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New Testament Women Church Leaders

By Margaret Mowczko For most of the Church‟s history, in most Christian denominations and movements, women have been denied the privilege of serving as leaders. This prohibition is due to the understanding of just one or two verses in the New Testament which do not seem to allow women to have a ministry which involves public speaking (1 Cor 14:34), or which involves teaching a man (1 Tim 2:12).[1] There are however, several women mentioned in the New Testament who did function as church leaders. Even though these women are mentioned briefly, they do serve as valid Biblical precedents which call into question the widespread and persistent belief that the Bible teaches that church leaders can only be males. In this article I will be using the Ephesians 4:11 leadership ministries as a starting point, and I will show from Scripture that for each of these important ministries there was at least one woman mentioned in the New Testament who effectively filled that leadership role. In Ephesians 4:11, Paul lists the main leadership ministries which Jesus Christ has given to the church.[2] Paul writes: It was he [Jesus] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up. Ephesians 4:11-12 (NIV) In the Greek, there is no hint in this verse, (or in any other verse which speaks of Spiritual gifts, including those of leadership and teaching), that it applies more to men than to women. On the contrary, every New Testament verse which speaks of Spiritual gifts, manifestations or ministries is completely free of any gender bias in the Greek.[3] Apostles Paul begins his list in Ephesians 4:11 with apostles. Apostles were people sent initially by Jesus (Mk 6:7; Gal 1:1), and later by the church (Ac 13:1-3), to pioneer a new work to facilitate the spread of the Gospel.[4] In the New Testament, several people, apart from The Twelve, are mentioned as being apostles.[5] One of these is a woman – Junia. Junia and Andronicus (possibly her husband), were members of a church in Rome, perhaps even the founders of that church, and Paul sends greetings to them in Romans 16:7. He speaks warmly of them, mentioning that he is related to them, and that they had become Christians before he did. Junia and Andronicus had also suffered persecution because of their faith and had at some point been fellow prisoners with Paul. Paul states in Romans 16:7 that “they are outstanding among the apostles” – a wonderful commendation coming from someone who was himself an outstanding apostle.[6] Unfortunately, Junia‟s impact as a precedent for female church leadership is weak because many people fail to realise that she was a woman. This problem is further exacerbated by the fact that, in the 13th century, a New Testament copyist masculinised her name to (the equivalent of) Junias.[7] This alteration to Scripture has been adopted by many English translations. However, in all the Greek manuscripts before the 13th century, Junia‟s name is feminine and several early church theologians, such as Chrysostom, Origen and Jerome, referred to her as being female.[8] [I have more information about Junia here.] Prophets Second on Paul‟s list of leadership ministries,[9] is the role of the Prophet. With the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the function of prophecy became more widespread than previously. On the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted from the prophet Joel and said: “And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy; your young men [youth] will see visions and your old men [seniors] will dream dreams. Even on both my male servants [ministers] and on my female servants [ministers], in those days, I will pour out my Spirit and they will prophesy.” Acts 2:17-18 (my translation) Prophets were people who spoke for God. Their speech was inspired by the Holy Spirit and it may or may not have included foretelling. In the early church, prophets provided guidance (Ac 13:3-4; 16:6), instruction (1 Cor 14:31),

[I have more information about Euodia and Syntyche here. president. Paul commends Phoebe to the church at Rome in Romans 16:1-2. Bruce 1951:387) Ben Witherington (1988:152). another close friend and colleague of Paul.”[10] Eusebius also quoted Papias. however in this one instance. Priscilla‟s name appears first in four of the six mentions of this couple. protector or patron .”[15] Phoebe was a minister and a leader. 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 and Ephesians 4:11. There are several women in the New Testament who functioned as pastor-teachers. 1 Tim 5:17). was one of them. Papias said that people traveled great distances to visit these prophetesses and listen to their accounts of the early church. but also to the barbarians. (F. Together with her husband Aquila she taught the already learned and eloquent Apollos about Jesus more accurately (Ac 18:24-26). He said that they “contended at my side for the cause of the gospel.”(Php 4:2-3) These women were involved in Gospel work.‟ This meaning is never lost whether it be translated leader. (Paul lists prophesying and prophets before teaching and teachers in the lists of ministry gifts in Romans 12:6-8.[18] This probably denotes that Priscilla‟s ministry was more prominent than her husband‟s. In the more reliable.strengthening.