Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Close this search box.

This blog post is the third of three taken from my chapter “Women and Men and Ministry in First-Century Churches” in Co-workers and Co-leaders: Women and Men Partnering for God’s Work, Amanda Jackson and Peirong Lin (eds) (WEA Global Issues Series, Vol. 22; Bonn: CPI Books/ Wipf and Stock, 2021), 59–73.

This book can be purchased through Amazon USA and Amazon UK. A short interview about the book is on YouTube, here.

Click here to go to part 1.


Being a Christian in the first century could be difficult and dangerous (c.f. Acts 15:26). There was often suspicion, alienation, and even persecution from family, friends, and the community when someone rejected their traditional customs, Jewish or pagan, to follow Jesus. It could be even more difficult for ministers. Reflecting this hardship, 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 Thes 3:5).

Paul also used the word ‘labour’ in reference to local leadership ministries. For example,

Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who labour (kopiaō) among you, who lead/care (proistēmi) for you in the Lord, and who advise you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13a (own translation. cf. 1 Tim 5:17; 1 Cor 16:16).

While he occasionally used kop– words in the context of ordinary manual labour (1 Cor 4:12; 1 Thes 2:9; 2 Thes 3:8), in most other contexts Paul is referring to Christian ministry.

V.a Mary of Rome, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis

Paul identifies four women in Romans 16 using ‘labour’ words: Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis.

Greet Mary, who has laboured hard for you… Greet those labourers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet our dear friend Persis, who has laboured hard in the Lord. Romans 16:6, 12 (own translation).

Paul does not indicate what these women were doing other than toiling hard. If 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 is a guide, however, they may have been involved in leading and caring (proistēmi) for their congregations and in advising and instructing fellow believers.[1] We are told that Mary, in particular, worked hard for the members of the church at Rome (Ro 16:6). On the other hand, if Paul’s use of ‘labour’ to describe his apostolic ministry is a guide, perhaps the women were involved in evangelism. Whatever the case, all four women were hard workers involved in significant ministries endorsed by Paul. In 1 Corinthians 16:16, Paul told the Corinthian church to submit to everyone who ministers as a coworker and labourer. Cooperating with such ministers would make their hard work easier.

V.b Andronicus and Junia

Not only was ministry difficult, it could also be dangerous. Paul faced dangers many times, as did other Christian ministers. Paul acknowledges, for example, that Prisca and Aquila had risked their necks for him (Ro 16:4).

From the beginning, Christian women and men were persecuted, imprisoned, and even killed for their faith and ministry. Before his Damascus Road experience, Paul himself was responsible for the imprisonment and murder of Christians. He admitted, ‘I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison’ (Acts 22:4 NIV; cf. Acts 8:3; 9:1ff). In Romans 16:7, we hear about a missionary couple who were imprisoned with Paul, presumably because of their ministry.

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Romans 16:7 (NIV)

Andronicus and Junia may have been husband and wife, or brother and sister, but Junia’s identity as a woman has been hidden in some texts and translations. Some thought she was a man named Junias.[2] However, the masculine name Junias does not exist in ancient inscriptions or literature, whereas the feminine name is well-attested. Furthermore, ancient and medieval commentators on Romans overwhelmingly understood Junia to be a woman.[3]

Others have baulked at the idea that Junia, a woman, was an apostle. Andronicus and Junia were not among the Twelve, but there are people who are called apostles in the New Testament who were not among the Twelve. These other apostles include Paul, Barnabas (Acts 14:3-4, 14), Apollos (1 Cor 1:12), anonymous brothers with an important mission (2 Cor. 8:23), Silas and Timothy (1 Thes 2:6; cf. 1 Thes 1:1), Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25), as well as Andronicus and Junia.

An apostle (apostolos) is someone who is ‘sent’ (apostellō) on a mission. Church history is full of examples of men and women who have been sent by the church or been driven by a personal calling to pioneer ministries that have furthered the gospel, ministries that can be described as apostolic. Chrysostom, a native Greek speaker, understood that Paul had counted Junia as ‘worthy of the appellation of apostle’ (Homily 31 on Romans).

