Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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How is it that Paul gained a reputation for being a misogynist? Paul did not have a low opinion of women. Far from it. Paul warmly mentions more than a few women in his letters, especially in his greetings.

Apphia is the only woman, mentioned by name to be addressed at the beginning of a letter, but many other women are mentioned in his closing greetings. From these greetings, we can see that Paul was a man who loved and valued women ministers.

In this article, I take a look at the women Paul sent greetings to in his New Testament letters and I will show that Paul did not have a problem with women in ministry.

Paul’s Greetings to Women in the Roman Church

Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2)

In the closing chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul mentions no less than ten women.[1] Phoebe heads the list. It is believed that she delivered Paul’s letter to the Romans,[2] so Paul introduces her to the Roman church and, rather than a greeting, he gives her a glowing recommendation. Paul refers to Phoebe as “our sister” and he tells the Romans that she is a minister or deacon of the Cenchrean Church.[3] (Cenchrea was a port in Corinth.) Paul asks the Roman Christians to welcome her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints and to give her whatever assistance she may need. He also tells the Romans that Phoebe is a benefactor of many people, including himself (Rom 16:1-2).[4]

Priscilla (Romans 16:3-5)

Next on the list is Priscilla, with her husband Aquila. Priscilla and Aquila were friends and ministry colleagues of Paul. The three worked, travelled, and ministered together. In Romans 16:3-5, Paul mentions that the couple had even risked their lives for him. They were well-known in the early church, and their ministry was appreciated by many. Priscilla and Aquila are the first of the Roman Christians to be greeted in Romans 16. They were leaders and hosts of a house church in Rome at the time that Paul wrote to the Romans.

Junia (Romans 16:7)

In Romans 16:7, Paul sends greetings to Andronicus and Junia, who were possibly a married couple. In his greeting, Paul states a few of their credentials: they were fellow Jews, they had suffered for their faith and been in prison with Paul, they had been Christians longer than him, and they were outstanding among the apostles.[5]

Female Labourers in the Lord: Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis

Other women greeted in Romans 16 include Mary (Rom 16:6), Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis (Rom 16:12). Paul writes that these women worked very hard for their Lord and the Church. (These women did not serve coffee or hand out hymn books on a Sunday morning.) Paul describes their labours using the same word that he described his ministry labours elsewhere in the New Testament.[6] Furthermore, Paul refers to Persis as a “dear friend” (literally: “the beloved”). This is not an appellation that a misogynist would use.

More Romans 16 Women

Three more Roman women—Rufus’ mother, Julia, and Nereus’ sister—are also sent personal greetings from Paul. Note that some of the women in Romans 16 are mentioned with a male relative in Paul’s greetings, but others are mentioned on their own. How does the fact that several New Testament women are mentioned on their own fit with the concept of “male headship”? The ten women mentioned in Romans 16 were all active in Christian ministry, some as leaders.

Paul’s Greetings from Rome

Claudia (2 Timothy 4:21)

Years later, perhaps when Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he wrote a letter to Timothy. In Second Timothy, Paul passes on greetings from a woman named Claudia. Identifying Claudia is difficult as it is a common name. But, because of the names mentioned with hers in 2 Timothy 4:21, especially those of  Pudens and Linus, there have been some suggestions as to who this woman was. One suggestion is that this woman was Claudia Rufina. This woman’s husband was a Roman senator named Pudens. Another suggestion is that Claudia was the mother of Linus who, according to tradition, became bishop of the church in Rome in 67.[7] Still another suggestion is that Claudia was the daughter of Caratacus, a British chieftain who was captured and then freed by Emperor Claudius. Because of the Greek grammar in 2 Timothy 4:21, however, I suspect that Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, and Claudia, were unrelated, and yet each was prominent in the church at Rome.[8]

We know that several upper-class women, like Claudia, were attracted to Christianity and several used their influence and wealth to further the cause of the gospel. Some independently wealthy women hosted and led house churches in their relatively spacious homes (e.g., Lydia in Philippi).

