Junia or Junias: Thoughts on Women in Church Leadership

Last week on his blog Frank Viola (author/speaker) posted a link to his essay “Reimagining a Women’s Role in the Church” which was originally meant for this book Reimagining Church”, but was left out due to the length of the book in general.

Seeing how women in leaders is one of those ‘sticky’ issues in parts of the church today, I decided to wander over and skim his essay – well, that and the fact that Frank Viola is pretty influential due to his work with Leonard Sweet, George Barna, and others – meaning, of course, that it is good to know what his viewpoint is on the issue.

In skimming over the essay, I have to say that I was fairly impressed on the way in which Frank approached and dealt with the issue at hand. He retained the integrity of the Scriptures while looking at the full context in which they were written.

For example in his talk about the limited verses in 1 Timothy 2, Frank reminds the readers of the Gnostics teachings spreading throughout Ephesus that stated that Eve pre-existed Adam and because she tasted the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge first, she was the “bearer of special spiritual knowledge”, which was the hallmark and desire of Gnostics. Seen again this background, St. Paul’s words to Timothy begin to take on a different mean than when they are read by themselves devoid of any culture/historical context.

In addition to bring up some things I had not thought about, Frank’s essay also reminded me of an ebook I had read a month or so ago. The book is in entitled “Junia Is Not Alone” and was written by Scot McKnight, New Testament scholar at North Park University in Chicago.

In that book Scot tackles Romans 16:7, which is a fairly controversial verse in the whole women in church leadership debate. For those who recall, Romans 16:7 makes reference to an apostle named “Junia.” I put the name in quotes as the debate sounding this verse is limited to whether or not the Greek name is feminine (Junia) or masculine (Junias).

The crazy thing is that while history is littered by writings on this verse, the hard fact remains that all of the Greek manuscripts we have for the book of Romans lists the names as feminine (ie. Junia). Meaning, therefore, that there was a female apostle during the time of St. Paul, which, seeing that he knew of her and publicly called her “outstanding among the apostles”,  means that his words in Corinthians and Timothy were most likely not as limited or as universal  as previously thought.

Andronicus, Athanasius of Christianopoulos and Saint Junia

As one can imagine, some people were unable to digest this information so they did the next ‘best’ thing: they changed the Greek word from feminine (Junia) to masculine (Junias). Interestingly enough this happened fairly “recently” – as in it was in 1927 when the German scholar Erwin Nestle changed the word in his composite Green New Testament (13th edition). Granted, he did make mention on the change in the footnote…which still does not excuse the gender change. Sadly enough this change remained even after Nestle died and Kurt Aland took over as editor…well, kinda. Aland actually when a step further and removed the footnote referencing the gender shift in 1979.

Crazily enough, Nestle and Aland were not alone. The other main Greek composite New Testament used by seminary students was published by the United Bible Society and, yes you guessed it, also had changed the gender of Junia to Junias. It was not until the mid-to-late 1990s that both publications changed the spelling back to what was actually on the manuscripts – i.e. the name when back from Junias (masculine) to Junia (feminine) where it should have stayed in the first place!

In reading this, some of you are probably wondering what else have been changed as not many of us are reading the ancient manuscripts… To that end, I just have to say that I am extremely happy that we live during a time of free flowing information with thousands and millions if not billions of people having access to the manuscripts via museums, photographs, etc. All these eyes means that the type of changes made above are no longer possible on such a large scale. All of this underscores the value of reading outside one’s particular theological group and/or culture as there is a lot you can learn from those who disagree with you. (This also builds a good case as to why it is good to read multiple translations of the Bible whenever possible.)

So in ending, go read Frank Viola essay and Scot McKnight’s ebook as they bring some good information into the women in church leadership debate. You also will want to read Derek Morphew’s book “Different But Equal” as it brings in the “here and not-yet” Kingdom Theology into a cloudy subject.


PS => It should be noted that the Eastern Orthodox Church has ALWAYS considered St. Junia to have been a women. In fact, their tradition says that St. Andronicus (the other absolute listed in Romans 16:7) and her were married and traveled the Roman Empire telling folks about Jesus. It is good to know that at least some part of Christianity keep St. Junia alive!