Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

1 Corinthians 16:16: A submission verse that applies to women ministers

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Paul’s Fellow Workers, Male and Female

Many people are familiar with the verses that say wives should submit themselves to their own husbands (e.g., Eph. 5:22, 24; Col. 3:16). But these are not the only verses about submission that apply to women.

At the end of his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul speaks warmly about the household of Stephanas and he tells the Corinthians,

“. . . be subject to [or, submit yourselves to] such as these, and to every fellow worker and labourer.” 1 Corinthians 16:16 ESV

Paul was deeply grateful for the ministry of Stephanas. One of his ministries was probably being the patron and leader of a house church that met in his home and that included the members of his household. Yet, Paul does not give him a ministry title directly. In the next phrase, however, Paul uses a participle of the verb synergeō, a word the ESV translates as “fellow worker.”[1]

Paul’s favourite term for a minister of the gospel wasn’t pastor, elder, priest, or preacher, or any of the other terms and titles that we often apply to ministers today. His favourite term was synergos, usually translated as “fellow worker” or “coworker.”[2] In his letters, Paul uses this term for himself and for several of his ministry colleagues, both men and women, who were involved in various important ministries. We know of three women who the apostle counted among his coworkers: Priscilla, Euodia, and Syntyche.[3]

“Coworker” is not a lofty term, but it does give the sense of camaraderie that Paul had among his fellow ministers.[4]

Ministry Labourers, Male and Female

In 1 Corinthians 16:16, Paul also uses the participle of the verb “labour” (kopiaō). Outside of the New Testament, the usual sense of kopiaō is of being exhausted due to difficult, tiring labour.

Within the New Testament, Paul uses the word “labour” (verb: kopiaō; noun: kopos) to describe his own apostolic ministry (1 Cor. 3:8; 15:10; Gal. 4:11; Phil. 2:16; Col 1:29; 1 Thess. 3:5). And he uses it in reference to the leadership ministries of others (1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17).

For example,

“Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard (kopiaō) among you, who care[5] for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.” 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13a NIV

In Romans 16, Paul uses “labour” words for the ministry of four women: Mary of Rome (Rom. 16:6), Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis (Rom. 16:12). While Paul occasionally uses “labour” words in the context of ordinary manual labour (1 Cor. 4:12; 1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:8), the phrase “in the Lord” in 16:12 makes it plain that Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis laboured in Christian ministry, possibly in evangelism or in some other leadership function.[6]

“Greet Mary, who has laboured hard for you. . . . Greet those labourers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has laboured hard in the Lord.” Romans 16:6 & 12

Paul mostly avoided ministry descriptions that conveyed any sense of prestige, power, or superiority. He understood that Christian ministry is service. And the word “labour/labourer,” like “coworker,” is not a lofty term. Rather, “labourer” gives the sense of the hard work and dedication involved in establishing and spreading the message of Jesus, often in the face of harsh opposition.

Submission to and Recognition of Coworkers and Labourers

Because “coworker” and “labourer” are not ministry titles today, it is easy to overlook the fact that these people mentioned by Paul were involved in important work and that the apostle recognised them as ministers of the gospel.

It is also easy to overlook the fact that when Paul urges the Corinthians to submit to people who are like Stephanas and his household, and to every fellow worker and labourer, that this includes submitting to women like Priscilla,[7] Euodia, Syntyche, Mary of Rome, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis who the apostle refers to as fellow workers and labourers. Other women who Paul mentions in his letters could also be added to this list, women such as Apphia, Junia, Nympha, and Phoebe.[8]

So why say all of this? Because some Christians wrongly think that submission is a gender role, that it is primarily the duty of women. However, being submissive is a normal Christian behaviour, similar to humility and meekness, regardless of one’s gender (Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5 NKJV; cf. Phil. 2:1ff).

Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to be deferential and cooperative (i.e. submissive) towards Stephanas and his household, a household that had dedicated themselves to ministry, a household that probably included women and men. Paul wanted the Corinthians to serve those who were serving them.

As well as being submissive, Paul also wanted the Corinthians to acknowledge such people (1 Cor. 16:18 ESV). Thankfully, more and more Christians are recognizing and acknowledging the significant ministries of Paul’s female coworkers and labourers in the Lord. In the first century, many women were labouring at the forefront of the expanding Christian mission.

Footnotes

[1] To be precise, Paul uses a present active participle of the verb sunergeō with an article. The article before the participle indicates the participle is functioning as a noun. Accordingly, the ESV translates it as a noun, “fellow worker.” Paul sometimes uses present active participles to highlight an immediate sense of an ongoing ministry (e.g., Rom. 16:1; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 5:17).

[2] “The designations most often given to Paul’s fellow workers are in descending order of frequency as follows: coworker (synergos), brother (adelphos) [or sister (adelphē) as in the cases of Phoebe and Apphia], minister (diakonos) and apostle (apostolos).”
E.E. Ellis, “Paul and his Coworkers” in Dictionary of Paul and his Letters, editors: Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph Martin (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 183.

[3] Here is a list of all of Paul’s coworkers (synergoi) mentioned in his surviving letters: Priscilla, Aquila, Urbanus, and Timothy (Rom. 16:3, 9, 21); Paul and Apollos as coworkers of God (1 Cor. 3:9); Stephanas and his household ( 1 Cor. 16:16); Silas, Timothy and Paul as coworkers with the Corinthians, and Titus (2 Cor. 1:24; 8:23); Epaphroditus, Euodia, Syntyche, and Clement (Phil. 2:25; 4:3); Philemon, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke (Philem. 1:1, 24).

[4] In older English translations and commentaries synergos is often inadequately translated as “helper.”

