Homemaker or Maid

I just posted this at the www.freecwc.com website.  I wanted to share it with my readers.

At the Seneca Falls 2 Conference, two years ago, July 24, 2010, a small group of people met for the purpose of furthering women’s equality in the church and in the home.  Just as Lucretia Motts and Elizabeth Cody Stanton hoped to make a difference at the original Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 in the way women were treated by society and the church and the government, this group hoped to free women from religious bodies that still seek to demean women.

Jocelyn Andersen, author of Woman, this is War, and Shirley Taylor, founder of bWe Baptist Women for Equality met with Waneta Dawn, Cindy Kunsman, and Janice Levinson in Orlando, Florida.  The Freedom for Christian Women Coalition (FreeCWC) was formed, the Declaration of Sentiments was read, and an apology from the Council on Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood was demanded.

I just took a little sidetrip to the www.cbmw.com website to see for myself again the ignorance perpetuated by these people.  All are old names we are familiar with.  Piper, Patterson, Ware and the list goes on.  There are some women on the board, and as we noted at the Seneca Falls Conference, these women give their names, and then the distinction Homemaker – or Pastor’s wife.  The men of course, give their acquired distinctions in education and religion first.  They are not homemakers.

Now I find that really funny.  Not ha-ha funny.  But peculiar.  You know why? Because the Danvers Statement itself was conceived by this group and that Statement says plainly in Rationale #3: “the increasing promotion given to feminist egalitarianism with accompanying distortions or neglect of the glad harmony portrayed in Scripture between the loving, humble leadership of redeemed husbands and the intelligent, willing support of that leadership by redeemed wives.”

Because you see, in that sentence above, the household is the man’s.  Look at the Bible and you will see that the MAN is to be the Homemaker.  They love 1 Timothy 3, but they are selling us a bill of goods when they tell us that women are to be homemakers according to scripture.

Nowhere does the Bible tell women to be Homemakers  Look at 1 Timothy 3:4 “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity. (For if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (who does the cookin’ and the cleanin.’)

Do you see that?  The Council on Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood does not have a scripture that tells women they are to be homemakers. They don’t even tell women that in their own Danvers Statement.  Yet they want you to believe they do. 1 Timothy 3:4 and Rationale #3 gives the homemaking to the husband.

The man makes the home, and the wife cooperates with him by being submissive and allowing him to make the decisions, spend the money, control the kids. Doesn’t that make him the Homemaker?

The definition of a homemaker is one who manages a household. It would appear that the Council has it wrong. They really want her to be the Maid. Otherwise, when the husband comes home, he is in her domain, and she sets the rules – in other words – a homemaker would be superior to her husband in the home.

Maybe we should change the distinction of the women Council members from Homemaker to Maid.   Then to be Bbilical, the men must be Homemakers.  If the men are not homemakers, they are AWOL (absent without leave) and cannot claim Biblical Manhood.

Let’s change the distinctions under the Council members names.  The women are now Maids, and the husbands or better known as Distinguised Accomplished are now the Homemakers.

It reads like this:

  • Dorothy Patterson, Maid
  • Mary Kassain, Maid
  • Rebecca Jones, Maid
  • Susan Hunt, Maid
  • Mary Farrar, Maid
  • Daniel Akin, Homemaker
  • John Piper, Homemaker
  • Albert Mohler, Homemaker
  • Bruce Ware, Homemaker
  • Wayne Grudem, Homemaker
  • Donald Balesa, Homemaker
  • James Borland, Homemaker
  • J Ligon Duncan III, Homemaker
  • Steve Farrar, Homemaker
  • Joshua Harris, Homemaker
  • Daniel Humbach, Homemaker
  • W Wayne House, Homemaker
  • Elliott Johnson, Homemaker
  • Peter Jones, Homemaker
  • George Knight, Homemaker
  • C. H. Mahaney, Homemaker
  • James Stahr, Homemaker
  • Erik Thoemen, Homemaker

Are you a maid or a homemaker?  Egalitarians believe that both men and women are homemakers in an equal partnership.

Speak up! Don’t allow the Council on Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood define what your role is.  They are confused and don’t know one role from another.

About bwebaptistwomenforequality

Shirley Taylor writes with humor and common sense, challenging the church body to reclaim equality for Christian women.
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18 Responses to Homemaker or Maid

  1. gemmie says:

    Bahaha that is gold! You ladies are my heroes.


  2. “Don’t think of elephant” http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=don%27t+think+of+an+elephant This book describes how the conservatives have dominated in American politics by framing the agenda in conservative language. It’s the same in the churches. This referenced cheap booklet gives strategies for reframing the debate.
    In Australia we have realised that the debate is not about theology – it’s about our view of culture and sociology and that is forever being moulded and changing.

    We suggest that your debate needs to be re-framed. Sure, layout the theology, but don’t rely on that, because you won’t convince those whose framing is conservative. Don’t buy into the conservative jargon, but frame the story with justice, compassion, equality, the freedom of opportunity for women in society today and the empowering, life-giving nature of the gospel.


    • Michelle says:

      Oh wow, Katie and Martin–apparently the author of that book is a linguist ((swoon)). Ah yes, the language of the debate. He who controls the language (defines the terms, makes up new meanings for extant words–such as “complementary”) controls the dialogue. It’s tough, because what we are talking about is the fact that the way people think is shaped by their language. When someone can agree with the idea that our second birth gives us a new birthright, clearing our old one away, yet cling to the idea that male-only leadership of the church is God-ordained, without seeing a contradiction there, we must not be speaking the same language.

