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God's Fellow Workers?

God's Fellow Workers?

In Inter Insigniores Rome states:

“In the Pauline Letters, exegetes of authority have noted a difference between two formulas used by the Apostle: he writes indiscriminately ‘My fellow workers’ (Rom. 16:3; Phil. 4:2-3) when referring to men and women helping him in his apostolate in one way or another, but he reserves the title 'God’s fellow workers’ (1 Cor. 3:9; cf. 1 Thess. 3:2) to Apollos Timothy and himself, thus designated because they are directly set apart for the apostolic ministry and the preaching of the Word of God.”Inter Insigniores, § 16.

Reply

A careful analysis of the facts shows that the supposed distinction is not valid, and does not imply any substantial difference.

  • “Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (Romans 16,3) is equivalent to “God's fellow workers”.
  • In 1 Corinthians 3,9 the expression ‘God's fellow workers’ is demanded by the rhetoric of the composition: “For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field; God's building; etc.”
  • The reading ‘God's fellow workers’ in 1 Thessalonians 3,1 is textually suspect.
  • Timothy is implied to be among ‘God's fellow workers’ in 1 Corinthians 3,9 (and perhaps in 1 Thessalonians 3,1), but Paul calls him ‘Timothy, my fellow worker’ in Romans 16,21.
  • Paul called ordained ministers ‘my fellow workers’, such as Titus (2 Corinthians 8,23); Epaphroditus (Philippians 2,25); and Mark and Luke (Philemon v. 24). He used the same term of women involved in the ministry, such as Prisca (with Aquila; Romans 16,3) and Evodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4,1-3).

To draw any valid conclusions from the two expressions, one would need to show that such a distinction was in the mind of St. Paul when he wrote these texts. It will be clear from the above analysis that this cannot be done. Rather, we see that Paul uses the two expressions indiscriminately and that he did not entertain the presumed distinction of clergy and laity implied in Rome's text.

See also: E. Earle Ellis, ‘Paul and his Co-Workers’, New Testament Studies 17 (1970/71) pp. 437 - 452; R.J.Karris, ‘The Role of Women according to Jesus and the Early Church’, in Women and Priesthood, ed. C.Stuhlmueller, Liturgical Press, Collegeville 1978, pp. 47-58, here pp. 51-52.

John Wijngaards


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