"Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was." - the Apostle Paul, Romans 16:7 NRSV
There have been long [and theologically significant] debates happening for many years about the role of women in the early church. In all brevity, most of the debate involves writings from the Apostle Paul. The great apostle can, at times, come across as a cantankerous man who has grown tired of hearing women speak (1. Cor. 14:34, 1 Tim. 2:12). But, then, he can also shake the foundation of the gender paradigm of the first century by referring to gender nonessentiality between man and woman in the kingdom of God (Gal. 3:28) and the need for mutual submission amongst the sexes (1 Cor. 7:3). Pauline theology [especially in regards to gender issues] can be complex and should be handled with the greatest among of humility [and a good appreciation for textual criticism and responsible exegesis.]
One issue in regards to Pauline theology that has been discussed eloquently and accessibly by scholars like Eldon Epps, Scot McKnight and Linda Belleville [among others] is the person of Junia in Romans 16. Junia was an apostle, but not just any regular apostle. Junia was considered 'prominent' or 'great' amongst the apostles with Andronicus. Paul thought very highly of this person. The problem: Junia was also a woman.
There are very few Christians who will have issues with Paul thinking highly of a women in the faith. He demonstrates his love and care for various females throughout all of his letters. But, to consider a woman to also be an apostle is quite scandalous for some, especially if Junia was given the same responsibilities as the other apostles.
Some scholars have challenged the idea of a woman being an apostle. It further complicates the male-dominated gender paradigm that many believe is taught in the scriptures. The male leads, the woman submits, as it goes. Mutual submission is important, but there is a clear pecking order to church leadership. Humorously, there are those that have even suggested that "Junia" must be a scribal and/or textual error in transmission and the author truly meant to write "Junias." This theory would hold a bit more water if there happened to be any precedent in history of the name "Junias". No one was named Junias. It would certainly be odd for the Apostle Paul to meet a fellow named Junias. The only Junias. [though I have a good friend named Butter, but it is merely a nickname] Scot McKnight sketches four conclusions about Junia [McKnight borrows from Epp here]:
- Junia was a woman.
- There is no evidence that any man had the name “Junias.”
- Junia is a not, as some have argued, a contracted name of Junianus.
- “Among the apostles” means Junia herself was an apostle and not simply that the apostles thought she was a good egg.
McKnight writes, "So, we conclude that there was a first-century relative of the apostle Paul named Junia; she entered into Christ before Paul did; and this Junia was an apostle. Which means (because this is what apostles did) she was in essence a Christ-experiencing, Christ-representing, church-establishing, probably miracle-working, missionizing woman who preached the gospel and taught the church."
Why is this so important to me? I believe that a healthy church should have a multitude of voices present; young and old, new converts and old guard, and male and female. While I have been out with Tumor Gate '13 [herein effectively renamed Broncho-Pulmonary-palooza], other people in our community have filled in on Sunday to preach. This last week our community was privileged to have Becky Crain preach; our very own Christ-experiencing, Christ-representing, church-establishing, probably miracle-working, missionizing woman like Junia. We have also been fortunate to have Kristin Swartz-Schult preach in the past. In the future, we will be guided and taught by other capable Christ-loving and astute women. It's important for our community to be shaped by men and women who love Christ.
I am glad that we let our Junia's speak in our community. Becky is the second longest staff member we have at State Street [10 points to anyone who can name the person who has been on staff longest!] She understands the vision like few do. More importantly, she is engaged in growing with Christ like few people I know. She will always have a place to teach me, my family, and our community. We were blessed by your teaching, Becky. Thank you.
I'm proud of you, kiddo!