Gender Equality in Second Clement

This article was first published at here.

neither male nor female

I’m reading through The Apostolic Fathers at the moment, a collection of Christian writings which date roughly from the late 1st century to the middle of the second century.  I have previously commented on the subject of “mutual submission” in First Clement; today I’m looking at “gender equality” in Second Clement.  But first, a bit of background information on the letter.

Second Clement is a sermon in the form of a letter.  Dated at around 140-160 AD, it is “the oldest surviving complete Christian sermon outside of the New Testament.”[1]

I was inspired by the content of Second Clement, and found most of the teaching sound and timeless.  However, its use was not widespread in the Early Church.  Eusebius, the fourth century church historian, comments on this and writes, “But it must be observed also that there is said to be a second epistle of Clement.  But we do not know that this is recognized like the former [First Clement], for we do not find that the ancients have made any use of it.” (Church History 3.38.4)[2]  It’s not known why Second Clement became connected with First Clement as the two works are dissimilar in style and content, and were certainly written by different authors.  It is speculated, however, that both letters were originally found together in Corinth.[3]

The anonymous author of Second Clement alludes to numerous verses found in Matthew, Mark and Luke, and quotes many sayings from Jesus found in these gospels (e.g. Mark 2:17; Matt. 6:24; 7:21; 10:32; 16:26; Luke 16:10-12, etc).  The author also seems to draw on material from 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Hebrews and 1 Peter, and he quotes a few verses from the Old Testament.  He also uses texts taken from the apocryphal Gospel according to the Egyptians[4] which does not survive.  It is thought that the following verses from chapter 12 of Second Clement quote and comment on a text taken from this Egyptian gospel.[5]

1Let us wait, therefore, hour by hour for the kingdom of God with love and righteousness, since we do not know the day of God’s appearing.  2For the Lord himself, when he was asked by someone when his kingdom was going to come, said: “When the two shall be one, and the outside like the inside, and the male with the female, neither male nor female.” 3Now “the two are one” when we speak the truth among ourselves and there is one soul in two bodies without deception [or, without hypocrisy]. 4And by “the outside like the inside” he means this: “the inside” signifies the soul, while “the outside” signifies the body.  Therefore just as your body is visible, so also let your soul be evident in good works. 5And by “the male with the female, neither male nor female” he means this: that when a brother sees a sister, he should not think of her as female, nor should she think of him as male. 6When you do these things, he says, the kingdom of God will come.
2 Clement chapter 12, taken from The Apostolic Fathers, The Greek Texts and English Translations (3rd edition) edited and translated by Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic 2007) p.153.

I’m not exactly sure what to make of this particular passage in Second Clement.  The teaching on gender equality is remarkable: “gender neutrality” might be a better description.

The fact that the author quotes verses from a lost apocryphal work here, and not from the Bible, does not help the case of so-called “biblical equality”.  Nor does the fact that the Gospel of Thomas (verse 22), which quotes the same passage from the Egyptian Gospel, was favoured by heterodox Gnostic Christians.  However, unlike the Gospel of Thomas, the Christology of 2 Clement is sound.

Could there be any truth in this passage from 2 Clement?  Is authenticity, transparency and no hint of gender discrimination in the body of Christ needed before the Kingdom comes?

Perhaps chapter 12 of Second Clement is simply evidence of a diversity of thinking on the place of women in the Post-Apostolic church.  A comparison of First and Second Clement shows this diversity.  The author of 1 Clement addressed his letter specifically to men, while the author of 2 Clement addresses both men and women; towards the end of 2 Clement this becomes explicit as both “brothers and sisters” (adelphoi kai adelphai) are implored to heed the same instructions (19:1; 20:2).  1 Clement implies that only men could be leaders in the church.  2 Clement implies that gender discrimination has no place in the body of Christ.

I do not regard Second Clement as Holy Scripture, but it is worth reading for its rich, high Christology and because it shows that in the early church, just as today, there was a variety of views on the place of women in the church.

[Older English translations of 2 Clement can be read online here.]


[1] The Apostolic Fathers, The Greek Texts and English Translations (3rd edition) edited and translated by Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic 2007) p.132.

[2] Perhaps the use of 2 Clement was not widespread because its message of gender equality was unacceptable to the predominantly male church leaders, and inconsistent with the low view of women which was entrenched in broader society.  [Here are some quotes from past Christian leaders which show their low view of women.]

[3] Second Clement survives alongside First Clement (and other writings) in two Greek manuscripts: Codex Alexandrinus (5th century) and Codex Hiersolymitanus (AD 1056), and in a Syriac translation collated with a New Testament manuscript dated AD 1169-1170.

[4] Two ancient works are called by the name The Gospel of the Egyptians.  The one quoted in both Second Clement and the Gospel of Thomas was originally written in Greek, and should not be confused with the one originally written in Syriac.

The Gospel of the Egyptians was “[w]ritten in Greek sometime after AD 150 and accepted as canonical in Egypt, its purpose was to promote doctrines held by the Encratites (such as rejection of marriage).  Only a few fragments of the gospel have been preserved, chiefly by Clement of Alexandria [Stromata III. vi. 45; ix. 66; xiii. 92] . . . These sayings clearly demand sexual asceticism and the elimination of the sexual differences between male and female, a doctrine that is presented in other Gnostic writings from Egypt (see, e.g. Logia [sayings] 37 and 114 of the Gospel of Thomas.)  Bruce M. Metzger, The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987) p.vii.

[5] Chapter 12, and other passages, help to set the date of Second Clement at 140-160 AD, “for the quotation from the Apocryphal Gospel would not have been made after the four gospels of the New Testament obtained exclusive authority-towards the close of the second century” From Vol. VII., p. 515 of the Ante-Nicene Fathers.  Furthermore, the author seems unaware of the complex Gnostic systems that became a huge threat to the church in the latter half of the second century.  The absence of references to these heretical Gnostic systems also helps to date the letter.  Some of Second Clement, however, especially the emphasis on the deity of Jesus (1:1) and the resurrection and judgement (9:1-5) seems to be a response to early Gnostic influences (10:5). Michael Holmes, Apostolic Fathers, p.132.  Kirsopp Lakes states that “The main object of the writer is to inculcate a high Christology, a pure life, and a belief in the resurrection of the flesh.” The Apostolic Fathers, Vol. 1, (London, 1912) pp. 125-127.

© 3rd of December 2013, Margaret Mowczko

Further reading on 2 Clement here and here.

Human (Ha’adam), Man (Ish) and Woman (Ishshah) in Genesis 2

This article was first published at here.

Genesis: Creation of Eve; marble relief on the left pier of the façade of the cathedral; Orvieto, Italy. Copyright Georges Jansoone 2008; source: wikipedia.

