Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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Paul was not a misogynist. He did not hate or mistrust women. Far from it!

Paul valued Priscilla, Euodia, and Syntyche as his co-workers in gospel ministry.

He refers to Junia as a fellow Jew, his fellow prisoner, and as outstanding among the apostles.

Paul commends Phoebe to the church at Rome as our sister, as minister or deacon of the church at Cenchrea, and as a patron of many. He also entrusted to Phoebe his letter to the Romans.

He acknowledges positively the ministry labours of Mary of Rome, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis. He loved Persis.

He warmly mentions no less than ten women in Romans chapter 16. Paul had met some of these women when his and their journeys had intersected. Other women in Romans 16, such as Julia, hosted house churches in Rome.

He took seriously a report from Chloe of Corinth‘s people.

He passed on greetings from Claudia of Rome and sent greetings to Apphia of Colossae.

He recognised the house church of Nympha in Laodicea and asked that greetings be passed on to her and her congregation.

He accepted the hospitality of Lydia in Philippi and held meetings of the fledgeling Philippian congregation in her home.

He respected the faith and teaching of Lois and Eunice.

Paul valued the ministry of women and even compared his own apostolic ministry to that of a breastfeeding woman.

At least eighteen women are mentioned in Paul’s letters; sixteen are identified by name. Paul mentions some of these women along with a male relative, but most are mentioned independently of a man.

Moreover, Paul used his favourite ministry terms—coworker, minister/ deacon (diakonos), and apostle/ emissary (apostolos)—for both male and female ministry colleagues.

Here is a list, in alphabetical order, of the eighteen women in Paul’s letters, plus Lydia.

Apphia (Phlm. 1:2), Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11), Claudia (2 Tim. 4:21), Eunice (2 Tim. 1:5); Euodia (Php. 4:2–3), Julia (Rom. 16:15), Junia (Rom. 16:7 NIV), Lois (2 Tim. 1:5), Mary (Rom. 16:6), Nereus’ sister (Rom. 16:15), Nympha (Col. 4:15), Persis (Rom. 16:12), Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2 NIV), Priscilla (Rom. 16:3–5; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19 cf. Acts 18:1–3, 18–19, 26), Rufus’ mother (Rom. 16:13), Syntyche (Phil. 4:2–3), Tryphena (Rom. 16:12), Tryphosa (Rom. 16:12).  Lydia is mentioned in Acts 16:13–15, 40.

I believe that if these verses were the starting point and focus in discussions on women in ministry, more so than 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 and 1 Timothy 2:12, the church and the world would be in a much better state. (My articles on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 here, and on 1 Timothy 2:12 here.)

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Image Credit

Mosaic of Paul presenting St Praxedes (who was martyred in 165) to Christ, in the Basilica Santa Prassede, Rome. Used with permission. © Sr Anne Flanagan (Source)

Explore more

Partnering Together: Paul’s Female Coworkers
A List of the 29 People in Romans 16:1–16
Paul’s Theology of Ministry
In a Nutshell Series

48 thoughts on “Paul and Women, in a Nutshell

  1. Is this Paul’s “binder full of women”?

    1. Pretty much. I’m not American so I only have a vague understanding of Romney’s context.

      I hope I haven’t missed anyone.

  2. Wait wait wait – are you saying that the ways in which we read and interpret the Bible have as much to say about us as they do about the writers and writings? #brilliant

  3. Very informative and insightful . Thanks for putting it together

    1. Wouldn’t it be nice if Paul said “women and men are equal and women must preach and teach in church and hold the same offices as men” why is that not in print? Wasn’t hard at all but the fact is God didn’t want it there or he can’t lead Holy men to write his words verbatim!

      1. Paul also didn’t say “men must preach and teach in church and hold offices.”

      2. And why did God not have Paul write against slavery or say it should be outlawed or to set their servant free? Paul only wrote that slave and master should now treat each other as brothers in Christ. Yet one still owned the other.

        Slave owners used the bible to justify owning slaves yet overlooked the part in Eph 5 about treating them as brothers.

        Yet we as Christians abhor the idea of slavery when there is no biblical command to do so but find all sorts of “commands, rules and reasons” to uphold patriarchy, male authority, women submission/obedience all extrapolated from a few misunderstood verses.

  4. This is a great list and should definitely be taken into consideration when discussing the role of women in ministry. As a woman who is in ministry and preaches, it’s so important that people look at the full extent of Paul’s teaching and not just the couple of verses which they consider to back their theology on this issue. Thanks for providing a good summary of where else to look.

