About Philip B. Payne Man and Woman, One in Christ Philip B. Payne, and the cover of his latest book, Man and Woman, One in Christ
November 10th
written by phil

Even if in the NT no women were identified by name as elders, overseers, or pastors, and many men were, this would not logically exclude women from those leadership positions any more than the actual lack of Gentile men identified by name as elders, overseers, or pastors in the NT excludes Gentile men from those leadership positions.

In fact, however, apart from Christ (Heb 13:20; 1 Pet 2:25; 5:4), no mαn or womαn overseers (ἐπίσκοπος) of a church or pastor (ποιμήν) of a church are named in the NT. John refers to himself in 2 John 1 and 3 John 1 as “the elder,” but nothing in either context associates this title with a local church or with administrative duties. The article indicates that this refers to something unique, which would not apply to local church administration. It probably identifies something like the last surviving elderly apostle and eyewitness of Christ. The only other NT association of “elder” with any named person is Peter’s self-identification as a “fellow-elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings.”

The clearest NT identification of an individual with titles associated with senior local church leadership is not a man at all, but a woman: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is deacon (διάκονος), not the Greek noun for ‘deaconess’ (διακόνισσα), of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to received 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 leader (προστάτις ‘leader, chief,’ ‘president or presiding officer,’ ‘one who stands before,’ LSJ 1526) of many, including myself also” (Rom 16:1-2). Since Romans was written before any surviving reference to the office of a local church “overseer,” “deacon” may have been the only officially recognized title for a local church leader at that time and/or place. If by προστάτις (“leader”) Paul identifies a church office here, then he describes Phoebe using two titles for a church office that may have been equivalent to the later-documented titles “overseer,” “elder,” and “pastor.”

Translations such as the NIV, which repeats the word “give her any help — for she has been a great help,” hide the fact that the Greek verb translated as “help [her]” (παραστῆτε from [παρίστημι, “I help,” which combines παρά = “along side” + ἵστημι = “I stand”) is almost opposite in meaning to the word describing Phoebe as a προστάτις‚ “one who leads,” which combines πρό = “in rank before” + ἵστημι = “I stand.” Paul’s logic is natural, “Help her in whatever matter she has need, because she is a leader of many, including myself also.” It is natural that Paul, who calls all believers to submit to one another (Eph 5:21) should himself submit to the local leadership in churches he visited. If Paul had intended to say simply that Phoebe had “helped” others, it would have been natural for him to repeat παρίστημι to make his reason parallel his request.

Every meaning of every word in the NT related to the word Paul chose to describe Phoebe as a “leader” (προστάτις) that could apply in Rom 16:2 can appropriately be understood in context to refer to leadership. This includes the usage shortly before in Rom 12:8, “Let the one in leadership [προϊστάμενος] govern diligently;” 1 Thess 5:12, “respect those who … who have charge over you [προϊσταμένους] in the Lord;” and 1 Tim 5:17, “The elders who rule [προεστῶτες] well are worthy of a double honor.” Used in relation to the family, it means “ruling one’s household” (1 Tim 3:4, 5, 12).

G. H. R. Horsley, “Sophia, ‘the second Phoibe’,” New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity: A Review of the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri published in 1977/79 (Macquarie University, NSW, Australia: The Ancient History Documentary Research Centre, 1982/87) 4:239-44, 242 identifies citations of προστάτης, including O. Tebt. Pad. 67 and I. Eph. III.668a, to identify the president of an association. Horsley also cites “Sophia, ‘the second Phoibe'” and six other inscriptions or papyri about “female deacons and office-holders” published in 1979 alone. προστάτης can also, like the Latin patrona (“patroness”), denote the legal representative of strangers and their protector; for as aliens they were deprived of civil rights. C. K. Barrett, however, in A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. (London: A. and C. Black, 1957) 283 argues that meaning does not fit Rom 16:2 because “Phoebe cannot have stood in this relation to Paul since he was born free, Acts 22:28.”

The NRSV “for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well” has the disadvantage that this meaning is not listed by LSJ1 or BAG,2 and that Paul’s companion Luke uses a different word that LSJ, BDAG, and BAG identify as meaning “benefactor,” “those in authority over them are called benefactors [εὐεργέται]” (Luke 22:25). Thus, the lexical evidence and the context of Phoebe’s standing in the church strongly favor the normal meaning of the term, προστάτις, namely, “leader.” Since her leadership was in the church it would entail spiritual oversight.

