Women and Leadership in Romans 16

Reimund Bieringer

Reimund BIERINGER is a professor of Biblical Studies at the Faculty of Theology of the Catholic University of Leuven.  He has (co-)authored many books, the latest of which are Anti-Judaism and the Fourth Gospel, When Love Is Not Enough: A Theo-Ethic of Justice, and Noli Me Tangere: Mary Magdalene: One Person, Many Images.  He has also published numerous exegetical researches in various journals/compilations.  A well-known scholar, he has given lectures all over the world.

The Leading Roles of Phoebe, Prisca, and Junia in Early Christianity1


aul is not really known as a feminist. Quotes such as, "the husband is the head of his wife" (1 Cor 11:3), "women should be silent in the churches" (1 Cor 14:34), and "wives, be subject to your husbands" (Eph 5:22; Col 3:18 and Tit 2:5),2 are well-known to anyone who is familiar with the Christian tradition. Such quotes were and still are cited by those who want to legitimate androcentric, patriarchal structures.

However, we also encounter several names of early Christian women in the letters of Paul. These names include Phoebe, Prisca and Junia, Mary, Persis, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Apphia, Euodia, and Syntyche. As opposed to the androcentric quotes mentioned above, these women are almost completely unknown today, even among active Christians. The aim of this contribution is to introduce three of them—namely, Phoebe, Prisca, and Junia—to the readers. What do we know about their lives? What place and function did they have within the early Christian communities? What was their relationship to Paul? In order to achieve this we shall first discuss the place of women in the letters of Paul in general and the presentation of men and women in Romans 16.

1. Paul and the Place of Women in Recent Exegesis

Historical-critical exegesis has profoundly altered the traditional portrait of Paul. Rather than affirming 13 (or even 14)3letters as authentically Pauline, many researchers today consider only seven of these letters as having Paul himself as their author,4 namely: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians have come to be considered by many researchers as Deutero-Pauline letters, i.e., as written by disciples of Paul who wrote the letters in the name of Paul to benefit from his authority.5This could also be true of the Pastoral Letters, namely, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. However, considering their historical situation and theological content, the Pastoral Letters should be viewed as yet further removed from Paul than the Deutero-Pauline letters. Because of this, they are sometimes referred to as Trito-Pauline letters.

The discussion of the authenticity of the "letters of Paul"6 is of exceedingly great importance for the question of Paul’s understanding of the role and place of women in Christianity. A large number of the crucial texts that have for ages been taken as definitive expressions of Paul’s understanding of the role and place of women, texts that have come to define the churches’ theory and practice regarding women, come from the Deutero- or Trito-Pauline letters. If Paul is not the author of these texts, he is, for instance, not to be held personally responsible for the command given to women to be subject to their husbands (Eph 5:22; Col 3:18, and Tit 2:5). Paul would not be the source of 1 Tim 2:9-15 either. This is one of the most explicit New Testament texts about the subordination of women, not only demanding obedience in practical situations, but also giving a theological legitimation. This means that Paul is no longer considered to be the author of sayings such as, "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent" (1 Tim 2:12).7 Neither is it Paul himself who legitimates the inferiority of women on the basis of the order of creation and of her role in the Fall ("For Adam was formed first, then Eve" 2:13; "the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" 2:14). Finally, it therefore follows that it is not Paul who says that the woman will be saved through childbearing (2:15). Much of recent scholarship thus assumes that the responsibility for these texts lies not with Paul, but with people who, although seeing themselves in the continuation of Pauline tradition, were more concerned with the ethos of the surrounding culture than with the core of the Christian message.8

Limiting Paul’s authorship to seven letters does not, however, allow us to escape from all the texts that assign inferior roles to women. A few very outspoken texts that over the centuries have done much harm to the cause of the equality of women are to be located in the authentic letters of Paul, especially in 1 Corinthians. The most outspoken text in this regard is 1 Cor 14:33b-35: "As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. 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." Many exegetes hold that it is impossible that Paul could have written these lines. They explain the presence of 1 Cor 14:33b-35 as follows. The autograph of 1 Corinthians did not contain the text of 1 Cor 14: 33b-35. At some point early in the process of copying the text, someone added these lines as a gloss in the margins. Later in the process of the text’s transmission, a copyist included these words in the actual text of the letter. There are a number of important arguments that lend support to this hypothesis, but one is of particular importance: the obvious contradiction between 14:33b-35 and 11:2-6. If women pray and prophesy in the assembly, as is taken for granted by Paul in 11:5, then they must be allowed to speak.9 Paul is thus not responsible for the directive that women must be silent in the ekklêsiai.10Consequently, we must adjust our view of Paul’s understanding of the role of women in Christianity once again, recognizing him as even less androcentric.