[5] The word here, a participle of the verb proistēmi, may refer to the ministry of house church leaders. Proistēmi is used eight times in the New Testament (Rom. 12:8; 1 Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim. 3:4, 5, 12; 5:17; Tit. 3:8, 14) and in each occurrence it “seems to have the sense a. ‘to lead’ but the context shows in each case that one must also take into account sense b. ‘to take care of’. This is explained by the fact that caring was an obligation of leading members of the infant Church.”
Bo Reike, “Proistēmi,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), Vol. 6, ed. Gerhard Friedrich, transl. and ed. Geoffrey Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1968), 701-703, 701.
A related noun of the verb proistēmi is used in Romans 16:2 to describe Phoebe’s ministry.

[6] Thomas Schreiner has this to say about Paul’s use of the verb “labour” particularly in reference to the four women whose ministry is described with this word in Romans 16:

It is clear from this list [in Romans 16] that women were actively involved in ministry. The verb “to labor” (κοπιᾶν, kopian) is used of four women: Mary (v. 6), Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis (v. 12). The word κοπιᾶν is used to describe Paul’s ministry (1 Cor 15:10; Gal 4:11; Phil 2:16; Col 1:29; 1 Tim 4:10) and others who are involved in ministry (1 Cor 16:16; 1 Thess 5:12; 1 Tim 5:17). Here it probably denotes missionary work (cf. Cranfield 1979: 785; Kasemann 1980: 412; Wilckens 1982: 135; Dunn 1988b: 892; P. Lampe 1991: 223). What these women did specifically is not delineated, but we cannot doubt that they were vitally involved in ministry. Dunn (1988b: 894) rightly cautions, however, that κοπιᾶν is a general term and does not denote leadership per se.
Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics, 1998), 797. (Online source)

While the term itself does not denote leadership, some labourers were leaders.

[7] Immediately after writing about Stephanas, Paul mentions Aquila and Priscilla and their house church in Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:19.) This is one of three verses in the Pauline letters where this couple is mentioned. In the other two verses, Priscilla’s (i.e. Prisca’s) name is listed before her husband’s (Rom. 16:3-5; 2 Tim. 4:19; cf. Acts 18:2-3, 18-19, 26). Furthermore, Paul mentions her first in the list of greetings of twenty-eight Roman Christians in Romans 16. First! Priscilla and her husband Aquila were prominent ministers.

[8] Susan Mathew suggests, “Phoebe’s mission in relation to the community at Cenchreae may be the same as that of the house of Stephanas . . .”
Susan Mathew, Women in the Greetings of Rom 16:1-16: A Study of Mutuality and Women’s Ministry in the Letter to the Romans (Durham University: Durham E-Theses, 2010), 119.
Stephanas and his household ministered to the church at Corinth, as well as to Paul personally. Similarly, Phoebe and her household may have been a base of ministry in Cenchrea. Paul may have been a guest in the homes of Stephanas and Phoebe and enjoyed their hospitality during his travels in Corinth, but both Stephanas and Phoebe also travelled. We know that Stephanas and two of his colleagues travelled from Corinth to Ephesus to visit Paul and serve him in his mission (1 Cor. 16:17). Phoebe travelled to Rome as Paul’s letter carrier and representative. Many diakonoi (“deacons”) in the first and second centuries travelled as part of their ministry. Perhaps Stephanas, like Phoebe, was also a diakonos.

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Related Articles

7 Lessons from the Ministry of Stephanas
Junia, Nympha, Euodia and Stephana(s): Men or Women?
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There are articles on this website about Priscilla, Euodia and SyntycheApphia, Chloe, Junia, Nympha, and Phoebe.

artigos em portugues sobre igualdade entre homens e mulheres no lar e na igreja

55 thoughts on “1 Corinthians 16:16: A submission verse that applies to women ministers

  1. Nice! Thanks Marg – again, you hit on topics I haven’t thought of.
    I also think about the verses that require us to submit to government / governing authorities. How many Christians have no problem in challenging both national and local authorities (even local school districts), yet require wives to obey their husbands? Talk about a double standard!
    You got me thinking Marg 🙂 I want to look at more verses about “submission” and see how if we have overlooked or ignored those verses, or created more double standards.

      1. Haha!! I figured…any of my thoughts have already been molded into an awesome article from Marg 🙂 I’ve been thinking about “submitting” to authorities. However, we’re also to resist unlawful authorities who aren’t from God. Shiphrah and Puah, the midwives who disobeyed and lied to Pharaoh (and saved Moses’ life); the wisemen who disobeyed Herod and returned a different path after being warned in a dream; Joseph, who, by law, was commanded to leave Mary because she was pregnant and unmarried, and many other stories. All of these people I mentioned are never censured for their disobedience towards authorities. So, surely we aren’t meant to obey a law or a leader who is contrary to God, even though Scripture tells us to submit to authorities 4x in the Bible (nor do I think we should blindly obey a pastor because she / he is from God). Likewise, women aren’t to submit disobedient husbands. Ephesians 5:21-22 in the Greek: “everyone submit to each other, wives as to your husbands.” The ESV and other translations add extra verbs (which seem like commands) to the original.

        1. Abigail is a great example of a wife who went against her husband’s wishes and is praised for it.

          All of Paul’s instructions must be interpreted and implemented with kindness and common sense. Paul did not expect his instructions to always be followed to the letter, even instructions he words strongly. See 1 Corinthians 7: 10-11.

