Women in Ministry: Romans 16:7

This is part six on the dissertation ‘Women in Ministry.’
For part five, click here: Women in Ministry: Romans 16:1-2

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Romans: Translation of 16:7

Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the Apostles, who were also in Christ before me.[1]

Romans: Exegesis of 16:7
There is no doubt both Andonicas and Junia were outstanding ministry partners. They became Christians before Paul, which means, by the writing of Romans, they had been in the faith for several decades. The issue here is whether Junias was a female, and if so, did she hold the office of Apostle. Thomas Schreiner suggests that Romans 16:7 is “far too ambiguous to make a case. It is hermeneutically akin to finding support for baptism from the dead from 1 Corinthians 5:29.”[2] Nonetheless, both sides of the debate are left only with scriptural scraps from which to make a case. Both sides are guilty of exegetical acrobatics, but there is little choice to do otherwise. There are only four possibilities. For a breakdown of each view, see figure 6.

Figure 6. Possible interpretations of Romans 16:7

  1. Junia was female, but outstanding ‘in the eyes of the Apostle.’
  2. Junia was male and held the office of Apostle.
  3. Junia was female, but was an apostle in the generic sense.
  4. Junia was female and held the office of Apostle, which is permissible today.

The first possibility is that Junia was in fact a female, but was ‘outstanding in the eyes of the Apostles’ rather than ‘among the apostles.’ The most significant work for this view is Wallace and Burer’s Was Junia Really an Apostle? They argue that in their survey of Greek texts, the “genitive personal modifier was consistently used for an inclusive idea” and that the dative, masculine, plural statement en toi aposotloi is more likely to be exclusive.[3] They trace the common inclusive interpretation back to J.B. Lightfoot, whose careful exegesis influenced later generations by his stance:

Except to escape the difficulty involved in such an extension of the apostolate, I do not think the words oitines estin en toi apostoloi would have been generally rendered, “who are highly esteemed by the Apostles. The Greek fathers took the more natural interpretation.[4]

They claim that since Lightfoot essentially closed the door on this issue, few scholars have given it much attention. Five years after Was Junia Really an Apostle? was published, Burer continued his argument with an article on patheos.com. From parallel constructions in the Psalm of Solomon (2:6, 17:30) he suggests there is indeed flexibility to translate it exclusively rather than inclusively.[5] Craig Keener admits that this translation “is grammatically possible,” but unlikely.[6]

Others, however, see Burer and Wallace’s work as unconvincing. Richard Bauckham believes, because they only discussed five different texts, that it is an “extraordinary way to draw conclusions from such minimal evidence.”[7] He goes on to argue that Burer and Wallace error in their dismissal of the Patristic evidence. That is, they argue the Fathers held “a particular view, without interacting over the force of the Greek…[and] writers such as Origen and John Chrysostom were educated native speakers of Greek”[8] Blomberg argues that their evidence is “highly selective” and they “translate “among” in a locative sense, even though the first noun is not a subset of the second.”[9] What is clear is that there are examples of similar Greek constructions being used as both exclusive and inclusive, though the inclusive use seems more common.

The second possibility is that Junia held the office of apostle, but was actually a male. The evidence is perplexing given that commentators from the 13th to the 20th century generally assume Junia was a male, while early commentators, and, as one would expect, 21st century commentators, assume Junia was a female.[10]

The Complementarian argument is that Junia is a contraction of Junias, and was thus a male. Lightfoot suggests that Origen was correct: “In this case Junia …is probably a man’s name, Junias contracted from Junianus, as it is taken by Origen.”[11] Martin Luther rendered it the masculine Junias, which is fitting since he is within the 13-20th century window.[12] Karl Barth does the same.[13] But very few scholars today assume Junia was a male.

It is more common for 21st century Complementarian scholars to conclude that we cannot know Junia’s gender. Piper and Grudem claim the “we cannot know” if Junia was a female and that the evidence in indecisive.”[14] Schreiner suggests that Junia was most likely a female, but could have been a male.[15] Moo lands in the center as well.[16]

Outside of the 13-20th Century window, there is significant evidence to suggest that Junia was indeed a female. First, we have several early writers who refer to her gender. John Chrysostom declares “Oh! how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!”[17] Bellville argues that there is “unbroken tradition from Ambrose in the fourth century through Lombard in the twelfth century that…recognizes a female apostle”[18]

There is no evidence of any early church father referring to Junia as a male. It is easy to dismiss Lightfoot’s assumption concerning Origen’s reference to Junia the male, since his comment comes from a secondary Latin source—an abbreviated Latin translation of Origen’s comment translation by Tyrnanius Rufinias. It has also been suggested that Epiphanius is an example of an early church writer referring to Junia as a male, but his work is in question for two reasons: first, though he refers to Junia as a male, he does the same with Prisca, who is clearly a female. Second, the actual work of Epiphanius is also in question, since “It is unlikely to be a genuine work of the fourth-century bishop of Salamis.”[19]  Outside of Origen and Epiphanius, the evidence of the first twelve centuries weighs in favor of Junia the female.

