The Junia Project is a community of women and men advocating for the inclusion of women at all levels of leadership in the Christian church and for mutuality in marriage. We believe that when interpreted correctly, the Bible teaches that both men and women are called to serve at all levels of the Church, and that leadership should be based primarily on gifting and not on gender.1
This debate is extremely relevant to us today. I want to spend several posts looking into the stances and positions of each group, and examining the major biblical texts for each group. Today I want to focus on one simple verse.
As I was examining the articles and pages of "The Junia Project" I noticed that one of the tabs titled Who Was Junia? This caught my interest as I have never heard of Junia before.
The Junia Project is named for Junia, a woman apostle in the early church (see Romans 16:7). Her ministry in partnership with Andronicus and Paul reminds us that God’s intention is for men and women to partner together as equals in the home, the church, and the community.2
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. Ro 16:7-ESV.
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. Ro 16:7-NIV.
At this point I will note one other argument that often comes up concerning this text. Some have argued that in the greek, the name Junia is masculine and should be rendered as a male's name. I don't find the underlying arguments at all compelling and agree that Junia here is female. As such, I will not deal with those issues here at this time.
On to the syntactical study of the greek phrase. Here is the phrase in greek:
οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις -NA28
A simple word study cannot give us a definitive answer. Instead we must look at the relationship that the words and phrases have to one another. I began with a very open search looking for the same construction as used above anywhere I could find in the NT. I did not specify any verbs, but I did specify our preposition "ἐν." The results were dismal, not a good sign given the fact that my search was so open. I found only 2 other verses of interest, both written by John.
There was much grumbling among the crowds concerning Him Jn 7:12-NASB.
which is true in Him and in you 1 Jn 2:8–9-NASB.
However, these cases are not similar enough to our text in question. We need to expand our search to more literature so that we can narrow our criteria and get more similar results. There are primarily three things that our text has that we need to match:
1. The verb ἐπίσημος
2. The preposition ἐν
3. The noun being referred to in the prepositional phrase should be in the dative case
Fortunately I found a journal article that helped to broaden my search. They noted many important texts texts that share this construction. The pseudepigraphal writing "Psalms of Solomon" in chapter 2 and verse 6 for example reads as follows:
ἐπισήμῳ ἐν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν3
Semantically, what is significant is that (a) the first group is not a part of the second—that is, the Jewish captives were not gentiles; and (b) what was ‘among’ the gentiles was the Jews’ notoriety. This is precisely how we are suggesting that Rom 16:7 should be taken. That the parallels discovered conform to our working hypothesis at least gives warrant to seeing Andronicus’ and Junia’s fame as that which was among the apostles.4
In TAM 2.905.1 west wall. coll. 2.5.18 we read the description of a man who is “not only foremost in his own country, but also well known to the outside population” . . .
. . . Here the person who is ἐπίσημος is called such only in relation to outsiders (πρῶτος is used in relation to his own countrymen). It is not insignificant that ἐν plus the dative personal noun is used: the man is well known to a group of which he is not a member. Similar idioms are found in Asia Minor TAM 2.1-3.838; TAM 2.1-3. 905 west wall. coll. 3.12; and Fd Xanth 184.108.40.206.1.1.4. In each instance the group that the individual is well known to but is not a part of is mentioned with ἐν plus the dative. Although these data are not plentiful, they are excellent parallels and point in but one direction: ἐπίσημος followed by ἐν plus personal datives does not connote membership within the group, but simply that one is known by the group. Thus, the inscriptions, like biblical and patristic Greek, supply a uniform picture of ἐπίσημος with personal nouns: when followed by ἐν, the well-known individual is outside the group.5
5 Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 6, no. 2 (2001): 8.
There are several examples with personal nouns in hellenistic literature. Lucianus speaks of Harmonides the pipe-player craving fame for his musical abilities to the extent that he wants “glory before the crowds, fame among the masses” (ἡ δόξα ἡ παρὰ τῶν πολλῶν καὶ τὸ ἐπίσημον εἶναι ἐν πλήθεσι). He clearly sees himself as set apart from οἱ πολλοί! Elsewhere he uses the genitive to indicate an inclusive idea: “Show me the men of old, and particularly the famous ones among them” 6
Lucianus thus shows the same patterns that we saw earlier, viz., an exclusive notion with ἐν plus the dative and an inclusive notion with a genitive modifier. But he is not consistent in this. On at least one occasion his words unmistakably have an inclusive force for ἐν plus the dative. In his work On Salaried Posts in Great Houses, he offers advice to servants: “… you must raise your thirsty voice like a stranded frog, taking pains to be conspicuous among the claque and to lead the chorus” . . .
. . . This is the first parallel to Rom 16:7 we have seen that could offer real comfort to inclusivists. It is unmistakable, it is personal, and it is rare.7
Combining the force of the syntactical evidence with the support of other biblical data and New Testament passages (which we will deal with in time), I believe there is no reason to assume that Junia or Adronicus were apostles. The ESV translation at this point is best. Now I realize that what we have discussed is not really "fun." I realize that having to go into this kind of depth in a study may seem ridiculous to some. I also realize that our conclusions are not popular or even progressive. However, even if you disagree, please note that our method of argumentation has sought to understand and take the text as it presents itself. This is not "my scholars vs your scholars" type of appeals to authority. That is how secularists and humanists argue. Arguments that seek to cloud the air with dust and mist are typical of those who are large on rhetoric and small on reasoned logic. Such arguments are NOT becoming of Christians.
One thing that I love about submitting to God's Word in every area of life is that I don't have to fear seeking out the truth. So many people do, even if they are not explicit about it. They have a gut reaction or impulse to some sort of stance or perspective, and do not want to seek out the facts on the subject for fear that they would be forced to alter their stance. People that hold to things that are actually true do this as well, but it is such a shame because they are not able to furnish good reasons for what they believe. I do not have to come to the Bible with a particular agenda (as the liberal theologians do I might add). Rather, I can approach God's Word as a humble and obedient servant and ask God to point me in the direction that he says, whether that accords with what I want or not. Such is the picture of the true heart of Christian faith.
We should not take this text as some indication that even in the early church there were women apostles in the authoritative and pastoral sense. One may seek to argue that point, but arguing it from Rom 16:7 is wrong. That said, we do clearly see here that women are included and respected by Paul in the labors of ministry and the advancement of God's Kingdom on earth. Praise God that he has called men and women both to his Son, and given clear instructions and guidance in how we are to serve Him!
1 The Junia Project. "About the Junia Project." juniaproject.com.http://juniaproject.com/about-2/ (accessed September 6, 2014).
2 Ibid, http://juniaproject.com/who-was-junia/.
3 Ken Penner and Michael S. Heiser, “Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology” (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2008), Ps Sol 2:6.
4 Burer, Michael H. and Wallace, Daniel B. "Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Reexamination of Romans 16:7" Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 6, no. 1 (2001): 7.
5 Ibid, 8.