Greetings October 23, 2006

Paul gives a long list of greetings in Romans 16:1-16. Wright suggests the reasons for such a list is because Paul doesn’t want to create new divisions — so he mentions all the house churches he knows.
He begins with Phoebe. She’s a “deacon,” not a “deaconness” or just a “servant.” She’s a leader; she’s a “sister.” And she’s a “benefactor.” Which means she was a significant woman leader of the church outside Corinth, in Cenchreae. She’s got the letter, according to Wright.

Since we’ve been doing some posts on women in ministry, we might have some who have some thoughts about Phoebe.

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  • Scot,
    I recently listened to an amazing sermon by John Piper on the “Greetings” section of Romans 16. If you get a chance to listen, I highly recommend it.
    I have a notion that Piper’s sermons on Romans will be on the level of Lloyd-Jones’.

  • If we take this portion of Romans to be authentically Pauline, which I do, then it seems to me that Paul is affirming women leadership in the Church, for he commends Phoebe in her position and upholds her in that position with his stamp of approval and exhortation to the listeners to take her in. But what is her position? It is the office of deacon. Not only that, but the rest of this greetings portion affirms the importance of women.
    Look at Priscilla and Aquila; Priscilla–a woman–is mentioned first. It has been suggested that this gives her more importance than Aquila, and although I have a hard time seeing this, I do see that it adds to the dominant theme of the greetings: women are to be included in the leadership work and servanthood of Christ, whether deacon-lay pastors, ordinary volunteers, or church hosts (pastors, perhaps?).

  • For me, Romans 16 really cements the idea that we need to be very careful before taking Paul’s words about women’s silence as prescriptive for all cultures in all times.
    If he can write for women to be silent, but then we clearly see him promoting women in active and supported ministry…? The comp/patriarchy camp wants to view all Scripture about women through the lens of ‘let your women be silent.’ Is that wise or careful scholarship, though?
    Paul is kind of funny like that, anyways. I mean, he wrote practically a book against circumcision…and yet had his friend circumcized. He said that eating food offered to idols didn’t matter…yet also promoted the “official” teaching from Jerusalem that idol-offered-food was not permitted.
    He very clearly said that he would become all things to all people if indeed he might win some. He said that love was a higher way than being right, that being burned at the stake for being “right” was a waste, if love wasn’t there.
    So we know that Paul’s primary objective was not so much handing down hard and fast rules, but about showing Love, including doing what was best for the particular group in their particular setting. This means he could do without some “rights” if need be (not eating idol-offered-food), or he could enjoy them if need be. The primary objective just doesn’t seem like it was a new list of rules. It seems like it was Love.

  • Molly,
    You’re dead-on about the presence of women in Romans 16. The text doesn’t tell us much, except that women were centrally important to the Church in Rome.
    Good observations here.

  • Molly,
    I just wanted to point out that many people who would hold to the texts of Timothy in an effort to “silence women” would quite possibly toss Rom. 16 out as being unauthentic to Paul. This may not be universally true, but it certainly is a possibility.

  • Scot, thanks, and especially for posts like these. This study, personally, has fascinated me on a private level for some months now, and I’m selfishly glad you’re teaching a class that is making you delve into these things in blogland…because I like to read your posts and enjoy the conversations that result! 🙂
    That’s true. I’ve not heard that argument before, but I’ve no doubt it’s out there.
    Having come from the patriarchal trenches, what I was taught was that Pheobe *was* a deacon…except that in her case, the word means it’s literal translation, servant, as opposed to an actual church position. They would say that it can only mean an actual church position when it is used of men.
    For example, it simply means she was serving by carrying the letter, giving Paul money, and/or other behind-the-scenes type of help roles.
    This is why Kenneth Taylor of the Living Bible translated it something to the effect of (I don’t have a LB handy at this desk, so I’m quoting from memory here), “our dear sister in Christ” whereas when the SAME word is used for Timothy, he says, “pastor.” Taylor mirrors what 99% of patriarchalists/comps do when they see Romans 16 and other passages that appear to show women in leadership/teaching type positions.
    I don’t think the difference in interpretation is actually intentional, personally. I think that it’s a result of what all those passages must be filtered through before they are accurately (in their minds) decoded. They would, in fact, say that anyone who sees women in leadership/teaching positions is twisting the text, not the other way around.
    The thinking is something along the lines of,
    1.) Paul gave a rule that women aren’t to be leaders/speakers.
    2.) Therefore women can’t be.
    3.) Therefore anytime it appears a woman is, she’s actually not.
    The thought is something along the lines of this: if a woman is actually in a teaching/leading position in the NT and that is supported by Paul positively, then Paul’s rule (God’s rule, since Paul was inspired) against women is being broken. And if his rule against women is broken, then all the rules can be broken. If God’s word isn’t valid when it speaks against women, then it can’t be valid anywhere, therefore the entire Gospel is undermined and destroyed.
    So defending the rule against women is important, for obvious reasons.
    The only dangling nagging problem is the assumption that Paul’s words *are* a prescriptive (intended for all time, all cultures) rule.

  • What is incredible is how absolutely crazy some of the things the early Christians did within their culture. What an amazing God we have. It is all the more reason to praise Him.