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Pauline theology of women and church leadership…

June 23, 2007


“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a minister (diakonos) of the church at Cenchreae, so 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.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.  Greet also the church in their house.  Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ.  Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you.  Greet Andronicus and Julia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” 

Romans 16:1-7

The Word of the Lord


Hamilton suggests that Priscilla probably took the lead in teaching Apollos the Gospel.  This understanding of Priscilla’s contribution was given by John Chrysostom, a church father writing in the fourth century A.D.:

This too is worthy of inquiry, why, as he addressed them, Paul has placed Priscilla before her husband.  For he did not say, “Greet Aquila and Priscilla,” but “Priscilla and Aquila.”  He does not do this without reason, but he seems to me to acknowledge a greater godliness for her than for her husband.  What I said is not guess-work, because it is possible to learn this from the Book of Acts.  [Priscilla] took Apollos, an eloquent man and powerful in the Scriptures, but knowing only the baptism of John; and she instructed him in the way of the Lord and made him a teacher brought to completion (Acts 18:24-25).  (John Chrysostom, “First Homily on the Greeting to Priscilla and Aquila”)

These words by John Chrysostom are all the more remarkable because he was known for making many statements against women.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mark N permalink
    September 9, 2007 9:02 pm

    As quoted here John Chrysostom’s statement is in accurate. Although it it is true that Priscilla’s name is first, and this most probably honours her, Acts does not say that she taught Apollos, but that they taught Apollos. And this makes a difference. It means that the only example of a women teaching a man in the New Testament is not her teaching him [Apollos] but them [a married couple] teaching him. This means that nowhere in the bible is there an example of a women teaching or usurping the authority of a man as he in a marriage is the head.

    “a minister (diakonos)” – This quote from Romans 16 about Phoebe being a minister. The presence of diakonos in brackets I believe is both honest and dishonest. On the one hand it helps us realise that the word translated as minister is from the Greek word diakonos, but for those who know nothing about the range of meaning of diakonos, they would link diakonos with deacon and make the link that Phoebe was a deacon. And here is the dishonesty. [The thought may go further and link what Paul says of Deacons being the husband of one wife and that Phoebe being female and so come to the conclusion that the issue of leadership being male is an adiaphora – that is something that the bible does not command one way or another] Back to the dishonesty… Yes it is true that the English word deacon comes from this Greek word, but the Greek word has a broader range of meaning than the English word Deacon. As well as meaning deacon, it means one that renders a ministry in some general or specific way. The context I believe supports the ministry definition rather than Phoebe being a deacon.

    A warning from Paul
    Ro 16:17
    Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. NASB
    -It seems hard to believe that he would give this warning if indeed he had just undermined it by referring to Phoebe in a way that would usurp that authority of a man.

  2. Mark N permalink
    September 9, 2007 9:26 pm

    P.s. Thank you for introducing me to John Chrysostom. I am short of church fathers, so this helps, Thank you again.

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