[19] Priscilla and Aquila were active in ministry and they hosted a church in their home at Ephesus (1 Cor 16:19) and later at Rome (Rom 16:5). The term diakonos is always used by Paul to refer to a minister. Tradition holds that it was Phoebe who carried Paul‟s letter that bears her name to Rome (Rom 16:1-2). This fact is rarely acknowledged in most English translations of the Romans 16:1-2.[13] Kevin Giles (1992:35) writes: „The meaning of the last term has been much debated. in the church at Cenchreae. an early church writer alive at the time of Philip‟s daughters. Its verbal form is proistanai [14] (cf Ths 5:12. [I have more information about Phoebe here. encouragement and comfort (1 Cor 14:3).] Pastor-teachers Fourth on the list of the leadership ministries is the pastor-teacher. [12] In these verses Paul described Phoebe as both a diakonos and a prostatis. While the exact function of a pastor is not specified in the New Testament it certainly involved spiritual leadership. it is primarily identified with certain leaders who exercise it as a ministry. earlier Greek manuscripts.[11] Euodia and Syntyche were women who were warmly regarded and respected as fellow-workers by Paul. The terms “pastor” and “teacher”. Priscilla.) In Acts 21:9 we are told that Philip had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.] . Earle Ellis as saying: “Although prophecy is a possibility for any Christian. and he regarded the ministry of prophecy as important and influential.F. She was known not only to the Greeks and Romans. joined together in this phrase in Ephesians 4:11. or patron. reflect two aspects of the one role. Philip‟s daughters were highly respected prophets and leaders in the early church. .” (Conner 1982:224) It seems that Phoebe traveled widely and brought the Gospel to foreign lands where she effectively ministered as an apostle-evangelist. In either its masculine or feminine form it means literally „one who stands before. in writing about Philip‟s daughters. . Catherine Booth[16] has quoted Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393-460 AD)[17] as saying: “The fame of Phoebe was spoken of throughout the world. where it is referring to a woman. Paul considered the ministry of prophecy to be the most desirable of the spiritual gifts (1 Cor 14:1).” By all accounts.] Another female minister esteemed by Paul was Phoebe. Evangelists were men and women who preached the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. the King James Version has unjustly translated the word as “servant. The fourth century church historian Eusebius described these women as “mighty luminaries” and ranked them “among the first stage in the apostolic succession. Evangelists Third on the Ephesians 4:11 list is the role of evangelist. quotes E.[20] [I have information about Priscilla here. a term used of male church leaders elsewhere in the New Testament.

40). was a woman obviously functioning as a pastor. [21] Kevin Giles (1992:34-35) writes: „Prisca [Priscilla] is not the only woman associated with house church leadership. Ro 16:3-5. This becomes evident when you compare how John refers to his followers. ” (Stark 1997:107). the host would have functioned as a leader employing a ministry gift – most probably the pastor-teacher gift. according to the New Testament. the church in Thyatira was being corrupted by the teachings and false prophecies of a wicked and immoral female leader (Rev 2:20-24). Nympha (Col 4:15).[26] (Could this be the same “Babylonian” woman alluded to in 1 Peter 5:13?) [I have more information on the "chosen lady" here. . as may have been some of the other women Paul greets in the last chapter of Romans. there were good and bad female leaders. As a prominent member of the congregation. elevating them to a partnership with men unparalleled in first-century society.[24] who John addresses in his 2nd letter. This is shown by the fact that slavery[27] was only outlawed in the “Christian” nations of Great Britain and the United States of America in 1833 and 1865 respectively[29]. In short. Wherever the gospel went. .“It is well known that the early church attracted an unusual number of high status women . prophets.4. Junia (Ro 16:7). It would be wonderful if the Church as a whole would recognise that.[22] Writing to the Colossians. . Grentz (1995:78) notes that the New Testament Gospel: “. women were among the first. as was the church in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3-4 cf 2:12. “the chosen sister” (2 Jn 13). etc. women did function as leaders – as apostles. . In Acts we see Mark‟s mother providing a home for the Christians to assemble (Acts 12:12) and at Philippi we hear of believers meeting in the home of Lydia (Acts 16:1415. [2] cf 1 Cor 12:28-31 . and by the fact that racial discrimination has only been declared both illegal and immoral in recent history. similarly as “children” (2 Jn 1. .] The church as a whole has been very slow to embrace the New Testament ideal of complete equality among people regardless of race and gender. “the chosen lady” (2 Jn 1). and perhaps Lydia (Ac 16:40). etc. Phoebe (Ro 16:1-2). evangelists and pastor-teachers – and that they were respected and valued in these roles by such people as the Apostle Paul.13 cf 3 Jn 4).