    1. Hi Rachel,

      Yes, I just don’t get the obsession with 1 Timothy 2:12, especially as we can’t be 100% sure what one of the words in the verse means, and as the Bible, overall, doesn’t seem to have any problem when a godly woman teaches, leads or directs men.

  5. “I believe that if these verses were the starting point and focus in discussions on women in ministry, more so than 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12, the church and the world would be in a much better state.”

    Thanks, Marg. I so appreciate your insights! And these women with the lessons they offer us should be taught to all – not just in women’s Bible Studies!!

    1. I agree. 🙂

      I dislike the mentality that Bible women are role models for women, and Bible men are role models for men.

      I clearly remember, as a young girl, reading about Gideon and David, etc, and trying to imagine what they were going through. I’d look for the principles that I could embrace of how God worked in them and through them even though they were grown men and leaders and I was a little girl.

      These examples of men and women in the Bible are primarily about God, so I can’t see that whether they are male or female has much to do with it.

  6. Very insightful article. I find it interesting that if you ask the average Christian what Paul had to say about women, they’ll quote Ephesians 5:22-33. In my opinion this verse has been over used over the years to keep women from celebrating the true role God has given us within the church. It’s nice to see that Paul, though believed to have authored Ephesians 5:22-33, also acknowledged the work of women in building the church.

    1. Hi Veronica,

      Yep, Ephesians 5 is another passage that comes up all the time and is used to restrict women.

      I have several articles on Ephesians 5 here:
      https://margmowczko.com/category/ephesians-5/

      But this one may be a good place to start:
      https://margmowczko.com/ephesians-522-33-in-a-nutshell/

    2. What exactly is the “true role God has given women within the church”?

      (The answer I usually get is wife, mother, house wife, submissive/obedient to husband/men and that those roles especially glorify God if they have a lot of children. )

  7. Great resource. Thanks.

  8. Anytime you have to make this type of defense, it probably means there is fire behind the smoke. It’s like places that say they value diversity, it probably means they had issues with that in the past.

  9. This is very handy and it’s useful to look at all the things that women are encouraged to do in the Bible, not only what they “can’t”

    However, your main point confuses me. If I were to ask: ‘what does the Bible teach about women and their roles in church?’ You think the first thing we should observe is that Paul lists 10 women by name in Romans? Paul wrote those names to tell the church that women should be teachers and elders in the church? I disagree that these types of verses should be our ‘starting point.’

    Instead we should turn to passages where Paul himself was trying to answer the question: ‘what roles should women have in church?’ I don’t turn to these passages because I’m a man who hates women’s rights, I turn to these passages because those are the ones that teach on these issues.

    With all of that said I think it is important to focus on all of the amazing things women are encouraged to do in scripture. They shouldn’t be restricted to hosting luncheons and cooking meals. Women ought to be, just like men, getting into the nitty gritty Bible studies and wrestling with hard-core doctrines. They should be encouraged to seek and use all of the gifts of the spirit that are available to men, and then, like men, use those gifts in whatever way the bible teaches. There aren’t any gifts of the spirit that are gender specific (I.e. Help for women and teaching for men), but men AND women are to use their gifts in whatever way God has indicated.

    Have I been fair? I don’t have a power struggle against women, and to be honest, my wife is the one who first introduced me to the idea that Paul may have been a complementarian. Should we really start with where Paul doesn’t seem to have women’s roles in mind, or should we start with where Paul speaks directly to these issues?

    1. Hi Spencer, I’m not sure what you see as my main point. My objective was simply to acknowledge every woman who Paul mentions in his letters, plus Lydia, and note how he speaks of them and interacts with them. If there is a main point it is that Paul trusted women and valued their ministry. I think this point is reasonably clear and not at all confused.

      In Paul’s time, as it is today, women had many roles and various ministries in the Christian community (i.e. the church).

      There is no verse or passage in Paul’s letters where the apostle addresses the question: “What roles should women have in church?”
      In his lists of ministries in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:28, 1 Corinthians 14:26, Ephesians 4:11 and Colossians 3:16, in the Greek, there is no hint that some ministries are only for men or off limits to women.

      In 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, Paul silenced unedifying speech from women and men in Corinth while, at the same time, encouraging orderly speaking. Likewise, in 1 Timothy 2:8-15, Paul addressed and corrected problem behaviour from women and men in Ephesus. These two passages are not about “women’s roles.”

