WOMEN IN MINISTRY, VOLUME TWENTY-TWO

The Female Witnesses to Paul's Radical Inclusionary Practices

In 1888, Annie Armstrong led in the creation of the Woman’s Missionary Union of the Southern Baptist Convention, helping draft the constitution and serving as its first “executive director.” During her tenure, Armstrong refused a salary and traveled extensively at her own expense as a tireless advocate for missionaries, rallying the churches to support mission work through prayer and sacrificial giving. Tens of thousands of missionaries have been funded as a result of her initial leadership.

women in ministry

 

Let the Woman Lead!

Unsurprisingly, it was not without controversy.

 

Annie Armstrong and many other like-minded women forged the missionary funding arm of the Southern Baptist Convention against often fierce opposition from the male SBC leadership.

 

The mid to late 1800s were times when public female leadership was virtually unknown and any woman seeking to lead a national organization (even if it was an organization of women) was viewed with suspicion.

 

Throughout Annie’s career, she successfully gained growing SBC support due to her Christ-like passion and record for achieving results. Yet, controversy continued to follow her as her intentions and decisions were at times questioned, misunderstood, and publicly criticized in various Baptist state newspapers.

 

In 1906, Annie Armstrong resigned her position over the WMU, in part because she felt she could better serve missions behind the scenes. In 1934, four years before her death, the WMU recognized her lifetime of work by naming the annual Easter offering for home missions in her honor.

 

The Accumulative Impact of Women in Paul’s Ministry

Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too” (Rom. 16:12-13).

 

The Apostle Paul would not have approved of the way Annie Armstrong was, at times, treated. Paul incorporated women in every phase of his mission and in every city where he planted churches. He entrusted them with his life and was greatly rewarded.

 

His letters show evidence of the importance of female leadership in his churches. He addressed women directly in nine of his eleven letters.

  • Romans – Phoebe, Mary, Junia, Tryphena and Tryphosa, Persis, Julia, and a host of others.
  • 1st and 2nd Corinthians – Priscilla and Claudia.
  • Galatians – Against circumcision as a sign of the covenant, Sarah and Hagar as metaphor, no male and female in Christ Jesus.
  • Philippians – Eudoia and Syntyche.
  • Colossians – Nympha and the church in her house.
  • 1st and 2nd Timothy – Lois, Eunice, Priscilla, Claudia, and the widows.
  • Philemon – Apphia.

 

For sake of brevity, I will highlight the witness of four more women (two in one church) in the ministry of Paul and then draw some conclusions based on the weight of the evidence.

 

I go into detail only where necessary to refute the anarchist’s attempts to diminish the roles these women played in the early Christian church.

 

Junia, Apostle of Jesus Christ

“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was” (Rom. 16:7).

 

Paul mentions a woman, Junia, who was an apostle and (along with her husband, Andronicus) considered outstanding at her work.

 

There are three critical questions hierarchists pose in an attempt to call Junia’s leadership into question.

 

1. Is Junia a male or female name?

 

There are a few conservative scholars who contend that Junia may not be a female name at all, but a version of the masculine, “Junias.”

 

The hierarchists are not detered by the fact that there has not been a single example of a masculine name “Junias” found in all of Grec0-Roman literature. [268]

 

Junia as a Latin feminine name, on the other hand, is well contested. It is known to be given to slaves or freedwomen of the Junia family and there are over 250 examples found in Roman evidence. [269]

 

According to Jewett, “the evidence in favor of the feminine name “Junia” is overwhelming.” The attempt to turn it into an otherwise unheard of, masculine name, “Junias,”  seems to be founded entirely on the incredulity that a woman would be considered an apostle. Jewett calls it “a figment of chauvinistic imagination.” [270]

 

James Dunn is more measured but concurs with Jewett. As Dunn weighs the same textual evidence for “Junia” as feminine he concludes that “the assumption that it must be male is a striking indictment of male presumption regarding the character and structure of earliest Christianity.” [271] 

 

2. Is the description of Andronicus and Junia meant to be inclusive?  

 

Is Paul including Andronicus and Junia in the circle of Apostles?

 

Exclusive — “Andronicus and Junia are great servants and are considered outstanding by all the Apostles.”

 

Inclusive — “Andronicus and Junia are themselves apostles and are in fact outstanding among the apostles.”

 

Grammatically, it could be read either way, but the weight of the grammar coupled with the early church witness points to the latter. [272]

 

John Chrysostom, the archbishop of Constantinople and early church Father, wrote, “Think how great the devotion of this woman, Junia, must have been, that she should be worthy to be called an apostle.” [273] 

 

Paul was commending Andronicus and Junia as being outstanding apostles.

