All posts by Marg Mowczko

Lydia and the “Place of Prayer” at Philippi

Lydia and the 'Place of Prayer' at Philippi

And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate [of Philippi] to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer (proseuchē); and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. Acts 16:13 (Underline added.)

The Prayer-House at Philippi

One thing that baffles me as I read commentaries on Acts 16:13 is that some people are still unsure what this ‘place of prayer’ (proseuchē) refers to.[1] In my own reading of both primary and secondary texts I have come across the word proseuchē more than a few times, where it is typically used as a synonym for “synagogue”. In particular, it refers to a building where Jews gathered.

In sources from the Second Temple period proseuchē is the most common word used to describe a synagogue building whereas the word synagōgē may indicate a congregation, an assembly, as well as a building or a place of assembly. It is not clear why authors prefer one word to the other, or use the two words alternately . . .”[2]

Luke uses the word proseuchē in Acts 16:13, and again in Acts 16:16, for the Jewish prayer-house in Philippi. Elsewhere in Acts, Luke uses the Greek word synagōgē (e.g. Acts 17:1).

Proseuchē occurs in Greek literature[3] and in Greek inscriptions[4] where it refers to a building belonging to, or being used by, the Jews of the Diaspora (i.e. Jews who live outside of the land of Israel).[5] Considering the word’s use, I have little doubt that when Paul and his colleagues arrived in Philippi, they went to the river looking for a Jewish meeting place. According to the book of Acts, Paul typically began his missionary work in each new city by going to the local synagogue, and many synagogues (including the prayer-house in Philippi) were built near sources of water, such as rivers, to facilitate ritual washings and baptisms.[6]

The Women at Philippi

The first connection that Paul made in Philippi was with a group of women “who had assembled” (tais synelthousais) in their prayer-house. Synelthousais is a feminine participle of the verb synerchomai, a word which is frequently used in the New Testament with “the idea of a deliberate, purposeful gathering that also implies community.” [7] (This is often true of its use in the book of Acts, but especially true of its use in 1 Corinthians.)

The fact that no men are mentioned in Acts 16:13 is puzzling, but we cannot conclude from this one verse that the Jewish community at Philippi had no adult male members. What we do see in verses 13 and 14, however, is that Paul seems to have had no problem with bringing his message to a group of women, and that “the Lord opened the heart” of one of these women, Lydia, to accept Paul’s message (Acts 16:14).

Lydia, originally from Thyatira, but now settled in Philippi, was probably a Gentile convert to Judaism.[8] She was a wealthy business woman—she dealt in expensive purple fabric—and so Lydia may have been a patron of the Jewish community. Being a patron was an influential role in Roman society and its institutions. Other Jewish women in Philippi may also have played influential roles. From ancient inscriptions we know that some women had leadership titles in synagogues during the Roman period. Many titles may have been honorary, but at least some may have denoted genuine leadership functions.[9] Perhaps the Sabbath meetings at Philippi were run and attended mainly by women.[10]

The Jewish women of Philippi weren’t meeting out in the open on a river bank. They had their own building, a proseuchē. It is in this building that they first heard the gospel message from another Jew, the apostle Paul. In Philippi Paul made his first European convert, Lydia. And when she and her whole household were baptised, it was in Lydia’s home that the first Christian church in Europe held its meetings (Acts 16:15, 40).


[1] Proseuchē literally means “prayer” in Greek, but this word is also used to refer to a Jewish “prayer-house” or synagogue building. Only occasionally does it refer to an outdoor meeting.

[2] Pieter W. van der Horst, Japheth in the Tents of Shem: Studies on Jewish Hellenism in Antiquity (Peeters: Leuven, 2002) 59.

[3] For example: 3 Macc. 7:20; various works by Philo of Alexandria including Against Flaccus 7.48; Josephus, Vita 54 (277, 280) see endnote 7; etc.
Jutta Leonhardt states that for Philo of Alexandria “the equivalent of the modern term synagogue was theproseuchē.” Jutta Leonhardt, Jewish Worship in Philo of Alexandria (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001) 81, see also 74-95. Louis Feldman concurs: “Indeed, proseuche is the standard term for a place of prayer in Philo (who uses it eighteen times in contrast to synagoge) which refers to the gathered community.” Louis H. Feldman, “Diaspora Synagogues: New Light from Inscriptions and Papyri”, Studies in Hellenistic Judaism (Leiden: Brill, 1996) 580.

[4] “Greek inscriptions found in Egypt, dating from the third century BCE to the second century CE are the earliest inscriptions mentioning synagogue buildings. All use the term proseuchē to mean a synagogue.” Rachel Hachlili, Ancient Jewish Art and Archaeology in the Diaspora (Leiden: Brill, 1998) 88. (Underline added.)

[5] Shaye Cohen states that the proseuchē, or ‘prayer house’, “is a product of the Hellenized Diaspora.” Shaye J.D. Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1989) 112, see also 111-115.
While the word is typically used for synagogues outside of Israel, Josephus also refers to a synagogue at Tiberias as a proseuchē  Vita 54 (277, 280). See Lee I. Levine, The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years (Yale University Press, 2005) 52-54, for commentary on Josephus’ description of this synagogue.

[6] Some “places of prayer” were built by the sea. Josephus records a decree issued by the sea-side city of Halicarnassus which includes this bit: “we have decreed, that as many men and women of the Jews as are willing so to do, may celebrate their Sabbaths, and perform their holy offices, according to Jewish laws; and may make their places of prayer at the sea-side, according to the customs (ethos) of their forefathers . . .” Antiquities of the Jews 14.258 or 14.10.23. (Underline added.) (It is interesting that this decree explicitly mentions women as well as men.)
Note that there is a textual variant of Philippians 16:13. The Textus Receptus has para potamon ou enomizeto proseuchē einai which might be translated as “by a river where there was, according to custom, a place of prayer.”

[7] Ivoni Richter Reimer, Women in the Acts of the Apostles: A Feminist Liberation Perspective, Linda M. Maloney, trans. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995) 74. (I’m indebted to Robin Cohn for pointing out this use of synerchomai on her blog post Women and the Ancient Synagogue of Philippi here.)

[8] Luke uses the word sebomai (or sebō) eight times in Acts, including Acts 16:14 where it describes Lydia. The verb sebomai literally means “worship”, but it usually occurs in Acts in the context of Gentiles worshipping the God of Israel. The participle form of sebomai is typically translated into English as the idiom “God fearer” (Acts 13:43, 50; 16:14; 17:4, 17; 18:7).

[9] For example, a second century CE inscription from Smyrna mentions a woman named Rufina who was synagogue ruler. It is unclear whether “synagogue ruler” was an actual, or honorary, title in her case; but either way, it indicates she was a woman of influence. The inscription reads: “Rufina, a Jewess synagogue ruler [archesynagōgos], built this tomb for her freed slaves and the slaves raised in her household. No one else has a right to bury anyone here.” (CII 741; IGR IV. 1452)
See Bernadette J. Brooten, Women Leaders in the Ancient Synagogue: Inscriptional Evidence and Background. Brown Judaic Studies, 36. (Atlanta and Chico, Calif.: Scholars, 1982).

[10] The rule that a synagogue needed to have a quorum of at least 10 adult male members, known as aminyan, may not have been universally observed in the mid first century CE.

Image credit: This stream, called Ganga or Gangites, is a short distance north of the ruins of agora in Philippi. However, this stream may not have existed in Paul’s day, or not existed in the same location. The landscape has changed dramatically in more recent times with the draining of marshland around Philippi. (Image source: Ferrel Jenkin’s Travel Blog)

© April 14, 2015, Margaret Mowczko

This article was first published on here.

