Junia’s Friends

The women who are mentioned in the New Testament, not to mention the many, many names of women in the Old Testament whose names are mostly unknown to Christians today, are often scratches on the surface of a deeper story. Patient reading of such texts often yields considerable information, and I have made the case that there’s much to see in Paul’s mentioning of Junia in Romans 16:7 (see Junia is Not Alone).

Two more women, whom I am calling Junia’s friends since they join her in being ignored in Christian churches, are Philippi’s Euodia and Syntyche (Philippians 4:2-3). Here are Paul’s words, and I’ll offer a few brief observations.

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers,whose names are in the book of life.

1. To mention the names of these two women, whose names mean “Success” and “Lucky,”  probably suggests they are close friends of Paul’s; they are at odds with one another “in the Lord” (seemingly ministry concerns); this is not confrontation of problematic women (which is a chauvinistic stereotype) but a plea by Paul to some of his friends.

2. Paul’s plea is that they agree “in the Lord,” an indication once again that they are to get along in their gospeling gifts and not just at the personal level. It is their gospel fellowship in Christ that needs to come to expression.

3. No one knows who the “true companion” is, though a case can be made it for being Luke. (See Gordon Fee’s fine commentary, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.)

4. Paul says these women “have labored side by side [Greek is syn-athleo] with me in the gospel.” These women were gospel workers “with” or alongside Paul — not behind him or below him but alongside or “with”. We can explore this at length if we want to, but this much needs to be stated here: gospel work is about preaching, teaching, evangelizing, and pastorally shaping. One cannot infer specifics of what Euodia and Syntyche did, but we know it was within this set of categories: they were gospelers.  He doesn’t say they are equals; he describes them as laborers right next to him. They did these gospel things together.

5. Yet more is said: They are “co-workers” with Paul. This is quite the description by Paul. Here are those who called “co-workers” by Paul: Timothy, Apollos, Silas, Titus, Priscilla and Aquila, Urban, Philemon, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, and Justus. That’s some pretty serious early Christian company, and Euodia and Syntyche were in this very small, significant, influential circle of co-workers.

Maybe many today don’t know who these women are; but Paul did, and God did, and God used them as gospelers in the church at Philippi, a church founded with Lydia and some God-fearing women (Acts 16:13-15). They are next to Junia, women ignored by too many churches. Time to tell their story, too!

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://thekingleads.blogspot.com Philip Taylor

    In the youth group I teach Bible in, I have some people who help with setting up the hall, driving the kids to and from the church building and so forth. I refer to them as my co-workers in the Gospel. Are you saying they are not?

  • phil_style

    @Philip Taylor,

    Scot is making an argument about what St. Paul was saying, not how you chose to employ language. Respectfully, I don’t see how you anecdote provides any useful data with respect to a 2000 year old text.

  • scotmcknight

    Philip, Yes, I would be saying your use of the term “co-worker” and Paul’s are not the same.

  • MatthewS

    Scot, are there any contemporary (to Paul) examples in documents or letters of “co-workers”? If so, are any of those cases where men referred to women as co-workers?

  • http://thekingleads.blogspot.com Philip Taylor

    @phil_style,

    I am precisely the sort of person (a follower of Jesus and member of a local church without any formal training in theology/biblical studies etc.) that Scot’s thinking influences. I am trying to understand what he is saying and one good way for me to do that is to see if what he conveys with his words has any impact in my world. My anecdote was not meant provide any useful data with respect to a 2000 year old text. It was simply my way of trying to think through what I believe Scot was saying. And he helpful answered that in his reply – “co-worker” as used by Paul has a specific meaning that ‘co-worker’ used commonly in English today does not have.

    I don’t think you should be so dismissive of a comment that was a genuine attempt to understand what Scot was saying.

    But thanks for making me rethink.

    Phil.

