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 coworkers, whose names are in the book of life. Philippians 4:2-3
When he describes the ministry of Euodia and Syntyche, 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 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 “coworkers.” Earlier, Paul had referred to Epaphroditus as his “coworker” (Phil. 2:25). 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
John Chrysostom (c. 349-407), who became the archbishop of Constantinople, believed that Euodia and Syntyche were leaders 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 (to kephalaion) 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)
Women in Ancient 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 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). 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. 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, perhaps, 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).
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 quarrelling?
A common assumption is that the women were quarrelling, and some English translations of Philippians 4:2 perpetuate this assumption. Paul, however, does not explicitly state that Euodia and Syntyche were quarrelling. Rather, he urged each of them, literally, “to think the same thing in the Lord”. “Think” (phroneō) is a keyword in the letter to the Philippians. In preceding verses, Paul had been encouraging mature people to have the same thinking as himself, that of reaching out for the goal of 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). Paul may have been saying that he wanted the women to have the same thinking as him, not of each other.
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.
 Euodia is pronounced something like “Ev-oh-DEE-ah” or perhaps “Yew-oh-DEE-ah”. Syntyche is pronounced something like “Sin-TICK-ee”.
Euodia’s name comes from the Greek verb euodoō which means “. . . to give a prosperous journey; to cause to prosper 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 syntychia, 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”.
 Synathleō (“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 lightweight. (See comments section, here, for more on this word.)
 Paul mentions several of his fellow workers or co-workers (synergoi) in the New Testament: Priscilla and Aquila (Rom. 16:6); Urbanus (Rom. 16:9); Timothy (Rom. 16:21; 1 Thess. 3:2); 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 (Phm. 1); Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke (Phm. 24).
 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.
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.
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 (to kephalaion) 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 [minister] of the church that is at Cenchrea.” Romans 16:1.
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 [patronage: prostasia] 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, English: Homily 13 on Philippians Greek: P.G. Vol 62, columns 279-280.
(More on Chrysostom’s views on women leaders of New Testament churches, here.)
*Chrysostom’s original words of this line are, Dokousai de moi autai ai gynaikes to kephalaion einai tēs ekklēsias tēs ekei . . . Migne, P.G. 62, column 279. The Latin translation is Videnteur autem mihi hae mulieres caput fuisse Ecclesiae quae ihi erat. P.G. 62, column 280.
 Lydia was a wealthy woman and the first Christian convert in Philippi. (In fact, she 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.
 The word “deacon” (translated from the Greek word diakonos) is problematic as this role is understood very differently today by different denominations. Paul typically uses the term diakonos for 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.]
 Paul fondly mentions many women in his letters: Apphia (Phlm. 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; cf. 2 Tim. 3:14-15), 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.]
 1 Corinthians 1:10 contains the Greek word meaning “the same” (to auto) three times in the context of quarrels and schisms, but it 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 (to auto) mind one toward another.” To auto is also used in the context of harmony and unity in Acts 3:44.
In the Corinthian, Roman and Philippian churches there were issues that were spoiling the unity of the church. Paul’s urging for Euodia and for Syntyche to each “think the same thing” in Philippians 4:2, does not necessarily implicate them as the cause of disunity in Philippi. But it may suggest they are the people who can alleviate the problem, and possibly put an end to it. More on what Paul says to the women in 4:2 is here.
 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
All Rights Reserved
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.
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What were Euodia and Syntyche thinking?!
All my articles on Junia are here.
All my articles on Priscilla are here.
My series on Phoebe is here.
Partnering Together: Paul’s Female Coworkers
Paul and Women, in a Nutshell
All my articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 are here
Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders (1 Timothy 3)
Old Testament Priests and New Covenant Ministers
Chrysostom on 5 Women Church Leaders in the New Testament
29 thoughts on “Euodia and Syntyche: Women Church Leaders at Philippi”
Marg, excellent study. Thanks!
Thanks Wiley. 🙂
BTW, I mailed the CDs the other day. Not sure how long it will take for them to get to you.
