Bible Notes: Chief Women & Paul's Evangelism

A couple of interesting notes here is that as the disciples went out into the “nations/goyim/pagans” they approached them and preached to each of them from a perspective that they could relate to. Also, we see there were women in high places in the Jewish churches/synagogues.

(ESV)  And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women

Act 17:4 kjv: And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.

Paul and Silas in Thessalonica(Jewish area) WEB

Act 17:1  Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 

Act 17:2  Paul, as was his custom, went in to them, and for three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 

Act 17:3  explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” 

Act 17:4  Some of them were persuaded, and joined Paul and Silas, of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and not a few of the chief women

chiefG4413 womenG1135

Yeshua quotes the Shemah in Mark 12:29 when he was asked what is the greatest command, He quotes Dt. 6:4-5

In that quote, the word used for the greatest is the Greek word Protos,   Strongs #G4413 (below). 

That is the SAME WORD used in Acts 17:4 (above) to describe the women in the Synagogue in Tessalonica who believed the message of The Risen Messiah Yeshua of Nazareth, and joined with Paul and Silas. 

Jews often respond to the question of women in ministry as, "a uniquely Christian Problem".  It didn't exist in the synagogues of old. 


Mar 12:29  AndG1161 JesusG2424 answeredG611 him,G846 The firstG4413 of allG3956 theG3588 commandmentsG1785 is, Hear,G191 O Israel;G2474 The LordG2962 ourG2257 GodG2316 isG2076 oneG1520 Lord:G2962 

(ABP+)  G3588 AndG1161 JesusG* answeredG611 to himG1473 that,G3754 ForemostG4413 of allG3956 of theG3588 commandments,G1785 Hear,G191 O Israel!G* The LordG2962 G3588 our GodG2316 G1473 [3LordG2962 2oneG1520 1is].G1510.2.3

(CEV (complete equivalency version))  Jesus answered, "The most important one says: 'People of Israel, you have only one Lord and God.

(ESV)  Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

(JUB)  And Jesus responded unto him, The principal of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one;

Paul and Silas in Berea (Jewish area)

Act 17:10  And the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night unto Berea, who when they got there went into the synagogue of the Jews. 

Act 17:11  These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all diligence and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.  (Noble in this verse, refers to their nobility status here)

Act 17:12  Therefore many of them believed, also of honourable women who were Greeks and of men, not a few. 

(note: G4413 Acts 17:4, “chief women” above: “Primary, main” refers to their position in the church.

G2158 used below is an unrelated Greek word which means “honorable”, “well respected”, etc) So, while the women in Thessalonica above were in some sort of leadership position in the Church, the women referred to here in Berea are of an honorable status in the Community as well; as the same word was used for Joseph of Arimathaea, who was a member of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.)

Act 17:12  ThereforeG3767 manyG4183 (G3303) ofG1537 themG846 believed;G4100 alsoG2532 of honourableG2158 womenG1135 which were Greeks,G1674 andG2532 of men,G435 notG3756 a few.G3641  (4413, unreleated

Mar 15:43  JosephG2501 ofG575 Arimathaea,G707 an honourableG2158 counselor,G1010

Beyond Acts; A brief look at women leaders other New Testament Assemblies

Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, was another leader whom God used to confuse expectations and empower those who had previously not been esteemed. In Luke 10, Jesus is at Mary and Martha’s home with his disciples. And while Jesus is teaching, Mary sits at his feet.

Martha, who was working to host and feed Jesus and his followers, found this greatly upsetting. She was laboring diligently in the cultural duties of a woman, and she could use all the help she could get.

Mary, on the other hand, was taking upon herself the cultural role of a man—a disciple, a learner, an active follower of Jesus and a participant in his movement. This wasn’t something women did in the culture of the day.

But when Martha tries to get Mary to come back to her womanly duties, here’s what Jesus says.

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:41b-42)

Mary serves as an example of how Jesus came to empower women to be full fledged partners in the work he came to do.

