“Had the New Testament Christians used titles that were in practice by later Christians, Priscilla would have been recognized as the Bishop of Rome.” (paraphrased)
-Dr. David M. Scholer
A woman bishop?
Not just any bishop, but the Bishop of Rome.
The significance of Rome is that it became the headquarter of Christianity, after Jerusalem, when the church’s membership and overseers became increasingly Gentile due to the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Today, Rome is still the religious center for the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) where the Pope resides and from where the Pope carries out his oversight of the RCC throughout the world as the primary overseer. The Bishop of Rome is a title given to the Pope as the primary overseer of the RCC.
Dr. David M. Scholer, former professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary who passed away in the year 2008, spoke the paraphrased quote above during his class at Fuller Seminary titled, “Women, the Bible and the Church.” Dr. Scholer wrote an essay which summarizes the content of his course. The essay may be downloaded from the Fuller Seminary website, “Women in Ministry: A Biblical Basis for Equal Partnership“.
Priscilla: Paul’s Co-Worker
New Testament Christians rarely used the term “leader” to refer to Christian leaders as we know today. The term “leader” in the New Testament was primarily used for teachers, priests, and other religious overseers of Judaism and for the Gentile government and military officials of the non-Christian Roman Empire. The New Testament Christians distinguished themselves by not typically using the term “leader”, instead they used the term “servant” on themselves. They did not use the term “servant leader”. That term would have been incongruous and incompatible—an oxymoron—since the Christians were using the term “servant” to distinguish and contrast their structure of relating to one another in mutuality based on calling, giftedness, and graces as “servants” of God and/or Christ from the authoritarian, hierarchical, and, to some extent, apartheid “leader”-ship and “ruler”-ship style of Judaism and the Roman Empire. See Mark 10: 35-45 for Jesus’ contrast between the authoritarian leadership style, or “ruler”-ship, of the Gentiles to the “servant”-hood of his followers. This scripture also contains a correlation between “ruler”-ship and positions of power and honor.
In addition to the term “servant”, Paul used the term “co-worker” to relate to fellow Christian “servant”s (or leaders as we would refer to them today). The term has a connotation of mutuality and partnership without hierarchy. Like the term “servant”, “worker” reflects the work, or service, offered to the lordship of God and/or Christ.
The term “co-worker” is used instead of titles. New Testament Christians did not use titles, for the exception of once or twice, because titles were used in the hierarchical systems of Judaism and Roman Empire to recognize, stratify, and elevate respective individuals in their positions of authority, rulership, power, and honor. Positions with titles were not necessarily sought or acquired for the purpose of servant-hood, but for the purpose of acquiring power and honor…. and to be served. Jesus rebuked such purposes and prohibited his “servant”s from using titles in order to avoid the distraction of power and honor and avoid usurping authority and honor that belong to God, see Matthew 23: 1-12, Matthew 20: 20-28, Mark 10: 35-45. Jesus and the New Testament Christians observed and noted how the leaders of both Judaism and Roman Empire usurped God’s authority and honor in order to elevate themselves. Jesus gave his disciples instructions on how to avoid doing the same and the practical instruction Jesus gave was to avoid using titles.
Paul used the term “co-worker” several times in his letters to refer to prominent “servants” and church founders who helped shape and establish the New Testament church such as Priscilla, Aquila, Timothy, Paul, Apollos, Titus, Euodia, Syntyche, and Clement among others, including himself. These individuals were apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers; but Paul referred to them only as “co-workers”. Paul and Peter were both Apostles, and their service (or leadership as we would refer to it today) was so highly regarded that their teachings and writings are still regarded as scripture. The Christians at Corinth, specifically the self appointed pseudo-philosophers, elevated Apollos as an individual holding a high status similar to that of Paul and Peter, 1 Corinthians 3:9. Clement was recognized by post New Testament Christians as the second Pope after the martyrdom of Peter. Paul compared the service of Euodia and Syntyche, who had primary oversight over the church at Philippi, to the service of Clement—Pope #2, Philippians 4: 2-3. Titus and Timothy were both church planters, pastors, and teachers—church planter was a general description of an apostle; and, both served as primary overseers of their respective churches. For serving as primary overseers of their respective churches both Titus and Timothy were recognized by post New Testament Christians as bishops, Timothy as Bishop of Ephesus and Titus as Bishop of the Island of Crete.