[23] Perhaps Chloe is also the host of a home-church (1 Cor 1:11). Paul greets Nympha and the church in her house (Col 4:15). and sometimes these women. Just as there have been good and bad male leaders. Men and women should be united in the cause of the Gospel and in building up the body of Christ. Priscilla (Ac 18:26. Apphia (Phl 2). etc). A surprising number of women are mentioned in this role.] Stanley J. I am convinced that discrimination against church leaders on the basis of gender will also become a thing of the past. Euodia and Syntyche (Php 4:2-3). foremost and most faithful converts. hosted a congregation that met in their home. and hers. and that future generations will look at our present difficulties and debate on this subject with incredulity. The “chosen lady”. it is not unbiblical for a woman to be a church leader! The church‟s mission can only be enhanced and made more effective when gifted and called men and women minister together using their complementary skills and abilities. as well as in equipping the people of God to reach the lost (Eph 4:11-12). possibly Chloe (1 Cor 1:11).) [See my article on 1 Timothy 2:12 in Context. Clement of Alexandraidentified the recipient of John‟s second letter as a “Babylonian” woman[25] named Electa. Sadly. Endnotes [1] 1 Timothy 2:12 is examined in another article here .” The following women are all church leaders mentioned in the New Testament: Philip‟s daughters (Ac 21:9). . who would have lived in relatively spacious homes. radically altered the position of women.

History of the Church 3. and indeed up to the Middle Ages.” [5] These apostles include: Paul.” [12] The CEV translates Romans 16:1-2: “I have good things to say about Phoebe. Andronicus and Junia (Romans 16:7). Nevertheless. interesting and scholarly article which suggests that Junia may indeed be a masculine name is here. is here. [While Romans 12:6-8 does contain masculine participles. Theophylact (c. he acknowledged her as an outstanding female apostle. (Bernadette Brooten 1979:141) [9] The role of Prophets is second in both the Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:28 list of ministries. and Peter Abelard (1079-1142). preached favourably about Junia.” [13] An excellent and scholarly article about Phoebe. used 8 times in the New Testament. Rom 12:8. The assumption that it must be male is a striking indictment of male presumption regarding the character and structure of earliest Christianity. and using Paul‟s words. . and the English and Greek words used to describe her and her ministry. Rom 12:6-8. Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25). A woman may hold any position of power and authority within the Army.1050-c.1108). however. that one of the foundation apostles of Christianity was a woman and wife. The “default” grammatical gender of many passages which apply equally to men and women is masculine. .. so do many verses (includingJohn 3:16) which speak about salvation and are generally taken as applying to both men and women. . Steve Addison (1995:37) comments that: “The Twelve were . . [6] In his Homilies on the Book of Romans. the public proclamation of Christianity to the non-Christian world. as was taken for granted by the patristic commentators. Eph 4:11-12. came a wider group of itinerant missionaries and church planters.185-254/55) took the name Junia to be feminine.Tit 3:8.‟ They shared the call to go into the world to make disciples. Women must be treated as equal with men in all intellectual and social relationships of life. . William Booth. The grammatical masculine gender does not imply that it refers to only males. . they laid the foundations for the church in its (Jewish) infancy. 5. A well-written. 147 [in his Patristic Greek Lexicon] indicates over 250 examples of “Junia. 1 Pe 4:9-11. Dodd (1964:261)defines preaching (kerugma) as “. In fact no commentator on the text until Aegidus of Rome (1245-1316) took the name to be masculine.” none of Junias. 12. Christine Parkin (1990) writes that William Booth drafted the following Orders and Regulations to be observed by The Salvation Army: Women shall have the right to an equal share with men in the work of publishing salvation. Hatto of Vercelli (924-961).” [15] Rodney Stark (1997:109) writes: All important modern translations of the Bible now restore the original language used by Paul…but somehow the illusions foste red by the King James falsifications remain common wisdom. Jesus is also called an apostle in Hebrews 3:1. C. Apollos (1 Corinthians 1:12). Timothy.[3] Verses which mention Spiritual giftings: Ac 2:17-18.” (e. [7] The masculinised name “Junias” does not appear in any other Greek manuscript whatsoever – religious or otherwise. [14] Robert Sungenis writes that cognates of this word are: “. 1 Tim 3:4. A woman is not to be kept back from any position of power or influence on account of her sex. . . Following the Twelve. .37. 14). 1 Cor 14:26-33. Six references refer to “ruling. . . [8] The earliest commentator on Romans 16:7 Origen of Alexandria (c. who is a leader in the church at Cenchreae .] [4] In his thesis on the subject of apostolic ministry. 5:17.1 [11] Based on how the word is used in the New Testament. [10] Eusebius. fourth century church father. 1 Cor 12:7-11&27-28.g. Dunn (1988:894) writes: Lampe 139–40. .H. [16] Catherine co-founded The Salvation Army with her husband. The feminine name “Junia” however is used about 250 times in various other Greek manuscripts. there is virtual consensus among historians of the early church as well as Biblical scholars that women held positions of honour and authority within early Christianity. as did Jerome (340/50-419/20). . .. also known as „apostles. Silas. We may firmly conclude. Barnabas (Acts 14:14). After all she has proved to be a respected leader for many others including me [Paul]. Heb 2:4.g. Chrysostom. . . 1 Th 5:12). James D. pioneering leaders and models of apostolic ministry. . while two references express the idea of “perseverance” or “maintenance” (e.G.