  • scotmcknight

    MatthewS, I don’t know that evidence offhand. Paul uses it for these two women, which means he associates these two women with those other male co-workers.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Phillip, for what its worth, I don’t think that phil_style’s comment was dismissive. Perhaps direct speak like that is not the norm in your culture. I appreciate the directness and respect he showed.

    I feel the most significant part of the post is point 5. If we let the bible interpret the bible first, then the parallels between his reference to them and the other male co-workers is significant, at least for me.

  • RJS

    #4 as I see it in the original post makes the point that there is a difference between a coworker who helps you achieve your ministry goal (as in Philip Taylor’s example in #1) whether the help is small or large, and a coworker who stands alongside working to the same goal of the kingdom of God and the spread of the gospel.

    Whether Euodia and Syntyche were in the fellow spreaders of the gospel category or not, I don’t know – but some of the women Paul lists were.

  • phil_style

    A rewrite of my previous:

    @Philip, comment #1, and #5,
    Ok, being completely honest, here is how I interpreted your first comment:
    You question appeared to me to be rhetorical. What I took from your statement/question was that because you referred to many who helped out as “co-workers”, that your use of the term cast some doubt on Scots assertion (albeit implicit) that Paul’s use of the term held specific connotations that (based on the context of the ongoing discussions on this blog) had implications with respect to the early church role of women in Christianity.
    What I thought you were implying with a rhetorical question was: that Paul could be using the term just as loosely as you do.

    Now, I think my assumption was pretty fair, based on [1] the context of this blog and the ongoing discussions here, and [2] Scots published and widely known views on this matter.
    If, in fact, you were simply asking; because St. Paul seems to define co-workers as those in certain ministry positions, does this genuinely mena that your “church helpers” are not co-workers? – then of course the answer is: Of course they are co-workers, but not in the specific sense that St. Paul is adopting for the use of the term. But that’s almost tautological. Hence my apparent dismissal of the prima facie content of your comment. And it was that aspect of your comment I dismissed, in fact I didn’t even READ your comment as being anything other than rhetorical. The prima facie content was dismissed out of ignorance, not out of arrogance.

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    Scot,
    What’s your take on whether this “Clement” is the same as Clement of Rome – a.k.a. the “first pope”? I know there’s a tradition that says the two are the same, but I don’t know how likely (or unlikely) that is from the context.

  • scotmcknight

    RJS, I’m not entirely sure how much “not know” is in your statement, but Paul sees Euodia and Syntyche as co-workers in gospel work, and the others named “co-workers” weren’t making slides for the PowerPoint presentation. They were gospeling partners, so I would contend Euodia and Syntyche have to be seen as substantively engaged in gospeling work, like evangelizing, teaching, preaching, etc..

  • scotmcknight

    Mike, there’s lots of chat about this in the commentaries but the evidence is sufficiently unclear to say we don’t know.

  • E.G.

    Very cool. And I too was thinking about the connection to Lydia. Thanks Scot!

  • http://thekingleads.blogspot.com Philip Taylor

    @phil_style

    Thanks for the reply. I did not mean my original comment to appear rhetorical. Apologies for that.

    So how do I, as someone not trained in original languages, convey to the people I teach the Bible to that Paul meant something different by the term “co-worker” than we often mean in common English?

    Phil.

  • Jeremy

    I know this might be a bit of a rabbit trail, but I don’t know where else to ask and I’m really hoping someone could chime in with an explanation. I’m on my own journey out of complementarianism and I’ve been hearing about Junia for a while now, but I’ve yet to hear explained how “well known to/among the apostles” places her in the company of apostles as opposed to just being known/honored by the apostles. In my mind, there could be plenty of reasons why she was appreciated by the apostles without being considered an apostle herself. Could someone *please* clarify this or point me in the right direction?

  • phil_style

    @Philip
    So how do I, as someone not trained in original languages, convey to the people I teach the Bible to that Paul meant something different by the term “co-worker” than we often mean in common English?

