Or, Paul’s Theology of Ministry

The means of ministry Romans 12:6-8

Tradução em português aqui.

One Body, Many Members

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:4-5 NIV

In Romans 12, Paul uses the “one body, many members” metaphor that he had used in an earlier letter to the Christians in Corinth (1 Cor. 12:12ff). Paul uses this metaphor to illustrate that we do not all have the same function, or the same ministry, even though we all belong to, and are united in, the one universal Christian community (i.e. the “body of Christ”).

All followers of Jesus, male and female, are members of this body, yet some Christians maintain that only men can have a legitimate leadership function or ministry. Some go even further and state that all men are leaders by divine design. These Christians believe that only men may be leaders (or senior leaders) and teachers in the “body of Christ.”[1]

You’d think that if this was the case, Paul might mention it in his discussions on ministries in Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians chapter 12, as well as in Ephesians 4:4-13. Paul, however, says nothing at all about gender in these passages. Rather, he mentions gifts, grace, and faith as being the prerequisites and means of ministry.

Grace and Faith

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us . . . Romans 12:6a NRSV

Paul points out to his audience, both men and women, that we have been given different gifts (charismata) (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:4; domata in Eph 4:8). But he doesn’t write that these gifts differ according to our gender. Instead, he writes that our gifts “differ according to the grace given to us” (Rom. 12:6 cf. Eph. 4:7). Paul himself ministered according to the grace that was given to him (Rom. 12:3a).

The word “grace” (charis) is frequently used in the New Testament in the context of divine power, strength, and ability. It is God’s grace working within us, through the Holy Spirit, that equips us to be effective ministers in the church and effective agents of Jesus Christ in the wider world. The Holy Spirit (and not masculinity) is the source of empowerment in genuine Christian ministry.

If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith . . . Romans 12:6b NIV

Our level of faith also plays an important part in how we exercise our ministry gifts and functions. Paul explicitly connects faith with the prophetic ministry; he tells those who prophesy that they should do so in accordance with their faith.[2] It is possible that the idea of faith continues implicitly in the other functions that Paul lists in the following verses: ministry (NRSV), teaching, exhortation (or encouraging), giving, leading, and doing acts of mercy (Rom. 12:7-8). Faith has no gender preference or bias.

The Gift of Leading, and Phoebe

“Leading” is listed as one of the ministries in Romans 12, and Paul gives no indication that it is restricted to men only. The participle proistamenos (“leading”) in Romans 12:8b comes from the verb proistēmi.[3] This verb can mean “lead”, “preside”, or “act as patron”. (Leadership and patronage were closely associated and intertwined in the first-century Roman world and the verb proistēmi has a combined sense of leading and providing for people.) A cognate of proistēmi occurs a few chapters later in Romans 16 in reference to Phoebe who was a patron of many and of Paul (Rom. 16:2).[4]

A cognate of the word for “ministry” (diakonia) used in Romans 12:7a is also applied to Phoebe (Rom 16:1).[5] This woman was a minister in her church at Cenchrea. It is also widely believed that she was entrusted with Paul’s letter to the Romans. Part of the job of letter carriers was to pass on verbal messages from the sender and help explain the contents of the letter to the recipients. Phoebe may have even have been the first person to read Romans aloud to the Christians at Rome.[6] Paul trusted and valued women ministers.

The Gift of Teaching, and 1 Timothy 2:12

If we leave 1 Timothy 2:12 aside for a moment, nowhere in the New Testament does it state that any of the ministries Paul lists in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:28, or Ephesians 4:11 are off-limits to a woman. 1 Timothy 2:12 is where Paul writes that he is not allowing a woman to teach . . . . The Greek word didaskein (“to teach”) in 1 Timothy 2:12 is a cognate of the Greek words for “teaching” and “teachers” found in each of Paul’s three lists of ministries (cf. Col. 3:16 CSB).

If Paul didn’t want any women to teach ever, why didn’t he make this plain in his earlier letters? Why does he only bring it up later in First Timothy?[7]

Didaskein is connected by a conjunction to the Greek word authentein in 1 Timothy 2:12. Authentein means “to domineer” or “to control.” (It is not the usual word for “authority.”) So some scholars suggest that Paul is not prohibiting a woman from simply teaching a man,[7] he is prohibiting a woman from teaching a man in a domineering fashion. Neither a man nor a woman should teach in a domineering or controlling manner in the “body of Christ.”

