the Resurrection and the Life, affirming he is “the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (John 11:27). It is Martha who comprehends and professes the truth of Jesus’s kingship, eagerly anticipating the kingdom to come beyond death.

Mary, too, sees theological truths about Jesus with a striking clarity. Similarly in John 12:3–8, during Jesus’s final week before the crucifixion, Mary anoints his feet with expensive perfume, symbolizing her recognition of him as Israel’s king and also preparing him for burial. Just as Mary witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, she comprehends that Jesus’s death will pave the way for his resurrection and the arrival of the kingdom.

Sisters Mary and Martha have their differences, but both know Jesus from their understanding of the Scriptures and from time spent in the presence of the Teacher.

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Phoebe, an example of serving in generosity (Rom 16:1–2)

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, we encounter Phoebe, one of the earliest female believers mentioned in Scripture. Though details about her are scarce, Paul calls Phoebe a diakonos—a “servant,” “minister,” or “deacon”—of her local church.

He also calls her a “patron” or “benefactor” of his personal ministry. By employing the term diakonos, which Paul uses to characterize his own apostleship as ministry, he sees something he and Phoebe have in common: wholehearted commitment to gospel ministry.

a screenshot of Logos Bible app's word study on the Greek word diakonos

Click here to do a Bible Word Study on the New Testament word diakonos, and see for yourself how Paul and other NT writers used the term.

Situated in the bustling seaport of Cenchreae, a city Paul visited during his third missionary journey (Acts 18:18), Phoebe’s legacy is marked by active service, leadership, and generosity within the region and the church there. 

Phoebe is not just an ordinary believer, but one who is trusted to serve the needs of the church, likely visiting the sick, aiding the poor, and offering financial support to Paul and other ministers of the gospel.

Recognizing her contributions and calling her “sister” (Rom 16:1), signifying her participation in gospel work, Paul urges the Romans to reciprocate this hospitality and “help her in whatever she may need from you” (Rom 16:2) upon her arrival with his letter.

Phoebe gave generously of her time and her resources, fostering the growth of the gospel in her own community and beyond. 

Priscilla, an example of co-laboring in the gospel (Rom 16:3–5; Acts 18:2–3, 18–20, 24–26)

Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, played a pivotal role in the expansion of the church in Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, and beyond. We meet this couple in Acts 18, where they catch Paul’s attention as kindred spirits: fellow tentmakers and entrepreneurs.

Priscilla and Aquila are consistently mentioned together in Scripture, with Priscilla often listed first, suggesting a joint partnership in their ministry.5

Later in Acts, we learn that Priscilla and Aquila journeyed around the Mediterranean, sometimes with Paul and at other times on their own. Though little is said on the specifics of their ministry travels, their encounter in Ephesus with a Jewish man named Apollos is particularly telling: while Apollos is an eloquent teacher and knowledgeable in the Scriptures, Priscilla and Aquila kindly take him aside and refine his theology, teaching him “the way of God more accurately” (Rom 18:24–26). This passage underscores Priscilla’s theological insight and her dedication to teaching the Word within her ministry.

In Romans 16:3–4, Paul refers to them as his “fellow workers,” a term he reserves for his most trusted partners and co-leaders in ministry. He commends Priscilla (and Aquila) for “risking their necks for [his] life” (Rom 16:4), at some point directly or indirectly putting themselves in danger for him, for the sake of the gospel.

Priscilla directly influenced how Jews and Gentiles worshiped together in the same congregation, as “all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks” for her ministry (Rom 16:4). Through her ministry, Priscilla steadfastly imparted the Word of truth with precision, co-laboring with her husband to nurture the saints.

Lydia, an example of hearing and responding in faith (Acts 16:11–14, 40)

In Acts 16, Paul arrives in Philippi on his second missionary journey and finds no Jewish synagogue—but he does encounter a group of devout women gathered outside the city.

They gathered as was custom. As Richard Longenecker writes, they recite the Shema, study the Law and Prophets, and listen attentively to anyone with a message to share. Listening in is Lydia, described as a “seller of purple goods” (Acts 16:14), indicating her wealth and status as a successful businesswoman from Thyatira and as a “worshiper of God” (Acts 16:14), a gentile who reveres the God of Israel.

Lydia’s devout interest in the Jewish faith leads her to this gathering, where she hears Paul preach the gospel. Mirroring the story of the Roman centurion Cornelius in Acts 10, she and her entire household respond in faith and are baptized, becoming the first documented converts in Philippi. As a woman of wealth and hospitality, she graciously welcomes Paul and the apostles into her home (Acts 16:15).