 

3. What does Paul mean by “Apostle?” 

 

The word apostolos means “sent one.” However, it was used in different ways by the New Testament writers.

 

Andreas J. Kostenberger identifies four types of usage of the word “Apostle” in the New Testament. [274]

 

1.  It may refer to The Twelve (e.g. Matt. 10:2) who were selected by Jesus.

2. The term is also used for someone like Paul who had seen the Lord and was commissioned by him to a special ministry (e.g. 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Col. 1:1).

4. The expression may denote an emissary sent out to perform a certain task or convey a particular message (1 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25).

4. It may refer to an itinerant missionary (e.g. Acts 14:4, 14, of Barnabas).

 

Andronicus and Junia seem to be a husband and wife team and were obviously not a part of the original Twelve found in the gospels.

 

However, they could very well have been “apostles” in any other of the types that Kostenberger identifies.

 

F.F. Bruce and Douglas Moo, for example, separately make a case for Andronicus and Junia as Hellenized Jews who were a part of the crowd that lived in Jerusalem and were present at Pentecost, since Paul identifies them as having been “in the Lord,” longer than he had. [275]

 

This is built on the idea that they might have been founding members of the church and therefore had special honor among the apostles.

 

Kostenberger concludes that they were most likely itinerate missionaries (number 4 on his list). [276] His rationale is not altogether convincing but for the purposes of my argument, his conclusions are irrelevant.

 

Whichever type of “apostle,” Junia was, this much is clear — she (along with her husband) was viewed as an exemplary leader in an official capacity within the work of the church.

 

As a missionary, that work would have necessarily included organizing, teaching, shepherding, and sharing the gospel.

 

Pheobe, Deaconess, and Benefactor

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae” (Rom. 16:1). 

 

Pheobe is only mentioned once in Scripture, but we get a surprising amount of information about her from that solitary appearance. She was obviously a leader in the church at Cenchrea which was adjacent to Corinth, and where Paul spent eighteen months building the churches in the area.

 

Here’s what we learn about Pheobe.

 

1. Paul trusted Pheobe as a leader. 

She was the leader of a group that traveled to Rome, in part, to deliver Paul’s letter. No one traveled alone in the First Century Mediterranean world, and it would have been unthinkable for a woman to travel without a man for protection.

 

Yet, Paul introduced the group by referring to their leader, Pheobe. He asked the Roman Christians to offer proper hospitality to Pheobe the way they would any Christian leader.

 

Romans 16:1-2 follows the standard formula for a letter of recommendation. [277] Paul was formally recommending Pheobe to the Roman Christians as his emissary.

 

In addition, Pheobe was entrusted by Paul to deliver his letter to the Romans. [278]

 

Paul’s letter to the Romans would become arguably his most important writing — the closest we have to a systematic theology from the lips of Paul — and he entrusted its safe delivery to a group led by Pheobe.

 

Allow me to remind you of the definition of a misogynist: a person who hates, dislikes, or mistrusts women. Paul trusted a woman to deliver what would become his most important letter! Paul was no misogynist.

 

2. Pheobe was a wealthy benefactor.

The word Paul uses, “patron,” carried a formal distinction as one who provided both financial and material help (housing, food, etc.) to those in need.

 

Robert Jewett notes that the “patronage role played by Pheobe was not unique.” [279]

 

Ramsay MacMullen has shown that a tenth of all patrons were women. [280]

 

A group of more recent studies has shown that wealthy, upper-class benefactors, both male and female, played a critical role in early Christian communities. [281]

 

Jewett proposes that based on the evidence “the host or hostess of house churches was usually a person of high social standing and means, with a residence large enough for the church to gather, who presided over the eucharistic celebrations and was responsible for the ordering of the congregation.” [282]

 

Paul’s description of Pheobe as a “patron,” combined with his commendation of her and call for the Roman Christians to treat her with the utmost respect, places her at the center of leadership in the church at Cenchrea.

 

3. Pheobe was a deaconess in the church at Cenchrea.

Paul was most likely not calling Pheobe simply a “servant” as some translators indicate. He was more likely referring to her role at Cenchrea as a patron and leader.

 

Deacons, as official leaders are mentioned in Philippians 1:1, and 1 Timothy 3:11 most likely refers to female deacons.

 

In addition, the most natural reading of Paul’s description of Pheobe as a “deacon of the church at Cenchrea,” would classify her as holding an official title, even if the role of deacon was still in its earliest stages of formation. [283]

 

Extra-Biblical evidence also points to the role women played in religion, making Pheobe’s role as an official deacon extremely plausible.