Excellent. Thank you. I learned something new.
Very interesting and informative. I feel so naive when it comes to the role of women in ministry in the New Testament. I never realised that Euodia and Syntyche were women AND that they had such a significant role in the Church.
I think you are “clutching at straws” to make Euodia and Syntiche out to be church leaders. In fact I would go further and suggest that your analysis demeans and trivialises those in the church who do not hold office.
It seems that the whole basis for you argument is that Paul is concerned that these two women agree because of the office they hold and the issues that could arise if there is not agreement between two leaders in the church. Your argument also belittles the concept of non-officers of the church being co-labourers. It also makes Paul out to be elitist in that he seems only to address himself to officers in the church.
My impressions of Paul are that he addressed himself to the unimportant and the important alike. For all we know Euodia and Syntiche could have been enthusiastic lay people in the church. Their disagreement though, whatever it was, could be equally damaging even though they were not officers of the church.
If we teach along the lines that you propose, then the general congregation is not challenged about their standard of Godliness. If however, Paul has concern for the behaviours and attitudes of the lay within the church then we are calling the entire body of Christ to a greater degree of holiness.
And I am not just picking on Eudoia and Syntiche. I would say likewise that Alexander and Hymenaeus were probably lay members of the congregation too. Paul was concerned they had made shipwreck of their faith regardless of the the office they held in the church.
Thanks for leaving a comment. I’ll work backwards through it in my response.
Paul does not address Alexander and Hymenaeus directly, but he does address Euodia and Syntyche directly. (This is not clear in some English translations.)
Paul says some lovely things about the two women. They were good ministers of the gospel. Conversely, Paul writes that Alexander and Hymenaeus had rejected the faith, and he strongly implies that they had blasphemed (1 Tim 1:20; 2 Tim 2:17 cf 2 Tim 4:14-15). I cannot see that a reasonable comparison can be made between Euodia and Syntyche with Alexander and Hymenaeus. I do not think these men were ministers of the gospel. Rather they were opponents of the gospel.
I’m not sure what you mean by “along the lines I propose”. What are these lines?
I completely agree that God wants the Church to be holy. Moreover, every believer is called to spiritual maturity and perfection. Perfection/maturity is one of the main themes of Philippians. I suggests that this perfection is “the same thing” that Paul was urging in Euodia and urging in Syntyche.
I’m not sure what you mean by important and unimportant. We are all important to God. I can’t think of any person who Paul mentions who qualifies as an unimportant person. Who do you think was unimportant?
Some people are more prominent in the church and are mentioned by Paul in his letters. Euodia and Syntyche were prominent in the church and they were well known to him. They had worked side by side with Paul in the ministry of the gospel. They were his co-workers. Paul used the word “co-worker” for ministers. (See endnote 3 for Paul’s other co-workers mentioned in his letters.)
I agree with you that any disagreement in the church is a problem. The more prominent the people are with the disagreement, the more problematic it becomes. It is possible that Euodia and Syntyche has a disagreement, but it is not certain that this is the case. Unfortunately many English translations assume this in their version. (I have provided a literal translation of the relevant verse in my article above.) Chrysostom did not notice a disagreement. Note that Paul does not criticise Euodia and Syntyche.
I don’t use the word “office” or “lay” when describing ministry. (I know the KJV uses the word “office” once, or possibly twice, but that is a mistranslation.) I think we have different understanding of the role, function and status of ministry and church leadership. I cannot understand at all, why you think that suggesting that Euodia and Syntyche were church leaders demeans or trivialises the function of church leadership. For all we know they were great house church leaders. Chrysostom had no problem with their leadership.
What part of my analysis demeans or trivialises church leaders? How does it demean or trivialise church leaders? I think I have a healthy respect for church leadership.
WOW! Thanks for this, Marg. I never thought that through. Powerful.