Priscilla (2 Timothy 4:19)

In 2 Timothy 4:19, Paul sends greetings from Rome to his favourite couple—Priscilla and Aquila—who were then ministering in Ephesus, as was Timothy. Did Paul’s prohibition of a woman teaching a man in 1 Timothy 2:12 apply to Priscilla? It was in Ephesus that Priscilla, with Aquila, taught Apollos about Christian baptism, but there is no hint of censure in the Scriptures about Priscilla teaching a man (1 Tim 2:12 cf. Acts 18:24-26). It is also in 2 Timothy that Paul warmly mentions Lois and Eunice, Timothy’s godly grandmother and mother. Paul credits them with teaching scripture to Timothy which helped the young minister face the challenge of heterodox and deceptive teaching in Ephesus (2 Tim 1:5 cf. 2 Tim 3:15).

Women in the Corinthian Church

Any Christian who is interested in the topic of women in ministry will be familiar with 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. These two verses have been used to silence women from speaking in church meetings.[9] In this same letter, however, there are a few verses that indicate Paul could not have meant for all women to be silent in church.

Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in response to a report sent by a woman called Chloe (1 Cor 1:10-11). Some people from Chloe had told Paul about the divisions and rivalries in the Corinthian church.[10] These people may have been Chloe’s slaves or they may have been members of her house church, or perhaps both. It is possible that the letter that Paul quotes from in 1 Corinthians was written by Chloe as a concerned leader.

Paul did not have a problem with godly, well-behaved women speaking—praying and prophesying aloud—in church meetings (1 Cor 11:5). He did not even have a problem with women being house church leaders.[11] In 1 Corinthians 16:19, Paul sends greetings from Aquila and Priscilla to the Corinthian church.[12] From what we know of Priscilla, it is incomprehensible to think that she did not speak or teach or pray or prophesy in church meetings that met in her own home (1 Cor 16:19 cf. Acts 18:24-26).

It is a shame that the examples of Priscilla, Chloe, and other New Testament women, as well as Paul’s verses about mutuality such as 1 Corinthians 11:11-12, are not given the same degree of emphasis that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 has been given.

Paul’s Greetings to Women in the Lycus Valley

Nympha (Colossians 4:15)

Paul closes his letter to the Colossians with several personal comments and greetings, and he asks the church at Colossae, situated in the Lycus Valley, to pass on his greetings to a woman called Nympha and to the church that meets in her house (Col 4:15 NIV).[13]

Some have argued that Nympha may have just been the host of the house church, and not the leader, but why would Paul send greetings to the host and not the actual leader? The most obvious way to understand this greeting is that Nympha was the host and the leader of the church that met in her home. Moreover, people who have thought that Nympha was a man have simply assumed that (s)he was the pastor.[14]

Apphia (Philemon 1:1-2)

Paul sent another letter to Colossae. This one was addressed to three individuals, Philemon, Apphia, a woman, and Archippus, as well as to a house church (Philem 1:1-2). It seems that Apphia, along with Philemon and Archippus, were leaders of the house church. In this same letter, Paul urges Philemon to take back Onesimus “no longer as a slave but … as a dear brother” (Philem 1:16). Paul had egalitarian leanings.

Paul’s Greetings to Women in the Philippian Church

Paul begins his letter to the Philippians by greeting the whole church and especially mentioning the overseers (episkopoi) and deacons (diakonoi),[2] or “chief pastors and ministers” as F.F. Bruce translates it.[15] Who were these pastors and ministers? Early church bishop and theologian, John Chrysostom (ca 349-407), believed that Euodia and Syntyche were the leaders of the Philippian church, and he compared these women to Phoebe.[16]

Paul describes the ministry of Euodia and Syntyche, by using some of the same terms he had previously applied to Timothy and Epaphroditus in the same letter. One of these terms is co-workers (sunergoi).[17] Paul regarded Euodia and Syntyche, along with Clement, another minister in Philippi, as his ministry colleagues. (Priscilla and Aquila are called sunergoi by Paul in Romans 16:6.)

