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Unfounded Assertions

Three times this past week I’ve been in online conversations where a person has stated that women were not leaders in early churches. Here’s what Doug told me: “A church elder or bishop of that period would have been a man . . . fact.” Nick wrote, “There are no NT examples of women elders or pastors serving over men.” (Not sure how any follower of Jesus legitimately serves over another person.) And on Twitter, David wanted proof that women were elders (presbyteroi), or bishops (episkopoi), or pastors (poimenes).

Despite the assertions of Doug and Nick, the New Testament does not tell us of a named individual, male or female, who was actually called elder, bishop, or pastor, with the exceptions of 1 Peter 5:1, 2 John 1:1, and 3 John 1:1 where the authors identify themselves as elders. The apostle Paul never identifies a named individual as an elder, bishop, or pastor. His favourite terms for ministers were coworker, diakonos (minister or deacon), apostle, and labourer, and he uses each of these words for his fellow ministers, male and female.

Priscilla the Elder

It is fair to say that men were more likely to be bishops and elders than women. Yet Paul mentions women elders (using the feminine of presbyteroi) in his first letter sent to Timothy in Ephesus. Priscilla seems to have been a leader in the house church she hosted with her husband in Ephesus and, later, in her house church in Rome. Was Priscilla an elder?

  • When Apollos was teaching in Ephesus, it was Priscilla, with her husband, who corrected his theology, and Apollos accepted their correction (Acts 18:24–26). No one else is mentioned as being involved. Correcting the doctrine of a visiting teacher is usually a role of overseers (bishops) or elders.
  • When Paul closes his first letter to the Corinthians which he wrote from Ephesus, he mentions greetings from the churches and from the brothers and sisters in Ephesus and surroundings, but he only names Aquila and Priscilla (1 Cor. 16:19–20). Clearly, this couple was well-known to the Corinthians, presumably because of their ministry.
  • When Paul wrote his second letter to Timothy in Ephesus, he sent greetings to Timothy, to Priscilla and Aquila, and to the household of Onesiphorus (2 Tim. 1:2; 4:19). No other Christians in Ephesus are greeted. Were these four named people the main leaders of the Ephesian church?
  • In Paul’s list of greetings to members of the church at Rome given in the last chapter of Romans, a list that includes 28 individuals, Priscilla is listed first (Rom. 16:3–5). First! This indicates Priscilla was also a leading figure in the church in Rome.

Priscilla and Aquila were well-known in Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome. I suggest the only thing that stops us from recognising that Priscilla and her husband were senior leaders, elders of the church, is prejudice because of Priscilla’s sex and a faulty understanding of a few New Testament verses.

Even though Paul does not identify any of his male or female colleagues as elder, bishop, or pastor, both women and men functioned as elders, etc, in New Testament congregations, especially in the early decades of the church.

Women Elders in the Early Church

Later, women were largely excluded from such ministries. Still, there are some surviving inscriptions from the first few centuries of the common era that mention Christian women called “elders.” Women elders are also mentioned in a few early church documents from Syria such as canons and church manuals.

Perhaps the biggest clue that a few churches—and not necessarily heterodox churches—had women elders is found in the Council of Laodicea (circa 360). In what I believe was a misguided move, this council banned the formal ordination of women who were elders.

It is not allowed for those women who are called ‘elders/ presbyters/ priests’ (presbytides) or ‘women presidents’ (prokathēmenai) to be ordained (kathistasthai) in the churches.
Canon 11 of the Council of Laodicea (More here.)

This canon acknowledges that in the fourth century, there were women called elders and that some presided in congregations. (Atto of Vercelli comments on this canon. See here.) Other councils and canons also restricted or banned women elders. (See my series on Women Elders in Ancient Christian Texts.) I suspect the prohibitions against women elders had more to do with cultural misconceptions about women rather than anything else.


It’s well past time for Christians to acknowledge that,

  • Some New Testament women were leaders in their churches and their ministries were valued and endorsed by Paul.
  • 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 addressed bad behaviour and were not meant to silence godly women and stifle their ministries. (1 Timothy 2:8–15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34–35 are discussed here and here.) And note that 1 Timothy 2:11-12 was about a woman in Ephesus who needed to learn, but there was no issue with Priscilla’s ministry in Ephesus; she was able to correct Apollos.
  • Various New Testament churches had differing, and sometimes fluid, leadership structures, and they did not all use the same ministry terms for their leaders. Furthermore, Paul encouraged corporate participation in church meetings (1 Cor 14:26; Col. 3:16 cf. Rom. 15:14). (This is discussed here and here.)
  • The church is weaker and the world is poorer for not allowing appropriately gifted Christian women, women such as Priscilla, to lead.