“The Creation of Eve”: A marble relief on the left pier of the façade of the cathedral in Orvieto, Italy. © Georges Jansoone 2008 (Source: Wikimedia Commons). 
This image illustrates a traditional interpretation of Genesis 2:21-22.

In Genesis 2 we have the creation account of the very first human being.  In English translations of Genesis 2 this first human is simply called “man”.  This “man” is understood by most people as referring to a male human rather than to a generic human.  However, in the Hebrew text, the first “man” is not specifically referred to as a male human (ish) until after the “operation” mentioned in Genesis 2:21-22.

After the “operation”, the now male human sees the female human and says, “This one is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh!  She will be called ‘woman’ (ishshah) because she was taken out of ‘man’ (ish).”  The first woman (ishshah) and the first man (ish) had both been a part of, or one side of, the first human being (ha’adam).  In Genesis 2:23 the man indicates that they shared the same flesh and bone.

The Hebrew word adam means “human being” – and not necessarily a male human being.  In the early chapters of Genesis it is often used with the definite article = ha’adam (הָאָדָם)  meaning “the human being” (cf Gen. 5:2).  Occasionally it serves as a proper name “Adam”, usually written without the article.[2]

In the screenshots below, I have highlighted every incidence of ha’adam (the human being) in yellow.  (N.BIn verse 5 there is no article but the context indicates that adam is not a proper noun.)[3]

I have also highlighted every incidence of ish (man) with blue, and ishshah (woman) with pink.  By looking at the screenshots below it is evident that it is not until the woman is taken out of the first human that we clearly see an ish, a male person, and not before.

Have a look.  Is it clear?

Genesis 2.4

Genesis 2.15

Genesis 2.22_25

Genesis 2.22

The Hebrew and English texts in the screen shots are used with permission, and taken from   I have added the coloured highlights and I have omitted verses 9-14.


I believe that the Genesis 2 creation account was designed to show the equality, compatibility and unity of the first man and woman. They both had the same source, ha’adam, and shared the same flesh made from the same ground that had been personally enlivened by God’s own breath (Gen. 2:7).  Genesis 2 gives further detail regarding the equality of men and women previously stated in Genesis 1:26-28.

Genesis 1 and 2 shows that both men and women were given authority over the animals, but no man or woman is given authority over another man or women.  There is no hint of any gender hierarchy among humankind before sin entered the world.  There is also little evidence of a so-called “creation order” in either of the creation accounts in Genesis.[4]


[1] The first woman was literally taken out of the first human. The Hebrew word traditionally translated as “rib” typically means “side”.  In the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), the Greek word pleura only means “side”, particularly the side of the body.  In the Greek it says that God “took one of his sides . . . and he built the side into a woman” (Gen. 2:21-22).

[2] The Septuagint transliterates (rather than translates) the Hebrew adam into the proper noun “Adam” in every instance in Genesis 2, whether there is an article or not.  This is misleading.  Interestingly, in the Hebrew of Genesis 5:2, mankind – both men and women – are named “Adam” by God: וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמָם אָדָם  In Genesis 1:27 it says (a little cryptically) that God created the man (הָאָדָם-ha’adam) in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

[3] In verse 28 the article may be hidden by the inseparable preposition bet.  I suspect the English translation of “Adam” in verse 28 to be incorrect and based on the Masoretic pointing that was not part of the “inspired” biblical text.  I am happy to be corrected on this.  Many English translations use the proper name “Adam” in Genesis 2:20.  Here are a few translations that don’t.

[4] Even though we may say that man was created first, the man after the operation was different to the man before the operation.  A chunk of him was now missing.  It had been taken out by God, and had become an integral part of the first woman.  (The first woman was a part, or side, of the first man.)  The complementarian concept of “the created order” does not hold water.

© 5th of December 2013, Margaret Mowczko

This article was first published at here.

Galatians 3:28 – Our Identity in Christ and in the Church

This article was first published at here.

Blessings of Identity

For two thousand years, every morning, many devout Jewish men have said the following prayer, or a similar form of it:

“Blessed are you God of the universe who has not made me a Gentile, who has not made me a slave, who has not made me a woman.”

This prayer is not just indicative of the theological views of the person who is praying, it is also indicative of the sociological views of the person who is praying.  In particular, it expresses the person’s identity within his worldview.  Prayers like this one have been termed “blessings of identity” by modern scholars.[1]

Compare this prayer with what another Jewish man, the Apostle Paul, wrote in Galatians 3:28-29:

“There is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave nor free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”

Paul may well have been familiar with the Jewish “blessing of identity”,[2] and chose to use the same three categories of humanity, in the same order, to highlight that these social distinctions are irrelevant if we are in Christ.  Whatever our gender and whatever our race, we are all sons of God and we are all Abraham’s offspring (Gal. 3:26, 29).  This is our true identity, and this truth should inform our worldview.

Our Identity at Creation and in the New Creation

Our identity in Christ should have a direct influence on our relationships within the society, or community, of believers – the church.  In New Testament churches, gender does not seem to have been an important distinction among believers.  The only reason given for preserving gender distinctions in the church, in some situations, was for the sake of outsiders and for evangelism.[3]  But within the community of believers Paul tells us that we are not to regard each other according to the flesh (2 Cor. 5:16 cf 2 Clement 12).[4]

If we are in Christ we are part of the New Creation and part of a community where old social paradigms and caste systems have no place (2 Cor. 5:17).  If we have been “clothed with Christ” (NIV), or “put on Christ” (KJV), this will affect our identity and status right now, as well as in the future (Gal. 3:27).

Our identity and status as New Creation followers of Jesus is more than just “our theological standing as far as salvation is concerned” as some have suggested.  Our identity must also affect our society within Christian communities.  This is probably one of the reasons Paul mentioned three categories of society in Galatians 3:28: (1) Jews or non-Jews, (2) slaves or non-slaves, (3) male and female.  These categories potentially include all of humanity.

The “male and female” phrase in Galatians 3:28 harks back to the Creation.[5]  In Genesis 1:27 we read that male and female humans were both made in the image and likeness of God.  We are his representatives on earth.  God authorised both women and men to be the co-regents of his created world and have authority over the animals.  But nowhere in Genesis 1 or 2 does it say that God has given some humans authority over other humans.  Moreover, God blessed both women and men (Gen. 1:28).  And in response women, as well as men, could truly bless God for the way he had made them – for their identity.