Is there strong reason to reject an interpretation that Lydia is the true yokefellow who is called upon to minister to Euodia and Syntyche? Consider Lydia the primary reason that the Philippian church was so appreciated by Paul for its repeated support to his missions. Paul graciously extends a partnership relationship to the entire congregation because he considers her ministry so effective among them. Philippians has the most intimately personal tone of all Paul’s epistles – even sharing his thoughts on whether to carry on living. It would be at Lydia’s house that Paul would choose to spend his last Passover before traveling to Jerusalem and becoming a prisoner headed for Rome. Paul’s respect and openness with Lydia explains why partnership is Paul’s choice in describing his relationship with the church at Philippi. Most Christian use of the word partner in referring to those who contribute to a ministry does not really fully qualify for how Paul used the term regarding Lydia and the church at Philippi, but that is another discussion.
Some great thoughts and observations here, but, yes, there is a strong reason to believe that Paul’s true yokefellow is a man and not Lydia.
In the Greek it is clear that Paul is directly addressing a man because “true yokefellow” (γνήσιε σύζυγε) is masculine. If this person was a woman we would expect the last letter in these two Greek words to be alphas and not epsilons as they are here.
While grammatical gender doesn’t always correspond to the actual gender of a person or group of people, in this case it is quite clear.
I’m interested in your statement that Paul stayed at Lydia’s home for a Passover. What scriptures do you deduce this from?
BTW, to whose house in Philippi would you suppose this letter would be delivered to? Acts 16 seems to make Lydia’s the obvious answer.
Five Philippians are named in the New Testament: Lydia, Euodia, Syntyche, Clement, and Epaphroditus.
Epaphroditus seems to have been the letter carrier, but the letter may have first been delivered to any of the named people, or even to Paul’s “true yokefellow”.
There may have several house churches in Philippi by the time Paul wrote his letter (or letters) to them. If Paul wrote his letter(s) from Rome, there may have been ten years between the founding of the Philippian church in Lydia’s home, to Paul’s last letter to the Philippians.
“Several Pauline scholars identify three letters which, combined, form the canonical letter to the Philippians. They believe Philippians 4:10-20 is the original letter of thanks; Philippians 3:2-4:3 with 4:21-23 is a polemical letter written in response to Judaisers who were adversely influencing the Philippian Christians; Philippians 1:1-3:1 with 4:4-9 is Paul’s “farewell” letter. Polycarp, leader of the church in Smyrna in the second century, in his own letter to the Philippians (3:2), mentions that Paul wrote letters (plural) to the Philippian church.” From here.
Thank you, Marg. Considering the true yokefellow as male disqualifies Lydia. I find that portions of Philippians seem to be primarily expressed to an individual to whom Paul feels especially close. It is this level of trust and openness that justifies using the word partner, and that without the effectiveness of this person in the church at Philippi, Paul would not use the term extended to the whole congregation. In other words, the partnership is because of the trust level between this individual and Paul. Without a truly trusting and open relationship existing, as is possible between individuals, the idea of being a partner would not be appropriate.
The instruction given to Paul’s “true yokefellow” does seem to be addressed to a person Paul is particularly close to; however I would not rule out the the idea that Paul may have the entire Philippian church in mind here. He gives a similar instruction in Romans 16:1-2 where he tells the church in Rome to help Phoebe.
I don’t doubt that Lydia and Paul were particularly close, but the Greek grammar of Philippians 4:3 does point to the yokefellow as being a man.
To my mind, there is a biblical precedent for Spirit-filled, ministry for both men and women which is found at the beginning of Joel’s prophecy, cited by Peter in Acts 2:17-18.
Joel’s prophecy says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophecy . . . ” (prophecy meaning “to speak forth for someone”, Rogers & Rogers, p.232)
“Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, (This is a clear reference to what was taking place on the Day of Pentecost) and they will prophecy.”
This raises the question, where and under what circumstances were these Spirit-filled women expected to exercise their speaking ministry?
This clear biblical statement surely settles the issue. Any restrictions which the early church placed on women, were possibly cultural, and should be understood in this light.
Hi Roy, I think we are on the “same page”. The qualifications for ministry in the church were, and are, spiritual and moral, unlike the physical qualifications required for temple service.
