Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 16 (Gupta)

Junia was a Prominent Female Apostle of the First Century Church 

Did you know there is a woman who is named an apostle in the New Testament? To be accurate, she is actually commended as prominent or noteworthy among the first century apostles.

NIV Romans 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. (Rom. 16:7 NIV)

Perhaps you didn’t fully catch how important this little verse is. But why has it escaped the notice of most Christians? In the medieval period, translators and commentators on the Bible shifted this female name “Junia” to a made-up male name “Junias.” Why? Christian scholars and leaders simply could not believe that Paul could call a woman an apostle. So for more than 500 years, Andronicus and Junias were both believed to be men (see RSV)—until more investigation was done on Junia and her female identity restored. All of this is well-documented in Eldon Epp’s now classic work, Junia, the First Woman Apostle (2005).

Now, virtually all translations recognize her female identity (NIV, NRSV, NET, CSB), but there is ongoing debate about whether or not Paul was calling her an “apostle.” I believe the weight of evidence balances strongly in favor of “apostle Junia.” But let’s take our time to get to know Junia.

Junia Was A Prisoner Because of Her Ministry

Paul mentions in his commendation of Andronicus and Junia that they shared imprisonment with him. This implies incarceration for the sake of the Gospel. NT scholar Christoph Stenschke offers these considerations:

Paul presumes “the imprisonment of Rom 16:7 was the consequence of rejected missionary activities which involved Andronicus, Junia, and Paul…Junia must have been involved or at least perceived to have participated in these activities to an extent that she was imprisoned together with the men.” (157; Bibliography below)

That means she was a “front-lines” ministry leader; she was treated by the state as enough of a threat to merit imprisonment. Paul goes out of his way to mention this to commend their risk-taking in ministry, courage, and resilience.

Prominent to the Apostles, or Prominent among the Apostles?

Virtually all English translations now agree “Junia” is a woman. Where there is much ongoing disagreement is on whether or not Paul was calling her an apostle. Based on the Greek text, Paul’s words could be read either way; so:

“They are well known to the apostles” (ESV, HCSB)

“They are outstanding among the apostles” (NIV; see NRSV)

[See bibliography for two views on evidence for these translations]

Can anything break the deadlock of this translation conundrum? One of the tools in the toolbelt of the biblical scholar is listening to the commentaries of the early church Fathers who (1) were much closer in time and culture to the NT writers than we are today and (2) [if they were Greek-speaking] knew better how to interpret Paul’s Greek words.

The early Church Fathers testify clear to Junia’s status as “apostle.”

Let the Greek Church Fathers Testify

Just read the following; I find it deeply inspiring.

Origen (184-253AD)

“He might have called them [Andronicus and Junia] prominent among the apostles and among the apostles who preceded him because they were among the seventy-two who were also called apostles (Luke 10:1).” [Commentary on Romans 10.17; FotC 104.294-295];later he writes they were “fellow-captives in this world and noble among the apostles” (295).

John Chrysostom (348-407AD)

“To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles —just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title apostle” (In ep. ad Romanos 31.2). [It is troubling to me that those who argue that Junia was not as apostle fail to account for Chysostom’s confident statement]

Theodoret of Cyrus (393-457AD)

“He says they were not among the disciples but among the teachers—not any sort of teachers but the apostles!” (Interpret. 82.200; see Epp, 33)

Keep in mind, these are Greek Fathers, meaning Greek was their native language. Yet, none of these ever wondered whether this verse might be translated differently. Put simply, these Greek Fathers believed Junia was a female apostle.

What Does This Mean for Christian Woman Today?

This means women did ministry commended by Paul, and they did it on equal footing as men. If they were gifted to proclaim the gospel publicly as “apostles,” then they were authorized with the highest responsibilities including the authority of evangelizing and planting churches. If Junia was an apostle, this establishes a sterling precedent for women as church planters, preachers, teachers, missionaries, and elders. And they can aim high because she was prominent among the people called “apostles.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY

L. Belleville, “Ἰουνιαν…ἐπισημοι ἐν τοις ἀποστολοις: A Re-examination of Romans 16.7 in Light of Primary Source Materials” NTS 51 (2017): 231-249. [Prominent among the apostles]

