Women Leaders in the Early Church

By Mimi Haddad 07-13-2009

090713-phoebe-deaconAs you may know, the question of whether women can serve as deacons has been recently debated among many evangelicals. Since scripture makes clear that Phoebe served as a deacon in the church in Cenchrea, there is an abundance of historical and archeological evidence that women deacons were upheld by the apostles. Both Clement of Alexandria and John Chrysostom recognize Phoebe was a deacon. This should give us pause. Why? Because the early church not only had the scriptures to guide them, they were also familiar with the oral teachings of the apostles. Since apostles, like Paul, supported the service of the deacon Phoebe, women's service as deacons continued throughout the early centuries.

Here are four (though there are many more) examples of early church women referred to as deacons.

Apollonia was a deacon in the church of Alexandria. Her prominence as a deacon is noted by the crowd who seized, tortured, and martyred her in 249 C.E. Her service as a deacon included educating converts, caring for the ill, and overseeing the rite of baptism.

Sofia was a fifth century deacon in the church of Jerusalem. Her tombstone, located in the Mount of Olives, was discovered in 1903, and the inscription translated from Greek reads: "Here lies the minister and bride of Christ, Sofia the deacon, the second Phoebe

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