Sacraments


Female Ministers in the New Testament?

by Mark Bonocore


  A fallen-away Catholic cites the following as examples of ancient "female presbyters or priests":

<< Pricilla, Juneo, Phoebe were all ministers of the word. >>

I'm sorry, but that's simply incorrect. They were Christian women; and like all Christians, they were commissioned to share the faith. Yet, none of these are ever called "presbyters." NOR did Jesus appoint any female Apostles.

Let's take a look at what the Scriptures really have to say about them:

(1) Priscilla, the wife of Aquila, was merely a patroness of the church (like Lydia in Acts 16:14-15). In this, she (and her husband) gave the Apostles financial support and placed their house at the Church's disposal (Romans 16:3-5).

(2) Juneo (by whom I assume you mean "Junia" of Romans 16:7) was the wife of Paul's cousin Andronicus -- Palestianian Jews who had converted to Christ ***before Paul*** (Romans 16:7). Just as Priscilla and Aquila had a house-church where the faithful would meet, Andronicus & Junia provided the same.

(3) Phoebe :-) Ah, yes! Feminists have made much ado about this because Paul refers to her using the Greek word "diakonon." Now, depending on your translation of the Bible, some translate this as "minister" (which is a Protestant anachronism); and others use the word "deacon" -- assuming, wrongly, that there were female deacons in the ancient Church; and that these were the equivalent to the ordained deacons established in Acts 6.

Well, sorry to burst everyone's bubble, but the Greek word "deacon" is merely a generic word meaning "servant"; and that's how Paul is using the word -- generically. She was a servant in the Church, which could mean anything from a baby-sitter to a consecrated virgin (i.e. a proto-nun) -- as were the daughters of Philip in Acts 21:9.

So, all Paul is saying in Romans 16:1-2 is this:

"I commend to you Phoebe, our sister, who is a **servant** of the church at Cenchraea, that you may receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the holy ones, and help her in whatever she may need for you...."

:-) And the next line reveals it all:

"...for she has been a BENEFACTOR to many and to me as well."

Ah! So, Phoebe was a "benefactor"! :-) Well, that puts her in the same category as Priscilla & Aquila, and Lydia in Acts 16:14-15. These were RICH women who cared for the needs of the Apostles and financed their ministries:

Priscilla: half-owner in a tent-making business (Acts 18:2-3), who owned houses in Rome (Romans 16:5) AND Ephesus (Acts 18:26 & 2 Tim 4:19), and who traveled extensively on business between Asia and Rome (Acts 18:18--19)

Lydia: a dealer in purple cloth: Acts 16:14 (a VERY exclusive business in the 1st century), who also traveled extensively between Philipi (in Greece) and Thyatira (in Asia Minor: Rev 2:18) (Acts 16:14), and who owned houses in BOTH cities (Acts 16:15).

And, lastly Phoebe, who is merely another of these "BENEFACTORS," and who had the financial means to travel between Cenchraea (a suburb of Corinth in Greece) and Rome -- something she presumably did with regularity on business (and probably with her husband, who, for all we know, might have been a pagan), bringing Paul's letter to the Roman Christians in the process.

Mark Bonocore
The Catholic Legate
May 14, 2004