I haven’t written about women elders until now because there is little information about them in the New Testament, and evidence, such as inscriptions, needs specialist skills to be correctly understood in context.

Also, the topic of elders seems to be tied to the topic of ordination. I rarely write about ordination as there are various traditions concerning this, and some (many?) traditions have little in common with how people were recognised, chosen, or commissioned for ministry in the New Testament. Moreover, while the New Testament does show that some leaders in the church were called elders, it gives little indication of what these people did. It may be that many ordained elders today have little in common with elders of churches founded by Paul.

Today’s post is based on a short reply I gave to Doug, and then rehashed in a reply to Nick. But, because misleading statements about women elders continue to be made, I plan on writing more about these women.

© Margaret Mowczko 2017
All Rights Reserved

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Excerpt from a fresco in Pompeii showing a literate first-century woman.

Explore more

Were there women elders in New Testament churches? (part 2)
The First-Century Church and the Ministry of Women
Atto of Vercelli on Female Priests/ Elders in the Early Church
Women Elders in Ancient Christian Texts (3-part series)
A Female Teacher and Deacon in Antioch (AD 360s)
Cerula and Bitalia in Catacomb Art
The Role of Overseers in First-Century House Churches (1 Tim. 3:4–5)
More on Priscilla, here.
Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders (1 Tim. 3)
Women Church Leaders in the New Testament
The Means of Ministry: Gifts, Grace, Faith  . . . Gender?

Further Reading

Stone Epitaphs of Jewish Women in Ancient Rome

70 thoughts on “Were there women elders in New Testament churches?

  1. Great response to their inquiries/positions, Marg.

  2. As always, just brilliant writing! PTL

  3. So appreciate your insightful and well researched comments, Marg. Thank you.

  4. One aspect is that everyone that received a letter by Paul knew the actual leaders in each congregation, so such things did not need to be explicitly stated, as it was commonly known and was obvious. However, almost 2000 years later, it is not so obvious to us today. This is one of the flaws with the claim that Scripture is clear, that things that were obvious to the original hearers/readers are not obvious to us today.

    1. I agree that scripture is not as clear as some claim it to be. And I agree that the recipients of Paul’s letters knew who the leaders were in their own congregations. Yet I find it unlikely that Paul would acknowledge some people in a congregation but not acknowledge the leaders, especially in a church he did not start. Then again, perhaps he really didn’t feel a need to greet leaders, and just greeted his friends, though it is likely some of the people he greeted in Romans 16 he knew by reputation only. In a few of his letters (e.g., Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians) Paul does acknowledge the leaders in some way.

    2. Claiming there are “flaws” in Scripture based on the long history of human “interpretations” does not make Scripture unclear!
      Satan will continue to “muddy the waters” through human (scholarly) interpretations of The Living Word – Jesus until Jesus finallly removes him and his darkness.

      1. You’ve misread Don’s comment, Phil. He doesn’t claim that scripture is flawed.

      2. Right. I think all Scripture is inspired by God. But interpreters of Scripture may not be.

  5. 1 Timothy 3

     1  This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. [xref-1]

     2  A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; note xref-2 [xref-1]

     3  Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; note [xref-2]

     4  One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;

     5  (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)

     6  Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. note

     7  Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. [xref-1]

     8  Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; xref-1

     9  Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. xref-1

     10  And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless.

     11  Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.

     12  Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

     13  For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

    1. Hi Njogu,

      We are all aware of traditional translations and interpretations of 1 Timothy 3:1-7.

      Did you know that there is no word for “man” in the Greek of 1 Timothy 3:1 and 5? The Greek word translated as “man” in verse 1 is tis and means “someone” or “anyone”.

      Also, there are no masculine personal pronouns (= he, his, him) in the Greek of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 at all. None.

      More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/pauls-qualifications-for-church-leaders/

      And here’s an article on the role of episkopoi (“bishops, overseers”) and 1 Timothy 3:4-5 : https://margmowczko.com/manage-household-1-timothy-34/

      1. Fascinating! Thank you for your research.

        Does that mean all appeals here are based on the whole ‘husband of one wife’ business? [if women were not allowed to have two husbands that didn’t exactly need addressing…]

        1. Hi Lea,

          The “one-woman-man” expression is a Greek idiom. It is found in numerous ancient funerary inscriptions where it means someone who was married only once. That is, someone who remained faithful to their first spouse, even after death. In the early church, widows and widowers were discouraged from marrying again. Tertullian and others discuss this in some detail (e.g. To His Wife (Ad Uxorum). This notion is foreign to most modern western Christians.

