Map of the Lycus Valley in William M. Ramsay’s book,
The Church in the Roman Empire Before AD 170,
8th edition (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1904).
The ancient cities of Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis, each mentioned in the New Testament, are situated in the Lycus River Valley. This valley is 200 kilometres east of Ephesus and was within the Roman province of Asia Minor, now modern-day Turkey. It seems Paul’s travels did not extend to this area (Col 2:1). Nevertheless, he had a connection with the church there through his co-worker Epaphras. Epaphras probably brought the gospel to the valley (Col 1:7–8; 4:12–13). Onesimus, a slave belonging to Philemon, provided another connection (Col 4:9).
Paul sent at least two letters to the Lycus Valley. A letter to Philemon and a letter to the Colossians survive and are included in the New Testament. From this correspondence, we learn that Paul was acquainted with two women in the Lycus Valley, Apphia and Nympha. I’ve previously discussed Apphia and her ministry here. In this article, I look at Nympha who Paul mentions at the end of his letter to the Colossians.
Nymphas or Nympha: Man or Woman?
Say hello to the brothers and sisters in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church that meets in her house. After this letter has been read to you publicly, make sure that the church in Laodicea reads it and that you read the one from Laodicea. Colossians 4:15–16.
Nympha is one of sixteen women who Paul mentions by name in his letters. Unfortunately, like Junia and Euodia, her gender was hidden when her name was masculinised in some Greek manuscripts.
“Nymphas” (masculine) and “Nympha” (feminine) are both names that occurred in ancient times and both are spelt “Nymphan” (Νυμφαν) in the accusative (or object) case, the case used in Colossians 4:15. It is only the accents that distinguish the masculine Νυμφᾶν from the feminine Νύμφαν, but accents were not used in early manuscripts that contained Colossians 4:15. In some later manuscripts, when the name was accented, it was incorrectly accented as a masculine name.
But it wasn’t just Nympha’s name that was masculinised. Because it wasn’t clear if Nympha was a man or a woman, variations appeared in some manuscripts concerning the Greek pronoun that occurs in verse 15. Some manuscripts had the masculine pronoun equivalent to “his” instead of the feminine pronoun, “her.”
Furthermore, some scribes apparently took the church as belonging to the brothers and sisters (who are mentioned in verse 15) as well as to Nympha, so the plural pronoun, equivalent to “their” (“their house” rather than “her house”) was written into some texts.
Despite past confusion, however, there is now a consensus among scholars that Nympha was a woman and that the original pronoun was “her.” The translators of the NET Bible state, “The harder reading is certainly αὐτῆς [“her”], and thus Nympha should be considered a woman.” The reasoning here is that scribes occasionally made slight alterations when copying manuscripts to make them easier to understand; they did not make changes to obscure meaning and make texts harder to understand.
Perhaps a few scribes had difficulty with the idea that Paul was greeting a woman who was holding church meetings in her own house, so they tweaked the text to change its meaning, to make it easier for them to comprehend. Yet it was not uncommon for relatively wealthy women in the first century to host congregations and care for them. Modern English translations of Colossians 4:15 have amended past mistakes and unanimously have the feminine name and the feminine personal pronoun. Nympha’s correct identity has been restored.
The Ministry of Nympha
So what can we know about Nympha and the church she hosted? Reverend Alfred Barry, writing approximately one hundred years ago, assumed Nympha was a man and stated, “He is obviously a man of importance, a centre of church life, in the Christian community at Laodicea.” Commenting on the (incorrect) phrase “the church which is in his house” (Col 4:15 KJV) Barry wrote,
This phrase is found elsewhere only as applied to Aquila and Priscilla (Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19), and to Philemon (Phlm 1:2). Of these Aquila and Priscilla are notable Christian teachers (as of apostles, Acts 18:26) and confessors (Rom 16:4); and Philemon is spoken of as a “beloved fellow-labourer,” and one in whom “the saints are refreshed” (Phlm 1:1, 7). Hence this “church in the house” is seen to have gathered only round persons of some mark and leadership.
According to Rev. Barry, Nympha was a person of importance and leadership in the church at Laodicea, even if he was mistaken about her gender. Other commentators who thought Nympha was a man also seem confident in assuming that Nympha was the leader of the church at Laodicea and perhaps also a ministry co-worker of Paul.
This confidence, however, is not always seen in commentators who understand that Nympha was a woman and her role is often minimised. This downplaying of her ministry reveals a gender bias that is shared by some commentators and perhaps by the scribes who altered the Greek text.
From the very beginning of the church, wealthy women were attracted to Christianity and they were among the church’s patrons and protectors. Nympha appears to be one such woman who opened her home as a place for Christians to meet for worship and fellowship.
Margaret MacDonald writes,
Leadership in Pauline Christianity has been linked with the ability to provide services. Perhaps the most important service that a first-century believer could provide for a church group was to offer a house for meetings. Thus Nympha no doubt played a key leadership role in the churches of the Lycus valley.
What did House Church Leaders Do?
It’s difficult to determine exactly what leaders of local churches did in the first century, even those men and women who had ministry descriptions such as supervisor (episkopos) or minister/ deacon (diakonos). The first ministers probably did what was necessary, what they were capable of, what they were gifted for. Men and women who hosted house churches would have facilitated Eucharist and charity (agapē) meals, and helped to make meetings run smoothly.