Mary serves as an example of how Jesus came to empower women to be full fledged partners in the work he came to do. Click To Tweet

[3] Priscilla 

Whenever we hear of Priscilla in the New Testament, it’s most often alongside her husband, Aquila. The couple was a dynamic team of teachers and church leaders.

They not only were very capable teachers in their own right, but they also played a pivotal role in the raising up of other leaders–including Apollos, who became widely known for his powerful and effective preaching (Acts 18:18-28).

Interesting to note is that almost every time the couple is mentioned, Priscilla is named first (e.g., Acts 18:18, 26; Romans 16:3). In the culture of the day, whenever naming a team of leaders, the most prominent among them would always be named first—suggesting that Priscilla, even as a female leader, experienced a higher place of prominence even than her husband.

Almost every time the couple Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned, Priscilla is named first, suggesting that she had a higher place of prominence even than her husband. Click To Tweet

[4] Lydia

Lydia was a successful businesswoman whom Paul and his missionary team met while in Philippi. After Paul preaches to her, she comes to faith in Jesus and immediately becomes a supporter and friend to Paul.

She and her whole household were baptized, and a group of believers began meeting in her home as a house church (Acts 16:15, 40). When someone hosted a church in their home, they often became the leading administrator, as well as a shepherd to the group. Already having been an effective leader and entrepreneur in the past, it is likely that Lydia took to these roles easily.

The church in Philippi became incredibly generous financial supporters in the mission of Jesus, and Lydia likely also played a key role in that (Philippians 1:3-5).

The church in Philippi became incredibly generous financial supports in the mission of Jesus, and Lydia likely played a key role in that. Click To Tweet

[5] Phoebe

When the Apostle Paul wrote letters to the churches throughout the Roman Empire, he had no government postal service by which he could send them. So he appointed trusted partners to deliver these important letters that not only served the churches that received them, but have become part of our holy scriptures.

One of Paul’s most important letters (and his longest) was his letter to the churches in Rome—essentially the capital of the known world at the time. And he entrusted this important letter to none other than Phoebe (Romans 16:1).

Whenever a person would deliver a letter, they would read it out to the recipient group, as well as explain further the intent and meaning behind the letter. Phoebe conceivably played this important role as well. And that means that the first person to ever do a verse-by-verse bible study through Romans was a female leader.

Phoebe was likely the first person to ever do a bible study on Paul's epistle to the Romans. Click To Tweet

[6] Lois & [7] Eunice

Paul commends Lois and Eunice in his second letter to his young friend, Timothy. The two women were his grandmother and mother, respectively. Here’s what Paul has to say about them.

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. (2 Timothy 1:5)

While it’s unclear whether these two women led in any official capacity, their faithfulness played a vital role in influencing the next generation for Jesus. Timothy went onto be an incredibly influential leader, not only in a local context, but throughout an entire region. His successful ministry was due in part to the presence of strong female leaders in his life.

While it's unclear whether Lois and Eunice led in any official capacity, they played a key role in influencing the next generation for Jesus. Click To Tweet

[8] Euodia & [9] Syntyche

It may seem strange to include these two leaders, when the only time we see their names in scripture, Paul is actually scolding them. But Euodia and Syntyche were key leaders in the church at Philippi. And when Paul writes to that church, he brings up an apparent disagreement between the two of them (Philippians 4:2-3).

We don’t know the exact nature of the disagreement, because Paul doesn’t mention it. But it’s conceivable that the dispute had to do with how best to lead the church. If it had been an issue of sin, Paul would have likely pointed out who was in the wrong.

But perhaps nobody was really in the wrong. They were two faithful female leaders trying to lead the church in the direction they saw best. So in their disagreement, Paul encourages them to seek unity through prayer and rejoicing. (You can read more about their situation here.)

Euodia and Syntyche were two faithful leaders trying to lead the church in the direction they saw best. So in their disagreement, Paul encourages them to seek unity through prayer and rejoicing. Click To Tweet

Countless Others

In this list, there are many that I have failed to mention, and still many others whose stories are not even told on the pages of scripture. And yet their leadership made an eternal impact.

