Paul’s Personal Greetings to Women Ministers

How is it that Paul gained a reputation for being a misogynist?  Paul did not have a low opinion of women.  Far from it.  Paul warmly mentions more than a few women in his letters, especially in his greetings.

Apphia is the only women, mentioned by name, to receive a greeting at the beginning of a letter, but many other women are mentioned in his closing greetings.  From these greetings we can see that Paul was a man who loved and valued women ministers.  In this article I take a look at the women Paul sent greetings to in his New Testament letters and I will show that Paul did not have a problem with women in ministry.

Greetings to Women in the Roman Church

In the closing chapter of his letter to the Romans,[1] Paul mentions no less than ten women.

Phoebe heads the list of people in Romans 16.  It is believed that Phoebe delivered Paul’s letter to the Romans;[2]  so Paul introduces her to the Roman church, and, rather than a greeting, he gives her a glowing recommendation.

Paul refers to Phoebe as “our sister” and he tells the Romans that she is a minister[3] of the Cenchrean Church.  (Cenchrea was a port in Corinth.)  Paul asks the Roman Christians to welcome her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints and to give her whatever assistance she may need.  He also tells the Romans that Phoebe is a benefactor of many people, including himself.[4]  (Rom 16:1-2)

Next on the list is Priscilla, with her husband Aquila.  Priscilla and Aquila were friends and ministry colleagues of Paul.  The three friends worked, travelled and ministered together.  In Romans 16:3-5, Paul mentions that Priscilla and Aquila had even risked their lives for him.  Priscilla and Aquila were well-known in the early Church, and their ministry was appreciated by many.  They were leaders and hosts of a house church at the time that Paul wrote to the Romans.

In Romans 16:7, Paul sends greetings to Andronicus and Junia, who were possibly a married couple.  In his greeting, Paul states a few of their credentials: They were fellow Jews, they had suffered for their faith and been in prison with Paul, they had been Christians longer than him, and they were outstanding among the apostles.[5]

Other women greeted in Romans 16 include Mary (Rom 16:6), Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis (Rom 16:12).  Paul writes that these women worked very hard for their Lord and the Church.  (These women did not serve coffee and cake, or hand out hymn books on a Sunday morning.)  Paul describes their labours using the same word that he described his ministry labours elsewhere in the New Testament.[6]  And Paul refers to Persis as a “dear friend” (lit: “the beloved”).  Hardly an appellation that a misogynist would use.

Three more women, Rufus’ mother, Julia, and Nereus’ sister, are also sent personal greetings from Paul.  (Note that some women are mentioned with a male relative in Paul’s greetings, but others are mentioned on their own.  How does the fact that several New Testament women are mentioned on their own fit with the concept of “male headship”?)

The ten women mentioned in Romans 16 were all active in Christian ministry, some as leaders.

Greetings from Rome

Years later when Paul was imprisoned in Rome he wrote a letter to Timothy.  In 2 Timothy 4:21 Paul passes on greetings to Timothy from a woman called Claudia.  Claudia was an extremely common name for Roman women, but because of the names mentioned with hers – Linus and Pudens – it has been suggested that Claudia was the daughter of British king Caractacus who was taken to Rome as a captive, but later pardoned by Emperor Claudius.  This Claudia had a brother called Linus who became one of the first bishops of the church in Rome.[7]  Claudia’s husband was a Roman senator named Pudens.[8]

We know that many upper-class women, like Claudia, were attracted to Christianity and several used their influence and wealth to further the cause of the Gospel.  Some upper-class and wealthy women hosted and led house churches in their relatively spacious homes (cf Lydia).

In 2 Timothy 4:19, Paul sends greetings from Rome to his favourite couple – Priscilla and Aquila – who were then ministering in Ephesus, as was Timothy.  Did Paul’s prohibition of a woman teaching a man in 1 Timothy 2:12 apply to Priscilla?  It was in Ephesus that Priscilla, with Aquila, taught Apollos about Christian baptism, but there is no hint of censure in the Scriptures about Priscilla teaching a man. (1 Tim 2:12 cf Acts 18:24-26.)

