Index of Posts
There are more posts in this series to come (total: 20? 25?), but the index page for all links will be here. I will continue to update this page, so feel free to bookmark it and return later.
Index of Posts
There are more posts in this series to come (total: 20? 25?), but the index page for all links will be here. I will continue to update this page, so feel free to bookmark it and return later.
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.
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.
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.”
Just read the following; I find it deeply inspiring.
“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.”
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]
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.
Phoebe, Deacon and Benefactor (Romans 16:1-2)
Whenever I hear people say, “according to Paul women can’t…”, my first thought is: but women did. And often Paul sent them to do it. When I had a change of mind about women in ministry in seminary, much of this happened when I took a closer look at what women actually did in Paul’s ministries. A good place to start with that is Phoebe.
NIV Romans 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.(Rom. 16:1-2 NIV)
Paul commends Phoebe to the Romans, because he has sent her with his letter to the Romans. She probably played the role of letter carrier. She would also be on hand to answer interpretive questions about the letter. And, some scholars believe she actually read the letter to the Romans. (See an overview of the discussion here). Bottom line: she was an important, trusted colleague of Paul. She was not someone’s wife or an errand girl. She is mentioned without naming a counterpart male. That is crucial to recognize in and of itself. Let’s do a quick inventory of some of the language Paul uses for Phoebe.
This might seem like mundane Christian language, as in “fellow believer.” Perhaps, but this could have been taken for granted in the context of commending her as a deacon from Cenchrae. I read into the mentioning of her as “sister” more of a title of honor, a fellow leader of the church. Two things point in this direction. First, Paul mentions many women in Romans 16, but only calls Phoebe “sister.” Notice in his letter to Philemon, he also addresses it to Apphia whom he also calls “sister” (the only other place where this seems to be a title; Phm 1). Second, several times in his letters, Paul refers to Timothy as “our brother” (1 Thess 3:2; 2 Cor 1:1; Phm 1; Col 1:1). I think this was Paul’s way of commending Timothy as a respected fellow leader.
Servant or Deacon?
Paul calls Phoebe a diakonos from the church of Cenchrea. Some translations render this as “servant,” but diakonos had a rather wide range of usage and could be used as more of a church leadership title (see Phil 1:1). Given Paul’s desire to commend her, the fact that she was setting up operations in Rome and needed help with her work, and her function as a benefactor for Paul (see below), “deacon” is a better term here (so NIV). If she was not an official leader of the church of Cenchrea, I imagine Paul would have used the verb (diakoneo) for her service, rather than the noun (diakonos).
In Paul’s letters, diakonos is applied to the following people:
This is not a term Paul throws around for any helpful person (and apparently for no other woman named in his letters). He strategically uses this word to recognize servant leaders of churches.
Rom 16:2b makes it clear she had some agenda in Rome, and Paul calls upon the church to support her in whatever she needs. We can hardly treat her as anything but a proxy for Paul himself.
Paul is confident that she is deserving of their help, because she helped Paul so much. He refers to her as a prostatis: benefactor. She was a woman of wealth and means; probably she did more than give money though. She used her power and connections to help others in the church. The Cenchrean church may have met at her house/estate. Christopher Bryan refers to Paul as Phoebe’s “client and protege”! (Preface to Romans, pg 34)
Was She a Leader?
Paul does not explicitly say she preached sermons. He does not say she sat on a council of elders. But we need to think about leadership more holistically. Leadership is about input and influence. My desire that women should serve in ministry is not limited to sermons. It is about men sharing influence and power. When it comes to Phoebe, the signals we get from Romans 16 overall is that Paul was not isolated from women, he knew and respected them, especially as co-workers in ministry leadership.
Addendum: Notes from Recent Commentaries on Romans
Richard Longenecker NIGTC: Diakonos here “signals some type of active leadership in a Christian congregation at Cenchrea” (1064); re: Phoebe as interpreter of Romans: “Probably Phoebe should be viewed as the first commentator to others on Paul’s letter to Rome. And without a doubt, every commentator, teacher, or preacher on Romans would profit immensely from a transcript of Phoebe’s explanations of what Paul wrote in this letter before actually having to write or speak on it themselves.” (1064-1065)
Frank Matera Paideia: translates diakonos here as “minister” given his reading of her as a church leader in Cenchrea (338-339)
Arland Hultgren (Eerdmans): “Paul refers to her first as a ‘deacon,’ which would have been her public role within the church of Cenchreae, and then as a ‘benefactor,’ a term that applies to her activities in reference to certain persons (‘of many and also of me’). Both terms are important, but the combination of them, and the fact that Paul speaks of her first of all as a ‘deacon,’ points towards a leadership role in worship within her own home” (572)
Here are a few things I am publishing in 2019.