In the book of Acts, Luke describes the faith of unnamed and unnumbered “women of high standing” and “leading women” (Acts 13:50; 17:4, respectively). We will never know many of their stories on this side of eternity.

But what we do know is that women played a larger role in the foundation of the Church than we often realize or pay attention to. Strong female leadership is nothing new in the Church.

And though we don’t know all of the stories of strong female leaders in the early Church, there are many stories of female leaders that we do know. We see them leading in our families, communities, and churches. You are often underappreciated. But I want you to know that you are seen, known, and loved. And your impact is far greater than you can know.

Paul’s Ministry Terminology

The apostle Paul doesn’t identify anyone in his letters as a pastor, or as a local church elder or overseer. His favorite terms for fellow ministers are (in descending order): coworker, brother/ sister, diakonos (“minister/ deacon”), and apostolos (“apostle/ missionary”).[1] He also uses “labourer/ labour” words when referring to identified ministers. Paul uses these terms for men such as Timothy and Silas, and for women such as Prisca, Euodia, Syntyche, Phoebe, Junia, Persis, Apphia, etc.

Furthermore, Paul often uses several terms to describe one minister. He was flexible with ministry terminology. He didn’t use fixed titles, so there wasn’t, for example, Pastor Silas or Pastor Phoebe.

If we’re looking in the New Testament for individuals called “pastor,” we won’t find them. If, however, we look for people who functioned as pastors in local churches (which were mostly house churches), then we find women as well as men, and also couples (e.g., Nympha in Colossae, the Chosen Lady in Asia Minor).

The Example of the Ephesian Church

New Testament churches were not organised, and did not function, in the same way as most of our churches today. And in the New Testament, it’s difficult to find identified ministers of local churches with titles.

The church in Ephesus, for example, had overseers (episkopoi; possibly patrons, hosts and leaders of house churches),[2] male and female ministers (diakonoi; unspecified ministers), male and female elders (presbyteroi; some elders taught), and enrolled widows (which quickly became a church order).[3] But none of the people with these ministries or roles is identified or named. None of them!

Apart from three apostate teachers, Hymenaeus, Alexander, and Philetus (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17), the only people identified as ministers associated with the Ephesian church are Timothy, who was in Ephesus for a limited time acting as Paul’s representative (cf. 2 Tim. 4:13, 21), Prisca and Aquila (2 Tim. 4:19), and the household of Onesiphorus (2 Tim. 1:16; 4:19).[4]

Prisca is arguably as clear an example of an NT church leader or pastor as you can get. I suggest one of the reasons she is not recognised by some as a church leader, apart from the fact that she is female, is because people don’t understand how Paul spoke about ministers and ministry, and they don’t understand how mid-first century churches operated and organised themselves.

Prisca in Ephesus, and later in Rome, was just as much a minister and leader as Stephanas in Corinth. In fact, she and her husband may have had more experience and more influence in ministry than Stephanas and his fellow ministers.

Preachers and Teachers

What about the terms “preacher” and “teacher”?

The only people called “preacher” (kērux) in the NT are Paul and Noah. The word “preacher” is used differently in the NT from how the word is used by many Christians today. This article, here, looks at “preaching” words, both nouns and verbs, in the NT. These words are typically used in the context of proclaiming the gospel message to people who haven’t heard it before.

The only people called “teacher” (didaskalos) in the context of the church are Paul (a few times) and the named leaders in Syrian Antioch who are referred to as “prophets and teachers”: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, and Saul (as he was known then) (Acts 13:1). In 1 Tim 2:7 and in 2 Tim 1:11, Paul calls himself by three terms: preacher, apostle, and teacher.

“Teaching” verbs are used for various people in Acts including Peter and John, Paul and Barnabas, and Apollos who was corrected by Priscilla and Aquila. That Apollos (an eloquent and educated man who was teaching in Ephesus) was corrected by Priscilla and Aquila, and that this was recorded in a positive manner in Acts 18, surely tells us something about the significance of the ministry of this couple.

Paul uses “teaching” verbs occasionally in his letters for himself and Timothy, etc. And a “teaching” verb (as well as the noun “prophet”) is used in Revelation 2:20 for Jezebel of Thyatira. Her example shows that women were church leaders. However, she is an example of a bad leader and an errant teacher. (She was given time to repent of her immorality.)

It’s important to note that in his general instructions about ministry, Paul never says that the ministry of teacher/ teaching, or of pastor, is off-limits to women. See Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:28, and Ephesians 4:11. And in 1 Corinthians 14:26 and Colossians 3:16, Paul encourages participation in ministry, including bringing a teaching.

Terminology and Authority

Paul says that Phoebe was “diakonos of the church at Cenchrea” (Rom. 16:1-2). Unlike what some detractors say about the word diakonos, Paul typically used the word for Christian ministers, including himself: Phoebe was minister of the church at Cenchrea.[5]

The problem isn’t that there are no women in the NT who ministered as pastors, there are. The problem for some is that Paul, the other letter writers, and the author of Acts, use different terminology for ministers than what most of us are familiar with. And sometimes these authors don’t use any term for someone who is clearly a minister (e.g., the seven men in Acts 6 including Stephen, and Stephanas in 1 Cor. 16:15-18).

Furthermore, many Christians are stuck on the idea that women can’t be church leaders because of a faulty notion of authority. The authority to minister, however, is not an authority over fellow believers, but an authorization and gifted-ness from God to function in a certain ministry. Genuine Christian ministry is not about exercising authority over people but about humbly serving them.

Final Thoughts

The church in Jerusalem seems to have been led by men, and also the church in Syrian Antioch. So some may choose to follow that “model.” But as we move north and west from Syria, the names of more and more women ministers pop up, especially in verses about churches in Macedonian and Roman cities. I have no doubt that Phoebe, Prisca, Nympha, and women like them, were influential leaders in their churches.

In one passage, Romans 16:1-16, Paul mentions ten women, seven of whom he describes in some way as ministers: Phoebe, Prisca, Mary, Junia, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis. These women were not called pastors, just as no man in the NT is called a pastor of a church, but at least a few of these, and other NT women, functioned as pastors; they were responsible for the spiritual and physical wellbeing of members in their congregations. There is a biblical case for men and women as church leaders and pastors.

N.T. Wright: The New Testament Is Clear on Female Preachers


M Briggs


February 21, 2020sreenshot from Facebook / @N. T. Wright

When Pastor Miles McPherson asked N.T. Wright about his thoughts on women in ministry, the audience at Rock Church in San Diego erupted into enthusiastic applause. However, Wright said, the same question would elicit a yawn in the U.K. “We settled this one years ago,” Wright explained. Wright, who says he is asked about this topic nearly everywhere he goes outside of Britain, leans heavily on two passages of Scripture when it comes to answering the question “what does the Bible say about female preachers?”

The usual idea that women were kept down in the ancient world and it’s only recently that feminism has brought them back up is quite wrong,” Wright argues. The theologian, who recently published a book called The New Testament in Its World, said women who had some authority in the church and society were not anathema in the ancient world. “There were lots of independent women in Paul’s world and that was something Paul worked with.” 

What Does the Bible Say About Female Preachers?

Wright refers to the stories in John 20 and Romans 16 as “big stories” that should be used to shed light on less clear or difficult passages such as 1 Timothy 2.

