If someone were to surveil your life for a month, say – would the investigative report describe you as “a diligent woman serving the Master?”
I was intrigued to read about all the women named by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Christians in Rome recorded in chapter 16 of Romans, a significant chapter for the study of women in the early church. In The Message version, 16:12 reads, “Hello to Tryphena and Tryphosa—such diligent women in serving the Master.”
Women figure prominently in the list of greetings Paul sends to the Christians there, with 10 of the 29 people mentioned being women. Not only do they comprise 35% of the believers mentioned, but Paul speaks highly of them, entrusting them with significant ministry responsibilities.
Phoebe (v. 1-2) is praised as the benefactor of Paul and others, the church in Rome ordered to help her with whatever she needed. Priscilla (v.3-5a), along with her husband Aquila, is noted for having endangered her life for Paul’s sake and is thanked by “all the churches of the Gentiles.”
Priscilla is also given the semi-title “co-worker” in the Gospel, while Mary (v. 6), Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis (in verse 12) are described as “hard workers” in the Lord.
Junia (v. 7) is praised for the time she spent in prison with Paul for her work in the Gospel along with her husband (or brother), Andronicus. Finally, the mother of Rufus is noted as a woman who had ministered to Paul in such a way that he considered her his own mother (v. 13).
Clearly, women were very active in the life and ministry of the early church.
Let’s zoom in on Tryphena and Tryphosa for a minute. Were they Italian women since they lived in Rome? My research reveals they were Greek because their names are derived from the same greek word meaning dainty, delicate and luxurious. Speculations are that they were sisters, most likely twins.
Their names indicate that they may have been high-class Roman citizens. These would have been uncommon names for anyone but a wealthy Roman citizen to give their daughters. It may have been that their parents named them “dainty and delicate” to express the ideal they wished them to embrace. Or, maybe they gave up a life of luxury to serve their brethren alongside Paul and all the others listed in this chapter as active workers involved in service. They may not have been set apart or even had formal “calls” but there is much evidence in the scriptures that both men and women (and husband/wife pairs) were active in teaching and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world.
We really don’t know very much about most of the people Paul mentions in Romans 16 but I think is significant that among the people Paul greets in his epistle are several who have common slave names of the day– Persis, (female), Ampliatus, Hermes (men), and Herodion. It is remarkable to think about Tryphena and Tryphosa, who were most likely from a wealthy Roman family, working and worshiping alongside men and women who had been or still were slaves. Class distinctions were strict in Roman society and it would have been considered degrading or humiliating for women of high rank to associate with lower classes … not to mention slaves. Seeing their names listed alongside those who, for all we know, were slaves of the lowest rank is just a beautiful testament to the truth found in Galatians 3:28:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”