Did Bible Translators Diminish the Role of Female Apostles?

A woman pastor and author came under fire after contending that Bible translators diminished the role of female leaders, including apostles, deacons, and pastors in the Bible.

Ashley Wilkerson, senior co-pastor of Pacific Coast Church in Tacoma, Washington, which she leads alongside her husband, JonFulton Wilkerson, made the remarks during a women’s conference last November at Trinity Church Miami in a sermon titled “Lead Like a Woman.”

“Prisca, Mary, Phoebe, Junia, Tryphena and Tryphosa — their names are my favorite to say — many others that were apostles, leaders in the early church. Some of which, their names have been changed in Scripture because we understood, we thought, ‘Oh no, they can’t be women apostles.’ Yeah, they were,” Wilkerson said at the time.

“I’m not telling you this so you distrust Scripture. I’m not talking about that. I’m calling you to dig deeper because sometimes it gets muddled in our culture,” she said.

In response to Wilkerson’s argument, Pastor Carl A. Hargrove, associate professor of pastoral ministries at The Master’s Seminary, denounced her message.

“The imaginations of a mind with an unbiblical agenda posing as spiritually enlightening. Women apostles, some whose names were changed to hide the truth??!!” he asked on X.

Hargrove also told The Christian Post that Wilkerson has “no evidence” of her claim.

“Well, she has no evidence of names changed, of women who are apostles. She obviously didn’t put it forth, even to make such a claim and put forward the evidence, there is none,” he said.

“The unbiblical agenda is her role as a pastor when 1 Timothy 2 clearly states that that is a role for a man. And the issue, as some people may say, is cultural or even specific to issues at Ephesus are not true because Paul takes the argument all the way back to creation itself in order. Obviously, the issue is not one of capabilities, but simply order of God’s design,” he said.

Meanwhile, Wilkerson defended her position in an interview with CP, explaining the theology of her three-year-old church is as consistent with the Evangelical tradition coming out of the Assemblies of God denomination, which ordains women as pastors.

Wilkerson also shared that her view on women in leadership was solidified after doing research by the work of Beth Allison Barr, an American historian who currently serves as the James Vardaman Endowed Professor of History at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

In her April 2021 book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth, Wilkerson pointed out that Barr “gives a beautifully articulated evidenced-based explanation.”

“I don’t feel the need to respond at all to untrue and unfounded claims. I would encourage all people interested in this subject to research the history of the translations for themselves. The evidence is irrefutable if you’re willing to look,” she told CP before sharing an excerpt from Barr’s book.

“Seven women are recognized by their ministry: Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Junia, Tryphaena, Try-phosa, and Persis. One woman, Phoebe, is identified as a deacon,” the excerpt reads.

Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek write that Phoebe ‘is the only deacon of a first-century church whose name we know.’

Another woman, Junia, is identified not simply as an apostle but as one who was prominent among the apostles.

“Here I was, walking my students through compelling historical evidence that the problem with women in leadership wasn’t Paul; the problem was with how we misunderstood and obscured Paul. Here I was, showing my students how women really did lead and teach in the early church, even as deacons and apostles.”

“Junia, I showed them, was accepted as an apostle until nearly modern times, when her name began to be translated as a man’s name: Junias. New Testament scholar Eldon Jay Epp compiled two tables surveying Greek New Testaments from Erasmus through the twentieth century,” the excerpt concluded.

Hargrove, however, suggested that the Apostle Paul referred to Junia as an apostle in a generic sense, such as one who is “sent.” He also said that one with the office of apostle, such as Paul and Peter, meets certain qualifications such as performing signs and wonders, seeing the Lord Jesus Christ, and being commissioned by the church.

Hargrove also argued that his response to Wilkerson should not be viewed as misogynistic because he is just defending the Gospel.

“Their issue is not with me. Their issue is with Paul and with the Scripture. Deal with what Paul said in 1 Timothy 2 and the fact that his argument goes all the way back to creation, not just a localized case.”

Image credit: ©GettyImages/Capuski

Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer and content creator. He is a contributing writer for Christian Headlines and the host of the For Your Soul Podcast, a podcast devoted to sound doctrine and biblical truth. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.

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