  10. I think our starting point should be John 4…and Jesus’ treatment of this woman! He goes beyond culture, beyond gender!

    1. Jesus’ treatment of women and his concern for them as whole human beings was remarkable and certainly went way beyond the culture of that time. Perhaps I should do a post called “Jesus and Women, in a Nutshell”?

  11. Incredible….that’s how people need to see how women were used in ministry and how the apostle Paul was not a male chauvinist. I like how you displayed the women who Paul mentions, Marg, so that way we all can see that Paul was not silencing women to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. I see the mistake is that many people pick out a verse instead of reading an entire chapter or book in the Bible. It’s like how the teachers say in school….. “Go back and read the entire story to get an understanding”.

    1. Thanks John. 🙂

      Exactly! We need to read the whole story.

      1. Great article!

        A friend of mine turned me on to this post knowing that I had taught a series “Empowering Women” at the church I pastor. It was one of my favorite series I’ve done, as I know there is so much misguided teaching on women within Christian circles.

        In reference to some of the posts above, a great place to start is…at the beginning…Genesis.

        Consider, for example that Eve was created as an equal to Adam, from his side…not the head, nor the foot. Then, also consider that the passage of Eve being ruled over by Adam, was a consequence of the Fall, something Jesus addressed on the cross by becoming a curse. He came to restore.

        1. Thanks Kevin. I agree with you that the message about gender in Genesis 1 and 2 is about equality and affinity. It’s a shame that many Christians seem blind to this message.

  12. Dear Marg – I just came across this post while searching for material on Paul’s teachings. I’m a lifelong member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which is quite conservative. In recent years, there has been a kerfuffle concerning the role of women in the church, our church, specifically. The LCMS does not ordain women. I can live with that; however, there are a number of men, including our elders, who have expressed ‘limiting’ women’s activities in our church. Unfortunately, the elders were swayed by a handful of mean-spirited men who objected to some of the things some of our women were doing., including giving messages on an informal basis during our contemporary services. That Eve was the first to sin because she gave the apple to Adam is a sticking point in my Synod. It diminishes women not only in the roles they like to assume, not including the pulpit ministry, but their status as human beings designed by the same Lord who designed males. We must find a way to educate our people, including many men, that using our God-given Spiritual Gifts is a desirable thing to do.

    Thank you for presenting a respectful, insightful, Christian perspective. I’m planning to talk with our pastor about having an Adult Bible Class devoted to understanding correctly, through the Bible passages you have pointed out, where women may be of service in their Christian life.

    1. Hello Iris,

      The LCMS has come to my attention before because of their restrictive stance on women. The Lutheran Chuch in Australia–I live in Australia–holds to similar views.

      For many, it all comes down to a faulty understanding of 1 Timothy 2:13-14. These verses were written in regards to a local situation, perhaps even in regards to one woman or one couple. I suggest these two verses provide a corrective on the teaching of an Ephesian woman, but they have been used to all silence women for centuries. And that is tragic.

      In case you’re interested, here is a link to all my articles that discuss 1 Timothy 2:11-15: https://margmowczko.com/category/1-timothy-212/

    2. I find calling out Eve for taking the first bite of fruit nonsensical. Adam was apparently right there with her and apparently did not discourage her. And then he also took a bite. So was he too hesitant? Was he being polite and letting the lady go first? It reminds me of the old cereal ad where the older kids nudge the younger one to try it first, then join in. So much for men being bolder or more willing to take risks. Dare I suggest Adam set Eve up to take a fall?

  13. To be honest, I wish Paul had just said straight out that I Timothy 2:12 was only for that time and that place and not for all times and all places. He could have saved a lot of arguing if he’d done that.

    I used to think that I could pick up the Bible, read it, and just from that reading figure out what God wanted from me and how I was supposed to live my life. Now I feel like I can’t understand the Bible without a PhD. in theology and fluency in Biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, and Attic Greek.

    1. Hi Tina, I wish he had done that too, but then he never could have envisaged that a letter he wrote to a specific person, who was acting as his envoy to a particular congregation with its own specific issues, could have been misused in the way it has.

      Also, the idea that anyone, especially a Westerner, can pick up the Bible and read it and understand its context, and therefore it meaning, well, is actually unrealistic. The books and letters it contains are ancient documents, written by people who lived in ancient foreign cultures and wrote in ancient foreign languages, and they explicitly and implicitly refer to long-dead customs and ancient foreign ways of thinking. That’s why we need good biblical scholars.