It is also in 2 Timothy that Paul warmly mentions Lois and Eunice, Timothy’s godly grandmother and mother (2 Tim 1:5 cf 2 Tim 3:15).

Women in the Corinthian Church

Any Christian who is interested in the Women in Ministry debates will be familiar with 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.  These two verses have been used to silence women from speaking in church meetings.[9]  But in this same letter, there are a few verses which indicate that Paul could not have meant for all women to be silent in church.

Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in response to a report sent by a woman called Chloe (1 Cor 1:10-11).  Some people from Chloe had told Paul about the divisions and rivalries in the Corinthian church.[10]  These people may have been Chloe’s slaves or they may have been members of her house church, or, very likely, both.  It is possible that the letter that Paul quotes from in 1 Corinthians was written by Chloe as a concerned leader.

Paul did not have a problem with godly, well behaved women speaking – praying and prophesying aloud – in church meetings (1 Cor 11:5)  He did not even have a problem with women being house church leaders.[11]

In 1 Corinthians 16:19, Paul sends greetings from Aquila and Priscilla to the Corinthian church.[12]  From what we know of Priscilla it is ridiculous to think that she did not speak or teach or pray or prophesy in church meetings that met in her own home (1 Cor 16:19 cf Acts 18:24-26).

It’s a shame that the examples of Priscilla, Chloe and other New Testament women, as well as Paul’s verses about mutuality such as 1 Corinthians 11:11-12, are not dwelt on with the same degree of scrutiny and emphasis that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 has been given.

Image is of an icon of Aquila and Priscilla

Greetings to Nympha and Apphia

Paul closes his letter to the Colossians with several personal comments and greetings.  And he asks the church at Colossae to pass on his greetings to a woman called Nympha and to the church that meets in her house (Col 4:15 NIV).[13]

Some have argued that Nympha may have just been the host of the house church, and not the leader.  But why would Paul send greetings to the host and not the actual leader?  The most obvious way to understand this greeting is that Nympha was the host and the leader of the church that met in her home.  People who have thought that Nympha was a man have simply assumed that (s)he was the pastor.[14]

Paul opens his letter to Philemon, by addressing and greeting three people: Philemon, Apphia, a woman, and Archippus.

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker – also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier – and to the church that meets in your home.  Grace and peace to you … Philemon 1:1a-3a

It seems that Apphia, along with Philemon and Archippus were members of the same household, and that they were the hosts and leaders of the church that met there.  In this same letter Paul urges Philemon to take back Onesimus “no longer as a slave but … as a dear brother” (Phm 1:16).  Paul had strong egalitarian leanings.

Greetings to the Senior Pastors and Ministers in the Philippian Church

Pauls begins his letter to the Philippians by greeting the whole church and especially mentioning the overseers (episkopoi) and deacons (diakonoi),[2] or “chief pastors and ministers” as F.F. Bruce translates it.[15]

Who were these pastors and ministers?

Early church bishop and theologian, John Chrysostom (c349-407), believed that Euodia and Syntyche were the leaders of the Philippian church. And he compared these women to Phoebe.[16]

Paul describes the ministry of Euodia and Syntyche, by using some of the same terms he had previously applied to Timothy and Epaphroditus in the same letter.  One of these terms is co-workers (sunergoi).[17]  Paul regarded Euodia and Syntyche, along with Clement, another minister in Philippi, as his co-workers. (Priscilla and Aquila are called sunergoi by Paul in Romans 16:6.)

It is probable that Lydia, the first convert in Philippi, also became the first pastor in Philippi (Acts 16:14-15, 40), and so it would not have been unusual for other women to become pastors and ministers, especially as women in Macedonia, including Philippi, were known for their relative social freedom and public works.[18]  Perhaps Euodia and Syntyche were with Lydia and the other women who had gathered at the place of prayer (i.e. a synagogue) by the river when Paul first came to Philippi and told them the gospel (Acts 16:12-15, 40).  [“Lydia” may have been a kind of nickname, showing her place of origin.  This woman may have been Euodia or Syntyche.]

