What Are All These Women Doing in the New Testament and Why Haven’t I Heard of Them???

English: Jesus and Mary Magdalene
English: Jesus and Mary Magdalene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I decided to jot this down after reading an essay by Scot McKnight of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago.  The point of his essay is that for whatever reason (he gives a few but I don’t necessarily agree) these women are pushed to the margins of both biblical studies and church teaching and have there for much of Christian history.  A few names on this list are familiar, but most I know only through scattered references and some not at all.  Even of the prominent, their true role as portrayed in Scripture and the implications of that role are almost universally minimized.  Simply put, I’m writing this post to stop being part of the problem.  After reading through the following I hope what I mean here will become clear.  I am not trying to advocate for any certain theology or way of life.  I just think it is time we start telling these remarkable stories.

 WOMEN DISCIPLES  There can be little doubt women are as important to Jesus’ ministry as men.  In Matthew 12: 46-50 Jesus refers to a mixed group of people sitting in front of him as his brothers, sisters, and mother.  This probably means women were following Jesus as disciples.  There is also of course the famous story of Mary sitting at the Lord’s feet in Luke 10:39.

Most striking of all, in Luke 8:1-3 we learn women, most famously Mary Magdalene, travel with Jesus and the disciples as part of the latter’s ministry.  Additionally, we learn here Jesus’ team is financially supported by wealthy female patrons.

Jesus also used metaphors and images of women repeatedly in his teaching and parables, a practice unusual at the time and unnecessary if women were not with him learning as his disciples.

Additionally, the feminine form of disciple is used in Acts 9:36 and applied to a woman named Tabitha.

Of course this doesn’t mean, these women disciples served as authoritative teachers later in the church.  However, why haven’t we heard of them?  Why don’t we talk about them?

See Ken Bailey’s books for more, especially Jesus and the Prodigal.

PHOEBE (Romans 16:1-2)  Phoebe is described as a deacon of the church in Cenchreae and a patron of Paul and others.   She likely provided Paul with funds for his trips and maybe with protection as well.  She must have had immense influence since Paul commends her so highly and trusted her to deliver his letter to the Roman church.

PHILIPS’S DAUGHTERS (Acts 21:9)  While traveling through Caesarea, Paul stays in the house of Philip, one of the original seven deacons.  Philip’s four unmarried daughters are briefly mentioned as prophets.  I’m honestly not sure what to make of this, but probably, “sharing a word,” or “giving testimony” are terms we use for this type of prophecy today.

PRISCILLA (Acts 18:2-3, 18-19, 26; Romans 16:3-4; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19)  Priscilla is the wife of Aquila.  Together they make up the most potent missionary team in the pages of the New Testament, training leaders, teaching, supplying and protecting Christians, and leading churches from their home.  Paul repeatedly stresses his thanks for their selflessness, knowledge, and steadfastness in gospel work.  Interestingly Priscilla is often mentioned first and Paul makes no differentiation between her work and Aquila’s calling them both his “fellow workers.”

JUNIA (Romans 16:7) Read Romans 16:7 in several different translations.  I’d love to hear what others think.

CHLOE (1 Corinthians 1:10-11)  Chloe’s people were Paul’s source of information regarding dissension in the Corinthian church.  We don’t know much about her, but she must have been a person of some influence.

LYDIA (Acts 16:11-15, 40)  A wealthy merchant, Lydia became the first known European Christian and consequently the first European church met under her watchful care.  She also became a patron and protector of Paul and Silas. 

MARY, MOTHER OF JOHN MARK (Acts 12:12) While her role is not specified, Mary was at the very least responsible for protecting the embattled faith community of Jerusalem for a time and displayed unflappable courage by opening her home.  It was to her Peter fled after escaping from prison and Herod’s clutches.

NYMPHA (Colossians 4:15)  Paul sent his greetings to the church of Nympha’s home.  Again, her exact role is not clear.  However, there can be no question she was a very important leader for the church of Laodicea.

EUODIA AND SYNTYCHE (Philippians 4:2-3)  These two women assisted Paul’s church planting efforts in the Roman colony of Philippi.  Paul describes them as having “contended for the Gospel by my side” and lumps them in as “coworkers.”  While Euodia and Syntyche’s exact role is unknown, the women’s importance was such that their dispute threatened to divide the church and necessitated Paul sending a meditator.