Surprising Men of the Old Testament (Part 2)

Surprising Men of the Old Testament (Part 2)

By Bronwen Speedie

In the previous post of this “Surprising Men of the Old Testament” series, we looked at men’s work and activities. We turn now to examine men’s relationships with women and children.

There’s been a lot of talk in the past couple of decades about what “godly manhood” might look like. Among “complementarian” Christians (who hold to a hierarchical or patriarchal view on gender), the model of husband as leader and initiator, and wife as responsive submitter, is usually presented as authentically biblical. In this model, women have no place in leading men, particularly in matters of faith. Is this a truly biblical model? Is a biblical marriage really one that is focussed on authority and submission?

A Godly Man’s Relationships with his Wife and Children

Although many practices in the patriarchal culture of biblical times ran contrary to the one-flesh relationship envisaged in Genesis 2 (e.g. polygamy, and treating women as possessions), the Old Testament depicts a number of genuinely loving and tender marital relationships.

Isaac, Rebekah’s Husband
Although it was Abraham’s servant who determined that Rebekah was a suitable match for Isaac, the couple’s love was genuine. Isaac was emotionally open and vulnerable to his wife, and he found comfort with Rebekah during his time of grief when his mother died (Genesis 24).

Jacob, Rachel’s Husband
Jacob’s love for Rachel was such that he endured fourteen years of indentured labour, as well as the trickery and deceit of her father, in order to win her hand (Genesis 29).

Boaz, Ruth’s Husband
From their first meeting, Boaz treated Ruth with respect and gentleness. He made it clear to the men working for him that they were not to lay a hand on her. He also treated her with generosity. He provided basic needs such as drinking water, and he invited her to eat with him. Yet expected nothing in return.

He demonstrated the esteem in which he held her, valuing her highly as a result of what he had learned of her character and faith. He called her “a woman of valour” (a more accurate translation of the Hebrew eshet chayil than “woman of noble character”), recognising the strength and courage she possessed.

Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said of Boaz, “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” When Ruth made the culturally unusual move of proposing marriage to him, he felt honoured rather than affronted. As a result of their union, Ruth and Boaz became ancestors of the Messiah.

Elkanah, Hannah’s Husband
It was considered an absolute right for a married man to have children. A wife’s failure to conceive and bear children was an accepted reason for divorce. However, Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, consistently demonstrated his love for her despite the fact that she could not have children:

“Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah (his other wife) and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb” (1 Samuel 1:4-5).

Elkanah was supportive and tender-hearted, and he accompanied her to the temple when she went to pray. There is no sense in the text that Elkanah felt the need to be “in charge of” his wife. Note that when Hannah made a vow that if she were blessed to conceive a son, she would give him to the Lord’s service. Elkanah did not insist that it was his right to make the decisions about their child. He respected Hannah’s vow to God.

Fathers Teaching Children
Because the Bible is generally concerned with the “big picture” stories of those who led God’s people, rather than with domestic matters, there is very little said directly about the interactions between fathers and their children. However, the command to teach God’s laws to your children is given without reference the gender of the teacher. Also implied is that teaching the next generation is not merely a parental responsibility, but a community one.

Caleb and his Daughter
Although Caleb participated in patriarchal traditions such as exercising the right to give his daughter away to a man of his choice, he also took the unusual step of giving her an inheritance when she requested it (Joshua 15:16-20, Judges 1:12-15).

Despite the norms of a patriarchal society, godly men loved and cared for their wives and children in ways which were often completely counter-cultural.

A Godly Man’s Care for a Vulnerable Woman

While patriarchal culture led to many abuses of women, there are numerous depictions of men’s kindness to women in the Old Testament.

Dinah’s Brothers
Genesis 34 tells the story of Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob, who was captured and raped by Shechem the Hittite. He then decided to marry her, with no respect for her feelings in the matter. Cultural rules would have made it very difficult for her to be married to anyone else after her rape, so any offer of marriage would have been considered by the male family head as being the only way of saving her from living in shame the rest of her life.

But her brothers’ response is unexpected. Genesis 34:7 records that they were “shocked and furious, because Shechem had done an outrageous thing in Israel by sleeping with Jacob’s daughter—a thing that should not be done.” Note that they are not furious at Dinah for besmirching the family’s honour, but at the perpetrator of the crime. Nor do they query why she was off on her own, visiting the other women. They recognise their sister’s right to undertake normal activities without question, and place the blame where it belongs. Their killing of Shechem and his men does not sit easily with us today, but we should remember the Bronze Age context of this story —a very different culture and set of circumstances to today.

Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath
When Elijah was instructed by God to hide, but had run out of food and water, he went to Zarephath in Sidon, where God had told him a widow would supply him with food. The woman was in such dire poverty that she expected death was near for herself and her son. However, she shares what little she has with the prophet. In return for her incredible generosity, Elijah blessed the oil jug and flour jar, so that they will not run out during the time of famine. The prophet does not demand the widow’s help as his right, but recognises the great faith and generosity her actions required. He later causes her son to be raised from death (1 Kings 17).

A Godly Man’s Response to a Woman’s Leadership, Initiative and Accomplishments

Godly men have a collaborative attitude, and recognise and value the gifts and leadership of women.

Lappidoth, Barak and Deborah
Lappidoth, the husband of Deborah, appears to have had no objection to Deborah fulfilling the taxing role of judge of Israel (Judges 4). Barak relied on Deborah’s leadership, even in the male domain of the battlefield (Judges 4 & 5).

King Josiah and Huldah
At King Josiah’s request, the high priest and other officials sought out the prophetess Huldah to authoritatively interpret the newly found Book of the Law (2 Kings 11, 2 Chronicles 34). This was not because of a lack of male leadership at the time–Huldah was a contemporary of Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk. Some Jewish traditions hold that Huldah was also a public teacher. Even though many Jewish kings ignored the warnings of many of the other prophets, the king, high priest and the entire nation bow to Huldah’s judgements on this matter, and a religious revival followed.

Moses and Zelophehad’s Daughters
A godly man is not afraid of women taking the initiative. The daughters of Zelophehad took the initiative to challenge unjust inheritance laws. Moses did not rebuke them, but consulted with the Lord. As a result, they and other women after them were able to inherit property (Num 27).

In Song of Songs, both the man and woman take the initiative in the area of romance.

The husband of the Proverbs 31 woman had “full confidence in her” and as a result, “(lacked) nothing of value.” Along with her children, he would “arise and call her blessed,” recognising the blessing brought to their family as a result of her strength, skills and hard work.

The godly men of the Old Testament respected the dignity and worth of women, and were not affronted or demeaned by the leadership and accomplishments of women. While they may have had a role in protecting women in dangerous situations, they also released them to positively influence their society. Despite the strongly patriarchal culture of the Ancient Near Eastern society, many godly men went against the cultural flow in their relationships with women.

© 23rd of July 2015 Bronwen Speedie

This article was first posted on God’s Design–Perth here.

Surprising Men of the Old Testament

Surprising Men of the Old Testament (Part 1)

By Bronwen Speedie

The Old Testament contains stories of some amazing, strong women who defy stereotypes. But what about men? Did OT men fill only such roles as warrior, ruler, priest or family patriarch? Did they fit the stereotype of the “manly man,” who pleases God by his tough masculine leadership? Or are there gentler role models?

