Annotating Romans 16
- He greets Prisca, Junia, Julia, and Nereus‘ sister, who worked and traveled as missionaries in pairs with their husbands or brothers.[Rom 16:3,7,15] He also sends elaborate greetings to Tryphena, Tryphosa, who “labour for the Lord’s work”, and to Rufus‘ mother.[Rom 16:12–15]
- Priscilla or Prisca is expressly mentioned six times in the Bible, as the wife of Aquila, and as a missionary partner with the Apostle Paul. They were also partners in the craft of tentmaking. The order of their names alternates between Aquila first at first, third and fifth mention, and Priscilla first the second, fourth and final mention as Prisca. (View all 6 verses) When Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquila, Priscilla is usually listed first, suggesting to some scholars that she was the head of the family unit.
- According to Bart Ehrman, Paul praises Junia as a prominent apostle who had been imprisoned for her labor.[Rom 16:7] Junia is “the only female apostle named in the New Testament”. Ian Elmer states that Junia and Andronicus are the only “apostles” associated with Rome that were greeted by Paul in his letter to the Romans. [Rom 16:7] Steven Finlan says Paul greets this couple as “kinspersons and fellow prisoners” and says that “they are outstanding amongst the apostles.” According to Ian Elmer, the fact that Andronicus and Junia are named as apostles suggests a priori that they were evangelists and church-planters like Paul.
- Phebe or Phoebe. Paul attaches to her three titles: diakonos meaning a deacon (lit. “servant”), sister, and prostatis meaning “a woman in a supportive role, patron, benefactor”. There is no difference when the title of deacon is used for Phoebe and Timothy.[Rom. 16:1–2] Diakonos (Gk.) is grammatically a masculine word, the same word that Paul uses in regards to his own ministry. Phoebe is the only woman to be named “deacon”. 1 Timothy discusses the criteria for Deacons in the early Church which is explicitly directed to both male and females. Phoebe was especially influential in the early Church seen in Jerusalem from the 4th century inscription: “Here lies the slave and bride of Christ, Sophia, deacon, the second Phoebe, who fell asleep in Christ.” Women flourished in the deaconate between the 2nd and 6th centuries. The position required pastoral care to women, instructing female candidates and anoint them at Baptism. They were also required to be present whenever a female would address a bishop. In Romans Phoebe is seen as acting as Paul’s envoy. Phoebe is named as a Patron of Paul, meaning that she would have been financially contributing to Paul’s mission.
- Mary and Persis are commended for their hard work.[Rom. 16:6,12]
- Chloe, a prominent woman of Corinth, appears to be the head of a household of an extended family. She and her household told Paul of the divisions in the congregation of Corinth.[1 Cor. 1:11]
From the beginning of the Early Christian church, women were important members of the movement. As time went on, groups of Christians organized within the homes of believers. Those who could offer their home for meetings were considered important within the movement and assumed leadership roles. The New Testament Gospels acknowledge that women were among Jesus’ earliest followers.
Jewish women disciples, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, had accompanied Jesus during his ministry and supported him out of their private means.[Lk. 8:1–3] Although the details of these gospel stories may be questioned, in general they reflect the prominent historical roles women played in Jesus’ ministry as disciples. There were women disciples at the foot of the cross. Women were reported to be the first witnesses to the resurrection, chief among them again Mary Magdalene. She was not only “witness,” but also called a “messenger” of the risen Christ. The apostles had little respect for her witness and that of the other women, saying they “seemed as idle tales.”[Lk. 24:11]
Lastly, Paul wrote that there is “neither male nor female” because Jesus Christ unites us.[Gal. 3:28]
In Galatians 3:28, Paul maintains that “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.” Given the amount of greetings to women in Romans 16 and the commissioning of Phoebe—the only person identified in the New Testament as having been commissioned by Paul, there is considerable evidence supporting Paul’s being relatively egalitarian for his time.
In the first century when Paul was writing passages that now appear in the New Testament, people in Roman society were judged by two sets of criteria:
- The first consisted of education, skill, power, intelligence and wealth.
- These factors could be outweighed by the social categories such as origin, birth, language, legal rank, social desirability, occupation, age and gender.
When these categories collided, it created status inconsistency/dissonance when one’s achieved status was greater than the status attributed to the person by culture and by law. The earliest Christian movement, most notably Paul’s movement was very attractive for wealthy women and widows. They often opened their houses for worship by particular religious movements. According to Schüssler, in the 1st century a woman’s place was in the home and the otherwise private areas of life. Turning the private domestic setting into the public religious setting opened up opportunities for religious leadership. Pauline Christianity did not honour its rich patron, instead it worked within a “motif of reciprocity” by offering leadership roles, dignity and status in return for patronage. Through building up their own house church, women could experience relative authority, social status and political power and renewed dignity within Paul’s movement. This concept is reflected in Paul’s relationship with Phoebe, Chloe and Rufus’s mother.
Father Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, O.P., in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, agrees that the verses not favorable to women were “post-Pauline interpolations”:
1 Corinthians 14:34–35 are not a Corinthian slogan, as some have argued…, but a post-Pauline interpolation…. Not only is the appeal to the law (possibly Genesis 3:16) un-Pauline, but the verses contradict 1 Corinthians 11:5. The injunctions reflect the misogyny of 1 Timothy 2:11–14 and probably stem from the same circle. Some mss. place these verses after 40.
— Jerome Murphy-O’Connor
Both man and woman are human beings to an equal degree, both are created in God’s image. However, he does not permit women to be ordained into the priesthood.
Elaine Pagels maintains that the majority of the Christian churches in the second century went with the majority of the middle class in opposing the trend toward equality for women. By the year 200, the majority of Christian communities endorsed as canonical the “pseudo-Pauline” letter to Timothy. That letter, according to Pagels, stresses and exaggerates the antifeminist element in Paul’s views: “Let a woman learn in silence in all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent.”[1 Tim. 2:11] She believes the letters to the Colossians and to the Ephesians, which order women to “be subject in everything to their husbands,” do not express what she says were Paul’s very favorable attitudes toward women, but also were “pseudo-Pauline” forgeries.