Sin marred the unity, equality and affinity between men and women, resulting in disunity and a gender hierarchy where women were unilaterally subordinated to men (Gen. 3:16).   Because of Jesus’ redemptive act, however, there is again the real possibility of equality, affinity and harmony between the sexes.  In Galatians 3:28, and similar passages, we are  given “a redemptive vision for community life.” Tim Peck (Source: The Junia Project)

At Creation there was no gender hierarchy, and in the New Creation there is no gender hierarchy as we are all sons of God, led by the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 3:26).

Galatians 3:28 is more than just a wonderful theological statement.  It is also a powerful sociological statement.  The equality and unity of Galatians 3:28 is what the church should aspire to.  This is what I aspire to.  This is my blessing of identity: “Blessed are you God of the universe who has made me a woman and a son of God.”


[1] “Tosefta Berakhot 6:18 teaches in the name of Rabbi Yehuda ben Ilai (mid-2nd c. CE) that every (Jewish) man is obligated to recite three blessings daily. These express gratitude for one’s station in life through the negative statements: thank God that I am not a gentile, a woman, or a slave (or in earlier formulations, a boor). This language echoes Greek prayers preserved first by Plato. Especially because this text also appears as a legal dictum in the Babylonian Talmud, Menahot 43b, these blessings, which modern scholars call the “blessings of identity,” gradually became part of the preliminary prayers to the daily morning service.” (Source)
Note that this prayer borrows elements from the Greek philosopher Plato.  Greek philosophy has adversely influenced both Jewish and Christian thinking.

[2] Even though the prayer was written down in the 2nd century AD (see endnote 1) it is likely that it was passed on orally before this time and was in use in Paul’s day.

[3] Our ethnicity, our level of social freedom, and our gender, etc, doesn’t change when we become Christians, but these things should not be a cause for discrimination within the church.  The apostles do give instructions to slaves to be obedient to their own masters and women to be submissive to their own husbands, but often the reason given for these instructions is to aid evangelism and avoid giving the church a bad name in a society where slaves and women were seen as lesser people than non-slaves and men (e.g. Titus 2:9-10; 1 Tim. 5:14; 1 Peter 3:1; 1 Cor. 11:10). [More on submission in marriage here.  More on 1 Cor. 11:10 here, esp. endnote 14.]

[4] The reduction in the importance of gender distinctions will reach its fulfilment at the resurrection when our transformed, resurrected bodies will be genderless (Mark 12:25; Matt. 22:30 cf Phil. 3:21).

[5] “In the Greek text arsen kai thelu (“male and female”) is more of an interruption than English translations would indicate. These words are the technical terms from Genesis 1:27 “male and female created he them,” and their technical character is clear as they are not the ordinary words for “man” and “woman” but actually “male and female.” The conjunction “and” also interrupts the “neither/nor” series. We therefore have good reason to put “male and female” in quotation marks. Paul shows that the Law has been transcended in Christ at the following points: (1) the boundary line between Jews and Greeks has been abolished, the wall of partition which God himself had risen through the Law. (2) The boundary line between slave and free, which also is well attested in the Law, is overcome. (3) And, finally, the most primary division of God’s creation is overcome, that between male and female – the terminology points directly back to Genesis 1:27 and in the direction of man as the image of God, beyond the division into male and female.” Steve Harmon, A Biblical Primer On Women in Ministry, Part 2. (Source)

© 12th of December 2013, Margaret Mowczko

This article was first published at here.

Martha, Mary and Lazarus of Bethany

This article was first published at here.

“Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus” (John 11:5). 

Martha and Mary of Bethany are well-known figures of the New Testament.  The two sisters seem to have had different temperaments, and their characters are often polarized in the retelling of their story.  These polarized characterisations are caricatures which obscure the real picture of the women, their faith and their situation.  This article looks at some of the information we have on Martha and Mary, and their brother Lazarus.  This information gives us a more accurate picture of these friends of Jesus.

Marital Status

Martha and Mary are mentioned in each of the four gospels in various narratives.[1]  There is no mention of fathers or husbands in any of these accounts.  It was highly unusual for women to be unmarried in biblical times so it is possible that Martha and Mary were young, orphaned women who had not yet married, or older widows who had not remarried.  Another real possibility is that Martha and Mary belonged to an ascetic sect and had chosen singleness and celibacy.

It is believed that a colony of ascetics (also known as Essenes) lived in Bethany.[2]  Literary evidence from one the Dead Sea Scrolls suggests that these ascetics had a hospice in Bethany for the ritually unclean, which included lepers (11QTemple 46:16-47:5).[3]  The ascetics were known for their acts of charity and it is most likely that their hospice also helped and accommodated the poor and destitute.  Was Jesus thinking about this hospice when he said “You will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” (Mat 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8).


Jewish women were usually married by sixteen years of age.  (It was not uncommon for Jewish girls to be legally betrothed before their twelfth birthday and married by their fourteenth.)  Because we do not know about any husbands or children, it is difficult to estimate the ages of Martha and Mary and their brother.

Martha is often, but not always, mentioned first among her siblings, so she was probably the oldest (e.g. John 11:5).  In comparison with his sisters, Lazarus plays a more passive role in the gospel narratives, so he may have been considerably younger.  His young age would have made his death even more lamentable, especially as the family may have already grieved the loss of both parents.[4]

Martha and Mary of Bethany


Martha and Mary appear to have been wealthy women.  Their home was large enough to accommodate Jesus and his entourage.  And Mary owned very expensive perfume. The perfume was worth a year’s wages (John 12:3-8).  Or, had the perfume been a donation from an unknown benefactor for the work of the poor.  Did Mary use perfume to anoint Jesus that was meant to be sold to help the poor? (See Matthew 26:8-9, 11; Mark 14:4-5, 7; John 12:4-5, 8.)

Martha seems to have been regarded as the mistress of the home (Luke 10:38).[5]  While men were typically the leaders of their households in patriarchal times, some women, usually widows, were the leaders of their own homes.  Several wealthy women in the New Testament appear to have been the mistresses of their own homes with no mention of a man as head: Lydia, Nympha, Chloe, and John Mark’s mother.  Other New Testament women are mentioned as being of independent means.  Jesus’ ministry was sponsored by Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and several other women who accompanied Jesus and ministered to him out of their own, personal resources (Luke 8:2-3).  It was uncommon, but not rare, for a woman to be independently wealthy, or a homeowner, in New Testament times.

Temperament and Faith

From the short biblical accounts of Martha and Mary, it seems that Martha was the more practical of the two (Luke 10:40; John 11:39; 12:2) and Mary the more emotional (John 11:32-33; 12:3).  Mary also seems to have been the more popular (John 11:45).   Mary still seems to be the more popular in the church today.

Martha has been unfairly maligned by some because of just one incident (Luke 10:38-42); however Martha made some very astute statements of faith concerning Jesus and eternal life recorded in John chapter 11.