A text that traditionally has been considered paradigmatic of Paul’s view toward women is 1 Cor 7. Here, the question of the value of marriage according to Paul in the Christian perspective is especially important. The most problematic statement concerning women is found in 7:1b: "it is well for a man not to touch a woman."11 Many exegetes and translations place this sentence between quotation marks to indicate that Paul does not give his own conviction, but quotes from the letter that the Corinthians sent to Paul. The statement is then seen as the opinion of some in Corinth which Paul quotes in order to disagree with it, nuancing and correcting it (see 7:2).

If one accepts that all the previously mentioned texts do not have Paul as their author, one is still faced with the problematic statements about women in 1 Cor 11:2-16. Some exegetes also put the authenticity of this text into question. However, they are in the minority and their intention to clear Paul from the accusation of being androcentric is all too obvious. Most exegetes are convinced that one needs to face the challenge that this text is most likely authored by Paul himself. A number of remarks in 11:2-16 express the inferiority of the woman: "the head of the woman is man" (11:3),12 "he [the man] is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man" (11:7), and "woman [is created] for the sake of man" (11:9). Moreover, many are convinced that Paul intends the woman’s head covering to be an external sign of her subordination.

It is impossible here to mention all interpretative attempts that try to mitigate the manifest chauvinism of this text within the scope of our present study. According to some, Paul is speaking exclusively about married women and men in 11:2-16.13 Therefore, they say that the remarks should not be read as referring to women as such, but only to married women. Others maintain that Paul’s teaching is directed against wearing "unisex" hair styles that blur the difference between man and woman.14 On the basis of detailed philological studies, some have also suggested an alternative translation of the Greek word kephalê. Instead of "head," in 11:3 this word is interpreted as meaning "origin," resulting in the translation, "the man is the origin of the woman." Paul’s statement would then have to be understood in the light of the second creation story (Gen 2:21-22). In the undeniably one-sided statements in 11:7, Paul manipulates Genesis 1:27 for his purposes in the context. Genesis speaks about male and female as created in God’s image: "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." Paul, however, restricts being in the image of God to man alone: man "is the image and reflection of God; but woman is the reflection of man" (11:7). In 11:11-12, Paul himself corrects his own one-sided statements to a certain extent by stressing the reciprocity between man and woman from a Christian perspective: "Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God." The androcentric tendencies in the text seem to be conditioned by a specific situation in Corinth. They are counterbalanced or corrected by Paul himself in the same context.

As we saw, Paul allows himself to get carried away in what is obviously a heated debate with the Corinthian community. He seems to become aware of his one-sided statements and immediately proceeds to correct them. It is obvious that there is a dangerous potential in the Pauline text, but the interpreters of the text inescapably either intensify or diffuse the androcentric qualities of the text.

In conclusion, contemporary research no longer sees Paul as the author of the most explicit sayings that imply the inferiority of women. Such sayings are rather seen as reflecting the opinion of specific groups within the Corinthian community (see 1 Cor 7:1b) or the conviction of someone in the next generation after Paul who belonged to the Pauline tradition and wrote letters in his name (see the remarks about women in Eph, Col, 1 Tim and Tit). The origin of androcentric statements can also be seen in the work of a later copyist who might have added a gloss in the margin. Moreover, contemporary scholarship tends to nuance the problematic texts which are undeniably authentically Pauline with the help of semantic and contextual research. As a result, Paul is no longer the ideological ally of those who seek biblical support for their androcentric and patriarchal convictions.