      I’m curious about how you/the book propose to re-frame the conversation (and lack the cash for the book, at the moment), since one of the arguments often leveled against egalitarians in the US is that we are merely following the culture (ignoring that in many parts of the world, women are seen as less than human, and in fact are not viewed as equal, here in the US).

      My secondary, and possibly not even relevant to this discussion, thought is that justice, compassion, and equality speak to me of the acceptance of God of people regardless of sexual orientation, and of their love regardless of sexual orientation: in the here-and-now. That’s anathema to many religiously conservative folk and, by extension (whether the view is personally held or held politically so as not to damage their witness of equality of the sexes, or both), to some working toward equality of the sexes in the church.

      I just posted the following on The CBE Scroll re: my frustration about, essentially, the other side controlling the language of the discussion.

      “While I like the term “Blessed Alliance”, it’s a shame that we have to be so, so, so careful about the terms we use. The “Blessed Alliance” is simply the way God means for things to be. It’s a part of the Gospel: our cooperation to help bring about heaven on Earth.

      And we must use “biblical” rather than simply “Christian” to describe our understanding that God means for us all to work together, and did not institute a hierarchy of humans as part of his plan for us. Because somehow, “biblical” is a higher standard?”


      • Hi Michelle

        The culture thing is a strange thing – they suggest that the New Testament was not within a culture. that somehow the place of women in the Middle East throughout time has nothing to do with culture. Of course, women throughout the world have been relegated to a lower position but at least in the west there is movement towards better recognition, despite glass ceilings.
        Don’t take up their framing. Stick to your agenda.

        The theological arguments will not bring many converts but examples of women in ministry will. We need to reframe the debate and put it terms of (for example) some of the following:
        * women experiencing the call to word and sacrament,
        * younger generations are seeing the church as out of touch, and leaving the church in droves
        * women offer great blessings for the church and her people
        * with women clergy the church’s evangelical ability will be improved
        * the Church has fallen out of touch and risks digging itself deeper into a crisis
        * the Church (at least in Australia) is in crisis with a lack of candidates for ministry – and it must be said that some less than suitable men are being ordained. Along with that we have a Pastors With Alternative Training being commissioned as pastors in special circumstances (where they can’t get a pastor) and they only have a few weeks training.
        * there are women who have completed training and ready for parish service
        … and so forth


  3. TL says:

    “Nowhere does the Bible tell women to be Homemakers Look at 1 Timothy 3:4 “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity. (For if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)”

    This was very cool. I always look for opportunity for a smile and chuckle. It helps calm my reaction to the tough things in life. 🙂

    However, it is noteworthy that there are no real references to men only in the whole 3rd chapter of 1 Timothy. It is addressed to a neutral party of “anyone”. The statement of the anyone being a “one woman man” is because the default of an unknown gender is always male. It does not change the “anyone” to a male person. The 3rd verse is addressed to “one who” (also inclusive) stands before/ leads/ presides in the own home (in his or her own home). But of course, this language of brave Paul flies in the face of the beliefs of the era that only men owned anything. Much of what Paul says in his epistles fly in the face of the common traditions of their day, as well as ours.


    • Your are right, of course, and this is in response to their Danvers Statement that wants us to read the English version and when it says he, it means he. That is Rationale #8 ” The increasing prevalence and acceptance of hermeueutical oddities devised to reinterpret aparently plain meanings of Biblical tets.” We all need a chuckle now and then. Glad to provide it.


  4. TL says:

    A wrong reading really ties one’s entrails in knots, doesn’t it. 🙂 When one thing is read incorrectly, then one must do another incorrect reading on top of it.

    This is how they came to approach the Trinity as a top down hierarchical ladder of three different person’s with 3 different wills, but only one will of the Father as the prevailing one. This is actual heresy of which I believe both Augustine and especially Athenasius spoke against. But a good portion of the international Body of believers accepts it as truth. How sad.


  5. Michelle says:

    Katie and Martin,
    Thank you. The link you posted to your blog (which I read sometimes but was not reading in 2010) is very helpful as it gives examples from scripture. Part of the problem is that the only reasoning many so-called complementarians I have met will accept is from scripture–you know what I mean, and I alluded to it above when I mentioned that it’s not enough for something to be Christian: It MUST be *biblical*.

    So yes, these women who feel they are called to serve in ways only men are called, they must be mistaken (and I have heard this said in a teaching situation at a church), and the others you mention are just so steeped in the ways of the world/not Christian (or not really Christian), etc. Sorry–It’s not you with whom I am frustrated. But if it’s not in the Bible, it’s not worth talking about because it’s a result of the fallen world in which we live, basically, is how it is in the Southern US. And there’s a special logic that applies to things written in the Bible that I am unable to break through with anything I recognize as being actual logic.

    I apologize. I apparently am more shaken by a recent exchange I had than I thought I was. An otherwise intelligent person who attends the church we used to attend, in the context of a larger conversation, saw no contradiction between the idea that, as I said to him, our old birthright dies and we are given a completely new birthright in Christ, and the idea that men are to have greater authority than women are in the church (in his words, “But there’s church order!”) and in the home. I hope this helps to illustrate what I mean by the application of special logic, that would not be recognized by those outside of so-called complementarian beliefs.