Andronicus and Junia’s apostolic ministry landed them in jail. Perhaps their message had caused a disturbance. Prisons in ancient times were often dark, cramped, putrid, and generally miserable places. Prisoners could be chained or placed in stocks. And women, such as Junia, could be sexually abused by male prison guards. Furthermore, if Andronicus and Junia were freedmen, rather than having the status of freeborn Roman citizens, their imprisonment would most likely have involved torture. Nevertheless, Paul mentions their imprisonment, and states their other credentials, as a way of honouring them as an outstanding missionary couple.


Paul mentions at least eighteen women in his letters and he speaks about them in terms of their faith and ministry. He uses the same ministry terms―coworker, diakonos, brother/ sister, apostle, and labourer―for both his male and female ministry colleagues, and there is not the slightest hint of censure from him about women who functioned as leaders in their churches.[4] Nevertheless, after Paul’s time, women were increasingly restricted and were excluded from many of the ministries that were open to their brothers.

People who limit the ministry of women frequently cite 1 Timothy 2:12 to support their position.

I do not permit a woman to teach or to domineer[5] a man; rather, she is to be quiet. 1 Timothy 2:12 (own translation)

This verse is not prohibiting the ministry of well-behaved and educated women. This becomes apparent when we pull back from this one verse and look at its immediate context, the context of problem behaviour.

In 1 Timothy 2:8, Paul addresses the problem of angry, quarrelling men in the Ephesian church; ‘men’ is plural. In 1 Timothy 2:9-10, Paul addresses the problem of overdressed rich Ephesian women; ‘women’ is plural. Then in verses 11-15, Paul addresses the problem of a woman who needed to learn and was not allowed to teach. Presumably, she needed to learn scripture and Christian doctrine. She was also not allowed to domineer a man, probably her husband. ‘Woman’ and ‘man’ are singular in verses 11-12. There is also a singular verb in verse 15 correctly translated as ‘she will be saved’: she will be saved if they (the married couple) continue in faith, love and holiness. I suggest 1 Timothy 2:11-15 is about a couple in the Ephesian church, and that the wife was teaching and behaving badly.

In 1 Timothy 2:13-14 Paul gives correct summary statements of Genesis 2 and 3. It is not clear why he mentions Adam and Eve, but it may have been to correct the woman’s faulty teaching of the Law (Torah), perhaps a corrupted version of Genesis 2 and 3 that favoured Eve (cf. 1 Tim 1:3-4, 7). There were allegorical, fanciful, and distorted versions of the Adam and Eve story circulating in the first century.

1 Timothy 2:15 is a difficult verse to decipher but it may be about the woman’s domineering behaviour towards her husband. She may have been refusing sex and avoiding childbirth for reasons of piety. Some in the Ephesian church were even forbidding marriage (1 Tim 4:3a). Sexual renunciation was not uncommon in the early church. Much of 1 Corinthians 7 was written in response to the issue of married and single Corinthian Christians who were choosing to become and remain celibate.

In 1 Timothy 2:8-15, Paul addresses problem behaviour of specific men and specific women in the Ephesian church and he offers corrections. Paul also gave directives about problem behaviour of both men and women in 1 Corinthians 14:26-40. This passage contains the verses 1 Corinthians 14:34-35: ‘women are to be silent in the churches …’ These passages in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians, about issues in the Ephesian and Corinthian churches, are not Paul’s general thoughts about ministry. The apostle’s overall theology of ministry was, ‘You have a gift, use it to build up the church,’ and he does not exclude women from his general statements about ministry, including leadership and teaching ministries, in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians chapter 12, and Ephesians 4:11-13.


The New Testament shows that in the first century, just as today, there were different ways of organizing ministries. Some churches were mostly led by men, others were led by women or by women and men together. But nowhere in the New Testament are godly and capable women expressly forbidden from ministering in any capacity. Moreover, Paul valued women and endorsed their ministries.