Certain celebrity preachers speak disdainfully of men who don’t fit into the macho box. The approach of these preachers is out of line with the examples of diverse men of the OT, who did more than fighting giants and facing off with Pharaoh. While the concept of the “Sensitive New-Age Guy” was completely alien in the Ancient Near East, the men of the OT were not cardboard cut-outs, but demonstrate diverse character types and roles in life.

Artists and Craftsmen

Visual arts are infrequently mentioned in the OT, perhaps because of the prohibition on graven images. However, skilful work in executing beautiful designs from a range of materials was sometimes seen as a gift endowed by God.

In Exodus 31, God gives instructions regarding the making and decorating of the tabernacle. In verses 1-5, “…the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.” The work of these and other craftsmen did not just involve carpentry and metalwork, but included making woven garments, anointing oils, and incense.

God himself gave very specific instructions about the decoration of the Temple. These included carved wooden gourds and flowers along the walls, and cherubim made of olive wood and overlaid with gold and more. Since many highly skilled craftsmen were employed, there must have there must have been a widespread use of visual arts in the community of Israel.

Musicians and Poets

Godly men could be sensitive, in tune with their emotions and excellent leaders. People of both sexes made music and wrote songs in the Bible.

The first professions listed in Genesis are farming the land and raising livestock, followed by the work of metal-smiths and musicians: “His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes” (Gen 4:21). How surprising that professional musicians are mentioned before we hear of carpenters, fishermen, soldiers, or many other professions with a purely practical application.

The role of musicians was closely linked with the worship of God. The Temple musicians lived in Temple apartments and were exempt from other duties because their responsibilities continued day and night (1 Chron 9:33). David himself appointed the musicians—the men are named in 1 Chronicles 6, and their sons served alongside them.

When thinking of musicians in the Bible, David is the man who most readily springs to mind, having authored many of the Psalms. David was a complex man—warrior, king, musician, poet. His psalms demonstrate deep emotional honesty. He was not afraid to tell God exactly how he felt, even if he felt negative about God at times. However messy they may have been, David acknowledged his emotions.

Some segments of Isaiah are traditionally called songs. In the case of the Song of the Vineyard in chapter 5, some commentators believe that the prophet himself may have sung this song at the harvest festival celebration.

Domestic Tasks

Although the OT depicts society as patriarchal, men are sometimes depicted cooking, washing and undertaking other domestic chores. Consider Jacob and Esau. “Esau became a skilful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents… (“Among the tents” would normally be considered the women’s realm.) Once, when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished” (Gen 25:27, 29). Which twin was the one who had God’s favour? Jacob…who enjoyed cooking and was content to stay with the women among the tents, while his brother undertook more rugged pursuits.

Other OT men were also involved in activities that some regard as “women’s work”. For example, the Kohathites—a branch of the Levite tribe—was responsible for setting the table and cleaning up in the tabernacle (Num 4:1-14). The priests cooked the offering meat and served it to the people (2 Chron 35:13-14).

And in regards to certain matters of infection risk, the person at risk was instructed to wash his or her own clothes (e.g. Lev 15:8). Interestingly, there is a reference in 2 Kings 18:17 to a place called “Washerman’s Field.” Did it have a connection with a man whose occupation was doing laundry?

God-given roles

The only instructions given before the Fall about any role or responsibility was given equally to man and woman:

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Gen 1:28).

When it comes to the specifics of how we live and what we do, God seems less concerned with our gender than with how we use our skills and personalities to contribute to our families or wider society and to His glory.

© 21st of May 2015, Bronwen Speedie

This article was first posted on God’s Design-Perth here.

“Surprising Men of the Old Testament (Part 2)” will be posted next Tuesday.

Women Church Leaders in the New Testament

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By Marg Mowczko

For most of the Church’s history, in most Christian denominations and movements, women have been denied the privilege of serving as leaders. Just one or two New Testament verses, which do not seem to allow women to have a ministry which involves public speaking (1 Cor. 14:34) or which involves teaching a man (1 Tim. 2:12), are frequently cited as the reasons women cannot be leaders.[1] There are however, several women mentioned in the New Testament who did function as church leaders. Even though these women are mentioned briefly, they do serve as valid biblical precedents which call into question the widespread and persistent belief that the Bible teaches that church leaders can only be men.

In Ephesians 4:11, Paul lists several kinds of ministers which Jesus Christ has given to the church:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up . . .  Ephesians 4:11-12 (NIV 2011) (cf. 1 Cor. 12:28-31).[2]

In this article I use Paul’s list as a reference point, and show that there was at least one woman in the New Testament who fulfilled each of these ministerial leadership roles.

Women as Apostles

Paul begins his list in Ephesians 4:11 with apostles. Apostles were people sent initially by Jesus (Mark 6:7; Gal. 1:1), and later by the church (Acts 13:1-3), to pioneer a new work which facilitated the spread of the gospel. In the New Testament, several people, apart from the Twelve, are mentioned as being apostles.[3] One of these is a woman—Junia.

Junia and Andronicus (who may have been husband and wife) were members of the church in Rome; they may even have been the founders of the church there. Paul sends greetings to them in Romans 16:7 and speaks warmly of them, mentioning that he is relatives of them (or fellow Jews), and that they had become Christians before he did. Andronicus and Junia had suffered persecution because of their faith and at some point had been fellow prisoners with Paul. Paul also states that Andronicus and Junia were “outstanding among the apostles”. This is a wonderful commendation coming from someone who was himself an outstanding apostle.[4]

Unfortunately, Junia’s impact as a precedent for female church leadership has been slight because many people have failed to realise that she was a woman. This problem has been exacerbated by the fact that, in the 13th century, a New Testament copyist masculinised her name to (the equivalent of) Junias.[5] This alteration to scripture was then adopted by many English translations, until recently. However, in all the Greek manuscripts before the 13th century, Junia’s name is feminine and several early church theologians, such as Chrysostom, Origen, and Jerome, referred to her as being both female and an apostle.[6] Junia was one of the first female apostles, but many more apostolic women, throughout the church’s history, have pioneered new works which have facilitated the spread of the gospel. [More about Junia here.]

Women as Prophets

Second on Paul’s list of ministers are prophets. With the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the function of prophecy became more widespread than previously. On the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted from the prophet Joel and said:

And it will be in the last days,” says God, “that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy; your youth will see visions and your seniors will dream dreams. Even on both my male servants [ministers] and on my female servants [ministers], in those days, I will pour out my Spirit and they will prophesy. Acts 2:17-18.

Prophets were people who spoke for God. Their speech was inspired by the Holy Spirit and it may or may not have included foretelling. In the early church, prophets provided guidance (Acts 13:3-4; 16:6), instruction (1 Cor. 14:31), strengthening, encouragement, and comfort (1 Cor. 14:3). Paul considered the ability to prophecy as being the most desirable of the spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:1); and he regarded the ministry of prophets as important and influential. Paul lists prophesying and prophets before teaching and teachers in the lists of ministry gifts in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, and Ephesians 4:11.

In Acts 21:9 we are told that Philip had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. Some argue that Philip’s daughters are not explicitly called “prophets” or “prophetesses” in the Greek text of Acts 21:9 (cf. Agabus who is clearly called a “prophet” in the next verse, Acts 21:10). However, this does not mean that the women were not recognised as prophets. The participle of “prophesy” is used to describe the women in Greek text of Acts 21:9. The participle is often used in the New Testament to give a more immediate sense of an action. “Prophesying” is what characterised the ongoing ministry of these women. Thus they were prophets.