This far-reaching change in perspective laid the foundation for a greater appreciation of the woman-friendly elements in the letters which had previously been overlooked or neutralized by more androcentric reading strategies. Here we must, in the first place, turn to Gal 3:27-28 where Paul says: "(v. 27) As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (v. 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." When all the statements about the inferiority of women in the 13 Pauline letters were still attributed to Paul, people paid less attention to Gal 3:28 or they developed strategies to play down the content and potential implications of these verses. For example, people said that the equality of man and woman that the verse talks about was not applicable to the present world, but only to the eschatological future.15 However, for those who only consider seven of the 13 letters as authentically Pauline, Gal 3:28 becomes the preeminent hermeneutical key to Paul’s understanding of the place and the role of men and women in the Christian community. All other remarks by Paul regarding women are thus to be read from the standpoint of Gal 3:28.16

Not holding Paul responsible for most of the texts that are unfavorable towards women and giving Gal 3:28 a central place opened the readers’ eyes for the concrete women mentioned in the authentic Pauline letters and their specific functions.17 In Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche have struggled alongside Paul for the sake of the gospel (Phil 4:3).18 In Cenchrea, one of the port cities of Corinth, Phoebe worked as a diakonos and a prostatis. Together with Aquila, Prisca ministered in Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome as a co-worker of Paul. In the letter to Philemon, Apphia receives pride of place (v. 2). There are five prominent women in the Roman communities whose names are known to us: Junia, Mary, Persis, Tryphena, and Tryphosa (see Romans 16). In this study we shall focus on three women: Phoebe, Prisca, and Junia. Phoebe and Junia exclusively appear in Rom 16:1-16. About Prisca, who is mentioned in several other books of the NT, we also find important information in Romans 16. Therefore, we shall first give an overview of this text.

2. Romans 16

Romans 16 contains the conclusion of the letter. It is the longest conclusion of any of the Pauline letters. Rom 16:1-16 has the highest concentration of names anywhere in the New Testament. Paul lists the names in the greetings that he sends.19 By virtue of the fact that he includes these people in the greetings of the letter and the manner in which he explicitly describes his relationship with some of them, we can conclude that he knew them personally. If we bear this in mind along with the fact that Paul had never visited the community in Rome before writing the letter to the Romans, the question arises how it is possible that Paul knew so many people in the Christian community of Rome. This is why some scholars called into question the integrity of Rom 16:1-23 and wondered whether these greetings might originally have been directed to one of the other Pauline communities.

A number of arguments support the hypothesis that Rom 16:1-23 was taken from (a part of) an otherwise lost letter of Paul to the Ephesians20 and was then appended to the letter to the Romans by a later redactor. First, Paul sends greetings to Prisca and Aquila in Rom 16:3. As far as we know from 1 Cor 16:19, the two were in Ephesus while Paul was writing the First Letter to the Corinthians in that city.21 Second, in Rom 16:5, Epaenetus is introduced as "the first convert in Asia for Christ," thereby making an explicit link with the province of which Ephesus is the capital. Finally, it is more likely that Paul knew so many people in Ephesus since he lived and preached there for three years (from year 52 to year 54).

However, there is still another more likely explanation. It is probable that after Paul had left Ephesus in the autumn of 54, Prisca and Aquila had moved to Rome and were already staying there while Paul was writing the Letter to the Romans in Corinth in the winter of 55/56. Moreover, Rom 16:5 does not necessarily imply that Epaenetus was in Asia or Ephesus at the very moment that Paul was passing on his greetings to him. It is possible that he had also moved to Rome. Therefore, the people Paul knew in Rome were for the most part people that had worked together with him in Ephesus between 52 and 54 and from there had moved to Rome, perhaps to prepare a new centre there for the mission to Spain (see Rom 15:23-24.28).22

An analysis of the names in Rom 16:1-16 renders the following picture:23 Paul makes mention of 19 men and 10 women. The overwhelming majority of these names are Greek, six are Latin (Ampliatus, Aquila, Julia, Junia, Rufus, and Urbanus) and perhaps two are Hebrew (possibly Mary and Herodion).24 For the ten persons whom he mentions at the end (16:14-15), he provides no further information in addition to the name, except in one case where he mentions a family relation: "his sister." Eight of them are men and only two are women. This means that Paul offers specific information about 11 men and eight women. Paul indicates a close personal relationship with 12 of them, four of whom are women. For four people in the list, Paul uses the adjective "beloved," namely, Epaenetus, Ampliatus, Stachys, and Persis. Prisca, Aquila, and Urbanus are introduced as "my/our co-workers" (synergoi). Prisca and Aquila are said to have risked their lives for Paul. The mother of Rufus has become like a mother to him. Andronicus and Junia are his compatriots who were imprisoned with him. In addition, his reference to Apelles as "approved in Christ"25 suggests that he knew him personally and held him in high esteem. There is a final observation of particular importance that should be given for the purposes of the present contribution: seven of the ten women named and only three or perhaps four of the 19 men named are described by Paul in one way or another as people standing in service of the Gospel. The women are Phoebe, Prisca, Maria, Junia, Tryfena, Tryfosa, and Persis. The men are Aquila, Andronicus, and Urbanus.26 The terminology that Paul employs here for the service of the Gospel is varied: diakonos (Phoebe); synergos (Prisca, Aquila, Urbanus); apostolos(Andronicus, Junia); and the verb kopiaô (en kyriôi) (Maria, Tryfena, Tryfosa, and Persis).27 Against this backdrop we shall now concentrate on the texts about the three most prominent women in Romans 16. We shall do this according to the order in which they are mentioned by Paul.

