Are there women in the Bible whose stories you’ve never heard?
There likely are! Nijay Gupta opens his new book Tell Her Story with the story of the four African American women featured in the book Hidden Figures, who worked at NASA for the first space flights and moon landings. They played a pivotal role, and yet for years their stories weren’t told. Now there are buildings named after them.
Could it be that there are stories that we don’t know, too–and stories that, if we did know them, would change our view of women’s “roles” in the church?
Gupta says a resounding “yes”, and he joins us today on the podcast to tell us about it!
Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:
Timeline of the Podcast
1:35 How writing this book came about for Nijay
5:20 What women in the bible actually did
11:15 ‘The 12 disciples were all men’
20:00 Women as pastors, deacons, and elders
36:00 Euodia and Syntyche
44:00 Is there significance in name order?
Let’s talk about Tell Her Story!
“Where men have sometimes said, “women can’t”, the Old and New Testaments say, “women did.”
That’s the central premise of Nijay Gupta’s book. So often we make these rules around what women can and can’t do in church, but when you look at the stories of actual women in the New Testament church (and even in the Old Testament), you’ll find that women did all of those things!
And yet often we miss the significance because they’re mentioned in passing.
So today we’re going to delve into Deborah, Lydia, Priscilla, Junia, Phoebe, and Euodia and Syntyche, because they’re all fascinating, and they all give us a picture of the big faith and big callings that God has for women.
I really enjoyed his book, and I think you will too!
Things Mentioned in the Podcast
- Our Patreon! Join us for as little as $5 a month, and get access to exclusive content while also supporting our research.
- Nijay’s new book Tell Her Story
- Our podcast looking at how Emerson Eggerichs mishandles Scripture, featuring Nijay Gupta
- The audio version of She Deserves Better is now available!
- Our new She Deserves Better merch!
- Amazon Prime’s new series Shiny Happy People (coming June 2)
Did you hear some of these women’s stories for the first time? Which ones hit you the most? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila: Well, I am so thrilled to bring back on the podcast, Nijay Gupta, who is a professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary. Hi, Nijay.
Nijay: Good to be with you again.
Sheila: Yeah. And you joined us, of course, a couple of months ago when we were going through all the ways that Emerson Eggerichs misused Scripture in his book, Love and Respect.
Nijay: That was wild. That was wild.
Sheila: It was a wild ride. I will put a link to that podcast in the podcast notes. But now we’re back to talk about something a lot more fun and about how to use the Bible accurately. So you have a new book out called Tell Her Story. Do you want to tell our readers or our listeners what that’s about?
Nijay: Yeah. Thank you. So Tell Her Story is really, honestly, just telling the stories of women in the Bible. Many of whom most of us just didn’t grow up hearing about. So I start out the book saying that when I was a 16 year old going to church if you asked me, “Who are the women of the Bible,” I could probably say Mary, the mother of Jesus. Maybe Mary Magadalene. I may have come up with that one. And then Eve. That was pretty much it. In my work as a scholar writing commentaries and articles and teaching, I kept coming across all these women in the pages of the New Testament. And sometimes tongue in cheek, I talk about how one of the catalysts for my book is when John MacArthur said those two words—those two fateful words, “Go home.”
Sheila: Go home. To Beth Moore. To Beth Moore.
Nijay: Right. Yeah. To Beth Moore. It’s kind of an allusion to this idea that a woman’s place is in the home and a man’s place is in the church or the business world or politics or war or whatever. And what I noticed when I read the New Testament is women are not at home. Some of them are at home and some of them are not at home. And some of them are at home doing ministry. And so I wanted to really tell those stories to capture people’s imagination. The hook at the beginning of my book is the book, Hidden Figures.
Sheila: I loved this. I love that you opened with this. That was—it was amazing.
Nijay: I get people who kind of want to push back on what I’m doing. Usually politely. People will say, “How is it possible, Nijay, that we might discover something new about men and women 2,000 years after the Bible is written? Aren’t you just being carried with liberation and progressivism and the cultural moment?” And I start out with Hidden Figures, which is about these women who were computers—quote unquote computers. They were scientists and engineers. In the 20th century. And they’re behind some of the great space flight achievements. And we didn’t grow up knowing their names. We knew John Glenn and Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. But we didn’t know these women. And now they’re naming NASA buildings after some of them. And it took us how long to figure this out? 50, 60, 70 years. And with the ancient world, we do have these women leaders. They’ve been resigned to the shadows. So the goal of my book is to bring these women out of the shadows. And instead of saying, “Hey, there’s a couple of texts in 1 Timothy or 1 Corinthians that tell us what we need to know about women,” I want to say, “We need to tell these stories that are really powerful.” I have two daughters, and I want my daughters and my son to know the stories of great women and men of faith in Scripture.
Sheila: Amen. That’s amazing. Yeah. I just love that story of the four African-American women in Hidden Figures. It’s a great movie. If you don’t have time to read the book, it’s an amazing movie. I cried terribly in it.
Sheila: But yeah. Their stories were forgotten, and they were important stories. And I’m glad we’re remembering them now. And so it is time to remember these amazing women, who have been forgotten. Okay. I want to start with the end. You said something at the very end of your book which I think summarizes your whole book so perfectly. “Where men have sometimes said women can’t, the Old and New Testament say women did.”
Sheila: Yeah. So let’s jump in, and you can tell us how women did. You start with the Old Testament and move into Jesus’s time. And then you spend the bulk of your book more in the letters and the early church, which was where so many women were talked about. And when we’re talking about what role do women have in the church, it’s good to look at the early church. So I appreciate that. But in the beginning where you do talk about the Old Testament, you jump into Deborah first. And tell me why Deborah is important.
