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Topic 27: Women in the Letter to the Romans


 In his letter to the Romans, Paul mentions and names women who are active in the ministry of the church. (See also Topic 19: “Deacon or Deaconess?”).

An underlying principle for Paul is found in Romans 12:3-8:

[3] For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him.  [4] For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, [5] so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  [6] Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; [7] if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; [8] he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Paul nowhere puts limitations or restrictions by gender on the use of spiritual gifts.

(A) “[vs 6] … if prophecy, in proportion to our faith he who teaches, in his teaching …“:

(B) Paul is addressing “all the saints” (Romans 1:7).

(C) Male and female may engage the use of whatever gifts the Spirit supplies.

(D) To limit the use and employment of Spirit given gifts based on gender considerations is to oppose the work of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 16:1-2: [1] I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae, [2] that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well.

See Topic 19, “Deacon or Deaconess?” for a detailed discussion of these two verses.

 Romans 16:3-4

[3] Greet Prisca and Aquilla …  [4] … greet also the church in their house …

Women are full leaders in early Christianity’s house churches.  The house church is led by Priscilla (Prisca) and Aquilla, both given “equal billing” by Paul.

(A) “[3] Greet Prisca and Aquilla ..”: the first mentioned is usually the one with the lead role.  Compare Acts where “Barnabas and Saul” change into “Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 11:25-26; 13:2, 7, 9, 13, 42).

(B) Paul terms Prisca and Aquilla sunergous mou.

(C) In 1 Corinthians 16:16 Paul asks his readers “to submit themselves to such as these and panti to sunergjounti…”

(D) Sunerggos in the dative implies “helper,” but in the genitive case it means “a person of the same trade” (Liddell and Scott, pages 1711-12).  Paul uses the genitive case (cf. Romans 16:3, 16:21; 1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 8:23; Philippians 4:2-3; Philemon 1, 24).  “The word w. gen. could mean …‘fellow workers w. God’ or ‘fellow workers in God’s service.’  The context indicates that Paul is speaking of the equal relation of God’s workers with one another” (Key, pg. 394).

(E) We can conclude, therefore, that Paul is saying that at times men and women in the church need to place themselves under the authority of women leadership.

 Romans 16:7

[7] Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are men of note among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.

In the Scriptures, women are named among the apostles.

(A) Iounian is the accusative form of the noun; if it is accented on the ultima it is masculine (as Nestle does), but if accented on the penultima it is a feminine accusative (Cranfield, “Some Observations on Romans XIII. 1-7”, pg. 789).

(B)  “[vs 7]… men of note ..”  the Greek does not contain the word “men” or “male.”

(C) “… Apart from the present verse no evidence of its [Iounian] having existed [as a masculine name] has so far come to light” [Cranfield, pg. 789].

(D) “… Junias …”: this is a feminine noun and a common Roman feminine name derived from the Roman goddess Juno, queen of the gods (and Jupiter’s sister and wife).

(E)  Chrysostom (d. 407) writes, “And indeed to be apostles at all is a great thing … Oh, how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!”

(F)  Origen (d. 254), Jerome (d. 419), Theophylact (d. 1108), and Peter Abelard (d. 1142) all saw Junias as a woman.

(G)  “Ancient commentators took Andr. and Junia as a married couple…moreover, unlike Iounian [accented on the ultima: masculine ]…the form Iounian [accented on the penultima: feminine] is actually found so accented in some mss. … But the accented form of Iounian [accented on the ultima: masculine] has no support as such in the ms. tradition… ” (BDAG, pg. 480).

(H) The male name Junias does not appear until the middle ages (Note: It was Pope Gregory VII [1073-1085] who took decisive action against the marriage of priests) .

(I)  The first to consider the name as masculine was Aegidus of Rome (d. 1316).

(J) The NEB recognizes “Julia” or “Junia” as legitimate translations (cf. footnote).

(K) In Paul’s writings, “apostles” include more than just the original twelve.

(L) 1 Corinthians 9:5 suggests there were husband-and-wife teams.  Given the cultural context, that would make sense.

 Romans 16:12

[12] Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa.  Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord.

Women are prominent and active in the ministry of the Word in the early church.

(A) Paul notes that Tryphaena and Tryphosa (women) are tas kopiosas in kurio (“those who labor in the Lord.”).

(B) “Here Paul uses a term that commonly refers to the toil of proclaiming the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor.4:12; 15:10; Gal. 4:11; Phil. 2:16; Col.1;29; 1 Tim. 4:10)” (Commission on Theology and Church Relations, “Women in the Church,” pg. 12).

(C) These verses, listed even by the CTCR, indicate that women spread the Gospel and not just provided physical support for Pauline work.

(D) In 1 Corinthians 16:16 Paul urges his readers “to be subject [upostassesthe] to such and to every fellow worker and laborer [kopionti].”

(E) Therefore, Paul at times urges Christians to submit themselves to women leadership.

(F) CTCR-WIC, page 12: “They attended worship, participated vocally, were instructed [italics added], learned of the faith, and shared it with others.”  The biblical Word indicates women not only “were instructed” but also did instructing as well.  Note Prisca.

 1 Corinthians 1:11

[11] For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren.

Paul recognizes women’s leadership levels and status.

(A) “[vs 11] … by Chloe’s people…”: Paul identifies a group within the Corinthian church by the name of a woman, who is evidently the head of the group.

(B) Paul recognizes not only the importance of women’s labors, but also their status at the leadership levels.  He does this without criticism or correction.