Martha answered, “I know he [her deceased brother Lazarus] will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  John 11:24 (cf Josephus, Wars, 2.8.11 (154)) 

“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.” John 11:27

This second statement is very similar to Peter’s recorded in Matthew 16:15-17:

“But what about you?” he [Jesus] asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”

Jesus states that Peter could not have known that he was the Christ, the Son of God, unless God the Father had revealed it to him.  Likewise, Martha’s faith statements could only have come by divine inspiration.

(From Bible Women with Spiritual Authority here.)

Martha and Mary were both devoted disciples of Jesus.  Sitting at someone’s feet was the usual posture of a disciple who was being taught.  In Luke 10:39 we see Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet.  Perhaps some of the other men and women who travelled with Jesus were also sitting with Mary while Martha was busy preparing a meal.  Being hospitable and serving a meal was an almost sacred duty in the culture of that time.  Martha was doing a very good thing, the expected thing, but Mary had chosen the better option.  Mary had chosen the one thing that was really necessary: to be with Jesus and learn from him (Luke 10:42).  Jesus promises that his intimacy and instruction will not be taken away from her.

Later Mary would choose to do another fine thing; she lovingly anointed Jesus with her expensive perfume in preparation for his death (Mat 26:6-13; Mark 14: 3-9; John 12:1-8).  Did Mary knowingly anoint Jesus as a prophetic act? (cf John 12:7)  Mary was criticised and misunderstood because of her extravagant act of ministry, but Jesus defended her actions and prophesied, “Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Mat 26:13; Mark 14:9). [6]

Martha and Mary would continue to be devoted disciples of Jesus.  Some speculate that the chosen lady and the chosen sister in 2 John are Martha and Mary.  (More on this here.)  We learn nothing, however, about Lazarus’s faith, or his character, but he does become a bit of a celebrity after Jesus raised him from death (John 12:1-2, 9).  Lazarus also became a target of the chief priests’ plot to assassinate him (John 12:10-11).

Jesus at Bethany

Map of Israel showing Bethany and JerusalemThe name Bethany (beth anya) means “Poor House” or “House of Misery”.[7]  The village may have been named after the hospice for the sick and destitute. But Jesus did not experience poverty in Bethany; instead he experienced the warmth, love and hospitality of dear friends.

Jesus spent a lot of time during the last weeks of his earthly ministry in Bethany.  Jesus began his ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday from Bethany (Mark 11:1; Luke 19:29).  And he stayed in Bethany the following week (Mat 21:17; Mark 11:11-12).  It is probable that Jesus spent the last few days before his crucifixion in Martha’s home.  After Jesus death and resurrection, he ascended into heaven from near Bethany (Luke 24:50-51).

Map of Israel in Jesus’ time showing the proximity of Bethany to Jerusalem. Bethany was only two miles from Jerusalem.

Martha and Mary were both woman of great faith, spiritual acuity and devotion.  The church needs both Marthas and Marys who will be pragmatic and exuberant in their devotion to the Lord Jesus, and are always choosing to spend time with Jesus, learning from him.


[1] Here are the passages that mention Martha, Mary and/or Lazarus.  Mary learning and Martha serving: Luke 10:38-42 here;  Lazarus raised from the dead and Martha’s faith statements: John 11:1-45 here;  Mary anointing Jesus:  John 12:1-11 here; cf Matthew 26:6-13 here; Mark 14:3-9 here.  (I believe that the account in Luke 7:36-50 refers to a previous, unrelated anointing by an unknown woman.)

[2] The name “Essenes” has been given to the authors and scribes that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls.  (The name “Essenes” may be derived from the Hebrew or Aramaic word aciya which means “healers”.)   Scholars, however, are now debating if there was a sect called the Essenes and if they wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Josephus provides a lot of information about the ascetic sect he refers to as the Essenes in The Wars of the Jews, Book 2, chapter 8, 2-13 (119-160).  Josephus admired these people and their merciful, harmonious and devout way of living.  The ascetic sect associated with the Dead Sea Scrolls began in around 100BC and vanished after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple.  (John the Baptist was an ascetic.)

[3] The house of Simon the Leper was in Bethany.  Simon the Leper (schimon ha-zanua) may be a mistranslation of his real Hebrew name “Simon the Devout” (schimon ha-zarua).  Lepers were isolated from society; they usually didn’t hold dinner parties (cf Mat 26:6; Mark 14:3).   On the other hand,  it seems there were lepers in Bethany.  Is it possible that a man with leprosy had guests for dinner?  (See endnote 5.)

[4] Martha, Mary and Lazarus may not have been blood relations.  Josephus writes that the Essenes chose other people’s children who were pliable and capable of learning and that they regarded these children as their own (Josephus, Wars 2.8.2 (120)).

[5] In Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels it is clear that the anointing occurred in Simon the Leper’s house (Mark 14:3; Matt 26:6). In John’s gospel, the anointing of Jesus by Mary seems to have occurred in Martha’s house; or Martha may have been helping out at Simon’s home (John 12:2, cf Luke 10:38, 40).  The connection between Simon and Martha, Mary and Lazarus is unclear.  Perhaps Simon was their deceased father and their house was stilled called the house of Simon the Leper, or the house of Simon the Devout. (See endnote 3.)  Perhaps Simon was a wealthy man, afflicted with leprosy, who had bequeathed his home to the community in Bethany.
It is probable that all the gospel references to a house in Bethany refer to the one communal home or establishment – ascetics lived communally – and that Martha was the main housekeeper (cf Josephus, Wars 2.8.4 (125)).  (We hear nothing about Simon the Leper/Devout in the New Testament, unless he is Simon the Pharisee in Luke 7:36-50 which gives the account of a previous anointing from an unnamed, unknown woman.  I think Simon the Leper/Devout and Simon the Pharisee are two different Simons.)

[6] Here is a beautiful and powerful (short) piece on Mary of Bethany by Jenny Rae Armstrong.

[7] Others believe that Bethany may mean “House of dates” or “House of figs”.   Bethany was a natural oasis and known for its trees which produced olives, figs, almonds, and carobs.

Further Reading:

Paths of the Messiah and Sites of the Early Church from Galilee to Jerusalem by Bargil Pixner (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010) 227-330, here.

Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book 2, see chapter 8, paragraphs 2-13 here.

© 15th of May 2013, Margaret Mowczko

Mutual Submission in Clement’s First Letter

This article was first published at here.

I read 1 Clement yesterday.  This letter is one of the earliest, surviving Christian documents that we have, apart from those collated in the New Testament and, possibly, the Didache.  1 Clement is thought to have been written by Clement of Rome who is regarded as the first Apostolic Father.[1]  The letter has traditionally been given the date of circa 95-97 which would make it contemporary with John’s Revelation.