Nijay: Deborah is huge. And that was kind of a must have for the book because in the ancient world and today we hear a lot of stereotypes about women as gullible, emotional, more invested in relationships than facts, weak willed, all of these things. Soft, easily over powered mentally, and all these kinds of things. And what I love about Deborah is she defies pretty much all of those stereotypes as a woman from the ancient world, from more than 2,000 years ago, someone chosen by God, empowered as a prophet, respected as a judge. And a judge doesn’t mean Judge Judy with a gavel. A judge means a temporary hero of the people—this people being Israel—that’s given by God to fight off the enemy and establish peace. And there is no other leader in Israel at the time. Joshua is gone. Moses is gone. And Samuel and the kings are in the future. So these judges are, essentially, the leader of the people. And I remember reading Judges 5. I taught a course on Judges a long, long time ago. I remember reading Judges 5, which is the song of Deborah. And it’s basically singing a military victory song for Israel interpreted theologically and focused on her as the center of everything. And so you’ll hear some people say, “Oh, but Deborah—there was no man that could.” And I would say, “If you’re going to choose a man, you would have chosen Barak, who was the military general, because most of the other judges are warriors,” right? Like Gideon or, in some ways, Samson. And if you say, “Oh, but she may have had flaws,” well, if you read Judges 5, there is nothing negative said about her whatsoever. In fact, it basically says the stars go to war for because she’s victorious. She’s a prophet. She’s called by God. So I do that because people come into the Bible with all this baggage of kind of a chessboard. This is where the pawns go. This is where the bishop goes. This is where the king goes. And I want to just mess with that just at the very beginning and say, “Okay. These are the squares that women can be on.” “Oh, we have a woman on the king’s square. What are you going to do about that?” And I just do that politely, softly, just to throw people off so they’re ready to hear everything else that I have to say.
Sheila: I love that. That critique that you often hear about Deborah, “Oh, but Israel was under God’s judgment, and that’s why he put a woman in leadership as God’s judgment because there were no men,” but when you do read Judges—and I notice this. She’s the only one who is really there because of her character and her wisdom. Everyone else—I mean Samson is kind of pathetic. Yeah. He’s a warrior. But kind of pathetic.
Nijay: He breaks every rule in the book.
Sheila: And Gideon is a coward. There’s a lot of things wrong with many of the judges, but that’s not the case with Deborah. So to say that she is God’s last resort is like, “Well, no. She actually comes off the best if you look at the book of Judges.”
Nijay: She absolutely does. She’s the only one that has a victory song that is theologically interpreted. And there is a pattern to these songs. You have the song of Moses. You have Hannah’s prayer a little bit later on in the historical books. You have Mary’s song of praise in Luke chapter 1. There’s similarities between these songs. They’re kind of guides to the Bible. Kind of like the Psalms. They’re guides to how to read the Bible. And the climax of that narrative around Deborah is when it says, “She arose, a mother in Israel.” She takes care of the people. And to me, that’s what a pastor does. A pastor takes care of the people, right? A shepherd. And she’s, to me, a good model for that kind of—
Sheila: And what’s interesting to is that she’s married.
Nijay: She’s married. It says she’s the wife of Lapidoth. We never hear from him. Is he alive? Is he dead? Is he a warrior? We never hear from him. And that’s kind of telling because she has a husband, and he’s not involved.
Sheila: She’s known just for—on her own merits. I love that. Okay. There’s lots of other stuff we could talk about in the beginning in your book about creation and the primogeniture stuff. Does it matter that Adam was created first? We’ve actually talk a lot about Genesis on the podcast, so I would encourage people to get Tell Her Story if you want to hear what Nijay has to say about Genesis. But I want to jump to the stuff that you’ve really put some new stuff out there, I think, and look at the New Testament. And let’s start with a common complaint or a common critique that’s made of women in leadership which is, “Well, the 12 disciples were male.”
Sheila: “So Jesus, obviously, wanted just male followers, and they were the leaders.” What do you say to that?
Nijay: Yeah. Absolutely. I grew up with this kind of presumption that when Jesus was traveling around—if He got a reservation at Cheesecake Factory, it was for 13. It was the 12 disciples and Jesus. And actually, most of—or all four Gospels attest to women involved in Jesus’s ministry. But we learn a lot actually from the Gospel of Luke. Luke is the most attentive to the lives of women. John is pretty close. But Luke is really attentive to the lives of women. And Luke peels back the curtain of Jesus’s ministry. You have these 12 male disciples out front. But he peels back the curtain to see there were 70 that were sent out in mission. And I think it’s reasonable to think that some of those were women because in Luke chapter 8—I think verses 1 to 3—Luke specifically mentions the women that follow Jesus like Mary Magadalene and Joanna and others. There were several women. And how do we know that they were important? Were they just tag alongs? Or were they genuinely disciples? I don’t know why the Gospels don’t use the word disciples for them. But there’s something, I think, that most readers of the Bible don’t know, and that’s Jesus is known as a teacher, right? And the word disciple means student. And so a student is someone that learns from the teacher, right? So if you fast forward to the end of the Gospel of Luke, I think chapter—you fast forward to chapter 24, right? The men are nowhere to be found. Jesus is dead. He’s in the tomb. He’s gone from the tomb. And these angels appear to the people that are there who are the women, right? The women. And the angels say to the women, “Don’t you remember He said He would suffer and die and rise again as He taught you?” And you go back to earlier in the Gospel of Luke, and He did give that teaching to His disciples. So this is a connection that they are being held directly responsible for the teaching—really the core teaching of Jesus which is about His identity as the Messiah that would suffer and die and rise again. The other thing that’s really interesting about these women is I think in two of the Gospels men are actually—actually see the tomb for themselves. Certainly, in the Gospel of John because you have Peter and John. Peter and the beloved disciple do the foot race.
Sheila: Yeah. They’re having the race. Yeah. John overtakes him. Yeah.