“The Good Soldier and the Good Life in Paul and the Giants of Philosophy” in Paul and the Giants of Philosophy (ed. Joey Dodson and David Briones, Aug 2019). I have worked with these editors on another project too and it has been a pleasure. This is a readable and engaging study of Paul’s relationship/resonances with and differences from the popular philosophies of his day. Also, what a great cover!
Prepare, Succeed, Advance: A Guidebook for Getting a PhD in Biblical Studies and Beyond (Cascade, July 2019). Second Edition. It has been 8 years since I did the first edition. I have learned some new things along the way about the academy. Also, I have added a lot more material on PhD exams (US programs), pedagogy, and a special new chapter I will talk about later this summer.
Zondervan Critical Introduction to the New Testament: 1-2 Thessalonians (series ed. Michael F. Bird; Zondervan, July 2019). This is an amazing series, and I am honored to be the launch volume. This is the most up-to-date, comprehensive critical introduction to 1-2 Thess. I can’t wait to collect the other volumes. Zondervan has made these very affordable. More info on this series to come.
Shall Be Bright At Last: Essays on Suffering and Hope in Paul (ed. Gupta and Martha VanHouten; Pennington Epress, Sept, 2019). This is an edited volume I developed from one of my seminary courses. The essays are written by my students where various Pauline texts related to suffering and hope are exposited and reflected on theologically. I contribute an essay on Philippians 4.
“2 Timothy” in The Wesley One-Volume Commentary (ed. Joel B. Green; Abingdon, Nov 2019). My short commentary of 2 Timothy is my first dip into the Pastorals. I am working on a longer (~100,000 words) commentary on 1-2 Timothy, Titus for Helwys’ “Reading” series.
The State of New Testament Studies (ed. Gupta and McKnight; Baker, Nov 2019). We recruited 23 contributors covering the gamut of NT topics and texts to survey the cutting edge conversations in NT studies. Contributors include: Scot McKnight, Lynn Cohick, Abson Joseph, Dennis Edwards, Mike Bird, Michael Gorman, Dana Harris, Joshua Jipp, Matt Bates, Alicia Myers, Jin Young Choi, Greg Carey, Rebekah Eklund, David Capes, and many more! My essay is on “New Testament Ethics.”
Paul and the Language of Faith (Eerdmans, December, 2019). I am really excited about this. It is my first theological study I have written since my dissertation. I discuss Paul’s faith language with a view towards the ongoing debate in scholarship about divine and human agency. I will have a lot more to say about this in the fall.
Sin and Its Remedy in Paul. (ed. Gupta and John Goodrich; Contours of Pauline Theology Series; Cascade, ~Jan/Feb 2020). This will launch a new book series with Cascade that comes out of the IBR Pauline Theology group John and I co-chair. This book has a stellar line-up, more info to come.
This is going to be another post that engages with why Bible translations should be gender inclusive (when the Greek text requires it), and where and why some translations get it wrong. Again, I am going to focus on the ESV because of its popularity.
The following gets a little technical. Sorry, occupational hazard.
This Greek word is a pronoun that can mean he, she, or it. Pronouns refer back to a given noun (in most cases). Its grammatical gender will match its antecedent (what it is referring back to). When it comes to the use of autos in reference to a man or a woman, it will be grammatically masculine in reference to a man, and grammatical feminine in reference to a woman.
Sometimes Greek uses autos in a generic way, where it refers to a person (“the one who/whoever”). Technically, the grammatical gender of autos for its generic use is masculine. But it is essential that we understand that this does not require the word to be referring to a male.
There are hundreds of examples of this in the ESV, but I will demonstrate with just a few.
ESV Luke 9:23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Lk. 9:23 ESV)
Here the ESV renders as “him/his” the occurrences of autos in this verse.
ESV 1 John 3:24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 Jn. 3:24 ESV)
ESV Hebrews 4:10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Heb. 4:10 ESV)
The simplistic statement (“this is consistent with similar usage in the original languages”) represents a failure to understand autos. And I think I can prove it.
From my own study of autos, I strongly believe there is a generic use of autos for which we do not have a singular pronoun (generic) version in English. In English, we have to use he/she/it. We don’t have a gender neutral pronoun for humans (“he/she”). I think it is clear that in Greek, while autos is technically masculine, Greek readers would know that in its generic usage the gender is canceled out by context.
