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Women Leaders in the Philippian Church

On August 03, 2011

In the current discussions about the roles of women in the church, there has been a great deal of attention directed toward Phoebe, Junia, and Priscilla. These three women are mentioned in the New Testament as being involved in significant Christian ministry. Much of the discussion surrounding these women concerns identifying their actual ministries, and evaluating the precedent, if any, they set for women in the church today.

Euodia and Syntyche are two lesser known women who were ministers in the early church. The apostle Paul names these two women in his letter to the Philippians and, in just a few verses, he gives us a glimpse into the value and significance of their ministries.

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life (Phil. 4:2-3, TNIV).

When he describes the ministry of Euodia and Syntyche, Paul uses some of the same terms he had previously applied to Timothy and Epaphroditus. Paul writes that Euodia and Syntyche had contended with him "in the gospel." Earlier in the same letter, Paul had also described Timothy as someone who had served with him "in the gospel" (Phil. 2:22, translation mine). Paul goes on to refer to Euodia and Syntyche as his "co-workers." Earlier, Paul had also referred to Epaphroditus as his "co-worker" (Phil. 2:25, TNIV). Thus, according to Paul, the ministries of these women were comparable to the ministries of the men, Timothy and Epaphroditus.

It was not unusual for women to have leadership roles in Philippi. Philippi was the chief city of Macedonia (Acts 16:12), and it has been well documented that Macedonian women enjoyed more freedom and power than many other women of that time. The first Christian convert in Macedonia had been a woman in Philippi—a wealthy woman named Lydia. It is likely that Lydia hosted and led the first house church in Philippi, given this strong history of female leadership in this region (see Acts 16:13-15, 40). Early church bishop John Chrysostom (c. 349-407) believed Euodia and Syntyche to have been the leaders of the Philippian church at the time Paul wrote his letter. Moreover, Chrysostom compares them to Phoebe, who was a minister. In his 13th Homily on Philippians he wrote:

These women [Euodia and Syntyche] seem to me to be the chief of the Church which was there, and [Paul] commends them to some notable man whom he calls his yokefellow; [Paul] commends them to him as to a fellow-worker and fellow-soldier and brother and companion, as he does in the Epistle to the Romans, when he says, "I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a minister of the church at Cenchrea" (Romans 16:1).

Also, in Philippians 4:2, Paul urges Euodia and he urges Syntyche to, literally, "think the same thing" (possibly over a doctrinal issue.) That Paul addressed Euodia and Syntyche personally and individually in his letter reinforces the idea that these women had considerable influence in the Philippian church, and were likely leaders. Chrysostom did not see any sign of a quarrel in Paul's plea to Euodia and Syntyche; he saw only praise and wrote: "Do you see how great a testimony [Paul] bears to their virtue?"

In the New Testament text there are many examples of women who were involved in significant gospel ministry, some as church leaders. Even though these women, such as Euodia and Syntyche, are mentioned briefly, they do serve as valid, biblical precedents for women in ministry today. If Paul valued the leadership ministries of certain women, we should be careful not to hinder godly, gifted, and capable women from following their calling to be ministers and leaders in the church today.

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