3. Phoebe, the Deacon of the Church of Cenchrea

Paul begins Rom 16:1-16 with a recommendation for Phoebe:28
16:1a I commend to you
16:1b our sister (adelphê) Phoebe,
16:1c [also/indeed] (a/the) deacon (diakonos) of the church at Cenchreae,
16:2a so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints
16:2b and help her
16:2c in whatever she may require from you;
16:2d for she has been a benefactor (prostatis) of many and of myself as well.

New Revised Standard Version, with our own editorial additions

The apostle describes Phoebe with three independent nouns that we will discuss in the order of the text: adelphê, diakonosand prostatis.

The Adelphê Phoebe

The word adelphê (sister) gives exegetes the least amount of problems among the three nouns used to characterize Phoebe. Even though adelphê literally refers to "a female who comes from the same womb as the reference person,"29in the Pauline letters it is almost always used metaphorically and means "fellow Christian." In Rom 16:15 Paul obviously uses adelphê in the literal sense referring to a woman who came from the same womb as Nereus. However, this does not mean that we should consider Phoebe as the sister of Paul in the literal sense, even though it is not completely impossible. We do not have any knowledge about the siblings of Paul. For Phoebe to be Paul’s biological sister, one would have to assume hypothetically that she happened to be in Cenchreae or that she had moved there recently. But it is more likely that Paul begins his recommendation of Phoebe to the community in Rome by presenting her as a fellow Christian.30 Their shared Christian faith is the foundation for what follows.

The Diakonos Phoebe

The second characterisation of Phoebe is that she is a "diakonos of the church at Cenchreae." We are aware of four translations for diakonos, namely, "servant" (King James Version), "minister" (New American Bible’), "deaconess" (Revised Standard Version) and "deacon" (New Revised Standard Version). As we shall see, these differences are of great importance. But first we shall draw attention to four linguistic observations in 16:1:

  1. Paul employs the masculine form of diakonos with respect to a woman.31
  2. Paul uses the Greek noun diakonos without the definite article. The absence of the article in Greek is ambiguous and might correspond in English to the absence of an article (‘servant/minister/deacon"),32 an indefinite article ("a servant/minister/deacon")33 and a definite article (‘the minister/deacon").34
  3. Paul qualifies diakonos as "of the ekklêsia (church/community/ assembly) at Cenchreae."35 This is the only instance in the New Testament where someone is explicitly described as diakonos of a specific ekklêsia.36
  4. From a text-critical point of view, it remains uncertain whether diakonos is preceded by the conjunction kai(also/too/likewise/indeed). The Greek New Testament of Nestle-Aland (26th/27th edition) places kai between square brackets in order to indicate that the editorial committee was split down the middle whether or not to include kai in the text. If kai is present in the text, it emphasizes that Phoebe, in addition to being a fellow Christian, is also diakonos, and therefore illustrates that diakonos is not understood as a word that can be equally applied to every Christian. Some people are Christians and diakonoi; others are only Christians. If kai is a later addition, then it only explicitates what is implicitly present in the text anyway.

According to lexica and specialized studies, diakonos means "servant," "helper," "intermediary," and "deacon."37 In the Septuagint, the word group diakonos (servant, etc.)-diakonia (service, etc.)-diakoneô (to serve, etc.) is very rare. In the New Testament, we actually find only 100 occurrences of the word group, of which 35 are to be found in the authentic letters of Paul, mostly in 2 Corinthians and Romans.38

What does Paul mean when he calls Phoebe "diakonos of the church at Cenchreae" (Rom 16:1)? As we said earlier, the expression is unique in the New Testament because of the explicit connection with a local community. The expression has its closest parallel in the diakonoi in Philippi, where the connection with a local community is implicitly present. However, does Paul, when he calls Phoebe "diakonos of the church at Cenchreae" in Rom 16:1, also have in mind thediakonia-theology which he had developed in 2 Corinthians? Or is the expression here a title, as in the contemporary phrase "the pastor of St. Jacob’s parish," whereby no one generally reflects the theological significance of the word "pastor"? It is impossible to give a definite answer to this question. If Paul assumed a fundamental theological difference between his being diakonos himself and that of Phoebe’s, then we can at least conclude that Paul had no problem using the same terminology for both and thus seems not to have been afraid of confusion between both. Some might claim that Paul would not have applied diakonos to Phoebe in the exact same sense as he would have applied the term to himself for, they might continue, no one except the apostles appointed by the risen Christ was actuallydiakonos in the same sense as Paul. Even if this is correct, this does not mean that Paul could not also have applied fundamental elements of his diakonia-theology to the diakonia of Phoebe. Moreover, if Paul wanted to make a clear distinction between his being diakonos and that of Phoebe’s, it would be surprising that he uses the same terminology for both. Therefore, we may surmise that Phoebe had a leadership role in Cenchreae.39 However, the text does not tell us what her leadership concretely implied. For that reason we prefer not to translate the noun diakonos in order not to give the false impression that Phoebe’s role was the same as specific roles we know today. There is yet a third qualification of Phoebe to which we now turn.

The Prostatis Phoebe

The third word that Paul uses while speaking about Phoebe is prostatis. The older translation of this word emphasizes qualities of help and assistance.40 More recently, prostatis has been understood as meaning "benefactor" and "patroness."41 This is based on the presupposition that the Greek word prostatis is a Latinism, the Greek rendering of the Latin word patrona,42 the feminine form of patronus. In the first place, this word means patron or protector.43

Recent translations of prostatis in Rom 16:2 as patroness and benefactor thus bring us back to the possible connection with patrona and give the word its meaning, bringing to the fore the social character and the public dimension of leadership. This is particularly clear in the interpretation of Joseph A. Fitzmyer. According to him, by using the titleprostatis, Paul recognizes the public service this prominent woman extended to many Christians in Cenchreae. In this perspective Phoebe was a leader of the Christian community of Cenchreae. She probably owned a house. As a rich businesswoman with great authority, she was in a position to support the missionaries who travelled to Corinth via the port of Cenchreae. According to Fitzmyer, we do not know for sure what her support consisted of, but we can guess: in the offering of hospitality, in defending Christian causes before the secular authorities, or in lending financial support for missionary journeys.44

The possibility of determining the precise meaning of prostatis is limited by the fact that this word only appears in the Greek Bible in Rom 16:2 (never in the LXX). The masculine counterpart prostatês occurs nowhere in the New Testament and only eight times in the Septuagint. There it has the connotation of "administrator" and "authorized representative." According to the lexica, the cognate verb prohistêmi, which Paul himself uses twice, means "to lead, to have authority, to care for, to be concerned with, to extend help, to engage oneself in." Obviously, this verb also has the double connotation of "helping" and "leading." It occurs in Rom 12:8 ("the leader, in diligence") and 1 Thess 5:12 ("But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you"; italics added). Here there is almost a consensus among the translators. The verbprohistêmi is rendered as "to rule" (King James Version), "to lead" (New International Version), "to be put in charge" (New Jerusalem Bible), "to be over others" (New American Bible).45 In both cases, Paul speaks about leadership in connection with Christian faith or Christian life, in 1 Thessalonians explicitly ("in the Lord") and in Romans implicitly, judging from the context.

In Rom 16:2 prostatis is used for a role that is to be realized in relation with others. This is expressed in the words, "of many and of myself." Phoebe is prostatis in relation to individuals, certainly to Paul, but also others. It therefore seems unlikely that in Rom 16:2 the noun prostatis has the same meaning as the cognate verb prohistêmi in Rom 12:8 and 1 Thess 5:12, namely, leading a community. Rather the relationship with individuals which Paul refers to in Rom 16:2 seems to correspond best to the Latin patrona, the protective role of a mistress or benefactress for those in her care.

It shall never be possible to know precisely what Paul means by prostatis. In the context, however, it is obvious that Paul presents Phoebe as superior to him and many others in these same respects,46 i.e., in her role as prostatis. We suggest that there is a parallel with Rom 16:4 where Paul also presents himself in an inferior position with regard to Prisca and Aquila.47 It is striking that Paul does not hesitate to acknowledge his inferior position, especially considering that in both cases it is a woman who is superior to him.48

At the conclusion of this investigation we must first and foremost underscore how difficult it is to precisely describe the role of Phoebe. The lexical meanings of the keywords diakonos and prostatis are ambiguous. Each contains a dimension of "assistance" as well as a dimension of authority and leadership. On the basis of our analysis, we conclude, though not without hesitation, that Phoebe in her role as diakonos of the church of Cenchreae fulfilled a leading role and that she was the superior of Paul and many others in certain respects which are unknown to us.