Worthy of note, Onesimus, who was not recognized by Paul as “co-worker” but as “son”—also a description Paul used for Timothy—was the former slave of Philemon. Onesimus after receiving his freedom devotes himself to church service for which post New Testament Christians recognize him as Bishop of Ephesus following the martyrdom of Timothy.
Priscilla and her husband Aquila both were church planters, or apostles, pastors, and teachers, as well. Paul met Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth; Priscilla and Aquila were both already Christians when they met Paul. Together they planted the church in Corinth. Later, Timothy and Titus served in Corinth as pastors. A few years after planting the church in Corinth, Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila left for Ephesus to plant a church. Later, Timothy served in Ephesus as pastor for which he was recognized by post New Testament Christians as Bishop of Ephesus, as previously noted. When Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, Priscilla and Aquila had the primary oversight of the church in Rome, Romans 16: 3-5.
Priscilla and Aquila: 5x-Priscilla , 2x-Aquila
Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned seven times in the New Testament and are always mentioned together. Two times Aquila’s name is mentioned first (Acts 18:2, 1 Corinthians 16:19), five times Priscilla’s name is mentioned first (Acts 18:18, 18:19, 18:26, Romans 16:3, 2 Timothy 4:19). Cultural practice always names the husband first before the wife, in fact, this reversal in naming doesn’t happen anywhere else for a married couple in the Old Testament nor New Testament. The significance of Priscilla’s name mentioned before her husband’s reflects Priscilla’s prominence and primary oversight in ministry. Even though Priscilla and Aquila are ministry partners, for Paul to mention her name first he is recognizing her as the primary overseer of the church in Rome, therefore Priscilla was the one serving as Bishop of Rome. Additionally, Luke in Acts also mentions Priscilla’s name first which reflects that not only Paul, but also Luke, and the Christian church as a whole, would have recognized Priscilla’s prominence in the church.
Priscilla: The Baker
How did Priscilla, Bishop of Rome, become the baker and tea server of the Aquila and Priscilla partnership?
When I was in the Calvary Chapel, the couple was known as Aquila and Priscilla, not as Priscilla and Aquila. By mentioning the husband first, the Chapelites, as well as so many other gender-hierarchicalists, disregard the prominence that Paul, Luke and the New Testament church ascribed to Priscilla.
Chapelites explained that Aquila was the teacher, not Priscilla; Priscilla was the hospitable one responsible for the culinary and fellowship details of their meeting with Apollos. After pointing out to the Chapelites that Luke mentioned Priscilla before Aquila in Acts 18:26 where Luke recorded that “Priscilla and Aquila” invited Apollos to their home to “explain”, or teach, to him “the way of God more adequately”, the Chapelites updated their response and recognized that Aquila was the primary teacher, not the sole teacher to Apollos. This response is not consistent with Priscilla’s prominence as a servant, but certainly an improvement from not recognizing her as a teacher at all. However, her recognition as a teacher includes the following qualifier from the Chapelites, “but she taught Apollos under the authority of her husband”, which is also not consistent with Priscilla’s prominence.
Sex roles based on misinterpretations of a few scriptural passages lead gender-hierarchalists to misinterpret all scriptural passages about women and to revise biblical history in order to fit women into a subordinate role of authority between men and women and between husbands and wives. Case in point, gender-hierarchicalists, such as the Chapelites described above, degrade Priscilla’s prominence and position of responsibility, or leadership and authority, in order to “put her in her place”—sort of speak—as subordinate woman and wife.