Correct, it cuts both ways. Peter citation of Joel’s prophecy settles this matter at the very birth of the church. This is humanity’s God-given charter to spread the Gospel in the power of the Spirit. (Which in essence is moral power.)
Besides all the women Paul mentions as his co-workers, other women also exercised ministry in the early church. In Acts 21:9 Luke mentions the fact that He, Paul and their companions, stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven handpicked by the apostles for ministry, at Caesarea, and who had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.
Did they prophesy to each other in the kitchen while making tea for the venerable apostle? Prophecy was a public ministry which had specific checks and balances (1 Cor. 14:29), it wasn’t done in a corner somewhere.
Furthermore, it is very likely that because most women were poorly educated (R&R) that Paul’s statement in 1 Tim 2:11 is culturally conditioned. He says, “I do not permit . . .”, which suggests to me he might be speaking in his personal capacity in the same manner as he does in some places in 1 Cor. 7:1-17.
In 1 Cor. 17 at verse 10 he says, “I give this command (not I but the Lord.) Here he appeals to a divine command. However, in verse 12 he says, “To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord)” He makes no appeal to a divine command.
In verse 17 Paul is even more explicit, he says, “This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.” Is he here speaking in his personal capacity? I think so. In other words, is this rule to be understood in the sense that it is not meant to be an absolute divine law for all time?
There are occasions (not many) in the NT where Paul tells us he is speaking in his personal capacity, (as I’ve shown), this should be taken into consideration as part of the context of what he is saying. When we understand Paul’s cultural context, then we are in a position to interpret his meaning.
Another type of thing I mean where understanding the cultural context is critical to our interpretation, is in Acts, where the apostles drew straws to choose Judas’ successor. Should we say this is the divinely revealed method of choosing leadership in the church until Jesus returns? I don’t think so. In the Bible, we must separate cultural conditioning from absolute truth, or we’ll tie ourselves up in knots and look like real idiots.
The NT tells us that the Holy Spirit is given to all believers to exercise their God-given gifts (1 Cor. 12 and Rom. 12 etc.). If only men are permitted to carry out Spirit-filled public ministry, then the body of Christ has no place for women to share their gifts and help to build up the body in Christ-like maturity. This makes sheer nonsense of the plain meaning of Joel’s prophecy, and of the NT. besides, church history is replete with the records of sacrificial, competent ministry by women.
God never intended to build a church in which everyone is brought into unity in Christ, but where only one sector is permitted to speak and teach the Gospel, while the rest look on as observers.
Paul himself teaches in Gal. 3:28 that in Christ believers (men and women) share a divine unity which transcends both artificial and even God-created human distinctions. I can find no NT precedent which excludes women from ministry on the basis of a divine command.
What the church desperately needs now, and which it has always needed, is men and women who will submit themselves in utter obedience to Christ, so that His Spirit can do what He likes with and through them to convict the world of sin and righteousness, in order to bring about the birth and creation of a new humanity (men and women) who walk humbly with God. I pray that God will give me this privilege, along with many others who feel the lostness and despair of humanity as I do.
Someone on Facebook asked me about the verb sunathleō used in Philippians 4:3. Here is some of my reply.
Sunathleō (“contend together”) is used twice in the New Testament, only in Philippians 1:27 and 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)
The prefix sun means “together”, while athleō is a verb from which we get the word “athlete”.
Athleō has two main senses:
(1) to engage in a contest, contend in public games, contend for a prize. (This word occurs twice in the New Testament, both times in 2 Timothy 2:5)
(2) to endure, suffer. (This second definition is close to the sense in Philippians, that of struggling and striving together.)
The prefix sun is important because athletes contended and competed against each other, but in Philippi the Christians worked and struggled together with one another and with Paul.
In Philippians 1:27 (NIV) it says, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.”
The only problem I have with “contended at my side” (used in some translations) is that “contended” is not a word we use everyday, and many readers may not be fully aware of its range of meanings and nuances. However, Paul also refers to Euodia and Syntyche as his “co-workers”, and this helps to interpret sunathleō. It is a difficult word to translate nicely into English.