Paul Loved Women

In light of the many women Paul greeted warmly, albeit briefly, it is difficult to see how Paul could have been misunderstood as someone who disliked women and deliberately curtailed, suppressed and even prohibited their ministry.  The reason for this misunderstanding is that a couple of verses in his letters have been magnified and emphasized, while other verses about women have been minimized or ignored.  Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 had local and limited applications.  They were not meant to be universal, timeless prohibitions.  This is evidenced by the fact that Paul valued godly, capable women ministers, and that he did not seem to think that any ministry was off limits to them.

Paul loved Priscilla and Persis.  He trusted Phoebe and accepted her help. He listened and responded to Chloe’s concerns. He recognized Nympha, Apphia, Priscilla, Euodia and Syntyche, and other women, as house church leaders.  And he recognized Junia as an apostle.  The number of verses about actual New Testament women in ministry far outweigh the few verses that have been used to silence women.

My hope is that the church will love and trust and listen to her women, and recognize and encourage their ministry gifts.  It is time for the church to stop suppressing and silencing women and start embracing Paul’s ideals of mutuality and equality.


Endnotes

[1] Some scholars believe that the last chapter of Romans was not originally part of Paul’s letter to the Romans, but part of a letter that Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus.  Paul had not yet been to Rome, and did not know the Christians in Rome, when he wrote his letter to the Romans, but he was already well acquainted with the Christians in Ephesus.

The list contains no fewer than twenty-six names, and as has often been said, this is rather odd to come upon in Romans, for Paul had no firsthand knowledge of the church there.  But it fits in all the better with Ephesus, particularly as the list is headed by the names of Aquila and Priscilla who are to be looked for there … and of one Epaenetus, designated the “firstfruits of Asia”, the first convert to Christianity in the province.  The often very individualized descriptions added to various names reveal Paul’s exact remembrance of the people he mentions and their relatives, houses, churches, and servants, tell of close relationships with them, or expressly speak in high terms of his own and the whole church’s debt to them as witnesses approved by trial, and of their courage and readiness to sacrifice and suffer – men and women, Jewish and Gentile Christians, bond and free alike.
Günther Bornkamn, Paul, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995, p80.

[2] Considering the conventions of letter carriers in New Testament times, it is likely that Phoebe was the first person to read the letter to the Romans aloud and explain some of Paul’s teachings to the Roman church.

‘Paul’s coworkers who delivered his letters did not drop them in the mailbox and then go on their way but, rather, would likely have read them aloud to the recipients and been available to explain the significance of the references they contained.’

Patrick Gray, Opening Paul’s Letters: A Reader’s Guide to Genre and Interpretation, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012, p136.

More about letter carriers in the Pauline tradition here.

[3] Paul called Phoebe a diakonosDiakonoi were ministers in the early church.  Their ministry had little in common with modern-day deacons.  Whenever the Apostle Paul used the term diakonos, he used it in reference to a minister of the Gospel. Romans 13:6, which is about government ministers, is one exception. Paul referred to several New Testament people, including himself, as diakonoi (ministers): Paul (Rom 15:25; 1 Cor 3:5; Eph 3:7; Col 1:23, etc), Epaphras (Col 1:7), Tychicus (Eph 6:21-22; Col 4:7-9), Phoebe (Rom 16:1-2), Apollos (1 Cor 3:5) and even Jesus Christ (Mk 10:42-45; Rom 15:8).

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, diakonos is used in reference to Jesus (Rom 15:8), to Paul (Rom 15:25), to Phoebe (Rom 16:1-2) and to government ministers who are to be regarded as “God’s servants” (Rom 13:6).

[4] Paul called Phoebe a prostatis.  The etymology of this word gives the meaning ‘one who stands before’.  The masculine form of this word is used for church leadership elsewhere in the NT.

The meaning of [prostatis] has been much debated. In either its masculine or feminine form it means literally ‘one who stands before.’ This meaning is never lost whether it be translated leader, president, protector or patron . . . Its verbal form is proistanai (cf Thes 5:12; 1 Tim 5:17), a term used of male church leaders elsewhere in the New Testament.

Kevin Giles, Patterns of Ministry Among the First Christians,Sydney: Collins Dove Publishers, 1992, p36.

