Women in Ministry
as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is
neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus."
- Galatians 3:28
affirm that there is a place within the full life and ministry of the
Christian Church for faithful believers regardless of race, ethnicity,
sex, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.” On this page, we
will consider the role of women in the Church.
New Testiment evidence reveals that early Christians worshiped in house churches which were referenced in letters according to their female overseer (Acts 12:12, 16:40; 1 Cor. 1:11). There were women teachers such as Priscilla (Acts 18:24-26), and women who worked alongside Paul in his evangelism such as Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3). Women prophesied (Acts 21:9). There were women deacons such as Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2), and even one female apostle is named in Scripture—Junia (Rom. 16:7). Let us examine closely the roles that some of these women held in the early Church, based on the evidence provided in the New Testament.
Priscilla and her husband Aquila, Teachers and Co-workers with Paul
“Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, well versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately.” (Acts 18:24-26, RSV)
Priscilla and her husband Aquila were introduced earlier in the book of Acts (Acts 18:1-4), and show up many times in Paul’s letters. The above passage is an explicit example of a woman (i.e. Priscilla) teaching a fellow believer (Apollos) in the synagogue where these followers of Jesus were gathered. The verb translated ‘expounded’ in Greek is the third person plural (i.e. they expounded), which clearly denotes that both Priscilla and Aquila were teaching Apollos.
In Romans 16:3-4, Paul writes, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I but also all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks” (RSV). Prisca is simply a shortened form of Priscilla. Here they are referred to as “fellow workers in Christ.” They are mentioned, in fact, five times in Scripture and only once is Aquila (the husband) listed first—and that is only when Paul first met them. The other four times when Paul mentions the couple Priscilla is listed first. In Paul’s day, it was not uncommon in addressing a couple for the more senior personto be greeted first, which is this case would be the woman, Priscilla.
Euodia and Syntyche, Co-workers with Paul
“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. And I ask you also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” (Philippians 4:2-3, RSV)
Above, in Paul’s letter to the Philippians we find two more examples of women who were worked side-by-side with Paul, spreading the Gospel. What evidence, though, do we find of women in ordained roles? Two women come to mind—Deacon Phoebe and Saint Junia, the Apostle, who is revered in the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches as a saint.
Deacon Phoebe of Kenchreai (Cenchreae)
“I recommend to you Phoebe our fellow believer, who is a deacon (διακονος)
of the assembly in Kenchreai, so that you will admit her into your
company, the Lord’s company, in a manner worth of the people devoted to
God, and stand by her in whatever matters she needs you to help in. For
indeed she became a presiding officer (προστατις) over many, and over me also.” (Romans 16:1-2, TSNT)*
Click here or for extensive footnotes on διακονος.
Click here for extensive footnotes on προστατις.
Junia, The Apostle
“Greet Andronicos and Junia, my fellow people of my race and fellow prisoners. They are famous among the apostles.” (Romans 16:7, TSNT)*
female name Junia occurs more than 250 times in inscriptions found in
Rome alone, whereas the name “Junias” has not been found anywhere.
Origen (185-253), the earliest commentator on Romans 16:7, referred to
Junia as female. Jerome (c.340-420) did likewise. Chrysostom (4th
century) writes, 'To be an apostle is something great. But to be
outstanding among the apostles: just think what a wonderful sign of
praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and
virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have
been that she was even deemed worthy of the title apostle.' The earliest
suggestion that Junia was a man is from the 13th century, when Aegidius
of Rome (1245-1316) referred to Andronicus and Junia as 'honorable
Accordingly, the following translations have translated this name properly in its feminine form, Junia: King James Version, American King James Version, God’s Word Translation, Bible in Basic English, Webster’s Bible Translation, Weymouth New Testament, World English Bible, and The Source New Testament.
Unfortunately, many Bibles still try to conceal this female apostle and translate her name as the male Junias, for which there is no scripture evidence. These translations include: International Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, American Standard Version, Douay-Rheims Bible, English Revised Version, Darby Bible Translation, Young’s Literal Translation, among others.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Andronicos and Junia's feasts are jointly celebrated on May 17th, and on 23 Pashons on the Coptic Orthodox calendar. For more information on Saint Junia, the Apostle, visit our online bookstore.
- Scripture and accompanying footnotes are taken from The Source: With Extensive Notes on Greek Word Meaning. Copyright © 2004 by Ann Nyland. Used by permission of Smith and Stirling Publishers. All rights reserved.
- The image at the top of the page of The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori is taken by Donovan Marks. Image is Copyright © 2008 Donovan Marks, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
- The icon of Phoebe the Deacon was done by Suzanne Schleck. For more info visit http://www.walstedicons.com/schleck.htm Used by permission.