Second, and perhaps the strongest argument against a male Junia is the lack of a contracted version of the name anywhere in Greco-Roman literature. Both Linda Bellville and Bernadette Brooten have strong words on this issue:

To date not a single Latin or Greek inscription, not a single reference in ancient literature has been cited by any of the proponents of the Junias hypothesis. My own search for an attestation has also proved fruitless. This means that we do not have a single shred of evidence that the name Junias ever existed.[20]

The masculine name Junias simply does not occur in any inscription, on any tombstone, in any letterhead or letter, or in any literary work contemporary with NT writings. In fact, “Junias” does not exist in any extant Greek or Latin document of the Greco-Roman period.[21]

The evidence for Junia’s gender is tight. James Dunn, however, is incorrect when we says that “The assumption that [Junia]…must be male is a striking indictment of male presumption regarding the character and structure of earliest Christianity”[22] Though the search for Junia’s gender is a morass of clues hidden by history, the evidence weighs in favor of Junia the female.

The third possibility is that Junia was a female who was indeed outstanding among the apostles, but was only an apostle in the generic sense. The word apostolos or one of its cognates, is used eighty-five times in the New Testament. Most of its uses are from Paul and Luke. The wide spread use of the word causes several problems. First, not all of the Biblical writers use the word in the same way. Paul seems to suggest that a condition of being an apostle is that one must have seen the risen Lord (1 Cor 9:1), and that he was the last one to see Him (1 Cor 15:8). If this is this case, then there were only fourteen Apostles: the original 12, Matthias, and Paul. All other uses of apostolos would be rendered ‘messenger,’ which would include Junia. The difficulty with this common interpretation is that both Luke and Paul use apostolos in  very different ways. Paul refers to Apollos as an apostle (1 Co 4:6, 9), but given NT chronology he could not have seen the risen Lord. Luke tends to treat apostolos as referring only to the original twelve chosen by Jesus Himself. NT usage, then, is not always consistent and it is difficult to create a clear definition that satisfies all fronts.

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Another issue is that the semantic range of the word is wider than an interpreter might like, leading several translations to render some uses of apostolos as a ‘messenger’ rather than ‘Apostle.’ For instance, in John 13:16 Jesus declares: oude apostolos meizon tou pemzantos auton. Although apostolos is used, nearly all interpreters translate it as ‘messenger’ because the context is clear: Jesus is not referring to Apostles, but a messenger. Another clear example is Paul’s letter to the Philippians when he says that he is sending Epaphraditus, who is humon de apostolon. Again, most translations render apostolon as ‘messenger.’ This is a reasonable rendering, since it would be unlikely that Paul would call Epaphraditus ‘their apostle.’ The final example could go either way. In 2 Corinthians 8:23 Paul refers to his brothers when he says, hemon apostoloi ekklesian. Most translations render apostolon ‘messengers,’ but this is not clear. The argument, then, is that in Romans 16:7, when Paul calls Junia an apsotolos, he means it in the same way it is used in John 13:16, Phil 2:25, and 2 Cor 8:23. That is to say, she is a messenger and not an Apostle.

That Junia was a female messenger is consistent with the Complementarian view in that she may have been a traveling evangelist or missionary. As Schreiner points out, “many women missionaries throughout history have actually held the Complementarian view and ministered and preached the gospel in such a way that this view was not violated.”[23] He goes on to say that messengers like Junia “were likely itinerant evangelists or missionaries”[24] Moo agrees with Schreiner when he writes:

Both sides of the issue are guilty of accepting too readily a key supposition in this line of reasoning: that ‘apostle’ here refers to an authoritative leadership position such as that held by the ‘twelve’ and by Paul…So ‘apostle’ here probably means ‘travelling missionary[25]

Grudem also argues that there is far too little evidence to draw a conclusion.[26]

The final possibility is that Junia was a female, held the office of Apostle, and this was normative for the early church—and therefore should be normative today. As previously mentioned, there is ample evidence in the early church that Junia was understood to be a female.  Bellville cites 250 examples of the female name in Rome alone.[27] More than that, however, is that most of the major translations assume a female gender (CSB, ESV, NASB, NIV NKJV, NLT).