          The idiom is used in the passage concerning moral qualification for episkopoi (bishops, overseers, supervisors) and diakonoi (deacons) in 1 Timothy 3. Presbuteroi (elders) are not mentioned here, though there would be some overlap between the elders and episkopoi in the Ephesian church. The idiom is also used for widows in 1 Timothy 5:9, and it occurs again in Titus 1:6 where it is used for elders.

          Bigamy was illegal under Roman law, and therefore practically unheard of in the Roman Empire (the setting of the first-century church). The expression doesn’t address bigamy, but marital fidelity.

          I’ve written more about this idiom in as article entitled, “Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders.” See also the footnotes of the article.

          1. Hi, I have to disagree. You state that widows and widowers were discouraged in the early church to not wed? Then how do you explain Paul’s clear command that younger widowed women be married as to not give into to gossip and busybodies? 1 Timothy 5 9-16 with emphasis on verses 11-24. You can’t say things that are not true when it comes to the Bible.

          2. Hi Keekee,

            Yes, Paul encouraged the idle young widows in Ephesus to remarry, for the reasons you include in your comment. These Ephesian widows were not occupied with serving the Lord or the church and were being a nuisance.

            Paul did not generally encourage widowed people to remarry. But unlike later authors, he did not discourage it either. Sadly, some later Christian leaders were more severe in their thoughts about remarriage than Paul.

            The term “early church” refers to the church during the years between Pentecost and the 5th or 6th centuries. During this period, there were indeed church leaders who discouraged widowed Christians from remarrying. They even discouraged Christians from marrying in the first place if a person was serious about piety and serving the Lord and the church. After the apostles, the church got a lot of things wrong.

            My statement remains true as a general statement. In the early church, widows and widowers were discouraged from marrying again, especially if they were serious about their faith and weren’t like the idle widows in Ephesus.

      2. I have found it so critical to look at the original languages as much as I can, even though I never studied them in any. All the technology really helps that.

        Marg, your reply shows exactly why. So many times translators added words or gave a different than what the original seems to mean. The added words are especially harmful as you show.

        Thanks for pointing that out 1 Timothy 3. I have never heard anyone mention that before.

      3. Well that “anyone” or “someone” must have a wife. Must be a he. 😉

        1. Only if the idiom is taken literally, but most scholars, including complementarian scholars, recognise that it refers to marital fidelity and that it doesn’t necessarily exclude women. In fact the same idiom in 1 Timothy 3:12 is thought to apply to women and well as men. More on this here: https://margmowczko.com/pauls-theology-1-timothy-3-2-priscilla/ Check out the footnotes and poostscripts too.

          Also, if each of the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 are taken as mandatory then people such as Jesus and Paul would be disqualified from being supervisors (episkopoi) as they did not have a wife, or children, or a household of their own. The qualifications are essentially moral qualifications. Moral (and suitably gifted) people can be church leaders.

          1. I really want to believe this, but the greek works in 3:2 & 3:12 are “one woman man” and in 5:9 the words are reversed and say “one man woman”. Is that common for idioms? It looks more like it is using gender specific language there.

          2. Hi Lara,

            All Greek nouns (articles, adjective and participles) are either masculine feminine or neuter, and this grammatical gender does not always correspond with the actual gender of the subject.

            Furthermore, generally speaking, it is common in Greek to have masculine priority as the default, and these masculine expressions may or may not include women. On the other hand, when only women are the subjects, only then is feminine language used.

            For example, the masculine word for “brother” (adelphos) is used throughout the New Testament, but often verses that contain “brother” also apply to women.

            It is a bit more complicated than that, and 1 Timothy 3 probably anticipates that most episkopoi will be men, but none of the qualifications in this passage completely rule out the possibility of women being episkopoi.

            You may be interested in a more recent article on episkopoi here.

  6. Let’s use our imaginations. Not every person in a leadership position is mentioned in the New Testament letters. Comments and continued thinking like Doug and Nick’s continues to marginalize the value and importance of women as persons who very likely were leaders and mentors to others women. Yes, it was and is a patriarchal culture, yet women are persons and therefore are able to serve and lead as G-d through his Holy Spirit guides.

    1. We are not told the identity of most of the leaders in New Testament churches. It seems to me that Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, the chosen lady, Philip’s daughters, and other women were leaders in their congregations, whatever titles they may or may not have had. Some women were even leaders further afield.

      1. A great debate which has given me a lot of encouragement to have some of my women appointed to leadership.

        God isn’t standing over us with a big stick, so if my women edify the body from a leadership perspective and otherwise, so be it.

        Marg, your research and range of knowledge of early church studies will be a great help to many.

        Thank you in Jesus name.