Since wealthy householders were more likely to be literate than other church members, they were probably the ones to read and reread letters and sermons written by prominent Christians, as well as portions of Old Testament scripture. Reading and reciting letters and scripture was an important part of worship meetings. The householder may also have offered words of encouragement and theological or moral correction.
Furthermore, house church leaders would have welcomed, or shunned, visiting teachers, prophets, and apostles, but other members were involved in welcoming or shunning too (cf. 2 John 1:10–11). And, presumably, all gifted and capable people could contribute to worship meetings. Earlier in his letter to the Colossians, Paul encouraged participation in meetings.
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts (Col. 3:16 NIV).
Of great importance, at a time when poverty was common and crippling, house church leaders cared for the material and physical well-being of church members, and they probably supported and hosted missionaries such as Paul. Some may also have baptised new converts.
Map showing the location of the Lycus Valley and Laodicea (Laodikea) (Wikimedia)
Where was Nympha’s House Church?
Nympha’s home was in the Lycus Valley but it is unclear what city she lived in. She may have lived in Laodicea, the largest city in the Lycus valley, about fifteen kilometres west of Colossae. But there are other possibilities.
Colossians 4:15 refers to Nympha and the church in her house. Because of the reference to Laodicea in the same verse it seems most likely that Nympha’s church was located there, but Hierapolis [Col. 2:1; 4:14–16] and Colossae itself cannot be ruled out as possible locations for the church in her house.
David Pao explains three options suggested by the grammar of Colossians 4:15:
The function of “and” (kai) after the reference to Laodicea has been variably understood. (1) If it is taken as a coordinating conjunction, Nympha and her church are not part of the Laodicean community of believers: “Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea and also Nympha and the church that is in her house” (NASB). (2) If it is understood to identify a particular member within the class, Nympha and her church become the particular focus of Paul’s greetings among the several churches in Laodicea: “Give my greetings to the followers at Laodicea, especially to Nympha and the church that meet in her home” (CEV). (3) If it is taken in an epexegetical sense, the church in Nympha’s house represents all the brothers and sisters in Laodicea: “Send my greetings to the brothers in Laodicea, that is, to Nympha and the church in her house.”
Pao prefers the second interpretation: “Because of the reference to an entire community with a geographic marker followed by the note of an individual, option (2) seems to provide the best interpretation.”
Some suggest that the epistle we know as the Letter to the Ephesians is really the Letter to the Laodiceans that Paul mentions in Colossians 4:16. (There are strong similarities between Ephesians and Colossians.) If this is the case, it indicates the congregation at Laodicea was not small and probably consisted of several house churches. Ben Witherington believes there were other house churches and writes about Nympha: “Paul knows her and picks her out from among the house-churches in Laodicea to greet, which suggests that she was a well-known church leader …”
Whether Nympha lived in Laodicea or Colossae, or even Hierapolis, there is little doubt she hosted a house church. This means she may have been the patron and, most likely, the supervisor of the congregation. That Paul does not greet anyone else connected with the house church, makes the idea fairly certain that Nympha was its leader.
Unfortunately, one verse in the New Testament, 1 Timothy 2:12, casts a very long shadow and makes it difficult for some to acknowledge that women such as Nympha ran house churches, and a gender bias persists in some interpretations of Nympha’s role. But Paul had no issue with a woman running a house church. Gifted women were also missionaries and prophets and teachers in the first century, and Paul approved.
Part of the ruins of Laodicea. Photo by Klaus Walter (Wikimedia)
 Scholars are divided over whether the Letter to the Colossians was written by the apostle Paul or if it was written by a later author writing in Paul’s name. With this issue in mind, Ben Witherington III makes these observations about the ending of Colossians:
Colossians has all the features of the end of a normal Pauline letter including mention of travel plans (4:7–9; cf. Rom 14:22–32; 1 Cor 16:1–18), final greetings (4:10–15: cf. Rom. 16:3–16; 1 Cor 16:19–20), final instructions (4. 16–17; cf, 1 Cor. 16:15–18; 1 Thess. 5:27), a personal note (4:18; cf. Rom: 16:17–20; 1 Cor: 16:21–24), and a final benediction (4:18; cf. Rom. 16:20; 1 Cor: 16:23). It is this section in particular which makes it difficult to imagine this letter coming from a post-Pauline situation, for it has a very personal Pauline character to it.
Witherington, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 201.
 As well as Apphia, other women I have written about, who are in some way associated with the apostle Paul, include Chloe, Euodia, Junia, Lydia, Phoebe, Priscilla, Syntyche, and Thecla.
 Nympha’s name, as well as Junia’s and Euodia’s names, only appear in the accusative case in the Greek New Testament. Unlike Junia’s name, which only exists in antiquity as a feminine name, both Nymphas (meaning bridegroom) and Nympha (meaning bride) “are well attested in Greek literature and the papyri, though Nympha is a bit more common.” Ben Witherington III, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 205.
 This quotation is from a note about the Greek pronouns in Colossians 4:15 in the NET Bible. See Note 21 on Colossians 4 here: https://netbible.org/bible/Colossians+4
Bruce Metzger, one of the chief editors on the United Bible Societies Greek New Testament, writes, “On the basis chiefly of the weight of [Greek manuscripts] B [Vaticanus] 6 424c 1739 1877 1881 syrh. palms copsa Origen, the [editorial] committee preferred [the feminine] Νυμφαν . . . αὐτῆς. Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd Edition, (Stuttgart: German Bible Society, 1994), 560.
 This line of reasoning is a general principle in textual criticism and has been given the Latin term Lectio difficilior (“the more difficult reading”) or Lectio difficilior potior (“the more difficult reading is the stronger”).
 Alfred Barry, Colossians, A Bible Commentary for English Readers, Charles John Ellicot (ed.) (London: Cassel and Company, 1905) https://biblehub.com/commentaries/ellicott/colossians/4.htm Barry is not an especially eminent scholar, but his interpretation of Colossians 4:15 is representative of how other scholars of his generation interpreted this verse.
 For example “Colossians,” The Pulpit Commentary, H. D. M. Spence, Joseph S. Exell (eds) (1890) (Source: BibleHub)
 Margaret Y. MacDonald, Colossians and Ephesians (Sacra Pagina; Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2008), 188.
 MacDonald, Colossians and Ephesians, 9.
 David W. Pao, Colossians and Philemon (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 319.
 Pao, Colossians and Philemon, 319.
 G.B. Caird notes, “It is odd that Paul is sending greetings via Colossae to Laodicea when he was also writing to Laodicea. The problem is resolved if the letter from Laodicea was Ephesians, a circular letter without personal greetings.” Caird, Paul’s letters from Prison in the Revised Standard Version (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), 212.
 Witherington, The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians, 205.
 Paul’s greeting to Nympha is actually an instruction given to the Colossians for them to greet Nympha and her church. It is like many of the greetings given in Romans 16. Paul wrote these greetings to foster communication and unity between different house churches and their leaders in the one city or region.
© Margaret Mowczko 2018
All Rights Reserved
You can support my work for as little as $3 USD a month at Patreon.
Become a Patron!
This article is dedicated to Stacey B.W.
Postscript: June 9 2022
Colossians 4:15 in Vaticanus and Sinaiticus
Colossians 4:15 in Codex Vaticanus (c. 300–325), page 1506.
Aϲπάϲαϲθε τὸυϲ ἐν λαοδικεία ἀδελφὸυϲ, κὰι Nύμφαν κὰι τὴν κατ’ ὀικον ἀυτῆϲ ἐκ[κληϲίαν continues in the next column.] Nύμφαν is accented as a feminine name, but the accents and breathing marks were added by a later hand.
Greet the brothers and sisters in Laodicea, and Nympha and the church in her house.
Colossians 4:15 in Codex Sinaiticus (c. 330–360), quire 85 folio 2r.
Aϲπαϲαϲθε τουϲ εν λαοδικια αδελφουϲ, και Nυμφαν και την κατ οικον αυτων εκκληϲιαν
Greet the brothers and sisters in Laodicea, and Nympha, and the church in their house.
(1) Close up of a statue of Aphrodite (Unknown source)
(2) Map showing the location of the Lycus Valley and Laodicea (Laodikea) (Source: Wikimedia)
(3) Part of the ruins of Laodicea. Photo by Klaus Walter (Source: Wikimedia)
(4) Colossians 4:15 in Codex Vaticanus (Source: DigiVatLib)
(5) Colossians 4:15 in Codex Sinaiticus (Source: CodexSinaiticus.org)
Apphia: Philemon’s Wife or Another Phoebe?
Paul and Women, in a Nutshell
The First-Century Church and the Ministry of Women
Authority in the Church
Several articles that refer to patronage are here.
All my articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 are here.
Junia, Nympha, Euodia, Stephana(s): Men or Women?
61 thoughts on “Nympha: A House Church Leader in the Lycus Valley (Col. 4:15)”
Brilliant, Marg, as always! Thank you for helping to remove eisegesis from the Bible and shining a light on our own patriarchy.
It seems that patriarchal culture blinded people in the past and contributed to a patriarchal eisegesis. Now 1 Timothy 2:12 is the sticking point, despite it being a genuinely difficult verse to interpret.
1 TIm 2:12 is not a difficult verse to interpret its pretty plain but it is difficult for YOU to believe and obey.
6 Reasons 1 Timothy 2:12 is not as clear as it seems
The Bible is clear that women are not church leaders they are not pastors or deacons or bishops.
Are there Women Pastors in the New Testament?
Phoebe: Deacon of the Church at Cenchrea
The Role of Overseers (Bishops) in First-Century House Churches
The bishop must be blameless the husband of one wife. Marg, are you the husband of one wife?
Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders (1 Timothy 3:1-7)
Stop changing God’s word and accept your role. The word of God is blasphemed because of you. Men and Women have different roles. Men are the leaders women are the helpmeet.
A Suitable Helper (in Hebrew)
Do you want to preach? Then go knocking on doors and give the lost the gospel. BTW, Nymphas is a man, that is clear in the King James it says HIS church, unless you’re using one of the modern perversions of the Bible.
7 things you may not know about the King James Bible
I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. 1 Tim 5:14
To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Titus 2:5
Busy at Home: How does Titus 2:4-5 apply today?
SIMON, I added links in your comment to articles that address some of your concerns.
Just to be clear, I am neither a bishop nor a preacher, and have no desire to be either. I’m also not a younger woman (cf. 1 Tim 5:14). I am an older woman (cf. 1 Tim. 5:1-2). And I’m pretty certain it’s not my words that might cause someone to blaspheme the word of God.