I was just looking at this passage this morning, and I wondered about the αἵτινες in v. 3. Is it possible that with that word he is broadening his request for support? Something along the lines of: “I also ask you, my true comrade, support them—any such women who have contended together with me in [the cause of] the gospel”?
Thank you for your work, Marg.
Hi Laura, Because we have the antecedents of Euodia and Syntyche’s names, and then the feminine plural pronoun αὐταῖς meaning “them (women),” it is easiest to read the relative pronoun αἵτινες as referring to Euodia and Syntyche, and having the sense of “who.”
Thinking aloud here: If there were no antecedents, and we didn’t have the aorist indicative συνήθλησάν (“contended/laboured together”), “whoever” might be a valid understanding. A subjunctive verb (and a “subjunctive” particle too) would lend even more weight to a “whoever” interpretation. A present verb would also work, but I’m not sure that an aorist would work with a “whoever” meaning.
I think if Paul had wanted to broaden the meaning to include “any such women” he would have used the plural of τοιαύτη.
For example, in Philippians 2:29:
“Therefore, welcome [Epaphroditus] in the Lord with great joy and hold such people (τοὺς τοιούτους) in honor.”
And in 1 Corinthians 16:16 & 18:
“I urge you also to submit to such people (τοῖς τοιούτοις) [as Stephanas and his household], and to everyone who works and labors with them. . . Therefore acknowledge such people (τοὺς τοιούτους).”
I’ve thought about your question, and looked at αἵτινες in 4:2-3 from a few different angles, but I really do think that αἵτινες refers back to αὐταῖς, which refers back to Euodia and Syntyche.
Have you asked anyone else? I’d like to know what they think.
It’s not related grammatically, but Paul asks the Romans to help Phoebe. Just thought I’d throw that in.
I think that John Chrysostom’s suggestion, that the word “yokefellow” (syzygus) is a proper name, makes a lot of sense. The Greek says “I ask also you true/genuine yokefellow…”: if Syzygus is a proper name, then we would say something like “I ask you, Yokefellow by name and yokefellow by nature, help these women who have labored side by side with me” i.e. work side by side with these women who have worked side by side with me, as a true yokefellow with them. Otherwise, it is not at all clear to whom he is referring.
Hi Martin, This makes good sense. Still, if Syzygus is not a name, the original recipients of the letter would have known to who he was.
On the other hand, Richard Fellows and Alistair Stewart suggest syzygos refers to collectively to the Christian community at Philippi, and that the word syzygos is “idealised praise” intended to cajole the congregation into being true yokefellows toward their two leaders Euodia and Syntyche. There is a link to their paper here.
Other people have also suggested syzygos, which doesn’t occur as a name (elsewhere) in surviving sources of ancient Greek, should be understood as a group of people.
For example, Moisés Silva writes, “On the basis of our limited information, the most reasonable interpretation is that the appellation is in effect Paul’s way of inviting the various members of the church to prove themselves loyal partners in the work of the gospel.” Silva, Philippians, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 191. (Google Books)
Thank you for your thoughtful scholarship. Reading your article about Euodia and Synteche, I was taken back to a lecture in a New Testament Bible survey class at the Christian university I attended. The instructor (a man) gave us the nicknames “Eww-die” and “Stinky” as a mnenomic device to remember the quarrelsome women Paul addresses in the letter. Then, as a 19-yr old steeped in complementarian culture, it was funny. Now I am horrified at the knee-jerk impulse to ridicule women. I don’t think the Apostle Paul would have laughed along at the joke.
Ages ago, I received an angry comment from a woman named Nadia who used similar nicknames. I had never heard them before and was horrified too. I asked her if she will use these nicknames for Euodia and Syntyche when she meets them in the next age.
Paul only says good things about the women. He wanted them to be edified and helped. It’s so sad that several Bible women have their ministries downplayed and the characters disparaged.
By the way, many Greek scholars believe that the pronunciation of first-century Greek was more like Modern Greek than Classical Greek. If so, Euodia would be pronounce “Ev-oh-thee-ah.” So the mnemonic device doesn’t even work.
