Women Who Helped The Apostle Paul In The Ministry

Women Who Helped Paul In The Ministry

Whilst there are many details given to us about the Apostles and also of the men who ministered during the time of the New Testament not a lot of details are provided about the women who served and ministered at this time. However, for those who would care to look a little deeper they will find a rich record of Godly women that were used powerfully of the Lord in these early days of His church. Women of whom it was said that many churches and apostles owed them deep thanks for their sacrifice, to women who raised their sons to be preachers and others who gave completely of what they had for the sake of the Gospel.

Lydia

Lydia, as seller of purple in the city of Philippi. A seller of purple, how can a person sell a colour? The purple that she was selling was a dye, a most expensive dye. It was produced through the crushing of a certain shelled sea creature. It was a rare dye as it was a very intensive process to create the dye and there were only limited amounts of it produced. Hence it was a very expensive commodity. It would be used to dye material for clothing, for drapery and the like. Purple being the colour of royalty it was indeed a very exclusive product. For this lady Lydia to be a seller of purple meant that she was a business woman of some means, for it was not just anybody who could be a seller of purple. A person would have to have a network of suppliers and a standing in the community to be a seller. Lydia would have been a woman of some means.

Paul met Lydia by the river where the women gathered to pray. There was no synagogue in the city of Philippi so when the people would meet it would be in various places that they had been allowed to meet. These woman would have been Jews and proselytes meeting by the river to pray. When Paul would come into a city, he would generally seek out the synagogue of the city to go in and preach Christ to the people gathered there. As there was no synagogue he would have inquired as to where the people gathered to meet that he might speak to them. So it happened that Paul came to these women meeting by the river. 

Lydia, a woman which worshiped God, this quite a statement given to us by Luke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. She seems to have been a proselyte a lady who come to know and worship Jehovah. As Paul spoke first she heard, then the Lord opened her heart. This was the Lord’s work, the Holy Spirit not only giving understanding to the mind, but the opening of the heart, ‘dianoigo’ – the thorough opening, to receive the preaching of Christ. This hearing, this opening of the heart by God, led to her attending – ‘prosecho’ -the careful applying of oneself to, to the gospel. We would give this account the title of the ‘conversion of Lydia’, she was already a believer in God, she was already a worshipper of God, but now she had come to know the Christ of God, the promised Redeemer, the Messiah.

The next and final mention we have of Lydia is Acts 16:40. Paul has been released from jail and the conversion of the Philippian jailer had occurred, now Paul was going back to the believers of Philippi for two plain reasons: 

1. To leave Philippi on his own terms, not being pushed out by the authorities, this would have been for the sake of the people as well to give them a confidence that God is sovereign over even authorities. 

2. To give final words of exhortation and comfort to the believers. 

The important thing we find concerning Lydia here, is that the believers had gathered in her home. The pattern of the New Testament churches was that they would meet in homes for gathering, there were no church buildings as yet and the synagogues were not open to the Christians, so they would meet in homes. Lydia had now become a hostess of the fledgling church of Philippi. As we know she was a woman of some means, this would have meant that she had a house that could accommodate a group of people. Lydia was now not just a lady who had opened her heart to the gospel and attended to it, but she had now become a servant and willing labourer in the body of Christ.

Priscilla

Priscilla has an interesting history based on her name and where she came from. Priscilla is an English female given name adopted from the Latin Prisca, derived from Priscus.  It means, ‘primitive’, ‘worthy or venerable’.  This name is also found as a family name in the earliest Roman annals.  What is also interesting to note is that Priscilla’s husband, had the family name of the commander of a legion meaning ‘eagle’ an emblem of the Roman army.  Both names are Roman.  From the prominence given in Roman inscriptions and legends to the name Prisca it is concluded that she belonged to a distinguished Roman family. Of Priscilla’s background the scriptures are silent.  In Acts 18:2 we see that she was a Jew (like her husband, Aquila) and they were born in Pontus, a district in the north of Asia Minor. A woman with a Roman name, living in Rome, yet a Jew who was born in Pontus. 

Acts 18:2 reveals to us that the couple were refugees who came to Corinth from Italy, when Emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome. On Claudius expulsion of the Jews the exact date is uncertain.  However, an approximate date given for this is from January AD 41 to January AD 53.  The reasons for this expulsion are speculative however, one reason that has been given was ‘disputes between Jews and members of the Christian sect had caused disturbances.’

