Part 1: History and Confessions
Part 2: Priesthood of the Believer
In Rom. 12:3-8 the central thought is that of “charismatic gifts” within the church as the body of Christ (v. 6). Just as in a physical body there are many members with their different functions, “thus the many of us are one body in Christ, individually members of one another” (v. 5). At this point Paul turns to charismatic gifts, with a play upon the Greek word for “grace” (charismata kata charin). Charis is the Greek word for grace, and charismata are simply gifts of God’s grace. Any gift of grace is “charismatic,” hence there are no noncharismatic true believers. Eternal life itself is charisma (6:23). In 12:6-8 charismata include prophecy (preaching, proclamation, or discernment), service, teaching, comforting or exhortation, contributing to the needs of the saints, presiding or leading, and acts of mercy. Paul’s point is that charismata are indeed gifts of grace. Moreover, they are responsibilities. These spiritual gifts are to be employed. If one has the gift of preaching or prophesying, than one is to preach or prophecy, if one has the gift of teaching, that one is to teach. These charismatic gifts are seen here not as being special favors but as carrying special obligations.
Although Rom. 12:3-8 says nothing explicitly about women in ministry, its ideas are inescapable: the possession of a gift from God’s grace carries with it the obligation that it be employed within the church, in the service of the church, and that the church allow the gifted person to exercise their gift. Romans 12:3-8 thus is as significant as is the explicit affirmation of Gal. 3:28: “There is not any Jew nor Greek, not any slave nor free, not any male and female; for you all are one in Christ Jesus.”
The New Testament teaches that the church assemblies are to be places where all Christians employ their charismatic gifts. As mentioned previously, there is no division into two classes of people: clergy and laity. Alexander Strauch, author of Biblical Eldership, correctly notes:
“There were prophets, teachers, apostles, pastors, evangelists, leaders, elders, and deacons within the early church, but these terms were not used as formal titles. For example, all Christians are saints, but there is no “Saint John.” All are priests, but there is no “Priest Philip.” Some are elders, but there is no “Elder Paul.” Some are pastors, but there is no “Pastor James.” Some are deacons, but there is no “Deacon Peter.” Some are apostles, but is no “Apostle Andrew.” Rather than gaining honor though titles and position, New Testament believers received honor primarily for their service and work (Acts 15:26; Romans 16:1, 2, 4, 12; 1 Corinthians 8:18; 2 Corinthians 8:18; Philippians 2:29, 30; Colossians 1:7; 4:12, 13; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 3:1). The early Christians referred to each other by personal names—Timothy, Paul, Titus, etc.—or referred to an individual’s spiritual character and work: “…Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 6:5); Barnabas, “…a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith…” (Acts 11:24); “…Philip the evangelist…” (Acts 21:8); “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16:3); “Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you” (Romans 16:6); etc. The array of ecclesiastical titles accompanying the names of Christian leaders today is completely missing from the New Testament, and would have appalled the apostles and early believers.”
As has been mentioned previously, all members of the body of Christ are called to serve the church, within the church. This fact being the case, it can scarcely be argued that women should be denied a place within the church for ministry. Since almost all complementarians do not deny the place of women in certain kinds of ministry we shall only mention in passing the biblical record of certain New Testament women in the ministry and the degree to which they were involved.
In Matthew 28:10 Jesus proclaimed: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”
There is evidence here that Jesus was speaking to both men and women. While Matthew only mentions the 11 disciples were there to hear these words, in Luke 24:33, others are gathered with them that return to Jerusalem (24:52, Acts1:12). In Acts 1:13-14, we discover that some of these others were there (120 in the upper room) were certain women. These women included Mary and “certain women.” We cannot be certain who these certain women were, but, in all likelihood, they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna (Luke 24:10). If this be the case, we have circumstantial evidence that Jesus intended his proclamation for both men and women. In Acts 1:8, those whom he speaks to are told that they shall receive the Holy Spirit. In Acts 1:14; 2:1, 4, 16-18 we have the Spirit given alike to the female as to the male disciples.
