Euodia and Syntyche: Women Church Leaders at Philippi

The Forum at Philippi
© V. Gilbert and Arlisle F. Beers (Source: Visual Bible Alive)

In the current discussions about the participation of women in the Church, Phoebe, Junia and Priscilla have received a great deal of attention. These three women are mentioned in the New Testament as being involved in significant Christian ministry. Much of the discussion surrounding these women concerns identifying their actual ministries, and evaluating the precedent, if any, they set for women in the Church today. Euodia and Syntyche are two lesser known women who were ministers in the church. This article looks at these two women who were members of the church at Philippi.

Euodia and Syntyche cf. Timothy and Epaphroditus

The apostle Paul names Euodia and Syntyche in his letter to the Philippians and, in just two verses, he gives us a glimpse into the value and significance of their ministries.

I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to think the same thing in the Lord. Indeed, I ask you, my true companion [or, yokefellow], to help them—these women who have contended together with me in [the cause of] the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.  Philippians 4:2-3

When he describes the ministry of Euodia and Syntyche,[1] Paul uses a couple of the same terms he had applied previously to Timothy and Epaphroditus. For instance, Paul writes that Euodia and Syntyche had contended[2] together with him “in the Gospel”. Earlier in the letter, Paul had described Timothy as someone who had served with him “in the Gospel” (Phil. 2:22). Furthermore, Paul goes on to refer to Euodia and Syntyche as his “co-workers“. Earlier, Paul had referred to Epaphroditus as his “co-worker” (Phil. 2:25).[3] So, according to Paul, the ministries of the women Euodia and Syntyche were in some ways comparable to the ministries of the men Timothy and Epaphroditus.

Euodia and Syntyche cf. Phoebe the Deacon

Bishop and theologian John Chrysostom (c. 349-407) believed that Euodia and Syntyche were leading women in the Philippian church, and he compared them to Phoebe, a woman minister (diakonos) in the church at Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1-2).  In his 13th Homily on Philippians he wrote:

These women [Euodia and Syntyche] seem to me to be the chief of the Church which was there, and [Paul] commends them to some notable man whom he calls his yokefellow; [Paul] commends them to him, as to a fellow-worker, and fellow-soldier, and brother, and companion, as he does in the Epistle to the Romans, when he says, I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a minister of the church at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1). (Homilies on Philippians, 13)[4]

Women in Macedonia

It was not unusual for women to have leading roles in Philippi. Philippi was the chief city of Macedonia (Acts 16:12) and it has been well documented that Macedonian women enjoyed greater freedoms, rights and powers than many other women of that time.

Tarn and Griffith have noted,

If Macedonia produced perhaps the most competent group of men the world had yet seen, the women were in all respects the men’s counterparts; they played a large part in affairs, received envoys and obtained concessions for them from their husbands, built temples, founded cities, engaged mercenaries, commanded armies, held fortresses, and acted on occasion as regents or even co rulers.
W. Tarn and G.T. Griffith, Hellenistic Civilisation, 3rd Edition (London: Methuen, 1952)  98-99; quoted by Ralph Martin (1983:16)

William Barclay comments on the of freedom Macedonian women mentioned in the book of Acts:

We can see this [freedom of women] even in the narrative in Acts of Paul’s work in Macedonia. In Philippi, Paul’s first contact was with the meeting for prayer by a riverside, and he spoke to the women gathered there (Acts 16:13). Lydia was obviously a leading figure in Philippi (Acts 16:14).[6] In Thessalonica, many of the chief women were won for Christianity, and the same thing happened at Berea (Acts 17:4 & 12). . . . it is well worth remembering, when we are thinking of the place of women in the early church and of Paul’s attitude to them, that in the Macedonian churches they clearly had a leading place.” (William Barclay 2003:86)

Were Euodia and Syntyche leaders of house churches?