It is this same verse of Acts 18:2 that records the point where Apostle Paul ‘found’ this couple.  We must know that it was the Lords divine providence that lead him to them.  This dear lady and her husband received the blessed work of providence in Paul finding them in Corinth. How did this meeting come about, was it because of the tentmaking trade, was it a chance meeting, or was it that Priscilla and Aquila were converts that had come about either through hearing the gospel at Pentecost (Acts 2:9) or had been converted to Christ through the testimony of those that had received Christ at Pentecost and then returned to Pontus? 

It seems by the wording of the verse Paul either came across them and approached them “found” & “came unto” or deliberately sought them out. There is some speculation as to whether or not Paul knew how to make tents before he met Priscilla and Aquilla or if they taught him this trade. It seems obvious that Paul was already of the craft of tentmaking and this is why he joined this couple in tentmaking. One can only imagine the joy of the fellowship over times of working that Paul had with this couple. How much teaching did Priscilla and her husband receive during these times together? It would have been like their own personal Bible College as Paul worked and spoke with them. 

Not only did they receive Paul into their business, but they also received him into their home. A lady given to service in the home as well. We find amidst many of the women mentioned in relation to Paul that a major part of their ministry was to the apostle through the hospitality of the home. This is a hallmark of a Godly woman.

We start to see the character of this lady, Priscilla, a woman who was willing to receive this apostle and host him and have him as part of the business that she worked with her husband. We know that she was one who ministered much to Paul and also laboured with him alongside her husband. In these early days they not only had Paul teaching them in the time of work, but they saw and heard how he preached and reasoned in the synagogue persuading the Jews and the Greeks. Priscilla also witnessed how Paul was pressed in the spirit to testify to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ and how they refused it and when they did he shook the dust off his feet to them and stated that from henceforth he would go to the Gentiles. This would have made a deep impression on Priscilla and Aquila, and would have been an influence on their ministry as Jews.

The names Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned together.  So, it is difficult to put Priscilla her on her own. When Paul left Corinth Priscilla and Aquila went with him to Syria.  They became as many others had and would his missionary partners, fellow labourers in the gospel. (Acts 18:18). Whilst they went as a couple it must be acknowledged that this dear lady took on the dangers of a missionary journey with Paul and the others. We do not read directly of any other woman who went on such a journey, there may have been those that traveled, but here we have the clear account of her attendance in the ministry on this trip.

This couple is mentioned 6 times in scripture:  Acts 18:2, 18:18, 18:26, Rom 16:3, 1 Cor 16:19, 2 Tim 4:19.  In three of these scriptures, Priscilla is mentioned first, before her husband.  It could mean that she was a more prominent person either socially or spiritually.  Was she the more energetic of the two and had the stronger character? Or was she a believer before her husband and had won him to the Lord through her ‘chaste conversation’? or had she been of a higher nobility birth and a higher social standing than Aquila?  We can only speculate. 

There is no mention of children so we can only presume that Priscilla didn’t have any children. Without the responsibility of children they were free to give their lives in ministering to the saints. Was it that they were an older couple whose children were grown and had left home? This also is possible, but whatever the case, this lady now gave her life in the ministry of the gospel, alongside her husband.

Instruction of Apollos

We cannot address Priscilla (or Aquila) without looking at that most prominent occurrence of their instruction of Apollos. When they had gone with Paul, Priscilla and Aquila had remained in Ephesus when Paul had gone on. This in itself speaks of their ministering heart and of their maturity in the faith as Paul had confidence to leave them there at this church to aid in the ministry. After Paul had left the preacher Apollos came to Ephesus and 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. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: (Act 18:25b-26a). 

Apollos was no lightweight. He was a man that had been instructed, and was fervent and bold in the gospel. We know that he knew the gospel of the new birth. He preached Christ crucified and Christ as the way of salvation,  which is what John the Baptist baptized unto. Yet when Priscilla and Aquilla heard him they took him aside and instructed him in the way of the Lord more perfectly. 

The fact that the Scriptures give both the names of Priscilla and Aquilla here, reveals clearly that Priscilla was also a part of instructing Apollos. I believe that their receiving to the heart and the mind of the teaching of Paul in that time in Corinth would have given them the grounding to minister to Apollos in this way.

Paul greets Priscilla twice in his epistles, once in the book of Romans and once in the second letter to Timothy. From the address in the book of Romans we know that Priscilla and Aquilla were in Rome at the time of the writing of the epistle to the Romans. Paul gives a high accolade to this woman of God and her husband, stating that Rom 16:4-5,  Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. In this short passage it is revealed that their ministry to Paul and to the gentile churches had put their own lives in jeopardy. How much influence did Paul have on her in his declaration at Corinth ‘I go to the Gentiles’? For here we find Paul listing her name first and stating that the Gentile churches owed her thanks for risking their necks for them in the ministry. 