  2. As with many others, the word ‘Submission’ in modern day has been abused to the extent that it now carries a negative connotation. The act itself is now associated with ‘subserviency’ and ‘inferiority’. However, when you look intently into the necessity of submission, it is designed for efficiency of operation and to avoid impasse, inaction, and confusion. As I think about it, there is never a time when God put a group of persons together without a leader to manage the affairs of the group and people are expected to defer to the leadership to provide direction. God on many occasions frowned at rebellion against leaders (Numbers 12, & 16, ). On the other hand, the leader is not a god! Leaders are accountable to God and to man. A leader is neither a perfect nor a superior human being (Moses was a murderer with great anger problems, David was a murderer, weak father, and an adulterer. Solomon, in all of his wisdom, was a womanizer. Abraham with all of his faith was a liar. Jacob was a deceitful con. Eli was a weak father! Yet God will frown at anyone who disrespects their authority. Why is this the case? A system without structure is a weak system that is sure to fail. This is where submission becomes a key ingredient for success in any situation where you have two or more persons. Also, a leader that ignores the need of his ‘flock’ invites rebellion (1 Kings 12). Leaders are not above reproach. God deals with them in His own way., time and place. However, they must be respected to avoid chaos. Submission is a key ingredient that hold the trinity togther. Jesus said “My food, is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” This is a great example of submission. We also see the reward of submission:
    Philippians 2:6-11 New Living Translation (NLT)
    6 Though he was God,[a]
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
    7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges[b];
    he took the humble position of a slave[c]
    and was born as a human being.
    When he appeared in human form,[d]
    8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

    9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
    10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
    11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

    1. Hello Olujide,

      When Paul or Peter write about submission in the context of relationships among Christians or of submission to God, it is always positive.

      Being submissive (i.e. being humble, deferential, cooperative, loyal) is not necessarily done to a leader or a person in authority. Hopefully, it is a disposition. As brothers and sisters in Christ, mutual submission should be a hallmark of our relationships (Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5 NJKV).

      The leadership of patriarchs, kings, rulers, and chief priests, etc, is not what either Jesus or Paul want for the communities (i.e. churches) of Jesus’ followers. Jesus is our king and high priest; we are brothers and sisters.

      As redeemed New Covenant people, empowered and led by the Holy Spirit, there is no place for corrupt leadership. People with ongoing anger issues, murderers, womanisers, adulterers, liars, etc, should not be church leaders. Such people must be removed from ministry. They do not deserve respect.

      Paul wrote,
      “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler [i.e. verbally abusive], drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. Drive out the wicked person from among you.”
      1 Corinthians 5:11-13 NRSV

      Also, there doesn’t need to be a leader when there are “two or more persons.” Surely a few people should be able to get on and be productive without one or two people being the leaders. A nation or institution, however, needs leaders.

      1. Hello Marg,

        we have the option to do things with principles that are established in the word (i.e. the Bible) and get a result that is Godly. Alternatively, we can lean on our own understanding and interpret the word in ways that are convenient for our circumstances and build a life on it. We surely we get the results that come from it. The Bible clearly speaks to the necessity of submission to one another and leaders. All of these is geared toward peaceful living – a replication of the peaceful coexistence of the Holy Trinity.

        Again, thank you for bringing up this issue. All the best!

        1. I agree that we should heed biblical principles. The New Testament tells us what behaviours are to be emulated as Jesus’ followers who are led by the Spirit, and what behaviours are not to be tolerated (e.g., Gal 5:19-25). These bad behaviours are unacceptable for all church members including, or especially, church leaders. In 1 Corinthians, Paul says, “Drive out the wicked person from among you” 1 Corinthians 5:13.

          We may have little choice about government leaders or bosses at work, but this is not the case in congregations. How can there be peace from God if church leaders have any of the vices you mentioned in your first comment? God may have tolerated certain vices under the older covenants But there is no provision for habitual sin among leaders in the New Covenant now that Jesus had dealt with sin and we have the Holy Spirit. Because of Jesus and the Holy Spirit there is now the potential to be freed from sin and the old nature. This is one of the main principles of the gospel.

          How can a person with serious vices be an example and lead other church members to be more like Jesus? And how can a leader with vices be compared with the Trinity? There are no vices in the Trinity.

          Paul says we should submit to people such as the household of Stephanas. These were good people. Paul also says that we should respect leaders who do a good job (e.g., 1 Thess. 5:13; 1 Tim. 5:17). As far as I know, the Bible never says we should honour a position.

          Paul does not tell us to honour or submit to people who claim to be fellow believers but who are liars, adulterers, murderers, etc. He tells us to expel such people from of our congregations. These are biblical principles.

  3. If there ever was anyone in the Church that could have given himself a high title, it would have been Paul. He doesn’t though. His mission was all about being submitted to the Lord, and then to all those who were also in the Lord. When he refers to these folks as “co-laborers,” I think about how he not only denied his place as a superior, but elevated those around him to be like him. He knew that what needed done was not something for one person to do.

    It hit me once that a good road sign for Christians (other than One Way) is the yield sign. When we merge onto a roadway, we make sure that other drivers can do their jobs safely. We don’t interrupt the flow of traffic by claiming things like, “I was here first,” or “Where I am going is more important than where you are going.” I see submission as a lot like the yield sign. We give it freely, it is accepted freely. It is when you don’t push yourself ahead of anyone. Maybe this is a bit sappy in some ways and not completely accurate, but I think of it as a good way to explain submission in a non-threatening way that gives dignity to all.

    1. That’s great, Cassandra. I’m totally with you on “yield.”

  4. Paul is only an interpreter of the submission policy.
    Is there a place in the Old Testament that says this from God?

    1. I don’t know of any verse in the Old Testament that says some people should submit to other people.

  5. Marg, as always I found your article to be thoughtful and insightful. I agree with your comment that, “being submissive is a normal Christian behaviour, similar to humility, regardless of one’s gender” (Eph. 5:21; cf Phil. 2:1ff). Submission and humility being more about one’s character and disposition rather than being about about powers structures and hierarchy. The terms “fellow worker and labourer” are great descriptors that apply to all who serve and work for the Lord. It is interesting in one of your comments you mention, “The leadership of patriarchs, kings, rulers, and chief priests, etc, is not what either Jesus or Paul want for the communities (i.e. churches) of Jesus’ followers. Jesus is our king and high priest; we are brothers and sisters.” This observation is reflective of God’s thoughts in the OT as well. In 1 Samuel 8:5 the Israelites approached Samuel and told him they wanted him to appoint a king to lead them. “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:7-8). Samuel was angered by their request to switch from a system of judgeship to a kingship and he prayed to the Lord about what to do. God told Samuel, “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you” (1 Samuel 8:7–8). Essentially, God felt that the Israelites’ did not need a king to lead them, as they already had a King. God saw their desire to have an earthly king to lead them was a rejection of him and their unique status as his people. Instead, they sought to do what all the other nations were doing, seeking to follow their customs rather than God’s ways. Thanks again for the informative post.