Philip’s four daughters are barely mentioned in the New Testament, but they are mentioned several times in other early church writings. The fourth century church historian Eusebius described these women as “mighty luminaries” and ranked them “among the first stage in the apostolic succession.”[7] Moreover, he regarded the ministry of Philip’s daughters as the benchmark for prophetic ministry in the early church. Quoting Miltiades, Eusebius compared them with other notable male and female prophets: Agabus (Acts 11:27-28; 21:10), Judas and Silas (Acts 15:22, 27, 32), the prophetess Ammia of the church in Philadelphia, and Quadratus of Athens.[8] By all accounts, Philip’s daughters were highly respected female prophets and leaders in the early church, as was Ammia. [More about Philip’s daughters here.]

Women as Evangelists

Third on the Ephesians 4:11 list are the evangelists. Evangelists were men and women who preached the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.[9] Euodia and Syntyche of Philippi were coworkers of Paul.[10] Paul wrote that these women had “contended at my side for the cause of the gospel” (Phil. 4:2-3). This is similar to what Paul says about Timothy in the same letter: that he had served with him “in the gospel” (Phil. 2:22). Like Timothy, Euodia and Syntyche were involved in gospel work. This may well have involved ministering as evangelists [More about Euodia and Syntyche here.]

Another female minister esteemed by Paul was Phoebe. In Romans 16:1-2 Paul described Phoebe as both a diakonos and a prostatis. Kevin Giles writes:

The meaning of the last term has been much debated. In either its masculine or feminine form it means literally ‘one who stands before.’ This meaning is never lost whether it be translated leader, president, protector or patron . . . Its verbal form is proistanai (cf. Thess. 5:12; 1 Tim 5:17), a term used of male church leaders elsewhere in the New Testament.[11]

The term diakonos is always used by Paul to refer to a minister with a sacred commission; however in this one instance, where it is referring to a woman, the King James Version and some other English translations have unjustly translated diakonos as “servant.”[12] Phoebe was a minister or deacon, and a leader or patron, in the church at Cenchreae. Sadly, this fact is rarely acknowledged in most older English translations of Romans 16:1-2.

Many deacons in the apostolic and post-apostolic church made journeys during which they acted as agents and envoys of their church. We know that Phoebe traveled to Rome as Paul’s envoy, but a later writer asserts that she traveled to other places too.[13] Theodoret of Cyrrhus (393-460 AD) wrote: “[Paul] opened the world to her and in every land and sea she is celebrated. For not only do the Romans and Greeks know her, but even all the barbarians. . .”[14] It seems that Phoebe traveled widely and proclaimed the gospel in foreign lands where she effectively ministered as an evangelist. [More about Phoebe here.]

Women as Pastors and Teachers

Fourth on the list of ministers in Ephesians 4:11 are the pastor-teachers. The terms “pastors” and “teachers”, joined grammatically in the Greek of this verse, may reflect two aspects of the one role. Or the terms may be two different words for the same ministry. (There is little evidence of ministers being referred to as “pastors” in the very early church, but there is ample evidence of ministers being called “teachers”.) [More about the Greek grammar of Ephesians 4:11 is in a comment here.]

While the exact function of a pastor is not specified in the New Testament it certainly involved spiritual leadership. There are several women in the New Testament who functioned as pastor-teachers. Priscilla, another close friend and coworker of Paul, was one of them. Together with her husband Aquila, she taught the already learned and eloquent Apollos, who was himself a teacher, “the way of God” (i.e. theology) more accurately (Acts 18:24-26).

In the more reliable, earlier Greek manuscripts, Priscilla’s name appears first in four of the six mentions of this couple in the New Testament.[15] This may denote that Priscilla’s ministry was more prominent than her husband’s. It may also indicate that she had a higher social status than Aquila.[16] “It is well known that the early church attracted an unusual number of high status women . . .”[17] Some of these women, who lived in relatively spacious homes, hosted a congregation that met in their home.[18] As a prominent member of the congregation, the host would have functioned as a leader employing a ministry gift, possibly the pastor-teacher gift. Priscilla and Aquila were active in ministry and hosted a church in their home at Ephesus (1 Cor. 16:19) and later at Rome (Rom 16:3-5) where they ministered as pastor-teachers. [More about Priscilla here.]

Kevin Giles writes:

Prisca [Priscilla] is not the only woman associated with house church leadership. A surprising number of women are mentioned in this role. . . . In Acts we see Mark’s mother providing a home for the Christians to assemble (Acts 12:12) and at Philippi we hear of believers meeting in the home of Lydia (Acts 16:14-15, 40). Writing to the Colossians, Paul greets “Nympha and the church in her house” (Col. 4:15). Perhaps Chloe is also the host of a home-church (1 Cor. 1:11), as may have been some of the other women Paul greets in the last chapter of Romans.[19]

The “chosen lady”, whom John addresses in his second letter, was a woman functioning as a house-church leader and pastor. In the Greek of 2 John, it is clear that at times John is addressing a single person (the lady), and that at other times he is referring to plural persons (her followers or her congregation). John refers to his followers, and hers, similarly, as “children” (2 John 1:1, 4, 13 cf. 3 John 1:4). Furthermore, the word “lady” (kuria) used in 2 John 1 & 5, is the female equivalent of “lord” (kurios). This lady was a woman with an elevated social position. Numerous ancient papyrus letters, as well as ancient Greek literature, show that kuria was a respectful way to address a woman.[20] The “chosen lady” was a person, a house-church leader and pastor. The “chosen lady” was not a church (i.e. congregation) as some have suggested. [More about the “chosen lady” here.]


Stanley Grenz notes that the gospel “radically altered the position of women, elevating them to a partnership with men unparalleled in first-century society.”[21] This is seen in the New Testament. The following list is of first-century women ministers and church leaders mentioned in the New Testament: Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:9), Priscilla (Acts 18:26; Rom. 16:3-5, etc.), Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2), Junia (Rom. 16:7), possibly Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11), Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3), Nympha (Col. 4:15), Apphia (Phlm. 2), “the chosen lady” (2 John 1), “the chosen sister” (2 John 13), and probably Lydia (Acts 16:40), etc.

The church as a whole has been very slow to embrace the New Testament ideal of equality and mutuality among people regardless of race and gender (Gal. 3:28). This is shown by the fact that the slave trade and slavery was only outlawed in the “Christian” nations of Great Britain and the United States of America in 1833 and 1865 respectively,[22] and by the fact that racial discrimination has only been declared both immoral and illegal in recent history. I am convinced that discrimination against church leaders on the basis of gender will also become a thing of the past, and that future generations will look at our present difficulties and debate on this subject with incredulity.

It would be wonderful if the Church as a whole would recognise that, according to the New Testament, women did function as leaders—as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers—and that they were respected and valued in these roles by such people as the apostle Paul. In short, it is biblical for a woman to be a church leader. Moreover, if we deny gifted women the opportunity to exercise their leadership ministries, we reject some of the very people Jesus has appointed and given to his church. The church’s mission can only be enhanced and made more effective when gifted men and women minister together using their complementary skills and abilities. Men and women should be united in the cause of the gospel and in building up the body of Christ, as well as in equipping the people of God to reach the lost (Eph. 4:11-12).


[1] 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12 are discussed in articles here and here.

[2] In the Greek, there is no hint that Ephesians 4:11, or any other verse which speaks of spiritual gifts, including those of leadership and teaching, applies more to men than to women. On the contrary, every New Testament verse which speaks of spiritual gifts, manifestations, or ministries is completely free of any gender bias in the Greek. (Verses which mention spiritual ministry gift: Acts 2:17-18; Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:7-11 & 27-28; 1 Cor. 14:26-33; Eph. 4:11-12; Heb. 2:4; 1 Pet. 4:9-11.)

