Posted by: lepages | January 19, 2014

‘Women in Leadership’ – ‘Breadth of Leadership’ – Romans 16


Here’s my notes from my sermon reflecting on the breadth of leadership, in our teaching series on ‘Women in Leadership’.

The audio file of the talk is available on the church website here.


I wonder what you feel about lists…???? 

Lists of people, lists of facts, lists of figures, shopping lists, to do lists? (And so on!!)

Who loves lists?

Who loathes lists?

I used to loathe lists… but I’m growing to see that they have value! (Wouldn’t go as far as to say that I love them though!!!)

Earlier in the week someone said to me, ‘Why do we produce an annual church report?’

Having been working on one of the parts for which I had to prepare for inclusion, it was quite easy for me to answer. (Not sure whether this is what I said or not!) But, making a report means that you have to stop and reflect, to remember things, to be reminded of them, to record them – and that’s a good thing to do! (So once Andy – thanks Andy! – has compiled the report for the year, can I encourage you to read it, and to be prepared to ask questions about it where you would like to know more or question what has been done – doing this helps us all to grow and develop.)

If you’re like I used to be – a list loather….. !!!! – when you’re reading your Bible, and you come to a list of things…. maybe a list of people…. a list of objects….. a list of offerings…. a list of dimensions…. a genealogy…. a list of tribes…. a list of greetings… what do you tend to do?

Skip over it, skim read it??……

It’s easy to do that…. but when we do that, sometimes we miss out on fascinating detail!

A year or so ago, some of us participated in the community choir set up by Bedford Creative Arts, to perform a piece of music put together by Johnny Parry, bringing together a collection of lyrics from a diverse group of people, to form ‘An Anthology of All Things’ as it was called.

One of the parts, was a listing of names from park benches – random – but as we went through, different people would say…. ahhhh… I knew that person…. and share something about them that you might never otherwise have known.

Well, we come to our Bible reading for today…. and if you haven’t already guessed(!) …. it’s a list! A list of greetings…. and it’s easy to skim over them, but if we do, we’re apt to miss out on some fascinating elements of early church history….. elements which have caused otherwise respected scholars to be very selective at times in their translation of the text, so as not to cause a difficulty with their own theological position…. which includes the largely evangelical translators of the NIV, the ESV and the NLT. It’s interesting to read a translation which seeks to be a literal translation, which doesn’t come from an evangelical background, such as the NRSV.. and to see the differences which arise as a result! Fascinating too, that the revision of the NIV in 2011 which any NIV Bibles purchased in the last couple of years, or used on line or in mobile apps contain a text which mirrors very closely the NRSV’s literal translation of the passage.

I said two weeks ago that it was time to get our brains working as we move into a New Year…

So, we’re going to read a list of greetings, and then we’re going to grapple with the text a bit… and we’re going to face the reality of what that means… and we’re going to reflect on how that has worked out subsequently in the history of the church.

We’ll read from the NIV as we have it in the pew Bibles, but then we’ll look at the revised and more literal translation, where it has been ‘adapted’ for theological reasons….

READ Romans 16:1-16 p1142


Bit of background to help us understand the context Paul was writing into.

Many of the New Testament books are letters written to ‘the church in’ a given city (e.g. Corinth), or to ‘the churches in’ a region (e.g. Galatia).

The letter to the Romans isn’t written that way.

In his opening greetings (not the concluding ones we’ve just read!) Paul says in ch 1 verse 7 : ‘to all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints’ or ‘to be his holy people’.

Rome was a big place. At the time Paul wrote it would have made Bedford seem small in comparison. It had a population of around 1million people. Like Bedford, it was a multicultural city – as a major world centre it attracted people from across the known world – and with freedom of movement within the Roman world – much as there is today within the European Union – people could pretty much move where they liked, when they liked…. as long as they had the means to do so. Of course that multiculturalism brought problems just as it does today, and so last week we read of all the Jews being expelled from Rome under the rule of Claudius, just as we hear of arguments for and against limits on migration to the UK.

It’s likely therefore, that the church in Rome was not a single entity – that it had many congregations, meeting in many places across the city – with many people giving time to serving the church and extending the kingdom – and Paul writes greetings and commendations to this incredible list of people. He greets or mentions or commends just under 30 people by name – 8 of whom are women, along with a mother and a sister who aren’t named.

So, what’s the significance of this?

We’ve entitled this morning ‘Breadth of Leadership’ – and in the midst of these greetings and commendations we find a huge breadth of leadership.