How do I know this?
There is at least one case in the Greek Bible, where generic autos is used when the speaker is directly speaking to a woman. In that case, it would be unfathomable that the speaker would be trying to convince the listener of something, all the while excluding them from the statement.
John 4:14: Jesus Speaking to the Samaritan Woman
John 4:14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn. 4:14 ESV)ὃς δ᾽ ἂν πίῃ ἐκ τοῦ ὕδατος οὗ ἐγὼ δώσω αὐτῷ, οὐ μὴ διψήσει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα, ἀλλὰ τὸ ὕδωρ ὃ δώσω αὐτῷ γενήσεται ἐν αὐτῷ πηγὴ ὕδατος ἁλλομένου εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον. (Jn. 4:14 BGT)
Immediately the woman responds: “Sir, give me this water” (4:15). She readily interprets this as a statement made in relation to her. In such cases, it makes far more sense to translate this in a gender neutral way, rather than presume it must mean “him” because of a rigid view of grammatic gender.
We have a similar situation with John 11:25. This one does not contain autos, but it does use generic grammatical masculine language in Greek (“whoever believes”; ὁ πιστεύων), but it is speech directed at a woman (Martha).
ESV John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, (Jn. 11:25 ESV)εἶπεν αὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἀνάστασις καὶ ἡ ζωή· ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ κἂν ἀποθάνῃ ζήσεται (Jn. 11:25 BGT)
So what, then? So, it makes little sense to use “his/him/he” in contexts where a generic pronoun/article includes or might include women. The ESV is not being “essentially literal” on these occasions. More accurately, they are operating with a rigid and limited understanding of grammatical gender and the delicacy of taking context into consideration for generic statements.
Most modern translations try to use gender neutral language for generic statements in the Greek Bible. Often that includes changing the statement to fit the word “they/them/their” in English.
NIV Revelation 2:7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.ESV Revelation 2:7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
BGT Revelation 2:7 Ὁ ἔχων οὖς ἀκουσάτω τί τὸ πνεῦμα λέγει ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις. Τῷ νικῶντι δώσω αὐτῷ φαγεῖν ἐκ τοῦ ξύλου τῆς ζωῆς, ὅ ἐστιν ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ τοῦ θεοῦ. (Rev. 2:7 BGT)
Notice how the NIV tries to use “they” to replace a masculine pronoun. ESV advocates often argue that this moves away from a literal translation. My response would be that “he” obscures the Greek text as well, so you have to choose your poison. Do you move to “they” as a concession, or do you reinforce androcentricity (male-centered reading) as a concession? Again, I feel the need to point out the ESV oversight committee is all men. It strikes me as grossly irresponsible to make this kind of decision without oversight input from women translators and scholars. After all, more than 50% of Bible readers are women.
The goal of a good translation is not literal word-for-word translation: languages are different, they have different constructs and structures (For example, the Greek particle ἂν is untranslatable). The goal is faithfulness to the original text. In many cases, faithfulness is trying to bring the Greek word into English with as close alignment as can be acquired.
The ESV assumes that translating the generic use of autos as “he/his/him” is “literal” translation. My argument is that John 4:14 proves that invalid. John 4:14 proves that Greek speakers/writers/readers/hearers would naturally de-genderize the autos in a mixed gender context. Thus, in all cases where the generic autos is used, the only occasions a masculine pronoun should be used,are in contexts where the translator can be sure the statement does not relate to women in any way whatsoever (e.g., in relation to circumcision).
I received a comment to the effect that “he/him/his” is considered “gender neutral” by the ESV. I took this into consideration as I wrote this post; I think the ESV committee thinks it is gender inclusive, but I don’t think many readers of the Bible today agree. I have talked to many women today who feel that using he/him/his in generic statements reinforces the marginalization of women and their lives. To me, anything that contributes to that or reinforces it is androcentric (focusing on the lives, experiences, interests of males).
I did a rough and quick poll on Twitter of WOMEN’s thoughts, and I think this comes out clearly (see below). Many women did treat he/him/his as GN but most women feel marginalized in some way by this language. And a small, but important percentage, feel completely left out.
I used a random number generator to select the winner from among the commenters. Congratulations to “Dean O.”! (I will email you today)
Part of the inspiration for this particular giveaway was to get people talking about their favorite women theologians (#ReadWomen). Below I list the top 4 most frequently mentioned women authors in the comments with a link to a key book to read. Please check out their work.