M. Burer and D. Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Re-examination of Rom 16.7” NTS 47 (2000): 76-91. [Prominent to the apostles]

J. E. Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle. (2005) [Tide-turning study]

S. McKnight, Junia is Not Alone. [Argument for Junia as apostle that is non-technical]

C. Stenschke, “Married Women and the Spread of Early Christianity” Neotestamentica 43.1 (2009): 145-194.

See “Junia, A Female Apostle” (CBE)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Why I Believe in Women in Ministry: Part 16 (Gupta)

  1. Prof Gupta, I have thoroughly enjoyed this series. I come from a complementarian background, but a year worshiping at an Anglican church in Durham, UK, prompted me to rethink my certainty on “gender roles” in the church.

    The hermeneutical question still looms large for me, since I, like you, do not want to play fast and loose with the scriptures. Yet I have discovered (what many others have long noted) that women were the first messengers of the resurrection. How can we divorce the “role” or “exercise” of preaching from the proclamation of the resurrection? In fact, I have made this point to my wife, but she, like her church growing up (where we now attend), still believes that God has commissioned only certain men for preaching and pastoral ministry. I respect her and many other women at our church who hold this view, since their hermeneutic is “Let God be true, though every man be a liar.”

    Ok so that’s where I’m coming from. The other thing to note is that my great desire to become, like you, a professor of New Testament studies. So far, I have completed an MA at Durham, but that’s about it. I’m very interested in your book on earning a PhD, which was recommended to me by Tavis Bohlinger.

    Thank you for the bibliography here. I took the time to read the NTS article by Wallace/Burer. I found the evidence presented to be compelling despite my hopes for Junia’s apostolic status. Do you accept their linguistic arguments (which admit a few rare exceptions)? If so, and in view of the Church Fathers’ testimony, do you believe that the usage of ἐπίσημος + ἐν with personal object had changed by the time Paul was writing?

    A second question: leaving aside Rom 16.7, do you generally agree/disagree with the claim of Wallace/Burer that “the semantic range of the absolute use of ἀπόστολος remains rather restricted within the Pauline epistles” (90 n 68)?

    My MA project was on the return of the seventy-two (Luke 10.1-20), so I was delighted to find Origen connecting Rom 16.7 with that powerful mission. Jesus’ action clearly lays a foundation for a theology of an apostleship broader than the twelve. On the other hand, this makes me wonder if Origen was reading more theologically than strictly linguistically.

    Your own argument appeals to the native fluency/proficiency of the Greek church fathers, but this begs a methodological question. (In raising this, I admit that I am merely aspiring to be a scholar, but am not one!) Even if we are unpersuaded by the diachronic analysis of Wallace/Burer, how much weight should we put upon the interpretive nuance of native Koine speakers who were reading the Epistle of Romans 150-250 years after its composition?

    Thank you for hearing these question out. Would be keen to hear your responses, if time permits you.

    1. Hi Daniel, thanks for this. Pardon my brevity, but here are my responses

      1) preaching – “preaching a sermon” is a post-apostolic construct. There are no rules in the Bible about who can preach a sermon. The bigger question is authority, and I would point to (1) Deborah, (2) house church leaders like Nympha, and (3) Priscilla who herself (along with her husband) instructs a known Christian leader. If we say women can’t preach sermons, why do we let them write Christian songs, which we know have a massive influence on the modern church? Or write theology books? That is what I would want to say to complementarian theologians.

      2) Wallace/Burer – I think (if memory serves correct) Belleville, Bauckham, and Epp have refuted their methods and findings, point by point. I would start there. But yes I put a lot of stock in native Greek readers. No matter how many texts Wallace/Burer consult, they simply can’t say they have THE right answer if Chrysostom (et al) did not even think the matter unclear. Yes, it is a couple of centuries later, but they are far, far, far closer to the apostolic era than we are. Read Belleville and tell me what you think of her arguments. Also, see arguments by Fitzmyer and Moo. Also, Belleville uses as a linchpin argument against Wallace/Burer Lucian’s DIALOGUES OF THE DEAD as an inclusive use of this construction from antiquity.

      3) Apostolos – I assume Paul could use this term in a wider sense, as he does in 1 Thess 2:7.

      Durham is a great place to study, glad you chose them.

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