When a Godly Woman Leads God’s People

Tucked in a passage about unity in Christ is a line that gets passed over too often:

For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. (1 Corinthians 1:11, NRSV.)

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632) (Wikipedia)

Saint Paul Writing His Epistles, Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632)
(Wikipedia)

Usually when I read the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth I am focusing on the fact of the quarreling among people who identified more with the leadership of Apollos, or Peter, or Paul, and how it took people’s attention off of God. Someone recently pointed out Chloe the other day and it made me wonder: Who is Chloe and why does she have people?

The People of Chloe

Starting with the people aspect, it turns out the word “people” is not explicitly used in the original text; translators put it in to clarify the meaning of the passage. (Other Bible translations use “family” or “household. An extensive compilation of the translations of the verse in English is found at Bible Gateway.)

The original Greek uses the pronoun ton rather than “people”, “household” or “family.” Strong’s interlinear aid renders the Greek as:

It was shown indeed to me concerning you brothers of me by those of Chloe that quarrels among you there are. (1 Corinthians 1:11, Strong’s.)

Putting aside the Yoda-like syntax, Strong’s translation raises a couple of points.

First, when Paul writes “those of Chloe”, does he mean Chloe’s brothers? The word “brothers” in the phrase “brothers of me” must be figurative, since Paul is writing to fellow believers and not his actual siblings. It looks as though he means the same for Chloe by use of the word “those” – Paul is likely referring to Chloe’s fellow Christians.

Second, is he restricting his letter to men only, or is he including all fellow Christians in Corinth? The Greek word translated “brothers” is “adelphos”, which can be meant either for men or for men and women together depending on whether the context is restrictive or not. (See, Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, note 6.) The context of 1 Corinthians 1 does not show a reason to consider it restricted only to men, so it appears the NRSV got it right by translating the word as “brothers and sisters.”

Chloe’s Got People

Which brings up Chloe herself. Why is she the one identified as the person the other Christians belong to (“those of Chloe”)? This is where the translators are trying to be helpful by inserting “people”, “family” and “household.” Yet when we think of family in this context it seems a more domestic arrangement is conveyed rather than a gathering of faith and fellowship. Thinking of it as a household might get us closer to fellowship of Christians if the word is meant to refer to a house church among the larger number of Christians in Corinth.

Ancient Corinthian Street (Wikipedia)

Ancient Corinth – perhaps some of Chloe’s people walked this street
(Wikipedia)

Then there is the translation decision (such as in the NRSV) to speak of Chloe’s “people”, a counterpart to Paul referring to his own companions in Christ. In this case Paul would be comparing Chloe’s relationship to those Christians known as “Chloe’s people” with the relationship he has with his companions. This is not to say Chloe had an apostolic position like Paul’s but it is to say she likely had a position significant enough that people would be known in relationship to her. (See Marg Mowczko’s Who Was Chloe of Corinth.)

If, as some insist, Paul was completely against women being in a position of authority over men, one would expect him to mention this somewhere in his correspondence with the church in Corinth. If his other letters are any indication of style, he might have worded his concern like this: “It has come to my attention you have a woman [Chloe]  presiding over a group of brothers and sisters. This must not be! Is there not a man among you who could take over? Don’t wait until I am among you to correct this abomination.”

But he didn’t. Rather than chastise Chloe or the church, he credits Chloe and her people for bringing the real problem to his attention: Don’t get caught up in human leadership, but rather turn your attention to Jesus as the one to follow.

Castle of Upper Corinth (Wikipedia)

Castle of Upper Corinth
(Wikipedia)

This is good advice for those who insist Paul said only men can lead the church. After all, the Bible record doesn’t support it; see not only Chloe’s example but also Priscilla’s and Junia’s and Phoebe’s, among other friends and fellow workers of Paul’s. (As for  passages such as 1 Timothy 2, a more thorough study shows Paul was not restricting women from church leadership over men and women. See the Junia Project’s Defusing the 1 Timothy 2:12 Bomb.)

Also, the point is to focus on Jesus and not the people who happen to be in more prominent roles among the church. If those people point to Jesus, the leadership glorifies God. Women have been doing this from the early days of the church, as well as before that under the Old Covenant. The most notable example is Deborah who was a prophet and ruled over Israel (Silencing Women – the guaranteed way for men to stay in control) but there are also women like Huldah who advised royalty on spiritual matters. (Godly Women Teaching Godly Men is Godly (and Biblical).)

Chloe’s prominence in the early church builds on the legacy of Deborah, Huldah and others. It is a legacy worth honoring today as women and men both serve God in pointing people to look upon Jesus as the one true leader worthy of honor, praise and worship.

***

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8 Responses to When a Godly Woman Leads God’s People

  1. Gwen says:

    I always knew I liked the name, Chloe. Ha. Seriously, yes, I’ve also thought about this passage, but have been confused by the differing translations, and how it seemed to skew whoever she was. Thanks for this helpful breakdown. A Happy Monday to you!

  2. Thanks, Tim, for this post and for linking to other relevant posts! Sometimes in my workshops it’s not the men who reject or have a problem with my teaching this biblical view, but the women themselves. Praying to bring more light and renewed life into women in the Church! Thank you again!

    • Tim says:

      When people get told often enough they can’t do things, it takes effort to break through. I’m praying the people you speak to will learn of the true freedom they have in Christ.

  3. Great breakdown of the Chloe reference, Tim: so interesting. And the deeper message is so important too — not to get hung up on factions and leaders, but to focus on Jesus.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Jeannie. I’m thinking Paul would have told those bothered by a woman’s leadership that they should focus instead on God and his glory.

  4. Marg says:

    The Yoda-like syntax in 1 Corinthians 1:11 is typical in Greek, including the Greek New Testament. A person’s family or household connection is often supplied by a single, succinct and short word: a definite article. So the reader or interpreter needs to fill in the blank.

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