Women Leaders: Romans 12:4 - 8
- Why, when discussing the role of women in prophesying and teaching men, are the examples of Mary, the mother of Jesus, Elizabeth and Anna not mentioned? Mary’s magnificat, though not delivered in a church or temple, is nevertheless considered one of the most eloquent and theologically sound teachings on the nature of God recorded in the NT. For the last two thousand years men and women have been instructed by this prophecy. Elizabeth ’s prophecy concerning the Christ is one of the most dramatic, accurate and poignant prophecies concerning the Christ. Again, men and women for two thousand years have been instructed by her prophecy. And Anna the prophetess, daughter of Phanuel, was living and speaking in the temple when she spoke to “everyone” concerning the true identity of baby Jesus.
Throughout scripture women were prophets. There were women prophets in ancient Israel, including Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah. There were women prophets in Jesus lifetime, Mary, Elzabeth and Anna. Women were the first witnesses of Christ's resurrrection. Women were prophets in the early church - Phillip's daughters. Women prophesied in the church at Corinth.
The writer goes on to ask,
- When teaching about spiritual gifts, does the Apostle Paul distinguish between genders? The texts I have seem to indicate that the gifts are given to all believers without regard to race, social status or gender. But I can’t read Greek. Are the words translated as “man” or “men” in Roman’s 12:6 and Eph. 4:8, and the words “to one…” and “to another…” in I Cor. 12:7-11, gender specific?
- 4For as in one body we have many members,[e] and the members do not all have the same function, 5so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads,[f] with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. ESV
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your [a] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, [b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. TNIV
I would like to add that the word for 'service' is the same as the word for 'ministry' and, in fact, the KJV had 'ministry' in this passage.
I think we can go through the Christian scriptures and find corroboration for women exercizing all these gifts. We have already discussed women as prophets.
Women were also 'ministers' or 'servants'. Phoebe was the διακονος of the church of Cenchrae. The Greek word διακονος is usually translated into English by minister, servant or deacon. The exact same word is used for men and women; there is no such word in Greek as deaconess. That developed separately as an English term. The term deacon is a general word and not much can be made of it except that it did not differentiate between men and women.
Regarding teaching, we have Lois and Eunice teaching Timothy in the home. There is Prisca teaching with her husband. Most people recognize that women have the gift of teaching. The prophecy of the mother of Jesus was learned and honoured, the witness of the women at the tomb was revered, the desire of Mary to learn at Jesus feet was respected. The woman at the well asked men to come and hear Jesus speak.
I don't know of anyone who would hold a woman back from giving generously, or encouraging. However, the next term is more interesting. Are there women leaders in the early church?
First, the word here for leading is προϊστημι - to exercize a position of leadership. To the native Greek speaker this is an obvious cognate of the word προστατις, which is the word used for Phoebe and usually translated as patron or benefactor.
These words may not look close enough to a reader of English. However, in Greek there is a series of verbs which have a pattern of reduplication. The first consonant is repeated at the beginning of the word followed by an 'i'. Here are a few others διδωμι, τιθημι, γιγνομαι, and ἱστημι. In some cases the consonant was altered but in every case this alteration would be clear to a Greek speaker. The connection between ἱστημι and στατις would be obvious and therefore the connection between προϊστημι and προστατις would also be obvious.
This does not prove anything but it does suggest that Greek readers of the epistles to the Romans would recognize that the word used to describe Phoebe was cognate with the word used to for leading in Romans 12:6.
The masculine noun for this term is προστατης,
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
Προστατης was often joined with αρχιερευς to mean high priest. Christ is our prostates and our high priest. Phoebe is Paul's prostatis. I have written at much greater length about Phoebe and prostatis in my Nov. 17, 2006 post, Women leaders: Prostatis.
I think the pasage is clear. If we have been given gifts, whether we are men or women, we are exhorted to use them, in proportion to our faith, with cheerfulness and zeal.
The gifts of service and prophecy and leadership are not given to us in proportion to our sex, but in proportion to our faith. Acts 17:4 refers to leading women, Acts 13:50 refers to leading men. The natural and spiritual gift of leadership is not gendered in the Christian scriptures. There is no division along the lines of men being gifted for leadership and women for encouragement or nurturing. That is simply is not there. The quality of leadership is entrusted to individuals regardless of gender. The quality of nurturing is given regardless of gender. Any organization which proclaims otherwise is not being true to scripture.
There is no indication in any discussion of gifts that women do not have the gift of leadership. There is no indication that women with the gift of leadership can only exercize that gift in some remote sphere such as the government of a country but not in the home or church. Why would God give a person a gift to be used only outside the home and Christian community? Esepecially when women are encouraged to exercize their gifts within these spheres.
This passage is talking about the gifts which we have as members of the body of Christ. To admire the obvious gift of leadership in a woman who exercizes her gift in secular government and then deny that the exercize of that same gift to women who work in the church is to deny the Spirit.
There are passages which mention other words and other structures which some say run counter to this. But one should consider all the scriptures.
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