      On the other hand, I’ve been reading the Bible since I was ten years old. And I know I have understood it to some extent and it has been a huge blessing to me. The fact that God loves us, and seeks to save us through Jesus, and that he gives us his Holy Spirit, are unmistakable facts given in the New Testament. I love the Bible!

      1. Marg
        Thanks for picking out all the godly Woman form New Testament. However, i would like to make a question on why you think that 1 Timothy 2:12 is a ” long-dead customs and ancient foreign ways of thinking” ?. You have just declared the bible to be obsolete and void at one point, and that its inerrancy is been attacked by it. Rather the context of 1 Timothy 2: 11-12 could be well state. Yes God restored the fallen man, however it is not alter. As woman will not be as man neither man as woman, therefore there must be certain differences in the role man and woman in order for the Church to function well. I do not mean that woman should not teach at all, but than when, who and whom woman can teach must be identify base on the context, situation and ministerial office.

        1. Hello Madhya,

          My comment was in response to Tina’s second paragraph about the biblical languages. My comment was not about 1 Timothy 2:12 in particular, but about the Bible as a whole: “The books and letters it contains are ancient documents, written by people who lived in ancient foreign cultures and wrote in ancient foreign languages, and they explicitly and implicitly refer to long-dead customs and ancient foreign ways of thinking.”

          This is comment is true and in no way renders the Bible obsolete. It simply acknowledges that the Bible is an ancient book, originally written in ancient languages for ancient people who indeed held to customs and ways of thinking that are not a part of western culture today.

          What I meant by my comment is that we need to be careful when reading the Bible. We need to recognise theology when the biblical authors are revealing theology. We need to understand (and apply) general principles when the writers are giving general principles. We also need to understand when the writers are giving specific corrections to specific problems that were affecting specific congregations or specific people. And we need to understand idioms when the writers use idioms. Furthermore, we need to understand that just because certain customs are mentioned, and even regulated, in the Bible (dowries, polygamy, slavery, etc), it doesn’t mean that God wants us to necessarily continue these customs today.

          Let me be repeat myself: The Bible is not obsolete! It is the precious and inspired Word of God. And I take 1 Timothy 2:12 seriously and literally. I’ve written about this verse here.

          Men and women are different, but I don’t know of any non-biological trait that is exclusively male or female. Also, men and women have much more in common than our differing biological traits. When Adam saw Eve for the first time, he commented on their similarities, and his statement was followed by a comment on their unity (Gen. 2:23-24.)

          In the New Testament, the prerequisites and the means for ministry are giftedness, grace, faith and character. Gender doesn’t come up in Paul’s general teaching on ministry (Rom. 12:3-8, 1 Cor. 12:1ff; 1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 4:4-13; Col. 3:16; etc). More on this here. On the other hand, gender is plainly mentioned in Acts 2:17-18. Here it is clear that Spirit-inspired, prophetic ministry is open to both male and female ministers. We need both men and women as ministers, each offering their unique abilities and perspectives.

          The New Testament shows that godly and capable men and women can minister in whatever they are they called and gifted for without compromising who they are as men and women. One more point, Paul doesn’t mention “offices” in the Greek text of his letters.

    2. Paul had no idea those letters were one day going to be part of the Bible or that they would ever be translated into other languages including English (which that and many languages we use today did not exist.)

  14. Things you can’t now put in the bible. Women shall teach and preach to men in church and hold the same leadership roles as men and are equal in authority to men in every way. Thou shalt not commit slavery. Homosexuality is natural and is encouraged healthy behavior that glorifies God. You can write books about it but can never do what I just did because that’s not what God said or it would be there just as my words are here now.

  15. Women are just now allowed to vote and that is a direct connection with 2,000 years of following the bible as it was written.

    1. John, Democracy as we have it today, and the freedom for men and for women to vote, is a relatively recent development and would have been totally alien to the first-century Roman Empire, which is the setting of the New Testament, and completely alien to Israelite and ancient Jewish society.

      Let’s look at voting rights in the United States of America as an example. (Source of information)

      The right to vote began with the Declaration of Independence in 1776, but in several states Jews, Quakers and/or Catholics were denied the right to vote and/or they were forbidden to run for office.
      Is there a direct connection between these regulations and 2,000 years of following the Bible as it was written?

      At first, only white male adult property owners (about 6% of the population) were permitted to vote.
      Is there a direct connection between this regulation and 2,000 years of following the Bible as it was written?

