Likewise women . . . Likewise husbands . . .

This article is also available in Spanish here.

Many discussions about women’s roles in the church and in the home centre on defining key Greek words such as kephalē (head), authenteō (dominate), and hupotassomai (submit). I’ve spent many hours looking at the meanings and implications of these words. It is essential, however, that we pay attention to every word in the text, and not just keywords, if we are to gain a better understanding of ministry in the New Testament church, and if we are to understand what the apostles taught about submission in marriage.

In this article I look at the Greek adverbs hōsautōs and homoiōs in three verses of the New Testament: 1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Timothy 3:11, and 1 Peter 3:7Both these ordinary Greek words can be translated simply as “likewise”.[1] By highlighting “likewise” in these three verses and, importantly, in the context of the surrounding passages, these verses become clearer in meaning.

Women prayed aloud in church meetings in Corinth and Ephesus

In 1 Corinthians 11:5 Paul plainly acknowledges that women prayed and prophesied in church meetings in Corinth. Many Christians have ignored this verse, however, and maintain that Paul wanted women to be completely silent in meetings. For centuries women have been excluded from being involved in any kind of verbal ministry in church services. This is due mainly to a misinterpretation of a couple of other verses in the same letter from Paul (1 Cor. 14:34-35). In some modern churches, women are still silenced and prohibited from praying aloud.

1 Timothy 2:9 is another verse which indicates that women prayed aloud in church meetings. This verse, however, is less clear than 1 Corinthians 11:5 in most English translations. Kevin Giles, commenting on 1 Timothy 2:8-9, writes:

When men pray, they should do so in the absence of contention or anger; when women pray they should dress modestly. The reference to women praying is often missed by male commentators but it should be noted. In v.9 the words addressed to women lack a verb which must be supplied from v.8. In v.8 there are two verbs ‘to desire’ and ‘to pray’, which the adverb at the beginning of verse 9, hōsautōs (= in like manner) shows are both carried over (so Chrysostom, Calvin, Spicq, Barrett, Debilius and Conzelmann).[2] (His italics.)

So, a translation of 1 Timothy 2:8-10 that more fully conveys the intended meaning may be:

I want the men in every place to pray, raising holy hands without anger and arguments, and likewise I want woman to pray, wearing respectable clothing with propriety and modesty; [they are] not to adorn themselves with fancy hair-dos, gold or pearls or expensive clothes but with good works, as is proper for women who profess to be godly.

Women were involved in all kinds of verbal ministries in the churches of the New Testament. They prayed and they prophesied (Acts 21:9). They taught and admonished (Acts 18:26 cf. Col. 3:16). Some independently wealthy women, such as Lydia and Nympha, were even the hosts and leaders of churches that met in their homes. It is unlikely that these women were silent in their own homes and did not participate in church meetings.
[This section adapted from “Paul’s Instructions for ‘Modest’ Dress” here.]

Some women were even official ministers in the church . . .

Women were deacons in the church at Ephesus

There has been a long running debate in the church as to whether the women mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:11 were official deacons or the wives of deacons. Up until the fourth century there was no separate feminine form of the word for deacon: a male or female deacon was called diakonos in Greek (transliterated into English as “deacon”.) It could well be that the female deacons in the Ephesian church were simply called “women” in verse 11 to distinguish them from the male deacons.

There are other indications in the text which suggest that these women were female deacons and not deacon’s wives. For instance, there is no mention of the wives of overseers (or bishops).[3] It doesn’t make sense that Paul would regard the moral requirements of deacon’s wives to be worthy of mention, but not those of overseers’ wives. Also, if deacons’ wives were intended, we would expect a definite article or a genitive pronoun in the Greek of verse 11 (which could be translated as “the wives” or “their wives” respectively.) However, it is the use of the word “likewise” (hōsautōs) that indicates that a distinct but similar group is being addressed in verse 11.[4]

“Likewise” (hōsautōs) is found at the beginning of 1 Timothy 3:8 and 1 Timothy 3:11. Lesly Massey writes that “likewise” is “customarily used to introduce the second and third entities in a series.” He suggests that the use of hōsautōs “seems to place the three groups [overseers, male deacons, female deacons] in categories of a similar nature.”[5] That is, the people belonging to these three groups are involved in somewhat similar ministries and require similar moral qualifications.

Taking the word “likewise” into account we can see that verses 8-10 refers to the male deacons, verse 11 specifically to the female deacons, and verses 12-13 to both the male and female deacons.

John Chrysostom weighed in on the debate about whether the women in 1 Timothy 3:11 were deacons or not. In his Homily 11 on 1 Timothy he wrote:  “Some have thought that this is said of women generally, but it is not so, for why should he introduce anything about women to interfere with his subject? He is speaking of those who hold the rank of deaconesses.”[6] In response to 1 Timothy 3:12 (including the idiomatic phrase “a one woman man”) he added “This must be understood therefore to relate to deaconesses. For that order is necessary and useful and honourable in the Church . . .”[7]

There are indications elsewhere in the writings of the New Testament that women were deacons in the church (e.g. Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2). These women were welfare workers, and they were patrons and envoys of apostles and churches. They were prominent, respected, and held influential, official leadership positions in the church.[8]

“Likewise” is used in still another passage about women . . .

Husbands should be submissive to their wives

Many Christians believe that submission in marriage is the duty only of wives. These Christians often make a point of saying that the Scriptures never state that husbands are to be submissive to their wives. In his instructions to Christian men, however, the apostle Peter comes very close.

In his first letter, Peter uses the Greek word homoiōs—which means “likewise” or “in the same way”—three times: in 1 Peter 3:1, 3:7; 5:5. Each occurrence of this word is in the context of submission.

Firstly, Peter tells all his readers to submit to every secular authority (1 Pet. 2:13).
Then he addresses slaves and tells them to be submissive to their masters (1 Pet. 2:18).
Then he says, “Wives, likewise be submissive to your own husbands” (1 Pet. 3:1).
Then he says, “Husbands, likewise live together with your wives . . .” (1 Pet. 3:7).
In 1 Peter 5:5, Peter brings up the subject of submission again and says, “Likewise, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders.” (My use of underlines.)

There is no main verb in the Greek of 1 Peter 3:7, but, by using the adverb “likewise” (homoiōs), Peter links verse 7 with the previous verses about submission. It is not uncommon for Greek sentences to borrow the meaning of a main verb (or verbal idea) from a previous sentence, or passage, without restating the verb. However, Peter may have intentionally left out the word for “be submissive” in verse 7 to soften its impact and avoid offending the sense of male honour which was part of the culture of Greco-Roman society.[9] Nevertheless, the meaning remains. If “likewise” doesn’t refer to submission, what does it refer back to?

Peter may have been cautious about not offending men and their honour, yet he also tells them to give honour (timē) to their wives as they are joint heirs of the gracious gift of life.

Peter then goes on to say, “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble . . .” (1 Pet. 3:8). These are the qualities we all should be striving for, along with mutual submission. Mutual submission and deference, rather than one-sided submission, is the ideal in Christian marriage and in the church (Eph. 5:21).

Conclusion

If we are to truly understand what the biblical writers meant we need to pay attention to every word in the text, and not just the keywords. By ignoring even ordinary words such as “likewise” we can miss or distort the original meaning. Furthermore, we must never isolate a verse from the surrounding passage. The meanings of  1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Timothy 3:11 and 1 Peter 3:7 are obscured if we ignore their context. It seems that the meanings of these verses have in fact been obscured in the past to the detriment of the church, especially her women, and to the detriment of marriage, especially the wives.

The New Testament shows that women participated in church ministry, including official ministries and speaking ministries. And wives can expect their Christian husbands to be mutually submissive and offer mutual honour to them.


Endnotes

[1] BDAG gives the meaning of hōsautōs as “a marker of similarity that approximates identity, (in) the same (way), similarly, likewise”; and it gives the meaning of homoiōs as “to be similar in some respect, likewise, so, similarly, in the same way”.
Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, revised and edited by F.W Danker (University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1106 & 707.

[2] “Response” in The Bible and Women’s Ministry: An Australian Dialogue, Alan Nichols (ed.) (Canberra: Acorn Press, 1990), 72.

[3] The list of moral qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1ff assumes that the overseers in Ephesus are male, and married, and have children, and have their own reputable households to manage, but nowhere in the New Testament does it state that the leadership of churches is restricted to men only. More about Paul’s qualification for church leaders here.

[4] Kevin Giles, Patterns of Ministry Among the First Christians (Sydney: Collins Dove Publishers, 1989), 61.

[5] Lesly F. Massey, Women and the New Testament: An Analysis of Scripture in the Light of New Testament Era Culture (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1989), 61.

[6] Chrysostom (347–407) was writing at a time when there was a separate word for female deacons: deaconesses.

[7] John Chrysostom Homily 11 on First Timothy. Translated by Philip Schaff. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 13. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1889.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.   http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/230611.htm

[8] It is important that we do not project modern customs and roles of deacons back onto the first century church, otherwise we may obscure the actual roles of these early church deacons.

[9] Jesus, however, willingly relinquished his honour for our sake (e.g. Phil. 2:7-8 cf. Eph. 5:25).


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