 CONCLUSION Many of these verse are admittedly obscure references, but taken together one cannot help but think we are missing something today.  And besides, are they any more obscure than the two references which limit women’s roles in the church that we so often hear (1 Cor. 14:33-35; 1 Tim. 2:11-15)?  How all this fits together I am not sure, but we (SBC, evangelicals, Christians, us, me) must stop building entire world views on a handful of verses one way or the other.  We must instead begin to more humbly seek the holistic arc in the story of Scripture.

One last challenge, even if some hold the traditional view that ordained church leadership is for spiritually mature men only, how many male pastors today have women co-workers they could describe in the same terms Paul describes his?  I’m guessing not many.


15 thoughts on “What Are All These Women Doing in the New Testament and Why Haven’t I Heard of Them???

  1. Robertson writes of Junia: ” ‘Among the apostles’. Naturally this means that they are counted among the apostles in the general sense true of Barnabas, James the brother of Christ, Silas, and others. But it can mean simply that they were famous in the circle of the apostles in the technical sense.” (Word Pictures in the New Testament, vol IV, p 427).

    Growing up in a Pentecostal tradition, in a denomination founded by a woman, the women of the NT were never a mystery or a hidden treasure.

      1. I also spent many years in the Charismatic/Pentecostal influence and I agree the women in the NT was never a mystery or hidden.

        Ben, have you heard of Wade Burleson? I know he is a SBC pastor and former IMB member who has posted about this thru the years on his blog. He’s one who believes women played and still play an active role in “ministry”

  2. I know quite a bit about the whole “Junia” thing. Junia was a fairly common woman’s name and she is counted as among the apostles meaning either she had the same authority as the formal apostles or she was a missionary/church-planter, which would still mean she had a pretty high measure of authority. The name “Junias” or “Junian” was made to give a masculine form to the name (to solve some problems with Roman Catholic Dogma forbidding women to be priests or bishops). The problem is that Junias and Junian don’t appear anywhere in contemporary literature. If it is an actual masculine name, then we have no attestation to it anywhere prior to 6th century and later copies of the ending of Romans. This would be incredibly odd and very unlikely. Now, it might be that Junia was simply well regarded by the apostles, though this isn’t the most basic way to read the passage, but that doesn’t solve the problem of her being a woman with some kind of authority or leadership of some sort. Junias/Junian is only considered a serious option by those strongly committed to complementarian or hierarchical views of the role of women. (I did a very lengthy study of it, and even many formerly staunch defenders of Junias/Junian now readily admit that the name must be the female Junia).

    1. The NIV translators did a major disservice to the Scriptures and to the Church by giving Junia a sex change, turning her from a woman of great distinction and into a man. It’s not just Roman Catholics who have done this, but certain strains in Evangelical and Fundamental circles (both in which I consider myself to be firmly entrenched).

      1. Interesting thanks. So it started with the NIV (in English at least)? I wonder if that decision had to do with the feminist movement of the 1970’s happening concurrently as the translators worked?

    2. Thanks for the detail. I did not realize there was no attestation to the male name. I also had not considered that even Junia is a wife, you still can’t get around the fact that she was some sort of influential person.

  3. Thanks….that was very thought provoking…I believe you’re right that there were women of biblical times with authority and leadership in the church…I happen to be of the opinion that women can equally preach,explain and evangelize with the same fervor that men do.when called by God to do so…Diane

    1. Thanks for the comment. Yes, I always knew there were some influential women such as Priscilla. But I guess I grew up thinking they were largely the exceptional. However, a careful reading sure gives the impression they were a substantial part of the leadership force in the earliest churches. I wonder when and how the change took place?

  4. several months behind on this but a few comments:
    Most evangelical churches do not allow women deacons, as “according to Scripture” there is no precedent. We clearly have that here with Phoebe.

    Most evangelical churches also do not allow women preachers, as ….
    We have women preachers here in the NT. Does this mean that Scripture contradicts? Or does it mean that the letters written to Corinth and Timothy were more occasional than we originally thought?

    Makes everybody look bad if we cannot be consistent with our interpretation/translation. Or is it just that we like to push forward our agendas?

    1. All very good questions. I don’t know. It just seems not to be as straight forward as many would like it to be.

      Also, you’re not behind ha. I don’t usually post these to Facebook. I mainly just do it as a hobby to “air” my thoughts. I can’t really figure out what I think unless I write it down.

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