I once attended a church, not a Calvary Chapel, that recognizes Priscilla’s prominence in the church compared to Aquila but instead of degrading her to a position under Aquila they make her into Aquila’s sister. This particular church is not able to recognize Priscilla as Aquila’s wife because as wife her prominence is contrary to their gender-hierarchical view of marriage as husband over wife in spiritual, doctrinal, and decision-making matters.
The Distraction of Titles
Chapelites falsely accuse egalitarians, specifically women egalitarians, of raising awareness of lack of women in senior leadership positions, specifically in areas of spiritual, doctrinal, and decision-making oversight such as senior pastors, teachers, and elders, as selfishly ambitious and driven by the desire to hold positions of power and honor. That particular false accusation is actually an accidental and unwilling acknowledgement, a slip up, by patriarchalists that those positions which they reserve for men only are indeed positions of power and honor. It is a slip up because no effort to envelope those positions with benevolence the attributes of power and honor in those positions will always manifest themselves.
The highest calling for a follower of Christ is to bear witness to the Truth and to Jesus as Messiah, or as commonly known, preach the gospel of Jesus. All believers are called to this higher calling. With spiritual gifts, and their corresponding titles and positions, a believer bears witness. The spiritual gifts, and their corresponding titles and positions, are available to all believers according to the choosing of the Holy Spirit. No person is denied any particular gift, and its corresponding title or position, based on ethnicity, class, or sex, Galatians 3:28, 1 Corinthians 12, 14.
The challenge egalitarians present to gender-hierarchicalists is that they point out how gender-hierarchicalists have turned the witnessing of the gospel, which is entrusted to all believers, into a system of subjugation with principles and practices that serve and keep in power an elite group by limiting certain positions of high responsibly, or authority, to only that particular elite group. In this case, the elite group is the men and the subjugated group is the women. This particular system of subjugation is based on sex, but a system of subjugation based on ethnicity and/or class are also created. Galatians 3:28, Matthew 23: 1-12, Matthew 20: 20-28, and Mark 10: 35-45 point to the strict prohibition of creating systems of subjugation based on ethnicity, class, and/or sex among the follower of Christ.
The New Testament church realized what a distraction and danger “ruler”-ship and “leader”-ship titles and positions of power and honor posed to the life of the new community and to the witnessing of the gospel. The use of titles in systems of human subjugation prompted the New Testament believers to reject the use of titles within their community and instead used terms such as “servant” and “co-worker” in order to emphasize “servant”-hood and mutuality in the new community of Christ-followers. The New Testament church did have “servants” who had more authority and responsibility than others, but those individuals were recognized based on calling and gifting and graces given by God, not by sex nor ethnicity nor socio-economic status, Galatians 3:28, I Corinthians 12, 14.
Some churches and Christian groups stay away from using titles in order to avoid the distraction of power and honor but also to avoid offending gender-hierarchicalists who regard certain positions and titles to be limited to men only. Not using titles may be impractical, especially for large churches. The benefit of using titles is that the congregation is made aware of who in the church has what responsibilities which make it convenient for church members to know who to seek for pertinent assistance. However, when a church limits certain positions of spiritual, doctrinal, and decision-making authority to certain groups based on sex, ethnicity, or socio-economic status then those positions turn to positions of power and honor and the church creates a system of subjugation. Chapelites and other gender-hierarchicalists who refer to themselves as ‘complementarians’ insist that men in authority are to be servants and benevolent, but a serving and benevolent system of subjugation is still a system of subjugation.
The New Testament has no more than two references to the use of titles and in both cases the title is acknowledged on a woman. For further study on women in senior or ordained ministry in the medieval and early church see works by Gary Macy such as The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination: Female Clergy in the Medieval West and also works by Dorothy Irvin; here Irvin is referenced in an article by Catherine Clark Kroeger, “Bitalia, the Ancient Woman Priest.”