Paul planted a church in Lydia’s home.
He introduced Phoebe to the church at Rome as his sister, as a minister or deacon, as a patron of many, and he entrusted his letter to the Romans to her.
He valued the ministries of Prisca, Euodia, and Syntyche as his coworkers in the gospel.
He positively acknowledged the ministry labours of Mary of Rome, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis.
He referred to Junia as a fellow Jew, his fellow prisoner, and as outstanding among the apostles.
Paul warmly mentions no less than ten women in Romans chapter 16.

There are still more women whom Paul acknowledges in his letters.
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 recognized the house church of Nympha in Laodicea and asked that greetings be passed on to her and her church.[6]
He respected the faith and teaching of Lois and Eunice.

If the example of these women was the starting point and focus in discussions on women in ministry, I suspect the church and the world would be in a better state. The church benefits when the gifts, talents, perspectives, and life experiences of both men and women are used without artificial restrictions. The church is stronger when men and women can minister together and work side by side, shoulder to shoulder.

How would it change our churches if we acknowledge that the apostle Paul valued and endorsed the ministries of gifted women and did not limit them? Who are the women in your church that God wants to use as ministers and leaders?


[1] It may be that in all eight occurrences of the word proistēmi in the New Testament―in Romans 12:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 1 Timothy 3:4, 5, 12, 5:17, and Titus 3:8, 14―there is a sense of caring and providing for combined with a sense of leading or managing. (More on this, here.)

[2] In a few texts and translations, Euodia (Phil 4:2-3) and Nympha (Col 4:15) have also been turned into men with the masculine names Euodias and Nymphas. (More on this, here.) But the scholarly consensus is that these individuals, as well as Junia, were women.

[3] A list of early and medieval Christian scholars who took the name to be feminine is here.

[4] Paul does not refer to any of his ministry colleagues as bishops (episkopoi), elders/ presbyters, or pastors. Though he uses these terms a few times in his letters, he does not identify or describe any individual with these terms.

[5] The Greek word behind “to domineer” is authentein. This word does not refer to a healthy kind of authority, but to a controlling and absolute use of power that is unacceptable from men or women. More information on authentein is here.

[6] See my article, Nympha: A House Church Leader in the Lycus Valley.

Thank you to those who support my ministry. It is greatly appreciated.
You can support my work for as little as $3 USD a month at Patreon.

Women and Men and Ministry in First-Century Churches

Part 1: Female Followers of Jesus and Church Overseers
Part 2: Paul’s Diakonoi and Coworkers
Part 3: Difficult Dangerous Ministries and 1 Timothy 2:12

Explore more

1 Corinthians 16:16 Applies to Women Ministers Too
A List of the 29 People in Romans 16:1-16
Did Jesus aim to spare women from persecution?
Apostles in the New Testament
Chrysostom on 5 Women Church Leaders in the New Testament
“Must Manage His Own Household” (1 Tim. 3:4-5) (proistēmi))
More articles on Andronicus and Junia.
More articles on Priscilla and Aquila.
More articles on 1 Timothy 2:12.
More articles on Paul’s Theology of Ministry.



15 thoughts on “Women and Men and Ministry in First-Century Churches (3)

  1. ‘Mary’ (Romans 16:6) was a very common name. But Chrysostom knew about this particular Mary of Rome. (He had access to sources of information which we no longer have.) In his Homily 31 on Romans, he refers to her teaching of the word, and that her ministry involved dangers and travels.
    So, she was someone who worked very hard serving the church as a gifted teacher; and her acceptance of dangers shows that she was willing to suffer in order to serve Christ.
    This also provides helpful context for understanding that Chrysostom likewise had information about the apostle Junia beyond what is stated in Paul’s letter.

    1. Thanks, as always, Marg. Andrew, I would be interested to know your reasons for thinking that Chrysostom had his own sources. He sometimes has great insights. He lived far from Mary in time and space.

      1. “I would be interested to know your reasons for thinking that Chrysostom had his own sources” I don’t know Andrew’s reasons, but I think it is totally implausible to think that every single document available to Chrysostom in the fourth Century has survived to the present day in some form or another. So I think it is a very reasonable assumption that Chrysostom had access to more information than we have.