Lydia was the first Christian convert in Philippi and the first to host church meetings there. Thus, she was the first to function as a pastor in the city (Acts 16:14-15, 40). This could well have started a trend of women functioning as pastors and ministers in Philippi, especially as women in Macedonia (including Philippi) were known for their relative social freedom and public works.[18] 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). (“Lydia” may have been a kind of nickname, showing her place of origin, and her real name might have been Euodia or Syntyche.)

Paul Loved Women

In light of the many women Paul mentioned warmly, though briefly, it is difficult to see how Paul could have been misunderstood as someone who disliked women and who deliberately curtailed, suppressed, and even prohibited their ministry. The reason for this misunderstanding is that a couple of verses in his letters have been magnified and emphasized, while other verses about women have been minimized or ignored. Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:12 had local and limited applications. They were about silencing women who were being disruptive and behaving badly. They were not meant to silence godly women, well-behaved women. This is evidenced by the fact that Paul valued godly, capable women ministers, and that he did not seem to think that any ministry was off-limits to them.

Paul loved Priscilla and Persis. He trusted Phoebe and accepted her patronage. He listened and responded to Chloe’s concerns. He recognized Nympha, Apphia, Priscilla, Euodia and Syntyche, and other women, as ministers and house church leaders. He even recognised Junia as an apostle. The number of verses about actual New Testament women in ministry far outweighs the few verses that have been used to silence women.

My hope is that the church will love and trust and listen to her women, and recognise, encourage and accept their ministry gifts. It is time for the church to stop suppressing and silencing women and start embracing Paul’s ideals of mutuality and equality.


[1] Some scholars believe that the last chapter of Romans was not originally part of Paul’s letter to the Romans, but part of a letter that Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus. Paul had not yet been to Rome and did not know the Christians in Rome when he wrote his letter to the Romans, but he was already well acquainted with the Christians in Ephesus.

The list contains no fewer than twenty-six names, and as has often been said, this is rather odd to come upon in Romans, for Paul had no firsthand knowledge of the church there. But it fits in all the better with Ephesus, particularly as the list is headed by the names of Aquila and Priscilla who are to be looked for there … and of one Epaenetus, designated the “firstfruits of Asia”, the first convert to Christianity in the province. The often very individualized descriptions added to various names reveal Paul’s exact remembrance of the people he mentions and their relatives, houses, churches, and servants, tell of close relationships with them, or expressly speak in high terms of his own and the whole church’s debt to them as witnesses approved by trial, and of their courage and readiness to sacrifice and suffer – men and women, Jewish and Gentile Christians, bond and free alike.
Günther Bornkamn, Paul  (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 80.

[2] Considering the conventions of letter carriers in New Testament times, it is possible that Phoebe was the first person to read the letter to the Romans aloud. It is even more likely that she explained some of Paul’s teachings to the Roman church.

Paul’s coworkers who delivered his letters did not drop them in the mailbox and then go on their way but, rather, would likely have read them aloud to the recipients and been available to explain the significance of the references they contained.
Patrick Gray, Opening Paul’s Letters: A Reader’s Guide to Genre and Interpretation  (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), 136.

More about letter carriers in the Pauline tradition, here.

[3] Paul called Phoebe a diakonosDiakonoi (plural) were ministers in the early church. Their ministry had little in common with modern-day deacons. Whenever Paul used the term diakonos he typically used it in reference to 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, Paul 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; cf. Gal 2:17).

[4] Paul called Phoebe a prostatis. The etymology of this word gives the meaning ‘one who stands before’. The masculine form of this word is used for church leadership elsewhere in the New Testament.

The meaning of [prostatis] has been much debated. In either its masculine or feminine form it means literally ‘one who stands before.’ This meaning is never lost whether it be translated leader, president, protector or patron … Its verbal [infinitive] form is proistanai (cf. Thes 5:12; 1 Tim 5:17), a term used of male church leaders elsewhere in the New Testament.
Kevin Giles, Patterns of Ministry Among the First Christians (Sydney: Collins Dove Publishers, 1992), 36.

