Paul Praises Women Ministers




Romans 16 (NLT)



  • The bearer of this letter, Phoebe, is a dear friend and fellow worker for Christ. Welcome her as you would me. I heartily recommend both her and her work as a minister in the church at Cenchrea. She deserves whatever you can do for her. She has helped many people, including me.
  • Say hello to Aquila and Priscilla. They have worked hand in hand with me. They once put their lives on the line for me.
  • Hello also, to my friend Epenetus, the very first follower of Jesus in Asia.
  • And then there are my cousins Andronicus and Janias. We once shared a jail cell. They were followers of Christ before me.
  • Hello to Mary. What a worker she has turned out to be!
  • And the list of people to be greeted goes on for another 30 more names.
  • One last word of caution my friends. Keep a sharp eye out for the smooth talkers who would take bits and pieces of what we have taught you to lead you astray. They have no intention of following the Master, their only aim is to stir up trouble.
  • Don’t be gullible in regards to the snake oil charlatans. Be smart, stay alert, making sure every “good deal” is the real deal.
  • Now, a few more greetings from our end. Timothy, my partner, Lucius and my cousins Jason and Sosipater have all said to tell you hello.
  • I, Tertius, who wrote this letter as Paul dictated, send my personal greetings.
  • So all praise be to the One who is strong enough to make you
  • All our praise is focused, through Jesus, on this incomparably wise God!



Through the years I have heard so much controversy about Paul’s admonitions to women concerning how they should act in church meetings.. about how they should dress for church, what they should or should not say… “If you have questions about what was taught in the meetings, talk to your husband.” “They are not to be leaders or teachers.” “They are NOT to be ordained as pastors.”

I was a little befuddled as I read this last chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Here he is commending different leaders in the church at Rome and sending greeting to so many leaders there. Not being a scholar of Biblical languages, as I read the list of names, I wondered, “How many of these people are women?

I recognized a few, Pricilla, Phoebe and Mary as being feminine names. But how about the other 40 or so names? I couldn’t even pronounce them, let alone tell if they were the names of women.

This is what I love about the internet! I searched for “names in the Bible.” This is one of the best sites that came up. Once on the site, I filtered by “feminine” and “Bible names.” It listed all 136 names in the Bible that were of the feminine persuasion from Abiah to Zipporah.

So, a quick check of Paul’s friends in Rome against the list of ladies names revealed some interesting insights.


Phoebe, the first woman mentioned. It appears that she was the mail courier of this epistle to the Romans.

Latinized form of the Greek name Φοιβη (Phoibe), which meant “bright, pure” from Greek φοιβος (phoibos). In Greek mythology Phoibe was a Titan associated with the moon. This was also an epithet of her granddaughter, the moon goddess Artemis. The name appears in Paul‘s epistle to the Romans in the New Testament, where it belongs to a female minister in the church at Cenchreae. In England, it began to be used as a given name after the Protestant Reformation. A moon of Saturn bears this name (in honour of the Titan).


So, Phoebe was the first female Christian minister! Notice what he has to say about her: “a dear friend and fellow worker for Christ.”

“I heartily recommend both her and her work as a minister in the church at Cenchrea.”

“She deserves anything you can do for her.”

“She’s helped many a person, including me.”


Doesn’t sound to me like he is putting down for anything.


Pricilla, the next woman on the list also gets high marks. She, along with her husband Aquila, taught Paul the trade of tent making. They taught him to be a self-supporting missionary. I they spent time together in the jail cells for preaching Jesus.

Mary, he was proud of the work she did for the Church.


Junias, one of Paul’s cousins, along with her brother, Andronicus spent time in jail with Paul.


Tryphosa and Tryphena, mentioned by Paul in his greeting to the Romans. They were companions in their work for the Lord.


Persis, “dear Persis, who has worked so hard for the Lord.”


Julia, “Give my love to Julia”


So, out of the 40 or so leaders that received Paul’s greeting and praise, there were seven women who were ministers, deacons, and Bible workers within the Roman church. Strong women leaders. They were diligent, competent and hard working women whom Paul chose to point out by his greetings to them. He wanted to encourage them, by recognizing them in this way.

Phoebe was a special case. She may have been traveling with Paul and his companions, on their missionary journeys, as the first paragraph of the introduction would seem to indicate. Or she may have been living in the town from where Paul composed this letter. At any rate Paul came acquainted with her and her church work when he stopped in her town to get his head shaved. She volunteered or was chosen to carry this letter to the Roman church. (Romans 16:1 EXB)

Her work with Paul was extoled by him as he began reciting the virtues of other women within the Roman congregation.


I have spent several hours searching for a passage where Paul, it appeared, had been chastised for the women who followed his missionary journeys. In his rebuttal, he makes the defense that he has as much right to carry (or escort) women about as does Peter and other apostles. But, I have been unable to find the reference, so either I just thought that I read it, or I’ve been looking in all the wrong places.


If you, my readers, know of this reference, please share with me in the Comments section.


Now why do you suppose that the counsel give by Paul in other places, i.e. For women, be quiet in church. If you have comments or questions, ask your husbands in the privacy of your homes, was not given to the church in Rome? Or if they had read or heard this counsel, why were they being praised for not following it?

Why is their treatment by Paul so different from the praise given the women in the church in Rome? Could it be that sometimes women got contentious and would be quibbling over whatever trivia women like to “discuss”?

I like the way Eugene Peterson puts this in context.

“Wives have no license to use the time of worship for unwarranted speaking. Do you—both women and men—imagine that you’re a sacred oracle determining what’s right and wrong? Do you think everything revolves around you?”


Perhaps today, those “strong” women whom Paul was praising would likely be clamoring for their ordination into the ministry and the cantankerous ones would still be arguing over trivia.


One thought on “Paul Praises Women Ministers

  1. Its good to know that many of these were women and that Paul wasn’t as sexist as I thought ;). It’s possible that if we looked at a time line of his remarks concerning women we would see that as he gre in relationship with Jesus, his opinions about the value of women changed.

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