The 10 Women of Romans 16 – Apostles, Dear Friends, Deacons, Hard Workers, and Co-Ministers!
Paul is the author of a huge chunk of the New Testament. He is also the example most people use against me when I am discussing the topic of equality for women.
(At the bottom of this post are some great links to resources that will be fantastic help for you when people tell you Paul didn’t believe that women should preach, teach, or be anything but submissive housewives and mothers.)
In this post, however, I want to just talk about Romans 16. In the opening of this letter to the church, Paul mentions 10 women and 18 men – that is a crazy statistic considering the male dominating, patriarchal culture of the time!
1. The first woman is Phoebe in verse 1. Phoebe, a woman, is the very first person Paul refers to – she is not referred to as a man’s wife, sister, mother, or daughter. She is a stand alone person, a woman Paul seems to have a high regard for and deep trust in. Verse 1 – “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.” The word “commend” means: to recommend as worthy of confidence or notice, to mention with praise. The word “deacon” in this passage is similar in use to the reference in Philippians 1 and 1Timothy 3 where deacons are described as “overseers” (some translations use the word elders). Phoebe wasn’t just a woman who served dinner and cleaned up after the men – she was in a position of authority and she was the very first person Paul references in in this epistle.
Here are some great blogs about Phoebe (by theologian, Marg Mowczko) that are worth looking into:
2. The next woman Paul mentions is Priscilla. Priscilla, and her husband Aquila, were trusted friends of Paul’s and often ministered alongside him – they also had a church that met in their home. Paul refers to Priscilla as a “co-worker” in Christ. In Acts 18 we read that Priscilla (along with her husband) and basically mentored Apollos (a well educated Jewish man who already knew the Scriptures very well) in the ways of God…interestingly in verse 26 (of Acts 18) Priscilla’s name is mentioned before her husbands which could mean she was more involved in the mentoring of Apollos than her husband was. But, either way, we know for sure that Priscilla mentored Apollos (a dude). Apollos is mentioned many times in the NT as a mighty man who traveled around preaching and teaching – but, again, he was mentored by a woman! Also, Aquila sounds like a great ally – a man who empowered his wife and viewed her as an equal partner based on what I have read about their relationship and ministry together. As far as I can find, it seems that Paul always referred to Priscilla and Aquila together – as a team, not a patriarchal couple.
3. The next woman referenced in Romans 16 is Mary who Paul commends for her hard work. Not much is known about Mary but I found this commentary on Bible Gateway:
How Mary labored energetically for Paul and his co-workers we are not told. Evidently she had a capacity peculiar to herself for lightening the apostle’s heavy load, and furthered thereby the cause of the Lord. As another Roman female, Persis, is mentioned in the list as having “laboured much in the Lord” (16:12), Kuyper was led to suggest that Mary and Persis were evangelists who were employed in making the gospel known in the same way as the Salvation Army uses women today. These godly women exerted their influence in every possible way to aid Paul in making Christ known. Whatever personal gifts, or means, they possessed were dedicated to the Lord whose saving grace they had experienced. Paul thus commends them for their sacrificial and unstinted service.
4. Next, is Junia who (with a man named Andronicus we would assume was her husband but could also be a male relative) is referred to as outstanding among the apostles (which would lead us to the fact that Junia – a woman – was in fact, an apostle herself), outstanding, not just a general statement but Paul regarded Junia (and Andronicus) with high value and a very high opinion. Junia was also in prison with Paul at some point.
Verse 7 – Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me.They are outstanding among[d] the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
Interestingly enough, some translations changed the name to Junias – nice try patriarchal society – but scholars have agreed that Junia was definitely a woman.
Here is a really interesting read on the name change of Junia to Junias (and other ridiculous attempts at making this amazing women a dude) from the Junia Project – one of my favorite resources: http://juniaproject.com/who-killed-junia-part-one/
5 and 6. The next two women, Tryphena and Tryphosa, are mentioned together and praised for their hard work. Since Paul singled them out I think we can assume that these women must have been doing a lot for the church in Rome and were worth Paul taking the time to mention and publicly acknowledge. Also, while researching I found some interesting commentaries that said these women were probably sisters, some mentioned twins, based on the similarity in their names – that is debatable, and just a side note, but I thought it was an interesting thought!
7. Next we have Persis, another woman referred to as someone who was a hard worker for the Lord. Paul also refers to her as a dear friend (see, men and women CAN be friends and it not be sexual or scandalous) and we see no mention of a husband here – Paul mentions her as a stand alone woman, not a man’s wife, sister, mother, etc.
8. Verse 13 mentions “Rufus and his mother” – Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. Whoever this woman was, Paul had love for her and says she was like a mother to him. While we don’t know really anything about her we do know Paul considered her worth mentioning in his letter.
9. Julia is mentioned in verse 15 – Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the Lord’s people who are with them. It is interesting to me that in a list of men, Paul includes a woman! Again, another stand alone woman – not mentioned as someone’s wife, sister, etc.
By birth a member of one of the great old homes in Rome, Julia was doubtless a member of the imperial court and therefore among the saints to be found in Caesar’s household. Perhaps she was the wife or sister of Philologus with whose name she is coupled. She is named among those to whom Paul sent a warm salutation.(www.biblegateway.com/resources/all-women-bible/Julia)
10. In the same verse as Julia (vs15 above), Nereus’ sister is the last woman mentioned (though not by name) in Romans 16. While she is referred to as Nereus’ sister she was worth mentioning and acknowledging to the church. I am unsure what her specific role was (and couldn’t find really anything on her) but one commentary speculated that the list of people she is included in could have been the leaders of one of the home churches:
The “brethren” in ver. 14, and the “saints” in ver. 15, saluted in connection with the groups of persons named, may possibly mean the congregations that assembled under the leadership, or perhaps at the houses, of those persons. (http://biblehub.com/commentaries/romans/16-14.htm)
So, there you have it! 10 women that Paul, specifically, mentions (most by name) and publicly and openly praises, values, ministers alongside, and is friends with. While this is not a crazy in depth theological post, it is easy enough to do as I did and spend hours researching and learning a bit about each of these women – it is truly fascinating and well worth the time to invest!
These are 10 women that Paul referred to as deacons, apostles, close friends, co-workers (equals), and hard workers for the Lord. Also, if you notice, many of these women were not mentioned alongside husbands or fathers! These were women who Paul esteemed, not because of who they were married to or a daughter to. These were women that Paul specifically praised to the church – men and women – and specifically asked for the church to receive and welcome them. Paul specifically mentioned these women for a reason – he verse 14 he says, Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the other brothers and sisters with them. He could’ve just done the same here and referred to them as “the sisters” and been vague and not even mention them but out of the 28 people specifically mentioned in this chapter, ten of them are women!
I read a ton of resources on the women, original greek meanings, and a little history on Paul. I find it amazing that the men (and women) who often try to use Paul as a clobber example of how women are to be submissive and not in positions of authority have completely either missed this entire chapter (and the many other women Paul mentions in his letters) or just completely ignored it because it doesn’t fit their patriarchal views.
I will end with this: The Apostle Paul was not the misogynist he has been made out to be! Paul, like Jesus, empowered and embraced women and their places in the Kingdom alongside men in a patriarchal society/culture.
Some other great resources on this subject can be found here: