December 14, 2011

Women In Ministry VI: Egalitarian - Early New Testament Church-Letters & Epistles


In Romans 16, Paul greets numerous ministry colleagues, a large number of them women and few of them men. In these greetings, the word Paul uses to speak of the work (kopiaō), or labor, of Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis (Romans 16:6,12) is one he uses extensively for the labor of ministry (1 Corinthians 16:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 5:17) (Women in Ministry, AG Position Paper)

Phoebe in Romans

What cannot be so easily glanced over and is of particular note is the case of Phoebe. In Romans 16 we see Phoebe, a leader or deacon in the church at Cenchrea, was given accolades by Paul in Romans 16:1-2. Immediately after this mention we see an additional reference to other females when we see mention of (v.3) Priscilla (and Aquila, a man), coworkers (by implication—equals as leaders) and the interesting case in (v.7) of Junia not Junias (a masculine name).

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. 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. Romans 16:1-7

Phoebe’s position of leadership is calling her a “διάκονον τῆς ἐκκλησίας or “servant of the Church/Called out ones” (feminine case ending). My conservative reference for this particular information, the AG’s Role of Women in Ministry As Described in Holy Scripture noted very clearly that Paul regularly used this term for a minister or leader of a congregation and applied it specifically to Jesus Christ, Tychicus, Epaphras, Timothy, and to his own ministry-all men. Diakonos is usually translated “deacon”. It is worth noting though that the title of deacon appears to also fall into more of an “administrative” or διάκονος role meaning they seemed to lead or deal with more of the day-to-day tasks of the church rather than they teach (Dusing 553). It is here that I believe we need to see a distinction between administrative leaders and teaching leaders such as ποιμήν / poimen / shepherd and πρεσβύτερος / presbuteros / elder. Day to day operations or managing functions appear to be in view here διάκονος but not necessarily teaching/leading/shepherding distinctions. It is the old adage in business, “One can be a good manager but be a very poor leader”. Having said this, we should tread carefully when assuming the “norms of language” of the early church are similar to modern day when approaching the word “deacon” and/or “minister” and the roles associated with them. This passage calls Phoebe a deacon/deaconess but what it does not go into detail about is her explicit role within the church. Was it leadership or administrative (Howe 1181, Tucker et al 77)? These rolls appear to still be in the process of being defined at the time of Paul writing Romans where we find this passage. As such, I feel it is dangerously presumptuous to use this as a pattern of Scripture. Especially when we know that at this time the Church in Rome would’ve most likely been under persecution.

Junia(s) in Romans

We then come to the interesting and pivotal case of Junia(s) and the claim that he/she was an Apostle/apostle (Keener 45). Based on my own assessment of the grammar and syntax of the original Greek I must disagree with Keener and the pro-egalitarian assessment and neutralize this as evidence of female leadership on the grounds of ambiguity. As such I believe the NIV (and other English versions) translate the intent of the passage correctly by stating that Andronicus and Junia (feminine ending) were well-known among the apostles, not among the apostles. This delineation is subject to interpretation.

“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.” Romans 16:7 (NIV)

Junia was identified by Paul as either being an apostle or well-known among the apostles…and this becomes rather important in this paper. The exact Greek translates like this:

ἀσπάσασθε Ἀνδρόνικον καὶ Ἰουνίαν -
Greet Andronicus and Junia

τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου καὶ συναιχμαλώτους μου,
the relatives of me and fellow prisoners of me

οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις
who are…on sign ones/notable among the apostles

Admittedly, it now is understood that the name Ἰουνίαν / Junia had been masculinized over the centuries but a precursory review of the earliest original Greek manuscripts show an accusative feminine case ending “-αν”. We also see a decisive delineation of a female referenced in the context of being a fellow-prisoner (an equal to Paul) and to Andronicus. Although she is female she is being viewed in equality with Andronicus as both are being address in this closing of Romans as accusative singular proper nouns linked with the conjunction καὶ.

There is nothing within the original Greek that leads me to believe that either Andronicus (being male) or Junias (being female) are being referred to directly as an apostle here. It is saying that they are notable in association with the apostles. Even if this is an apostle as we would understand them today, we must still deal with the de facto and nebulous and ill-defined state of the extremely early church. Either way, it is saying that they are well known among the apostles. My other contention is the explicit meaning of the word among as noted above is based on a simple grammatical preposition “ἐν” or en [among/ in ]. To me this is an extremely tenuous evidence to base a doctrine or dogma of female leadership in the church around and this is the strongest argument for the egalitarian view in my opinion.

Since this argument appears so precarious, I am not very comfortable with this line of reasoning.

Notwithstanding, to me it does not say that they are being numbered as one of the apostles. To me this is taking too much liberty with the translation based on a single indistinct preposition usage. Even if they were being designated as an apostle here, they are not apostles of Christ in the truest sense (one of the 12) but an apostle (sent one) in the more generic sense that the term apostle means: “one acting on behalf of a Master as an agent”. In the case of a Christian, we are all apostles in the sense that we (1) represent the one sending us through our actions and words and (2) we carry on the teachings of the One sending us (Assemblies of God “Apostles and Prophets”, Keener 34-35, Tucker et al 73-74).

A rather surprising and strong reference proclaiming this argument inconclusive happened to be in Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart’s “How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth” when it came to the discussion of hermeneutics and cultural relativism. Fee (being Assemblies of God and egalitarian) and Stuart both acknowledge that this passage is one of the stronger arguments for women in leadership of the Church yet is not uniform. They both mention Rom 16:1-2, where Phoebe is a "deacon" in Cenchrea; Rom 16:7 where Junia (an unknown masculine name is named among the apostles); Rom 16:3, where Priscilla is Paul's co-worker and is the same word used of Apollos in 1 Corinthians 3:9; and 1 Corinthians 11:5 over against 1 Tim 2:12, etc. (Fee, Stuart 84-85). If something is this important or is important enough to warrant building a doctrine around it must be concluded these incidences and evidences in the Bible could indeed fall short of the proof needed to constitute a conclusive pattern which is often part of the criteria for determining doctrine or orthodoxy.


Since much of my argument is based in the pattern of Scripture I must mention he pattern of male headship in the family as the pattern for the Church at large. The book of Ephesians is primarily written to address the calling and design of the Church (big “C”). Paul builds the premise early on that the entire church in Ephesians 2:20 is, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone”. Paul then goes on to discuss the finer nuances of how the entire Church (big “C”) is built and how the individual building blocks for the Church family essentially begin with the individual families/homes churches (little “c”) that have Christ and unity at their center. One of the constituent parts of this building the Church corporate is the instructions for having a properly structured and unified pattern in a Christian household (Keener 63-64). Among the pattern and instruction from Paul who has Apostolic authority is:

“Submit [υποτασσω / hupotasso: plural mutual submission; under and alongside of] to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Paul then ups the ante here and then specifies a willing submission for unity sake on the part of woman but then also stipulates that men must love them as Christ loved the Church…a conditioned (not conditional) statement/command…

Wives, submit [υποτασσω / hupotasso: plural mutual submission under and alongside of] yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. ~Ephesians 5:21-28

The intended result is the cleansing of the woman to make her holy just as Jesus made the Church holy. By the act of being υποτασσω to the male headship the woman is lifted and exalted by the treatment of the husband who is viewing her as “radiant” and “without blemish”. Just as Christ did for His bride the Church.

If this is the intended pattern for the basic building blocks that are to be placed against the Cornerstone of the Church I then sense an incongruity in pattern allowing women into leadership roles within the Church (big “C”). If the pattern at the lower levels is to be maintained the women should also be allowed leadership of the home in the presence of a husband and this is not what is stated. If anything the text in reference to the pattern in the home is a submission to a functional authority and in turn being exalted by that authority that is similar or identical ontologically but different functionally or in role. Ironically, this is similar to the Kenosis passage of Philippians 2:5-11. We also see this premise surface in Paul’s rhetorical question of 1 Timothy 3:5… "If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” The implication to me being that the man who is the manager/leader taking care of his family (the little “c” church) would also be the one taking care of God’s Church (big “C”).


In Philippians 4:2-3 we read:

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Philippians 4:2-3

Here Paul mentions two women, Euodia and Syntyche, as “women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers (or equals as workers). In the Greek we see fellow-workers (genitive) in reference to the others mentioned by Paul: Clement, etc. Therefore these two women (accusative) cannot necessarily be seen as leaders similar to Paul and Clement.

There are other women that Paul addresses among his friends and coworkers in other letters. They are women we know little about. Among these was Apphia in the short letter to Philemon. Apphia may have been the wife of Philemon who presided over their home and its house church, or may have just been another “sister” in Christian fellowship just as the men were “brothers”. Although Paul valued and respected her highly there is nothing within Philemon to indicate she was a leader or elder of the Church in their home. Nor is there evidence to prove the same about a nearly enigmatic woman named Nympha in the Colossian church (Harkness 66).

"Give my greetings to the brethren at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house." Colossians 4:15

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