“Women Of Bible Served as Missionaries, Elders”

By Donald P. Ames

Recently I was given a shoe box of old sermons on cassette, along with some old bulletins, etc. dated about 10-20 years ago. Among the bulletins, I found a newspaper clipping by a lady from Decatur, Illinois bearing the above heading. It was in reply to a previously submitted letter, but bore no date, so I have no real way of determining just when it was written. Nevertheless, she made a strong case for her position, and I thought it might be good to review it in Truth Magazine. Not only are we to be ready to give a reason for the hope within us (1 Pet. 3:15), but by such an examination, it may help us avoid being caught by surprise sometime in answering this position, which is bound to increase in popularity in the religious world today.

She begins by pointing out that Paul mentions Priscilla’s name before that of Aquila (see Acts 18:26), a practice “unheard of” at that time. And while the KJV reverses them again to list Aquila first, in the Greek, Priscilla is listed first! Such listings frequently show who was the more influential of those listed. From this fact, she boldly states it was “because Priscilla is the pre-eminent teacher over the church.” However, in this passage, while Priscilla may have taken the leadership in the study, it was not “over the church,” but rather they took Apollos aside and privately taught him “the way of God more perfectly.” The most that can be made from this passage is that a woman can study with a man privately. Our writer has assumed too much from the passage, and affirmed a position the passage does not teach.

She next affirms that Junia (Rom. 16:7) was a “woman missionary, started new churches and filled the role of pastor.” (While “pastor” is a term for an elder, I understand she is using it in the denominational sense of a “preacher.”) Now while the name is a woman’s name (as can be determined from the Greek word used), the only thing Paul says about her is that she and Adronicus were his “kinsmen . . . fellow prisoners . . . who were in Christ before me.” No sources I could find affirmed the role she alleges Junia filled. Again, she has assumed, asserted, but has not proven the argument.

“Tryphena, Tryphose, and Persis (Rom. 16:12) were women evangelists” she next boldly states. Again, granting they are womens’ names, and they “labored much in the Lord,” nowhere does the Bible refer to them as “evangelists.” There are many ways a woman could labor in the Lord without being an evangelist, as seem in 1 Timothy 5, etc. So again, she has assumed the point she is trying to make.

Next she alludes to Deborah as a prophetess from the O.T. book of Judges. However this shows nothing about whether or not a woman can be an evangelist or an elder in the N.T. age. We are not under the Law of Moses today (Col. 2:14; Eph. 2:15-16; 2 Cor. 3; Heb. 8), but under Christ (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-23; etc.). The O.T. is not our source of authority, hence this argument has no bearing on the point under study.

Her next point is that “Phoebe was a deacon.” This has reference to Romans 16:1, where the RSV did use the term “deacon” with reference to Phoebe. However all other reliable translations use the term “servant” instead. The word “deacon” can refer to the office of a deacon, or it can simply refer to one in the role of a “servant” (cf. John 2:5). As Paul set forth the qualifications for the office of a deacon in 1 Timothy 3, he states in v. 12: “Let the deacons be the husband of one wife.” That pretty well settles the gender question. There are no qualifications set forth for a female deacon, and no record of any ever serving as such. A footnote in the Nelson KJV Study Bible notes this problem and says: “No specific specifications however are given of such an office.”

Such women are better viewed as being either the wives of deacons (cf. 1 Tim. 3:11) or godly widows who were supported financially by the church (cf. 1 Tim. 5:9, 10). Here it is best to understand Phoebe’s role to be that of a “helper.”

The next argument she presents is that “Nympha was an elder.” Reference here is to Colossians 4:15, and she boldly states, “The churches met in the homes of the elder of that church.” (Again, elders are plural in the N.T. — there was no “the elder” of a church.) But again, one of the qualifications of an elder is that he is to be the “husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6). Again, the gender question is settled by Paul. And although the KJV plainly states “the church which is in his house,” I understand the Greek manuscripts are not quite so plain — some using the male form of the name, some the female; some saying “his house,” some “her house,” and some “their house.” However many Christians of that time opened their homes for brethren to have a place to meet (cf. Acts 12:12; 1 Cor. 16:19; etc.), often in small groups. But because they might have had the space for such a meeting is no proof they were “in charge” or served as “the elder” over that church. Again, it is assumed, affirmed, and asserted, but lacking in proof. Hospitality did not make one an “elder” of the church!

Then she states that the only reason Jesus chose men as apostles was “because oral Jewish law would not recognize a woman as a witness. Her testimony was worthless and Jesus needed witnesses the Jews would accept.” Yet she would have us to believe he would turn around and appoint them as evangelists and elders to bear testimony to the whole world. I hardly think so! She even turns around and notes that Jesus appeared first to Mary after his resurrec- tion and “commissioned her to apostle the Apostles.” Did she not bear “witness” that he had resurrected? Does our writer have inside information of Jesus’ motives the Bible doesn’t reveal to us? Did he reverse himself that quickly? Jesus selected men to serve as apostles, and while she would like to expand that role, the authority is going to have to come from God, not human supposition!

Paul plainly states that the evangelist is to preach “with all authority” (Tit. 2:15), that he is to preach the word and to reprove, rebuke, and exhort (2 Tim. 4:2). He also plainly states a woman is not to “usurp authority over the man” (1 Tim. 2:13). There is no reference to women serving as evangelists or elders in the N.T. and Paul has spelled out the reasons why, as we have noted in this study. Human speculation does not replace divine revelation. Our writer concludes by going to Mark 10:42-44, where Jesus says we are not to seek lordship, but be servants; and concludes he was dealing with “leadership in the spiritual realm” and clearing the way for women to later become evangelists. And while the Bible affirms there is “no difference” in Jew or Greek, bond or free, male or female (in acceptance or preference) in Christ (Gal. 3:28), God still has roles for each to fulfill (see Eph. 5:22f; 1 Cor. 11:3; 14:34-35; Tit. 2; etc.). Let us beware we do not try to add to the word of God to suit society today, or seek to achieve roles God has not assigned to us.