    I am fascinated by your observation that they suggest that the New Testament did not take place within a culture. It’s a fair observation: I’ve just never thought of it in quite that way. Now, how to communicate that communication does not take place in a vacuum, that culture is always a factor? And that it should be considered?

    I will continue to think about what you say–after all, each person is different, and as Christ draws each person to himself in different ways, so people may recognize that gender egalitarianism is Christian (and indeed biblical, as that is *crucial* where I live) in many ways. What you list as ways to reframe the argument are important to me: I need to figure out a way (it means i need to sit down and work on it, actually. Maybe during Advent…) to communicate that the God whom we worship does NOT split body and soul as they say God does. For what else is telling someone she is equal in being (spirit/soul) but must live, must inhabit this body (at least) as someone who is less than men? The body is not being permitted to live out the fullness of the soul, and it is sinful and a literal shame.


    • We are social beings as well as spiritual beings. We are formed in families, schools, churches, through newspapers, chat shows, books, gender roles – all mostly through a subconscious process. Church conservatives would like us to unquestioningly accept select bible verses as being literally true, however, these days we have access to a wealth of scholarship showing that women were leaders in the early church. As it’s not part of the dominant, conservative framing, it gets no ‘airplay’ in conservative circles.

      We like your summary that, “culture is always a factor”. Up until a century or two ago, women’s repression or equality probably wasn’t much thought about. However, the suffragettes kick-started a huge movement towards women’s equality in all areas of society, which is still being played out today. While women have made huge inroads into the halls of power, even today the boys’ clubs resist women’s equality, as shown in glass ceilings and different pay for the same work.

      We have the ability to reconstruct ourselves. No longer are the church fathers from neighbouring farms the key voices in our formation. With increasing multi-culturalism we have many stories from many cultures to consider. We are witnesses to women’s great gifts in all areas of life. We witness women pastors in other churches and we are challenged to reconsider where we stand. We hear of continuing abuse by male-clergy and then consider the amazing gifts of women who have been excluded. It is no wonder that we feel something is amiss. We ask questions, but that in itself does not sit well with conservatism, for they would have you accept authority and hierarchy as given. They would have you accept the decision of those in authority as the way things should be. Here’s a quote from “The Shack” (WM. Paul Young):

      p.125 “Heirarchy imposes laws and rules and you end up missing the wonder of relationships that we intended for you … Authority, as you usually think of it, is merely the excuse the strong ones use to make others conform to what they want.”

      These days children are encouraged to question at school. It is the way to explore, create your own learning and to learn. To expect people to shut down any analysis of theology and church when coming through church doors is unrealistic.

      We’ve just posted on conservatism and would be interested in your response. http://katieandmartin.wordpress.com/2012/08/04/nothing-compassionate-about-conservatism-its-about-certainty/

      We know that we’re off track, but the future for an unquestioning church is extinction. The future for a church that engages with society’s questions and reinterprets Scripture in the light of contemporary issues is one of connection, engagement, relevance, welcome and service. We should be suspicious of any church that pretends to hold all the answers – from the fundamentalist charismatics to the fundamentalist conservatives. Lets sit down with our church families and ask questions together. Just don’t accept answers too easily.


      • Michelle says:

        Thank you. I have responded on your blog. Your response here also gives me a lot to ruminate over, which I believe is an important part of whatever is going on in me now. Thank you again.

        Heh–conservatives would like us to unquestioningly accept a particular translation of select bible verses as being literally true. The PCA went to the extent of changing the Bible version used in its churches once the NIV became more accurate in its reflection of gender.

        Do you know a good, simple book on women leaders in the early church? I may own it already and need to pull it out or perhaps could find it somewhere….Maybe I could be reading it next time we visit my in-laws. 😉 I’d like to spark conversations, but…I may be hoping for too much, even with that.


  6. We’ll be a little cheeky and post this paper on women’s presence in the N.T. Sorry that it’s so long.
    In memory of her: Women in the New Testament and Early Church

    ‘God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…’ writes Paul (1 Cor 12:27, NRSV). Women were included among all three groups: apostles, prophets and teachers. They participated as leaders of congregations, interpreters and teachers of the Scriptures. In some cases they baptised and celebrated the Eucharist. Then as now there were arguments about the appropriateness of such things. At such a time as this, it is good to remember the rich diversity of experience that has been part of the Church from the beginning; the many women who have gone before.

    Euodia and Syntyche: leaders of the church at Philippi

    I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.3Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Phil 4:2-3, NRSV)

    At the end of the letter to the Philippians, Paul urges two women, Euodia and Syntyche, ‘to be of the same mind’; ‘to agree’. He also comments that these women ‘have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers.’ Euodia and Syntyche, Clement and Paul appear as a group who work together in the gospel. Paul calls them ‘co-workers’ along with his other co-workers, which included such figures as Timothy and Barnabas.

    Why does Paul address these words to the women in a public letter addressed to the whole congregation? The text suggests there is a disagreement—though it is not certain whether the disagreement is between the two women, or between the women and Paul, whether Paul is urging them to be ‘of the same mind’ as each other, or ‘of the same mind’ as himself. Clearly, however, the disagreement is significant. The fact that it is addressed in such a public letter to the entire congregation suggests that the women are key leaders in the congregation and that this disagreement—whatever its nature—therefore affects the life of the congregation and warrants being addressed in such a public way. This recognition of Euodia and Syntyche as leaders of the congregation is by no means new: no less a scholar and authority than the fourth-century archbishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, recognised the women as heads of the church in Philippi (he did not think, however, that women of his day could fulfil such a function).

    While it may surprise that the congregation at Philippi should be led by women, it is worth recalling that when Paul first travelled to Philippi he sought out a ‘place of prayer’ and encountered a group of women gathered there; that the first convert at Philippi is Lydia, and that Paul stayed in her house (Acts 16:11-15). It would appear from this account in Acts that women played a central role in the mission in Philippi from the outset.

    It has often been asked to what extent Jesus and Paul were following or breaking social conventions in the way they related to women and included women in the community. Generalisations must be avoided: Judaism was not homogeneous and there are also significant differences between Greek and Roman attitudes and culture. Many of the cities in which the Pauline communities were located (Corinth, Philippi) were highly Romanised. Roman wives were freer to move in public, joined their husbands for dinners and retained greater financial independence than their Greek counterparts. Wendy Cotter suggests that the evidence for women’s involvement from the Pauline literature is entirely conventional for Roman customs. At the same time the Pauline use of the word ekklesia (assembly) rather than oikos (house) for the gathered community implies a counter-cultural role for the women, since Roman women, like Greek women, were not permitted to hold civic office.

    The women leaders of the congregation at Philippi are, incidentally, not the only ones who encounter conflict in the context of their ministry: we know of the very public disputes of Paul with other leaders, including Peter (Gal 2:11), Barnabas (Acts 15:36-39) and various leaders at Corinth (1 Cor 1, 3). It might also be noted here in passing that Paul names many women using terms that suggest they play a role within these early missions. In his analysis of the women and men greeted in Romans 16, Richardson concludes that women are named more frequently and in more significant roles than men.

    Junia, prominent apostle, and other women apostles

    Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. (Rom 16:7, NRSV)

    Within a long list of greetings sent by Paul to the church in Rome there appears Junia, ‘prominent among the apostles’. This nonchalant reference to a woman apostle has so surprised some scholars, that they have suggested ‘Junia’ must be a male name, a shortened form of the male name ‘Junias’. This proposal has been shown to be unsubstantiated: there is extensive evidence of Junia as a common women’s name, but no evidence at all of Junias as a male name, and the ancient manuscripts of Romans all read Junia or Julia, both feminine names. Both commentaries and liturgical texts/traditions unquestioningly accept Junia or Julia.

    It has also been suggested that ‘prominent among the apostles’ simply means ‘well-known to the apostles’, which, again, allows the exclusion of Junia as a woman apostle. Against this suggestion it can be noted that both Greek and Latin commentators and the liturgical tradition of the church accept Junia as a woman apostle. In the liturgy of the Orthodox church Junia is honoured to this day as an apostle. John Chrysostom writes, ‘It is certainly a great thing to be an apostle; but to be outstanding among the apostles—think what praise that is! She was outstanding in her works, in her good deeds; oh and how great is the philosophy of this woman, that she was regarded as worthy to be counted among the apostles!’ (Homilies on the letter to the Romans, 31,2). Besides the well-known circle of the Twelve (called the Twelve Apostles by Luke) there was a wider circle of apostles which included Paul, Barnabas and others—including this woman apostle.

    The early Church also recognised the women at the tomb of Jesus as apostles, and used the designation ‘apostle to the apostles’ of such New Testament women, including Mary Magdalene and Martha. Origen calls the woman at the well in John 4 an apostle, commenting that ‘Christ sends the woman as an apostle to the inhabitants of the city … here the woman proclaims Christ to the Samaritans’ (Origen, Commentary on John, 4,26-27). Other women in early Christian tradition also receive this designation, including Thecla and Nino.

    Thecla, who is known from the second-century Acts of Paul as a disciple of Paul, is designated apostle in a fifth-century text. At that time she was a popular role-model for ascetics and there were several pilgrim sites dedicated to her. Yet already in the second century Tertullian famously fumed that ‘if they claim writings which are wrongly inscribed with Paul’s name—I mean the example of Thecla—in support of women’s freedom to teach and baptize, let them know that a presbyter in Asia, who put together that book, heaping up a narrative as it were from his own materials under Paul’s name, when after conviction he confessed that he had done it from love of Paul, resigned his position’ (On Baptism 1, 17). The Acts of Paul, as we have them, speak of Thecla as a disciple of Paul commissioned by him to ‘Go, and teach the word of God.’ They do not recount her baptising (apart from baptising herself). Since we only have fragmentary copies of the Acts, it may be the case that longer editions of the Acts included such stories. In any case, what makes the comment from Tertullian interesting is that it suggests that the example of Thecla was used in the second century to support women’s roles of teaching and baptising. While Tertullian rejects the Acts of Paul on theological grounds, some of his contemporaries (Hippolytus and Origen) use it without hesitation and in some places it was included among the canonical writings. The popularity particularly of the stories of Thecla is evident: these stories circulated also independently as The Acts of Paul and Thecla.

    Dennis MacDonald has argued convincingly that oral traditions about Paul and Thecla already circulated at the time of the writing of 1 and 2 Timothy and that the author of 1 and 2 Timothy is responding to the image of Paul presented in these traditions. (It is generally acknowledged that 1 and 2 Timothy were not written by Paul but by a later disciple in Paul’s name.) The writer of these letters and the tellers and writers of the story of Thecla preserved in the Acts of Paul each claim the example of Paul for their own position. One writes in the name of Paul that women are not to teach or have authority in the church (1 Tim 2:11-15), the other recounts Paul explicitly authorising a woman to go and teach the word of God. Only later is Thecla explicitly called an apostle; but the traditions surrounding this woman were clearly significant from their beginnings, particularly for the apostolic role attributed to her in teaching the gospel and the role-model she provided for women’s ministry in baptising.

    Nino is known as ‘apostle and evangelist’ to Georgia (Iberia). Tradition places her in the time of the emperor Constantine. An early church history by Rufinus written around 403 CE attests the conversion of Georgia by an anonymous woman prisoner of war, who preached Christ, taught Christian forms of prayer and worship and converted the royal household. Rufinus comments that she did so ‘insofar as a woman had the right to do so’, demonstrating concern over the extent to which Nino’s activity might conflict with current ecclesiastical prohibitions against such activities. The Georgian tradition preserved in the Life of Nino, by contrast, describes her activity quite freely, including preaching, teaching and baptising. It is this history which gives the woman the name Nino, which may simply mean “nun”.

    Finally, a second-century commentary on the Song of Songs by Hippolytus names Martha and Mary as ‘apostles to the apostles’, naming these two women as the women who went to the tomb at Easter. This is the earliest extant text which uses the term ‘apostle to the apostles’ of the women who announce the Easter news:

    Those who were made apostles to the apostles, having been sent by Christ, show to us a good witness; to whom first the angels said: ‘Go and announce to the disciples: “He has gone before you into Galilee. There you shall see him.”’ That, therefore, the apostles might not doubt that they (i.e. the women) were sent by the angels, Christ himself met [with] the apostles, that the women might be [recognized as] the apostles of Christ. (Hippolytus, Commentary on the Song of Songs, 25.6)

    What all of these texts show is that Junia is by no means unique in appearing as a woman apostle in early Christianity. This ‘prominent woman apostle’ takes her place alongside Paul and Barnabas in our memory of the early Christian mission and is followed by other women who receive this designation.

    Phoebe: Sister, deacon, benefactor, emissary of Paul

    I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, 2so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well. (Romans 16:1-2, NRSV)

    Paul’s list of greetings to the church in Rome begins with a commendation of Phoebe, ‘sister’, ‘deacon (Greek: diakonos) of the church at Cenchreae’ and ‘benefactor’ (Greek: prostatis) of Paul. Paul regularly uses the word ‘brother’ to designate his co-workers. Many of his letters are sent ‘from Paul the apostle and [name] the brother’ (e.g. 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Col 1:1; Phlm 1). The term ‘sister’, particularly appearing here in combination with diakonos, can be read in the same way, though it often has not been.

    Although Phoebe (Rom 16:1ff) is the only person in the Pauline literature to receive an official letter of recommendation and although she is given three substantive titles—sister, diakonos, and prostatis—her significance for the early Christian mission is far from acknowledged. …. Whenever Paul uses the title diakonos to refer to himself or another male leader, exegetes translate it ‘minister’, ‘missionary’, or ‘servant’. In the case of Phoebe they usually translate it ‘deaconess’. After characterizing Phoebe as an “obviously well-to-do and philanthropic lady,” Lietzman goes on to say: ‘Even at that time there had long been women deacons in the Christian church who, when their sex made them especially suitable, came forward and gave significant help in caring for the poor and sick, and at the baptism of women’. Similarly Michel notes: ‘It is possible that Phoebe ‘served’ women, the sick, or friends and perhaps gave also assistance at baptism of women’. Unconsciously these exegetes are projecting back into the first century the duties of deaconesses in later centuries.

    Roles and offices emerged over time in the early Christian communities. It is difficult, therefore, to know exactly what the role of diakonos might have entailed at this point, as opposed to the later roles of deacons as they are described for example in 1 Timothy or in later church documents. However, to make a distinction that assumes that this role must have differed for Phoebe because she is a woman is not supported in the text. Phoebe is identified as a benefactor to many, including Paul. This suggests that she is a person of financial means and social standing who has used her wealth and her influence to support the work of the gospel.

    It is now generally accepted that Phoebe was the bearer of the letter to the Romans to Rome and, therefore, would have been the one who read the letter to the congregation and who could be expected to amplify, clarify or explain it. While it has been suggested that Paul is here simply drawing on convenience and happenstance of Phoebe travelling to Rome on other business, Allan Chapple argues cogently that the production of the letter is far too expensive and its reception by the Roman churches far too significant to Paul to be left to circumstance. ‘It is because Romans was critical in laying the groundwork for the partnership Paul hoped to forge with the church in Rome that it is both the lengthiest and the most systematic of his letters’, he writes.

    In view of all that Romans was designed to achieve—both for Paul and his mission-plans, and for the church itself—Paul was undoubtedly investing a great deal in Phoebe when he entrusted the letter to her. … With so much riding on the positive reception of Romans, there is thus little doubt that Paul would have gone through it carefully with Phoebe so that she was able to communicate its contents as he wanted. Her reading of the letter can thus be seen as an authorised interpretation of its contents.

    When Paul sends someone to act on his behalf, to introduce himself to the churches in Rome, to secure what he seems to consider one of his most significant missions and to deliver and interpret his longest and most significant letter, he sends Phoebe. Clearly Paul expects that Phoebe will be accepted as an emissary in his name and that she will be able to act with authority within the congregations in Rome, including as reader and interpreter of his letter. Given the significance of this letter and the extensive financial cost involved in its production and delivery to Rome, if Paul had any doubts about Phoebe’s capacity to carry out this role, or the reception she might receive as a woman, it can surely be expected that he would have sent a male leader instead, or at least sent a male along with her to ensure that this important letter does not fail to reach its audience and achieve its effect.