In the life and letters of Paul we are given numerous women ministers of the church. They assisted in composing letters (Rom. 16:22; 1 Thess 1:1), carried apostolic messages to local churches (1 Cor 4:17; 16:10-11), sought to encourage the believers on Paul’s behalf (1 Thess 3:2), reported to Paul the status on congregations under his care (1 Thess 3:6) and even occasionally hosted house churches (1 Cor 16:19).
Paul often speaks of women as his “co-workers” (synergos), his favorite term for those who aided him in ministry. This term, together with its equivalent, “hard worker” (kopion), appears to refer to a particular group of Christians. In Philippians 4:3 states: “And I entreat you also, true yokefellow, help those women which labored with me in the Gospel, with Clement, and with other my fellow-worker.” This Precisely the same terms are applied to Timothy, whom Paul styles a “minister of God, and his fellow-worker in the Gospel of Christ (1 Thessalonians 3:2).
Two women that Paul cited as his coworkers – Euodia and Syntyche (Phil 4:2-3) ministered in the church of Philippi, which traced it’s founding to Lydia’s conversion. Paul’s reference to these two women raises the question of what type of ministry they pursued together with Paul. To understand the role Euodia and Syntyche played, we must consider what Paul meant when he said “they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel” (Phil 4:3). According to W. Derek Thomas, the term struggled or contended (synethlesan) provides an important clue. This word “meant ‘to contend,’ as the athlete strained every muscle to achieve victory in the games. So, with equal dedication these women had contended with all zeal for the victory of the Gospel at Philippi.” Thomas then draws this conclusion:
“The Apostle would scarcely have used this strong word if they had merely ‘assisted him with material help’ and hospitality, while remaining in the background. The word synethlesan suggests a more active participation in the work of Paul, probably even a vocal declaration of the faith. How far this is true is admittedly a matter of conjecture; what can be said with certainty, however, is that they had contended with the Apostle in the cause of the Gospel and had gained a position of such influence as to make their present conflict a risk to the well-being of the church.”
Victor Pfitzner’s research supports this conclusion: “The verb would seem to imply a more active role than the mere acceptance of the Apostle into their homes on the part of these women.”
So far there is little that has been asserted that most complementarians would find adverse. Indeed, the “helper” position is one that complementarians cling to earnestly. In Romans 16 is recorded an excellent list of the fellow-workers associated with Paul and his ministry. Prominent on the list are Aquila and Priscilla, who with Urbanus are called “fellow workers” (synergous). Mary and Persis are two women who Paul says “worked very hard” (polla ekopiasen). He calls Tryphaena and Tryphosa “workers in the Lord” (kopiosas en kyrio). But in verse 7: “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the Apostles; who were also in Christ before me.” By the word “kinsmen “one would take Junia to have been a man; but Chrysostom and Theophylact, who were both Greeks, and consequently knew their own language better than today’s translators, say Junia was a woman. “Kinsmen” should therefore have been translated “kinsfolk.” Junia (a woman’s name) and Andronicus are described as apostles. Unfortunately most translations have made Junia into a male by adding the letter s to the name although there is no record in Greek or Latin literature of men being called her name. Almost all commentators on this text before the thirteenth century regarded Junia as female. The change has been justified on the grounds that since Paul calls this person an apostle, it could not have been a woman. This is one of the circular arguments that is often given in discussion of women in ministry. “Junia could not have been an apostle, because there were no women apostles.” “How do you know?” “Because nowhere in the Bible is a woman mentioned as an apostle.”
There are two important aspects to glean from the above designations. First, Paul readily affirms the ministry of women with the same words of approval and recommendation that he uses for men, indicating an active partnership of men and women in the ministry. Second, the terms Paul uses in context suggest the participation of women in all dimensions of the ministry. In fact, his language is reminiscent of his descriptions of his own hard work on behalf of others (compare 16:6 with Gal 4:11).