      By 1856, property ownership requirements were eliminated in every state which allowed most white men to vote, but they had to be tax-payers.
      Is there a direct connection between this regulation and 2,000 years of following the Bible as it was written?

      Tax-paying requirements remained in five states until 1860 and in two states until the 20th century.
      Is there a direct connection between this regulation and 2,000 years of following the Bible as it was written?

      And what about these regulations?
      15th Amendment (1870): “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
      19th Amendment (1920): “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
      24th Amendment (1964): “The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”

      Most men across the globe could not vote until the mid-1800s (some still can’t); women were less than 100 years behind them.

      1. and that is why the bible is more about our spiritual condition than political or physical condition because that transcends the changing nature of politics.

  16. I can’t speak for others, but I have let Chloe slide by my notice! People from “Chloe’s household” sounds very much as if Chloe led a house church or was the matriarch of a home–perhaps a professional woman like Lydia.

    What gets me most often is the claim that we are allowing the “culture” dictate to us how to read scripture–as if a culture of patriarchy has not been dictating how we read scripture for 1,000-1,500 years!

    Thank you, Marg. My scholarship is limited (I only have an MA in text), so I especially appreciate when someone more educated can shed light on the research! Blessings and peace.

    1. Thanks, Darryl!

      Yes, many commonly accepted interpretations of certain Bible passages have been thoroughly influenced by the prevailing patriarchal culture of past centuries. Some common interpretations have been spectacularly wrong and harmful to the body of Christ. I’m thinking of 1 Cor. 11:7 for example. https://margmowczko.com/man-woman-image-glory-god-1-corinthians-11-7/

      I discuss Chloe here: https://margmowczko.com/who-was-chloe-of-corinth/

      Shalom

  17. I’m not impressed with how you started this article. Complementarians do not hate or mistrust women. Far from it! We let them flourish in their God given roles. Women can do everything in church except teach men.

    1. Kenneth, you’ve either misread the article or you’ve projected your own concerns onto it, or perhaps both.

      This article is all about the apostle Paul. It has nothing to do with the complementarian ideology. In fact, I don’t mention complementarianism at all, and it didn’t enter my mind when I was writing this article.

      By the way, you may not realise it but your statement “We let them flourish …” sounds condescending, alienating, and downright cringy. It sounds like “we” (complementarians) and “them” (women) are two different groups of people, and that “them” (women) need the “we” people to let them flourish.

      The complementarians I know personally here in Australia are much more generous and inclusive than what you indicate in each of your statements.

    2. What are ” their God given roles”?

      Wife? motherhood? housewife? submissive and obedient to male authority?

      In most cases those “roles” have existed throughout history in many cultures and were certainly a big part of the Greco/Roman culture of the time of Paul.

  18. Marg, thank you for your article!

    Some of the discussion above relating to women’s roles within the church is painful to read. Regardless of one’s view on the role of women within the church, as men we do need to acknowledge that many women have been badly treated by ‘the church’ at times and this is not based on faithful reading of the scriptures.

    I have always believed that men and women were both created in the image of God and are therefore of equal value and worth within creation (and the church). I believe that as we are created in the image of God we reflect aspects of God’s character and some of these aspects (gifts) seem to be given more generously to one gender over the other (i.e. nurturing instincts are found in both men and women but do appear to be often more strongly gifted to women). I believe men and women are undoubtedly equals, and are at times ‘complimentary opposites’.

    While my belief that men and women are of equal importance and value in God’s eyes has never shifted; my views on gender based roles within the church has shifted. As I have matured in my faith I have challenged my views on what is the cultural norm within the church versus what is actually taught in the scriptures (these are not always the same). Understanding historical context and prayerfully reading the scriptures asking the question “what did the author want me to take away from this” can change how we view the bible and deepen our relationship with God.

    What saddens me is reading some of the comments in the above feed and the hostility women (like yourself) receive from some christian men for faithfully debating scripture.

    “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another“ thank you for your contribution in sharpening your brothers and sisters in Christ!

    1. Thank you, Alistair. The question “what did the author want me to take away from this?” is so important.

      Just now I was replying to a woman who reads 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as silencing all women for all time. However, the overall context of 1 Corinthians 14:26-40 is Paul addressing unruly behaviour from three groups of people (not just the women who wanted to learn but should keep their basic questions for home). And at the same time, Paul encourages orderly and edifying vocal ministry, and he does this without specifying gender.

      Misunderstandings like hers can affect people deeply.

      1. I do agree!

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