1. This article is an updated and abridged version of Reimund Bieringer, „Febe, Prisca en Junia. Vrouwen en leiderschap in de brieven van Paulus," in Frans Van Segbroeck (ed.), Paulus, Verslagboek Vliebergh-Sencie-leergang, Bijbel 2003 (Leuven-Voorburg: Vlaamse Bijbelstichting-Acco, 2004), pp. 157-202. We thank Wolf Diedrich for making the first draft of the English translation.

2. The quotations from the Bible are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, unless otherwise indicated.

3. Those who consider the corpus Paulinum to consist of 14 letters also include the Letter to the Hebrews. However, this letter does not claim Pauline authorship.

4. As we know from Rom 16:22, 1 Cor 16:21, and Gal 6:11 (cf. Col 4:18 and 2 Thess 3:17), Paul dictated his letters to an amanuensis.

5. This phenomenon is called "pseudepigraphy." It was widespread in antiquity and seems not to have been considered as morally objectionable. Something like copyright did not yet exist at the time.

6. See, for instance, Raymond F. Collins, Letters That Paul Did Not Write: The Epistle to the Hebrews and the Pauline Pseudepigrapha (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1988).

7. Cf. Tit 2:3 where older women are exhorted: "they are to teach what is good." Those who want to avoid a contradiction between this verse and 1 Tim 2:12 assume that in Tit 2:3 Paul is speaking about the teaching of women by women.

8. Even though the Deutero- and Trito-Pauline letters may not have been written by Paul, they are part of the canon of Sacred Scriptures. It is beyond the scope of this study to discuss the implied hermeneutical and biblical-theological issues.

9. See, for instance, Wolfgang Schrage, Der erste Brief an die Korinther, vol. 3: 1 Kor 11,17-14,40 (Neukirchen/Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1999), pp. 484-485 and Andreas Lindemann, Der Erste Korintherbrief(Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000), pp. 315-321.

10. Usually the Greek word ekklêsiai in 1 Cor 14:34 is translated as "churches." Dictionaries mention "church," "congregation," "assembly," and "gathering" for the lemma ekklêsia. The New Jerusalem Bible, exceptionally, translates this as "assemblies." The use of the plural in 1 Cor 14:34 clearly points to the fact that the statement is not about the Church as such, but rather about local church gatherings. Depending on the way one translatesekklêsia, the scope of the statement varies.

11. The Greek verb haptomai, which is generally translated as "to touch" is generally understood here to refer to sexual relations. See, for instance, the New International Version which gives two alternative translations: "It is not good for a man to marry" and "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman."

12. This translation is found in the King James Version, the New King James Version, the New International Version, and the New Jerusalem Bible.

13. This type of translation is found in the Revised Standard Version, the New Revised Standard Version and in the New American Bible.

14. For a critical discussion, see Joël Delobel, "1 Cor 11:2-16: Towards a Coherent Interpretation," in A. Vanhoye (ed.), L'apôtre Paul. Personnalité, style et conception du ministère, Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium 73 (Leuven: University Press - Peeters, 1986) 369-389, pp. 377-379.

15. For an overview of the five types of interpretation of Gal 3:28, see Carolyn Osiek, "Galatians," in Carol Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe (eds.), The Women's Bible Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster, 1992) 335-337, p. 335. The fifth type in Osiek’s list considers Gal 3:28 as "a glimpse of the still-distant future."

16. For instance, a clear expression of this position is found in Frederick Fyvie Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), p. 190: "Paul states the basic principle here; if restrictions on it are found elsewhere in the Pauline corpus, as in 1 Cor. 14:34f. ... they are to be understood in relation to Gal. 3:28, and not vice versa."

17. The recent feminist studies of Paul’s letters take a broader approach and analyze issues of gender in all the central themes of the letters independently of the question whether women are explicitly mentioned or not. See Claudia Janssen, Luise Schottroff and Beate Wehn (eds.), Paulus. Umstrittene Traditionen-lebendige Theologie. Eine feministische Lektüre (Gütersloh: Chr. Kaiser/Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2001).