Very little of what you say interacts with the article, SIMON. If you want to provide constructive criticism of the article, feel free. Otherwise, I’ll delete your comment. I’ll leave it up for now, though, as it may be of interest to some.
Also, I quoted from the KJV in the article. Didn’t you notice? You’re not telling me anything new. Anyway, my preferred New Testament is the UBS Greek New Testament.
Simon, depending on which KJV / NJKV edition, “Nympha” appears as a footnote at the bottom of these Bibles, while “Nymphas” is in the text. Marg lays out a clear case for why many translators have the feminine pronoun and name.
Similar case for “Junia / Junias”, except that descrepency is probably due to lazy lexicon or hiding her gender…because Junias was an unknown name in ancient times.
thanks again for another well researched and documented article. I appreciate the preparation and scholarship you put into these articles
My aim is to write an article on every woman associated with Paul. When I began writing this one on Nympha, I thought it would be very short. After all, there are only a few words about her in the NT. But it’s amazing what can be said when you dig a little deeper.
I recently had an argument (diplomatic) over Nympha with my pastor. He claimed that she just happened to have the biggest house and was merely opening her home, but that Paul never describes her as a leader or pastor. Thanks for your insight on who she really is, and to be revered. I also didn’t know the gender bias shown when commentators believe it’s Nymphas, a man, and therefore an incredible authority.
I think people look for the wrong words when trying to see who were ministers in the NT church. Paul’s favourite words for a ministry colleague are sister/brother, co-worker, apostle, and minister (diakonos). And he uses these words for men and for women. He never identifies anyone as a pastor, elder or bishop/supervisor (episkopos). Paul seemed to prefer words that didn’t have a lot of clout or prestige attached to them.
Anyway, the simple fact that Nympha is mentioned, and that the Colossians are told to greet her, is significant. She didn’t just open her home and sit quietly in the background.
Thank you! I’ve recently decided that I can no longer pretend my own faith isn’t corrupted by patriarchal restraints. I’ve loved the Lord for 30+ years and am seeking a church with a female lead pastor who preaches. As a women’s advocate, I can’t believe how much of the same patterns of suppressing women’s history is right in our faith! I am sharing content on my social media pages and I will link your blog. We must bravely reclaim our rightful equality in Christianity that Jesus taught. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, Slave or free, male or female, we are one in Christ!
There are men pastors who also champion women. I hope you find a good church. It can be hard.
Have you seen my Facebook page?
And, amen to Galatians 3:26-28!
I just read 2 Peter 3, and was especially struck by verses 15-18. Amazingly to me today, I see that these misinterpretations or willful misunderstandings were known even at the time Paul’s letters were being passed around. I pray the exhortation of verses 17-18 for you, myself, your readers, and people of God everywhere. Thanks for your diligent searching and sharing.
Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. 2 Peter 3:18-19
Second trip back to your site… My goodness what a lot of work. Thank You SO MUCH…!!! And I will definitely check out your Facebook page! My basic sentiments are those of Sasha above. It was the “…male AND female”… phrase that really caught the attention of my wife (now departed at age 82) and I so many years ago. She once preached from this passage, “In Christ there are no gender distinctions…” Yes, she could really preach! She loved the fact that in Christ she was Abraham’s offspring… an HEIR according to promise… no secondary Role for her!!! just God’s will, straight up. She had her heroes, one of whom was Anne Hutchinson of the old Massachusetts Bay colony in US history.
Yes, our primary identity as people who have been baptised into Christ is that we are clothed with Christ and are sons of God. There is no gender distinction here (Gal. 3:26-28).
Marg, as always I enjoyed reading your insightful article. I find it interesting that these relatively wealthy women in the first century continue to be under-acknowledged not only for their leading, hosting, and caring for congregations within their homes, but also that they did this in addition to being responsible for and leading their own households. Bonnie Thurston writes in her book, Women in the New Testament, “Like Lydia, Nympha was head of her own household, which might have included children, relatives, and slaves. As such, Nympha was a businesswomen of sorts, since she would have been responsible for managing the economic affairs of this household in a building or compound that was large enough to accomodate the meeting of a Christian community” (page 134). I think it is noteworthy that they carried a range of significant responsibilities and were leaders in multi- areas. So it really should be no surprise that they were capable of leading within the church as well.
I did a quick search of “Bonnie Thurston” after reading your comment. Why haven’t I heard of this scholar before? Her work looks fascinating. Thanks for mentioning her.
I suspect Lydia, Nympha, as well as Phoebe and Apphia, had similar ministries. If they weren’t businesswomen like Lydia, they were probably independently wealthy widows or divorcees. Chloe and the Chosen Lady could be added to this list.
Running an extensive household and caring for family members was much the same as running a house church and caring for its members.
Dr Thurston has a new (2017) commentary on Colossians and has good stuff to say about Nympha that I’ll probably be adding to this article.
Thanks for letting me know that Dr. Thurston has a new commentary as I was unaware of this. I just looked at your link and I agree that she makes a few comments that would further substantiate your comments about Nympha. I recommend her book, Women in the New Testament, as I have found it to be a great resource.
Hi! I just discovered your blog and I find it amazing! My question is, in one article you stated “Again, please note that there are no masculine personal pronouns in Greek of 1 Timothy 3: 1-7 or Titus 1: 6-9.” My question is, how do you know this? When I type those two verses into a Greek conversion website online, it still says “he” and “him”. So what does this mean?
