Female leadership in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament)
Passages from Acts, Romans,
Corinthians, Galatians, & Philippians
Passages that may refer to female ordination / leadership:
Acts 9:36: Paul refers to a woman (Tabitha in Aramaic, Dorcas in Greek, Gazelle in
English) as a disciple.
Acts 18:24-26 describes how Priscilla, a woman, and Aquila, her
husband, both acted in the role of an
official pastor to a man from Alexandria, called Apollos. Various translations of the
Bible imply that they taught him in the synagogue (Amplified Bible, King James Version,
Rheims, New American Standard, New American, New Revised Standard). However, the New
International Version has an unusual translation of this passage. The NIV states that the
teaching occurred in Priscilla's and Aquila's home.
Romans 16:1: This chapter is apparently unrelated to chapter 15 and to the rest of
the book. It appears to be an independent note that has been attached to the epistle to
the Romans. It starts with a letter of recommendation which introduces Phoebe to a group
of people associated with the church at Corinth. Paul refers to her as a "deacon
in the sense of a preacher, a minister, because Paul uses the same word for himself. He
calls himself, in a number of instances, a deacon of the new covenant in 2 Corinthians."
1 It is often translated "deaconess" or
"servant" or "helper" in English translations - perhaps in order to
disguise her true status. The same Greek word appears in Ephesians 6:21 where it refers to
a male and is normally translated "minister." It also appears in 2 Corinthians
where Paul used the word to refer to himself.
Dr. Helmut Koester comments:
"Most of the persons named in this list
are not simply personal friends of Paul in the church of Ephesus, but associates and
co-workers. This is shown by the repeated references to their functions. The fact that
such a large number of women appears in this list is clear and undeniable evidence for the
unrestricted participation of women in the offices of the church in the Pauline
Romans 16:3: Paul refers to Priscilla, a woman, as another of his "fellow workers in
Christ Jesus" (NIV) Other translations refer to her as a "co-worker".
But still other translations attempt to downgrade her status by calling her a simple
"helper". The original Greek word is "synergoi", which literally means
"fellow worker" or "colleague." 1
Romans 16:7: Paul refers to a male apostle, Andronicus, and a female apostle,
Junia, as "outstanding among the apostles" (NIV) The Amplified Bible translates
this passage as "They are men held in high esteem among the apostles."
The Revised Standard Version shows it as "they are men of note among the apostles."
The reference to them both being men does not appear in the original Greek text.
"Men" was simply inserted by the translators. We suspect that they did this because their
minds recoiled from the concept of a female apostle. Many translations, including the
Amplified Bible, Rheims New Testament, New American Standard Bible, and the New
International Version simply picked the letter "s" out of thin air. They
converted the original "Junia" (a woman's name) into "Junias" (which
they considered a man's name) in order to erase all reference to a female apostle. Junia
was first converted into a man only in the "13th century, when Aegidius of Rome
(1245-1316) referred to both Andronicus and Junia as "honorable men."
One source 1 refers to Hans Lietzmann who studied names used
in ancient times. He found no evidence that "Junias" was ever used as a man's
name. "Junias" might possibly have been used as a short form for
"Junianus," which did exist. But there are no references to it in antiquity. It
appears obvious that Junia was definitely an outstanding female apostle, and that many
Bible translators have been trying to suppress this information.
1 Corinthians 1:11: Chloe is mentioned as the owner of a house where
Christian meetings were held. There is some ambiguity as to whether the women actually led
the house church or merely owned the building. Similar passages mention, with the same
The mother of Mark in Acts 12:12, and
Lydia in Acts 16:14-5, and 40, and
Nympha in Colossians 4:15.
1 Corinthians 11:3: "...Christ is the head of every man, and a husband the
head of his wife, and the head of Christ is God. (NIV)" Conservative
Christians often quote this passage as proof that a husband should retain full authority
over his wife in family matters. This concept of women being in an inferior power position
might then logically be extended to the church organization as well. Some liberal Christians note that the Greek word translated
"head" is "kephale", which can be interpreted in two ways: "having
authority over," or alternatively "source" or "origin."
Looking at verses 3 to 12, each interpretation looks equally valid. The former would
support rejection of women in positions of authority; the latter would not.
1 Corinthians 11:7-9:"For a man...is the image and glory of God; but woman
is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man
created for woman but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman
ought to have a sign of authority on her head." (NIV) St. Paul is
attempting to give an explanation why women should cover their hair while in church. This
passage is often quoted by conservative theologians to justify the inferior position
assigned to women and thus deny them access to positions of power in churches. Liberals might point out
that this passage is largely ignored in practice; most women today do not cover their hair during church
services. Also, it does not appear to say anything about female ordination.
