A questionable text in Paul—
Of the various “offices” listed in the NT for the early church—apostles, bishops, deacons, prophets, teachers, evangelists (and a single mention of “pastor” )—women are mentioned specifically in three: apostle, prophet and deacon. They are all mentioned by St. Paul.
Despite sometimes getting a “bad rap” for statements attributed to him concerning women, the Paul’s letters have some of the most affirming statements about women. For example—
> NRS Galatians 3:28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
> NRS Romans 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae,
> NRS Romans 16:3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, 4 and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5 Greet also the church in their house.
> NRS Philippians 4:2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, 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.
These women he considers co-workers with him in Christ. However, he also says:
> NRS 1 Corinthians 14:34 women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?
Now, this is a passage in some dispute among biblical scholars. For one thing, it seems to contradict a passage ocurring just three chapters prior, in the same letter:
> NRS 1 Corinthians 11:5 but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head-- it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved.
(It also says in Acts 2:18—“Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.&rdquo😉
It is hard to see how a woman can prophesy, and keep silent at the same time. Some biblical scholars conclude that verses 34-36 were not actually written by Paul, but inserted by a later scribe (an apparently not uncommon phenomenon, according to those who study all the manuscript variations). Textual scholar Bart D. Ehrman, after examining the evidence on this passage, concludes:
“As it seems unreasonable to think that Paul would flat out contradict himself within the short space of three chapters, it appears that the verses in question do not derive from Paul.
“And so on the basis of a combination of evidence [which he addresses in preceding pages]—several manuscripts that shuffle the texts around, the immediate literary context, and the context within 1 Corinthians as a whole—it appears that Paul did not write 1 Cor. 14:34-35. One would have to assume, then, that these verses are a scribal alteration of the text, originally made, perhaps as a marginal note and then eventually, at an early stage of the copying of 1 Corinthians, placed in the text itself. The alteration was no doubt made by a scribe who was concerned to emphasize that women should have no public role in the church, that they should be subservient to their husbands. This view then came to be incorporated into the text itself, by means of a textual alteration.”
—Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus, 2005 (p. 184)
In 1st Timothy, Paul seems to take a similar stand on women keeping silent:
> NRS 1 Timothy 2:11 Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. 12 I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.
There are several problems here, however. First, “Scholars are by and large convinced that 1 Timothy was not written by Paul but by one of his later, second-generation followers.” (Ehrman, p. 181) Second, it is difficult to see how a woman can prophesy, or be an apostle, or even a deacon, and keep “silence with full submission;” it certainly does not fit with Paul’s other references to women as “co-workers.” Third, it sets a different salvation standard for women than men (which contradicts Paul in Galatians), and one which is inconsistent with the dominant NT message that all (men and women) are saved by grace through faith, baptism, etc.
Junia, the Apostle
> NRS Romans 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among [or within] the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
Junia is a woman. In the Greek, her name is Iounian, and is feminine, accusative, singular in form.
The NIV translation says: “They are outstanding among the apostles” (as does the NAS). KJV says: “who are of note among the apostles.” NJB says: “Greetings to those outstanding apostles,...”
The text is clear: Junia is a woman apostle. An apostolos is one sent to proclaim a message, in this case the gospel message. How can a woman be an apostle if she has to remain silent? And, as an apostle, Junia is in the top ranks of the “ecclesial structure” as outlined by Paul—
> NRS 1 Corinthians 12:28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues.
One could argue that there is gospel precedent for a woman serving the “apostolic role”—
> NRS Matthew 28:1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you." 8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.
10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."
In Mark:16, it is Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome:
> NRS Mark 16:7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you."
In the Gospel of John:
> NRS John 20: 17 Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' " 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
A common thematic statement in these passages is “go, tell” (this formula is not in the Lucan account).
Recognizing the Christ
Matthew’s gospel has Peter as the first one recognizing (at least out loud) that Jesus is the Christ:
> NRS Matthew 16:16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah (Christos), the Son of the living God."
Luke’s version is similar. In the Gospel of John, however, it is not Peter but, first Andrew (John 1:41); then (unless one counts the woman at the well, and some folks who wondered) it is Martha:
> NRS John 11:27 She [Martha] said to him, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."
The bottom-line is that some strong women played prominent, leadership roles in the early Christian community, and not just administrative ones—and not just child-rearing and serving meals to the males.