The last line of the letter states: “The letter of the Romans to the Corinthians”.  Clement’s letter from Rome is an “appeal for peace and concord” in the Corinthian church.   Feelings of jealousy in Corinth had resulted in factions (cf 1 Cor. 1:10ff).  It seems that a faction of younger men had deposed some of the church elders.  Clement draws heavily on Old Testament scripture, early Christian writings and traditions, and secular sources to make his appeal.  One of his sources is Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

In this post I want to highlight just two points from 1 Clement.  I want to show how Clement used the word kephalē (head) in his letter – in the context of mutual submission, and I want to show how Clement regarded women.  I briefly compare these points with Paul’s use of kephalē and how Paul regarded women.

I read 1 Clement from The Apostolic Fathers, The Greek Texts and English Translations (3rd edition) edited and translated by Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic 2007) pp44-131.  All quotes are taken from this edition.  1 Clement can be read in English online here.

(1) Kephalē in 1 Clement

Many English-speaking Christians assume that “head”, apart from its literal meaning, has the metaphorical meaning of “leader” or “authority” in the New Testament.  However, in original, untranslated Ancient Greek, including the Greek of the New Testament, kephalē (head) rarely, if ever, has the metaphorical meaning of “leader”.

Kephalē  is used in a number of different contexts in Ancient Greek.  For instance, it can be used as part of a head-body metaphor which signifies unity (cf Eph. 4:15-16; 5:23; Col 1:18a; Trall. 11:2).  In his letter, Clement used the word kephalē (head) in a somewhat similar way; he used it in reference to unity in the body and body ministry (cf 1 Cor. 12:12ff):

Let us take the body as an example.  The head without the feet is nothing, likewise, the feet without the head are nothing.  Even the smallest parts of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body, yet all the members coalesce harmoniously and unite in mutual subjection, so that the whole body may be saved.  So in our case let the whole body be saved in Christ Jesus, and let each of us be mutually subject to our neighbour, in proportion to each one’s spiritual gift.  The strong must not neglect the weak, and the weak must respect the strong.  Let the rich support the poor, and let the poor give thanks to God because he has given him someone through whom his needs may be met. . . . 1 Clement 37:5-38:1-2a.

This passage in 1 Clement is not about leadership or authority, even though the word kephalē (head) is used here.  In fact, if “head” is inferred as meaning “authority” the meaning of this passage will be lost.  Similarly, I believe that the meaning of passages in Paul’s letters are lost when “head” is assumed to mean “authority” (e.g. Eph. 5:23).

Rather than authority, this passage in 1 Clement is about mutual submission, unity and harmony in the Church.  It’s also about helping the disadvantaged, the weak and the poor.  Clement does not go as far as Paul does in his teaching about body ministry; Clement seems to perpetuate social distinctions whereas Paul aimed to lessen the distinctions between the haves and have nots.  Paul’s goal was equality (Gal. 3:26-28; 1 Cor. 12:13; 2 Cor. 8:14 NIV; cf Acts 4:32ff).

The overriding aim of Clement’s letter was to resolve some issues about leadership in the church at Corinth; yet, nowhere in his letter is the word kephalē (head) used in the context of leadership.[2]

Women in 1 Clement 

The passage quoted above is directed to men (andres adelphoi) (1 Clem. 37:1).  In fact, Clement addresses most of his letter directly to the men (andres adelphoi) rather than to all the believers in Corinth, both men and women.  Unlike Jesus and Paul, Clement was not a champion of women; however, Clement recognized and honoured Bible women such as Rahab.  He devotes a chapter to Rahab and concludes with, “You see, dear friends, not only faith but also prophecy is found in this woman” (1 Clem. 12:8).  Clement also speaks well of Christian women, tortured for their faith, whom he refers to as “Danaïds and Dircae” (1 Clem. 6:2).[3]  In 1 Clement 55:3 he writes “Many women, being strengthened by the grace of God, have performed manly deeds [or, courageous deeds – andreia].”  And he goes on to mention Judith (1 Clem. 55:4-5) and Esther (1 Clem. 55:6).[4]  These women all have one thing in common: they were all heroic in the face of danger and were prepared to risk their lives.  (Clement also mentions Lot’s wife and Miriam with less flattering terms.)

On the other hand, Clement’s mundane instructions concerning wives closely match the language of Titus 2:4-5.  Clement seems concerned to keep to the social conventions of that time which meant keeping wives confined to domesticity (1 Clem. 1:3b).  Likewise, he later tells the men to guide their women toward what is good.  These “good” things are purity, gentleness, silence and, perhaps specific to the current situation of jealousy and factionalism, love without favouritism (1 Clem. 21:6b-7).  In accord with the customs of the day, but unlike Paul, Clement holds husbands responsible for the behaviour of their wives.

The scope of Clement’s letter is limited.  His primary concern was for harmony and peace in the Corinthian church and, to that end, he encouraged mutuality and mutual submission among the men.  It is apparent, however, that he did not regard women as the equal of men, or as colleagues in Christian ministry.  This is in contrast to Paul.  The letters that Paul wrote to churches were not addressed to the men only.  Women were included in instructions for mutuality and mutual submission (e.g. Eph. 5:21).  Moreover, many of Paul’s ministry colleagues were women.  Paul mentions many women by name in his letters and he sometimes addresses them personally or sends greetings to them.

1 Clement is an interesting read, albeit long-winded at times, as it gives us a glimpse into church life at the end of the first century, but, because of its male bias, I am glad that it was not included in the New Testament.  On the other hand I am very glad that Paul’s letters – with his encouragement of mutual submission among all believers and support of women ministers – were considered inspired and authoritative, and were included, even if a few verses in them are genuinely difficult to exegete.


[1] The letter is anonymous and does not bear Clement’s name.  Tradition, however, ascribes it to Clement who was bishop of Rome in 92-99AD.

[2] Kephalē (head) is used in three verses of 1 Clement: “they shook their heads” 1 Clem. 16:16; “The head without the feet is nothing, likewise, the feet without the head are nothing” 1 Clem. 37:5; “let not the oil of sinners anoint my head” 1 Clem. 56:5.  In 16:16 and 56:5 “head” is used literally, in 37:5 it is used metaphorically.

