woman, women, ministry, church

Usually when one considers gender leadership issues in the New Testament the first place to look is the well-known verses of Paul that seem to suggest that women should either be quiet in the church or that they should not hold any leadership positions over men.

However, before one makes overall conclusions about women in ministry leadership based on these verses one should consider the following women that ministered in the early church.

In Romans 16, 5 of the 9 women that Paul greets were ministry colleagues.  Paul calls them “co-workers” (Romans 16:3, 6-7, and 12).

Phoebe is one of these women whom Paul calls a deacon (Romans 16:1).  The church fathers Origin and John Chrysostom describe this text as referring to her position (or rank) in the church.

Junia (in some translations Junias) in Romans 16:7 is a female.  The text may be read that she and Adronicus are “outstanding among the apostles” instead of “well known to the apostles.”  the former is the better translation rather than the latter because it is more consistent with early Christian translations and other Greek texts of the same period.

Euodia and Syntyche (both females) were singled out in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi (Philippians 4:2).  They labored with Paul and are apparently leaders in the Philippian church being that the letter is a public letter to be read aloud in the church assembly.

Both Priscillla and Aquilla are greeted as co-workers with Paul (Romans 16:3-5 and 2 Timothy 4:19).  Linda L. Belleville writes concerning this couple:

What is unusual is the order of their names.  As in our “Mr. and Mrs.” nomenclature, the Roman husband’s name typically appeared first.  When New Testament writers refer to their occupation of tentmakers and to “their house,” the order is “Aquila and Priscilla” (Acts 18:2; 1 Corinthians 16:19).  But when ministry is in view, the order is “Priscilla and Aquila” (Acts 18:18; Romans 16:3; cf. 2 Timothy 4:19).  This is also the case with the instruction of Apollos (Acts 18:26), suggesting that Priscilla, possessed the dominant ministry and leadership skills of the duo (Discovering Biblical Equality, 122).

There is also Nympha.  She was a patronage of a house church, which was an authoritative role (Colossians 4:15).

Philip’s four daughters prophesied in Acts 21:9 and there is no indication that they prophesied to women only.  Luke, the author of Acts, does not use “prophecy” as some impromptu, ad hoc utterance that is lightly noted.  He uses “prophecy” as a vehicle for the Holy Spirit to direct the early church (i.e. Acts 13:1-3).  Cross-reference this verse with Ephesians 2:20-21 where apostles and prophets are the foundation of the “church” and Christ being the cornerstone.

As one may clearly see by the above examples, Paul and other male church leaders accepted female leadership and supported their ministry in the church.

It should also be clear that none of the above texts suggest that these women leaders only led and ministered to other women.  They were simply gifted by the Holy Spirit to teach, give prophesies, lead, and shepherd all the people that God put within their care.

We should consider these early leaders of the church and the implications that these Biblical examples have on our own contemporary leadership issues.  It seems to me that having women in ministry leadership is a Biblical position and should be in full practice today.

women ministry leaders in the new testament

by Mark Lafler time to read: 3 min
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