Jesus is called a prostatēs (the masculine form of prostatis) by Clement of Rome. In reference to Jesus. this word is usually translated as champion, protector or guardian. However, in the case of Phoebe, prostatis most likely means that she was a patron or benefactor. A patron held a respected and influential position in Greco-Roman society. (I have more about Phoebe as patron, here.)

[5] Other people who were called apostles (apostoloi) in the New Testament, other than the Twelve: Paul, Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Silas, Apollos (1 Cor 1:12), James, Jesus’ brother (Gal 1:19); Timothy, Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25), Andronicus and Junia (Rom 16:7). Jesus is also called an apostle in Hebrews 3:1. (I have more about apostles in the New Testament, here.)

[6] Paul uses the word “labour” (verb: kopiaō; noun: kopos) several times in his letters in the context of his evangelistic and apostolic ministry (1 Cor 3:8; 15:10; Gal 4:11; Phil 2:16; Col 1:29; 1 Thess 3:5). He also uses the word in reference to leadership ministries (1 Cor 16:16; 1 Thes 5:12; 1 Tim 5:17). While Paul used the word in the context of ordinary manual labour (1 Cor 4:12; 1 Thess 2:9; 2 Thes 3:8;), the description “in the Lord” means that Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis laboured in Christian ministry, possibly in evangelism or in some other leadership function (Rom 16:12). The full meaning and implication of kopiaō is of hard labour that makes the worker weary.

Thomas Schreiner has this to say about Paul’s uses of “labour”:

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

[7] Irenaeus wrote:

After the Holy Apostles [Peter and Paul] had founded and set the Church in order [in Rome] they gave over the exercise of the episcopal office to Linus. The same Linus is mentioned by St. Paul in his Epistle to Timothy. Against Heresies 3.3.3.

Chrysostom wrote, “This Linus, some say, was second Bishop of the Church of Rome after Peter.” (Source) However, there is no actual ancient evidence that Peter was ever the bishop of Rome in the first century.

[8] There are other suggestions as to the identity of Claudia. (See here.)

[9] I believe Paul’s intention in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 was to silence basic, nuisance questions from uneducated women who wanted to learn but were disrupting church meetings. In the same chapter, and using identical language in the Greek, Paul also silenced tongues-speakers and prophets in situations that were causing disturbances in meetings (1 Cor 14:28, 30, 33-34). (Other interpretations of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 are discussed here.)

[10] Many English translations, such as the NIV, have “Chloe’s household” in 1 Cor 1:11; but there is no word for “household” in the Greek: For I have been informed about you, my brothers and sisters, by those from/of Chloe, that there are rivalries/quarrels among you” (1 Cor 1:11, literal translation.)
Gordon D. Fee suggests that Chloe was a wealthy woman “whose business interests caused her agents to travel between Ephesus and Corinth.” The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 54. (I have more on Chloe, here.)

[11] Most New Testament churches were house churches. (More on this here.)

[12] Priscilla’s ministry seems to have been more prominent than Aquila’s; her name is listed first, before her husband’s, in four of the six verses that name this couple. See Acts 18:2, 18-19, 26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19.

[13] Some English translations have the masculine name “Nymphas” and the masculine pronoun “his” but there is strong textual evidence for the feminine name and pronoun. (See my article Stephanas or Stephana: Man or Woman? for more on this, here.)

[14] For example, “[The church at Laodicea] had probably been founded by the Colossian Epaphras, who shared the care of it with Nymphas, in whose house the faithful used to assemble.” (New Advent)
(I have more on Nympha, here.)

[15] F.F. Bruce, An Expanded Paraphrase of the Epistles of Paul (Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1981), 163.

[16] Chrysostom, Homilies on Philippians, 13.(New Advent)

[17] Paul mentions several of his co-workers (sunergoi) in the New Testament: 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 (Philem 1); Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke (Philem 24).

[18] W. Tarn and G.T. Griffith in Hellenistic Civilisation, 3rd Edition, (1952), 89-99. (More on this here.)