 

Pliny, the Roman magistrate writing towards the end of the first century, refers to female slaves and calls them ministrae (Latin for deacon) in Bithynia. [284]

 

An inscription from the sixth-century A.D. found on the Mount of Olives describes a deaconess named Sophie, and calls her “the second Pheobe.” [285]

 

Origin, the early third-century Christian theologian, in his commentary on Romans, had this to say:

“This passage teaches us that there were women ordained in the church’s ministry by the apostles’ authority … Not only that — they ought to be ordained into the ministry because they helped in many ways and by their good services deserved the praise even of the apostle.” [286]

 

4. Pheobe was traveling to Rome on a mission.

The RSV translation of verse 2 makes it clear that Pheobe was in Rome on a mission. Paul wrote asking the Roman Christians to “receive her [Pheobe] in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.” (emphasis mine)

 

Pheobe was in Rome on a certain “matter” or “business,” and Paul was asking the Roman Christians to offer her any help she needed in order to complete her business.

 

Some point to the word Paul used for “business,” as indicating a lawsuit. [287] Pheobe may have gone to Rome as a litigant in some matter having to do with her work as a patron and businesswoman.

 

The evidence for this is scant, and it is difficult to imagine Paul asking the Roman Christians whom he had never met to help a woman they had never met with a business matter.

 

Robert Jewett makes a rather compelling case for Pheobe’s business in Rome being related to the mission trip Paul was planning to Spain — a trip he mentioned twice in the preceding chapter (Rom. 15:24, 28). [288]

 

Jewett infers that Pheobe had agreed to underwrite a significant project and was the primary reason for Paul’s desire to connect to the Christians in Rome. Pheobe had traveled to Rome to deliver Paul’s letter and “feel out” the church as to their desire to be a part of the financial backing for the trip to Spain.

 

Jewett points out that “the Roman recipients of the letter would understand her to be recommended as the patroness of the Spanish mission, which Paul had announced in the preceding chapter.” [289]

 

Paul writes that Pheobe had been “of help” to him as well. Having a woman of wealth who had already committed to the Spanish mission trip would have put the Roman Christians at ease realizing that the full financial burden would not be on them, but that they would be partners with Pheobe and others.

 

The Women of Philippi

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord” (Phil. 4:3).

 

We have already noted that the church at Philippi was started from a women’s prayer group (Acts 16:11-15).

 

Lydia was instrumental in offering her home. Approximately ten years later, when Paul writes his letter to that church, Lydia is not mentioned. She was from Thyatira and may have returned there.

 

However, it is not surprising that two key female leaders are mentioned in the letter.

 

Paul begs Euodia and Syntyche to find a way to reconcile their differences for the sake of the unity of the church.

 

We know not what these two women were fighting about. What we do know is that Paul would never have mentioned it in such a brief letter had these women not been instrumental in the leadership of the church. [290]

 

Fee observes that Paul does here what he rarely does elsewhere when dealing with conflict — he names names. Fee concludes that this was “extraordinary in Paul’s culture. [291]

 

Paul does not take sides, nor does he diminish these women. On the contrary, he begs the other church leaders to help these women who have been vital to Paul’s ministry in Philippi and have in fact, “contended by his side,” which was a euphemism for suffering together for the sake of the gospel.

 

We know that Junia had been in prison with Paul (Rom. 16:7), and Priscilla had risked her life for Paul (Rom. 16:4). It is possible that these two women had served Paul in a similar manner.

 

In any case, they are important enough leaders in the church at Philippi for Paul to call them out publicly. It would have been unthinkable for him to do that for any other reason.

 

Other Women: The Accumaltive Conclusion

Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too” (Rom. 16:12-13).

 

Space does not allow a more in-depth examination of the numerous other women Paul utilized in his ministry.

 

Nympha of Colossae, who had a church meeting in her house, was most likely another wealthy patron who would have acted similar to a synagogue leader (Col. 4:15). [292]

 

Chloe was yet another wealthy businesswoman who had servants and a strong loyalty to Paul (1 Cor. 1:11).

 

Romans 16 is by far the longest list of c0-workers in Paul’s letters. Ten out of twenty-eight names are women. It is also interesting that the description “hard worker” is reserved exclusively for the women on the list.