        1. There were numerous documents available to Eusebius the church historian that are now lost. But Eusebius usually makes it plain that he is referring to these documents. It doesn’t sound, to me at least, that Chrysostom is referring to documents.

          On the other hand, there were probably lots of stories of Bible characters circulating that were not recorded. Judging from some stories that were written down and have survived, however, I’m not sure how reliable they were. I have not come across a story involving Mary of Rome.

    2. Chrysostom’s comments on Mary of Rome came up in a conversation last week between Richard and me on my website. Here’s a remark I made.

      Chrysostom, who probably didn’t have an entirely accurate picture of the situation, nevertheless wrote, “For the women of those days were more spirited than lions, sharing with the apostles their labours for the gospel’s sake. In this way they went travelling with them, and also performed all other ministries.” (Homily 31 on Romans; PG 60, 669)

      My guess is that Chrysostom was working Romans 16 hard rather than relying on credible evidence. But it’s only a hunch. I’d love to know more.

      I like to imagine that Mary of Rome is Mary Magdalene, but this most likely not the case. As you say, Andrew, “Mary” was a common name. (“Mary/ Mariam” occurs over 50 times in the NT and is the name of 6 different women associated with Jesus and/or the Christian mission.)

  2. i find it interesting in this 21st century where women have had 100 years of voting, having careers, limiting how many children they have and basically living lives independent of men that the church is so adamant in keeping women under male authority from benign limitations to literaly hundreds of super strict rules that micromanage and discipline nearly every area of a woman’s life. It is like they harken back to the dark ages. –where is the “if Christ sets you free you shall be free indeed” ?

    and that verse on Junia “outstanding among the apostles”, pat/comp believers interpret it from the english —as in one english sentence can have so many means depending on which word you put the emphasis on….so they say it means that the “apostles approved of Junia labeling her as being an outstanding servant of God.” –that it is a statement the apostles made about Junia and Paul is passing that statement on to other believers, instead of Paul’s own thoughts and words of saying among all the apostles, Junia is one of the best.

    i wonder how that verse translates from greek into other languages, like French or German or Russian or Chinese or?

    1. Here’s a French translation of Romans 16 that is much, much better than the English translation quoted alongside it.

      1. Romans 16:25 ^
        Now to him who is able to make you STRONG IN AGREEMENT WITH THE GOOD NEWS which I gave you and the preaching of Jesus Christ, in the light of the revelation of that secret which has been kept through times eternal,

        IF ONLY the church was “strong in agreement” instead of all the division of what they think scripture says

        1. The sense of “agreement” in that English translation is “in accordance with”:
          “… make you strong in accordance with, or according to, my message of the gospel …”

          I have no idea what English translation is used on that website. It’s a bit dodgy. It isn’t on Bible Gateway here.

  3. let me add how much I have learned from you!!!!

    Along with the articles where you present what Paul said or meant, I have learned that what you write comes from a wider scope of how you doggedly research into the Word of God and keep a daily encounter with finding what the bible really says. Like mining for precious gems, so much hard work to garner those little rocks, recognize them in their rough state then polish them into shining crystals of truth to be shared with all the other christians. And such a shame, that like pearls before swine, pat/comp believers dismiss what you write labeling it “feminist tripe”.

    In fact from reading your articles, I have found that instead of ” the bible clearly states ” or “the bible is clear on”—that from all your research that the bible is often not completely clear on many issues.

    That those who translate, such as you. spend a very long time researching even one work searching the bible, many books and manuscripts, to find how a single target word has been used in order to extract as close a meaning of that word as possible.

    We truly do see through a glass darkly. And I think God meant it to be that way so we can rely more on Him for answers and also keep our brains and belief systems from going stagnant.

    Thank you. Keep up the great work. Many appreciate it.