Praise is heaped upon her. The „head‟ of such a household would naturally be recognised as having oversight of the new church. who did pastor her house church. The th United States abolished slavery in 1865 with the 13 Amendment to their Constitution. In a short time not only the cities. his [or her] close association with the apostle who founded the church . the fact that he [or she] was the first (or one of the first) converts would further enhance his [or her] position in the group. is the female equivalent of “lord”(kurios). [19] Luke. This lady was a woman of noble birth and/or elevated social position. This is seen in the combined ministry of Paul and Barnabas. Some people argue that the “chosen lady” represents a church and not a single person. his name appears first. however in the Greek of 2 John. submitted on the 22nd of August. if not all. [27] Advocates of slavery often used Scripture to support their position. 80% of these are run by women. [28] Slavery was abolished throughout most of the British Empire when the Slavery Abolition Act came into force in 1833. It seems that she received him in her house for a little time. to the Australian College of Ministries for the BTh award. but also the villages were filled with such piety. [20] Kevin Giles (1992:31) writes: It is now accepted that most. . . it is clear that at times John is addressing a single person (the lady) and that at other times he is referring to plural persons (her followers/congregation). or the most recognised in any given situation.e. (Madison and Osiek 2005:16) [18] Priscilla‟s name appears first in Acts 18:18. Such was the wealth of her accomplishments that she was praised by the apostolic tongue… I think what [Paul] calls patronage (prostasia) is hospitality (philoxenia) and protection (kēdemonia). Others have speculated that this lady‟s name was “Kuria”. Kathryn Riss asks “If that were so. Romans 16:3 and 2 Timothy 4:19. say that Nympha was just the hostess and not the pastor. It is worth admiring the strength of the preaching. would add to this. His [or her] social standing would give him [or her] pre-eminence in the group. [More on the "chosen lady" here. [23] Some modern scholars. Such was the significance of the church at Cenchreae that it had a female deacon [i. and why would Paul so rudely fail to greet the pastor as well as the hostess?” Some later Greek texts have maculinised Nympha‟s name (as well as th e original feminine pronoun in this verse) to obscure her gender. the author of Acts.] [25] Christians sometimes figuratively referred to Rome as “Babylon”. >>> Bibliography This article is adapted from an assignment entitled: The Ephesians 4:11 Leadership Ministries and the New Testament Women who Functioned in Them. so ”To the chosen lady” in 2 John 1 could be translated as ”To Lady Electa”. [26] Electa means “chosen” or “elect”. And as time passed. 2008. so that 2 John 1 could be translated as “To the chosen Kuria”. honorable and well known. of the early con gregations were house churches. 26. [21] It is currently estimated that there are approximately 50. became the home of the embryonic church in Philippi. . who try to lessen the significance Colossians 4:15. [24] The word “lady” (kuria) used in 2 John 1 & 5. was very careful in which order he placed names.000 house churches in China. For not only do the Romans and Greeks know her. but even all the barbarians. . . (Cunningham 2000:26) [22] Ben Witherington (1988:149) writes that Lydia‟s home: . whoever of the two was the most prominent in ministry.[17] Theodoret‟s Commentary on Romans 16:1-2: Cenchreae is a large village of Corinth. minister]. He opened the world to her and in every land and sea she is celebrated. This is intimated by the fact that when Paul and Silas emerge from prison they go to Lydia‟s house to encourage the brethren ( Ac 16:40) rather than to the Philippian jailor‟s house where they had also been entertained (16:34). for it is clear that he stayed in Corinth. . .