Women Leaders: Prostatis
Think of Phoebe, the patron. She is the προστάτις πολλῶν, the patron of many. 'Patron' is one acceptable way to translate this word. But what does the lexicon say, and what would a reader of Greek notice in this word?
Prostatis is listed in the Liddell Scott Lexicon only as the feminine form of the masculine prostates. So one can really only go by that meaning. What does it say?
- 1. one who stands before
a) front-rank man
b) leader, chief, administrator
2. president or presiding officer
3. one who stands before and protects, guardian, champion, patron
4. one who stands before a god, suppliant
5. prostate gland
- I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me. Romans 16:1-2 NIV
- I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. Rom. 16:1-2 TNIV
Kenneth Bailey remarks about prostatis,
- Furthermore, Phoebe is called a prostatis over/to many. This word was applied to the leader of worship in a Graeco-Roman temple as well as to a governor, a chieftain, and the leader of a democracy.7 Dunn argues for patron/protector, or leader/ruler.8 A ninth century Arabic version translated this phrase, ‘qa’ ima ‘ala katherin wa ‘alayya’, in authority over many and over myself as well.
- One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; KJV.
This, in fact, is the only reference I can find in the Bible about a man ruling or leading the household. Of course, it meant his children and not his wife. I can't find the verse that says a man is to lead his wife. What I can find is the verse that says that a woman must rule the house.
- I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. 2 Tim. 5:14 KJV.
Here is another reference to leaders.
- τοὺς πρώτους Acts 13:50 leading men
γυναικῶν τε τῶν πρώτων Acts 17:4 leading women
The household codes, the headship passages, derived from customs and beliefs established and recorded in Greek, are the exception in the scriptures. These codes already existed in Greek, we know this, and Paul and Peter had to come to terms with them. They do not establish how women were generally refered to in the gospels or the rest of the New Testament.
For those sticklers who will search the NT for an exclusively male reference to leaders, I will mention that there is one reference to 'leading brothers' in Acts which has no parallel for women. In Acts 15, two leading men from among the brothers were sent with a letter to the Gentile believers, with a ruling on whether Gentile believers had to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses.
That is just the kind of issue that men can deal with among themselves. I don't think there are any women compaining that this letter was written and sent by men, leading men, as the Greek says.
In the meantime, I am still looking. In the gospels, in Acts and the epistles, outside of the household codes, when the Greek refers to real women, I have not found any distinct male and female roles. The supposed 'distinctions' between men and women do not appear in the story of the early church, at least not in the Greek.
On the contrary, women provide for the disciples financially, they lead their own households to Christ, they have churches in their house, they are apostles, (not among the 12, who represent the 12 tribes of Israel) they are prophets, teachers and deacons. They are real women.
Thanks to Michael Kruse for posting about Kenneth Bailey.