How do I know this? Because I read Koine Greek. The Greek New Testament is my everyday New Testament for both devotional reading and study.
In answer to your second question, compromises are always made when translating from one language into another. Try copy and pasting John 3:16 into Google translate or whatever tool you’re using. Also, the original Greek of the New Testament is an ancient Greek, Koine, so I can’t imagine it would translate well using tools designed for modern Greek.
I am THRILLED to find you. I cannot believe this is happening. I cannot believe after all of this time I found a blog with actual proof that women can preach and be elders/deacons. After all these years of believing I as a woman could not take on these roles, I have cried tears of joy looking trough these articles. THANK YOU! Thank God! What a blessing!
I’m glad you found me. 🙂 I cried real tears when I realised that Bible verses which seemed to exclude women from ministries were inadequately translated or misunderstood. I write about this here: https://margmowczko.com/towards-biblical-equality-my-story/
So then I guess my next question is, as somebody who reads and studies a Koine Greek Bible, how much of it is actually different from standers English translations? Like not only passages about women, but just other popular verses in general?
Oh and one more question. Is the most accurate translation of the Bible obviously ancient Hebrew then since that is what the original Bible was written in? Then is Ancient Greek the second most accurate translation since it was taken straight from the Hebrew version? I feel like it would make sense that the more the Bible is translated, the more errors it would contain.
The Old Testament books were originally written in Hebrew and a bit of Aramaic, but the oldest surviving copies of Old Testament books are in Koine Greek. The New Testament was originally written in Koine Greek. (This is what I read.)
Most of the popular English translations of the Bible are quite accurate. But as I said, there are always compromises when translating because it is impossible to translate word for word from one language to another because of different grammar, etc.
What a great thread… In our own midweek Bible study this same line of questions came up two weeks ago. We are in a string of annual business meetings but I am on the hook for dealing with this specific issue as soon as the class resumes. May I use this thread as it reads as part of my presentation? I want them to realize that they aren’t the only ones to whom this is suddenly shocking…??? This will be a great class. I plan to do four weeks on the subject using Bruce Metzger’s, “THe Text of the New Testament, It’s transmission, Corruption and Restoration” for much of it. In fact this evening we will discuss the budget for the new (and of present necessity, small) church library. I plan seeing that it includes the more important the standard volumes on matters pertaining to textual criticism. My most enthusiastic class members are a sizable group of women in their 30s-40s… They are very cranked up. Our church has had women preaching and teaching for some 40 years and more. Some day, if qualified, there may be a female pastor as well. My wife, a great student of the Bible served as associate pastor for some years.
Oh my goodness… For a few moments I was a bit baffled with the time-line. Failing to remember that Marg lives in Australia and our church is in Syracuse, NY, USA, and we are already well into the next day, October 10/2018, 7:19 AM EST (Eastern Standard Time). I believe six hours from meridian time.
Same! When I saw this website saying I was posting comments at 4:41am I was like “no I’m not” but then I realized she’s in Australia lol.
Also I’m not sure if you were talking about my comments as ones you wanted to share but if you were I don’t care if you do.
You are welcome to use any of my words. I’m not sure how others feel about having their words used. Which discussion, in particular, did you want to use?
I hope she sees your message, Russell.
Yes! That’s totally fine with me!
It’s 11.04pm in the Australian states of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.
Thank You Megan and sleep tight, Marg… smile…
Ok one more question and then I’ll stop pestering you.
The man who wrote this article says that there ARE masculine personal pronouns in the eldership verses.
How do you think he came to that conclusion? I hear from you that there aren’t any masculine pronouns in the verses concerning eldership, but then he says there is. I can’t read Ancient Greek so I’m just trusting the people who do know how to read it. Can you debunk this for me please because he is the only person I’ve seen online who makes the argument that this verse is actually full of masculine pronouns.
“The overseer is to be a one woman man. In the Greek the word “overseer” is in the masculine, singular form. It could be similarly rendered in English by saying something like, “the actor must be above reproach, a one-woman man.” It would make no sense to say, “the actors must be above reproach, a one-woman man.” Also, it would make no sense to say “the actress must be above reproach, a one-woman man.” – is this true?
“Let’s take a look at Titus 1:5-6. ” . . . appoint elders . . . if any man be above reproach, the husband of one wife . . . ” The word for “elders” in Greek is “presbuterous.” It is the masculine plural. This is like the actors versus actresses thing again; the first is masculine plural, and the second is feminine plural.” – is this true?
There are masculine words in 1 Timothy 3:1ff and Titus 1:6ff. Typically, there are masculine words in numerous sentences that don’t necessarily exclude women (e.g., John 3:16). This is because the masculine grammatical gender is used in Greek for men but also for groups that may include women as well as men.
The masculine grammatical gender is kind of like the “default gender” when speaking about people. The feminine grammatical gender is used for a group of people when the group only includes women, or the vast majority are women.
I searched the CARM article, but couldn’t find that the author ever uses the words “personal” or “personal pronoun.” There are a couple of (non-personal) pronouns in the 1 Timothy 3:1ff that mean “someone” or “own” but none that mean “his” or “him” (apart from the Textus Receptus). But even if there were masculine personal pronouns in the overseer/elders passages this is not necessarily significant.