A Jewess and a Jew giving their lives in ministering to the Gentile churches, just as the Apostle Paul had. Now in the volatile city of Rome they were hosting the church in their house, again many of the women noted by Paul as his helpers opened their home as a meeting place for the brethren. 


The final address in Timothy was when they had returned to Ephesus, it seems probable that this was their final place of ministry and that they remained there until their death. We find in Priscilla an extraordinary testimony of a woman whose had received into her life the fullness of the truths of grace and of the workings of the cross and had then be able to pour this out to others in a life given over to the ministry of the Gospel in a Pauline manner.

Phebe

We find two mentions of Phebe in Romans, the first being in 16:1 and the second mention is in the footnote of the book at the end of chapter 16:27. 

Whilst there is not a lot of information given to us of this lady, what little is mentioned gives us some insight into her ministry and standing. It has also led to a lot of controversy of the role of women in leadership in the church. The controversy stems from the word that Paul used to describe her ministry that she had in the church. 

Rom 16:1  I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea.

The word at the center of the controversy is “servant” which is translated from the Greek word “diakonos”, the word for deacon or the feminine ‘deaconess’. The fact that she is a deaconess has been used by many to argue for women to hold offices the same as that which men hold in the church. Most of the reliable commentators agree that the primitive church seems to have had deaconesses, women who were appointed to minister to other women. It must be stressed that these commentators all agree that such an appointment did not entail any teaching publicly to the church, preaching or any leadership role that appointed to men.

It is clear from the New Testament that there was an order of women in the church known as “deaconesses.” Reference is made to a class of females whose duty it was to “teach” other females, and to take the general superintendence of that part of the church, in various places in the New Testament; and their existence is expressly affirmed in early ecclesiastical history. They appear to have been commonly aged and experienced widows, sustaining fair reputation, and suited to guide and instruct those who were young and inexperienced; compare 1Ti_5:3, 1Ti_5:9-11; Tit_2:4. The Apostolical Constitutions, book iii. say, “Ordain a deaconess who is faithful and holy, for the ministries toward the women.” Pliny in his celebrated letter to Trajan, says, when speaking of the efforts which he made to obtain information respecting the opinions and practices of Christians, “I deemed it necessary to put two maidservants who are called “ministrae” (that is “deaconesses”) to the torture, in order to ascertain what is the truth.” The reasons of their appointment among the Gentiles were these:

(1) The females were usually separate from the men. They were kept secluded, for the most part, and not permitted to mingle in society with men as is the custom now.

(2) It became necessary, therefore, to appoint aged and experienced females to instruct the young, to visit the sick, to provide for them, and to perform for them the services which male deacons performed for the whole church. It is evident, however, that they were confined to these offices, and that they were never regarded as an order of ministers, or suffered “to preach” to congregations; 1Ti_2:12; 1Co_14:34. (Barnes)

Whether or not this was an official office in the church is, I believe, a mute point. For we find clearly in Scriptures the instructions to women to carry out such ministries of service all throughout the epistles. These ministries of service are always in keeping with the truth of the woman not usurping the authority of a man, and yet these serving ministries are imperative. 

So we find in Phebe a woman appointed to a ministry of service a diakonos ministry to the saints at Cenchrea. She is commended of Paul in this ministry firstly in Romans 16:1. The commendation of the apostle Paul is not a light thing, it carried with it the wait of his authority as an apostle, the prestige of his apostleship, but most of all it carried with it a high commendation because it was from a man who like no other in history lived the Christ life. He was a man filled with the Spirit and as such had discernment of people, and this commendation was included in the Canon of Scripture by the Holy Spirit so we can be assured that this was not just a baseless commendation. 

This woman although very little else about her is said was of high standing and testimony, for not only did the apostle Paul commend her, but he also entrusted the letter to Romans to her to deliver. We must keep in mind that unlike today when we use a postal service, the messenger that carried the letter was very important. For it was the messenger who carried the authority that was contained in the letter. A letter would not be sent with a light weight or with someone who just happened to be going that way. No, it would be sent with a person that was trusted a person of repute and standing in the eyes of the sender.

What a commendation to be given, that Phebe was a diakanos of the church.

Apphia

Apphia is only mentioned once in the Scriptures, in the small personal epistle of Philemon. So we do not have a lot of information about her. What we do know is that Apphia was probably the wife of Philemon and the mother of Archippus. 