        1. Thanks, Chris.

  7. Hi Marg. Fabulous article. I would just like to add a thought to the discourse regarding elders. In the entire context of scripture is found the fullness of Christ. That fullness is demonstrated by our love for one another. Therefore, setting gender aside, Paul’s founding principle regarding elders is located in maturity. A mature Christian knows how to serve accordingly. And since Paul talked about being led by the Spirit we know that our maturity is squarely seen in our ability to be so led. A mind controlled by the Spirt (NLT language) etc. is largely the mind of Christ. Because I am rueful God is around arguing who is in charge knowing He is, a mature believer will be focused on demonstrating love as Christ did. Think about the profound nature of some of Christian teaching. We possess His image and likeness and He is not only love but the actual word. Are we to be fooled this is not our course work? From this concept alone we can see we are TO BE love, light, truth as He is. Mature people are simply not focused on anything but Spirt led living and in that maturity we find an amazing demonstration of love. Perhaps if we refocused as an entire body on elders as being mature….and their qualifications as demonstrations of true genuine and authoritative love, we would find less need to argue about leadership roles and gender and discover we are all “leaders” in some capacity as servants and the target is to be a mature believer and to submit to those who have this walk so we may learn of God through them. If it doesn’t point back to Christ then question the fruit. We never lose our ministry of reconciliation and to be great in the Kingdom is to serve and to teach should be from the mind of Christ…that is by the Spirit. Truly, you can study the word and it is a good thing, but if the outcome does not produce the fruit of the Spirit then wonder about it…you “know” the word but have no love (Jesus said it to the Pharisees) and Paul said you could have all knowledge but it’s nothing without love. And Paul also wrote that knowledge can make us arrogant but love builds. Mature believers will be serving, never lording (being over) because they know (yada) God in ever increasing fullness. My two cents. Disagree if you like internet world, but the foundation is love.

    1. I don’t think that anyone would disagree that love is, or should be, the primary motivation in our relationships. Love is a primary indicator of genuine followers of Jesus (John 13:35; Eph. 5:1-2).

      1. I appreciate your teaching and dedication to the truth Marg! You offer amazing insight in your study and demonstration of encouragement and healing for hundreds. Thank you for the time you take to share your discoveries!

        1. You’re welcome, Apryl.

  8. Please, dont forget Phoebe who was minister of the church of Cenchreae and prostatis (leader). She could be the only one pastor named in the New Testament.

    1. Hi Désiré,

      Yes, let’s not forget Phoebe. 🙂 In my previous article, I show that Priscilla, Phoebe and Junia knew each other.

      I translate prostatis as “patron“. I think it is unlikely that Phoebe was a “leader” of Paul but that she was one of his benefactors (Rom. 16:2 NIV, ESV, HSC, CEB). Also, I haven’t seen the feminine prostatis used for leaders, only the masculine prostatēs.But male and female patrons were people of influence and clout.

      I think the chosen lady is an even more obvious candidate for pastor, though we do not know her name. The fact remains that, apart from Jesus, no minister is called pastor (or, shepherd) in the New Testament.

  9. Thank you for taking this topic on. You really summed up the importance of this issue with this one sentence…”The church is weaker and the world is poorer for not allowing appropriately gifted Christian women, women such as Priscilla, to lead.” The church today is missing out on what God has deposited in so many women.

    I am thankful for houses that recognize this and who like you are really willing to set aside tradition to study the scriptures and see what God’s heart really is towards women. I spent many years in my young adult life relegating what God might do in me and through me to pretty limited understanding. Thankfully, God led me to deeper revelation of women’s capabilities in Christ, and I am now walking in so much freedom and life.

    Have you heard of Kris Vallotton’s book called Fashioned to Reign? It’s a great resource for the discussion of women following Christ’s lead.

    1. Hi Jeanette,

      I’m enjoying this freedom and life too. 🙂
      I have heard of Kris’s book, but haven’t read it.

  10. Hi, can you please elaborate on the context in 1 Timothy 2 : 11? Seems pretty confusing because we have a Woman leading all affair of the ministry I belong.

    1. Hi Daniel,

      There was at least one woman leading in various ministries in the church at Cenchrea in the first century, and in Philippi and in Laodicea, as just a few examples.

      I have written several articles on 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Look for the category in the sidebar on your computer (or look below if you are on a more portable device). But this article may be a good place to start:

      Paul had no problem with godly, capable women as ministers. He had several female ministry colleagues who he valued and worked closely with (e.g., Priscilla, Euodia and Syntyche). But he did have a problem with a woman who was not ready to minister and teach, who was not behaving well, and needed to learn: a woman spoken about in 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

  11. Most churches met in homes. There were many more female Christians than male. Especially after they began to rescue baby girls left out to die. It seems reasonable to think women would be more mature than men.

