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Lesson Four: A Snapshot of Women Serving God (Romans 16)

Women Serving God—Wednesday Evening Series
Angela Clements, John Mark Hicks and Mark Manassee
Febuary 11, 2004

A Snapshot of Women in the Early Church (Romans 16)

See the chart constructed by Christopher R. Hutson.

I. Spiritual Gifts in Romans 12:3-8.

A. A Theology of Spiritual Gifts.

1. One body with many members with different gifts.

2. Gifts in Romans 12:

a. Prophesying
b. Serving (diakonian)
c. Teaching
d. Encouraging
e. Generosity
f. Leadership (prostamenos)
g. Mercy

B. Literary Relationship with Romans 16: Phoebe Commended in 16:1-2.

1. for serving (diakonon)

2. for leading as a patron/benefactor (prostates).

C. Contemporary Application.

II. Key Terms/Functions in Romans 16

A. Deacon (diakonon)

The term diakonon is actually masculine gender but is used of Phoebe who is a woman. The same word is used in 1 Timothy 3:8 and Philippians 1:1—the only other references to deacons in the New Testament. He does not use the Greek term “deaconness” (diakonissa) because the word did not exist in the ancient world till 325 AD and females who served as “deacons”(diakonoi) in the ancient world are called “deacons” (from diakonos, masculine gender) rather than “deaconnesses.” This is the only place in the NT where the phrase “deacon of the church” appears. She is more than just a “sister” (cf. Philemon 2), but a diakonon. If Phoebe were “Philip,” we would automatically identify this individual as a “deacon.” But because it is Phoebe, we wince at the possible identification.

B. Benefactor (prostatis)

The term prostates most naturally refers to patronage. Patronage involved a relationship where goods and services are exchanged through a personal relationship. Graeco-Roman inscriptions describe some women with this term. Women with such resources usually managed large households and conducted business. Phoebe may have been an influential friend and financial supporter in Paul’s ministry. The term prostates, however, is also used by Paul to refer to leaders or “rulers” in a community (cf. 1 Thess. 5:12 and Rom. 12:8). In 1 Thessalonians 5:12 it is associated with those who “labor” in the Lord. The terms refer not so much to “offices” in the church as much as to functions. Specifically, prostamenos in Romans 12:8 probably refers to one who “protects those who are socially vulnerable” (Walters, p. 178). Walters provides a detailed account of a contemporary patroness in Corinth named Junia Theodora. She provided hospitality, financial support, and served as a kind of diplomat or representative for the city. Phoebe most likely had a similar function in the church at Cenchrae.

C. Fellow-laborers (sunergos) or Laborers (kopionti).

Paul uses this term elsewhere to describe Timothy (Rom. 16:24; 1 Thess. 3:2; Philemon 1), Apollos (1 Corinthians 3:9), Titus (2 Cor. 8:23), Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25), Aristarchus (Col. 4:10; Philemon 24), Mark (Col. 4:10; Philemon 24), Justus (Col. 4:10), Epaphras (Philemon 24), Demas (Philemon 24), Luke (Philemon 24), Eudoia (Phil. 4:2) and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2). In 1 Cor. 16:16 Paul writes that those in the house of Stephanas should submit to “every fellow worker (panti sunergounti) and laborer (kopionti).”

Paul uses the term “labor” to describe his own ministry in 1 Cor. 4:12; 15:10; Gal. 4:11; Phil. 2:16; Col. 1:29; and 1 Tim. 4:10. Paul tells the Thessalonians to “respect those who work hard (labor) among” them (1 Thess. 5:12). Those who “labor in preaching and teaching” are worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17).

D. Apostle (apostolos).

There are three questions here. First, is the person’s name Junias (male) or Junia (female)? Second, does the text mean that this person is well-known to the apostles and held in high regard, or does it mean that this person is one of the well-known apostles? Third, what does the word “apostle” mean here?

The difference between the two in Greek is an accent mark and accents are not part of the most ancient manuscripts of the Greek New Testament. Early Christian writers unanimously understood this person to be a woman. While some modern translations and scholars have thought it was a shortened form of the name Junianus, there is no example in Greek literature of that short form (Junias). However, Junia is a common woman’s name.

While grammatically either reading is possible, the early Christian writers all understood the phrase to mean “outstanding among the apostles” and included Junia among the apostles. This is the standard translation in all languages and is the opinion of the vast majority of commentators. But the minority opinion is not out of the question (see Wallace’s article in the resources below).

The term apostolos is sometimes used to refer simply to messengers of churches as in 2 Corinthians 8:23 and Philippians 2:25. It might have the general sense of “missionary” here, that is, one who was sent out for the sake of the gospel. Andronichus and Junia were probably original laborers in the gospel (missionaries), perhaps even in Rome. They could have been a husband-wife team.

III. Church of Christ Women in Ministry Network (Angela).

Questions for Reflection:

1. Though the same words are used to describe men and women in these various functions, do we tend to understand them differently in relation to women than we do men? Why? Should we read them differently?

2. Think about all the various functions in which women serve at Woodmont and suppose Rubel sent a greeting to the church from Africa. What functions could appear in that greeting? What parallels are there between Romans 16 and such a greeting from Rubel?

3. What is the most striking “snapshot” for you in this greeting from Paul? Any surprises? Anything you would have liked to know more about?


Egalitarian: Ben Witherington III, Women in the Earliest Churches (Cambridge: University Press, 1988), 104-116; Dennis J. Preato, “Romans 16:7-Resolving the Interpretative Issues,” found under “Free Articles"; Christopher R. Hutson, “Romans 16 and the Women in Pauline Churches”; Bernadette Brooten, Women Priests (Maryknoll, NY: Paulist Press, 1977), 141-44"; and Arthur Frederick Ide, “Woman in the Early Church: A Study of Romans 16,” Woman as Priest, Bishop and Laity in the Early Church to 440 A.D., (Ide House 1984), pp. 27-40.

Complementarian: Andreas J. Kostenberger, “Women in the Pauline Mission,” Gospel to the Nations, ed. Peter Bolt and Mark Thompson (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000). On Junia in Romans 16:7, see David Jones, “A Female Apostle?: A Lexical-Syntactical Analysis of Romans 16:7” and Daniel B. Wallace and Michael H. Burer, “Was Junia Really and Apostle: A Reexamination of Romans 16:7?,” pp. 4-11.

Exegetical Study: James Walters, “’Phoebe’ and ‘Junia(s)’—Rom. 16:1-2, 7,” in Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity, volume I, ed. Carroll D. Osburn (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1993), 167-190. Also, for the possibility that 1 Timothy 3:11 refers to “deaconesses,” see Barry Blackburn, “The Identity of ‘Women’ in I Tim. 3:11,” pp. 303-321 in the same volume as Walter’s article.


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