    Prisca/Priscilla, Marcella and others: Teachers

    3Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, 4and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5Greet also the church in their house. (Rom 16:3-5, NRSV)

    … When Priscilla and Aquila heard [Apollos], they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. (Acts 18:26, NRSV)

    Acts recounts that Paul met Aquila and Priscilla (Prisca) in Corinth, where they had come after being ordered to leave Rome (Acts 18:1-3). As fellow tentmakers, Paul stayed and worked with them and eventually took the couple with him when he left for Syria, leaving them along the way in Ephesus (18:18-19). There the couple served as teachers for Apollos, who became another significant leader in the early Christian movement (18:24-26). Prisca and Aquila appear as leaders of communities of Christians meeting in their house (1 Cor 16:19; Rom 16:5). The fact that Priscilla/Prisca is mentioned ahead of her husband on five of the seven occasions in which the couple are named (Acts 18:18, 19, 26; Rom 16:3; 2 Tim 4:19) has led some scholars to conclude that she must have been the more significant person of the pair.

    Women involved in teaching include of course other women described thus far: Euodia and Syntyche, in their work in the Gospel in Philippi; Thecla and Nino and Phoebe. Again, a search through wider Christian literature, letters and inscriptions reveals other women called teachers: the teacher Kyria in a fourth-century letter from Egypt, the desert mother Synkletica, and the philosopher Hypatia in Alexandria whom the bishop Synesius of Cyrene addresses as ‘mother and sister and teacher’. Marcella was an important teacher in Rome in the fourth century. The church father Jerome had great respect for her and wrote to her often. He writes of her:

    If, after my departure [from Rome], there was a difference of opinion about any scriptural text the decision was left to her. And because she was very wise and had the gift that philosophers call to prepon, that is, the ability to decide what is appropriate, she answered when she was asked in such a way that she did not call her opinion her own, but gave it as mine or that of another, so that even when she taught she did so as if she herself was only a learner. For she knew the word of the apostle: ‘But I do not permit a woman to teach’. She did not wish the male sex, sometimes including priests who asked advice about obscure and doubtful passages, to feel any insult. (Jerome, Epistle 127,7).

    Once again the prohibition against women teaching rubs against the reality of women recognised as teachers—even as teachers of priests. Jerome feels a need (and finds a way) of resolving the obvious discrepancy between Marcella’s teaching activity and the prohibition against such activity in 1 Timothy 2:12. It appears from this, and another of Jerome’s letters (Ep. 53,7), that Marcella was the leading interpreter of Scripture in Rome at the time. She participated in public debates over Origenism, defending the orthodox view (so Jerome in Ep. 127, 9-10), and ‘was in dialogue with other theologians of her time’.

    Another Roman woman of the time, Faltonia Betitia Proba wrote a Cento, ‘a recasting of the biblical stories of creation and redemption in Virgillian verse … [that] was widely used for educational purposes in late antiquity and the Middle Ages’. Marcella’s contemporary Melania the Elder also participated in theological controversies—ut supported Origenism, earning the wrath of Jerome. She was the first of a series of aristocratic Roman women who left to found monasteries in Palestine. Others include Paula and her daughter Eustochium and Melania the Younger, the granddaughter of Melania the elder. The Life of Melania (the Younger) reports that she regularly taught both women and men and was called Teacher by the women living in her monastery. Another teacher, Theodora, is known only from her tomb epigraph in Rome at this time. Women teachers have been part of the life of the church, including as teachers of men, all prohibitions against such a practice notwithstanding.

    Women prophets
    Women prophets appear both in the New Testament and the early Church. Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthians reveals women who pray and prophesy (1 Cor 11:4,5), ‘though there seems to be a vigorous debate on the dress requirements for women and men when engaged in these charismatic activities (1 Cor 11:2-16)’. In Luke’s account of the births of John the Baptist and Jesus, a number of women prophesy: Mary, Elizabeth and Anna (Luke 1:25, 41-56; 2:36-38). Acts also notes the four daughters of Philip who prophesy (Acts 21:9). These daughters of Philip are the role models of ‘true prophets’ against the ‘false’ prophesying of the heretics for the church historian Eusebius and are known to other early Christian writers. Eusebius also mentions another ‘true’ prophet, Ammia of Philadelphia, about whom nothing else is known.

    Women prophets played a leading role in a later Christian movement known as the ‘New Prophecy’ or Montanism (after one of its leaders), which flourished around 170 CE in Phrygia. It was denounced as heretical. Another woman prophet is known from the correspondence of Firmillian, bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia with Cyprian. In a letter written to Cyprian in 255-6 CE (Cyprian epistle 74.10-11), Firmillian recounts the story of this woman who had been active in the area twenty years earlier, had prophesied, baptised and even celebrated the Eucharist. Firmillian recounts that she did so under the influence of the demonic and was eventually exorcised. He is keen to emphasise, however, that she celebrated the sacraments using all of the appropriate rubrics. The story is recounted in the context of arguments over baptism and, specifically, whether baptisms conducted by those deemed heretical could be accepted. In this context, the woman, because she is shown to be demon-possessed, serves as a case in point: ‘What, then, shall we say about the baptism of this woman, by which a most wicked demon baptized through means of a woman? … Can it be believed that either remission of sins was given, or the regeneration of the saving laver duly completed, when all things, although after the image of truth, yet were done by a demon?’ asks Firmillian (Ep. 74.11). The key issue at stake is the demon-possession of the one baptising, not her gender. None-the-less, one wonders whether it might be precisely the fact that it is a woman who is prophesying, baptising and celebrating the Eucharist that leads some to charge her with demon-possession, and to prove their case with the help of an exorcist. It may be recalled here that even Jesus was accused of being possessed by a demon (Luke 11:15-20). The accusation of demon-possession is one weapon in arguments over orthodoxy and heresy.