The other issue of whether or not the dative plural is inclusive or exclusive is dismissed by perceived flaws in Wallace and Burer’s study, as well as the fact the most common usage of the dative plural is inclusive (Matt. 2:6, Acts 4:34, and 1 Pe. 5:1).[28] In fact, Belleville not only demonstrates Biblical uses of the inclusive dative plural, she also gives multiple examples from extant non-biblical writings from the 1st to 2nd centuries.[29]

Keener argues that the final issue, whether avposto,loij means ‘messenger’ or ‘Apostle,’ is solved by simply looking at the qualifiers attached to the noun[30]. In the cases where ‘messenger’ is the obvious translation, a qualifier is always used. In 2 Corinthians 8:23, they were said to be ‘messengers of the church.’ In Philippians 2:25, they were said to be ‘your messengers.’ Of course, John 13:16 does not have a qualifier, but the context is quite clear that Jesus is referring to a messenger and not an Apostle.

Romans: Conclusions from 16:7
The evidence of Junia being a male is weak, and can safely be dismissed. Burer and Wallace have also not succeeded in making their case. While their evidence cannot be dismissed, they have only succeeded in demonstrating a rare possibility of exclusivity. The two options with the most evidence are the Egalitarian view of female Apostles or that Andronicus and Junia were simple church messengers. When taken alone the evidence is inconclusive. However, when one applies the other pertinent verses, the evidence weighs in favor of Junia and Andronicus as messengers of the church.

Women in Ministry: Intro
Women in Ministry: Genesis 3:16
Women in Ministry: 1 Timothy 3:1-13
Women in Ministry: 1 Timothy 2:11-15
Women in Ministry: Romans 16:1-2
Women in Ministry: Romans 16:7
Women in Ministry: 1 Corinthians 11:2-16
Women in Ministry: 1 Corinthians 14:33-35
Women in Ministry: Galatians 3:28
Women in Ministry: Current practice & belief of the SBC
Women in Ministry: Personal practice & belief
Women in Ministry: Epilogue

Footnotes:
[1] Author’s translation.

[2] James R. Beck, ed., Two Views on Women in Ministry, 286.

[3] Michael H. Burer and Daniel B. Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Reexamination of Romans 16:7.” New Testament Studies, 47, (2001): 76-91.

[4] J.B. Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (London: MacMillan and Co., 1887) 96.

[5] Adrian Warnock, “Michael Burer Enters the Junia Debate to Support the Article He Wrote with Dan Wallace,” December 19th, 2006,  accessed January 10th, 2014, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/adrianwarnock/2006/12/michael-burer-enters-the-junia-debate-to-support-the-article-he-wrote-with-dan-wallace.

[6] Beck, ed., Two Views on Women in Ministry, 212

[7] Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s, 2002) 175.

[8] Ibid., 179.

[9] James R. Beck, ed., Two Views on Women in Ministry, 149.

[10]Moo, New International Commentary on the New Testament: Romans, 922; Thomas Schreiner, Baker Exegetical Commentary: Romans, 796.

[11] Lightfoot, Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, 96.

[12] Martin Luther, Die Bibel oderdieganze heilige schrift

Privileg. Wurt. Bibleanstalt Stuttgart 1912.

[13] Karl Barth, Epistle to the Romans, trans. Edwyn C. Hoskins (London: Oxford University Press, 1957), 535.

[14] Piper and Grudem, ed., Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, 79.

[15] Schreiner, Baker Exegetical Commentary: Romans, 796

[16]Moo, New International Commentary on the New Testament: Romans, 922

[17] Christian Classics Ethereal Library, “St.Chrysostom: Homliles,” accessed February 9th, 2014, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf111.vii.xxxiii.html.

[18] James R. Beck, ed., Two Views on Women in Ministry, 328.

[19] Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels, 167.

[20] Bernadette Brooten “Junia…Outstanding among the Apostles,” accessed December 15th, 2014, http://www.womenpriests.org/classic/brooten.asp.

[21] James R. Beck, ed., Two Views on Women in Ministry, 39.

[22] James D.G. Dunn, Word Biblical Commentary: Romans, 894.

[23] Beck, ed., Two Views on Women in Ministry, 288.

[24] Schreiner, Baker Exegetical Commentary: Romans, 796.

[25]Moo, New International Commentary on the New Testament: Romans, 923-924.

[26] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994) 909.

[27] Beck, ed., Two Views on Women in Ministry, 39.

[28] Ibid., 42.

[29] Ibid., 43.

[30] Ibid., 213.

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  2. […] This is part seven on the dissertation ‘Women in Ministry.’For part six, click here:  Women in Ministry: Romans 16:7 […]

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