    Ordination back then was more on anointing and gifts than a formal process. (IMO)

    In Korea 75% of all small groups are led by women. Why? They are available and willing and mature.

  12. Thank you for writing about this! I was reading the conversation on twitter and it was making me so mad I had to stop. It’s so hard for me to believe that there are people still out there that want to defend this position, that women can’t teach men in the church. Give me a break.

  13. Marg,

    Your articles have been so helpful to me. I come from a conservative, complementarian, American evangelical tradition, and am a current ministry worker and former pastor. I was raised and trained to only see the texts on gender through one lens and was told I’d be a theological liberal if I interpreted them any other way. Over the past year or so my wife and I have been on a journey to better understand gender and leadership in the Scriptures in, I think, a more holistic, faithful, and contextual way. (God was actually stirring in my heart first and I was afraid to mention anything to her!) Anyway, thank you!! I’m grateful for your ministry and help to me personally.

    1. Hi James,

      Thanks for your comment. It’s great to hear that God is stirring people’s hearts about the status of men and women in Christ. I pray your journey will be blessed!

      Allow me to just drop this link here. https://margmowczko.com/tag/esv/ 😉

      1. Thanks. I noticed you read my post. That is precisely one of the reasons I was convicted to read multiple translations. 🙁

  14. Hi Marg,

    Wonderful article as always! God is doing great things through you 🙂

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on the frescoes of Cerula and Bitalia in the San Gennaro catacomb in Naples. Might the iconography imply these women held teaching positions? I’ve been searching for male examples for comparison to see if they are depicted with the open Gospels, tongues of fire, staurogram overhead, etc. but haven’t managed to find any.

    1. Thank you, Jenna.

      I’ve also have not seen funerary art of men with the Gospels, etc. I don’t think Cerula and Bitalia were church leaders. I think they may have been wealthy, pious women. If they were presbyters or deaconesses, I would expect those words to have been included in the fresco.

      I asked Ally Kateusz today about any similar frescoes with men, as she has made these two women famous. She replied with, “I have a chapter coming out in an Oxford University Press anthology edited by Joan Taylor later this year which will fully answer that question, but in a nutshell, that particular composition, with the open gospels painted at their head, has not elsewhere survived.”

      I like Ally’s article about certain other artifacts that depicts women in liturgical scenes here. This article is quite compelling. But I don’t see eye-to-eye with her on some other points in other publications.

      A few years ago, lots of people were incorrectly saying that the orante, or orans figure (a woman praying with hands raised) represents a female church leader. This figure is common in catacomb art and doesn’t necessarily denote leadership.

      Similarly, some have said that the fresco Fractio Panis in the Priscilla catacomb depicts women sharing/serving the Eucharist, but I believe the image is of a funerary banquet or a banquet in the afterlife.

      After the first century, few women were recognised or ordained as presbyters in the same way men were.

      Update: I’ve written about the frescoes of Cerula and Bitalia here: https://margmowczko.com/cerula-bitalia-catacombs/

      1. Thank you so much for your wonderful response and for the links. I can’t wait to dig into those articles. I’ve been meaning to order *Crispina* as well as Ally’s book *Mary and Early Christian Women*, so I really appreciate you sharing her quote with me!

        I see about Cerula and Bitalia. Such inspiring portraits in any case 🙂

  15. Wow. Stumbled on your blog looking to do exactly what you have already done… understand in context and root meaning the best explanation of some tension filled scriptures that tend to leave many of us in church leadership trying to encourage and work alongside our female ministers while also being as true as we know how to be to the written text.

    It has left our staff walking away from meetings with heavy hearts on more than one occasion. But the tension has led to humble seeking hearts in us all.

    So I want to say thank you for this incredible amount of careful work you have done in both investigating and communicating with others on this topic.

    I will be reading more of your work as I continue to prayerfully seek clarity surrounding this. Thank you again for your work and more importantly your heart and humble spirit in presenting your findings.


    1. You’re very welcome, Andrew. And thanks for your kinds words.

  16. Romans 16
    Young’s Literal Translation
    16 And I commend you to Phebe our sister — being a ministrant of the assembly that [is] in Cenchrea —

    2 that ye may receive her in the Lord, as doth become saints, and may assist her in whatever matter she may have need of you — for she also became a leader of many, and of myself.

    3 Salute Priscilla and Aquilas, my fellow-workmen in Christ Jesus —

    *This verse is rendered with major differences in translation according to which version you read. The Greek uses the word ‘deacon’… Also see the Modern Literal Version.

