Wednesday, January 4, 2012

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Junia? Pt. 1


I’ve said before that the Apostle Paul’s letters are high context documents. That is, they assume a great deal of shared knowledge between the writer and his intended audience. Some of that knowledge is, after a span of nearly two millennia, lost to us. For example, in the sixteenth chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul wraps things up in his customary way with a series of personal greetings to various individuals. For most of those individuals, the little that we know of them is to be found in Romans 16. This is the case with Andronicus and Junia.

Say hello to Andronicus and Junia, my relatives and my fellow prisoners. They are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. (Romans 16:7 CEB)

Andronicus is a male name and Junia is a female name. Some commentators speculate that Andronicus and Junia were a married couple, but this is purely a conjecture.

When Paul calls Andronicus and Junia his relatives, he may mean that they are Jewish, like himself. Some translations (e.g. the New Living Translation and the New International Version) reflect this interpretation. It is an interpretation nonetheless. Andronicus is a Greek name, but that doesn’t mean much. Some Jews had Greek names.

Paul seems to suggest that he, Junia and Andronicus were in prison, possibly together. The details of their imprisonment are unknown and, to be honest, I wonder if Paul wasn’t using the term “fellow prisoners” in some metaphorical sense.

Paul says that Andronicus and Junia were “in Christ before” he was. It is probably safe to assume this means that they had adopted the Christian faith before Paul did. Probably.

That is all that we can know about Andronicus and Junia. That, and the fact that Paul calls them “apostles.” Therein lies the problem.

If you don’t see the problem, God bless you!

Some Christians do not allow women roles of leadership in their churches. This can range from reserving ordination for men alone, to denying that women can even read theScriptures aloud in the assembly. For such Christians, the idea that Junia, a woman, could be an apostle, is problematic.

Looking at the Bible as objectively as possible, I think that there are passages in both testaments that affirm women in leadership roles, and passages, especially in the New Testament, that express the equality of men and women in Christ. There are also passages that say women should be silent and submissive to men (1 Tim. 2:12). In other words, the biblical witness is mixed. Junia becomes a problem for those Christians who insist that the Bible is one inerrant thing.

In my next few posts, I intend to discuss some of the flawed solutions that have been applied to the problem that is Junia.

The icon of Junia, along with Andronicus and Athanasius, came from wiki. For the record, I believe that qualified women and men should be allowed to serve in any position of leadership in the Church. That's the way it is in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.


  1. I completely agree with you, but as a woman pastor, the arguement that always comes with both Juania and the women at the tomb, is the very fact that they are called Apostles. Apostles are the sent ones. Disciples are the called ones, and hence the ones to lead the church. Therefore it isn't a problem in the mind of the inerrantist. What do you do with that?

  2. Looking forward to this series!

    -- ELCA seminarian, of the female persuasion

  3. Now, there you go, stirring the pot again!!! Taking on women's role in the church AND inerrancy??!!!

    Hmmmm... I guess I doubt either issue can ever really be "solved." There will always be a difference of opinion until that one day when God will be able to hit us up the backside of the head and say, "See! NOW do you get it?!"

    So for me, I can say there IS a Truth - God knows what it is - and we do our best to come to know it - but we will never know it perfectly.

    So at least that takes away the inerrancy idea of jamming a finger at a verse and saying, "See! The Bible says so right there!" and proclaiming the end of the discussion! I always find myself thinking, "Well, maybe... maybe not."

    But clearly God has given us the privilege of sharing in His work here on earth, and while God is perfectly inerrant - we are not!

    It also seems to me the whole inerrancy question is a bit pointless anyway since we don't have any of the original documents, but thousands of copies! "Which ONE is inerrant???" Not too mention the whole "Lost in translation" thing!

    As far as women in the church... I am glad they are there!

  4. Me again!

    Just wanted to say that Husker makes an interesting observation!

    ...and that the answer to it all is not to depend on our own powers to sort out the truth, but to learn to draw closer and closer to Jesus, and let HIS Spirit reveal it to us. It isn't so much for us to "figure out" as maybe it is to just to truly learn to listen.

    I mean, even if there really isn't a God, you could pick up a Bible and spend years studying it and come up with your definitive judgments on what it teaches.

    But, it seems to me, if God really IS there, He would want us to KNOW His ways. So do we try to figure them out ourselves, or do we learn to listen to Him, learn to be led by His Spirit?

    The question is, Is God really there? Or not?

    Seems to me, that if He IS, He would want us to KNOW He is... and He would reveal Himself to us... but it will always be in the messy, imperfect way we do things down here!

  5. StoryGuy:

    Here are a couple of links that you (or anyone else interested in the question of inerrancey) might like to look at:

    Among other things, Enns likens the Bible's revelation of God to the incarnation.


    Rachel Held Evans resolves to take a clear eyed look at Scripture.

  6. Husker:

    People see things through conceptual frames. The people whom you refer to have a frame that says: the Bible is inerrant; Women are not suited for leadership in the Church.

    Obviously, you and I have a different frame.

    The thing about our frames is that they can be changed, but they don't change easily. We can, to a point, simply ignore information that doesn't fit in our frames. Logic and reasoned arguments don't work to change our frames. Counter-arguments can *always* be mustered, and as long as they confirm our point of view, they don't have to be logically sound, or even based in fact.

    Frames change when congnitive dissonance--the disjuncture between reality and our beliefs--becomes too uncomfortable to maintain.

    So, I don't believe that what I say on this blog will change anyone's mind about Junia, or about women's roles in Church. It may add to someone's cognitive dissonance. Or it may simply lead someone to say "That Brant is full of it" and trench in a little deeper.

    Keeping all of that in mind, I think the argument that "apostles are only sent but disciples are called" is a bit strange. For one thing, the word "apostle" does mean "one who is sent" like an ambassador, but "disciple" does not mean "one who is called." A disciple is a student. That Jesus had at least one female student/disciple is clear from Luke 10 where he not only allowed but encouraged Mary of Bethany to sit at his feet and listen to him.

    We have call stories for some of the 12 disciples, but not all of them. In Mark 3, Jesus "calls" the disciples to himself and then sends them out as "apostles." The disciples, in other words, became the apostles. Paul had to defend his right to the title "apostle" (see Galatians 1-2) precisely because he had not been a disciple.

    In other words, the office of apostle seems to be something more than mere student/discipleship. Was Paul, the Apostle, not a leader of the Church?

    Ah well, as I said, none of this will be convincing to someone with the "inerrant Bible, no woman leaders" frame. But, women were, apparently, both disciples of Jesus and Apostles in Paul's churches.

    Like StoryGuy, I'm glad there are women in the church.

  7. Brant Clemens,


    -- seminarian

  8. Whoops, and I apologize for the typo above with your last name . . .