[3] Christine Trevett briefly explains Clement’s reference to “Danaïds and Dircae”:

The humiliation of arena victims was the norm and the crowd was entertained by having victims enact, pantomime-like, scenes from mythology. . . . In the case of the Danaïds, then, helpless Christian women may have been pursued by “suitors” or else forced to re-enact the punishment of Tartarus [filling bottomless barrels with water] . . . As for being like a Dirce, in the mythology, Dirce was wife to Lycus, king of Thebes, who had a slave girl called Antiope, a Theban princess.  Dirce treated her cruelly, but Antiope was avenged by the son she had had to abandon.  Dirce’s fate was to be tied to the horns of a bull and dragged to death as punishment for her cruelty.  Christian victims did suffer a “dragging” in the arena, and this would be the point of [Clement’s] analogy. Christine Trevett, “Christian Women and the Time of the Apostolic Fathers (AD c.80-160): Corinth, Rome and Asia Minor” (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2006) pp52-54.

[4] The Greek word andreia is used in Proverbs 12:4 and 31:10 of the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) of valiant women.

A Christian Dirce_Siemiradzki

Image credits:
Icon of Clement, Bishop of Rome (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
A Christian Dirce, by 19th century Polish painter Henryk Siemiradzki (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

© 6th of October 2013, Margaret Mowczko

Likewise women . . . Likewise husbands . . .

This article was first published at here.

 Praying Woman, Catacomb of Calixtus, Rome, early C4th Frescoe (wikimedia commons)

Early 4th century fresco of a praying woman,
Catacomb of Calixtus in Rome (Wikimedia Commons)

Many discussions and debates about women’s roles in the church, and in the home, centre on defining key Greek words such as kephalē (head), authenteō (dominate)and hupotassō (submit).  I’ve spent many hours looking at the meaning and implication of these words myself.  It is essential, however, that we pay attention to every word in the text – and not just keywords – if we are to gain a better understanding of what Christian women did in the New Testament church, and if we are to understand what the apostles taught about submission in Christian marriage.

In this article I look at the Greek adverbs hōsautōs and homoiōs in three verses of the New Testament: 1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Timothy 3:11 and 1 Peter 3:7.  Both these ordinary Greek words can be translated simply as “likewise”.[1]  By highlighting “likewise” in these three verses and, importantly, in the surrounding passages, these verses become clearer in meaning.

Women prayed aloud in church meetings in Corinth and Ephesus

In 1 Corinthians 11:5 Paul plainly acknowledges that women prayed and prophesied in church meetings in Corinth.  Many Christians have ignored this verse, however, and maintain that Paul wanted women to be completely silent in meetings.  For centuries women have been excluded from being involved in any kind of verbal ministry in church services; this is due mainly to a misinterpretation of a couple of other verses in the same letter from Paul (1 Cor. 14:34-35).  In some modern churches, women are still silenced and prohibited from praying aloud.

1 Timothy 2:9 is another verse which indicates that women prayed aloud in church meetings.  This verse, however, is less clear than 1 Cor. 11:5 in most English translations. Kevin Giles, commenting on 1 Timothy 2:8-9, writes:

When men pray, they should do so in the absence of contention or anger; when women pray they should dress modestly.  The reference to women praying is often missed by male commentators but it should be noted.  In v.9 the words addressed to women lack a verb which must be supplied from v.8.  In v.8 there are two verbs ‘to desire’ and ‘to pray’, which the adverb at the beginning of verse 9, hōsautōs (= in like manner) shows are both carried over (so Chrysostom, Calvin, Spicq, Barrett, Debilius and Conzelmann).[2] (His italics.)

So, a translation of 1 Timothy 2:8-10 that more fully conveys the intended meaning may be:

I want the men to pray in every place, raising holy hands without anger and arguments, and likewise I want the woman to pray in respectable clothing with propriety and modesty, not to adorn themselves with fancy hair-dos, gold or pearls or expensive clothes but with good works, as is proper for women who profess to be godly.

Women were involved in all kinds of verbal ministries in the churches of the New Testament.  They prayed and they prophesied (Acts 21:9). They taught and admonished (Acts 18:26 cf Col 3:16).  Some independently wealthy women, such as Lydia and Nympha, were even the hosts and leaders of churches that met in their homes.  It is unlikely that these women were silent in their own homes and did not participate in church meetings.  Some women were official ministers in the church.

[This section adapted from “Paul’s Instructions for ‘Modest’ Dress” here.]

Women were deacons in the church at Ephesus

There has been a long running debate in the church as to whether the women mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:11 were official deacons or the wives of deacons.  Up until the 4th century there was no separate feminine form of the word for deacon; a male or female deacon was called diakonos in Greek (transliterated into English as “deacon”.)   It could well be that the female deacons in the Ephesian church were simply called “women” in verse 11 to distinguish them from the male deacons.

There are other indications in the text which suggest that these women were female deacons and not deacon’s wives.  For instance, there is no mention of the wives of overseers (or bishops).[3] It doesn’t make sense that Paul would regard the moral requirements of deacon’s wives to be worthy of mention, but not those of overseer’s wives.  Also, if deacon’s wives were intended, we would expect a definite article or a genitive pronoun in the Greek of verse 11 (which could be translated as “the wives” or “their wives” respectively.)  However, it is the use of the word “likewise” (hōsautōs) that indicates that a distinct but similar group is being addressed in verse 11.[4]

“Likewise” (hōsautōs) is found at the beginning of 1 Timothy 3:8 and 1 Timothy 3:11.  Lesly Massey writes that “likewise” is “customarily used to introduce the second and third entities in a series.”  He suggests that the use of hōsautōs “seems to place the three groups [overseers, male deacons, female deacons] in categories of a similar nature.”[5]  That is, the people belonging to these three groups are involved in somewhat similar ministries and require similar moral qualifications.

Taking the word “likewise” into account we can see that verses 8-10 refers to the male deacons, verse 11 specifically to the female deacons, and verses 12-13 to both the male and female deacons.

John Chrysostom weighed in on the debate about whether the women in 1 Timothy 3:11 were deacons or not.  In his Homily 11 on 1 Timothy he wrote:  “Some have thought that this is said of women generally, but it is not so, for why should he introduce anything about women to interfere with his subject? He is speaking of those who hold the rank of deaconesses.”[6]  In response to 1 Timothy 3:12 (including the idiomatic phrase “a one woman man”) he added “This must be understood therefore to relate to deaconesses.  For that order is necessary and useful and honourable in the Church . . .”[7]

There are indications elsewhere in the writings of the New Testament and Apostolic Fathers that women were deacons in the church (e.g. Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2).  These women were welfare workers, and they were patrons and envoys of apostles and churches.  They were prominent, respected, and held influential, official leadership positions in the church.[8]

[This section adapted from an upcoming paper on Deacons, Male and Female, in the Apostolic and Post-apostolic Church.]

Husbands should be submissive to their wives

Many Christians believe that submission in marriage is the duty only of wives.  These Christians often make a point of saying that the Scriptures never state that husbands are to be submissive to their wives.  In his instructions to Christian men, however, the apostle Peter comes very close.

