‘Google’ it- I dare ya! Make sure you do accurately: “Romans 16 Woman”. Ya won’t find much: I found only two “hits” and one of them had a broken link- so that makes it an ‘even’ ONE!
Now, do the same for “Proverbs 31 Woman” and “Titus 2 Woman”. Whoa- now there you go- your getting lots of stuff now, aren’t ya? In fact, when I looked, Proverbs 31 yielded 43,800 results and Titus 2… yielded an astounding 1,200,000. Wow!
But Romans 16, poor Romans 16, despite the fact that it lists no less than 10 (including: Phoebe, Priscilla, Achaia, Mary, Junia, Stachys, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Julia) specific women who were commended by the Apostle Paul, only gets 2 hits.
Why is this?
More than likely, the reason for this is the same reason that I spent my entire life in Sunday school, five years (from eighth to twelfth grades) in Christian school, two years in Christian college and never even heard the names of other great women of the Bible such as: Deborah, Huldah, and Junia- until I went to seminary: It’s just not discussed in traditional Christian circles.
It should be, and here’s why: Doing so provides us with an accurate view of what true “traditional” gender roles looked like in the early church.
To ignore the passage (twenty seven verses, mind you) in Romans 16 and to only focus on at a couple of other New Testament verses in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (the famous ‘women should be silent in the church’ passage); five verses in 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (the infamous ‘woman are not allowed to teach or have authority over a man’ quote); two verses in Titus 2:3-4 (advice for older and younger women regarding behavior), distorts our understanding of First Century Mediterranean and Early Church culture, and gives us a false foundation upon which we build up ideals about modern-day familial, cultural, and ecclesiastical roles, responsibilities, and relationships.
But where can you go to get reliable, trustworthy information? I think the first step in any journey must begin with prayerful planning and so I would suggest that you pray the prayer that God always answers: “Thy will be done,” as you ask God to reveal His will for your life and His will for your understanding. Offer Him your utter willingness to have your mind renewed and your thoughts transformed by him; relinquish to Him your pre-programmed paradigms and come to Him with an utter willingness to have His thoughts become yours.
Next, slowly and prayerfully-with an attitude that decreases you and increases Him- re-read the above passages, and ask the Holy Spirit to intervene within your understanding. Ask for the Living Word of God to read you and to speak His truth deeply within your heart. It will be hard (nearly impossible) to return to these scripture passages stripped of your pre-conceived notions, but remember; with God, all things are possible.
Now, either go online and read about Deborah, Junia and Huldah, or order several of the books that I talk about below.
John MacArthur’s book, Twelve Extraordinary Women: How God Shaped Women of the Bible, and What He Wants to Do with You, doesn’t list any of these women whose name’s I’ve listed above; a fact I’m not too surprised about, but I would have at least expected Deborah to be mentioned. She’s inarguably a major player: an Old Testament Judge and a prophet (a distinction given to only one other Biblical figure- Elijah), yet still gets minimal “press”. Elizabeth George, in her book entitled: "The Remarkable Women of the Bible and Their Message for Your Life Today" - does a little better, listing seven total woman (a bit of a different list) and includes Miriam and Deborah (two women who scripture clearly indicates where leaders in their own right); but mentions no one from Romans 16. In fact, a cursory online survey of the non-scholarly popular Christian publishing house-type books on “women of the Bible,” George’s is the only one who lists Deborah; and none of them mentions or lists any of the women from Romans 16, the most controversial of whom is a woman named “Junia.”
Who was Junia?
Described by Paul as an apostle “of note” (v. 7), Junia has sparked controversy among church scholars for centuries. Depending upon whose Kool-aid® you’ve been nipping at, you will either believe wholeheartedly that she was a woman and that the name got changed to a masculine version of the name somewhere along the line in a bit of a canonical ‘cover-up’(see here); or you will believe that there are a bunch of 'liberal' egalitarians who want to use this one verse to subvert the ecclesiastical order that the church has taken millennia to establish (see here). The arguments on both sides are scholarly and seemingly well made. Suffice it to say, the jury is out.
Junia’s debated role in the early church aside, the women of Romans 16 are important and can’t continue to be discounted. There are simply too many women mentioned-right alongside of men,with “job descriptions” that are the same- for them to be considered as having had merely “complementarian” roles (rather than egalitarian)and for their clearly stated statuses in the church to be ignored. Yet, ignored they are…
Here’s why we need to look at this scripture passage and see the people mentioned within it with new eyes:
First, they are listed because Paul was commending those in Rome to whom he was writing, and felt it important to list the “major players” in the Roman church, and why they were important. This in itself has value, as we can be sure that Paul knew his letter would be read aloud to a group. Hebrews 11, which lists a slew of famous and extraordinary Bible personalities and their great deeds of faith, may be the “Christian Hall of Fame;” but Romans 16 is the “Christian Academy Awards” because the commendations were being made to live recipients!