    Well this is a tricky question, and goes to the core of a number of discussion we’ve been having lately on this blog, that is: how much of an expert does one have to be to read and understand the scriptures? It’s a great question, with a myriad of answers, some that are theologically dependent – so you can imagine how potentially divisive this issue might be. I’ll provide a couple of quick answers, and some possible problems;.

    1. The church has always relied on language experts to interpret, translate and make “sense” of the scriptures for laypeople. We should, therefore encourage people as much as possible to skill themselves in the history and currency of scholarly discourse. Problems with this answer might be that it insinuates a low view of scripture. That scripture is not God’s word to all, if a certain level of comprehension skill is required to attain the ability to understand it. (i personally think this argument is very weak, but it cannot be ignored)
    2. The main message of scripture is simple enough for a child to grasp. And arguments over minor texts and complex language issues do NOT influence the overall faith. I think this is valid to a point. But where does one draw the line between a major and minor issue? Us humans have a long history of desperately trying to differentiate ourselves from each other. The bible has been a mighty tool in this silly war, and historically it can be seen that one groups minor is another’s major – to the point where folks will fight over what is, and it not important!
    3. All of the bible is accessible and comprehensible because God has graciously made it that way, and therefore common readings are valid interpretations of the language contained therein . The problem with this is, it doesn’t bear out practically, historically or theoretically. It’s an ideal (perhaps not even a desirable ideal), and not a reality.

  • scotmcknight

    Jeremy, I discuss this a bit in Junia is Not Alone, but two telling points:

    1. Chrysostom, a native Greek reader, read it as “among” not “esteemed by.” Already in the 4th Century. That’s the first reading of this text we hear about.

    2. More telling for me: The only reason anyone changed the name from “Junia” to “Junias” is because they knew Junia was a woman’s name and that meant a woman was an apostle. Think about it this way: if the clause about “among the apostles” was not there, no one would ever have wondered if Junia could be changed to Junias! Whoever the person was was an apostle.

  • RJS

    Scot (#11),

    I didn’t meant to cast doubt on your analysis or to make it appear that I disagreed. Rather I had never thought about the issue with these two women. That is where the “don’t know” came from.

    On the other hand, from what I have looked at it seems quite clear that Priscilla and Junia were alongside in the sense of substantive engagement.

  • Daniel Jones

    Dear Scott. Do you know, in regards to Paul’s reference of ‘Chloe’s’ house church, if this bolster’s the claim that women did in fact help with teaching with Paul in certain cases? I am to understand that Chloe is the first name and not the surname. I was in a fascinating class with Dr. Rodney Reeves where many students seemed to be uncomfortable at the notion that women would be teachers and pastoral workers (me not being one of them). But, as Paul was most likely his surname, could we assume that there is a possibility in Chloe’s case too? Pardon my ignorance on Greek name culture and literary understanding. in Christ, dan

  • Jeremy

    Thanks Scott. It may be my own presuppositions at work here, but…

    1. I’m not sure how reading it as “among” clarifies the matter, honestly. Perhaps she was a great help to one or more of the apostles and word had spread among them. If a member of a church worked hard and tirelessly, wouldn’t it be appropriate for a pastor to say that they were “well known among the pastors”?

    2. The problem for me is that there’s no way to determine the motive behind the change. Perhaps the one transcribing the text simply assumed all apostles were men and that the “s” was left off as a previous transcription error?

    I find myself really wanting to say that Junia was indeed an apostle, but I’m having a hard time getting over these two hurdles.

  • Daniel Jones

    Also, to clarify (haha if really needed) the class was on early Pauline epistles( a great class). We were talking about the role of women on the church in reference to 1st Cor. and the cultural understanding of the domicile and public realms of worship and cultural norms on honor and propriety in worship.

  • scotmcknight

    Daniel,

    I’m not convinced we can argue that if it was “Chloe’s” household that she was a teacher. What it would most surely indicate is that the house church met at her home; that the place was identified with her, and perhaps not her husband (one could guess he was not a Christian or that she was a prominent Christian, and then guess she was prominent because she taught).