[3] These apostles include Paul, Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Apollos (1 Cor. 1:12), Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25), Andronicus and Junia (Rom. 16:7). Jesus is also called an apostle in Hebrews 3:1.

[4] In his Homilies on the Book of Romans, fourth century church father Chrysostom preached favourably about Junia, and using Paul’s words, he acknowledged her as an outstanding female apostle.

[5] The masculinised name “Junias” does not appear in any early Greek manuscript whatsoever, religious or otherwise. The feminine name “Junia” however is used about 250 times in various other early Greek manuscripts. James D.G. Dunn  writes:

Lampe [in his Patristic Greek Lexicon] 139-40, 147 indicates over 250 examples of “Junia,” none of Junias, as was taken for granted by the patristic commentators, and indeed up to the Middle Ages. The assumption that it must be male is a striking indictment of male presumption regarding the character and structure of earliest Christianity. . . We may firmly conclude, however, that one of the foundation apostles of Christianity was a woman and wife.
James D.G. Dunn, Romans 9-16 (Word Biblical Commentary, Vol 38B) (Dallas: Word, 1988) 894.

[6] “The earliest commentator on Romans 16:7 Origen of Alexandria (c.185-254/55) took the name Junia to be feminine, as did Jerome (340/50-419/20), Hatto of Vercelli (924-961), Theophylact (c.1050-c.1108), and Peter Abelard (1079-1142). In fact no commentator on the text until Aegidus of Rome (1245-1316) took the name to be masculine.”
Bernadette Brooten, “Junia . . . Outstanding among the Apostles (Romans 16:7)”, Women Priests: A Catholic Commentary on the Catholic Declaration, Arlene and Leonard Swidler (eds) (Paulist Press, 1979) 141-144, 141.

[7] Eusebius, History of the Church. 3.37.1

[8] Eusebius, History of the Church. 5.17.3

[9] Based on how the word is used in the New Testament, C.H. Dodd explains that the content of preaching (kerugma) in the New Testament was primarily concerned with the lordship and resurrection of Christ. Furthermore, Dodd defines preaching (kerugma) as “. . . the public proclamation of Christianity to the non-Christian world”. The Apostolic Preaching and Its Developments (Harper and Row, 1964) 261. The proclamation of Mary Magdalene, “I have seen the Lord”, may be regarded as an example of New Testament preaching (John 20:17-18).

[10] “Coworker” is Paul’s favourite ministry title. E.E. Ellis writes: “The designations most often given to Paul’s fellow workers are in descending order of frequency as follows: coworker (synergos), brother (adelphos) [or sister (adelphē) as in the cases of Phoebe and Apphia], minister (diakonos) and apostle (apostolos).”
E.E. Ellis, “Paul and his Coworkers”, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Gerald Hawthorne and Ralph Martin (eds) (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993) 183.

[11] Kevin Giles, Patterns of Ministry Among the First Christians (Sydney: Collins Dove Publishers, 1992) 35.

[12] “All important modern translations of the Bible now restore the original language used by Paul . . . but somehow the illusions fostered by the King James falsifications remain common wisdom. Nevertheless, there is virtual consensus among historians of the early church as well as Biblical scholars that women held positions of honour and authority within early Christianity. . . .”
Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1997) 109.

[13] M. Mowczko “Deacons as Envoys in the Apostolic Fathers”, Phoebe: A Deacon of the Church in Cenchrea (25.11.14) <>

[14] Theodoret’s commentary on Romans 16:1-2:

Cenchreae is a large village of Corinth.  It is worth admiring the strength of the preaching.  In a short time not only the cities, but also the villages were filled with such piety.  Such was the significance of the church at Cenchreae that it had a female deacon [i.e. minister], honorable and well known.  Such was the wealth of her accomplishments that she was praised by the apostolic tongue… I think what [Paul] calls patronage (prostasia) is hospitality (philoxenia) and protection (kēdemonia).  Praise is heaped upon her. It seems that she received him in her house for a little time, for it is clear that he stayed in Corinth. He opened the world to her and in every land and sea she is celebrated.  For not only do the Romans and Greeks know her, but even all the barbarians.
Quoted by Kevin Madison and Carolyn Osiek, Ordained Women in the Early Church (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2005) 16.

[15] Priscilla’s name appears first in Acts 18:18, 26; Romans 16:3 and 2 Timothy 4:19.

[16] Luke, the author of Acts, was very careful in which order he placed names. This is seen in the shared ministry of Paul and Barnabas; whoever of the two was the most prominent in ministry, or the most recognised in any given situation, his name appears first.

[17] Stark, Rise of Christianity, 107.

[18] M. Mowczko, The First Century Church and the Ministry of Women (08.10.14) <>

[19] Giles, Patterns of Ministry, 34-35

[20] M. Mowczko, Kuria “Lady” in Papyrus Letters (23.08.13) <>

[21] Stanley J. Grenz and Denise Muir Kjesbo, Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVaristy Press, 1995) 78.

[22] Advocates of slavery often used scripture to support their position. Slavery was abolished throughout most of the British Empire when the Slavery Abolition Act came into force in 1833. The United States abolished slavery in 1865 with the 13th Amendment to their Constitution.

© 22nd of August 2015, Margaret Mowczko  

This article was first posted on here.


Welcome to “Voices of CBE Australia”.

Voices of CBE Australia

Our hope is to build an online resource centre for those wanting to know more about Christian Egalitarianism and those wanting encouragement and support in their egalitarian beliefs. These resources will be written by and for Australians.

A major part of this resource is this blog. Our hope is to give the best Christian Egalitarian bloggers in Australia, and those who are sympathetic to our cause, another platform for their voices to be heard.

We want to hear your voice too.

Please subscribe and watch this resource grow.

CBE, or Christians for Biblical Equality, is a non-profit evangelical Christian organisation for men and women that promotes a biblical basis for gift-based, rather than gender-based, service for men and women of all races, ages and economic classes. Our theology and membership is largely evangelical and we cross denominational lines. We are based in a number of Australian cities with active chapters in Melbourne and Sydney.

How to do friendship with men (Part 2)

How to do friendship with men

By Tania Harris

Back in the first century it wasn’t normal for men and women to be friends. They didn’t meet for coffee in morning tea breaks or discuss current affairs over the water-cooler. They didn’t sit next to each other in the synagogues and swap ideas about their theology. They certainly didn’t discuss their spiritual lives by the village well.

That’s why the actions and behaviours of Jesus with the Samaritan woman were so radical. Even his disciples couldn’t fathom his socialising with a woman, let alone one with such a scandalous reputation (John 4:27). Somehow Jesus managed to interact with the opposite sex in a healthy way, even being alone with them in a public setting.

Jesus shows us that it is possible to engage meaningfully with our male counterparts. In the radically new equality of the kingdom he inaugurated, it’s not surprising. It’s when men and women relate together that they are seen to fully represent the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28). So the question is how.

Kissing Your Brother

Here, I believe, the writings of Paul are helpful. At one point Paul is advising his young mentoree Timothy how to pastor a mixed congregation; “Treat younger men as brothers,” he writes; “Older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity” (1 Timothy 5:1a,2). Paul of course was writing from a man’s perspective, but we can easily switch it around to apply to us. If Timothy was to treat older women as mothers and younger women as sisters, then we should treat older men as fathers and younger men as brothers. We should ask; how do we act towards our brothers? and then interact with men who are not our husbands or boyfriends in the same way.