Jesus is called a prostatēs (the masculine form of prostatis) by Clement of Rome.  In reference to Jesus this word is usually translated as champion, protector or guardian.  At the very least prostatis means that Phoebe was a patron or benefactor.  A patron held a respected and influential position in Greco-Roman society.

An excellent, scholarly article about Phoebe, and the English and Greek words used to describe her and her ministry, here.

[5] Other people who were called apostles (apostoloi) in the NT, other than the Twelve: Paul, Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Silas, Apollos (1 Corinthians 1:12), Timothy, Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25), Andronicus and Junia (Romans 16:7). Jesus is also called an apostle in Hebrews 3:1. More about apostles in the New Testament here.

[6] Paul uses the word “labour” (verb:kopiaō; noun:kopos) several times in his letters in the context of his evangelistic and apostolic ministry (1 Cor 3:8; 15:10; Gal 4:11; Phil 2:16; Col 1:29; 1 Thes 3:5).  He also uses the word in reference to leadership ministries (1 Cor 16:16; 1 Thes 5:12; 1 Tim 5:17). While Paul used the word in the context of ordinary manual labour (1 Cor 4:12; 1 Thes 2:9; 2 Thes 3:8;), the description “in the Lord” means that Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis laboured in Christian ministry, possibly in evangelism or in some other leadership function (Rom 16:12).  The full meaning and implication of kopiaō is of hard labour that makes the worker weary.

[7] Irenaeus wrote:

After the Holy Apostles [Peter and Paul] had founded and set the Church in order [in Rome] they gave over the exercise of the episcopal office to Linus. The same Linus is mentioned by St. Paul in his Epistle to Timothy.
Adv. haereses, III, iii, 3.

Chrysostom, however, writes that, “This Linus, some say, was second Bishop of the Church of Rome after Peter.” (Source) 

[8] There are other suggestions as to the identity of Claudia. (Source) 

[9] I believe Paul’s intention in 1 Cor 14:34-35 was to silence basic and nuisance questions from uneducated women who wanted to learn but were disrupting church meetings.  In the same chapter, and using identical language in the Greek, Paul also silenced tongues-speakers and prophets in situations that may have caused disturbances in meetings (1 Cor 14:28, 30, 33-34).  [Other interpretations of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 here.]

[10] Many English translations, such as the NIV, have “Chloe’s household” in 1 Cor 1:11; but there is no word for “household” in the Greek.
For I have been informed about you, my brothers and sisters, by those from/of Chloe, that there are rivalries/quarrels among you. (1 Cor 1:11, literal translation.)
Gordon D. Fee suggests that Chloe was a wealthy woman “whose business interests caused her agents to travel between Ephesus and Corinth.”  The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987, p54.

[11] Most New Testament churches were house churches.

[12] Priscilla’s ministry seems to have been more prominent than Aquila’s; her name is listed first, before her husband’s, in four of the six verses that name this couple.  See Acts 18:2, 18-19, 26; Rom 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19.

[13] Some English translations have the masculine name “Nymphas” and the masculine pronoun “his” but the best Greek texts have the feminine name and pronoun.   [See my article Stephanas or Stephana: Man or Woman? for more on this, here.]

[14]  For example: “[The church at Laodicea] had probably been founded by the Colossian Epaphras, who shared the care of it with Nymphas, in whose house the faithful used to assemble.” (Source)

[15] F.F. Bruce,  An Expanded Paraphrase of the Epistles of Paul, Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1981, 163.

[16] Chrysostom, Homilies on Philippians, 13. (Source)

[17] Paul mentions several of his co-workers (sunergoi) in the New Testament: Priscilla and Aquila (Rom 16:6); Urbanus (Rom 16:9); Timothy (Rom 16:21); Titus (2 Cor 8:23); Epaphroditus (Php 2:25) Euodia, Syntyche and Clement (Php 4:3); Aristarchus, Mark and Justus (Col 4:10-11); Philemon (Phm 1); Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke (Phm 24).

[18] W. Tarn and G.T. Griffith in Hellenistic Civilisation, 3rd Edition, 1952, p89-99.  More on this here.