First, let me say I’m a fan of your work and I have been edified by many of your posts. You may or may not recognize my name, as we follow eachother on Twitter.
I have a few questions about the biblical examples of women ministering in churches. Despite believing that women can be pastors, I am unsure if these examples such as Euodia and Syntyche (and other examples you have written about before on your blog) demonstrate that they were church leaders.
Firstly, the phrase “colaworkers in Christ” is, with my understanding, vague and can mean anything from missionaries/public evangelists to deacons and more.
I also want to know if there is evidence for your claim from this article that,”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).”
Forgive me if you already did so in another article and I haven’t seen it or forgot.
I’m not sure how this evidence in the article is strong enough to demonstrate that they were church leaders.
Also, this may be a little off topic from this specific article, but I have also been wondering about your credentials regarding your understanding of koine Greek. I don’t mean this in a malicious way as a way to discredit you, as I only want to know because I frequently recommend your articles to others and I don’t want to attribute things to you which aren’t true. I understand you have a theology degree, and I recall you saying you know (koine) Greek (correct me if I’m wrong). I’m wondering how you learned it. Did you learn it at the seminary you got your degree from or were you self-taught? If the latter is true, what program did you use to learn it?
Thank you for your time!
Hi Emma, your concerns are valid.
Coworker may not sound like a significant description until you see who Paul uses the word for, for his fellow ministry colleagues: 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 (Phlm. 1); Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke (Phlm. 24).
The text in Philippians 4 tells us a few more things about Euodia and Syntyche:
1. They were significant enough to be addressed by Paul by name and individually.
2. They were involved “in the gospel” (as was Timothy).
3. They worked hard with Paul in the gospel.
4. Paul uses a strong word when he says they ‘contended together’ (synathleō) with him. In their definition of synathleō, BDAG (one of the best lexicons of the Greek in the NT and Early Christian texts) explains that by using this word, Paul is saying the women had fought bravely at his side in spreading the gospel.
5. Paul asks that the women be helped. It is possible that he asks the church (as his “true partner”) to help the women. Similarly, Paul had asked the church in Rome to help Phoebe when she went to Rome as Paul’s representative.
Euodia and Syntyche were involved in significant Christian ministry.
It also helps to have a sense of how Paul understands ministry and speaks about it. He has a different understanding, and uses different terminology, than most Christians and churches today.
Paul’s favourite words for his fellow ministers were, in decreasing order: coworker, brother or sister, minister (diakonos), apostle, and labourer. He uses a few other words too. These were words that described functions and relationships and had no sense of prestige or power.
Also, Paul often gives his fellow ministers two or more descriptions. Phoebe, for example has three: sister, diakonos, patron. Timothy is called various things: brother, diakonos, coworker, slave, etc.
There was no a fixed terminology for ministers in first-century churches, and you’re right that “coworker” is vague. In fact, coworker and diakonos seem to be sometimes used interchangeably and they were particularly Pauline words. These words do not occur in Acts or in other letters. Note that Paul never identifies a fellow minister as a pastor or elder or overseer, even though he does use these words generally in a few places.
I’ve written more about Paul’s theology of ministry and his terminology here: https://margmowczko.com/paul-romans-16-women-coworkers/
Chrysostom is not the only person who recognised that Euodia and Syntyche were leaders in Philippi. Gordon D. Fee, among others, understands that Euodia and Syntyche were “leaders in the believing community at Philippi.”
Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament; Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1995), 389.
This article was written to try to convey a sense of first-century church life and the ministry of women, and hopefully answers your question about women as overseers of house churches:
I have little doubt the chosen lady was an overseer of a house church.
As for my Greek, I’ve done four semesters at university, three for my theology degree and then one more for my masters. And for the past ten+ years I’ve taken a summer school, and occasionally a winter school, in advanced biblical and patristic Greek through the Macquarie Ancient Languages School. Also, I read Greek just about every day. Nothing beats reading ancient Greek texts. Yesterday I read the passage about Mary of Rome in Chrysostom’s Homily 31 on Romans.