Paul’s letter to the Philippians differs to his other letters in that he specifically includes the supervisors/overseers (episkopoi) and ministers/deacons (diakonoi) in his opening greeting.[6] Instead of the more usual English translation of “overseers and deacons”, FF Bruce (1981) translates this phrase in Philippians 1:1 as “chief pastors and other ministers” which more helpfully conveys the meaning of these ministry roles to modern readers. It is possible that Euodia, Syntyche, and Clement who is mentioned with them, were the supervisors or chief pastors of house churches at Philippi. In the first century, independently wealthy women, as well as men, who hosted a church in their own home functioned as pastors and supervisors (episkopoi). Or perhaps Euodia and Syntyche, like Phoebe, were ministers/deacons (diakonoi).[7]

In Philippians 4:2, Paul urged Euodia and he urged Syntyche to, literally, “think the same thing”. That Paul addressed Euodia and Syntyche personally and individually, reinforces the idea that these women were influential members of the Philippian church and possibly were its leaders. (The NRSV translates the Greek faithfully showing that Paul addresses the women individually.)

Were Euodia and Syntyche quarreling?

A common assumption is that the women were quarreling, and many English translations of Philippians 4:2 perpetuate this assumption.[8] Paul, however, does not explicitly state that Euodia and Syntyche were quarreling. Rather, he urged each of them, literally, “to think the same thing in the Lord”. “Think” (phroneō) is a key word in the letter to the Philippians.[9] In preceding verses, Paul had been encouraging mature people to have the same thinking as himself, that of reaching out for the goal spiritual perfection (Phil. 3:14-15). It could be that Paul is carrying on this thought and, using almost identical language (in the Greek), is saying, “I encourage/urge Euodia and I encourage/urge Syntyche to have the same thinking in the Lord”, that of aspiring to spiritual maturity and perfection (Phil. 4:2).

Chrysostom did not see any sign of a quarrel in Paul’s plea to Euodia and Syntyche; he saw only praise and wrote: “Do you see how great a testimony he [Paul] bears to their virtue?”  (Homilies on Philippians, 13)

In the New Testament text there are many examples of women who were involved in significant gospel ministry, some as leaders. Even though these women—women such as Euodia and Syntyche—are mentioned briefly, they do serve as valid, biblical precedents for women in ministry today. Since Paul valued the ministries of certain women, and regarded them as his fellow workers in the gospel, we should be careful not to hinder godly, gifted and capable women from following their calling to be ministers and leaders in the church today.


Endnotes

[1] Euodia is probably pronounced: “yew-oh-DEE-ah”. Syntyche is probably pronounced “Sin-TICK-ay”.

Euodia’s name comes from the Greek verb euodoō which means “. . . to give a prosperous journey; to cause to proper or be successful . . . ” (Perschbacher 1990:181) [eu=well, hodos= road]  The word is used in Rom. 1:10; 1 Cor. 16:2; and 3 John 2 (twice). The name can be likened in meaning to “Bon Voyage”.

Syntyche’s name comes from the Greek word suntuchia, which means “the unexpected coinciding of two events, happening, chance” (BDAG 976) This word is used in Luke 10:31. The name can be likened in meaning to “Serendipity”.

[2] Sunathleō (“contend”) is used twice in Philippians, in 1:27 and in 4:3. It means, to contend on the side of someone; to cooperate vigorously with a person; or, to make every effort in the cause of, or support of something. (Perschbacher 1990: 388) Euodia and Syntyche’s ministry was not light-weight. (See comments section, here, for more on this word.)

[3] Paul mentions several of his fellow workers or 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 (Phil. 2:25) Euodia, Syntyche and Clement (Phil. 4:3); Aristarchus, Mark and Justus (Col. 4:10-11); Philemon (Philem. 1); Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke (Phm. 24).

[4] Here is John Chrysostom’s entire commentary about Euodia and Syntyche:

I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yea, I beseech you also, true yokefellow, help these women.  Philippians 4:2-3a

Some say Paul here exhorts his own wife [as yokefellow]; but it is not so, but some other woman, or the husband of one of them.

“Help these women, for they laboured with me in the Gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow-workers whose names are in the book of life.” Philippians 4:3

Do you see how great a testimony he bears to their virtue? For as Christ says to his Apostles, “Rejoice not that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in the book of life” Luke 10:20; so Paul testifies to them, saying, “whose names are in the book of life.” 