The CARM article is concentrated on the idiom “one-woman-man.” I write about that idiom in this article: https://margmowczko.com/pauls-qualifications-for-church-leaders/
Also, the author saying that the Greek word presbyterous (“elders”) is masculine and the English word actresses is feminine is true. But this point has no bearing whatsoever on how to interpret Titus 1:5-6 and is misleading. (Note that the English word “actors” can include male and female actors.)
Paul called particular women “co-workers” (sunergoi) and he described Junia as among the “apostles” (apostoloi), and these Greek words are masculine.
And he calls male and female Christians more generally “saints” (hagioi) and “brothers” (adelphoi) and these Greek words are also masculine. (Adelphoi is often translated as “brothers and sisters” in modern English New Testaments even though there is a feminine Greek word that just means “sisters.”)
Even the word “Christian” (christianos), used only three times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16), is grammatically masculine. Masculine language in Greek does not mean the person has to be male. There’s more to it than that.
And please don’t worry about pestering me. Your questions are important.
Ohhhhhh is it kind of like how in spanish you are soppose to refer to a group of both boys and girls as “ellos“, and even though ellos is a masculine word, that doesn’t mean it’s not referring to women too. Is this idea sort of the same thing?
It’s exactly that kind of thing. 🙂
Why do I feel so guilty for even thinking that there is the possibility that I can teach/preach/be an elder/be a deacon? Why has this given me a panic attack when I should be overjoyed? Why do I feel guilty?
Perhaps because it flies in the face of centuries of traditional, but incorrect, teachings. 🙁
Probably. This idea that women can’t preach has been so strong at church for years so to have it debunked just from reading a single blog in about 5 minutes is just freaking me out a little bit. I’m in denial! There’s this little voice in my head saying “until I can read Ancient Greek, why trust anybody else with it?”. There’s this little voice in my head trying to do everything possible to defend all the people in my life who’ve preached me complementarianism. I have no idea why I’m trying to do this though because I desperately want them to be wrong!!
This is one of the craziest things that’s ever happened to me! If the church is wrong about this subject, I wonder what else they’re getting wrong too.
I’ve always had trouble trusting preachers, so I’ve decided to just read the Bible for myself so I can figure it out for myself. But now that the actual bible verses I read might not even be the correct interpretation because it’s not in the original language of Ancient Greek… ugh how do I know what I’m reading is the correct context?
There’s actually no verse that says women can’t “preach” as such. People have made a mile out of 1 Timothy 2:12 and made its meaning stretch way beyond what Paul ever intended.
In the first-century church, at least the ones founded by Paul, many people could contribute and participate in church meetings, regardless of their gender. This participation could include teaching and prophesying (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:26; Col. 3:16; cf. Acts 2:18-19).
I don’t think you need to necessarily be able to read Greek. Even in good English translations, we can see that Paul did not exclude women from his general teaching on ministry. More on this here.
It also helps to have some understanding of how New Testament churches functioned. More on this here.
I’d take things slowly, and talk it over with God. Changing from complementarian to a more egalitarian outlook is actually a huge change and I wouldn’t base it on one blog post. 🙂
Marg, you have also said the same about ancient Hebrew…that if there is one man with 100 women, the pronoun will still be masculine. That makes me wonder if we have missed more female prophets who were never called by name in the OT, just like there were many male prophets never personally named in the OT.
I will say too, that it is very hard to convince someone that their ESV Bible may not be entirely correct, or be biased when it comes to pronouns. I have found that staunch comps gets really defensive over “husband of one wife” and criticize anyone who disagrees. It’s tough…we all want to be true to Scripture, both egals and comps. And yes, it’s scary to trust anyone with Bible translation, because we’re all biased in some way. I’m convinced that I need to study Koine Greek for myself too, and I printed GCTS’s first semester Greek textbook out for me to study (and there are YouTube lectures of his lectures through the textbook).
I’m not an expert on Hebrew but, yes, the concept is similar. The masculine gender is the default grammatical gender for people in Hebrew also.
Have I already shared this with you, Jamie?
i think that’s the advice I really needed. To just take it slow. I don’t have to make a decision right now about which side I agree with. But the fact that there is so much evidence in this whole blog to support egalitarianism is promising. Do you know of other sources or websites or authors online that discuss egalitarianism that you think are credible?
I want so desperately to be an egalitarian but it’s really hard to make the switch in a week after I believed the opposite my whole life. You’re right- it’s a big transition! It kind of changes my whole world view! And that’s scary!
Thank you so much for your help, not only in the articles you write, but just in general with responding to all these questions and concerns.
Thanks for sharing your comments – I want to weigh in a little with my opinion. I’ve been reading Marg’s articles for a few months now, and she’s helped me articulate my beliefs…I grew up in an egal denomination where we occasionally had women preach. I never had to defend Christian egalitarianism until recently, when I got married and started attending my husband’s church…and discovered how complementarian they are.
To answer your question, Marg isn’t the only egal out there 🙂 There are a number of scholars – N.T. Wright, Gilbert Bilezikian (co-founder of Christians for Biblical Equality), John Stackhouse, J. Lee Grady (notice that these are all MEN who believe that the Bible teaches mutual submission in marriage, not hierarchy, and that women have equal authority in the church, and can lead through their gifts, whether their gifts are teaching, preaching, hospitality, etc., alongside men in their gifts.). Also to note, Lee Grady has a ministry called “The Mordecai Project” dedicated to ending violence against women and fighting injustice in countries that are extremely patriarchal. I love Marg’s perspective because she’s straight out of Scripture, and she’s easy to understand (some of the scholars I noted above can be a little heady, lol!) Sometimes, egals get criticized for trying to bend to culture, or appealing to emotions. Marg doesn’t do that. Also, check out the Junia Project – great articles there, too!
Also, in all of my research over the past couple of months, I’ve been learning about other errors the church has made…same situation as the egal vs comp arguements, but citing “keynote passages” to “prove” their positions. Take American slavery, and read Leviticus 25, Genesis 16, Galatians 4:21-31, and Philemon…slavery supporters would recite these verses to justify slavery. And they would argue with anyone who would disagree that they didn’t take the Bible seriously. Proponents claimed that, while these verses seem to support slavery, that the overall message of the Bible is that there is justice for all, and equality for all because of Jesus, that He died for all people. (For more reading on this, check out Mark Knoll’s book, “The Theological Crisis of the Civil War.” Highly recommended!!! Like, read it tomorrow!!)
If you count up all of the verses that seemingly support slavery, and then look at all the verses that seemingly support complementarianism, it’s about the same!! Again, it’s harder to show that the overall themes of the Bible support something, when there are “clear texts” that seem to contradict.
Also, last thought, think of all the verses that say, “Submit to authority / government.” How can a comp take those verses seriously if they’re challenging their public school system, local government, etc? It’s inconsistent to make a woman submit, yet challenge local authority.
I have been falling in love with Jesus more and more over these past few months through learning, and really studying the Bible, and egalitarian views. Really, what Jesus did was the most incredible act ever seen. He liberated EVERYONE, regardless of race, class, or gender. He came to give us life, and give it to the FULLEST (John 10:10). No hierarchy can exist with that world.
Megan, keep learning, and keep growing in grace with anyone who might disagree with your views.
P.S. Check out “Christians for Biblical Equality,” “The Priscilla Papers,” a collection of scholarly articles, and Craig Keener’s “Paul, Women, and Wives.”
As well as what Jamie suggests, take a look at this article that names numerous top scholars who believe that suitably gifted women can be ministers: https://margmowczko.com/prominent-biblical-scholars-on-women-in-ministry/ There are some links in the article that link to their work.
I ended up taking a bit of a break from reading all of this because I just needed time to process it haha! But anyways I guess my next question would be about Junia. How do you know for 100% certainty that she was female? Other than the fact that Junia is most likely a female name, that doesn’t completely get rid of the small possibility that Junia could have been a boys name.
I do think that the chance of Junia being a man is extremely small, but I don’t think this qualifies and evidence that she was female.
As with almost any name, people could argue that it is a man’s name or a woman’s name. However, there are zero occurrences of the masculine “Junias” in inscriptions, papyri, literature, etc, from the ancient world that survive to this day. On the other hand, there are 250 examples of the feminine “Junia” in inscriptions just in Rome. No scholar today has serious doubts that Junia was indeed a woman.
I have more on Junia, here and here.
Ok so I have a new question then. I’m currently being accused of twisting scripture to fit whatever feminist agenda I’m apparently supporting. Sigh. This is on a comment online by the way.
So I guess believing in biblical equality= radical feminist. Whatever people can believe what they want about me.
Anyways the point that they brought up was that there weren’t any elders, preachers, or deacons in the Bible, so that means that women can’t be elders, preachers of deacons today.
How should I respond? With the fact that phoebe was clearly a deacon an the same exact word for deacon was used for her that was used for other male deacons too?
Maybe I should mention that only 93 women were listed in the Bible vs 3144 men, but this doesn’t mean that there were less women in the Bible either. What else should I mention?
The idea that there weren’t any women elders, preachers or deacons in the Bible (New Testament) is simply inaccurate. As you say, Paul calls Phoebe a diakonos (“deacon/minister”), the exact same word used for Timothy and other men. And most scholars believe the women in 1 Timothy 3:11 are deacons. (More on this here.)
Also, deacons in the first century, did much tougher and more important work than many deacons today in their respectable and comfortable modern churches. And first-century deacons were not necessarily secondary ministers, after pastors, bishops/overseers or elders, etc. Most Christians have no knowledge of how first-century churches actually operated.
In the New Testament, only the apostle Paul and Noah are actually called “preachers.” The Greek noun that means “preacher”, kērux, literally means “herald.” (A related abstract noun, kērugma (“preaching/proclamation”), is here.) The related verb, however, is used of the ministries of John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul and his companions, etc. But there’s no reason to think that when Paul says “we preached” it does not include women like Phoebe or Priscilla who were his coworkers. Women travelled with Paul (e.g., Priscilla), ministered with Paul (e.g., Euodia and Syntyche), and represented Paul to others as his envoy (e.g., Phoebe). So there is simply no reason to presume that women did not also proclaim the gospel, which is what New Testament preaching is.
The word “elder,” when used in the New Testament in the context of the church, is not a very specific word. And in fact, 1 Timothy does mention women elders but, of course, this is explained away. Here’s part 1 on a discussion about women elders: https://margmowczko.com/women-elders-new-testament/ And here’s an article where I strongly suggest that the first overseers were male, and sometimes female, house church leaders: https://margmowczko.com/manage-household-1-timothy-34/
Sadly, articulate and correct arguments will not influence people who are stuck in their thinking. It is the Holy Spirit who ultimately changes hearts and minds.