    1. Thanks for this, Mick. The Greek words used for Phoebe, diakonos (“ministrant” in YLT) and prostatis (“leader” in YLT), unmistakably signify that she was a prominent minister in her church at Cenchrea. Clearly, Paul held her in high regard.

      And synergoi (“coworkers,” “fellow-workmen” in YLT) is Paul’s favourite word for a minister.

      Here is a list of all of Paul’s synergoi (“coworkers”) mentioned in his surviving letters; the list includes three women:
      Priscilla, Aquila, Urbanus, and Timothy (Rom. 16:3, 9, 21); Paul and Apollos as coworkers of God (1 Cor. 3:9); Stephanas and his household ( 1 Cor. 16:16); Silas, Timothy and Paul as coworkers with the Corinthians, and Titus (2 Cor. 1:24; 8:23); Epaphroditus, Euodia, Syntyche, and Clement (Phil. 2:25; 4:3); Philemon, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke (Philem. 1:1, 24).

  17. From your expositions it is extremely clear that you are a mature Christian. Your arguments rightly correspond with Scripture: Galatians 3 : 28. God does not care about gender: He is interested in those who will depopulate hell and populate heaven through “The Great Commission “. We love you. Pastor Ferdinand King Donani. Living Like Jesus Church Int. Oyibi, Accra, Ghana. 1 Cor 15 : 58.

    1. Thank you, Pastor Ferdinand.

  18. If Paul had wanted to restrict church office to males only, how might he have phrased it that would leave no doubt as to the sex of the individuals?

    1. Hello Patrick, There are several ways he might have worded it, but Paul wasn’t interested in “offices” as such.

      He also wasn’t interested in titles. Paul often describes the ministries of his male and female ministry colleagues with 2, 3, and even 4 ministry terms. (Epaphroditus is described with 4 ecclesial terms in Philippians 2:25, for example.)

      Paul seems to use several terms with flexibility and interchangeably. And sometimes he just calls a fellow minister “brother” or “sister.”

      When Paul mentions Timothy in his letters, for example, he refers to him as a co-worker (Rom. 16:21; 1 Thess. 3:2), as a brother (2 Cor. 1:1, Phlm. 1:1a; Col. 1:1; 1 Thess. 3:2), as a minister (diakonos) (1 Tim. 4:6), and as a slave of Christ (Phil. 1:1). Did Timothy have an office? I doubt it.

      Paul wasn’t interested in restricting sound ministry from anyone. He silenced problem speaking from men and women in Corinth, while encouraging edifying and orderly speaking without specifying gender (1 Cor. 14:26-40). And he addressed and corrected problem behaviour from certain men and women in Ephesus (1 Tim. 2:8-15). But most people tend to only focus on the verses that mention women.

      Paul’s overall theology of ministry was, You have a gift; use it to build up others. Being male wasn’t a prerequisite.

      For all these reasons, and probably more, Paul never forbids women from any ministry.

      I’ve written more about Paul’s terminology for ministers here:

      And I’ve written more about Paul’s theology of ministry and his ministry requirements here:

      1. Greetings Ma’am, (Marg) thank you for your research and keen insight. Many male ministers point out that Jesus didn’t call any females to be part of the “12” or the (Matt 28:19) commissioned apostles. I believe the overall societal view of women in general played a part in this alleged “exclusion of women from the initial group of Apostles. Im thinking Women were second class citizens (of sorts) and how could Jesus send a woman on a dangerous missionary (on ship etc) like he could a man? I believe the “law” and / or societies view of females limited their involvement in ministry in certain senses, especially being called in the great commission… What say ye?

        1. Hello Lamonte, One of the primary roles of the Twelve was to be witnesses of Jesus’s entire ministry (cf. Acts 1:21-22), and in Jesus’s day, the testimony of women wasn’t regarded as highly as the testimony of men.

          Josephus, writing in the late first century, expresses sentiments that were common at the time.

          “But let not a single witness be credited, but three, or two at the least, and those such whose testimony is confirmed by their good lives. But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex. Nor let servants be admitted to give testimony, on account of the ignobility of their soul; since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment.” (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 4.8.15, §219)

          However, there are more reasons why it makes sense that the Twelve were all men. I’ve written about this here. https://margmowczko.com/the-twelve-apostles-were-all-male/

          From the beginning, and throughout the history of the church, some Christian women have been engaging in dangerous and difficult missions (e.g., Junia). Sometimes it was dangerous even to be a Christian (e.g., Perpetua and Blandina cf. Acts 22:4).