Although little is known about what happens to Lydia after this encounter, Acts 16:40 reveals that Paul and Silas gather with the small body of believers at Lydia’s home, suggesting that her residence had become a hub for Christian outreach and worship in Philippi.

Through Lydia’s embrace of the gospel, her sharing the good news with her family and household, and her hospitality to open her home as a place of worship, the church in Philippi grew and flourished.

An example of gospel transformation 

What unites the New Testament women we’ve discussed: Mary, Anna, Martha and Mary, Phoebe, Priscilla, Lydia?

Each woman was transformed by an encounter with Jesus Christ and his gospel and compelled to obedient and faithful action by their Prophet, Priest, and King.

In the kingdom of Jesus Christ, all are invited without exclusion to participate in the greatest commandments: to love God and to love our neighbor (Matt 22:34–40).

Throughout his ministry, Jesus demonstrated a profoundly countercultural care for the women he encountered, including the woman at the well (John 4:1–26), the woman who bled (Matt 9:20–22; Mark 5:25–34; Luke 8:43–48), and the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53–8:11), to name only a few.

His teachings, posture, and actions towards women and those in the margins are an example to us of what the kingdom of God is called to be and the greater reality we are called into as his bride. As Dorothy L. Sayers poignantly notes, “It is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man—there never has been such another.”6

In the same way, our churches, our seminary classes, our communities, and our families are filled with women who are likewise compelled by the life-transforming gospel of Jesus Christ to care for the orphan and the widow, to serve and lead, to proclaim theological truth, and to give generously.

Women are inherently valuable to the life and growth of the church, from the early church in Acts and the Epistles to the mystic sisters of medieval times, through to the twenty-first century. Whether single or married, mature or new-in-faith, rich or poor, working in a career or caretaking, every woman in God’s kingdom uniquely reflects his image and is gifted and called to participate in kingdom work.

May we see and learn from the examples of these seven women and women like them—and, compelled by our shared call to the gospel of Christ, go and do likewise.

For further reading about women in the Bible

Women in the New Testament

Women in the New Testament

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Tell Her Story: How Women Led, Taught, and Ministered in the Early Church

Tell Her Story: How Women Led, Taught, and Ministered in the Early Church

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The Ministry of Women in the New Testament: Reclaiming the Biblical Vision for Church Leadership

The Ministry of Women in the New Testament: Reclaiming the Biblical Vision for Church Leadership

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101 Questions & Answers on Women in the New Testament

101 Questions & Answers on Women in the New Testament

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Women in the Biblical World: A Survey of Old and New Testament Perspectives

Women in the Biblical World: A Survey of Old and New Testament Perspectives

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Finding Phoebe: What New Testament Women Were Really Like

Finding Phoebe: What New Testament Women Were Really Like

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Rediscovering the Marys: Maria, Mariamne, Miriam (Scriptural Traces)

Rediscovering the Marys: Maria, Mariamne, Miriam (Scriptural Traces)

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Paul's Letter to the Romans (Socio-Rhetorical Commentary | SRC)

Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Socio-Rhetorical Commentary | SRC)

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  1. Nijay Gupta, Tell Her Story: How Women Led, Taught, and Ministered in the Early Church (Grand Rapids: InterVarsity Press, 2023), 53.
  2. Barbara Reid, “An Overture to the Gospel of Luke,” Currents in Theology and Mission 39 (2012): 428–34, at 429.
  3. William Arndt, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 890.
  4. Lynn H. Cohick, “Lesson 7: Mary and Martha of Bethany,” in Women in the New Testament (Lisle, IL: Seminary Now, 2023).
  5. Ben Witherington III, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 375–401.
  6. Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human? Astute and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society (Grand Rapids, IL: Eerdmans, 2005), 68.
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Written by
Cheyenne Lehto

Cheyenne Lehto is a writer and marketing strategist at Logos with a passion for discipleship, her local community, and a perfectly-steeped cup of tea. With over 15 years of experience in church and parachurch ministry, notably in worship leadership and communication roles, she brings a unique blend of creative, theological, and strategic insight to her work inside and outside the church. Cheyenne holds a BA in biblical studies and intercultural studies and lives in Chicago, IL, with her two adorable cats.

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Written by Cheyenne Lehto
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