In his first letter, Peter uses the Greek word homoiōs – which means “likewise” or “in the same way” – three times: in 1 Peter 3:1, 3:7; 5:5.  Each occurrence of this word is in the context of submission.

Firstly, Peter tells all his readers to submit to every secular authority (2:13).
Then he addresses slaves and tells them to be submissive to their masters (2:18).
Then he says, “Wives, likewise be submissive to your own husbands” (3:1).
Then he says, “Husbands, likewise live together with your wives . . .” (3:7).
In 1 Peter 5:5, Peter brings up the subject of submission again and says, “Likewise, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders.” (My use of underlines.)

There is no main verb in the Greek of 1 Peter 3:7 – “live together” (sunoikountes) is a participle.  The NIV has added the verb “be considerate” in 1 Peter 3:7a: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives”.  But in the Greek, the words “be considerate” are not there; the Greek simply says “likewise live together with your wives”.

Peter had not been talking about being considerate in the preceding verses; his theme was submission.  By using the adverb “likewise” (homoiōs), Peter links verse 7 with the other verses about submission.  It is not uncommon for Greek sentences to borrow the meaning of a main verb from a previous sentence without restating the verb (e.g. Eph. 5:21-22).  However, Peter may have intentionally left out the word for “be submissive” to slightly soften the impact and avoid offending the sense of male honour which was part of the culture of Greco-Roman society.[9]  Nevertheless, the meaning remains.

Peter may have been cautious about not offending men and their honour, but he also tells them to give honour (timē)  to their wives as they are joint heirs of the gracious gift of life.

Peter then goes on to say, “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble . . .” (1 Pet.3:8).  These are the qualities we all should be striving for, along with mutual submission.  Mutual submission, rather than one-sided submission, is the ideal in Christian marriage and in the church (Eph. 5:21).

[This section adapted from “Submission and Respect in 1 Peter 3:7-8” here.]


If we are to truly understand what the biblical writers meant and intended we need to pay attention to every word in the text, and not just the keywords.  By ignoring even ordinary words such as “likewise” we can miss or distort the original meaning.  Furthermore, we must never isolate a verse from the surrounding passage.  The meanings of  1 Timothy 2:9, 1 Timothy 3:11 and 1 Peter 3:7 are obscured if we ignore their context.  It seems that the meanings of these verses have in fact been obscured in the past to the detriment of the church, especially her women, and to the detriment of marriage, especially the wives.

The New Testament shows that women may be involved in church ministry – in official ministries and speaking ministries; and wives can expect their Christian husbands to be mutually submissive and offer mutual honour to them.


[1] BDAG gives the meaning of hōsautōs as “a marker of similarity that approximates identity, (in) the same (way), similarly, likewise”; and the meaning of homoiōs as “to be similar in some respect, likewise, so, similarly, in the same way”.  Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, revised and edited by F.W Danker (University of Chicago Press, 2000) p1106 & 707.

[2] “Response” in The Bible and Women’s Ministry: An Australian Dialogue, Alan Nichols (Ed.) (Canberra: Acorn Press, 1990) p.72.

[3] The lists of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1ff assumes that the overseers in Ephesus are male, and married, and have children, and have their own reputable households to manage, but nowhere in the New Testament does it state that the leadership of churches is restricted to men only.   More about Paul’s qualification for church leaders here.

[4] Kevin Giles, Patterns of Ministry Among the First Christians (Sydney: Collins Dove Publishers, 1989) p61.

[5] Lesly F. Massey, Women and the New Testament: An Analysis of Scripture in the Light of New Testament Era Culture (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 1989) p61.

[6] Chrysostom (347–407) was writing at a time when there was a separate word for female deacons: deaconesses.

[7] John Chrysostom Homily 11 on First Timothy. Translated by Philip Schaff. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 13. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1889.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.

[8] It is important that we do not project modern customs and roles of deacons back onto the first century church; otherwise we may obscure the actual roles of these early church deacons.

[9] Jesus, however, willingly relinquished his honour for our sake (e.g. Phil. 2:7-8 cf Eph. 5:25).

© 14th of November 2013, Margaret Mowczko

Philip’s Prophesying Daughters

This article was first published at here.

Philip and his Daughters in Acts

Philip was a prominent minister in the New Testament church and is mentioned several times in the book of Acts.  He is not the apostle Philip but was one of the seven Greek-speaking Jewish men (including Stephen) who were chosen to minister to the Greek-speaking Jewish widows in the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:1-6; 21:8).[1]

Philip's ministryAfter Stephen was stoned to death, and the subsequent persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-2), Philip went and ministered in Samaria.  This is recorded in Acts 8:5-7.  Philip then went on the road to Gaza where he shared the gospel with an Ethiopian eunuch, the treasurer for Queen Candace, and baptised him in water (Acts 8:26-39).

Philip is also mentioned in Acts 21:8 where he is identified as one of the “seven” and as an “evangelist”.  Being an evangelist is one of the leadership ministries on the Ephesians 4:11 list.  In fact, Philip is the only person identified as an “evangelist” in the New Testament (cf 2 Tim. 4:5).  Another leadership ministry on the Ephesians 4:11 list is that of “prophets”.

Prophets played an important role in the early church.  Being gifted by the Holy Spirit, they provided guidance, instruction, strengthening, encouragement and comfort (Acts 13:3-4; 16:6; 1 Cor. 14:3, 31, etc).  Paul considered prophecy to be the most desirable of the spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 14:1); and he listed prophets before teachers in his lists of ministry gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11.

When Paul and his team came to Caesarea during the third missionary journey, they stayed with Philip who was living there with his four daughters.  Luke describes these women simply as “four virgin daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:9).  These daughters may have chosen to remain unmarried in order to be “concerned about the things of the Lord” and dedicate themselves for ministry (1 Cor. 7:8, 34).[2]

Elsewhere in the book of Acts, Luke provides most of the names of the many women he mentions.  (Even the servant Rhoda is named in Acts 12:13-15.)  It seems however, that Philip’s daughters were well known to the whole church simply as “Philip’s Daughters”.  The Greek Menaon (an annual calendar which preserves the memory of martyrs and saints) claims that two of the daughters were called Hermione and Eutychis.  It states that these two daughters went to live in Asia Minor after the death of the Apostle John who lived his last years in Ephesus.  Eutychis is said to be buried in Ephesus; Hermione may have been martyred.[3]  Other sources, however, state that Philip and his daughters were all buried in Caesarea (cf Eusebius 3.31.3-5).[4]

Philip’s Daughters in Eusebius

Philip’s daughters are mentioned by other Christian writers.  One of these is Eusebius (b.263 AD).  In his history of the church (3.37.1)[5], Eusebius speaks about a man called Quadratus[6], and others like him, who took over from the Apostles’ ministry.  What is interesting in Eusebius’s description of Quadratus, is that he and his prophetic gift are compared to Philip’s four daughters and their prophetic gift.  It seems that Eusebius regarded Philip’s daughters and their ministry as the benchmark for prophetic ministry in the early church.  He also implies that Philip’s daughters, like Quadratus, took over from the Apostle’s ministry (3.31.1).[7]

Eusebius quoted Papias, a church leader alive at the time of Philip’s daughters, who said that people travelled great distances to visit these female prophets and listen to their accounts of the early church.[8]  One of the accounts they may have related was that one of the daughters had died and come back to life (Eusebius 3.39.9).

