Women and Leadership 2
It may be concluded from the grammatical relationship between the two words didaskein (“to teach”) and authentein (“to have authority”), joined by oude (“nor”; but “or” in NIV), that since didaskein is viewed as a positive activity in the Pastoral Letters, so also is authentein. Understanding authentein in a positive sense, however, does not rule out its having a strong sense.
What is sometimes overlooked in discussions on the meaning of authenteo is that Paul chose this very rare verb over exousiazo, which is a member of the common word group relating to authority. The exegete of 1 Timothy 2:12 must ask why, if Paul was writing about authority in the usual sense, he chose a most unusual Greek word that had a history of very strong meanings.
Given all the above, it may be doubted that the assumption of authority Paul forbids is the same as a shared participation in the corporate decisions of a body of elders chosen by the congregation. It should also be noted that the clause in verse 12 specifically limits its prohibition of a teaching and having authority to exercising these over one particular man (or, as I believe, over that woman’s own husband) and that Paul does not rule out, even in those circumstances, any other ministry for women. If, as seems very likely, the verse is related exclusively to the marriage covenant, then it is about marriage headship, and not church leadership. In any event, verse 12 simply cannot be used as a blanket ban on women engaging in ministry of any kind, for the Greek text simply does not allow that interpretation.
Therefore, there is no legitimate way to believe from verses 11–15 that Paul did not allow women either to teach men or to have any kind of authority over them. Thus, any attempts to adjust it for Western or other contemporary cultures are, I believe, futile and simply incorrect.
I state clearly my belief from the evidence that Paul’s statement was directed to specific circumstances in relation to only one person in one particular marriage relationship at Ephesus and in the Ephesian church. He never mentions it elsewhere in his writings. It is both wrong and foolish to apply it as a blanket ban on women in leadership.
Now let’s explore further Scriptures that make clear just how much women were involved in Christian ministry generally in Paul’s day, and in Paul’s own travelling company too. Here is how Paul speaks of those who worked beside him:
‘I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.’ (Philippians 4:2,3)
In his culture, when Paul wrote of co-workers in this way, he made the co-workers equal to himself. Paul was an apostle. Therefore, his co-workers were apostles too. That is the clear implication of what Paul wrote. Euodia and Syntyche were apostles alongside Paul. They were female apostles.
Each house church in those days was led by the house church’s host. For example, in Colossians 4:15, Paul speaks of Nympha and the church that met in her house. Nympha was the leader of that house church. Nympha was female.
‘Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.’ (Romans 16:7)
Junia, named here as an apostle, is female. There have been many arguments and discussions about the gender of this name, but a female apostle is the only conclusion that has any real integrity. To argue that Paul speaks here about two male apostles is an argument that stands on no meaningful foundation.
The new covenant Scriptures named prophetesses who were ministering at that time. For example, Philip the evangelist had four unmarried daughters who were used in prophecy (Acts 21:8,9). Prophecy can be very powerful in its impact, and females were trusted by God just as males were. Prophetesses ministered in leadership. Peter enlarges upon this:
‘First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.’ (2 Peter 1:20,21)
The Greek word that is often translated here only as ‘men’ (moved by the Holy Spirit) is not gender specific, and it is a matter of integrity to translate as ‘men and women’, because it clearly covers both. The NRSV translation correctly speaks of ‘men and women’ because it means any man and any woman who is moved by the Holy Spirit.
[It is also misleading for a translation to speak here of ‘prophets’ (who were moved by the Holy Spirit), because Peter is focusing on the ministry of prophecy itself, not on the one(s) speaking it.] Men and women were moved by the Holy Spirit and spoke from God. Man and woman are different but equal. They are different but complementary.
1I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, 2so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well. 3Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, 4and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. 6Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. 7Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. 8Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11Greet my relative Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother–a mother to me also. 14Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who are with them. 15Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
This closing section of Romans is not typical of Paul’s writings. The number of greetings that Paul sent is very unusual and comprises twenty-six individuals, two families and three house churches. It is perhaps initially surprising that Paul sent greetings about so many people in Rome, given that Paul had not yet been to Rome himself, and that it would be around three years before he got there. Letters of commendation were important in the ancient world. People who travelled in those days did so without the public facilities that we enjoy today such as hotels and restaurants, and so they relied on the hospitality of people that they had never met as they moved around.
Phoebe was going to be travelling to Rome herself, and she was commended by Paul as both a ‘sister’ (adelphe – a term rare in the New Testament), but also as an official servant (diakonos) of the church in Cenchrea who was a (prostatis) benefactor to many people. This meant that she was most probably a successful and wealthy businesswoman who used her wealth to support the church and its leaders like Paul.
Prisca and Aquila were a well-known couple who were tentmakers like Paul, and who had fled Rome and gone to Corinth because of Claudius’s expulsion order. They ministered alongside Paul in Corinth and then went to Ephesus where they engaged in ministry and brought Apollos to a deeper experience of faith. They served with Paul in Ephesus for some time before returning to Rome after Claudius’s edict lapsed. Prisca and Aquila were commended as ‘fellow workers’ (synergos), a term Paul used frequently to describe people who ministered alongside him in many ways. Paul also recorded that they risked their own lives for Paul, possibly during the riot in Ephesus. Prisca and Aquila owned a house large enough to be used as a house church and must have been fairly wealthy.
Mary was a common Jewish name and it was also used by Gentiles, so we cannot be sure of her ethnic background, but Paul commended her for working ‘very hard’ among the Christians at Rome.
Andronicus and Junia were relatives of Paul and had been in prison with Paul, they were Christians before Paul was and Paul says that they are prominent among the apostles. Andronicus and Junia were almost certainly husband and wife and Paul calls both of them apostles, and it is very hard to manipulate the Greek text in a way that avoids concluding that there were female apostles and leaders in Paul’s day.
Of the twenty-six Christians commended by Paul in this short section of Romans, ten are women. Women were a very important and very public part of the Christian community in Rome. Women were also a very important and very public part of the leadership of the Christian community in Rome. What we do with all of this in our context and in our day is entirely another matter.
For more information, and for a much deeper exploration of women in leadership beginning with “What Happened At The Fall?”, see my book: “The Christ-Centered Life: Deep Calls To Deep.”