 Paul, having given a final blessing to God’s people in Rome in ch15:33

‘The God of peace be with you all. Amen’

then goes on to provide some final commendations and personal greetings.

He begins by commending Phoebe – a servant of the church in Cenchreae – except that whilst the Greek word here diakonos means ‘servant’, it is also translated elsewhere within this edition of NIV as deacon or indeed, as minister.

It’s interesting, that if you look at the footnote in the church NIV Bibles, it provides an alternative translation to servant, with the word deaconess…. but why does it say deaconess… the noun is not a feminine noun! Fortunately in the 2011 edition this has been corrected and it says:-

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.

It has 2 footnotes saying Or servant and explaining ‘The word deacon refers here to a Christian designated to serve with the overseers/elders of the church in a variety of ways.’

Phoebe was a recognised leader in the church in Cenchreae, under the authority of the other overseers/elders. But she was a leader – and Paul expected her to be given respect and support as a leader. And so he says, v2

I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you…

She was a servant – as all Christian leaders are called to be – as Jesus modelled himself – but she was nonetheless a leader and Paul expected the Christians in Rome to help her in her ministry when she called for help.

But the understatement in our pew NIV Bibles doesn’t end there for Phoebe…

v2 continues….

give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me

This continues to give the image of a kind hearted servant type… but sells short on what she does!

ESV gets this right, translating it:-

help her in whatever way she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.

2011NIV puts it

for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.

Phoebe was a wealthy woman who had not only served the church faithfully and effectively in practical ways, but who had also released finance to support many people, including Paul in their missional work.

So we have Phoebe, a recognised leader, a deacon, a real servant of the church, who funded many others in their ministry – whose role and function may sadly be missed by many through selective translation work….

Then we come to Priscilla, whom Ian helped us think about last week. Just to pick up two phrases – Paul called them his fellow-workers– not my fellow-worker Aquila, and his wife…

Paul clearly saw and acknowledged Priscilla as an equal fellow-worker along with Aquila – and it’s significant in a similar vein that he says v4:

Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them

He clearly saw them as a team who worked together effectively for the Kingdom of God and the blessing and upbuilding of the church and their ministry was widely recognised across many churches.

Next comes Mary – we don’t know much about her – accept that she worked very hard for the church in Rome. Sometimes we need to make sure we honour those who put in hard work.

I want to do that this morning and honour Jean – Jean has worked hard over years as a faithful servant and witness – it’s as a result of that that some of you are here today! (And I could name others too – perhaps I can encourage you all to thank and honour others that you know have worked hard for the church and for the Kingdom??)

We then come to the next ‘lady’ v7

‘Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

Believe it or not, but in Greek ‘Junias’ is a male name, ‘Junia’ is the female name…. bit like ‘Julian’ – ‘Julia’.

You would not believe the struggles this verse has caused for Bible translators….

Here’s the problem…. in the Greek manuscripts the name is Junia – which is female – no men in recorded history called Junia – there are no manuscripts with the male name Junias, as you have it in the church Bibles, until the 13th century….. long after the letter was originally written…. why was it changed? Well, you can’t have a woman apostle can you??!!……..

And so you find that modern Bible translators into English who have sought to translate this verse and have a theological bias as far as women in leadership is concerned have found ways of ‘adapting’ the translation – so the NIV in the church Bibles, puts the name in the male ‘Junias’ – which doesn’t feature in any manuscripts until the 13th century – in spite of the fact that early church fathers – including those who otherwise were opposed to women’s ministry – had no doubt about the fact that Junia was female…. Chrysostom, who generally expressed reservations about women in leadership wrote this:-

‘O how great is the devotion of this woman that she should be counted worthy of the appellation of apostle.’

Gladly, the 2011 NIV has corrected it’s error, and now has Junia – but it has now added a footnote to the verse…. saying that an alternative translation to ‘They are outstanding among the apostles’ could be ‘they are esteemed by the apostles’.

Interesting that they didn’t put that footnote when they had Junia as male….. as in the church Bibles…

Read any translation commentary and it is apparent that the phrase ‘They are outstanding among the apostles’ is an accurate, literal translation. Sadly ESV, because of its translators theological bias, I would say, does not remain true to its intention to be a literal translation – and puts the phrase in the most understated way imaginable ‘They are well known by the apostles…’

To me, that is really sad. Rather than grapple with the complexities of doctrine found in scripture, they have sought by a liberal translation to avoid the issue….

The 2011NIV expresses the verse well, following other literal translations like the NRSV, in putting it like this:-

‘Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.’