Even Charles C. Ryrie, The Role of Women in the Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 1958), 140 and 88 who teaches that woman’s role in church is “not a leading one,” acknowledges that προστάτις‚ “includes some kind of leadership.” This term almost always refers to an officially recognized position of authority. See the examples in Leonard Swidler, Biblical Affirmations of Woman (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1979), 310-11; James D. G. Dunn, Romans 9-16, (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1988) 888-89; and Philip B. Payne,”The Interpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11″: A Response to Douglas J. Moo’s Article, ‘1 Timothy 2:11-15: Meaning and Significance’,” TJ 2 NS (1981): 169-97, 195 and Man and Woman, One in Christ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009) 62-63.

In conclusion, the only person unambiguously  identified by name and given a title for local church leader in the NT is Phoebe, and she may be given two such titles, “deacon of the church of Cenchrea” and or “leader (προστάτις) of many.” Consequently, the argument is spurious that since women are not given the title “elder,” “overseer,” or “pastor” in the NT, they may not occupy those offices. The same logic if applied to Christian men would exclude all of them from the offices of overseer and pastor as well.

1 LSJ (1526-27) identifies προστάτις as the feminine form of προστάτης, for which it gives only the following meanings: “one who stands before, front-rank man … leader, chief … ruler … chief authors … administrator … president or presiding officer … one who stands before and protects, guardian, champion … patron … suppliant … prostate gland.”

2 BDAG (885), does, however, list “a woman in a supporting role, patron, benefactor,” citing Horsley, “Phoibe,” 4:242-44, cf. Lucian, in Bis acc. 29, uses προστάτις‚ to mean “patroness,” according to A. M. Harmon (3:140-41 [LCL]).  Note, however, Barrett’s observation documented above that “Phoebe cannot have stood in this relation to Paul since he was born free, Acts 22:28.” Furthermore, Horsley also cites instances meaning “guardian” (a person with legal authority) and “president.”


  1. Ian Paul

    Philip, thanks for this comment. I wrote a paper in January of this year, suggesting that prostatis meant leadership, having observed its etymological connections with proistamenos in Rom 12.8. This is universally translated ‘leadership’ though of course the Greek is a present participle ‘the [one] leading’, and they both derive from the root verb proistemi.

    Nice to have confirmation from your argument on this!

    Btw, I did a session with our first years on these texts this week. They were really shocked to learn of what translators did with Junia (according to Epp)!

  2. phil

    Thank you for your insights Ian. Professor Epp did us all a wonderful service in getting to the bottom of so many of the issues surrounding Junia. If anyone reading this note has not yet read Eldon Epp’s Junia: The First Woman Apostle, a feast of insights awaits you.

  3. […] I just found an article today (2/12/11) by Philip B. Payne on the same subject as this post.  Here is an […]

  4. angel

    So if I am to understand this properly, the word “prostatis” in Romans 16:2 ought better to be rendered as “Leader” rather than “helper/ benefactor/ succorer” yes? This based on other usages of the word in other places? Yes? Sounds good, but something bothers me, maybe you can help. If Phoebe here would properly be designated a leader, then is she then not Paul’s leader, since the rest of the verse says “she has been a (prostatis) of many and of myself also.” Sounds to me, following the argument, that she was a superior or at least a leader of Paul as well.

  5. phil

    Thank you, Angel, for your thoughtful comment. Yes, you are correct, that comparative use of words derived from PRO (in rank above) and HISTHMI (to stand) in the NT, and particularly in Paul’s letters argues strongly that the translation “leader” fits Paul’s usage and the context better than “helper” (which to correspond to “help” PARASTHTE her, should have used a noun beginning PARA, nor PRO). In fact, PARASTATIS does occur in the ninth century Western manuscripts F and G, reflecting the anti-feminist tendencies of the Western text editors that various scholars have identified. “Benefactor” is a possible meaning of PROSTATHS, but benefactors preferred the term EUERGHS (doers of good works) because it does not draw attention to their position of power but rather to their benevolence. EUERGHS is the term used for benefactors elsewhere in the NT. New Documents is a source of early references to PROSTATIS, most of which refer to “president” or some other sort of “leader.” Why should it be surprising that Paul, who commands all believers to submit to one another (Eph 5:21) should submit to others as well, especially when he is visiting their church? Phoebe is designated in 16:1 as being “deacon of the church of Cenchrea,” the port of Corinth. So when Paul was in her church, he would have been under her direction, just as any itinerant Christian leader, myself included, is under the direction of church leaders when I minister in various churches. Her authority is reinforced by Paul writing to the church in Rome “help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a leader of many, including myself” (16:2). Paul’s trust in her is evident from his entrusting her to deliver his epistle to the Romans to the church in Rome as his emisary, evident in “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, deacon of the church of Cenchrea” (Rom 16:1). She would be the obvious person for the Romans to ask about any questions they had on hearing Romans read to them (and who does not have questions when reading Romans?) and so is properly regarded as the first expositor of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.

  6. angel

    Appreciate the response. I will let that percolate for a while. Thank you.

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