    In the Didache (‘Teaching of the Twelve Apostles’), a document generally thought to date around 100 CE, prophets appear as itinerant preachers and teachers who also celebrate the Eucharist (Didache 10.7). The concern this document shows about discerning true prophets from false prophets highlights the complexity that prophecy as a gift and prophets as a group of leaders presented to the early Christian communities. In the case of women prophets, this one contentious issue is further overlaid with a second issue that became contentious among the early Christian communities, the question of what leadership/authority roles (if any) women might exercise in the communities. Perhaps it becomes all-too-easy to use the one issue to argue about the other. It would certainly seem to be all the more important to attend to the two issues separately. The New Testament texts certainly show concern over false prophecy, including false prophecy of women (Matt 7:15; Acts 16:16-19; Rev 2:18-23). It also seems that New Testament writers are not immune from injecting their own perspectives on women’s roles in the church into their writings, either intentionally and unintentionally. Recognising this issue is important in the reading of Acts in particular, since it holds such a significant place in our image of the history of the earliest Church. The author of Acts, who also wrote the Gospel of Luke, is not simply “tape-recording” history, but brings his own perspective to his work, including his perspective on appropriate roles for women.

    Women celebrating the sacraments

    Having mentioned Firmillian and the woman who baptised and celebrated the Eucharist, a number of other texts can be noted that attest such practice of women. The Apostolic Church Order, a text that probably dates to the early third century, presents a detailed argument against women’s right to celebrate the Eucharist. On this topic the Apostolic Church Order presents more arguments to shore up its own position than on any other topic covered in this text. The amount of space and energy devoted to this matter suggests that it is an issue that must be argued strenuously and, as such, gives an indication both of the presence and the strength of the counterarguments. If no women were celebrating the Eucharist, and nobody was arguing in favour of their right to do so, the Apostolic Church Order would not need to argue its own position so vigorously.

    The Didascalia Apostolorum, or ‘Teaching of the Apostles’ is another church order from the third century. Its inclusion of a prohibition against women baptising ‘presupposes that they were doing so publicly and with enough frequency to warrant attention’, observes Francine Cardman. This church order is also concerned with women teaching, specifically with what ‘widows’ (a recognised office of women in the church) were teaching. They were permitted to teach certain topics, but prohibited from teaching others. The Apostolic Constitutions is a later compilation of church orders from the fourth century. Here women’s baptising is also prohibited, but in a wording that appears almost tentative: ‘Concerning the baptising of women we want you to know that there is no small danger to those [women] who attempt it. Therefore we do not advise it; for it is unsafe, or rather against the law and ungodly’ (Apostolic Constitutions 3.9.1).

    The Canons of Laodicea (c.343-381 CE) prohibit women from approaching the altar (canon 44), but also include a curious reference to presbytides or ‘female presidents’ who ‘are not to be appointed in the church’ (canon 11 NPNF II 14.129). Ute Eisen analyses this text at length, concluding that ‘the presbytides belonged to the higher clergy, which performed the service at the altar. If the presbytides had had only a marginal significance in the Church hierarchy it would scarcely have been necessary to forbid their installation. Instead, here an end was to be set to this general authority of women in Church offices.’ Eisen provides a number of other inscriptions attesting women presbyters in both East and West.

    Perhaps most surprising of all is evidence for women bishops from the early Church. From Umbria, Italy, derives an inscription dated to around 500 AD that reads, “If you will, traveller, note this inscription: here lies the venerable lady, bishop Q–, laid to rest in peace…”. The name of the woman has been destroyed. Scholarship has regularly interpreted her as the wife of a bishop, though there is no evidence of a husband in the inscription. There is evidence, however, that women were officiating at the Eucharist in Italy at the time. Pope Gelasius I wrote in 494 AD to all episcopates in southern Italy and Cicely that ‘nevertheless we have heard to our annoyance that divine affairs have come to such a low state that women are encouraged to officiate at the sacred altars, and to take part in all matters imputed to the offices of the male sex, to which they do not belong’.

    A second inscription is found in a mosaic in the Chapel of St. Zeno at Santa Prassede in Rome. It is dated to the ninth century and depicts ‘Theodora episcopa’. A tablet found in the same chapel names Theodora episcopa in the same way and identifies her as the mother of Paschal I. The suggestion that this woman could actually have been a bishop is not generally countenanced in interpretations of these inscriptions; it appears unthinkable, particularly for the church in Rome, at the centre of the Church’s hierarchical structure. Ute Eisen suggests that the possibility should nevertheless not be altogether excluded, ‘especially if we consider the kinds of feuds the bishops and popes of Rome pursued against one another, and the means they employed against each other especially in the ninth century’.

