Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tryphena and Tryphosa

I thought that in celebration of the recent change in age requirement for LDS missionaries that I would post on two of the earliest women missionaries we know of. 

Romans 16:12

Background: About  55 and 56 A.D.

Paul's epistle to the Romans was written from Corinth.  The Bible Dictionary explains,
" Paul was then contemplating a visit to Jerusalem, which was certain to be dangerous (Rom. 15:31). If he escaped with his life he hoped afterwards to visit Rome. The letter was meant in part to prepare the Church there to receive him when he came. It may also be regarded as containing a statement of those doctrines which had been in dispute with the Judaizing Christians, and which Paul now regarded as finally established." 
Paul sent his letter to the church at Rome by way of a woman named Phoebe, "which is a servant of the church" (Rom. 16:1) and commended them to receive her. At the close of his epistle Paul extended personal greetings to many of his friends and "co-workers" in Christ who lived, or had fled, to Rome.

Facts About Them:

  • Paul included them, in his epistle to the early Christians living in Rome, among those he extended a personal greeting too. 
  • After greeting Herodian and the household (JST changes it to "church") of Narcissus (Rom. 16:11) Paul then wrote, "Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord" (Romans 16:12). 
  • The word translated as "labor" in Romans 16:12 is derived from a Greek verb meaning “to work hard." (source)
  • Their names are derived from the same Greek word and mean "dainty, delicate, or luxurious."

Speculations About Them: 

  • Considering that Paul mentions these two women together it is likely that they were sisters. And seeing that their names are so similar scholars speculate that they may have been 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. 

My Thoughts:

We don't have much about Tryphena and Tryphosa but the fact that their names are even mentioned by Paul and that he calls them "hard workers" in the work of the Lord is significant. The first thing it teaches us is that in the early Christian church women were active and involved in the missionary work of the church. Their help was central to the spreading of the gospel and they worked along side men to help build Christ's church. 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 even husband/wife pairs) were active in teaching and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world.  It is even fun that because these two women's names are linked together one could almost envision them being "mission companions"-- two "hard workers" for Christ! I would love one day to know more about what specific sort of work these women were engaged in and why they were special to Paul.

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 names that were common slave names of the day-- Persis (a common female slave name), Ampliatus and Hermes (common male slave names), and Herodion ( a common male name for a slave belonging to the house of Herod) (source). It is remarkable to think about Tryphena and Tryphosa, who were most likely from a wealthy Roman family, working and worshiping along side 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 along side 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" 
It impresses me to think  that these women may have given up a life of luxury, wealth and security to follow Jesus Christ. How remarkable to think that they put aside their desire for things of this world and instead had focused on working hard to lay up treasures in heaven-- for themselves and for others. They had been converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ and had a deep desire to share it; and they didn't let things like cultural or class distinctions keep them from loving and serving all of their brother and sisters. In that sense these women remind me much of the young men and women who serve as missionaries for Christ around the world. The thousands of youth who willingly set aside their own worldly desires and aspirations to bring souls into the Kingdom of God. How glorious to think that they are involved in the exact same work that was started, thousand of years ago, by those early disciples of Christ!

Tryphea and Tryphosa would be proud.

Questions to Think About:
  • What do you imagine these women gave up in order to become followers of Jesus? What would you sacrifice for Christ? 
  • What is significant about the fact that out of the 29 people Paul greets in his epistle to the church in Rome that 10 of them are women? 
  • Immediately after Paul "salutes" Tryphena and Tryphosa he salutes Persis, "who laboured much in the Lord." Why do you think that Paul uses the verb "laboured" instead of "labors" to describe her service? 
  • What lessons do these women's story have to teach women of today? How can their story apply to your life? 

Side note: If you would like to read more about the women (and men) mentioned by Paul in Romans 16 this is a fantastic essay


  1. In Roman times, women were treated like possessions or pets; rich women especially so. Tryphea and Tryphosa probably gave up the protection of their father(s) and the ability to marry into wealth, if at all. They probably gave up all of their friends, most of their family, and everything that was familiar and comfortable.

    The gospel of Jesus Christ brings a gender equality that just doesn't exist elsewhere. I would imagine that many women were drawn to the Church because of this.

  2. Heather
    I just wanted to say "Than you" for your missionary work. I know you didn't go on a "formal mission" but you seem to have been "set apart" to shed "light" on the women in the scriptures, whose names may have been just an after thought for many, but because of your love for Heavenly Father and his daughters, you are "a hard worker too".I have learned so much from reading your blog these few years. I feel that I was guided to your space.
    Thank you and keep up "the hard work"

    1. Ramona,

      Thank you so very very much for this comment. I can't tell you what that means to me. I think sometimes I get to comparing myself too much to others that I forget that the Lord has a different path and work for me to do. Thank you for the kind words and the reminder. It has been wonderful to get to know you better too!

  3. This is a fascinating post! I can imagine that they gave up a lot in order to follow Jesus Christ. For a Noble Roman woman to do so would have meant giving up wealth, comfort, their families, the fact that they did is a testament in itself. I had never heard of these Sisters before thanks for sharing this. I am going to read more about them. Foe them to worship amongst slaves and other classes is also a testament to the gospel and to equality really. Wow, thanks again for sharing this!