Nijay: And then after that, Jesus tells Mary to go tell the other disciples. Why would He do that when two of the men have already seen the tomb? This is a clear validation of Mary. It’s a test of her faith. It’s an investment in her, right? It’s an acknowledgement of her agency. And so it’s like we’re not seeing what’s right in front of us. Maybe there is something to the naming of the 12 as a new Israel. But what I find really interesting is you have the 12, the 12, the 12. And then when you get in the book of Acts, they all but disappear. You have James, Peter. I can’t remember if John is in the book of Acts. But then you have Paul, and you have Barnabas. And now you have some of these new women like Priscilla that are stepping in. Maybe Lydia. They’re not called apostles but clearly we have leaders that are becoming significant that weren’t part of the 12. I love to quiz students. Can you actually name the 12 disciples? I don’t know very many people that could.
Sheila: Oh gosh. I used to be able to. I don’t know if still can. Okay. Let’s try it. Okay. So Peter, James, John, Andrew, Thaddeus. There were two Thaddeuses, right?
Nijay: I can’t name them all because the lists are not exactly the same.
Sheila: Oh gosh. Okay. Did I say Judas already? Nathaniel. Thomas. Oh gosh. Philip.
Nijay: Okay. You’re doing pretty good.
Sheila: Oh gosh. I’m missing two.
Nijay: I think there’s a Bartholomew in there.
Sheila: Oh yeah. Bartholomew. Oh gosh. And now there’s going to be one more. Well, I am sorry to the one that I forgot. Yeah.
Nijay: Jesus named Justice. Is that one? I don’t know. There’s a few different people. But a lot of these people that we’re mentioning aren’t actually talked about in the book of Acts. So one thing that’s really interesting is we put a lot of emphasis on the 12 disciples. And there’s a scholar named Scott Spencer, who points out they don’t come across very well in the Gospels. And then Jesus will commend many women, who show more faith than the disciples.
Sheila: The Syrophoenician woman.
Nijay: The Syrophoenician woman. The widow’s mite in terms of just an illustration. And then parables about women. So this idea that, oh, the 12, the 12, the 12, I think the 12 have symbolic significance. But the question is do they actually have practical significance. And in many ways, they don’t because when Jesus needed them most they fall asleep and disappear. And who actually shows up for Jesus? It’s the women. That’s not a coincidence. It’s mentioned in all four Gospels that the women show up for Jesus. And something that people don’t think about—and I love using this illustration. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his famous book, The Cost of Discipleship—the original title was just Discipleship. It was renamed in English, The Cost of Discipleship, after Bonhoeffer died because of his martyrdom.
Sheila: Yeah. In 1945 in Germany. Yeah.
Nijay: Yeah. The German title is Nachfolge, which means following after. And it makes more of a verb out of it rather than our word discipleship. And the reason I like that is because a disciple follows Jesus. I mean we know that, but sometimes we use technical language for discipleship. And these women follow Jesus. They were healed by Jesus. They paid for Jesus’s ministry out of their own pockets. They receive teaching from Jesus. They show up to the cross. They’re at the tomb, and they’re sent with a proclamation of revelation. If they don’t count as disciples, then how in the world could I ever be a disciple of Jesus?
Sheila: Yeah. I love too—the Samaritan woman is so interesting because that’s the longest recorded conversation we have of Jesus with one other person. And that’s the first time that He explicitly says that He’s the Messiah to anyone, and it’s to this woman of Samaria. And then He appoints her as a missionary to go tell others about that. I think that’s amazing.
Nijay: Yeah. I don’t necessarily want to get into the Billy Graham rule and all of that. But this idea that Jesus is going to have a private conversation—a private theological conversation with a woman—I mean He’s an important guy doing important things. And He has—He’s dead set on going through Samaria when He—when people warn Him now to. Even the disciples are like, “What’s He doing talking to this person?” These are all lessons that the Gospels give us about—not only who Jesus is, but how we’re supposed to emulate Jesus. And in a culture where women, especially non Roman women, were not taken very seriously, here, Jesus is taking her very seriously. I mean He begins the conversation with His own need, right? He says, “I’m thirsty, and I’m tired. Can you give me some water?” What’s funny is He doesn’t actually ever get the water. But that’s not her fault because they’re deep in conversation. But He validates her questions. He doesn’t condescend. She’s asking really, really perceptive—she’s not asking where the clothing store is. She is asking really, really perceptive theological questions. She’s put some thought into this, and He validates that. And He has this deep conversation with her. I think that’s really powerful.
Sheila: Yeah. Amen. Okay. So let’s move on now into the early church. And one of the difficulties we often have when we look at the early church as a model for how we should treat or restrict women today is that the things that we see as offices today really weren’t offices then. And this is a big part of what you’re talking about. So let’s talk about some of those things. Diakonos.
Nijay: Yeah. Let me just start by saying I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a meme or a social media post that says, “The Bible says women can’t be pastors,” or, “The Bible says women shouldn’t preach.” They are leap frogging from information in the Bible and then extrapolating to get to that. But the Bible actually doesn’t say those things. The Bible doesn’t forbid women from being pastors or preachers. So that’s kind of the background to this conversation because people are very, very insistent about that. And so what I wanted to do was clear the deck and say, “Let’s look at what’s actually talked about in the New Testament.” And then afterwards, we can talk about what a pastor is. So there are three terms that are used commonly in the New Testament for leadership. Let me just say though at the outset Paul doesn’t have a tendency to talk about leadership titles. The main ways he talks about leaders is they work hard. They’re coworkers, and they struggle side by side. He uses really active words of getting the work done. Just grit, right? Hard work. Devotion. Faithfulness. He doesn’t tend to say, “Oh, this person has this degree, or this person has this quality by dint of birth.” He doesn’t do that. In fact, in most letters, he doesn’t name any leaders. So I think that’s really interesting. But let’s talk about the terms. So the first one I talk about is diakonos, which is where we get the word deacon from. And sometimes it’s translated servant. For example, some translations say Phoebe was a servant from Cenchrea. That’s a misuse of the—a mistranslation of the term because in Romans 16 Paul is commending her as a leader of the church. So it has a little bit of a technical quality to it. And so even deacon is tough because in different denominations the word deacon means different things. So I actually came up with my own phrase, ministry provider, because in my context we refer to doctors as medical providers. And what that’s trying to do is to say they are providing a service. They’re caring for you. So in that sense, they’re serving you. But they’re not serving you like a slave or a servant. They’re serving you as someone with expertise and status and training. And that fits very well the way Paul uses the work diakonos. He’s saying these are the people that deploy the caring ministries of the church—the caring ministries being all the ministries. And they’re the ones that are in charge of you, looking after you. So a ministry provider means they’re providing ministry, but we look up to them. We admire them. Paul says in 1 Thessalonians, “Give honor and respect to those people who have taken charge over you, who are caring for you.”