    1. Thanks for pointing that out, Anne.

      By the way, I love your new article. I’ll message you soon.

  6. I think the problem is many Christians in the ultra comp camp believe that submission refers to a hierarchy where a believer is submitting someone or something of a higher ranking status. But Ephesians 5:21 is about all believers submitting to one another in Christ. Where all called to submit to each other as members of Christ’s body. In my first blog I wrote a long post about the distinction of submission and obedience, the Greek translation of the word and what the true definition is. From what I said in Ephesians 5:22 about wives submitting, the Greek translation of submit is “hupotasso can mean to arrange under, to subordinate , to yield to one’s advice or admonition. The Greek military meaning is to arrange in a military fashion under a command of a leader but the non-military usage is a voluntarily attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, carrying a burden. However, from what I learned from other scholars is that, the word “hupotasso” is in active and that Paul used the word in it’s middle voice “hupotassomai” which is a voluntary nature that means give allegiance to, tend to the needs of, be supportive of, be responsive to. Although some scriptures does say that we should submit to leaders and government authorities, it doesn’t mean submission isn’t only referring to higher ranking authorities as we are all called to submit to each other and that would naturally include husbands submitting to their wives, parents submitting to the needs and well being of their children etc. God Bless.

    1. On the use of the middle voice upotassomenoi, at Ephesians 5:21, may I see a certain reciprocity in the verbal interaction here? Verses 5:22 and following then are Paul’s explanation of this reciprocal process…???

      1. I don’t believe the word hupotassomenoi itself gives any sense of reciprocity. Rather, it is the reciprocal pronoun allēlois in Ephesians 5:21, which means “to one another,” that gives the sense of reciprocity.

        Still, both love and submission are required from followers of Jesus, regardless of their gender. More on this here.

        I suggest huppotassomenoi is meant to be understood as being middle. If so, the meaning is “submit yourselves.” If it is passive, the meaning is “be submissive.” Reciprocity is not implicit in either voice.

  7. Distinct submission… Please read the full course self. Of God’s word and stop using truths to bridge with wrong conclusions causing confusion to the Body of Christ. There are numerous scriptures you miss in your. Assumptions… This is one such which Paul make a the distinction… Stop through in Hebrew and Greek like you are a theologian, which you clearly are NOT… No different than accusing others for excersizing their gifts and positions in the LORD… Hypocrisy

    22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

    23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

    24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

    25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

    26 That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,

    27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

    28 So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.

    29 For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:

    30 For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

    31 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.

    32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

    33 Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

    1. George, This blog post is not an article on the whole topic of submission. It could not be clearer that it is about submission according to 1 Corinthians 16:16. Did you not see the heading?

      Yes, it is a “distinct” kind of submission. The submission in 1 Corinthians 16:16 is to ministers. The submission in Ephesians 5:22ff is to husbands. (I have articles about Ephesians 5:21-33 here.)

      If there is an error in this article on 1 Corinthians 16:16, you need to make your concern clearer. Letting off steam by typing emotion-charged and incoherent thoughts helps no one.

      George, please be more respectful in any further comments. Disrespectful comments will not be “approved.”

  8. Great article!

    1. Thanks, Rob.

  9. Marg, despite agreeing with your egalitarian views in general, I get rather frustrated when I read this. I think complementarians and egalitarians alike are so on the wrong track when you insist on going on to translate the relevant greek word as «submit». Why, why, why does it have to be translated like that? I feel my own intuition screaming out in protest inside me. I don’t have your expertise in greek, but the word «submit» simply doesn’t fit. This context is a good example of that

    And it doesn’t help if by «submit» you really mean defer. It is one thing that you will never succeed in redefining «submit» to mean defer. Most people will run away as fast as they can when they hear «submit», and not stop to listen to what you really meant by it. But even if one uses «defer», that doesn’t fit either.

    Marg, imagine that you are Paul. You are thinking about some people who are doing important, good work in a town far away. And you are writing to christians in that town to say something about how they should treat these people. Listen to your own intuition. What would you most naturally say? That the christians should submit to them? That the christians should defer to them? I am quite sure that that is NOT what I would have written. I would of course encouraged the other christians to give their help and support to those workers. Isn’t that what is natural?

    Adapted from the NIV:
    «You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to give your help and support to such people, and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it.»

    Neither «support» nor «defer» fits here, and it doesn’t either in other contexts where the same greek is used. «Support», «attach» and «join together» are expressions that fit much better.

    1. Knut AK,

      I agree with you. Support, attach and join together may well be the senses Paul wanted to express in 1 Corinthians 16:16 and elsewhere.

      Hupotassō does have a meaning or nuance of “allegiance” or “attach.” I wonder if it also has a nuance of “devotion” considering the juxtaposition with the word tassō which Paul uses for the devotion and dedication that Stephanas’ household had voluntarily given to ministry. [I write about this here.] Nevertheless, “submit” is a meaning of hupotassō, and it is given in lexicons of New Testament Greek, so I need to retain it given my hoped-for audience.

      Overall, I suggest that hupotassō means to be deferential, cooperative, and loyal. I hope my article gives indications of these meanings.

      I think Paul would be thoroughly dismayed by the intense focus this word has been given by Christians who want to restrict women and exclude them from certain ministries and responsibilities that are open to their brothers. I look forward to the day when articles like mine are unnecessary.