Writing in 1320, a thousand years after Eusebius, Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopoulos wrote a history of the church which borrows from Eusebius and others.  Nicephorus says this about Philip’s daughters:

“And until the times of Trajan these [successors of the Apostles] continued the priesthood, while the beloved disciple still was present in [this] life. . . . After them Quadratus became eminent in the prophetic gift, being distinguished together with the daughters of Philip.  And there were many more than they who manifested the apostolic gifts, who obtained the succession after the apostles. [This] history, as far as it is possible for me, hands down one after another similar things concerning Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, and Papias. For now it sets forth as much as [possible] the earliest demonstration of apostolic teaching.”
Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopoulos, Church History 3.2.40-55 (Source)

The histories of Eusebius and Nicephorus associate the daughters of Philip with apostolic gifts and teaching, and foundational ministry. (See endnote 5 for Eusebius’s account.) Like the prophets Judas and Silas, Philip’s four daughters may well have said much to encourage and strengthen the believers in the early church; see Acts 15:32.

Philip’s Daughters as Prophets

Some argue that Luke does not explicitly call Philip’s daughters “prophets” or “prophetesses” in the Greek text of Acts 21:9 (cf. Agabus who is clearly called a “prophet” in the next verse, Acts 21:10).  However, this does not mean that the women were not prophets.  Eusebius (5.17.3), quoting an earlier historian Miltiades, criticises the inappropriate ecstatic behaviour from Montanist prophets and he compares this behaviour with the respectable conduct of Philip’s four daughters and other male and female prophets: “They cannot show that one of the old or one of the new prophets was thus carried away in spirit. Neither can they boast of Agabus [Acts 11:27-28; 21:10], or Judas, or Silas [Acts 15:22, 27, 32] or the daughters of Philip, or Ammia [a prophetess] in Philadelphia, or Quadratus, or any others not belonging to them.”  From this quote it appears that Philip’s daughters were regarded as prophets.  Certainly, the ability to prophesy is what characterised these four women.  (Compare how different English versions translate Acts 21:9 here.)

Several female prophets are mentioned in the Bible.[9]  Miriam and Deborah were recognised and respected as both prophets and leaders (Exo. 15:20 cf Mic. 6:4; Judg. 4:4).  Huldah the prophetess helped to bring about a spiritual revival in Judah (2 Kings 22:13-14; 2 Chron. 34:21-22).  Anna the prophetess ministered in the Temple and spoke to everyone –  men and women – who were “looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36-38).  And Isaiah’s wife was a prophetess (Isa. 8:3).  With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, more women, as well as men, prophesied (Acts 2:17-18).  It was not unusual for women to prophesy and be prophets in the New Testament Church (cf 1 Cor. 11:5).

There is no doubt that Philip’s daughters were highly esteemed – Eusebius refers to them as “great lights” or “mighty luminaries” (3.31.3).  The daughters held a unique place in the early church.   They seemed to exercise their ministry gift freely and powerfully, and they were in demand.  We should not underestimate their leadership and influence.  Perhaps having a famous father helped to give them and their ministry more credibility.  I wonder how many women, gifted like Philip’s daughters, have since been silenced by the church?


[1] Philip is mentioned second to Stephen in the list of seven men.  These seven men were “full of the Spirit and wisdom” (Acts 6:3), and have been traditionally referred to as the first deacons.  The story of Stephen’s martyrdom is recorded in Acts chapter 7.

[2] Consecrated “virgins” became an official order in the church in the 2nd century.

[3] An unverifiable account of Hermione’s martyrdom in 117 AD is here.  

[4] William Cave, Lives of the Most Eminent Fathers of the Church that Flourished in the First Four Centuries, Volume 1 (London, 1840) p89.

[5] “Among those that were celebrated at that time was Quadratus, who, reports say, was renowned along with the daughters of Philip for his prophetical gifts. And there were many others besides these who were known in those days, and who occupied the first place among the successors of the apostles. And they also, being illustrious disciples of such great men, built up the foundations of the churches which had been laid by the apostles in every place, and preached the Gospel more and more widely and scattered the saving seeds of the kingdom of heaven far and near throughout the whole world.” Eusebius 3.37.1
Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1890.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <;.

[6] More about Quadratus is recorded by Eusebius in his church history in 4.3.1-2.

[7] At times Eusebius gives accounts that confuse Philip the Apostle with Philip the Evangelist (e.g. 3.31.2-5).  It appears that both had prominent daughters, which further confuses the stories.  However, at least some of the Apostle’s daughters were married.  Clement of Alexandria (Stromata 3.16.6 (52) writes that Philip the Apostle gave his daughters in marriage.
Polycrates gives an account of the daughters, recorded by Eusebius (5.24.2), which seems to confuse the Apostle with the Evangelist.  In this account, three (surviving?) daughters of Philip are associated with the apostles Philip and John, the bishops and martyrs Polycarp of Smyrna, Thraseas of Eumenia, and Sagris of Laodicea, as well as Papirius (of Smyrna) and Melito (of Sardis).

[8] F.F. Bruce mentions this in his book, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1951) p387.  But I cannot locate this reference in Eusebius.

[9] “The inspired songs, prayers, praises and teachings of Miriam (Exo. 15:20-21), Deborah (Judg. 5:1ff), Hannah (1 Sam. 2:1ff), Abigail (1 Sam. 25:28-31), King Lemuel’s Mother (Prov. 31:1-9), Mary (Luke 1:46ff) and Elizabeth (Luke 1:41ff) are considered prophetic and are included in Scripture.  They have been recorded in the Bible and thus have the authority of Scripture.  Some people consider Scripture as having the highest level of prophecy.”  Quoted from here.

Image: Map showing places where Philip ministered, © Tyndale House Publishers, source: Visual Bible Alive.

© 24th of November 2013, Margaret Mowczko