Sheila: Yeah. I love that. And you think about that model of ministry because that’s what Paul does over and over again. Yeah. My coworkers. They work hard in the Lord. They’re right beside me. Isn’t that what we want the church to be about anyway?
Nijay: Right. It’s interesting. In the modern context, if I wanted to call out misbehavior in someone else’s church, right? I would contact the pastor. I would feel like okay. The pastor is the boss. Contact the pastor. Paul doesn’t do that. Look at Galatians. Look at 1 Corinthians. He writes to churches. He doesn’t write to leaders. Now every now and again, like Philemon, he does on the little bit more of a private matter. But generally speaking, he writes to churches which mean he doesn’t see the leaders as the go between. He doesn’t see these leaders as the CEOs of these churches. He sees them as kind of behind the scenes people that take care of the church. So I use the example when I’m teaching my seminary students. I use the example of a coach of a sports team. And on game day, right? The camera is focused on the players. The people of God. Not on the coach. The coach does the work to make sure—and the only time you look at the coach is when they’re celebrating or when they’re throwing a rant, right? Otherwise, you don’t really pay much attention to the coach. That’s not the point. And I think we have to use that model for ministry. The leaders do the work of preparing the people of God, for what I call, the beautiful game, which is the people of God worshipping God and serving the world. And we need to change how we think about leaders. And this idea that they are ministry providers means they are training. They’re equipping. They’re caring. And if everyone is going well, you’re not paying much attention to them.
Sheila: Right. Okay. So that’s diakonos. What about elder?
Nijay: Right. This is a funny term because the two other terms, diakonos, which means ministry provider, and episkopos, which means overseer—they’re both verbs that have action, right? Ministry care or oversight. Presbuteros, elder, literally means old person. Sometimes it’s actually translated that way like in Philemon where Paul says, “I’m an old man.” Or later in 1 Timothy when it refers to older women—older men. And it’s not really about age. There’s not a certain age where now, all of a sudden, you’re qualified to be a church leader. It’s really about maturity. They’re using age as a way of talking about maturity, right? So when it talks about elders, it’s really talking about those people who, through life experiences and through just devotion and faithfulness, have gotten to a level in life where they have stored up life wisdom that they can help lead a church. And it’s hard for me to imagine that can only be true of men because we have these older women throughout the Bible. If you look at—even in Genesis, if you look at the relationship between Abraham and Sarah, right? Even though there are lots of broken things in their relationship, they bicker and argue almost as equals, right? In a way that we might even find hard to believe for the ancient world.
Sheila: Well, and God even tells Abraham to obey Sarah at one point.
Nijay: Absolutely. He does. Actually, with the incident with Hagar, He does that. And that ends up being quoted in Galatians. It’s actually Sarah’s words that are quotes in Galatians as what Paul tells the Galatians to do. Anyway, so this idea of elder—think about it like an ancient travel community. You have a small tribe by a river. And let’s say a child falls into the river, right? And the child’s friends yell for help. Who is going to come running? It’s going to be the elders meaning those people that care—that have over time taken care of this community. And they’re going to be—it’s not like, “Oh, this is my job title.” No. I’m responsible for this community. And that became a little bit more formalized as we get into early Christianity. And I have a theory about elders that I talk about in my book. My theory is if a leader went by a specific title like apostle or pastor—they didn’t have that specific title. But if they—like diakonos. Then that’s what they would be referred to. If they didn’t, then they were just part of the elders. I believe that even the apostles and the deacons or ministry providers and the overseers were elders because the main thing is maturity, right? When the New Testament talks about Paul and the elders, right? Or let’s say the chief priests and the elders of the Jewish communities. These chief priests would qualify as elders I’m guessing. But they were referred to as elders when they don’t have another title. Why is that important? Because you have people like Phoebe, who is a ministry provider, a diakonos—and I make this argument in my book—that she would be an elder in. And Junia, who is called an apostle—she would also be an elder. But people didn’t really go by that title. So the joke I like to use is I fly a lot for work. So I have Ruby One Elite Status with Alaska Airlines. But I don’t go around telling people that. I don’t wear it like a name tag, right? It’s just something that exists as a part of my profile, right? And I experience privilege based on what I’ve—the amount of time I’ve spent in the air. And it’s kind of like that with eldership. You don’t walk around with a badge that says, “Hey, I’m an elder.” It kind of functions in the background. Churches had elders, but I imagine that they would have had men and women. Now would men have been the majority? Yes. Because of the patriarchal nature of the times. You didn’t have easy opportunity for men to be at home with the kids and women to be out doing ministry. That’s just not the way the world worked at the time. But were there women elders? I believe there were. And one piece of evidence we have is that there were women elders in Jewish synagogues at the time. There weren’t many as far as we can tell. But we actually have the equivalent of tombstones. They’re called funerary inscriptions. That have women on them named as elders and also as rulers of the synagogue. Archisynagogue. Ruler of the synagogue. And that’s an important piece of understanding how Christians, too, would have functioned in the early church.
Sheila: Right. And if we see elder as—not as much about you are in charge of the church, but you are the person who is responsible. And people are going to look up to you, right? Then there were so many women who did fulfill that role.
