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Published Date: February 3, 2010

Published Date: February 3, 2010

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What Paul’s Personal Relationships Reveal

Paul’s letters reveal a man deeply invested in relationships with both men and women. He recognizes, respects and honors women who labor for the Lord, not as subordinates, but as partners and equals. This is evident, for example, in how Paul greets women colleagues in ministry at the end of Romans.

Paul commends “our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon (diakonon) of the church of Cenchrea” (Rom. 16:1). Phoebe’s leadership role is evident in Paul’s request, “receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and give her support in whatever matters she may have need from you, for she has been a leader (prostatis)[1] of many and of myself as well” (16:2). Every meaning of every word in the New Testament related to the word describing Phoebe as a “leader” (prostatis) that could apply in Romans 16:2 refers to leadership. This includes the passage shortly before, “Let the one in leadership (ho proistamenos) govern diligently” (Rom. 12:8).

Paul left Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus to oversee the work there, where they “explained [plural verb] to Apollos, [“an eloquent man…mighty in the Scriptures”] the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Priscilla’s name is listed first before her husband’s, contrary to Greek and Hebrew custom, as it is in every context mentioning their active ministry (Acts 18:18, 26; Rom. 16:3; contrast Acts 18:2; 1 Cor. 16:19), making it virtually certain she played a significant, if not the dominant, role in instructing Apollos.

Romans 16:7 reads, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles and became Christians before I did.” Eldon Epp’sJunia argues that the unanimous credible testimony of the church’s first millennium identifies Junia as a woman (31–36, 57)[2]; that no surviving Greek manuscript unambiguously identifies the partner of Andronicus as a man (45–49); that no early translation gives any positive sign that this is a masculine name (23–24); that Junia was a very common Latin name (54, 57); and that no bona fide instance of Junias has ever been found (24, 27, 34, 44, 57), nor is it likely to be found since the very similar Iunius was such a common name (43). “Outstanding among the apostles” implies that Adronicus and Junia were revered missionaries recognized in the churches as having authority as ministers of the gospel, [3] as is supported by patristic comments on this phrase, apparently without exception.

Seven of the ten colleagues Paul praises for their Christian ministry in Romans 16:1–16 are women. My book, Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters ( describes it thoroughly), shows that meticulous exegesis of every statement in Paul’s letters about women is congruent with Paul’s affirmations of ministry by these women.

1. “Leader, chief,” “president or presiding officer,” “one who stands before” LSJ 1526, cf. Payne, Man and Woman, 62-63.
2. Epiphanius identifies both Junias and Prisca as men, so is not a credible testimony.
3. Cf. Didache 11:3–6. The Didache is a first or second century Greek Christian handbook about morals and church order.