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Paul Elbert: Pastoral Letter to Theo

Finally, Elbert closes out the last two chapters of his book by addressing a few key passages in Acts and Romans. He first calls attention to the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on both men and women so that both may prophesy in fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy. Therefore, both sexes are equally equipped for ministry. He then points out Luke’s recognition of Philip’s daughters in their prophetic ministries in Acts 21:8-9 as well as the teaching ministry of Priscilla to Apollos in Acts 18:24-26. In Romans, Elbert brings attention to Phoebe and Paul’s admiration of her ministry as a deaconess in the church that is evidently stated in Romans 16:1-2. Elbert then revisits the ministry of Priscilla (mentioned as Prisca by Paul in Romans) along with her husband Aquila. He highlights Paul’s title of “agents of God” in their work as missionaries to this region (69) and then draws attention to the honorable mention of Junia in her ministry as being “outstanding among the apostles” in Romans 16:7. Elbert believes that Paul regards Phoebe, Prisca, and Junia, along with Tryphaina, Tryphosa, and Persis (Rom 16:12), as not only laborers in the Lord, but as “compatriots” in ministry. He feels that the text suggests these latter three women were also missionaries or local church leaders with whom Paul was personally acquainted.

“… He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

— John 20:22 (NKJV)

The discussion of whether the person honorably mentioned at Rom 16:7 has a feminine name, “Junia” or a masculine one, “Junias,” is carefully addressed in the last chapter, “Romans in Light of Modern Translation Methods” (71–82). It seems to me that Elbert, building on the work of Linda Belleville and Eldon Epp, reaches a judicious conclusion that this apostle was indeed a woman.

Since the book, though rigorous and compact, has a slight pastoral flavor, Elbert keeps the footnotes to a minimum. However, he provides a thorough “Select Bibliography” (85–97) that affords background to scholarship underpinning this study and its conclusions.

The contribution of this small book is perhaps monumental with respect to its size, putting some of the pieces together that biblically support the role of women in ministry. Elbert eloquently shows the textual cohesion of the many uses and references to women in ministry. He deliberately addresses the problem passages that have been proof texted by those with historical agendas that may not have been as concerned with biblical accuracy as with other matters. Elbert is consistent in addressing these texts in showing their cultural and religious background and specific ministry contexts that have contributed to authors’ original intent. He rightly shows the continuity of scripture and specific references of women in ministry in both testaments. In addition, he shows the diverse roles of these women including administration, politics, teaching, preaching, prophecy, missions, and general leadership of the church. Through this book, Elbert is justified in his conclusion that it is incongruent with scripture to deliberately proof-text the few verses that seemingly limit the role of women in the church when there is an abundance of examples of the opposite application.

For those rhetorically trained in Roman education, every verse would have been studied consistently within the context of the entire work.

It is this writer’s opinion that the overall argument of the book might be stronger by staying closely connected to the role of women in the church. Elbert varies slightly from this in chapter one when discussing John’s Gospel, although he undoubtedly felt that the issue of an interpretive method had to come first. Secondly, more than once Elbert attributes possible feelings to characters in venturing assumptions as to what Paul and others would have done or felt in the book of Acts (61, 66). For example, he believes that Paul would not have required Phillip’s daughters to remain silent when he visited their home. He evidently thinks that such behavior here on Paul’s part is inconsistent with Luke’s thinking about Paul and about women and, by implication, would contradict what interpreters like John MacArthur say about Paul and women in 1 Corinthians (27). However, since one cannot ask Paul his intention, this suggestion should not be imposed on the text. Yet, Elbert’s strong scriptural support in other areas readily makes up for this small discrepancy.

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2009

About the Author: Adrian Hinkle is an Assistant Professor in the Bible/Theology department at Southwestern Christian University in Bethany, OK. She graduated with an M.A. in Theology from Southern Nazarene University and is now working towards a Doctorate of Ministry from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. She is an active member of the International Pentecostal Holiness Church along with her husband and two children.

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