Sheila: Women like Lydia. The church in Philippi met in her house. She was the one that Paul stayed with. She was the one that—she’s the most prestigious person in the church in Philippi that we hear of.
Sheila: Yeah. Interesting. Well, what about the fact that the Bible says—because people always come back to this husband of one wife.
Nijay: Right. Yeah. That’s funny because if you look at that list in general—so this is 1 Timothy. If you look at the list of expectations for leadership, they’re virtue lists. They’re not demographic lists, right? They’re not telling you what height to be. They’re not telling you the ideal weight. They’re really telling you about character, right? So what would husband of one wife mean as an indicator of character? It’s really talking about fidelity and trustworthiness, right? So it’s interesting. I’ve talked to a couple of scholars that have said, “Well, if we take that list with letter of the law, it means you have to be married.” What’s interesting is if you turn a page back to 1 Corinthians, Paul says he wishes that people were like him. And he gives a theological explanation that when you’re married your attitude and your time is divided between your family and God. And he’s not saying there’s anything sinful about being married. But he’s saying, “Isn’t it far better to have all your attention and devotion focused solely on ministry and the Lord?” So if 1 Timothy then says they must be married, then Paul either has changed his mind which I highly doubt, or he’s contracting himself. Or he’s really talking about fidelity. So let’s take the example of braiding your hair. 1 Timothy talks about braiding your hair. Is the problem exactly what happens with your hair? Or is the problem the symbolic nature of what women were doing with their hair?
Sheila: Right. Is Laura Ingalls a big problem?
Nijay: Right. Right. Right. Yeah. 99% of Christians today, including scholars, do not think that a specific type of hair braiding is an eternal principle of Scripture. It’s really what that hair braiding means, right? When Jesus says, “Someone asks for your undergarment, give them your cloak as well,” does that mean we have to carry cloaks because Jesus said we do? No. Nobody thinks that. Nobody thinks that. So what we’re dealing with in 1 Timothy is he’s saying you need to be a good leader of your household, right? Is he saying that you have to have kids in order to be an elder? No. He already said that you don’t even have to be married. So I think what he’s doing there is he’s being illustrative. Many times Paul gives lists of virtues like the fruit of the Spirit or in Philippians where he says, “Whatever is pleasing,” but his lists are very—are often exemplary but not exhaustive, right? If he was talking to Timothy face to face and Timothy said, “Is that it,” to that 1 Timothy list, no. He’d say, “No. There’s more. But you get what I’m saying.” Trustworthy, faithful, honest, transparent, all of those things. If he could yada, yada, yada or et cetera, et cetera, he would at that time. So I think we need to use a little bit of common sense when we read husband of one wife. The illustration I use in my book—my daughter works at a golf club. She’s a caddy. And so imagine you go to a golf club, and there’s a sign that says, “Golfers must have their facial hair properly groomed at all times.” If my daughter wants to golf, should she just turn around and leave because she doesn’t have facial hair? No. What the sign is doing is explaining something that is a common issue. Not a comprehensive issue but a common issue. And Paul is doing the same thing. He’s giving advice with an eye towards common issue, right? If Paul is talking about jewelry, which he does, does he mean that everyone must have jewelry? No. It only applies to the people that have jewelry.
Sheila: Right. So good. Okay. Let’s look at some of the individual women now. And you mentioned a whole bunch of them. Tell their stories. Which of course is the whole point of your book, Tell Her Story. Euodia and Syntyche. I love them. They’re mentioned in two verses, and I think it’s Philippians, right?
Sheila: And Paul says, “Hey, work it out.”
Nijay: Yeah. Yeah. When I went to seminary, our dean of students, a lovely woman, she had this do this exercise on the first day of seminary. You don’t have to do this. But she said, “Close your eyes, and imagine the average Christian. Today. Imagine the average Christian.” She’s like, “Do you have that image in your mind?” She said, “Okay. I’m going to start to give you a statistical explanation, and I want you to adjust that picture in your mind.” And this was 2001. She said, “Okay. This person is a woman.” Oh wow. Okay. Because you might have been imagining a white man. She says, “Okay. This person is a woman. Number two, this person is African.” It’s like, “Oh, geez. Wow.” “And then number three, this person is Pentecostal.” It just blew me away. I don’t know if those statistics are still true. But when we look at the Philippian church, we get a similar demographical insight. If I asked you to name all of the named people from the Philippian church, you would actually name more women than men.
Sheila: Yeah. Because Lydia, the jailer.
Nijay: Lydia. Yep.
Sheila: The jailer. And we know the jailer had kids. We don’t know—
Nijay: He doesn’t have a name but yeah. We’ll put on this side.
Sheila: And then Euodia and Syntyche.
Nijay: Euodia and Syntyche. Epaphroditus, who has been sent to Paul.
Sheila: Oh, right. Yeah. I don’t know any others. Yeah.
Nijay: And he’s coming back. And maybe Clemente, who is mentioned there. It’s unclear whether he is there, or he’s just an illustration. So we know the names of two men and three women. And that is really fascinating because how did Euodia and Syntyche become Christians as women? Probably through Lydia, right? So she’s out there doing the work. What’s fascinating about Lydia is—and we’ll get back to Euodia and Syntyche is Paul goes to Philippi. He’s looking for a great of Jews. He finds these—this group of women that are on the outskirts. He preaches to them. Lydia is god fearer, which means she’s a Gentile that gives some devotion to the God of Israel. She becomes a believer. She and her household, which kinds of signals she’s the head of her household. Some of the things I do in my book are to show you how some of the language that’s used means something in that time that we don’t always pick up on. So this idea that she and her household is baptized means that she’s the head of her own household, which wasn’t that strange for that time. And so she’s the head of the household. The apostles go on these adventures and end up in prison. And then the magistrates say, “Okay. We’re sorry we put you in prison. We didn’t you were Roman citizens. But please leave immediately.” And they said, “Okay. But we want to do one thing first.” And what did they do?
Sheila: They went back to Lydia.
Nijay: They went to Lydia’s house. Until I researched for this book, I didn’t realize that that’s where they went. How did they know to go there? She becomes a pretty quick de facto leader of a community because she expresses this faith. She’s baptized. She fits a lot of the profile of 1 Timothy. She’s a wise manager of her household. And believers are naturally gathering there, right? That’s not a one off. When Peter goes to prison in the book of Acts and gets out, where does he go? To the house of the mother of John Mark. Another woman’s house. And then you have Priscilla and Aquila where they seem kind of shoulder to shoulder ministry partners who lead a house church. Now we have a lot of women who seem to be hosting. And hosting doesn’t mean I’m going to bake cookies. A host of a house church has standing and gravitas in that culture. And if you look at 1 Timothy, they’re already expected to be wise leaders and managers, so they would make great leaders of a house church. We can talk about that later. Euodia and Syntyche. Many people in the past have just discarded this issue of what they’re disagreeing about as menial like what color the curtains should be in the Sunday School room or something like that. What I have learned about ancient letters is it’s very expensive to write a letter and send it. So one scholar has done the monetary calculation. He says to send a letter like Romans would cost Paul $2,000 to $3,000 in modern money.
Nijay: So it’s a big deal, and you don’t waste words. It’s kind of like a telegram, right? You don’t waste words. So Paul is not going to talk about a squabble. He would actually just send information with the letter carrier. And the letter carrier would just verbally say, “Hey, stop arguing about this meaningless issue.” What we imagine is the way that Paul commends them, they’re struggling side by side for the Gospel just as I do. Like me. Their names are written in the book of life. Yoke fellow. Help them. All these things indicate they are leaders. And so they seem to be arguing about something really important to Paul’s message in the church. How do we know that? It’s not at the very end of the letter. It actually comes after a major theological segment on the Gospel in chapter 3 and before a major segment on the contentment section in chapter 4. So it’s right in the middle of—just past the middle of the letter. And there is a theory, and I talk about this. And I think this is true. I’ve written two books on Philippians. There’s a question about whether the whole point of Paul’s letter is whether the Philippians want to continue to support his ministry financially and actively or whether they want to pull back and throw their weight behind something else. And this actually is talked about in patristic writings from the fourth century, so it’s not something I just came up with. And so could it be that one of the women, as a leader, was saying, “We need to stop supporting him. He’s on his way out. He’s in prison. Who knows what happens? Let’s not waste our money,” because a big part of the letter is he’s thanking them for their gift that they sent to him in prison which probably means money, food, clothing, medication. And then maybe another woman says, “No. Let’s keep going with him. He’s the right person. We want to keep supporting him.” And Paul is saying, “I want these people to come together.” And then the whole point of the next part of the letter is, “I will be okay whether you support me or not.” It fits really well. It’s written to a dissertation that I read. But if it’s something high level like that, these people are really important leaders. They’re important leaders just from the language Paul uses in chapter 4 verses 2 and 3. But this idea that these are key women leaders is not that strange because Lydia was also one.
Sheila: Yeah. That’s amazing. It’s so funny how you could quickly look over those verses and those names and not realize that that’s actually pretty important.
Nijay: And a lot of that the lens that we come to Scripture with. If we come to Scripture with what I call a little house on the prairie lens, then we’re going to put women in a certain profile, right? Little house on the prairie, mother and daughter are inside sewing and cooking. And father and son are out chopping wood and hunting. But we actually see women as movers and shakers in the New Testament. Women like Phoebe, women like Priscilla, women like Junia and Euodia and Syntyche and more.
Sheila: Okay. So one of my favorite women is Priscilla. And I want to turn to her now. You mention this about the order of their names. And I want to tell you how this was taught to me. And you can tell me if this is true or not. So when I was in high school, I started to notice that—and I notice this one my own. That in the letters when Paul refers to Aquila and Priscilla, who are a married couple—when he refers to their household, Aquila is mentioned first. But whenever he refers to their ministry, Priscilla is mentioned first.
Sheila: And I was wondering. Does it matter whose name is mentioned first and why? And then I started looking at references to Paul. And in the book of Acts, it’s Barnabas and Paul. Barnabas and Paul. Barnabas and Paul. Over and over and over again until Paul gives his first sermon. And from then on, it’s always Paul and Barnabas.
Nijay: Interesting. I’ve never noticed that. I’ll have to look at that. Name order. So I had wondered for years whether name order really meant anything. Are we making that up? Is that big deal? I did find a little bit of information about that. Generally speaking in the Roman world, that there was credence to lists of names and the people at the beginning in a commendation list would be the more weighty, more important people. But in terms of a pair, I always thought, “Ah, it’s too hard to prove,” until I had read on some website that there was a sermon by Saint John Chrysostom, fourth century, patristic theologian where he actually talks about the name ordering, its significance, and how it means that Priscilla was the more pious. I’ll come back to that in a minute. And I tried to find the sermon, and I couldn’t find it. The reason is the main English translations of Chrysostom don’t have that sermon in them. And I found out—I did one of those call outs to social media. “Hey, I need to find this.” And someone told someone told someone said, “This one scholar is working on a translation of it for a major publication.” And so I reached out to that scholar, Margaret Mitchell. And I emailed her. She’s a very, very widely respected scholar. And I said, “Would you send me?” And she sent me her manuscript. Pre publication. It was amazing. And sure enough. Chrysostom has—so he has a bunch of sermons on Romans, which are—you can Google it and find those sermons. But then he has these obscure, hard to find sermons on specific topics. And he was one just on Priscilla and Aquila which is separate from his sermon on Romans 16. So what does he say? He says, “She’s named first because she is more pious.” I think what that means is she’s more active in ministry. And one of the theories I’ve heard is they both did business as tent makers, and they both did ministry. But she did—she was more active in ministry, and he was more active on the business side. And that might make sense of the changing of the name order. But that does—and then Chrysostom, who actually has horrible things to say about women, so he’s not a closet egalitarian of the fourth century.