      Sometimes I feel silly about the amount of time and energy I spend on a topic which is really a no-brainer. Paul’s theology of ministry, in a nutshell, is “you’ve got a gift, use it.” [More on this here.]

      1. It seems that there is a part of your thinking around «hupotassō» that I haven’t understood before. We are more in agreement than I at first thought.

        The topic you are writing about really should be a no-brainer. And one could say the same about several other topics, too. Why can’t we just all simply be nice to each other? Sadly, it appears that we can’t. And so, battles must be fought for what should have been obvious.

        Your words are important. Due to your scholarship, you are speaking with more authority than most on this subject. You continue to be needed.

        I see that I made an error: I wrote «Neither «support» nor «defer»» instead of «Neither «submit» nor «defer»».

        1. 🙂
          Wouldn’t it be great if Christians really were known by their love, as Jesus wanted (John 13:35)? I often say that all the instructions and advice in the Bible must be interpreted and implemented with kindness and with common sense.

  10. Well said, Marg, and a great thread with the perfect conclusion… In the greater Biblical scheme your terms, deference, cooperation and acknowledgement are critical. There are certain earmarks of successful interpersonal relationships — I believe, as a close friend said recently, that “submission and love are the flip sides of the same coin…” On the macro scale, as we love our neighbors, civility, respect and dignity will be present in the form of submission. As this is true in societal relationships like that of doing church, and more broadly, our daily contact with the world around us, so also on the micro scale, as in the marriage relationship, note especially Ephesians, Ch. 5:1-33. Knut AK has properly distilled the process, “Why can’t we just all simply be nice to each other?” Please keep on keeping on Marg…!!! God bless you…!!!

    1. Thank you, Russell.

  11. Hi Marg. The other day my dad flat out told me that he doesn’t want women to vote. I was kinda surprised he told me that straight to my face but whatever. Anyways he said that it’s because women tend to vote far more democratic than men and often vote for a welfare state (I’m in America btw). It honestly just kind of felt like a slap in the face. I do understand his point (I personally believe that the Democratic Party is full of a bunch of snakes myself and there aren’t many things at that I lean liberal towards -and I also think women tend to be more agreeable than men)… but really? Take away a half of the populations right to vote just so you can get your precious Republicans in? Isn’t that a bit much? It just feels like he’s willing to win at any cost, no matter how extreme. Idk so I was wondering what you think God would say about womens right to vote? Is there anywhere in the Bible that talks about this issue?

    1. Hi Megan, the Bible doesn’t talk about a democratic form of government. But the Bible does have stories of women speaking to kings, rulers and generals, and influencing them. Some of these women were Zelophehad’s daughters, Abigail, the wise woman of Abel Beth Macaah, the wise woman of Tekoa, Bathsheba (later in life), Huldah, the Shunammite woman. These women had voice, a voice that was heard by powerful figures. Votes can represent voices.

  12. Ok great. Thank you for your answer!

  13. Hey Marg, what is the Biblical definition for the word “church”?

    1. The New Testament understanding of “church” (ekklēsía) is of a group of Jesus followers who belong together and meet together.

      In the New Testament, there are house churches: a group that belongs together and holds meetings in someone’s house. (The host usually has some kind of ongoing responsibility for the welfare of the group.) But a network of house churches in a particular city can also be called a church (e.g., the church in Corinth, the church in Ephesus, see Acts 9:31). The word is even used of all Christians everywhere in a collective sense (e.g., Eph. 5:29; cf. Phil. 3:6).

      By the way, the Greek word ekklēsía has a long history of usage outside of the New Testament that doesn’t help our understanding of the term, apart from the straightforward sense of “assembly.” The etymology of ekklēsía (“a calling out”) also doesn’t help our understanding of church.

  14. Marg, I have a random question. I read the entire Gospel of Mark yesterday, and two things stood out about Mark: Simon’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29 – 31), and after the resurrection.

    First, I recently learned that Simon’s mother-in-law is considered the first deacon of the church. In most translations, she was healed from her fever and then began to wait on them, aka doing womanly duties. I always winced when I thought that Jesus was putting her in her traditional role (at least that’s what some churches want us to think). However, she served as “diakonis” even before some of the disciples were called, and therefore was the first example of becoming a servant of Jesus, and rightly deserves credit for starting the early church with her. And there’s no indication that she stopped serving, and possibly served Jesus throughout his life. Do you have any articles about this woman? I thought Phoebe was the only female deacon.

    Secondly, the end of Mark (Mark 16:14 – 20), when Jesus rebukes the “eleven” male disciples for not believing the women, he then tells them to preach throughout the world. I want to believe that Jesus also included Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Salome, and other women within the command “to preach.” To enforce that, Saul felt threatened by both women and men in Acts 9. So, is there any proof that Jesus gave the “Great Commission” to his women disciples too?

    1. Hi Jamie,

      I can’t see how it can be suggested that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law was a “deacon” (diakonos) based on what the Gospels say about her. The people who do suggest this have a different understanding of the ministries of first-century deacons than I have and, to be clear, she is not called a diakonos in any of the Gospels.

      Also, Jesus doesn’t put her in any role. I have little doubt she was serving her guests, and Jesus who had just healed her, from her own volition. And serving someone doesn’t make them a servant. There’s no evidence Jesus started the church with her.

      Paul consistently uses diakonos in a specific way in his letters: for an agent with a sacred commission. Luke similarly uses diakon- words with the sense of “a sacred commission” in Acts. (More on this here.) But Luke and the other Gospel writers do not always use diakon– words in this way in the Gospels, and they do not use it for deacons.