Lynn Cohick (check out excellent Philippians commentary)
Fleming Rutledge (check out her highly acclaimed Crucifixion book)
Marianne Meye Thompson (check out her stellar Gospel of John commentary)
Cindy Westfall (check out her much-discussed Paul and Gender book)
There are, I would say, two primary texts that people use to prevent women from preaching and teaching over men in the church. One of them is 1 Timothy 2, the other is 1 Corinthians 14 (esp vv. 34-35). Here we will address 1 Corinthians 14.
The focus of our attention will be on these matters:
Are women really not allowed to speak? Why? (14:34)
Does the silencing of women relate to a universal standard of submission to men? (14:35)
If you are like me, when you read 1 Cor 14:34-35 you think: this just doesn’t sound like Paul. (This seems to contradict his attitude towards women elsewhere; e.g., Phil 4:2-3; Rom 16). Well, you and I are not alone. Some scholars believe it might be an “interpolation.” An interpolation is a piece of writing inserted into a text later by someone else. The best way to prove an interpolation theory is to have a later manuscript of 1 Corinthians with the added text, and an earlier manuscript without it. We don’t have that kind of evidence in this situation. But we do have some manuscripts that displace 14:34-35 by putting these two verses after 14:40. If 14:34-35 were original to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, why would a scribe move them? There are few cases I know of where a scribe would transfer a passage to somewhere else. So, we are left with two possibilities.
Either way, it is a strange matter. For the last decade or so, I defended the second view (#2), but I am becoming more and more persuaded by (#1). Now, I am the last person who is tempted to start cutting stuff out of the Bible. (That is usually a self-serving endeavor.) And in this case, the evidence for interpolation is still not clear enough to merit removing these verses from modern English Bibles. But – I think this matter is highly relevant to the conversation on women in ministry, because we dare not base our attitudes on this subject on a passage where scholars are not clear on its authenticity.
Still, I will do my best below to offer what I think of as the most plausible reading if it is authentic.
This is one of the texts that gets pulled out of context a lot to reinforce female submission in the church. But it is crucial to recognize that 14:26-40 is not about gender roles in the church; it is about harmony in the church. Paul does not want it to be that some people do the talking (i.e., men) and others do the listening (i.e., women). Rather, each believer has something to contribute verbally to edify the whole church (14:26).
This passage is used as evidence that women shouldn’t preach or teach in ministry over men, but the wider context doesn’t actually deal with those matters; it deals with prophecy and tongues. Paul supports tongue-speech, but it should be orderly (14:27). The ideal is that there be an interpreter, or else the tongue-speaker should keep quiet so as not to distract others (14:28).
And what about prophecy? Prophets may speak, but believers should weigh their words carefully (14:29). Paul imagines spontaneous works of the Spirit in the midst of the church, but this should not lead to noise and chaos. All can participate in prophesying for mutual encouragement (14:31).
Verse 33 serves as a key summary of his message: “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people” (NIV).
All scholars are in agreement that Paul was not calling women to be pin-drop silent at all times in church. After all, even in 1 Corinthians, Paul assumes women will prophesy in church in a public manner (1 Cor 11:5). And yet Paul expresses here that they should not speak. It is logical to assume it is a particular kind of speaking in a particular context.
The best clue we have is in 14:35, which can be translated more literally as “If they want to learn about something, they should ask their own husbands at home.” In this context, Paul is rebuking women who disrupt the worship service with comments or questions.
It is crucial to catch the tone of 14:36: did the word of God originate with you? Are you the only people it has reached? There is a tone of correction or rebuke here. What these Corinthians women were doing in the church was not asking about the sermon, I assume. They seem to have had a more subversive attitude as if they were harassing or second-guessing the person speaking.
Paul makes it clear at the end of this passage that what matters most is not that women submit to men, but that prophesying and tongue-speech happen “in a fitting and orderly way” (14:40).
The language of submission is used in this text (14:34), but there is something I hope you didn’t miss. Normally, Paul refers to the authority over the one submitting: submit to [so-and-so], but here he does not. So let’s not jump to any conclusions. It could be about submitting to God, but sometimes it can refer to submission to a thing, like the Law of God (Rom 8:7). My sense is that here the language of submission relates to respect for the church service, not submission to men in particular. If Paul wanted to say women should submit to men in church, he would have explicitly said so (because nearly always that is how the verb hypotasso is used; see, e.g, 1 Cor 16:16).
Nothing. Women should respect men when they speak in church. More spontaneous spiritual activity is expected and encouraged, but not at the expense of harmony.