Related Articles

A Collection of Articles on NT Women Church Leaders
A Collection of Articles on Paul and Women
1 Timothy 2:12 in Context
Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Paul’s Gender-Inclusive Qualifications for Church Leaders

Further Reading

Laborers in the Lord by Christopher R. Hutson here.

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Posted June 7th, 2012 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Equality in Ministry, Women in Ministry, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

18 comments on “Paul’s Personal Greetings to Women Ministers

  1. Tanya Marlow says:

    Brilliant analysis! Great stuff.

  2. Marg says:

    Thanks Tanya. :)

  3. Nice summary, Marg!
    There’s also the Elect Lady and her Elect Sister in 2 John.
    Two of the problem verses, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12-15, are well explained in the book “Hidden Voices: Biblical Women and Our Christian Heritage” (Smyth & Helwys, 1998). The latter is based on considerable and exceptional research by Catherine Clark Kroeger.

  4. Marg says:

    Thanks Heidi.

    I was tempted to mention the Elect lady and her sister but felt that if I did I was straying to far from the topic of women mentioned in Paul’s greetings. (I think I already took a few minor detours in my article as it is.)

    I’ll look out for the book. Sounds good.

    Here is my article about the Elect Lady in 2 John.

  5. [...] Paul’s Personal Greetings to Women Ministers by Margaret Mowczko [...]

  6. [...] Paul’s Personal Greetings to Women Ministers by Margaret Mowczko [...]

  7. I’m sure you must have read Phillip Payne? He argues convincingly (IMO) that the ‘women be silent’ verse was added by scribal copyists later and therefore is not part of inspired Scripture.

  8. Marg says:

    Yes, I’ve had a good read of Payne’s “Man and Woman: One in Christ” and his investigation of ancient texts of 1 Cor 14:34-35. Gordon D. Fee also believes that these verses are an interpolation. And Metzger mentions the ambigous treatment of these verses in the (Latin) Fuldensis.

    I briefly mention these here: http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/interpretations-applications-1-cor-14_34-35/

  9. [...] The following are all the women mentioned by Paul in his letters: Apphia (Phm 1:2), Claudia (2 Tim 4:21), Chloe (1 Cor 1:11), Euodia (Php 4:2), Julia (Rom 16:15), Junia (Rom 16:7), Lois and Eunice (2 Tim 1:5), Mary (Rom 16:6), Nereus’ sister (Rom 16:15), Nympha (Col 4:15), Persis (Rom 16:12), Phoebe (Rom 16:1-2), Priscilla (Rom 6:3-5; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19), Rufus’ mother (Rom 16:13), Syntyche (Php 4:2), Tryphena and Tryphosa (Rom 16:12). These women were actively involved in significant ministry, some as leaders. [...]

  10. [...] Paul’s Personal Greetings to Women Ministers [...]

  11. [...] Paul’s Personal Greetings to Women Ministers [...]

  12. Kathryn Elliott Stegall says:

    I have to agree with Tanya. This is an excellent article. Thank you, Margaret!

  13. [...] “Paul valued Priscilla, Euodia and Syntyche as his co-workers in the Gospel ministry. He refers to Junia as outstanding among the apostles. He commends Phoebe as a sister, patroness and minister. He acknowledges the ministry labours of Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis. He took seriously a report from Chloe of Corinth. He passed on greetings from Claudia of Rome, and sent greetings to Apphia of Colossae. He warmly mentions no less than ten women in Roman 16. He recognised the house church of Nympha in Laodicea. He accepted the hospitality of Lydia in Philippi. He respected the faith of Lois and Eunice. Paul valued the ministry of women and even compared his own ministry to that of a breastfeeding woman.” [...]

  14. […] Tryphena, Tryphosa, Euodia, and Syntyche are described as ministry partners of Paul, Phillip’s daughters were prophets, and Priscilla was known as the teacher who instructed Apollos more fully.  (You can read more about the leadership involvement of women in the church here.) […]

  15. […] Paul’s Personal Greetings to Women Ministers […]

  16. Gina Draker says:

    Thank you, this is a wonderful article to use for a quick reference or within a study – as I am currently studying with my daughters on New Testament women. M6ch appreciated!

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