      I doubt that any minister can be called a “deacon” before Pentecost, but there were other women diakonoi in the first-century church other than Phoebe. 1 Timothy 3:11 alludes to women diakonoi in the church at Ephesus, but we don’t know who these women were. Some scholars believe that Euodia and Syntyche were diakonoi and/or overseers (i.e. house church leaders) at Philippi (Phil. 4:2-3; cf. Phil. 1:1). I do too. Women such as Junia and Priscilla functioned as diakonoi even though Paul describes their ministries with different terms. For Paul, diakonos was more a ministry description than a ministry title and it covered various activities including travelling and teaching, etc.

      Regarding the Great Commission: There is no biblical evidence or proof that Jesus gave the Great Commission to women. He probably did, but the Bible doesn’t tell us whether he did or didn’t. But women did preach (i.e. proclaim) the gospel message.

      You may be interested in this article which mentions the service/ministry of women in the Gospels.

      I write about deacons in Philippi here.

      I write about deacons in Ephesus here.

      I like this article on the CBE website about Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and her service.

  15. Hi Marg,

    I was wondering your thoughts as to why God never spoke to Eve in the creation story of Genesis. Also, why is nearly every woman in the Bible first described as how beautiful she is or whether or not she was a virgin? Why wasn’t she identified first by literally ANY other trait?

    I feel, as a woman, belittled by both God and men every single day. And it hurts. Bad.

    Why am I not enough for God? Why am I worse than my brother? Does God really love me as much as my dad or brother or men in general? I don’t get it.

    1. Hi Megan,

      God does speak to Eve. He speaks to her personally in Genesis 3 and she speaks to him. Furthermore, her words to the serpent may indicate that God spoke to her previously too. Also, God speaks to both men and women in Genesis 1 and tells them both the exact same things (Gen. 1:28ff).

      It is true that many women in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) are primarily described as beautiful. Do you know how many New Testament women are described as beautiful? I write about this here.

      I’m really sorry you feel that way. And I understand why. It makes me ill and miserable what some Christian teachers have said about women. Yet in the New Covenant, men and women are brothers and sisters with the same status and the same rights and privileges. Men are not better than women, and God does not show favouritism. He loves us all.

      It is the fall (i.e. sin) and it is poor interpretations of the Bible that belittle women, not God. You are more than enough.

      1. My internet is acting funny, so I ended up posting this same comment twice, but with the second one being a lot longer. Sorry that formatting is really odd and confusing!

        I basically just asked a bunch of questions I’ve been bottling up. I bottle them up because I feel like I should “just have faith”, but now I kind of feel like I can both have faith AND critically think and ask questions too.

        I just go through periods where I feel SO WORTHLESS, even though I know deep down (way, way deep down) that I’m not.

        So I’m sorry I got so emotional (especially with the last post). I guess I should be apologizing to God!

        Thank you for being patient with me and answering my questions!

        1. It’s no problem at all. And God understands what you’re going through.

          I was going to say this before, but I didn’t want it to sound trite, I’m praying for you.

          1. Thank you so much

  16. Hi Marg, I have many questions so I hope this isn’t overwhelming.

    1. Why did God never speak to Eve in the creation story of Genesis?
    2. Why is nearly every single woman in the Bible first identified by her beauty, or whether or not she’s a virgin??
    3. Why are there only 93 women named in the Bible (who speak only 1.1% of the time btw) vs. 956 men. Women gave birth to entire NATIONS yet weren’t named.
    4. Why are women seen as only property?
    5. Why are men who have slept with hundreds of women sill considered “men of God”? Why aren’t men who sleep around considered sluts?
    6. Leviticus 21: 7-9 proves the point that it’s totally ok for a man to sleep around, but not a women (as a priests son was never mentioned).
    7. Leviticus 12:4, my personal favorite, states that having a son only makes a woman unclean for a week, but if it’s a daughter (God forbid), she’s unclean for TWO weeks! WTF!!! Straight out of the womb and I’m already a disgusting creature. Then, after the woman is done giving birth, she has to give a sin offering.

    I am DISGUSTED by these verses. I want to leave Christianity all together knowing how sexist my God is, but at the same time, I know that the truth can’t be relative and that I need an ultimate point of reference, and the God of the Bible makes the most sense to me.

    However, I feel, as a woman, belittled by both God and men every single day. And it hurts. Bad.

    Why am I SO DIRTY for simply having a vagina?? I DO NOT UNDERSTAND and I am LOSING MY MIND. My mind is being lost because despite me being disgusted by God, I still believe in Him. I just want an explanation. How could a loving God see women as so little.

    And I’ve seen people try to describe it as “well the men of the Bible might be misogynistic, but God isn’t!” but that’s a stupid claim since the Bible is literally written BY GOD, THROUGH MEN.

    I feel manipulated and abused. I feel hopeless. I honestly feel stupid for believing in the Bible, but again, I CANNOT believe in subjective/relative truth.

    Why am I not enough for God? Why am I jus a sex object? Why am I worse than my brother? Does God really love me as much as my dad or brother or men in general? I just don’t get it and I’m hoping you can help before I go and cry for about 48 hours straight.

    1. Megan, I know that Marg will come along and give you substantive answers to many of your questions. I just want to let you know that almost all of us have been where you are. When I began to struggle with the difference I could see between who I was and who the church kept telling me who I was supposed to be, I felt much the same way. I wanted to get mad at God and have an excuse to walk out on God. As I studied more, I realized that what most people think the Bible says is not what is says at all. The things that bugged me, like they do you, things like why the longer period of uncleanliness, began to make some sense. I really believe that a lot of the things that happened in the Old Testament that seem to insult women were meant to protect them. Yes, it has been twisted by sin, and we are all guilty of that.

      Please don’t turn away from God. Study more and think more. You are good enough, you are not a sex object, you are not worse than your bother! God does love you as much as anyone else! Don’t let the way other people think run you off.

      Take care and God continue to bless you. You are starting a new journey!

      1. I will admit that I wrote all of that completely out of pure emotion.

        I bottled a lot of stuff up and that was the result. I feel much better though after writing all of that though. It was cathartic!