 

Romans 16 reveals that in the early church women worked in the same kinds of roles as the men. [293]

 

Andreas J. Kostenberger does an important study on all of Paul’s associates, male and female, and points out that most of them were male. His study shows that “of the persons mentioned in relation to the Pauline mission in the apostle’s writings, 82% are men and 18% are women.” [294]

 

He contends that “the major weight of responsibility borne for the Pauline mission rested on men, a fact that is frequently obscured in studies on the subject which give exclusive consideration to women.” [295]

 

Kostenberger is correct in his assessment. Paul drew many men to the ministry, and his closest circle of traveling companions seemed to be men. He mentored them and released them for leadership in the church.

 

It was still largely a man’s world. Paul would never have been able to accomplish all that he did without male leadership.

 

However, Kostenberger fails to fully appreciate Paul’s cultural setting. It is astounding that Paul would mention women at all, much less devote 20% of his attention to the women who helped him.

 

In the end, Kostenberger’s findings make the egalitarian point, that in spite of the cultural barriers, women were a vital part of Paul’s ministry.

 

We are about to examine the four Pauline passages that most scholars agree are most critical to this debate.

 

Before we do that, allow me to summarize the accumulative knowledge we have discovered thus far.

  1. Women were prophets (both in the Old and New Testament periods).
  2. Women prophesied in church worship services.
  3. Women prayed in church worship services.
  4. Women hosted churches in their homes.
  5. Women were apostles.
  6. Women were deacons.
  7. Women were missionaries.
  8. Women were patronesses, funding the ministry of Jesus as well as the Pauline mission efforts.
  9. Women were emissaries, carrying letters to the recipients.
  10. Women were teachers.
  11. Women were viewed as leaders in the church by local authorities enough for those authorities to arrest them.
  12. Women ministered to Paul, such that he even compared one to his own mother.

 

With these discoveries in mind, we now turn to the complex and enigmatic writings of Paul.

 

 

VOLUME ONE     VOLUME TWENTY-ONE

 

FOOTNOTES

268. C.E.B. Canfield, “Romans: A Shorter Commentary,” William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985, p.377

269. Robert Jewett, “Romans,” Hermenia: a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, Fortress Press, 2007, p. 961.

270. Ibid., p. 961.

271. James D.G. Dunn, “Romans 9-16,” Word Biblical Commentary, Word Books Publisher, 1988, p.895.

272. Ibid., p. 894-895.

273. Charles H. Talbert, “Romans,” Smith & Helwys Bible Commentary, Smith & Helwys Publishing, 2002, p. 335.

274. Andreas J. Kostenberger, “The Gospel to the Nations,” edited by Peter Bolt and Mark Thompson, InterVarsity Press, 2000.

275. F.F. Bruce, “Romans,” Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Inter Varsity Press, 1985, p. 272; Douglas J. Moo, “The Epistle to the Romans,” The New International Commentary on the New Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996, p. 924.

276. Andreas J. Kostenberger, “The Gospel to the Nations,” edited by Peter Bolt and Mark Thompson, InterVarsity Press, 2000.

277. Charles H. Talbert, “Romans,” Smith & Helwys Bible Commentary, Smith & Helwys Publishing, 2002, p. 332, where Talbert delineates the four parts to the recommendation letter.

278. James D.G. Dunn, “Romans 9-16,” Word Biblical Commentary, Word Books Publisher, 1988, p.886. Others follow including, Jewett, Canfield, Mounce, and Fitzmyer.

279. Robert Jewett, “Romans,” Hermenia: a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, Fortress Press, 2007, p. 947.

280. Ibid., p. 947.

281. Ibid., p.

282. Ibid., p.

283. James D.G. Dunn, “Romans 9-16,” Word Biblical Commentary, Word Books Publisher, 1988, p.887.

284. Charles H. Talbert, “Romans,” Smith & Helwys Bible Commentary, Smith & Helwys Publishing, 2002, p. 333.

285. Ibid., p. 333.

286. Ibid., p. 333.

287. Douglas J. Moo, “The Epistle to the Romans,” The New International Commentary on the New Testament, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996, p. 924.

288. Robert Jewett, “Romans,” Hermenia: a Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, Fortress Press, 2007, p. 945-946.

289. Ibid., p. 946.

290. Peter T. O’Brien, “The Epistle to the Philippians,” The New International Greek Testament Commentary, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991, p. 478.

291. Ibid., p. 478.

292. Karen Jo Torjesen, “When Women Were Priests,” Haper Collins, 1995, p. 33.

293. Charles H. Talbert, “Romans,” Smith & Helwys Bible Commentary, Smith & Helwys Publishing, 2002, p. 335.

294. Andreas J. Kostenberger, “The Gospel to the Nations,” edited by Peter Bolt and Mark Thompson, InterVarsity Press, 2000.

295. Ibid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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