Another possibility is that a woman in the Ephesian church was teaching a heresy, which is corrected in 1 Timothy 2:13-14, and that Paul is saying that he is not allowing a woman to teach (anyone) until she learns better (1 Tim. 2:11-12). Plus he addresses her domineering behaviour towards a man, probably her husband.


Like Paul, Peter also connects ministry with gifts, grace, and faith, rather than gender.

Each of you should use whatever gift (charisma) you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace (charis) in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10 NIV

As faithful stewards, we must not bury our own gifts and talents, or the gifts and talents of others (cf. Matt. 25:14-30), because to deny someone the opportunity to use their God-given gift is to restrict God’s grace and power in the church and in the wider world.


If Paul had really meant for all women to be excluded from exercising certain ministry functions, why didn’t he mention this in his general teaching and his lists of gifts and ministries? Why didn’t he write one list for men and another for women? Or, why didn’t he include a caveat for women in his lists?

I do not believe Paul ever intended to restrict the ministry of godly, gifted women. Rather, his theology of ministry is gender-inclusive.

There is nothing whatsoever in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 (or in Col. 3:16 CSB) that suggests gender is a factor in any of the ministries mentioned in these chapters. Gifts, grace, and faith, and not gender, are the primary prerequisites and the means of ministry, including the ministries of leading and teaching.


[1] Note that the word “office” in the KJV of Romans 12:4 is not a faithful translation of the Greek word praxis.

[2] Faith and grace are gifts from God. They are the means of salvation and of ministry (Eph. 2:8-10).

[3] There are several masculine participles in Romans 12:6-8; however these verses are just as inclusive, grammatically and in intent, as John 3:16.

[4] Proistēmi occurs in Titus 3:8 & 14 in the context of “good works” (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1). It may be that in all eight occurrences of proistēmi in the New Testament—in Romans 12:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 3:4, 5, 12; 5:17; and Titus 3:8, 14—there is a sense of “caring” and “providing for” combined with a sense of “leading” or “managing” especially as it was wealthier people, such as patrons, who had the resources of both time and money, who could take on the responsibilities of leading and “good works”. More on proistēmi and the ministry of overseers (episkopoi) here.

[5] Paul typically used the word diakonos for agents and ministers with a sacred commission (diakonia) (Rom. 13:4; 15:8, 25; 16:1-2; 1 Cor. 3:5; Eph. 3:7; 6:21-22; Col. 1:7-9, 23; 4:7-9; cf. 2 Cor. 11:13-15).

[6] Michael Bird, Bourgeois Babes, Bossy Wives, and Bobby Haircuts: A Case for Gender Equality in Ministry (Zondervan, 2012-12-25) Kindle Location 210.

[7] First Corinthians was probably written sometime in 54 AD. Romans was written in the winter of 55-56 AD or 56-57 AD. The letter to the Ephesians (which may have been a circular letter and not written especially for the Christians in Ephesus) may have been written around 60-62 AD. The date of First Timothy is much debated, but it was most likely written sometime towards the end of the first century.

[8] Priscilla and Aquila were in Ephesus when they instructed Apollos, who was himself teaching (Acts 18:25); they “explained to him the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy when Timothy was ministering in Ephesus. Paul would not have intended his statement in 1 Timothy 2:12 to silence the instruction, explanations, or teaching of women such as Priscilla. Paul’s friendship and respect for Priscilla and Aquila is evident in the New Testament (e.g. Rom. 16:3-5a). More on Priscilla and Aquila here.

You can support my work for as little as $3 a month.
Become a Patron!

Related Articles

The Power of God’s Grace
Paul’s Female Coworkers
Extra Honour for Underdogs (1 Corinthians 12:12-31)
Women Church Leaders in the New Testament
Phoebe: Deacon of the Church at Cenchrea
Several articles on 1 Timothy 2:12, here.
Following Jesus, Led by the Holy Spirit

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