In John 20, when Jesus is raised from the dead, the first person he meets is Mary Magdalene. “He does not say, Mary, I’ve got some really important news–I want you to go get Peter because I need to tell him so that he can then go and tell everybody else,” Wright explains. Instead, “he says, ‘Mary, go and tell my brothers–those men who are hiding at home because they’re scared–go and tell them I am ascending to my father The news that the crucified Jesus has been raised from the dead and is now Lord of the world is “the foundation of all Christian ministry,” Wright says, arguing for the passage’s significance to Christian thought and belief. Speaking to ChurchLeaders podcast host Jason Daye, Wright says that when Jesus gives this news to Mary instead of one of his male disciples, it is “almost as huge a revolution as the resurrection itself.” 

The other example Wright leans on to answer the question of whether or not women should be allowed to preach is in Romans 16. Wright says the letter to the Romans is “probably the most important letter ever written.” The fact that Paul entrusted this most important letter to Phoebe, who was a deacon in the church in Corinth, is very significant when considering the context of the time period and culture. “In the ancient world, the person who delivers the letter is the person who will read it out.” Phoebe was “presumably an independent business woman” who was traveling to Rome for business, Wright explains.

Additionally, there is a high possibility that Phoebe also explained Paul’s meaning when people had questions about the letter. In fact, it is “highly likely the first ever exposition of Paul’s letter to the Romans was done by a Christian business woman from the eastern port of Corinth,” Wright said. “Paul could easily have chosen some man to do that job,” he explained. Instead, he deliberately chose Phoebe. 

What About 1 Timothy 2?

Wright argues that these two passages give context for other, more “difficult” passages to interpret which mention women. For instance, 1 Timothy 2 contains words that don’t occur in other places in the New Testament, making it hard to interpret. Wright, who has “wrestled with” the meaning of this passage for quite some time, thinks “it’s quite wrong to take one particular reading of 1 Timothy 2 and allow that to override what is coming through in those other, great passages which seem to me very, very clear.” 

During our interview with Wright, he shared another passage of Scripture that also implies women should be allowed to preach. Wright calls 1 Corinthians 11 a “tricky passage” which can be hard to interpret. However, one thing is clear: 

Paul is very adamant that when women are leading in worship, they should look like women and not look like imitation men. The fact that he is concerned about them being recognized as women…shows that a) he does want them to be leading in worship and b) he wants it to be clear that they are doing so as women.

Wright concludes the “narrative [of women communicating the word of God] is so clear” in the New Testament.

You can listen to our interview with Wright here:

N.T. Wright on the Dangers of Neglecting the History of the New Testamenten

Older Testament of Women in Leadership

Most people are familiar with the women leadership in the Torah and Older Testament, and of course Yah doesn't change, and Yeshua is the same yesterday, today and forever, but here goes a brief review from

Examples of Women Who Ministered as Spiritual and Political Leaders
There are many examples of women who served in leadership positions in the Old Testament. For example, Exodus 15:20 describes Miriam as a prophetess who served alongside her brothers Moses and Aaron during the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt (cf. Micah 6:4). Judges 4–5 tells the story of a remarkable woman named Deborah, who served as judge over all of Israel and rallied the army of Israel to victory over the Canaanites. During the Israelites’ exile, a Jewish woman named Esther became queen over Persia and rescued her people from Haman, an evil prime minister who threatened to exterminate the Jews.

In spite of the characteristic stigma against women in Ancient Near Eastern cultures, the Bible celebrates the examples of these women rather than censuring them. For example, due to her willingness to protect the Hebrew spies, Rahab and her friends and family were the only citizens of Jericho to survive its defeat by the Israelite army. She eventually married a Jewish man and is listed in Matthew 5:5 as an ancestor of Christ. She is praised in the New Testament both as an example of great faith (Hebrews 11:31) and good works (James 2:25).

Jesus rebuked the arrogant and disbelieving religious leaders of his day with the examples of Old Testament women such as the impoverished widow at Zarephath who cared for the prophet Elijah (Luke 4:24–26; cf. 1 Kings 17:8–16), and the wealthy Queen of Sheba who traveled to Israel to hear the wisdom of Solomon (Matt. 12:42; Luke 11:31; cf. 1 Kings 10:1–10; 2 Chron. 9:1–9).

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