1 Corinthians 14:34b-35: "As in all the congregations of the saints, women
should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in
submission, as the Law says, If they want to inquire about something, they should ask
their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church."
(NIV) There are many interpretations of this short passage:
Many conservative theologians accept this passage in its plain and literal meaning and
interpret it as prohibiting all talking by women during services in every society,
forever. This would of course prohibit a woman from accepting a position of pastor,
minister or priest.
Bible scholar Hans Conzelmann concluded that this passage is a forgery*, inserted into
St. Paul's original text by an unknown writer. 1 Thus, it cannot be regarded as the
writing of Paul. The verses were not in the original version, and thus cannot be
considered inerrant. He cites a number of reasons for this
this passage contradicts Chapter 11:5 where women are described as taking an active role
in church assemblies by praying and prophesying during services. Either the above passage
or 11:5 must be invalid.
there are "peculiarities of linguistic usage, and of thought" in this
passage which are not found in the rest of the Epistle
the passage "spoils the flow of thought" and "interrupts the
theme of prophesy." There is a discontinuity between verse 36 and 37. Verse 37
links up neatly with verse 33a.
If verses 34b to 36 are simply removed, then the chapter flows smoothly, as it was
probably originally intended to do. The forgery* was rather crudely done.
Others point out that Paul would hardly cite the Torah (the Law) as justification for
restricting roles of women; his entire ministry involved the exact opposite: he preached
liberation from the Law. Some Biblical scholars say that Paul is here describing divisive
practices being promoted by the Jewish Christians in Corinth - those who believed in Jesus
as Lord while still following the Torah. They were generating discord by teaching that
"As in the synagogues, women should remain silent.....as the Torah says."
That is, they wanted to translate synagogue practice, as defined by the Torah, into the
Christian assemblies. Women were not allowed to speak in synagogues, so they should not be
allowed to speak in Christian assemblies. Paul follows up this passage with verse 15 which
severely criticizes the Jewish Christians for this position by asking "Did the
word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?" From
this interpretation, restriction on women, as taught by the Torah, should
be rejected; men
and women should be treated equally with respect to their behavior and roles in
Still others point out that the purpose of 1 Corinthians was to answer a number of
questions raised by the Church at Corinth. Paul's style was to write a brief quotation
supplied by a Corinthian Christian, and then respond to it. Verses 3:1, 5:1, 6:1, 7:1, 8:1
are some examples.
Following this same pattern, Verse 14:33b to 14:35 is not a comment by Paul. Rather it may
be a question raised by a Corinthian who objected to women speaking in church.
The church member may have asked: "As in all of the synagogues of the holy
ones, women should remain silent in the synagogues. They are not allowed to speak but must
be in submission, as the Torah says. If they want to inquire about something, they should
ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the
Paul would then have responded with an attack in Verses 36 - 38, and concludes the
chapter with Verse 39, an instruction from the Lord to his "brothers and
sisters" to be eager to prophesy, but in a fitting and orderly way. All that is
required to come up with this translation is to rearrange the original Greek slightly.
Ancient Greek was written without punctuation marks, divisions into sentences or spaces
between words. This leads to a single passage having many different interpretations.
Others speculate that St. Paul is restricting the roles of women, but referring to:
a temporary problem of a local nature at the church at Corinth
women chattering during services
women interrupting services with emotional outbursts
women speaking about certain specific items in church
Still others regard the passage as an indicator of St. Paul's poor regard for women,
which originated in his Greek and Jewish background and was not overcome by his religious
conversion to Christianity. That is, it was an expression of his personal beliefs and can
be safely overlooked in the present day. Just as we have learned to ignore Biblical
passages regarding slavery, passages concerning women covering
their hair in church, passages prohibiting certain types of jewelry, we should learn to
recognize the evil of Paul's sexism and recognize that this passage should be
1 Corinthians 16:3: Paul refers to two a married couple: Priscilla and
her husband Aquila as his fellow workers
in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor
female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (NIV) This is perhaps the
most famous passage in the New Testament that assigns equal status to individuals of both
genders (and all races, nationalities and slave status). Some religious conservatives
believe that this equality refers only to women's salvation and not to their status in the church.
Philippians 4:2: Paul refers to two women, Euodia and Syntyche, as his co-workers
who were active evangelists, spreading the gospel.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Hans Conzelmann, "Textual Commentary on 1 Corinthians
14:33-36," from "1 Corinthians: a Commentary on the First
Epistle to the Corinthians" translated by James W. Leitch,
Fortress Press, PA, (1975), Page 246) Available at: