Priscilla and Phoebe Show Us About Paul

David Fees is the founder of Christ Fellowship Ministries, a teaching ministry to the body of Christ.  Part of this ministry consists of building up the body of Christ in small towns and churches in the area south of the Midland/Odessa area in far west Texas.  He is the editor of The Torch and the Trumpet.  He and his wife Anne live in Plano, Texas with their daughter Sara.

by David Fees


Acts 18:24-26 And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus. [25] This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John. [26] And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.

From Acts 18:1-3 we know Paul came to Corinth and stayed with and worked with a Jewish husband/wife named Aquila and Priscilla making tents.  We can assume that by staying in their home and working with them, they would have not only understood Paul's doctrine, but more importantly, would have caught the essence of his heart.  It is safe to say that his being there for that season in their lives would have impacted them greatly.  Also, it is probably safe to say that they saw him reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath, since we are told that Aquila and Priscilla later heard Apollos in the synagogue.  In fact, as was the custom of many Jewish converts, the practice of attending worship on the Sabbath did not change when they became believers.  It just became enhanced.  Safe to say, Paul's life and ministry would have greatly touched Aquila and Priscilla in the home, at work, and at the synagogue.

When Aquila and Priscilla heard Apollos expound the Scriptures, they realized that he was a man with the right heart, but he needed further explanation of the Gospel.  They took him aside and then the unthinkable happened.  The unmentionable happened.  The undenominational happened.  The excommunicable offense happened.  Priscilla, along with her husband, taught a man.
Now, it would seem that if Paul really believed and taught that a woman should not teach a man, does not it make good sense that Priscilla, having him around him both day and night for one year and six months (Acts 18:1 1), would have known that it was not the perfect plan of God to have done such a "hideous" deed?  Would not she have backed off and either verbally or quietly made it known to her husband that to explain the Gospel to a man was her husband's job alone? "Aquila, go talk to him man to man.”  You know that is Paul's way.  That's the perfect way.  I'll go home and throw something in the microwave."

No, the opposite is true.  Priscilla caught the true essence of Paul, which was the true spirit of God.  In Christ, there is no male or female.  The cross brings equality to all.  She was accustomed to ministering and working alongside her husband, and they both brought a life-changing gospel to him.

Later, Paul referred to them in the last chapters of Romans and I Corinthians.  In Romans, he puts Priscilla first; in I Corinthians, Aquila.  They evidently had an equal ability to teach, a model of husband and wife ministry.  Never do we hear him saying something like, "Now church, beware  Priscilla likes to teach men.  And you know I don't condone that." No, he gave her honor and recognized the validity of her ministry, even stating that all the churches of the Gentiles gave thanks for her (Rom. 16:4).  He gave them equal footing with himself, calling them fellow laborers.  He also stated they had a church in their home denoting the probability of co-headship to the group of believers in their house.

A Fresh Look at Phoebe

Romans 16:1-2 I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: [2] That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.

The word servant is the word diakonos, from which we get our word deacon.  Strong's Concordance states that the general understanding of the meaning of this word was a Christian pastor or teacher.  It can mean minister, servant, or deacon.  Paul used it or a derivative of the word thirty-four times.  Six times it clearly refers to the office of a deacon.  Twenty-seven times it is translated minister.  Only once, when Paul uses the word, is it translated servant--in describing Phoebe. It is found eighteen times in the Gospels.  Fourteen of those times it is translated minister.  Most of these are clearly what we would consider ministry in the acts and teaching of Jesus.  Four times, when the context is clearly what we would term a hired-servant type, it is actually translated servant. My point is very clear.  When the male translators dealt with Phoebe, they had a choice.  Do we make Phoebe a servant, thus in line with our views where women should be in church?  We surely cannot make her a deacon.  That's too much authority.  And we surely cannot make her a minister.  That would leave too much room.  Why, she might have been an elder, a prophetess, a pastor, or an apostle.  No way! Make her a servant!

