By Julie Smith

The Gospel Doctrine lesson 36 manual objective is “to remind class members that they are children of God and to encourage them to live worthy of their divine inheritance.”

Our Objective

A closer look at the female disciple who labored with Paul to build up the early church.


We teach writers to “show, don’t tell.” Paul shows, not tells, us how women functioned in early Christianity in Romans 16. This chapter consists of Paul’s comments to people in the church in Rome and gives us an interesting glimpse into the experience of the early followers of Jesus.

About one-third of the people named in this chapter are women. That alone is significant and speaks to the prominent role of female disciples. The first person mentioned is Phebe. It is probably the case that she is the person physically transporting this letter to Rome (see the note at the end of Romans 16) and hence Paul’s words about her in Romans 16:1-2 are her letter of introduction to the saints in Rome. Note that in Romans 16:1, the word translated as “servant” is precisely the same Greek word translated as “minister” in Romans 15:8, where it describes Jesus Christ. Either “servant” or “minister” is an acceptable translation—each reflects early Christian ideas of servant leadership—but it is not easy to justify translating the word one way when applied to Jesus and another way when used just a few sentences later. Whichever translation is chosen, it is important to realize that Paul views Phebe as performing a role similar to Jesus’. In Romans 16:2, Paul calls her a “succourer,” which means a protector or a patron. Phebe may have been a traveling missionary (hence her role in carrying the letter); regardless, she provides us with an example of faithful female disciple of Jesus who sacrificed to share the gospel.

Romans 16:3 names Priscilla, also known as Prisca. Priscilla is frequently mentioned in the scriptures (see Acts 18:1-11, 24-26, 1 Corinthians 16:19, and 2 Timothy 4:19), in conjunction with her husband Aquila. The material from Acts suggests that she and Aquila probably employed Paul. Her name usually appears before her husband’s; in the Roman world, the more important person is named first. Apparently, she risked her life for Paul. Priscilla and Aquilla provide us with an example of a married couple devoted to Christ and his gospel.

Junia is named in Romans 16:7; Paul says she was “of note among the apostles.” It is debated whether this means that herself was an apostle or whether she was noted by the apostles; it seems that the former interpretation is more likely. Note that the title “apostle” in the New Testament is not identical to the office of apostle in the church today: it often extends beyond the twelve; in origin, the word “apostle” simply means “one sent out,” so perhaps Junia is best understood, in modern LDS terms, as a missionary. Regardless, her service was noteworthy and she apparently spent time in prison (possibly at the same time as Paul) as a result of her discipleship. Junia is another example of devoted discipleship.

Many people are concerned over some passages in Paul’s letters which seem to suggest a limited sphere for women. It is important to note that Paul relates positively to an early church where women enjoy prominent roles and are examples of devoted discipleship. The women mentioned in the letter to the Romans are actively engaged in discipleship: they are leaders, they are missionaries, and they are persecuted for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

Related Mormon Women Project Interviews

We Are Made for Love and Light, Rachel von Niederhausern

It’s just all messy! I don’t know much these days about balance. I have learned, however, about priorities. Serving my family is my top priority, and my life’s work of serving humanity as a disciple of Jesus Christ is my priority as well. And there’s time to do both. But at different times I might be spending more actual physical time with one or the other.

Choosing God and Abundance, McArthur Krishna

I learned about seeing with God’s view. I was reading a talk by President Monson and he was talking about people making choices. He said when God needed the best missionary effort he didn’t recruit from among his advocates but from his adversaries—and Saul got the opportunity to become Paul. We see the world so much as it is now rather than as God sees: what is possible. For me to walk this path forced me to try to trust God’s vision of what could be, rather than what is.

To Be a Vessel, Jamillah Ali-Rashada

..because of my experiences of going to Muslim services and participating, I can be perfectly comfortable and content. To be able to be there and know how to serve those who are where I am. I can also go to the temple and serve. I believe that the experiences that I have had have actually broadened my base because I believe that it allows me to be more multi-faceted rather than locked into one way of service. I remember when Paul in the scriptures was teaching the people, and the essence of what he was saying is: You meet people where they are. You can’t go into some place and teach or guide them to truth if you don’t even know who they are. You live the example, so that they have some path to follow.

Other Related Women’s Voices

Wanted: Hearts and Hands to Hasten the Work, Linda K. Burton

…our true identity is that of a disciple of Jesus Christ!

Wide Awake to Our Duties, Carole M. Stephens

After my call to the Relief Society general presidency, I felt a desire to know more about the women who had served before me. I was impressed by the teachings of Sister Zina D. Young, first counselor in the second Relief Society general presidency. She said, “Sisters, it is for us to be wide awake to our duties.” I pondered on the words awake and duty and did some additional searching in the scriptures.

In the New Testament, Paul taught the Saints of his day: “It is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer…The night is far spent, the day is at hand:…let us put on the armour of light.” (Romans 13:11-12)

I Know It. I Live It. I Love It, Ann M. Dibb

I hope we will never be afraid or reluctant to acknowledge, “I’m a Mormon.” We should be confident, as was the Apostle Paul when he proclaimed, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.”1 As members, we are followers of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Such conversion and confidence is the result of diligent and deliberate effort. It is individual. It is the process of a lifetime.

What I Hope My Granddaughters (and Grandsons) Will Understand about Relief Society, Julie B. Beck

Every day, Relief Society sisters around the world experience the entire range of mortal challenges and experiences. Women and their families today live face to face with unrealized expectations; mental, physical, and spiritual illness; accidents; and death. Some sisters suffer loneliness and disappointment because they do not have families of their own, and others suffer from the consequences of poor choices made by family members. Some have experienced war or hunger or natural disasters, and others are learning about the strain of addictions, unemployment, or insufficient education and training. All of these difficulties have the potential to bleach the bones of faith and exhaust the strength of individuals and families. One of the Lord’s purposes in organizing the sisters into a discipleship was to provide relief that would lift them above “all that hinders the joy and progress of woman.” In every ward and branch, there is a Relief Society with sisters who can seek and receive revelation and counsel with priesthood leaders to strengthen each other and work on solutions that are applicable in their own homes and communities.