Sheila: No. He really isn’t.
Nijay: No. But he goes on to say when it came to teaching Apollos, which is mentioned in the book of Acts, this traveling philosopher, preacher, he kept talking about her teaching him. He talks about Priscilla and Aquila, but then he focuses on her teaching him. So he seems to take a lot out of the name order, and he’s what we call a hellenophone meaning Greek is Chrysostom’s first language. So he would be more likely to pick up on these things than we would 2,000 years later. So I trust him on that. That the name ordering actually does mean something.
Sheila: And just for our listeners, so you understand, the reason this is significant is because—yeah. It’s talked about how Priscilla taught Apollos. Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos. And so when people say that Paul said that women can’t teach men, but then he also Priscilla multiple times in Scripture and she was a good friend of his. And she was busy teaching this guy.
Nijay: Yes. And they actually spent years together in various settings like Ephesus, Corinth, and then eventually they went back to Rome. But if you think about who Paul would have been close to, you’ve got Timothy, right? For a period. You have Barnabas. You have Silas. And these would have been the closest thing to his closest peer friends—would be Priscilla and Aquila because a lot of the other people were converts of Paul or Paul was their mentor. But they’re more like peers.
Sheila: Yeah. They were tent makers with him. And they show up in all these different cities, so they were—yeah.
Nijay: Yeah. And one thing I talk about in the book is in modern American, modern North America, we’re very transient. We can just decide one day I’m going to move. I’m going to move to California. Or I’m going to move to New York. But in the ancient world, it was really hard to move. Not just financially but culturally because you’re leaving your social network. And for a man to move is tough. For a woman to move is even harder because she’s leaving her family and the safety that her family provides her. And so for Priscilla and Aquila to move to these different cities for church planting is a sacrifice for both of them, but I think it’s more of a sacrifice for her than it is for him because he can be out and about easily making friendships and social connections. And she can’t as easily. And if she got into trouble, who is going to bail her out? Who is going to come to her aid? You expect your social network to do that, and she would be far away from those people. So you just think about some of those things that we take for granted that would make the difference between men and women in the first century. And I think it raises the stakes for her as someone stepping out in faith.
Sheila: Okay. So speaking of people who can get in trouble, let’s end with a woman who was in trouble who is very important, and that’s Junia.
Sheila: And she has only recently been rediscovered. She’s someone whose story did need to be told, and it was erased for many centuries. And can you explain that one?
Nijay: Yeah. So if you open up an Old English Bible or even some modern ones—I think the NASB—it’s going to say in Romans 16 Andronicus and Junias with a S. And that’s actually signaling that it’s a man. But in fact, if you go to the Greek of the text, the word is not clearly male or female. However, Junia, as a name, is widely attested in the Roman world as a woman’s name. And Junias is not attested at all as a male name. What scholars who have stood by that male name have said is that it’s short for Junianus. We actually don’t have that either attested in the ancient world. So there’s really no reason for that. So how did that happen? It happened because probably sometime in the early medieval period scribes, people copying Romans, were looking at this text and seeing Andronicus and Junia and thinking, “How could they be apostles? She could not be an apostle. So either there was some error here, or this should actually be a man.” And so there’s a scholar named Eldon Epp, who has done a lot of research on this. And he says there seems to have been an intentional corruption of some manuscripts. And that kind of took off. I think, in a wider way, the identity of this person was questioned. It wasn’t scrubbed completely. We do have—we can connect the dots a little bit through the medieval period. But really it only wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century that it became—it got onto the radar of scholars to say, “We need to make sure we get this right and get this right in our translation.” So just to keep it brief, this is a woman. Andronicus and Junia. Probably husband and wife. Paul says they’re Jewish. Paul says they were in Christ before him meaning they became Christians before Paul. I mean Paul became a Christian pretty early on. So if Jesus died in 30. Paul converted 31, 32. It’s right there in that resurrection, ascension, somewhere in there. Or—and this is kind of where I lean. There is one patristic writer. I think it was Origen, who says, “Could they have been part of the 70 that were sent out by Jesus,” so they were disciples.
Sheila: Well, I’ve heard some people wonder if Junia was actually Joanna.
Nijay: Yes. There is a scholar named Richard Bauckham, who has made that argument. I think we would have found that out in patristic discussions. It’s possible. I don’t necessarily buy it. But it does give credence to this idea that she walked with Jesus. I love that idea. So she checks boxes for a woman disciple of Jesus. Jewish. Older in the faith than Paul. Called an apostle, right? Not only called an apostle, but prominent among the apostles. Now some translations say prominent to the apostles. There’s two problems with that. The word prominent is kind of like a peak on a topographical map. And a peak assumes a geographic region. So if you say this person is prominent, then you’re going to say prominent on what map. And if it was prominent to the apostles and not as apostles, then you’re missing the map. So I think that’s a problem. Secondly, the preposition that’s used there is in, which is an inside of a circle location. If I say I’m in the house, I’m within a geographic sphere, and you can use it metaphorically like I’m in trouble, right? So when they say prominent in the apostles, the most natural way—there is some debate about this. And I do think it’s a little bit hard—there’s a little bit of openness to interpretation. But to me, the most natural reading is prominent in the apostles meaning as apostles. This would make sense if they’re older than Paul, Jewish, and they went to prison for preaching the Gospel as Paul did. There was no higher mark of honor in early Christianity than going to jail for Jesus. This was considered you’re putting everything on the line. And many people died in prison. And so what I tell my students is for Junia, there weren’t that many women in prison at the time. In fact, we have almost no evidence for it. We have just a handful of pieces of evidence, Christian or non Christian. And a couple things I learned that are crazy. Men and women were not separated in prison. You’d have just a bunch of people thrown into one room together. And there was overcrowding. So you’re literally on top of each other. And people would die from suffocation. They’d die from being crushed. They’d die from lack of fresh air, malnutrition. It was common for prisoners, male or female, to be assaulted, tortured. Prisoners would commit suicide rather than be tortured to death or assaulted. And so what I sometimes tell my students is Junia had to be in prison long enough to be commended by Paul, right? It couldn’t just be an overnight. But short enough to live. That’s crazy to think about. And then she went back into ministry.