Hey Marg and Megan,
Last Sunday at my complementarían church, someone said that it’s a husband’s job to be the breadwinner for the family. I asked, “Then, who provided for Jesus? Wealthy women did – Mary Magdalene, Susanna, and Joanna provided for Jesus and the 12, along with anyone else traveling with Jesus. Luke 8:1-3.” I was then accused of being a liberal, social-economic politian, even though I was quoting the Bible and he was not. Then he said that it’s a husband’s job to protect his family. I told him that Moses’s life was spared by women – the midwives and his mom as a baby (and the midwives risked their lives by false testimony to the Egyptian king) and his wife Zippora who threw the foreskin to save Moses. Again, I was accused of being a liberal, reading into the Bible, and being a flaming feminist 🙂 and I used the Bible…he didn’t.
That is so irritating, Jamie. Many Christians simply don’t realise that their view of “gender roles” has almost no biblical basis.
I swear people here in America actually worship and have the worldview of Conservatism/Rebublicanism instead of the actual Bible. Soooooo frustrating. What a great point you made!!! I love that! I’ll tell some of the men in my family that information!!
I’m sick of being accused of being a liberal socialist too. If I’m an SJW snowflake for reading and believing what the Bible says in context, so be it.
Good for you, Megan! And totally agree about your observations on politics 🙂
Hi Sister Marg, you are really a gift from above to the Church. Yes, I believe ministry is not gender based but gift based. Continue doing your ministry. Press on for your labor is not in vain in the Lord. God loves you and so do I. God bless!
Thank you for your encouraging words, Russell.
Reading through these comments has been enlightening.
As I was reading Colossians today in the Contemporary English I noticed Nympha was a woman who had church meetings in her home. I did not recall reading this before. Therefore, I hurriedly went to the King James Version and you know what I saw…yes… masculine reference to Nymphas.
This is all to say, thank you for the clarity. I am a woman preacher and teacher. I am thankful for the extensive research. However, there are circumstances when individuals cannot see another perspective other than their own engrainded ideologies. Only the Holy Spirit can open their eyes.
On another note, it behooves me to know that 90% of the Old Testsment and 50% of the New Testament was extracted in the “Slave Bible.” Therefore, clear manipulation of what African Americans could have, learn and know in the 1800’s.
I completely agree. It is only the Holy Spirit who can open eyes and change minds. The church really has taught some terrible things and done terrible things.
This passage does not clearly state that hosting a party made you the leader of the group. Nymphas, is simply providing the place for the gathering. We had a couple that had a house, and volunteer their house for a small group we were hosting. They gave us the house but wanted us to find a leader. I like the scholarly approach, however, the burden of proof has not been given. God wants to use all of us in various ways. Unfortunately, your claim that Nymphas is a the pastor/overseer is completely false.
Hello Jonathan, I have not used the word “pastor” or “overseer” in this article.
In modern western society, many people have homes that can accommodate small, and even large, meetings. And most congregations do not have many of their members living in extreme poverty. The situation was much different in the ancient world.
“Simply” is not an adverb I would use for any ministry in first-century Christianity. There was suspicion, hostility, and even outright persecution directed at Christians, male and female. And having a congregation use your house as base of operations made one a prime target for such hostility. Ministry was tough and potentially dangerous.
Someone like Nympha, who had a home large enough to host a congregation, would have also used their resources to care for that congregation. (Paul alludes to this in 1 Timothy 3.) These hosts were usually people of higher status and more likely to be literate than other members.
Furthermore, many of the members of house churches were either members of the household or already associated with the household in some way; perhaps many (grown children, slaves, clients) were dependent to some extent on the host. (We see this in Acts 16 where Lydia’s whole household was baptised and her home became the centre of the Christian community in Philippi.)
First-century church life has little in common with church life today, and drawing parallels is usually unhelpful. Men and women like Nympha didn’t just let people use their “lounge room” for weekly meetings and provide tea and coffee. They provided security and protection, and they cared for members’ welfare in a precarious environment. That’s how ancient society worked: the more affluent, socially powerful people provided protection for poorer, socially disadvantaged people through patron-client relationships.
Even though Paul encouraged participation from all gifted people in worship meetings, Nympha as the householder would still have been the one to organise much that went on in her own home. Also, in the first 100 years of Christianity, much ministry was provided by travelling apostles, teachers and prophets, not just by local leaders and members who accepted or rejected such itinerant ministers (cf. 2 John 1:10-11).
If Nympha, a woman of some status, wealth, and respectability, wasn’t in charge of the congregation in her home, who was? Why didn’t Paul mention that person and ask that he or she be greeted?
Knowing everything we know about first-century church life, and the fact that Nympha is the only one in her congregation personally greeted and named by Paul, we can safely assume she was a leader in her church.
It’s a big leap to go from “the burden of proof has not been given” to “your claim … is completely false.” You don’t have to accept anything that I’ve written, Jonathan, but surely the burden of proof, the obligation to prove one’s assertion, lies with those who think Nympha wasn’t a leader of the congregation in her own house but that the leader was someone else who Paul does not acknowledge in any way whatsoever.