I grew up with three brothers; one older, two younger. As children our quibbles were over who got to sit in the front seat of the car and whose turn it was to do the dishes. We did okay given that our birth order rendered all three of them squished to a single bedroom while I got one all to my own.

My brothers are grown up now and are all married to women who love them dearly. They are good men – I would even say attractive men – but it’s difficult for me to think of them that way. Even though my middle brother bears a scary resemblance to Matt Damon, it’s impossible for me to think of them sexually. The thought of kissing them makes me squirm – as it should. This is what it means to treat men as brothers. The same emotional and physical boundaries that apply to male family members should also apply to our male friends.

Presenting as Sisters

There’s another side to Paul’s advice. If we are to treat men as brothers, then we need to present ourselves as sisters. We need to show ourselves capable of healthy, godly friendships and in doing so challenge the stereotypes that are so often propagated by our culture.

The view of women as sex objects is one of the main reasons people warn against cross-gendered friendship. Instead of seeing women as co-image bearers, peers and partners, society often presents us as seductresses, temptations and objects of fantasy. The latest Holden comes with a bikini clad pouting woman draped over the bonnet. Musical talent comes wrapped in a plunging cleavage. Domestic goods are marketed with glossy legs and voluptuous lips. Our intelligence, emotions, gifts, callings, and personalities are all reduced to a body, a mere shell of the image of God women are called to bear.

While we may not have control over some of the stereotypes of our culture and we can’t change the thoughts and intentions of individual men, we can take responsibility for the way we present ourselves. We can present ourselves as sisters, behaving, speaking and interacting as equals in the family. To these men, we’re not looking for the affections of a lover, we’re not presenting ourselves to turn them on and we’re not offering alluring glances to seek sexual affirmation. That’s as irksome as kissing your brother.

Your Friend’s Wife

I have to admit it’s usually easier for women to be friends with single men. Once it’s been established with your man-friend that you’re more sister than lover, you can get on with the business of friendship. Oh, there’s the rumours to deal with when you regularly sit next to each other in church or hang out together on the weekends, but these are merely minor irritations. The complications come when your man-friend gets married. Now – even if your friendship has been the best thing on the planet – it must take second place to a more important one.

One of my good male friends is an ex-work colleague. We started our jobs around the same time and sat side by side at the desks in our office. Every week we chatted over coffees and compared work notes. In Winter we were ski buddies and engaged in philosophical chats on the chairlift. He taught me how to survive black runs and gave me insights on politics and documentaries on SBS. He was there when I was having a bad day and needed a chin up. I was there the day he met his wife and when they took their sacred vows.

Fortunately I didn’t lose my friend after the wedding day. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes when your single man-friend gets married, you have to be ready to surrender the friendship. Now your friend’s priority is his wife – as it should be. And sometimes a wife doesn’t want to compete with a best friend.

The one way I can still be friends with my married male friends is because their wives are happy about it. They are secure in their husband’s affections and feel no sense of competition. And now they are friends with me.

The best way to maintain friendships with your married male friends is to get to know your friend’s wife. Involve them in the friendship and seek to know them as you do their husbands. It’s not only a good way to increase your friendship circle, but it acts a constant reminder of your role.

My life has been blessed by healthy need male friendships. I think we all need them. But being friends with men, especially married men, means that certain boundaries need to be in place. We need to respect our friends’ wives. We need to present ourselves as sisters. It’s only then that we can enjoy healthy male relationships. And it’s then that we can know God more fully by seeing him through eyes of our male friends.

© August 17th 2015, Tania Harris

This article first appeared on God Conversations here.

How to do friendship with men (Part 1)

How to do friendship with men

By Tania Harris

Some of the best friendships of my life have been with men.

I think of Paul who invited me to share his church offices when I first set out to plant my church. We met as students in one of our Masters classes. He was the short geeky one; funny, well-loved and smart. Half a decade older, he was also more skilled in ministry than I, having planted his own church and flexed his pastoral muscles for years. During the week we would discuss theological points in our sermons and on Monday mornings, we would debrief our services over smiley cupcakes from the local bakery. Paul was there to reassure me when the numbers were down and provide advice about the drunk who gate-crashed my service. He was first on my church board and led my commissioning when I left.

I think of Aaron, an ex-navy guy, who when he first entered my church was aghast to see a “chick up the front”, but managed to stay on in spite of it. He was the one of the first to get on board with the vision, to offer his home for fellowship and share the preaching roster on Sundays. At Christmas time, he demonstrated his true loyalty when he rocked a Santa suit at our community outreach just because I asked him.

I think of Pete, an integral part of the God Conversations ministry, who sits in his studio on a regular basis, diligently recording and mixing my podcasts; who patiently listens to my frustrations and cheers at the testimonies and who gets as excited as me watching thrillers on the couch at the end of a long week.

All of them have been close friends who have stood with me through different times of my life. All of them have been God’s provision for me in the season I was in.

All of them have also been married.

Over the years I’ve read books and articles with titles like; “Ten Rules for Working with Women.” They’ve included such instructions as: “Never be in a room alone with a woman; always leave the door open in the presence of a female, and don’t ever maintain eye contact with someone whose not your wife for any length of time.” In other words, don’t be friends with women.

I understand where they’re coming from. The dangers of close male-female friendships are abundantly clear. Marriages, families and entire communities have been devastated because people have done the very things those articles warn against.

But at the same time, friendships with the opposite gender have enormous potential to enrich our lives. They provide us with greater perspective and open us up to seeing the world in a different way. They also enable us to know God at a deeper level through relating to the other part of the image he called us to share (Genesis 1:26-28).

So how does a Christian woman do friendship with men?

The Need for Boundaries

What those articles about cross-gendered friendships were trying to emphasize was our need for boundaries. As Townsend and Cloud in their well-known book on the topic describe them, boundaries define who I am in relation to others. They define the roles I play and the responsibilities I have in each of my relationships. We all need healthy boundaries in our lives. Like a child who flourishes within the safety of well-defined parameters, boundaries give us the freedom to thrive in our relationships.

Where those articles get it wrong I believe, is in the nature of those boundaries. The rules they lay down are primarily external. They are imposed from the ‘outside-in’ and though well-intended, they can be hopelessly ineffective.

Ask anyone whose experienced the effects of sexual chemistry. Where lust and longing are involved, external boundaries are about as powerless as a wire fence against a bulldozer. The door to the office may well be ajar, but the boundaries of the heart can still be crossed. There might be a third person in the room, but thoughts may still be wandering to places they shouldn’t go.

If we are to have healthy friendships with men, our boundaries must be internalised. That means we need to take responsibility to carefully regulate our hearts – even more than our office doors.

Know your Heart

Once when my friend Paul and I were attending a pastors’ retreat, the question came up of whether we should drive there together. The campsite was over two hours away and we lived in adjoining neighbourhoods, so it made sense that we travel in the same car. When I asked my mentor for advice, she told me the last three moral failings in our denomination were male to male. “Just go together,” she said; “You’re fine”. And we were. Paul was a brother to me. He knew it and I knew it. We’d even discussed it at some point. There was no need to enforce external boundaries because the internal ones were already there.

There’ve been other relationships though. Those times when the boundaries weren’t quite so clear; where there was a danger that lines could be crossed either from my side or theirs. These were the men I wouldn’t do coffee with, sit in an office for extended periods of time with or drive alone with in a car.

May I say, it is never difficult to tell the difference? We know it when it happens. Ever since high school, we’ve learned to recognize when someone’s eyes linger too long or when our hearts beat a little faster than they normally would.

The key is to consider every relationship on its own merit. To ask; where is my heart in this relationship? Are the boundary lines where they should be? It’s up to us to take responsibility for the way we respond to our male friends – to consider what’s going on inside and act in a way that protects both ourselves and others.

It’s worth it of course. When we take time to establish our internal boundaries, we can be free to enjoy the blessing of one of the most worthwhile relationships in our lives. Having healthy male friendships is a gift available to us to enjoy. But if we’re not willing to keep our hearts in check, perhaps it would be better not to have any male friends at all.

© August 7th 2015, Tania Harris

This article first appeared at God Conversations here.

The Gender Conversation

By Karina Kreminski

Nearly three years ago now I wrote a post for Missio Alliance that, at the time, became very popular and was circulated by people and went to places that I would never have imagined. The post was called Gender, Being Missional and the Reign of God. [This post is on the CBE Australia website here.]

Echo-Chambers and Witness

The Gender Conversation2I wrote it because I was getting tired of the internal debates between egalitarian and complementarian Christians talking in their echo-chambers about a topic that the world needed to hear about from Christians. Even though I am not against talking through these things within our Christian huddles in order to keep working through this issue, I questioned whether any of this was making an impact missionally. I even wondered whether sometimes our discussions and debates were detrimental to our witness.

As a female pastor, leader and preacher I also found that the discussions that we were having were occasionally personally hurtful, were sometimes creating more barriers between Christians and not helping when it came to breaking through the restrictions placed on female leaders in the church.

Finding a Different Conversation

I longed for a different conversation, a conversation where we could present to the world a fresh perspective on gender which had the fragrance of another reality, the alternate reality of the reign of God. So I wrote the article and I found that I was not alone in my thoughts. As a result, I was then asked to present the annual Tinsley Lecture on this topic at Morling College where I now teach.

After this lecture, more conversations emerged around gender, being missional and the reign of God. People wanted an opportunity to explore the issue further and so two of my peers at College decided to put together a forum where respected scholars, thinkers and practitioners would present papers on the intersection between gender and politics, mission, sexuality, ethics, culture and Scripture. We held the forum last year and it was brilliant.

The result of this forum is a book which has just been released called The Gender Conversation. It is exactly that. Various well known and not so well known but clever people who share their different perspectives on gender all in conversation with each other. The format of the book follows the forum format; a paper was presented then those with alternate viewpoints interacted with that paper.

This is a book that represents a friendly, civil, creative, intelligent and missional conversation around gender. It was a pleasure to contribute a chapter to this book and also to work with others who had similar and different views from me on gender yet now after this forum, I can call them friends regardless of our differences.

I think this book is a model for how through friendship, civil discourse and fresh expressions, we can work through some of these “hot topics in our churches so that we might be able to present our hope that the new creation has come and live that out as a witness to a broken world.

© May 17th 2016, Karina Kreminski

This article first appeared at Missio Alliance here.

The Gender Conversation book can be purchased here.

What’s in a Name: Name Giving in Genesis 2

what’s in a name: name giving in genesis 2

By Martin Shields

Last month I heard Thomas R. Schreiner speak at Moore Theological College on the topic of “What the Bible says about Women in Ministry.” While briefly making reference to Genesis 1–3 he made a particular point that the man’s act of naming the animals and the woman is an exercise of authority on his part, and hence demonstrates his position of authority over the animals and the woman.

Frankly I’m surprised that appeal is still made to naming in discussions about women’s roles in the church. Read on for my reasons.

The first thing to note is that while many modern scholars appeal to naming, the New Testament writers never did. Paul does appeal to the order of creation and that the woman was deceived (whatever the significance of those appeals may be), he never mentions that Adam named Eve. If naming was such an obvious and powerful demonstration of dominion, and if the NT writers sought to establish this point, surely they missed a great opportunity here?

Dominion is not fundamental to naming

The problem is that naming is not invariably a demonstration of authority. While it often does seem to express dominion over that which is named, there are some very clear examples where naming clearly does not express dominion.

The first is the most potent. In Gen 16:13 we read the following:

ותקרא שם יהוה הדבר אליה אתה אל ראי

Then [Hagar] named Yhwh who had spoken to her, “You are El-Roi…”

Here Hagar names Yhwh. If naming invariably expresses dominion, then Hagar would here be claiming dominion over Yhwh. The text, however, does not view Hagar’s actions negatively.1

Let me give one other example. Following Solomon’s birth Yhwh sends Nathan the prophet to speak:

‏וישלח ביד נתן הנביא ויקרא את שמו ידידיה בעבור יהוה

Then [Yhwh] sent a message through Nathan the prophet and he named [Solomon] ‘Jedidiah’ for Yhwh’s sake.

Despite Yhwh’s naming the child here, Solomon is never again referred to by this name. If naming invariably expresses dominion then what does it mean that the name chosen by Yhwh is ignored in favour of that chosen by David?

Naming is fundamentally an act of character recognition

As it turns out, however, there is a fundamental feature of naming in the Bible and the ancient Near East. It is not dominion but character recognition. This is apparent in that names virtually always reflect something of the character of that which is being named, or at least it expresses some hopes about the character of that being named. We see this with Noah in Gen 5:29:

‏ויקרא את שמו נח לאמר זה ינחמנו ממעשנו ומעצבון ידינו

Then he named him ‘Noah’, saying “This one will bring us comfort from our work and the toil of our hands…”

The same is evident in many, many other examples of naming.

Why this makes best sense of Genesis 2

This actually makes very good sense of Genesis 2:18–25. The naming takes place immediately after Yhwh identifies a problem: “It is not good that the man is alone. I will make a suitable companion for him.”

Yhwh then proceeds to form all the animals from the ground — in much the same way he had formed the man — and brings them to the man so he can name them. While this could be read as an exercise of authority and fulfilment of Gen 1, it seems odd to find a problem with creation and then delay resolving the problem while doing something largely irrelevant to the problem!

But understood as an act of character recognition, the naming of the animals becomes an integral part of the narrative as an attempt to resolve the problem. The man examines each animal to determine whether it would be a suitable companion. And the task fails as noted in verse 20: “but for the man no suitable companion was found.” It is clear that the naming was all about finding a companion. And it failed.

That it failed is not a slight on Yhwh’s abilities, it is clearly didactic. While a dog may be said to be “man’s best friend,” Genesis 2 makes it clear that a dog cannot replace human companionship. There is only one suitable companion for a man, a woman, and (I have argued), vice-versa. The man (and hopefully the reader) learns this from the failure of the close examination of all the animals Yhwh created.

When the woman is then built from the side of the man and presented to the man, he also names her, and in that act he recognises the long desired missing element in creation: his other half. His words express an awareness of her character, they are not an expression of his dominion over her. After all, in Gen 1 it was man and woman who together shared dominion over the animals, there was nothing there to suggest that man would have dominion over woman.

Furthermore, just because the idea of dominion is introduced in Gen 1 does not mean that all that takes place in Gen 2–3 must give expression to that dominion!

So what’s in a name?

Hopefully it is now clear that the primary function of naming in Gen 2:18–25 is that it represents the act of closely examining the characteristic features of that which is named. This aspect of naming is prominent throughout the Bible, where names reflect something of the character of the named. If naming in Gen 2:18–25 is understood primarily as an expression of dominion it makes the naming episode a largely irrelevant aside to the immediate narrative. If naming reflects a close examination of the character of that which is named, these verses become an integral part of the search for the missing element in creation.