Consider the impact such a display/gesture must have made. Can you imagine those in the room listening to hear if their name was mentioned? Everyone would be intently sitting there, ears perked up to hear not only if their name was included in the list, but also to discern what things were being said about those who did make the list. “What does it take to get mentioned on such a list?” and “Will I be mentioned in such a list at a later date?” were surely the questions of the day. I know I’d be thinking that if I had been sitting there the first time that letter was read. Actually, I do it now. I hear the list and my mind races as I wonder if I'd have made the cut...
Secondly, the women noted were mentioned alongside of, and sometimes before the men.
Thirdly, the women mentioned were commended for a variety of roles in which they played within the church, all of which men also participated.
I stated earlier that when I read Romans 16, I think about where I fit into that list. I do. My heart races in my throat and I think to myself: “Will I be mentioned in such a list at a later date?” How does one get on the “A List”? Of course, to do so, one would need to do the things and have the attitudes for which these wonderful people were commended.
~serving (diakonon)- vs. 1-2 “Phoebe, a servant (diakonon- ‘deacon’; see Acts 6;1-7 for the role of a deacon in the early Christian Church) a great help to many people…”;
~ leading as a patron/benefactor (prostates) (vs 1-2)
~ fellow-laborers (sunergos) (vs. 3-4) Priscilla and Aquilla who risked their lives for another (Paul);
~ laborers(kopionti)- (v. 6) Mary who has worked hard;
~ kinsmen and fellow-prisoners Andronicius and Junias (vs 7)
~ Apostle (apostolos) (v.7).
Patron, disciple, servant, apostle, kinsman, brethren, fellow laborer, fellow prisoner to name a few. Tested and approved by Christ, Loved in the Lord, willing to die for a fellow believer in Christ. It is clear from this list that women in the early church participated fully in the life of their communities of faith.
Recently, Mark Driscoll again has come under fire for articulating a particularly sexist viewpoint and advocating subservient role of women in the church (the “Titus 2 Woman”). I agree we should be “Titus 2 women,” just as I affirm the benefit of being a “Proverbs 31” woman---but in the context of Romans 16. Because we must always remember that the ACTIONS of a person are not what is most important; what is most important is “faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 6:5). In other words, if I do all the things listed in Proverbs 31, yet do so without love and not within a spirit of love and obedience to the Missio Dei…I am nothing. (see I Cor. 13)
I want to be remembered as someone who lived passionately for Jesus and who lived to further God’s mission of reconciliation and redemption in the world; a person whom you knew would die for you, would do anything or you, was compassionate, gave all that I had and worked hard and with passion and creativity; as someone who was merciful and irenic in nature; loyal and encouraging, whose household reflected the same balance of reckless abandon and organization that I honored in my life…I have said it before and will stand by it to my dying day- I want my headstone to read: “Servant of Jesus: Everything she touched, She made beautiful.”
I believe this is a sound and doctrinally correct desire. When I say everything, I mean everything; my faith life and home life are not and never will be two separate entities. That said, my behavior must be reflective of , but not limited to the Titus 2 definition of a Godly woman.
In verses 17 through 19 of Romans 16, Paul writes:
“17 I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. 18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. 19 Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.”
In other words, he is instructing these early members of the church at Rome to be careful about things that divide them (in the 21st century church- we divide ourselves by gender frequently), and telling them who it is that believers should not associate with. It isn’t who you might think. Paul is actually telling believers to stay away from other believers (not non-believers) “who are not serving the Lord.” In other words, people who bring attention to differences rather than wholeheartedly serve the Lord, are not even to be associated with. This is a serious indictment and gives us a clear understanding that any form of prejudice (race, gender or otherwise) is to be considered despicable and unacceptable and those who practice such sin are to not be associated with. Similarly, in I Corinthians 5:9-11, Paul also clearly states that he is not advocating that believers disassociate themselves from un-believers (in fact, he says, that would be impossible!). The worst type of association, according to Paul, is one which depletes, divides, or diminishes the gospel, either because of divisiveness (Romans 16) or because of disingenuous Christianity (I Corinthians 5).
It’s high time that we (i.e. those of us who are neither Jew nor Greek, nor male nor female…those of us who are “in Christ”) start spending more of our efforts assessing whether or not we (individually) can be included in "The Christian Academy Awards," rather than judging others to determine who can or who cannot be on that list; and wwe should instead, take Paul’s advise in verses 17-19.
That’s why I want to be a Romans 16 Believer…
I want to be the kind of person who is more interested in bringing about God's Kingdom than dividing it up...