          Missions need women, and women were part of many missionary endeavours in the apostolic and post-apostolic periods (e.g., 1 Cor. 9:5 KJV). I’ve written about 1 Corinthians 9:5 KJV here: https://margmowczko.com/believing-wives-female-co-workers-of-the-apostles/

        2. The “Pecking Order” so to speak, God put in motion had nothing to do with the idea women are second class citizens, and has nothing to do with “equality” either.
          God knows the (inherited) sin traits are different for men and women. Consider Adam and Eve’s different reaction to Satan’s deception. God said men must fulfill their responsibility.

          1. Phil, Christians are not ruled or constrained by sin, at least, they shouldn’t be. Jesus came to deal with the problem of sin, including Adam and Eve’s sin. See Romans 6:17-18; 22-23; 8:5, etc.

            As New Creation people we have a new nature and are led by the Spirit, not by sin!

            Redeemed followers of Jesus are gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit gives ministry gifts without apparent regard for gender. See 1 Corinthians 12.

            Every list of ministries in the New Testament is given (in the Greek) without specifying gender in any way. See Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:4ff; 1 Corinthians 14:26; Colossians 3:16; cf. Acts 2:17-18; 1 Peter 4:9-11.

            Jesus did not authorise a pecking order among his followers.

            Paul did not teach a pecking order in the body of Christ. If anything, Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to bestow more honour on the church members who lacked it in broader society so that there would be an evening of status and greater unity in the church.

            And Paul used ministry terms for his fellow ministers (male and female alike) that convey the ideas of camaraderie and service, not positions, hierarchies, or pecking orders. Spirit-led ministers do not “peck” for positions; they humbly serve.

            Humanity, men and women, have a responsibility as God’s regents and stewards of his world (Genesis 1:26-28). We should all fulfil our collective and individual responsibilities. Furthermore, followers of Jesus are all members of a royal priesthood with Jesus as our High Priest.

            Let’s be wary about stifling the ministry of stewards of God’s grace. Let’s not silence the Priscillas in our generation.

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

  19. Sister, you missed my point completely. But, thanks for the lengthy response (sermon) full of (unnecessary) advice.

    1. Phil, My understanding of your comment is that you think women are not second-class citizens but that there is a pecking order in the church that excludes women from some rungs of that pecking order. Women are excluded because their sin nature is different from men’s sin nature.

      Is that not your point?

      Your failure to see the relevance of my previous response does you no credit. Pecking orders and sin natures should have no place in the body of Christ.

  20. No……there were no female elders in the New Testament. That goes directly against God’s word that the position of elder and bishop is suppose to be a man. Titus 1:5-9

    Even the position of deacon……the apostles gathered all the disciples….called them brothers… and instructed them to pick 7 from among them to be appointed for the duty. Acts 6:2-4

    1. Hello Ray,

      I’ve written about the seven men in Acts 6 here:
      None of the Seven are called a diakonos (“minister, deacon”) in the New Testament.

      Diakonos was Paul’s word for a minister, not Luke’s. And Paul doesn’t just use the word for male ministers. I’ve listed all the people who Paul calls a diakonos here:

      I’ve written about the idiom “husband of one wife, wife of one husband,” which is used four times in the Pastoral Epistles, here:
      Note also the footnotes and postscripts which show how the early church understood the phrase.

      Also, since Paul uses the feminine form of presbyteroi (“elders”) in 1 Timothy 5, we can’t really say that there were no women elders in the New Testament. And there were plenty of women called presbyteresses (female elders) in the early church, especially in Syria. I’ve collected ancient evidence of this here:

      As I say in the article, Priscilla functioned as an elder in the Christian communities at Ephesus and at Rome, and there’s no reason to suppose she was the only woman to have such a function.

      Paul doesn’t restrict the ministry of any godly and gifted person, and he used the same ministry terms for his male and female ministry collegaues who he identifies by name.

      We need more couples like Priscilla and Aquila, working side by side, in the Christian community and in the broader community.

  21. […] Precisely how a woman was controlling or domineering a man is not known with certainty. Nevertheless, I suggest we can apply a general sense of “domineer” in 1 Timothy 2:12. One thing I am certain of is that Paul was not disallowing capable women from ministering, even as leaders. Paul valued the ministry of leading women such as Priscilla, Phoebe, and Nympha. […]

  22. […] More recently, Adolf von Harnack stated  “She was a fellow-labourer of Paul i.e. a missionary and at the same time the leader of a small church, and both of these injunctions imply that she taught.” He and Ruth Hoppin each speculate that Priscilla may have been the author of the book of Hebrews. An interesting article about this subject is here. I suggest Priscilla and Aquila were leaders, or elders, of the church in Ephesus, here. […]

  23. […] Were there women elders in New Testament churches? […]

  24. […] Were there women elders in New Testament Churches? […]