So what does the verse tell us about Junia?

It tells us that Andronicus and Junia were kinsfolk of Paul – he may have been physically related to them, he may have been just referring to their racial affinity – one of the fascinating things with this list of greetings is that it contains male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free – paralleling Galatians 3 which we looked at a couple of weeks ago.

They had been in prison with Paul – implying that they had worked with Paul on apostolic teams. Their ministry was looked up to as outstanding – they were therefore very gifted leaders. And then there is this final statement about them – they were in Christ before I was – they had become Christians, believers in and followers of Jesus before Paul had – so they were around in the very early days of the church.

The word ‘apostle’ is used in a couple of ways in the New Testament.

As well as ‘The Twelve’ it is used in a wider way as those who have a calling to be foundation layers, of those who are called to church planting, establishing churches in new areas – and so in Ephesians 4 amongst the gifts Paul lists of people to equip the church we have apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

Andronicus and Junia were apostles, called by Christ to equip and build up the church.

Women have been called to this sort of apostolic role down through the centuries.

When we were at Bible college in Scotland I remember going to a mission conference in Edinburgh and talking with a lady who had been a pioneer missionary in Africa. She had started new churches in areas where there was previously no witness, seeing folk come to Christ, and then teaching them and building them up in their faith, until local leadership was established – the somewhat bizarre thing was that when she came back to the church she was sent out from in Scotland, she wasn’t allowed to report out loud in a church meeting on her work…. let alone use her gifts for teaching in that context.

In the last couple of weeks, I have learned of how a lady missionary came on her own to the village that Maria, Lilian & Ruth’s mum, grew up in. She helped the women learn basic skills to help them earn a living. She taught people to read, using the Bible as the teaching aid – and she saw folk come to faith, starting meetings in people’s homes, leading ultimately to the planting of a church in their village.

Through the Autumn I have been reading a book entitled ‘Voices from the Welsh Revival’ – inspiring stuff to read – if you want some inspiration in your life, this is one book I’d encourage you to read. Well, I knew of Evan Roberts as a major part of the Welsh Revival of 1904-1905 – I knew that many other leaders were affected by it and took the power of the revival into their own settings…. what I didn’t know of and was surprised to read of in a conservative Evangelical Press publication was the incredible role of women in the Revival. Admittedly, many started as ‘singers’, soloists who would call people in song, or lead the congregations in worship, but their ministry went far further than that, and many were labelled as ‘missioners’.

I’d like to read just a couple of paragraphs of one lady mentioned in the book p76,77

There are fewer first-hand reports of Cardiff meetings, perhaps because Evan Roberts refused to visit it since he had ‘no leading of the Holy Spirit’. The singers and Sidney Evans also stayed away from the city, but one team member, Annie May Rees the elocutionist, created a sensation in the new-style meetings. She had a natural flair for doing unusual things, such as bringing two converted gypsies into the pulpit at Aberdare. She served her apprenticeship in the Rhondda meetings and when Evan Roberts fell ill, she filled up the time with the singing of such hymns as ‘O Happy Day’ and ‘I need thee’. From making just a few remarks to the hymns, she progressed to dramatic invitations to ‘Throw out the Lifeline’ after telling a story. On 2 December at Moriah Chapel, Pentre, with the main team miles away, Annie took her seat alone, in the ‘big pew’ and presently began to sing some of the beautifully touching hymns of the revival. After the congregation had joined her she opened the meeting with prayer, and afterwards spoke alternately in Welsh and English, taking practical charge of the proceedings.

At Christmas she made a triumphant return to Gorseinon and was at once invited to give an address at Bethel Chapel. An observer wrote:

The people were very much impressed by what she said, as she is only a young girl of fifteen summers, and a native of this place… Miss Rees said, ‘My heart is in the work, and I am eagerly looking forward to the time when I shall return to Cardiff to continue the meetings….’ She mentioned the name of the Rev. Charles Davies, the respected pastor of the Tabernacle Baptist Chapel, Cardiff, as one who was giving her great assistance.

Did you spot that? This lass who was preaching, leading services and worship, calling folk to give their lives to Christ in the midst of this revival was 15 years old! So get in there Youth Cell!!

Well, time has gone and we haven’t even mentioned Tryphena (Dainty) & Tryphosa (Delicate) or Persis, or Julia – Tryphena & Tryphosa – names which indicate they were likely to be high class Roman citizens & Persis, a common female slave name – all treated alike by Paul – Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male, female.

So what does this mean for Rutland Road Church in 21C?

– something for us to reflect on next week!




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