18. See Veronica Koperski, "Feminist Concerns and the Authorial Readers in Philippians," in Louvain Studies 17 (1992) 269-292.

19. In 16:3-16 Paul uses the imperative "greet" 16 times.

20. These scholars are not referring here to the canonical Letter to the Ephesians, which we find in our Bibles. While they consider this letter to be Deutero-Pauline, they hypothesize that Paul himself also wrote a letter to the Ephesians which was lost except for its conclusion which they claim survived and was included in Romans 16 by a redactor.

21 1 Tim 4:19, a text that was certainly written after the letter to the Romans, also assumes that Prisca and Aquila are in Ephesus. But the historical reliability of this information is uncertain because of the high probability that this letter was not authored by Paul himself.

22. See Dieter Zeller, Der Brief an die Römer übersetzt und erklärt (Regensburg: Pustet, 1985), p. 245: „Vielleicht ... aus missions-strategischen Gründen."

23. See also Peter Lampe, Christians in Rome in the First Two Centuries: From Paul to Valentinus (London: T & T Clark International, 2003), pp. 153-183.

24. See Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1993), p. 734. Concerning Mary, Fitzmyer entertains the possibility of a Latin origin as the feminine form of Marius. About Herodion, he says the following: "This name was at least borne by Jews, if it was not really Semitic."

25. This translation is found in virtually all the English translations. Cf., however, Fitzmyer, who rather understands the expression as a reference to Apelles’ ministry: "who is approved in Christ’s service" (Ibid., p. 740).

26. Fitzmyer counts five men because he also includes Apelles (see preceding footnote) and Rufus (Ibid., p. 734). In his "Notes," it remains unclear what the qualification "chosen" has to do with the service of the Gospel.

27. For the expressions diakonossynergos and apostolos, see below. For a discussion of kopiaô, see K. A. Gerberding, "Women Who Toil in Ministry, Even as Paul," in Currents in Theology and Mission 18 (1991) 285-291 and Stefan Schreiber, „Arbeit mit der Gemeinde (Röm 16.6,12): Zur versunkenen Möglichkeit der Gemeindeleitung durch Frauen," in New Testament Studies 46 (2000) 204-226.

28. For recent studies on Phoebe, see: Gerhard Lohfink, „Weibliche Diakone im Neuen Testament," in Gerhard Dautzenberg, Helmut Merklein and Karlheinz Müller (eds.), Die Frau im Urchristentum, Quaestiones disputatae 95 (Freiburg i. Br.: Herder, 1983) 320-338, pp. 324-327; Kazimierz Romaniuk, "Was Phoebe in Romans 16.1a Deaconess?" in Zeitschrift fur die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der Älteren Kirche 81 (1990) 132-134; Florence M. Gillman, Women Who Knew Paul (Collegeville mn: Liturgical Press, 1992), pp. 59-66; Margaret Y. MacDonald, "Reading Real Women through the Undisputed Letters of Paul," in Ross Shepard Kraemer and Mary Rose D’Angelo (eds.), Women and Christian Origins (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 199-220; and Sojung Yoon, "Phoebe, A Minister in the Early Christian Church," in Holly E. Hearon (ed.),Distant Voices Drawing Near: Essays in Honor of Antoinette Clark Wire (Michael Glazier Books, Collegeville MN: Liturgical Press, 2004), pp. 19-32.

29. W. Bauer, F. W. Danker, W. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), s.v. To be cited infra as BDAG.

30. In 1 Corinthians 7:15; 9:5 and in Philemon 2 (Apphia) there is no doubt that adelphê refers to a fellow Christian.

31. The Greek noun diakonissa, the feminine form of diakonos, only developed in the post-NT period.

32. We are not aware of English translations that take this option, but, for instance, the French Traduction Oecuménique de la Bible does.

33. This is the translation found in most English versions. It might find support in Phil 1:1: "To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops [or ‘overseers’] and deacons [or ‘overseers and helpers’] (NRSV)." This is clear evidence that at least in Philippi there was more than one diakonos.

34. One of the few instances of the translation with the definite article is found in the GermanEinheitsübersetzung ("die Dienerin").

35. In antiquity six cities were known with the name Cenchreae. In Rom 16:1 and Acts 18:18, the only occurrences in the NT, the texts obviously refer to one of the two port cities of Corinth, seven kilometers southeast of Corinth. See Fitzmyer, Romans, p. 730.