These women seem to me to be the chief of the Church which was there, and he commends them to some notable man whom he calls his yokefellow, to whom perchance he was wont to commend them, as to a fellow-worker, and fellow-soldier, and brother, and companion, as he does in the Epistle to the Romans, when he says, I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the Church that is at Cenchrea. Romans 16:1. Yokefellow; either some brother of theirs, or a husband of hers; as if he had said, Now you are a true brother, now a true husband, because you have become a Member. For they laboured with me in the Gospel. This protection came from home, not from friendship, but for good deeds.

Laboured with me.

What do you say?  Did women labour with you?  Yes, he answers, they too contributed no small portion.  Although many were they who wrought together with him, yet these women also acted with him among the many. The Churches then were no little edified, for many good ends are gained where they who are approved, be they men, or be they women, enjoy from the rest such honor.  For in the first place the rest were led on to a like zeal; in the second place, they also gained by the respect shown; and thirdly, they made those very persons more zealous and earnest. Wherefore you see that Paul has everywhere a care for this, and commends such men for consideration. As he says in the Epistle to the Corinthians: Who are the first-fruits of Achaia, 1 Corinthians 16:15. Some say that the word yokefellow, (Syzygus,) is a proper name. Well, what? Whether it be so, or no, we need not accurately enquire, but observe that he gives his orders, that these women should enjoy much protection. (Chrysostom, Homilies on Philippians, 13, from newadvent.org)

[5] Lydia was a wealthy woman and the first Christian convert in Philippi. (In fact, Lydia was the first Christian convert in Europe.) It is likely that Lydia hosted and led the first house church in Philippi when Paul and his colleagues moved on from there to continue Paul’s missionary journey. (See Acts 16:13-15, 40.) 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). Another possibility is that “Lydia” was a kind of nickname showing her place of origin—she was from the city of Thyatira in Lydia—and her real name was Euodia or Syntyche.

[6] The word “deacon” (diakonos) is problematic as this role is understood very differently today by different denominations. Whenever Paul uses the term diakonos, he typically uses it in reference to an agent with a sacred commission. Even the diakonos in Romans 13:4, who is a magistrate or other government minister, is described as an agent with a sacred commission: as a “diakonos of God”. In 1 Corinthians 11, however, he refers to false apostles as diakonoi (“agents”) of Satan (1 Cor. 11:13-15). All other diakonoi in Paul’s letters refer to Christian ministers. These include: 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 (Mark 10:42-45; Rom. 15:8). [More on diakonoi here.]

[7] Paul fondly mentions many women in his letters: Apphia (Philem. 1:2), Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11), Claudia (2 Tim. 4:21), Euodia (Phil. 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 (Phil. 4:2), Tryphena and Tryphosa (Rom. 16:12).  These women were actively involved in significant ministry, some as leaders. [More about these women in Paul’s Personal Greeting to Women Ministers here, and in Paul and Women, in a Nutshell here.]

[8] Note that 1 Corinthians 1:10 contains the Greek word meaning “same” (auto) three times in the context of quarrels and schisms. (This verse does not contain a word related to phroneō.) The King James translates 1 Corinthians 1:10 (a little too literally) as, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgement.” (Italics added.)
1 Corinthians 1:10 is about harmony, as is Romans 12:16 which contains three cognates of phroneō (two participles and one adjective), as well as the phrase, “Be of the same (auto) mind one toward another.” Considering how he uses auto and phroneō, Paul may have used these words when urging for harmony and unity in churches. Yet, as in Romans 12:16, Paul may have been urging for harmony and unity in Philippians 4:3 without necessarily indicating that Euodia and Syntyche were quarrelling.

[9] The verb phroneō occurs nine times in Philippians.

This article is adapted from Ministers in Philippi: Men and Women, Philippians Bible Study, Week 19.

 © 13th of December, 2010, Margaret Mowczko.

An abridged version of this article was published by Christians for Biblical Equality (International) in their Arise e-newsletter on the 4th of August, 2011. (Arise archives)


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