  25. […] [7] Some suggest that because Priscilla didn’t teach in a church meeting in Acts 18, her correction of Apollos’s teaching doesn’t serve as a precedent for women teaching in church services today. And they usually connect this idea with “teaching authority” and Sunday morning sermons. But what does it matter where or when Priscilla, with Aquila, corrected Apollos who was himself a teacher and an up-an-coming apostle? By way of example, the authority of Paul’s teaching didn’t change if he was in a synagogue, or a public square, or a prison cell, or a lecture hall, or in a house church. It didn’t change if he was preaching to women in Philippi, to a Roman jailor, or standing before the Jerusalem Council or Roman governors. It didn’t change if he taught on the Sabbath, on the first day of the week (Sunday), or in the middle of the week. Paul was still the same person, delivering essentially the same message, guided by the same Holy Spirit, called and authorized by God. Some of Paul’s letters from prison, which were written over several days and weeks, have had the most lasting influence and authority of all his words: his written words have more influence and authority than his spoken words. I have no doubt that Priscilla often taught in the house church that she and Aquila hosted and cared for in Ephesus and in Rome. 1 Timothy 2:12 taken out of context does not invalidate her teaching ministry and it should not restrict the teaching ministry of women today. (I look more at Priscilla’s role in Ephesus and Rome here.) […]

  26. […] Were there women elders in New Testament churches? […]

  27. […] Were there women elders in New Testament churches? […]

  28. […] Of all the Christians in the city, it was Priscilla and Aquila who approached Apollos with the aim of explaining the “way of God” (i.e. theology) to him more accurately (Acts 18:26). That they approached him may well be an indication of the couple’s function as leaders, or elders, in the Christian community at Ephesus. […]

  29. […] The feminine word for “elders” is used in 1 Timothy 5:2. Is Paul speaking about female elders here? There is nothing in the New Testament that rules out the possibility that some elders in some churches were women. I suspect Priscilla was an elder of the church at Ephesus when she and her husband corrected the doctrine of Apollos. Moreover, the church at Ephesus seems to have been founded by Priscilla and Aquila. […]

  30. Hi Marg!

    Thanks so much for your good work on this. I popped this in the contact form but saw that you prefer questions via comment so will put this one here in the hopes you see it.

    I’m working on an article re: translation choices in Titus. Do you have any sense of why English translations have opted for “older men/older women” in Titus 2:2-3 and “elders” in 1:5 when the words have conceptual overlap if not are comparative synonyms?

    I’m not finding any discussion of this in commentaries beyond: sometimes this word means “older men/women”. Given the broader grammatical construction of the entire epistle and Paul’s stated point, it seems much more likely to me that 2 is a subpoint of 1:5 – clarification on the type of elders he was to appoint. Given the lack of formalized holy offices & the situation in Crete it also seems quite likely that the church needed wise aged ppl to lead.

    But since I’m not finding any discussion of any kind I’m wondering if I’m simply misreading the Greek or missing something? Your site is the only resource I’ve found thus far even naming this possibility, let alone indicating it is worthy of conversation. Thanks for any insight you can lend.

    1. Hi Marissa, I think the answer is somewhat simple. The comparison is between young and old, between different age groups, as well as the two different sexes. This comparison is clear in the Greek and would have been understood by ancient audiences where being an elder was all about seniority.

      However, for modern audiences, the comparison could be lost if we use the words male elders, female elders, young women, and young men. This is because, in many churches today, being older in age is not a requirement of elders despite what the name suggests, and being an elder is an official position for a select few.

      Titus 2:1-8 is about socially respectable behaviour “so that any opponent will be ashamed, because he doesn’t have anything bad to say about us.” And this applies to all members of the church, young and old, whether they are appointed church elders or not.

      We have a similar difficulty in working out whether to use the word “elder” or “older man/ woman” 1 Timothy 5:1-2 (cf. 1 Timothy 5:17ff). But the comparison is primarily of age, young and old.

      (I’m more likely to see comments here than through the Contact form. Because lots of scammers and adverstisers use it, I sometimes scan and delete Contact form comments too quickly.)

      1. Thank you so much for this insight, Marg! I appreciate it!

        I am attempting to make the case that because “elder” in Christian teaching is most commonly associated with a function which, as you name here, has been separated from age that we read “elder” in 1:5 in a specific way and “old men/women in 2:2-3 as a separate topic.

        I think given the informal organization of the early church at that time, it much more likely that Paul had in mind that the “elders” would be the “old men/old women” of the community.

        And I think the English translation loses some of that. In any case, thank you so much for sharing this insight – it’s a help!

  31. […] Were there women elders in New Testament churches? […]

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