Nijay: So if you look at all of these pieces of the puzzle together, I say that if Paul had heroes, living heroes, this couple would be it. I say there is auntie and uncle.
Sheila: Yeah. Wow. That’s so lovely. Well, I guess what I really got from reading your book is that every time we see a name—and in Romans 16, you’ll see so many names of women. Every time you see a name we often just look over them because it doesn’t say a whole lot, but those names mean something. There are stories behind each one of those names. And those names give us a picture of the church that was so active in those early days where women were playing a huge role that we have often forgotten. And so yeah. It is time to tell her story. So can you tell people where they can get your book and all about your book?
Nijay: Yeah. A lot of people are getting it on Amazon. You can buy it at whatever retailer you want. IVP does sell it. I see it’s currently out of stock which I’m guessing means that they’re printing a new printing of it. Yeah. Actually, a fun thing, Sheila, is that I—they allowed me to record the audio book with my own voice which is really rare.
Sheila: Isn’t that fun? I got to do mine too. Yeah. Yeah.
Nijay: It’s fun, but it is—yeah. It’s a lot of energy. A lot of mental energy to say things right and to—it was fun, but it was way harder than I thought it would be. But I love hearing the author’s voice when I listen to an audio book. And so I begged them to let me do it, and they let me do it which was really special.
Sheila: Yeah. That’s wonderful. Well, I will put a link to where you can find Tell Her Story. And yeah. Let’s remember these women’s stories because they matter.
Sheila: So thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.
Nijay: My pleasure. Thanks for reading.
It’s amazing how quick people are to dismiss any account of women doing anything in the Bible that doesn’t fit in with their preconceived ideas of housewife/mother. I remember reading 1 Chronicles, about a woman named Sheerah, “who built Lower and Upper Beth Horon as well as Uzzen Sheerah” and saying to a friend how cool it was to hear about a woman building stuff.
‘Oh, she wouldn’t have actually built anything, it’s just a phrase meaning that men in her household built those places.’
Ok, so what about Nehemiah, who lists all the people who rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. Right there in Chapter 3 : “Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters.”
‘Oh, but they were just encouraging him and providing him with meals.’
So what about all the other people rebuilding the walls? Did none of them have any female relatives to provide encouragement and food? Did these girls get a mention just because they were better cooks than any of the other women?
Sometimes the simplest reading makes the most sense…unless you are desperate to prove that women can’t do anything except housework and raising children.
They dismiss and, in many cases, actively subvert scripture in order to make women less, the cause of sin, and/or a curse to their people. All the while claiming to be true to scripture.
Case and point, Voddie Bauchman calling Deborah a curse and locating an obscure, poorly translated verse to back it up.
That makes no sense. Judges 2 v 16: “The LORD raised up judges…”
Judges 4 v 4 “Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.” So Deborah was one of those the LORD raised up.
And if God appointing women to leadership is a sign that the nation is disobeying Him, how come Gideon got appointed in Judges 6? Surely it should have been another woman…
“Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.”
I’m sure she was just bringing the men their meals (pause to roll eyes)
To the contrary, the story of Deborah concludes by saying that there was peace for 40 years. That’s about the biggest praise for leadership that you find in the Book of Judges.
Absolutely. All the evidence points to Deborah being a righteous judge and a blessing to her people.
But the support against her is deafening.
Now that that the commenting has died down on this thread, I’m going to link another post answering a crazy comment left under the Voddie is sexist post:
The commenter goes on a rampage accusing me (the original poster) of so many off-the wall things that completely miss the mark. They have so vilified the feminine and anything that might seem the least bit like feminism that they make themselves look like fools. But they must do all to uphold the lie of their doctrine.
What I found interesting beyond the discussion was the realization for me how when I read the bible I often misunderstand some of the names as being women. Meaning if it doesnt “look like” or “sound like” a female name I automatically assume it is a male that is being referred too. Seems we should really slow down and qualify who we are reading about when reading the bible. Interesting stuff!
Mara R already said this, but I’ll restate it.
It seems that often, the people who yell the loudest and longest that the Bible is meant to be taken ABSOLUTELY literally, word for word, EXACTLY as it appears will, when confronted with something they don’t like, will start saying “well, what it REALLY means is…”
Yes Bachman accuses others of playing fast and loose with Scripture, when, in fact, he and his bunch are terribly guilty of this.
This will come as no big surprise, but in the link Mara gave, Bauchman also misinterprets the “headship” passage in Ephesians 5.
I did not realize that Junia as a female was lost from knowledge from approximately the Middle Ages to the last mid century.
Again, those who want to say that the Bible hasn’t been tampered with need to get a grip. It has passed through many hands, mostly male. Humans are imperfect and have prejudices. Shoot! We have a very modern example of this in the ESV translation. They, on purpose, translated things differently if they pertained to a woman because they must uphold their doctrine at all cost. Their doctrine and the traditions of men are of more value than integrity in Bible translations. And they want us to trust them and believe that they are fair and that they know better. Whatever.
I have started saying, “I believe in biblical inerrancy, but I do *not* believe in translational inerrancy.” I have realized that translators absolutely have their agendas, and these often do harm to the scripture!
Yes, I’m there too.
Really enjoyed this! I just wanted to add that in Genesis 3:16 where consequences for “the fall” were given, we as humans, push against all of them to make life better except the “power over” woman. It’s almost like “oh well, that’s the curse”…. We have developed medical practices that help in childbirth, farming techniques to battle “the curse”, we don’t hesitate to kill a snake or create better work environments…just a thought…