        I know deep down (very, very deep down) that I am loved by God. I know deep down that my gender doesn’t make a difference. It just gets hard when you’re told day in and day out (whether literally spoken or through subtle messages) that your worth comes from your sexuality. It gets really, really hard to remember the truth when you’re surrounded by that lie every single day.

        I’m not walking away from the faith. There’s no way.

        I just need to do far more research and CALM DOWN before I write stuff on the internet or get mad at God.

        “As I studied more, I realized that what most people think the Bible says is not what it says at all”- probably the truest statement I’ve ever heard.

        Thank you for being with me on this rough, rough night. I feel so much better.

        1. We have all had that struggle. One of the good things that has come from all of this has been finding people that feel the same way we do. I think the saddest experience I ever had on the subject was talking with one woman who just couldn’t cope with what I was saying at all. She cried and wailed that she couldn’t be equal with men because she was so easily mislead. Oh, the poor dear woman certainly was easily mislead into believing that! If this issue ever stops yanking on your heart strings, you need a break. When I think of how many brilliant women have been told to sit down and shut up, it makes me sad and angry, and I have been into this information for almost 30 years. Where would the Church be if we hadn’t taken the voices away from women who were wonderfully gifted to lead people to Jesus? Once I read that the freedoms have been granted to people as if the Holy Spirit came out from the Temple and proceeded thru the courts of the Temple, finally reaching the court of women. If only men hadn’t tried to keep the Spirit from doing that!

          This is right place to come and unbottle!! You have sisters here.

        2. Dear Megan, you have come to the right place. To beat an old verse a bit, Marg is a very real help in time of trouble! She has a thread up here that reflects some of your understandable frustration. Go here: https://margmowczko.com/1-corinthians-1434-35-in-a-nutshell/ Read it all the way thru… I have a note in there way down near the end on the experience of a wonderful young woman (then about 20 years of age, now early 60’s who got freed up from the oppression of her church that wouldn’t let the women speak at all in the meeting. Back then (c. 1965) women were increasingly beginning to resist such stuff. My wife and I were charter members of an independent evangelical church which endorses full enfranchisement of women. My wife, now with Jesus, was an incredible preacher and teacher of the word. She loved the Old Testament. The Minor Prophets were her domain. She just loved the fact that she was a co-heir with Abraham…!!! And she could really preach it up. She had a hero, one Anne Hutchinson back before the American revolution in the Massachusetts Bay colony, who said among many other things: • “I conceive there lies a clear rule in Titus that the elder women should instruct the younger and then I must have a time wherein I must do it.”

          • “If any come to my house to be instructed in the ways of God what rule have I to put them away?”

          • “Do you think it not lawful for me to teach women and why do you call me to teach the court?” Hang around here and read deeply into Marg’s work. It will be well with your soul… I say deeply since this site, with its numerous hyper-links seems to be inexhaustible. Thank You Marg !!!

      2. Thanks, Cassandra. <3

    2. There is no doubt most of the Bible is androcentric, that it is more focused on men than women. It was written when society was patriarchal and when life was tough, even brutal. In such societies, brute strength (the contribution of men) is valuable for fighting off enemy raids, and procreation (the contribution of women) is valuable for replenishing populations that are reduced by hardship and wars. And kings are warlords. (Thankfully, those of us in western nations no longer live this way.) It’s usually only in times of relative peace that intellectuals, philosophers, lawyers, or economists become rulers.

      Considering how patriarchal society was, it is amazing that many women are mentioned at all, and that some women were leaders and prophets. Women, as a group, are not disparaged in the Bible.

      Also, being ceremonially unclean after giving birth doesn’t imply grossness. And polygamy is not God’s ideal. One woman, one man, one flesh is the ideal. It seems God tolerated many societal ills without approving of them. Just because a story is in the Bible doesn’t mean God approved of what happened in the story.

      I recommend Alice Mathew’s excellent book Gender, Roles and the People of God. It’s great!

    3. Wow what an inspiring message! And don’t worry- I’m not curious anymore about all of what I wrote in my original comment. I know God is not sexist, I know God loves me, and I know I am just as worthy as men.

      I wrote that comment out of sheer emotion without fully thinking through. I’m disgusted by what I’ve accused God of (aka being sexist and just overall favoring men over women), and I am also disgusted by the language I used in my original post too. Every comment I’ve posted on Marg’s webpage has been something I’m now embarrassed of. She’s a saint though and is really patient with me!

      Thank you for your support by writing your story! And I am deeply sorry for your losses as well.

    4. One more link to Infant Menstruation: https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/your-newborn-girls-genitals-bleeding If this is as described then it is no press to believe that this situation has been around since the conception of Cain. I (and Irene) have long taught that Eve, when she said “I have gotten a man WITH the Lord.” (It is NOT ‘from’ the Lord.”(Gen. 4:1)) My degreed Hebrew resource person (OT specialist from Brandies University, explained the jots and tittles to me… I immediately visualized the mother-of-all-living having come through the very 1st act of conception (with Bubba… think about it…???) and then have the barfing and her belly swelling up and all the other stuff followed by that first human labor with no mother or grandmother or older sister to give advice and comfort and tell her what’s normative… Then came the labor part… Does one have to wonder if she ever called out to that bozo in a desire for help across that nine months…??? Maybe Marg will tell us about the term for “rule over” here and what it connote in my scenario… It’s no wonder she said I have gotten a man WITH the Lord… He in his grace was with her throughout…!!! THINK IMMANUEL__God and his love… Merry Christmas…

  17. Ok I still have one more burning question that I must ask before wrapping all of this up. This might honestly be dumb, but I am genuinely curious… why is it ok for a woman to be referred to as a harlot in the Bible, but men are never referred to by that term?