36. Cf., however, Phil 1:1 where the text implicitly refers to the diakonoi of the community at Philippi.

37. For specialized literature, see Wilhelm Brandt, Dienst und Dienen im Neuen Testament (Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1931); Hermann Wolfgang Beyer, "Diakoneô ktl," Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament2 (1935) 81-93; Sverre Aalen, „Versuch einer Analyse des Diakonia-Begriffes im Neuen Testament," in William C. Weinrich (ed.), The New Testament Age: Essays in Honor of Bo Reicke, vol. 1 (Macon GA: Mercer, 1984) 1-13; Reimund Bieringer, "Paul's Understanding of Diakonia in 2 Corinthians 5,18," in Reimund Bieringer and Jan Lambrecht, Studies in 2 Corinthians, Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium 112 (Leuven: University Press-Peeters, 1994), pp. 413-428; John N. Collins, Diakonia: Re-interpreting the Ancient Sources (New York-Oxford, 1990); John N. Collins, The Mediatorial Aspect of Paul's Role as "Diakonos," in Australian Biblical Review 40 (1992) 34-44; Jürgen Roloff, Apostolat-Verkündigung-Kirche. Ursprung, Inhalt und Funktion des kirchlichen Apostelamtes nach Paulus, Lukas und den Pastoralbriefen (Gütersloh: Mohn, 1965); Jürgen Roloff, „Anfänge der soteriologischen Deutung des Todes Jesu," in New Testament Studies 19 (1972-73) 38-64; Luise Schottroff, „Botschafterinnen an Christi Statt," in F. Scholz and H. Dickel (eds.), Vernünftiger Gottesdienst. Kirche nach der Barmer Theologischen Erklärung. FS H.-G. Jung (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1990), pp. 271-292; and BDAG, s.v.

38. The following chart gives an overview of the occurrences of diakon-terminology in the Bible:































2 Cor





39. The New Revised Standard Version seems to assume this position by translating diakonos in Rom 16:1 as well as in Phil 1:1 and in 1 Tim 3:8.12 (thus only in four of the 27 occurrences in the NT) as "deacon." This translation is to be preferred to ‘deaconess’ because Paul uses the masculine terminology diakonos.

40. Cf. the Vulgate: "astitit"; King James Version: "has been a succourer"; Revised Standard Version: "has been a helper of"; Einheitsübersetzung: „hat ... geholfen"; New Jerusalem Bible: "has come to the help of." Obviously this meaning is still accepted by BDAG, s.v.: ("has proved to be of great assistance").

41. Bible de Jérusalem and Traduction Oecuménique de la Bible: "protectrice"; New American Bible and New Revised Standard Version: "benefactor." See also Fitzmyer, Romans, p. 731: "patroness."

42. See Friedrich Blass, Albert Debrunner and Friedrich Rehkoff, Grammatik des neutestamentlichen Griechisch(Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 171990), 5.3, footnote 16, understands patrona as an example of „Römische Kanzleiausdrücke udgl." Cf. F. Blass, A. Debrunner and R. W. Funk, A Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Cambridge-Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 5.3: "Official terminology of the chancellery, above all for offices."

43. See Langenscheidts Handwörterbuch Lateinisch-Deutsch, bearbeitet von Erich Pertsch auf der Grundlage des Menge-Güthling (Berlin et al.: Langenscheidt, 1971), s.v. patronus and patrona.

44. Fitzmyer, Romans, p. 731.

45 The only exception we know of is the Revised Standard Version which translates Rom 12:8 as "he who gives aid" instead of "he who leads," thus giving preference to the other dimension of prohistêmi (to help, to assist).

46. It is not clear whether this has anything to do with Christian life, since the expression "in the Lord" is not present in Rom 16:2 nor is there any implicit reference to the Christian sphere.

47. What Paul says about Phoebe in Rom 16:1-2 is stated as a recommendation. The statements about Prisca and Aquila in 16:3-5a belong to a greeting. In such genres, exaggeration and captatio benevolentiae are to be expected. Any exegesis of these texts has to take this into consideration. But this may not lead to a complete relativization of the content of Rom 16:1-5. We rather assume that what Paul says is basically correct despite the nuances of the genre.

48. It is difficult to harmonize Paul’s statements in Rom 16:2 and 4 with 1 Tim 2:12: "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent" (italics added). As we had already seen, 1 Timothy belongs to the letters which contemporary scholarship does not count among the authentically Pauline letters.