Thursday, October 04, 2007

Paul's co-ministers

It's fascinating that Paul would have so many co-ministers of the gospel and leaders in the church in Rome who were women. In the first century, women were not always highly regarded. Their society was still set up in a male dominated hierarchy. But when Paul said in Galatians 3, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female...," he really meant it.

Romans 16 gives us a glimpse into just how many women were active leaders in the church helping Paul do his work of spreading the gospel. The first person mentioned in his personal greeting at the end of the letter is Phoebe. By "commending" her to the church in Rome, it was likely that Paul sent his letter with her. One of the most important letters of the New Testament was not given to man for delivery. I was put in the hands of a faithful woman of God. And Paul calls her a "diakonon." This is the Greek word that means "deacon."

Some translations of the bible try to cover over this by translating the word "servant." And you can translate "diakonos" as "servant" sometimes. But in other places in scripture that refer to a person's role in the church, this Greek word is always translated "deacon." The reason translators change it to "servant" in this case is because Phoebe is a woman. They don't want to admit that Paul considered women deacons of his church. Women took on significant leadership roles in the church, even in the first century. Paul also lets the people in Rome know that Phoebe wasn't just a help to the church, but was a specific help to him in his ministry.

And the list goes on. Priscilla and Aquila made up the husband and wife team who taught Apollos the deeper truths of the gospel. Paul could have just mentioned Aquila as the husband and teacher. But he knew better. He worked with both Aquila and Priscilla in ministry (Acts 18). And he knows that it took both of them to disciple the great teacher Apollos.

In fact, out of the 27 people mentioned in this section of the letter to the Romans, 10 of them were women. Six of the ten get a special mention for their "work in the Lord": Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia (sometimes translated Junias), Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis.

We get a picture here of the house churches in Rome. More than a third of the people worth mentioning were women. A third of the key people that Paul wanted to specifically greet by name were women. And out if those mentioned, six women seemed to be prominent servants and/or "deacons" in their church community.

The importance of this becomes even more evident when we realize that Rome was the capitol city of the ancient world. It was the center of power and the center of culture. It was New York City, Washington D.C., London, Paris, and Tokyo all rolled into one. And in this kind of city, Paul is acknowledging and admiring both men AND women as leaders and servants of the church.


Post a Comment

<< Home