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Explore more

Paul and Women, in a Nutshell
A Collection of Articles on NT Women Church Leaders
A Collection of Articles on Paul and Women
Paul’s Theology of Ministry
All my articles on 1 Timothy 2:12 are here.
Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Paul’s Gender-Inclusive Qualifications for Church Leaders

Further Reading

Christopher R. Hutson, “Laborers in the Lord: Romans 16 and the Women in Pauline Churches,” Leaven 4.2 (2012): 29-31. https://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/leaven/vol4/iss2/9 Also on Academia.edu here.

13 thoughts on “Paul’s Greetings to Women Ministers

  1. Brilliant analysis! Great stuff.

  2. Thanks Tanya. 🙂

  3. I’m sure you must have read Phillip Payne? He argues convincingly (IMO) that the ‘women be silent’ verse was added by scribal copyists later and therefore is not part of inspired Scripture.

  4. Yes, I’ve had a good read of Payne’s “Man and Woman: One in Christ” and his investigation of ancient texts of 1 Cor 14:34-35. Gordon D. Fee also believes that these verses are an interpolation. And Metzger mentions the ambiguous treatment of these verses in the (Latin) Fuldensis.

    I briefly mention these here: https://margmowczko.com/interpretations-applications-1-cor-14_34-35/

  5. I have to agree with Tanya. This is an excellent article. Thank you, Margaret!

  6. Thank you, this is a wonderful article to use for a quick reference or within a study – as I am currently studying with my daughters on New Testament women. M6ch appreciated!

  7. There doesn’t seem to be many men who have said “Go Sister” excellent summary of the evidence. N T Wright bases the irrefutable right of women to participate fully in all ministries of the Church of their status as the first witnesses of the resurrection. He also says that it is now certain that Paul refers to Junia as an apostle, just as Paul himself was and that Phoebe would have been his representative to read his Letter to the Romans before the church assembly there.

    1. Hi Rodney,

      Perhaps not so much on this page, but there is plenty of cheering on of sisters in other places on the net. Many women ministers are also encouraged and supported in real life, in local settings and international settings.

      Thanks for your supportive and affirming comment. 🙂

  8. Thank you for sharing this article on Paul’s greetings to women leaders.
    Your opening statement/question really made me pause and think. Plus you also taught me a new word:-)

    For a couple of years I’ve been struggling with the idea of Paul being a woman-hater, or a misogynist as you so aptly put it. I follow a through-the-bible-in-a-year reading plan, and about two or three years ago I began to be discouraged when it came to Paul’s letters in the new testament. You see, I had just recently been a bible college student at a church that does not allow women leaders, and though I did not believe that to be true, their dogma continued to follow me even after I left that Church and institution. At the back of my mind I would think to myself; now how am I supposed to honestly have an open mind to what God is saying to me as a woman through His “pen” Paul? But I would struggle to read through anyway. I didn’t want to have to struggle though. Who knew that something as innocuous as greetings would hold such a solid answer for me?! Paul did not hate women, he did not disapprove of them speaking in Church. He did not hate women leaders, but referred to them as beloved. Awesome stuff! How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!

    Thank you so much for sharing your insights from God’s word. You’ve made my day. In fact, you’ve made my year!

    1. Hi Wendy,

      I truly hope your struggles with Paul’s letters are over. Paul’s female ministry colleagues were indeed valued and “beloved”, just as Jesus loved his female disciples.

      I posted this comment on Facebook today but I’ll repeat it here:

      “It seems to me that the New Testament verses that at first glance appear to limit women are a concession to culture for the sake of mission, and/ or were written about badly behaved women. They were not meant to limit the ministry of well behaved, godly women.”

      God does not want to restrict or suppress his talented daughters. That was never Paul’s intention.

      God Bless!

  9. […] Were Priscilla, Phoebe and Junia Friends?
    Paul and Women, in a Nutshell
    Paul’s Greetings to Women Ministers […]

  10. […] I advocate for women in ministry because Paul also valued women. He regarded several women as his colleagues, referring to them with identical ministry descriptions as his male colleagues (e.g., apostle, deacon, co-worker, labourer). […]

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