If you want to start teaching yourself, buy a well-known Greek textbook and work slowly through it. I have links to free resources here: https://margmowczko.com/freebies-for-students-of-new-testament-greek/
I hope this helps
I know this is a rather old post now, but I had a question I’d love to hear your thoughts on regarding the use of the word “synergos”. It is true that Euodia and Syntyche are given this title similarly to Timothy. However, to then assert a connection to the contextual meaning of the word “synergos” and the reference of the term (Timothy in one case and Euodia/Syntyche in the other) seems to be unwarranted both logically and linguistically.
What I mean is that although Timothy is a called a coworker by Paul and is also what we would call a “pastor”, it does not follow that any other object (Euodia/Syntyche) which is also the referent of the word “coworker” possesses all the other qualities of the original object (in this case Timothy), namely “pastor-ship”.
As an example, consider: In Genesis 2:18, the woman that is made for man is said to be an ’ezer which is often translated (whether this is an accurate translation or not is it relevant; it could be helper or companion or something else) “helper”, is also a word used to refer to God (e.g. Ps. 54:4)! So in each case, the sense of the word (contextual meaning) is shared by two different referents (i.e. God and women). But it doesn’t follow that therefore because God is called an ’ezer and is omnipotent that Eve, who is also called ’ezer, is omnipotent. This is a fallacy of illegitimate linking of a word’s sense to a word’s reference.
Similarly, in two different cases, coworker can have a nuanced contextual meaning (I simply mean that a word’s meaning is primarily defined by context that it limited by a given semantic range) given to both Timothy and the women, but it does not logically or linguistically follow that because Timothy was called a coworker of Paul and was also a pastor, that Euodia and Syntyche were also pastors. They very well could not have been, despite being Paul’s coworkers.
I hope this makes sense! I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Hello Hal, synergos is Paul’s favourite term for a fellow minister, followed by “brother, sister” and then diakonos. Since Paul calls Euodia, Syntyche, and others “coworkers,” it’s reasonable to suggest there are similarities in their ministries and their associations with Paul. But I imagine there was a lot of variety in how Paul’s coworkers ministered. And most of these coworkers are described with other ministry descriptions too.
Here’s one of the footnotes again: Paul mentions several of his fellow workers or co-workers (synergoi) in the New Testament: Priscilla and Aquila (Rom. 16:6); Urbanus (Rom. 16:9); Timothy (Rom. 16:21; 1 Thess. 3:2); 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 (Phm. 1); Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke (Phm. 24).
Context can give us clues about the ministries of Paul’s coworkers but context doesn’t change the meaning of the word. We know a fair bit about Timothy’s ministry, but almost nothing about Euodia and Syntyche’s ministries. Timothy’s ministry included travelling and visiting congregations as Paul’s representative; Euodia and Syntyche’s ministry may have been locally based. But we can’t be certain even on this simple point. Some assume the two women were house church leaders as this was a role of some women in the first century. Whatever their ministries looked like day to day, they were prominent and influential in the church at Philippi.
Unless I’ve missed something, every ministry term that Paul applies to Timothy, apart from doulos (“slave”), is also applied to at least one woman in the New Testament. I’ve written about this here: https://margmowczko.com/paul-romans-16-women-coworkers/
I can’t see the relevance of your point about ezer. There is no nuance in ezer of “omnipotence.” Rather, whether applied to the woman in Eden, to God, or to military forces, the meaning remains the same: ezer refers to a vital, rescuing, strong help even if this is done in various ways.
Since I don’t say in the article that Timothy was a pastor, I don’t see the point of your query, especially as I don’t compare the women as coworkers with Timothy but with Epaphroditus. Epaphroditus, not Timothy, is called a coworker in Philippians. Rather, I compare the description “contended together with him in the gospel” used of Euodia and Syntyche with “served with him in the gospel” used of Timothy; these women and Timothy were ministers of the gospel alongside Paul in some way.