    An inscription from Salona dated to the fifth or sixth century attests a sacerdotae, a title usually applied to bishops, occasionally also to presbyters. Again, the suggestion that she may have been the bishop of the community cannot be ruled out, particularly as another inscription from there attests the woman presbyter Flavia Vitalia.

    What all of these texts indicate that the issue of women celebrating the sacraments was known and discussed in various parts of the church throughout the second to fourth century. It is clear, concludes Church historian Charlotte Methuen, that

    patterns of ministry and patterns of involvement of men and women in leadership and oversight, were not fixed throughout the history of the Church, but have developed and changed. Many decisions of the early Church about its leadership structures were mission driven, and some were intended to prevent the institution of the Church from becoming a stumbling block or an embarrassment to those to whom the folly of the Gospel was to be preached. … There are scriptural precedents for women who spread the faith as apostles and evangelists, or who had oversight over house churches and other Christian communities. The tradition of the Church shows that the exclusion of women from those offices came about for reasons of mission, for fear that pagans would ‘mock and scoff’ to hear women teach. Today this is no longer the context in which we preach the gospel. Indeed, in our context one might argue that the situation is reversed, and that the refusal to reconsider this decision is rather a reason for people to ‘mock and scoff’ at preachers of the gospel, seeing the Church as ‘anachronistic and odd’.

    Remembering the women

    ‘God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers’ writes Paul (1 Cor 12:27, NRSV). The New Testament reveals that women were included among all three groups: apostles, prophets and teachers. A survey of early Christian literature and inscriptions more widely indicates, moreover, that women continued to exercise these ministries in various parts of the church across subsequent centuries, contested and perhaps rare though these cases may have been.

    The stories we tell and the way we tell the stories is important. The book of Acts does not tell us the stories of Prisca, Lydia, Phoebe, Euodia and Syntyche and the daughters of Philip who prophesy in the same detail in which it records the stories of Stephen, Peter, Paul and Barnabas. A similar silence on the women is apparent in the Gospels. While the Gospels attest that Jesus had a group of women disciples who followed him from early on in his ministry and travelled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, these women only appear at the crucifixion (Mark 15:40-41; Matt 27:55-56). There, at the end, we are informed that the women had been there all along. A notable exception to this is the Gospel of Luke which reveals these women disciples of Jesus already in 8:1-3. Like the other Gospels, however, Luke does not recount stories of Mary Magdalene and Salome; does not show them at the Last Supper or among the disciples engaged in dialogue with Jesus or witnessing his miracles. Consequently the women tend to slip from view and it becomes all too easy to picture the disciples, apostles, missionaries and leaders only as men. We know differently: we know Junia the apostle, Phoebe the deacon, Priscilla, Euodia and Syntyche, the Samaritan woman at the well. We know Lydia, Thecla, Nino, Marcella, Synkletica, Melania, Paula. We know the daughters of Philip, Mary, Elizabeth, Anna, Ammia, Theodora episcopa, Flavia Vitalia. We know these, and the many other women, who have been part of the mission. We know and we remember.


    • Michelle says:

      Excellent! I appreciate your cheekiness! Can you tell me the author(s) of the article and/or the source? Thank you!


    • Michelle says:

      All right, now that I have taken some time to read over it–it is wonderful, by the way, thank you for sharing it!–and my blood pressure has settled a little over the way humans have messed with the translation of scripture, I have 3 things to say…

      One, a typo:
      “Another Roman woman of the time, Faltonia Betitia Proba wrote a Cento, ‘a recasting of the biblical stories of creation and redemption in Virgillian verse … [that] was widely used for educational purposes in late antiquity and the Middle Ages’. Marcella’s contemporary Melania the Elder also participated in theological controversies—ut supported Origenism”

      Toward the end, I believe it should be “but supported Origenism”

      Two, another prophet, simply because she was important to me and because of the attitude I received years ago as a new Christian, from a Christian who *knew* there was no such prophet (Huldah):

      2 Kings 22

      New International Version (NIV)
      13 “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”

      14 Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Akbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter.

      15 She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made,[a] my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.’ 18 Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: 19 Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse[b] and be laid waste —and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. 20 Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.’”

      So they took her answer back to the king.


      2 Chronicles 34:21-23

      New International Version (NIV)

      21 “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the remnant in Israel and Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that is poured out on us because those who have gone before us have not kept the word of the Lord; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written in this book.”

      22 Hilkiah and those the king had sent with him[a] went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tokhath,[b] the son of Hasrah,[c] keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter.

      23 She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me,

      Three, because I am an editor and a lover of language, it is worth pointing out that referring to Phoebe as a “deaconess”, in and of itself is another example of, as it says in the article, projecting back into the first centuries an understanding that did not come about until later centuries. After all, was the word used for Phoebe and the men “diakonos”? Is the noun itself feminine? If not, then to translate it as a word that carries with it the meaning that someone who is described using that word is female, that it can apply to females only, is not native to the word. Had Hillary Clinton been elected president, only a certain group of detractors would have referred to her as “presidentess”, as the word for the office remains “president”, regardless of the sex of the person in the position.

      Thank you again for sharing the article!


      • There has been a tightly woven cultural web rewriting women’s pastoral leadership. Sadly it is still maintained today by some whose love of tradition is stronger than their will to re-examine Scripture. Good will luck with your journey.


  7. Michelle says:

    Katie and Martin,
    Thank you. And yours as well.


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