In short, appeals to the first man’s naming of the woman to support the notion that there is a hierarchical relationship between men and women misreads Genesis 2 and is based on a flawed presupposition about the significance of naming.


  1. Likewise naming elsewhere in the ancient Near East fails to express dominion in all cases. For example, on tablet V of Enūma Eliš we read that the gods assigned a name to Marduk:

    (95) Then the great gods convened,
    They made Marduk’s destiny highest, they prostrated themselves.
    They laid upon themselves a curse (if they broke the oath),
    With water and oil they swore, they touched their throats.
    They granted him exercise of kingship over the gods,
    (100) They established him forever for lordship of heaven and earth.
    Anshar gave him an additional name, Asalluhi,
    “When he speaks, we shall all do obeisance,
    At his command the gods shall pay heed.”

    See COS I, p. 401. Here the gods are clearly not claiming dominion over Marduk since Anshar affirms their subordinate status immediately after naming him! In the Standard Babylonian version of the Anzu story there is a record of all the names given to Ninurta in different places. Given that the deity is being named it is again unlikely that there is any hint of dominion over that which is being named.


Ramsey, G. W., “Is Name-Giving an Act of Dominion in Genesis 2–3 and Elsewhere?” CBQ 50.1 (Jan. 1988), 24–35.

Shields, Martin A., Man and Woman in Genesis 1–3, M.Th.(hons) Dissertation, Sydney College of Divinity (1995), chapter 4.

© 5th of June 2016, Martin A. Shields

This article first appeared on “Shields-Up”  here.

Gender is a Kingdom of God Issue

Gender is a Kingdom of God Issue

By Karina Kreminski

Why are we as the people of God not talking a whole lot more about gender?

Here are some comments I have heard recently and increasingly that might help to answer that question;

1. ‘We are so over this, do we have to go over the “gender thing” again?’
2. ‘This is such a contentious issue it only causes division. Let’s just get on with it’
3. ‘Everyone has pretty much made up their minds about this and things are just not going to change’
4. ‘We have already made enough progress the “battle” is won’.
5. ‘I don’t think that the gender thing is a gospel issue so let’s just focus on the important things rather than the peculiarities that separate us’.
6. ‘John Piper says…’ , ‘Mark Driscoll says…’

You might be able to think of some more comments that act to stifle discussion and imagination around this issue. At the moment I can’t think of any public forums and resources that are widely held and circulated in this city which engage with the topic of gender to a level that can inspire and teach people about the kingdom of God perspective on this.

And I do mean the kingdom of God perspective on this.

For me the Kingdom of God has always been a source of inspiration ever since I heard about it when I was studying at Morling Theological college over ten years ago now. The picture of this kingdom of God presented to me as I read Scripture is of justice, beauty, kindness, reconciled relationships. A place where loneliness is banished and violence ceases to exist, abuse is unheard of, talk is peppered with generosity, insecurities are nullified, joy is released, boundaries between rich and poor are taken away and organisations experience renewal. In short the Kingdom of God or the reign of God is an notion which engages the deepest longings  that reside in every human being, sometimes termed in our popular imagination as the desire for utopia.

This kingdom however is not a shadowy ideal but it is an embodied idea, it has invaded the earth through Jesus Christ. Moreover as we all know, the kingdom is “now” but it is also “not yet”. So we have been given a kick start through Jesus and also we have been given  resources needed such as a new nature, the power of the Spirit, a renewed mind to be able to receive and extend more of his kingdom on the earth. This is the “now” aspect of the kingdom and it is where my imagination is ignited visualising all the possibilities of the way our world could be.

The “not yet” aspect of the kingdom can sometimes make me feel discouraged. I know that we will only see the magnificence and unspeakable beauty of the kingdom when Jesus returns. I know that. I know we must still live in a broken world with sickness, death, sin. However if we have been given a new nature, a renewed mind and the power of the Spirit why do we see so little change now? Why is this vision of the kingdom of God so small and seemingly plodding…one step forward, two steps back.

And so this is where I get quite annoyed with the 6 comments written at the beginning of this blog.

To me each comment seems to lack imagination of what could be, To me each comment seems to accept the status quo. To me each comment seems to not understand or see the disparity between what is and what could be. It seems to me that these comments not only show a blind spot regarding gender but also a shortsightedness regarding the theology of the kingdom of God. Seems to me sometimes we would rather narrow down the gospel to a reductionist ‘Jesus saves me from my sins so that I will go to heaven’ type “gospel” rather than understanding that the gospel impacts every aspect of our lives individually and communally, locally and globally. The kingdom vision is that big!

Not only are we sitting in the status quo moreover, if we live out the comments stated we seriously undermine that crucial part of the kingdom of God- reconciled relationships. Jesus came to reconcile humanity with God but he also came to be the source that reconciles us to each other. Some might disagree with me but in terms of human relationships I think the biggest reconciliation that needs to happen is between men and women!

You just need to have a look and listen to popular culture to see the desperate need for reconciliation between men and women. For example the theme for the next Masterchef series a popular cooking show, is the ‘Battle of the sexes’. In the advertisements typical gender stereotypes are perpetuated which only act to inflame and highlight the competition and unresolved resentment between men and women. How can a battle of the sexes be good in any sense? We might laugh and chuckle about it and say that it is a lighthearted attempt to get a competition going. Really? And we hear that sort of terminology like ‘Battle of the sexes’ in our society in general continually.

Even though Christians might be ‘over’ the gender debate most of society is engaging with the issue constantly. We might hear one day on the news that women still do not get paid the same as men, on another day that men are confused by feminism and sometimes act angrily as a response but really they are just trying to work out where they now fit in society. On another day we might hear about how young girls in the majority world are the most disadvantaged people in the whole world, another time we might read about the increase of domestic violence in our nation or the increase of confusion regarding gender roles. The issue around the question ‘Are men and women really different?’ still churns over in people’s minds. People are interested in this.

The reason that the world is interested is because the ‘battle’ between men and women is as old as the Fall itself. A distorted relationship is clearly evident in Genesis 3:16. Whatever your view is on gender clearly there is a sad distortion depicted there that has become ingrained in us forevermore…that is until we remember Jesus and the kingdom of God.

I just love this verse of Scripture:

‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross’ (Colossians 1:19-20)

‘ALL THINGS’ is pretty clear and it includes the broken relationship between men and women which is reconciled through the cross of Jesus. That means according to Scripture the world looks to us as followers of Jesus to bring reconciliation! Instead we lag behind the world rather than be at the forefront of change. Personally I find this embarrassing and in my dark moments depressing.

The world might run programs, initiate egalitarian work practices, coach people on gender roles which is all good, yet Scripture tells us that the people of God are responsible through the peacemaking cross of Christ to reconcile the relationship between men and women. And this goes beyond the necessary yet tiresome perpetual debate around complementarian and egalitarian views of women in ministry, it moves to seek deep reconciliation, peace, mutuality between men and women.

No wonder we are having a harder time with issues like homosexuality, singleness, transgender people…if we have not developed a hungry imagination for reconciled relationships as would be embraced in the kingdom of God, then what hope do we have to deal with even more complex issues such as these?

Let’s talk more about gender. It is a kingdom of God issue and the world waits for the solution through the cross of Jesus Christ to bring to fulfillment its deepest longings….longings that God himself has placed there.

© May 23rd 2013, Karina Kreminski

This article was first appeared on here.