Thursday, February 6, 2014

What about Junia?

Disclaimer: The more I research what the Bible has to say about the issue of women in ministry, the more I realize that the answers are not as simple as I was once led to believe. Following my posts on Phoebe and Priscilla, some have written to "set me straight." And I appreciate their genuine concern. Ironically, the complementarians seem to think that I have taken an egalitarian stance and the egalitarians seem to think that I have taken a complementarian stance. Neither seemed to entertain the possibility that I was moving somewhere towards the middle, which is, in fact, where my research is leading me. So those of you who have your minds made up on the subject, I beg your patience as I try to sort it all out for myself. While I welcome feedback, please understand that I have been studying this issue for two years and I am very familiar with the basic party lines of both sides! Many choose not to dig deeper into this issue because their current understanding is satisfactory for their present experience and calling. I was in that boat for much of my life. But today my calling demands a more thorough investigation. Rather than depending on others' conclusions, I am seeking to faithfully investigate the scriptures for myself in a hermeneutically sound fashion, seeking guidance and wisdom from the Lord along the way. I am not yet sure of where I will land on this, therefore, I am certainly not trying to convince anyone of anything. I am merely seeking (with as much integrity as I can muster) to take an honest look at the issue. If you've already landed at your destination, I remind you that I am still voyaging. On to Junia....

"Would you want to teach a session on the subject of women in ministry at a French leadership conference?"

It wasn't a formal invitation. At this point, it was just an idea being casually kicked around among friends.

"You could talk about women in leadership."


The response going through my head was something like, "Not for all the chocolate in the universe."

Once again I found myself being invited to lead others into territory that is uncomfortable and somewhat unexplored for me. God keeps pushing me into these places, demanding a response. I know he made me a woman and a leader. I've been both since the day I was born. But after 42 years, I still don't always know how to reconcile those two qualities in Christian contexts.

Perhaps that is why I am so intrigued by the mention of a person named Junia at the end of Paul's letter to the Romans:
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.
So much interesting information in this tiny little verse!

First, who are Andronicus and Junia? This is the only times that their names appear in scripture, but they are clearly loved by Paul. Andronicus is a male name and Junia is a female name. However, in a 1927 translation of the Greek New Testament, a translator named Nestle added a masculine ending to the name--making it Junias. All other Greek translations, including the well respected one by Erasmus in the Reformation era, contained a clearly feminine name. In fact the male version, Junias, is a made-up name that is non-existent in writings and historical documents from the time (it would be like trying to turn a name like Karen or Susan into a boy's name). Meanwhile, the female version, Junia, was a rather common name among women. Finally, in 1998, the Jubilee Edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek translation, reverted back to the feminine form of Junia, which is widely accepted as accurate by most Biblical scholars.

(Just for fun, check out the verse in your Bible. If you have a translation that was published between 1927 and 1998, Romans 16:7 will probably read Andronicus and Junias, but a translation from before 1927 OR after 1998 will most likely read Andronicus and Junia. Oh the power and responsibility of Bible translators!)

While we can be fairly certain that Junia was a woman, it is unknown whether Andronicus was her husband or her brother. The mention of their names together indicates some sort of familial relationship and some historians believe that they were relatives of Paul's. In any case, they became Christians before Paul and they had suffered for their faith alongside of him--these two facts are the only undisputed details in this verse! Given those points, I already have a great deal of respect for Junia. She was a faithful follower of Christ who went to prison because of her dedication to him.

The most debated issue from Romans 16:7 is whether or not Junia was an apostle. It seems that the tiny little Greek preposition "en" holds all the cards. You see, there are two possible ways to translate "en."

Either: Andronicus and Junia are highly respected among the apostles.

Or: Andronicus and Junia are highly respected by the apostles

One little word--so much controversy.

According to Danker and Bauer in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition, "The uses of this preposition are so many and various and often so easily confused that a strictly systematic treatment is impossible. It must suffice to list the main categories which will help to establish the usage in individual cases. The earliest auditor/readers, not being inconvenienced by grammatical and lexical debates, would readily absorb the context and experience little difficulty." The same book lists twelve main categories of usage for the Greek word "en."

The Romans who received this letter from Paul obviously knew Andronicus and Junia because Paul asks the Roman church to greet them. The Romans weren't the least bit confused by the word "en." Its meaning would have been obvious to them. I wish it were clearer for us.

I have read commentary after commentary arguing for one translation or the other. Some seem certain that Paul is identifying Junia as an apostle. Others concede that while this is the best grammatical translation, it cannot be the accurate translation because there are no female apostles in the Bible. Um, wait a minute, does anyone else see the problem with that argument? It seems like most traditionalists scholars would prefer to wallow in ambiguity than explore the possibility that a female apostle was named in the Bible.

After intensive research, I believe that it's likely that Paul identifies Junia --a woman-- as an apostle.

So let's play "what if...", understanding that from this point on, we are working in the realm of intelligent speculation, not proven fact.

What if there is a female apostle named in the Bible? What if she was outstanding among the apostles? What would that do to established leadership structures in the church? How would that influence our understanding of other Pauline texts on the subject? What would that do to your theology about women leaders?

The truth is, the existence of a female apostle would change a lot of things. 


  1. LOVE IT, my friend. Keep on. You are leading many of us who are very interested but unable (or unwilling) to do the kind of research that you are doing. THANK YOU.

  2. I so appreciate your humble treatment and thoughtful research of this subject. I wrestle with questions regarding this issue as well, and I will be following your findings closely as I explore it for myself. A female apostle...I gotta admit, I like the sound of that. :)