    Is there one, JUST ONE example in scripture where men are called whores/harlots? Because I’m sick of seeing all of these women getting accused of being these words, but men doing the EXACT same thing (and often to a much greater extent) are NEVER referred to as whores. It’s so unfair. And I’m sick of the excuse “well, men have much higher sex drives, so that’s why committing sexual sin is not as sinful for a man as it is a woman. It’s because it’s a lot harder for men to stay sexually pure than women”. What a bunch of crap.

    I am mainly interested because it affects my personal life. I’m in high school, and all of the guys who sleep around are praised for doing so, but all of the girls who do the exact same thing, are called sluts, hoes, etc.

    I am told I look slutty when I wear FREAKING JEAN SHORTS that go more than halfway down my thigh. I get told by my parents that I look like I’m “asking for it”. Makes me want to SCREAM.

    Maybe I’m just stupid, but I don’t get it. I don’t understand why men aren’t called whores, either in modern age or in the Bible. And why on EARTH does God support this practice? Even God almighty calls women harlots, but never refers to men as this term (even though again- both the men and the women are committing the exact same act).

    1. There are male prostitutes mentioned in the Bible (Deut 23:17-18). But male prostitutes are not typically called whores or harlots in the English language so men are not called that in English Bibles. Also, those terms are rarely used in modern translations because there is a lot of moral baggage with them.

      In modern English, “whore” and “harlot” are derogatory terms. Male prostitutes are literally called “dogs” in Deuteronomy 23:18. This is a derogatory term and translated literally in some English Bibles (e.g. ESV, NASB, KJV).

      I’m a bit mystified as to who “all these women” are. There are only a handful of women who are identified as prostitutes. These actual prostitutes, however, are not spoken about disparagingly in the Bible. Rahab, in fact, is described in favourable terms despite her occupation.

      Old Testament attitudes to prostitutes and Jesus’ attitudes to prostitutes are different to those of many prudish middle-class Christians.

      Here’s a verse to consider:
      “I will not punish your daughters when they act promiscuously or your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery, for the men themselves go off with prostitutes and make sacrifices with cult prostitutes. . .” Hosea 14:14 CSB

      And there are laws that hold men accountable for sexual sin and sexual assault, and there are accounts of men being punished for having sex with women they shouldn’t (Gen. 34:26). David is criticised for not dealing with his son who raped Tamar.

      Then there are several verses where both men and women are referred to as prostituting themselves (Lev. 20:5). These verses refer to unfaithfulness to God. Note that some translations have both the men and women as “playing the harlot” in Leviticus 20:5 and in other verses. Does this count as one verse?

      Also, being a prostitute (or a whore) has nothing to do with wearing shorts. I’m wearing shorts today. And it has nothing to do with the Bible or God’s attitudes to women. God loves his daughters and his sons.

      1. Wow ok I’ve really got to do a lot more fact checking before I go about making emotional and irrational arguments (you’d think I’d learn from yesterday but here we are again haha).

        Thank you for going so in depth for me and taking time out of your day to help me it means so much. I’m actualy tearing up right now.

        1. You’re welcome. 🙂

  18. Hey Megan,

    First, that’s so cool that you’re in high school and asking these questions! And I hear you on the double standards. But thankfully, God isn’t a God of double standards. For me, this past year of attending a complementarian church in a weird way has been a blessing…before attending, I was 100% sure that Jesus is a feminist, someone who loves ALL people and reversed curses from the fall (aka Eve and Adam were equal without hierarchy), and gives us FREEDOM. But now, after really studying the Bible (I’ve read most of the Bible this past year), along with reading Marg’s articles, and really studying the context in which the Bible was written, I’m 1000% sure! And yes, I “facepalm” 1-5x during every sermon, elbowing my husband with a “did you hear what I just heard” askance look. Today, the sermon was on Genesis 1-3, the creation story, on why we need a Saviour. While most Christians can agree that yes, we need a Saviour, the pastor obviously read into passages and said some really untrue things about Adam and Eve’s relationship.

    I winced today at church when we sang “O Holy Night”…”Truly He taught us to love one another, His law is love, and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break…in his name all oppression shall cease.” And I’m like, complementarians, don’t you know that worldwide, cultures that are steeped in patriarchy have so much oppression?? That baby girls are killed because male babies are preferred? That sex trafficking is rampant because women and girls are exploited? Sadly, many Western complementarians believe that their views are correct because it’s “counter-cultural”, but worldwide, equality is counter-cultural.

    On a side note, I’m also grateful that my husband and I are soon moving near Austin, TX because of a job change. That’s really the only reason why we’ve stayed at the comp church, because we knew we would be moving. We’re seeking out churches where there is no hierarchy, where everyone submits to one another, and where everyone serves in their God-given gifts, which is how we flourish the most. And where believers seek justice when there’s injustice. No double standards.

    1. Thanks, Jamie. 🙂

      Since you’ve mentioned it, I’ve written a short blog post on “O Holy Night”: https://margmowczko.com/a-thrill-of-hope/

    2. Oh, dear Jamie, I wish you much success at finding such a church!! We have been egalitarians since before we even knew the word, and we learned the word more than 25 yrs ago. Finding an egalitarian church is a tough job. We lived in upstate NY for most of our married lives, and moved to GA 7 yrs ago. We have about given up on finding a church. They are all so lacking in many things, including our places in music ministry, the lack of interest in doctrine, theology, apologetics and evangelism, and the stand on women that we have pretty much given up. One Sunday we visited a church, and about half way thru the sermon, the pastor had all the men in the church gather in the front and preached only to them about their God given duty to keep the women in line. We both nearly died. We are empty nesters in our early 60s, have no family near us, and don’t have much money, so churches are not interested enough in us to care if we have a place to serve or be served, so we find no reason to go.

      I just really hope and pray that you can find a place. It is very painful to feel so unwanted. The double standards are horrifying. Much love to you!!

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