    1. Thank you, Susan! ❤ ️

  4. En la Palabra de Dios, aparecen en muchos pasajes mujeres que son llamadas profetisas, es decir que enseñaban la Torah, alguna como Deborah incluso que era profetisa y juez del pueblo hebreo y a quien recurrían para recibir consejo, otra como Ana quien vio al niño Jesús y que también es profetisa y mujer virtuosa. Hay que tener en cuenta también que fueron las mujeres las que vieron al Señor Jesús resucitado, quienes comunicaron la noticia a los apóstoles hombres. Esto nos demuestra que para ver a Dios es necesario amar como lo hace una mujer de manera incondicional sin pedir nada a cambio, aunque ahora muchas hayan perdido ese sentido natural que Dios les dio. La mujer representa a la iglesia de Dios, su pueblo, su congregación, la que aplastará la cabeza de la serpiente. Creo que la parte de 1 Timoteo 2:12 que dice “Porque no permito a la mujer enseñar, ni ejercer dominio sobre el hombre, sino estar en silencio”, parece más bien haber sido sacado de contexto, porque si entendemos el sentido metafórico o oculto de este pasaje donde la mujer es la “congragación de Dios” y el hombre es “Dios”, lo que quiere decir es que la iglesia o congregación de Dios debe someterse a Dios y guardar silencio. Pero para qué guardar silencio, pues para poder recibir la Palabra de Dios, entonces este pasaje es fácilmente entendible para aquellos a los que Pablo se dirigía, personas con entendimiento espiritual y no principiantes. La iglesia debe enseñar, predicar la Palabra de Dios, no dogmas o enseñanzas humanas, debe ser paciente y tener esperanza de que todo lo que Dios nos ha manifestado se cumplirá. Dios no desprecia a la mujer sino que la exalta, recuerden Proverbios 12:4 “La mujer virtuosa es corona de su marido; mas la mala, como carcoma en sus huesos”, y la iglesia de Dios es virtuosa, por tanto es la corona de Jesús.

    1. Hola Pedro, gracias por tus pensamientos.

      Tomo las palabras de Pablo en 1 Timoteo 2:8-15 como correcciones e instrucciones prácticas con respecto al comportamiento problemático de algunas personas, hombres y mujeres, en la iglesia de Efeso.

      No creo que Paul estuviera usando metáforas.

  5. No doubt women are mightily used of the Lord. But the clear teaching of scripture is that the role of elder (i.e. those who pastor, lead and teach) is limited to men. Men and women are equal, but they have different roles.

    Some have commented on men keeping women under their authority. Men should lead, but with love, and not with a spirit of domination. Nevertheless, leadership is male. You won’t find a clear case of a woman leading the church in scriptire; on the contrary, the disciples, the apostles, etc. are all male.

    1. Hello Samuel, there is no verse in the Greek New Testament that says an elder or pastor or teacher must be a man. None. And there is no verse that says “leadership is male.” An idea of male-only leadership does not have a basis in scriptures that speak about relationshps or service in the New Covenant.

      There are only a few verses where Paul identifies and names leaders of a local church. (People like Timothy and Titus moved around and acted as Paul’s representatives. They were not local pastors.) But where Paul does mention local leaders, women’s name are often included.

      Priscilla’s name, for example, is mentioned first of the 28 Roman Christians in Romans 16:3-16. So I don’t know how you can say “You won’t find a clear case of a woman leading the church in Scripture.” I can see several examples of women leaders in local churches, especially in Paul’s letters.

      Who are the men Paul identifies as leaders of local churches? I can think of a few, and they are usually mentioned alongside women. And sometimes the women are mentioned first before their brothers.

      Also, Tabitha was a disciple (Greek: mathētria) (Acts 9:36ff).
      I’m sure there were lots of women disciples serving in New Testament churches.

      And I have little doubt that some women functioned as apostoloi (“apostles, missionaries”) too.

      In the first century, churches were mostly small and often met in homes. It was not unusual for a woman to manage, care for, and minister to a congregation that met in her home.

      But I’ve explained already explained all this in the three posts on the book chapter.

      It goes without saying that all Christian service and leadership should be done in love without any sense or spirit of domination. This is a given.

      Samuel, you’ve expressed your opinion, but you haven’t actually addressed or critiqued anything I’ve written in the article. If there is an incorrect statement in the article, or in the series, please point it out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to Marg's Blog

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.


Join Marg's Patreon

Would you like to support my ministry of encouraging mutuality and equality between men and women in the church and in marriage?