Now, we all should be servants.  But when Paul wanted to denote servanthood as a holy characteristic of Christian life, he usually used the word doulos, the Greek word for bondslave.  He understood that servanthood meant death to self and sacrifice for others.  But when describing the function of another, he did not use this word.  But the translators did.  That's the fifteenth century translators hired by King James--not the first century apostle chosen by God. Now, the translators did a marvelous job on 99% of the Scriptures.  But on some male-female issues, their choice of words was colored by their gender; maybe not intentionally, but certainly in effect. For instance, in Ephesians 6:21, Tychicus is referred to by Paul as a beloved brother and faithful minister.  This is the same word, different gender, different translation of the word.

Look at Colossians 1:7.  Epaphras, our dear sundoulous (fellow servant), is a faithful diakonos (translated minister) of Christ.  Why not Phoebe?  Then Paul refers to himself as a diakonos in Col. 1:23, 1:25, and Eph. 3:7 and follows in Eph. 3:8 that because he was made a diakonos, he can preach!

Ephes. 3:7-8 Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. [8] Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;

Now, I know there are some who would quote I Timothy 3:12:

Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

This same principle is applied to bishops/elders.  My response is that Paul was most concerned with the polygamy of that time.  If we take this Scripture from a highly restricted sense, then we must say that Paul could not have held office in a church, because he was not the husband of one wife -- he had no wife, and by the same rule of interpretation would be disqualified from office.

Sound doctrine, as I have stated before, must come from an overview of all the scriptures on a subject; then the seemingly hard to understand into the context of the whole, not the other way around.  What we have done with teaching on women in ministry is the other way around.  We have ignored the practice of women being used in ministry and concentrated on a few Scriptures that may have missed out on the translation boat when the translators took their voyage. It is true that the word diakonos is primarily used to describe a person who would minister in what we would term the ministry of helps.  And Phoebe may have ministered to the church in this fashion.  But the word has a fuller meaning, including the one mentioned above in which Paul received grace to preach from his grace to minister (diakonos). Look at some other Scriptures where diakonos or a derivative of that word is translated ministry:

  • The ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5)
  • The ministry of the spirit (2 Cor. 3:7)
  • The ministry of righteousness (2 Cor. 3:7)
  • Addicted to the ministry of the saints (1 Cor. 16:15)
  • Able ministers of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6)
  • Church authorities as ministers (Rom. 13:4)

Paul is a minister, Tychicus is a minister, Epaphras is a minister, and Timothy is a minister.  Why not Phoebe?  Only one reason: She was a woman.  Who made her less?  Not God.  Not Jesus.  Not Paul.  Only man and his pride that has perpetuated womenless ministry can make her less.

 The first Adam was male and female.  Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created (Gen. 5:2).  God then took the female out of him, placed those characteristics into Eve and told them to multiply and subdue.  God put sleep into Adam and took his bride out of his side in order that the plans and purposes of God might come to pass.  Jesus is the last Adam.  Through the cross, the church was taken out of His side in death.  In Him now through the cross, we are placed back into Him so that together male and female, in Him, we can accomplish that in which the first Adam failed.Together, united in the last Adam, we have the same commission--multiply and subdue.  We subdue through the power of love and the Gospel of redemption.  We rule and reign in His name.  We are called to take ground--to tame the "wild" of the earth.  Not in the frailty of the first Adam but in the power of the last--the risen, resurrected Lord who beckons to women and men, "Come." The word Phoebe means bright.  It comes from the Greek root word, phos, from which we get phosphorus, the ingredient in matches.  Perhaps through the ages, even though men have tried to dim her light and that of other women, God never has.  Paul never did.  Now, it is time for the Phoebes of the world to shine.  Let us allow them to come forth even as the Timothy’s and the Paul’s.

Preach, sister Phoebe with all your being.  Teach, sister Phoebe with all diligence.  Evangelize, bless, and minister to the church and to the world.  Let your light shine so all can see the grace of the Lord.  We speak to the shackles of religion that have reduced the standing of women in the name of Scripture:

1.      To the powers of darkness that have placed cultural bondage over God's creation. 

2.        To the tyranny of prideful man.  Chains, be broken.  Prison doors, open. 

In the name of the Lord let the wonderful, God-given, unstained, untainted, blood-bought truth set you free!