I’m wary of narrowing, or “specialising,” the meanings of words such as coworker, diakonos, pastor, episkopos, and apostolos in the context of first-century churches. These words were primarily descriptions, not the titles of offices. And in his letters, Paul describes many men and women with more than one ministry description.
Marg! Thanks for the thoughtful and quick response.
I largely have no problems with anything other than your last two paragraphs. It doesn’t matter per se what we call in our day whatever it is that Timothy did. He held an office in the context of the early church.
The point about ezer is that one word can have refererence to two different persons and so describe some aspect of each of them that they have in common (coworker) but this doesn’t then mean they share all attributes. I’m making a linguistic distinction between word meaning and word referents NOT word meanings with their semantic range.
Your 3rd footnote referrers to Timothy being called a coworker and in your 4th paragraph you make a similar conclusion between Epaphroditus and Euodia/Syntyche. The referent of the word “coworker” being Epaphroditus rather than Timothy is the same fallacy.
D.A. Carson notes this as the Unwarranted Linking of Sense and Reference in his book Exegetical Fallacies. This might help clear up what I mean when I say “sense” and “reference”.
It’s a fact that Paul refers to Euodia, Syntyche, Epaphroditus and others as “coworkers” in Philippians. And it’s a fact that Paul calls Timothy a “coworker” in other letters. Since Paul uses the same word we can assume there is some similarity in being one of Paul’s coworkers. It makes no sense that Paul would use and apply this word to ministers who have nothing in common.
Nowhere do I say that the ministries of these four people (or of any of Paul’s other coworkers) are identical or that they share all attributes. I chose my language carefully in the article, so I don’t understand why you bring up this basic and obvious point. I’m not that thick and I thought you might realise that.
Regarding word referents: It’s obvious that God cannot be compared with fighting forces, and that neither can be compared with a woman. However, I see no problem with comparing individual believers who Paul describes with the same terms.
To be clear: linking the same word, written by the same author, repeatedly used in a particular sense (Christian ministry), and attributed to similar people (Christian ministers), is not at all unwarranted.
Also, even though I mention Timothy in a footnote for the sake of thoroughness, I have not compared him as coworker with the Euodia and Syntyche in the article. And it is reasonably clear in Philippians, that Epaphroditus was doing some things the women were most likely not doing. So I really don’t understand your concern.
(Paul identifies no person as a “pastor,” and it is a word I usually avoid when speaking about first-century ministers as it is a loaded term today.)
Not that it’s important, but I disagree that Timothy had an “office.” Like many ministers in the mid-first century, he probably did what was necessary at a particular point in time. Sometimes he travelled with Paul, sometimes he was sent to a church as Paul’s representative. Sometimes he taught believers, sometimes he acted as an evangelist. And there are no doubt other things we don’t know about.
Paul gives Timothy several ministry descriptions (or ecclesial terms) that may reflect the diversity of his ministry. Though it probably is more of a reflection of the flexibility with which Paul used ministry terminology. Paul refers to Timothy as a co-worker (synergos) (Rom. 16:21; 1 Thess. 3:2), as a brother (2 Cor. 1:1, Phm. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Thess. 3:2), as a minister (diakonos) (1 Tim. 4:6), as a slave (doulos) (Phil. 1:1) and as an apostle (apostolos) (1 Thess. 2:6 cf. 1 Thess. 1:1).
1 Thessalonians 3:2 may summarise a big part of Timothy’s ministry: “We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith …” Is this an office?
Anyway, I don’t mind if you have a different opinion of Euodia’s and Syntyche’s ministries, but there is no exegetical fallacy at work in the suggestion that the women’s ministries had some similarity with Epaphroditus. The word “coworker,” in and of itself, is a fairly general and modest term.
[The section after “Unwarranted linking of sense and reference” in Carson’s book (I have the second edition) doesn’t apply to me. I can read almost all parts of all Paul’s letters in Greek fluently. And I continue to devote time and energy to reading ancient Greek documents of various kinds (literature, inscriptions, papyri) to hone my skills. Reading Greek is a passion of mine.]