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Old 25th April 2010, 08:40 PM
Ron Conte Ron Conte is offline
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 12,628
Default Romans 16 and women's roles

Romans 16 is sometimes used to make distorted claims about the roles of women in the early Church, and then to conclude that the Church today should give women similar roles (such as ordination to the priesthood, or episcopate).

The letter to the Romans was probably written in Latin, since that is the first language of the Romans. The Christians at Rome were not so much Jewish/Hebrew converts, but converts from paganism. Although Roman scholars wrote in Greek as well as in Latin, the common language of the people was Latin.

Evidence that the letter was written in Latin is also found in the text. The letter to the Romans was written with the assistance of Tertius (Rom 16:22), yet he is not mentioned in the opening of the letter, as a co-author of the letter with Paul (as in several of Paul's other letters). So he probably assisted Paul in translating the letter into Latin. As a Jewish scholar, Paul would have been fluent in Aramaic and Hebrew, then Greek, and least of all Latin (especially since the Jews had some animosity toward the Romans for conquering and occupying their nation).

The name Tertius means 'third.' He was probably the third son born to a Roman father. This is typical of the cut-and-dried thinking in Roman culture.

{16:1} Commendo autem vobis Phœben sororem nostram, quĉ est in ministerio Ecclesiĉ, quĉ est in Cenchris:
{16:1} Now I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is in the ministry of the church, which is at Cenchreae,

The Greek text uses the word diakonon instead of the Latin ministerio. The Greek has a similar meaning to the Latin, and neither word implies that she was ordained. It implies a role of service, which might possibly have been as a non-ordained deaconess. To be 'in the ministry of the Church' at a particular city implies a formal role, but ordination is not implied. The early Church did have deaconesses, but they were non-ordained. At at that early time, she might not even have had the title of deaconess.

{16:3} Salutate Priscam, et Aquilam adiutores meos in Christo Iesu;
{16:3} Greet Prisca and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus,

Prisca and Aquila were believed to be a wife (Prisca) and husband (Aquila) who perhaps hosted a church in their home. The earliest Christians had no churches, and so they met for the Mass in the homes of various Christians. This does not imply that Prisca had a role leading the Mass or acting like a priest or Apostle.

Aquila refers to a silver eagle on a pole used as a standard for a legion, or to the standard bearer of the legion. Perhaps he was an only son, one finally born to his father in his later years, and so his father thought that he would be the one to 'carry on the family name' as they say, in other words, to be the standard bearer of the family.

Aquila is a grammatically feminine word, even though it refers to a man. Similarly, agricola (farmer) is gramatically feminine, but is used to refer to male farmers.

{16:7} Salutate Andronicum, et Iuniam cognatos, et concaptivos meos: qui sunt nobiles in Apostolis, qui et ante me fuerunt in Christo.
{16:7} Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and fellow captives, who are noble among the Apostles, and who were in Christ prior to me.

Many commentators assume that Junias is female, because the name is grammatically feminine. This is not necessarily the case, as the above examples show. The word Junias in Latin refers to the month of June. It would be just like a Roman father to name his son after the month in which he was born.

The name Andronicus is Latin also ('pertaining to a passage' -- perhaps a reference to a difficult birth). These two men may have been brothers.

Although it remains possible that Junias is a woman, even if this were the case, the text does not state that these two were Apostles, but rather that they are noble among the Apostles. This can have the connotation of being well-thought of by the Apostles, not necessarily that they were themselves Apostles. And this is true even if both are men. The text does not say that they are noble Apostles; the word Apostles is distanced from the word noble by being in a prepositional phrase. Perhaps they were noble in serving the Apostles.

In any case, there is no indication that women were ordained priests or Bishops, nor that the Apostles included non-ordained laity.

However, we are all called to be little apostles, each in our own way, according to our own gifts and state of life. This is called the apostolate of the laity. The role of men and women described in Romans 16 is more a reflection of lay apostleship, rather than of women being ordained or having the same roles as men.
Ron Conte
Roman Catholic theologian
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