In his letter to Philemon, Paul greets this lady personally. Philemon 1:1-3,  Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer,  And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house: Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  

The fact that Paul addresses these two people directly in this personal letter would indicate that Apphia is most likely the wife of Philemon. Archippus is mentioned in Colossians as well as here, and it would seem that he was a pastor. We can speculate that Archippus was the pastor of the church at Colossae which met in the house of Philemon and Apphia.

Beloved of the Saints

Whilst Paul limits his address to Apphia in calling her beloved, literally “dearly loved”. A woman well loved of Paul and those that ministered with him in the gospel. The fact that Paul addressed this woman speaks volumes of his respect for her. As he writes from the prison in Rome, he remembers this lady who had ministered with her husband with Paul and we can be certain to Paul as he was in Colossae. 

A Natural Service

This was also a woman who had opened her home to the saints for them to gather and meet. This is not any easy task, even just in the practical undertaking of this. To prepare the home for gatherings, to be hospitable to those that gather, to have the intrusion on the home by others, these are all things that add an extra burden on the wife / mother of a house. Yet beyond the practical, these were days of volatility in Christianity, to be identified with Christ and particularly to be identified with a preacher such as Paul was often to invite trouble. We see in Apphia a willingness then not only to carry the burden of the natural undertaking of this, but she was also willing to suffer the loss that came with being so clearly and prominently identified with Christ and His church.

A Spiritual Service

I believe that further to just these two aspects Apphia was a woman given to a spiritual care as well. The giving of her home demonstrated her love for the Saviour and her love for the people. There could not have been the use of the house for such an important purpose as the gathering of a church people if Apphia did not have this spiritual heart for service. She was obviously a blessing and support to her husband and the church in this heart in using what God had entrusted to her in His service. 

A Godly Wife; A Godly Mother

Whilst the letter Paul writes reveals a lot more about Philemon we must deduce from the testimony that we have already outlined as well as the fact that Paul was confident of Philemon’s reaction to the return of Onesimus would be one of Christlikeness and of receiving him again as a brother. This would not have been possible if Apphia was not of the same heart, for if she did not have this heart there would have been a contention in the home and Paul would not have expressed the confidence that he did. This was not just a lady who was prominent in her ‘church’ service, but she was in harmony with her husband in the home. There was a submission to his headship. Paul did not address her in the return of this slave, he addressed Philemon as the head of the home, with the confidence that Apphia was in unity under her head. 

Finally we can note that at least in some respect she was a mother who had given her son over to the ministry, and I believe we can surmise this as Paul addresses both Archippus and Apphia with each other, expressing that there was a harmony there. This mark of Godliness can be seen in that she not only was in harmony with her son being the pastor, but she was in submission to him as her pastor. There is no inference of any tension or problem with Apphia and Philemon being under their son as their pastor.

Truly this was a beloved woman, woman who ministered to and with Paul in the church at Colossae.

Other Notable Mentions

Claudia

A woman who ministered to Paul whilst he was at Rome. Paul mentions her at the end of II Timothy.

Tryphena & Tryphosa

These were two women who “laboured in the Lord” in Rome. Again as with Phebe the mention of these women as laboring in the Lord has been used by some to argue for women to be given offices of authority in the church. But we presume no such thing here, except that they were faithful in whatever ministry that they had in that church, and laboured in it. 

Chloe

We find only one mention of Chloe, it is when Paul is writing to the Corinthians and speaks of things that had been reported to him by the household of Chloe. Scholars believe that this was the household of a prominent woman in the church. She must have been a woman who guided her house well for she and her house were concerned about the carnality in the church and reported it to Paul. This was doubtless some very religious matron at Corinth, whose family were converted to the Lord; some of whom were probably sent to the apostle to inform him of the dissensions which then prevailed in the Church at that place. Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, mentioned 1Co_16:17, were probably the sons of this Chloe. (Clarke)

Lois & Eunice

The Godly mother and grandmother of Timothy. Two women of whom little is recorded, but what is recorded makes a bold declaration. They were women of deep faith in the faith and they instilled this deeply into Timothy, a man who would become one who had a heart like Paul as no other. The hands that rocked the cradle had a hand in changing the world.

What a blessed and rich record of Godly women that has been given us. There is a repeating pattern among these women. They were women given to ministering in the manner that God has appointed for a woman. This is not in weakness or in oppression, but it is submission, for they were women of strength, some of them were women of high wealth and influence and yet they all were humble. They were women given to hospitality, to caring, to ministering to the needs of Paul and the saints, yet so much more, they were women who taught and instructed, laboured in the Lord, went on missionary journeys, served in churches, guided their houses, raised their children in the way of the Lord and gave their lives in the consumption of the Gospel

Jeremy Searle

Jeremy Searle