    That getting at your question? Say hello to your fine professor for me.

  • scotmcknight

    Jeremy, it’s not a smackdown case. But, “among” means in the circle of or a member of a group. The kind of membership is not specifically stated.

    I’m not so sure on motive since we have comments like those of Martin Luther in the 16th Century. Anyway, we see the effect and we can argue from effect to cause: namely, the effect was to create a name that indicated a man was an apostle. We can infer, since “apostle” does not change, that a man’s name was more comfortable for some than a woman’s name.

  • scotmcknight

    And, Jeremy, we can’t ignore what Chrysostom (and others just after him) said: a prominent apostle.

  • scotmcknight

    Sorry to keep writing to you Jeremy… if you want to study this thoroughly, Eldon Epp’s book is a must. It’s the most complete study ever.

  • Daniel Jones

    That is a great point! I was not thinking of the Client/ Patron relationship situations and where home owners would rent out or give the property to ecclesiastical purposes when I considered those verses, thanks for pointing that out! Man would that be an interesting situation, a husband of that time allowing his wife to hold church ceremonies in his house if he were not a believer. Although, I have to be careful to not assume too hard of hearts for all men of that era. However, to think that a woman could have that kind of control then would be interesting. Am i wrong in thinking that?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Daniel, you must not be married :)

    If Chloe’s husband knew what was good for him he would let her do some things…

  • phil_style

    Did Chloe have a husband?

  • Daniel Jones

    Actually I am married, but I know the realistic situation of male dominion over households in the ancient world

  • Daniel Jones

    Sorry if we are getting off topic Scott. I don’t think we know if she was married. Scott was right though that just because it was Chloe’s house church, doesn’t mean that she taught. I wonder if leadership of a house church was contributed to the owner of the property not the teacher. not challenging anyone, I am really just curious. DRT I meant to put a :) at the end of my last note, your’s was funny!

  • Daniel Jones

    Also, how do we know when a name is a first or surname. As in my original post about Paul being a last not first name, how do we know (or can we) when there is reference to either one. Again sorry if I am too far off topic Scott, I have wondered this for awhile.

  • Jeremy

    Scott (#25),

    Don’t apologize! I’m grateful for the engagement! I’ll keep searching it out and I’ll definitely check out Epp’s book…

    Thanks!

  • http://whateveryoudo.ca David

    Jeremy, you should definitely read Scot’s short booklet “Junia is not Alone” as well. Very helpful and well written.

  • http://www.debatingobama.blogspot.com greg metzger

    This is why Catholics who call for the restoration of female diacconate are on such solid biblical/historical ground. If that is the first step towards female priests, then so be it.

  • Sue

    I have written a lot on Junia, and I finally concluded that it has to mean “among”. First, the phrase en plus the dative case normally meant among, and not “to”. Next, Chryostom recognizes Junia as a female apostle. Third, the Vamva Bible of the 19 th century, a Greek update to modern, 19th century Greek, uses a word which is unambiguous for “among.” I checked every example supplied by all the studies, and “outstanding” was the only meaning that fit every case, not “well-known to.” That only worked in one case, where the person was also outstanding above the others.

  • Sue

    Jeremy,

    I read your comment #20. Well-known is a very rough paraphrase. The word means “marked on” or “outstanding” or “prominent.” Junia has always been considered an apostle by the Greek orthodox church.

    The name Junia was quite common in both Latin and Greek for women. The masculine would be Junius, Junios so a different vowel also. But some have theorized that there is a previously unknown masculine name Junias. This name is to this date unknown. The proposal that it was a masculine name is based on hypothesis, not fact. The change seems to have come about because some believed that a woman could not be an apostle. We know this because J. Epp interviewed and read material relating to some of the text editors who made this change. I could look this up.

  • Sue

    Epp’s, 2005′ writes on page 54 that Bruce Metzger, 1994 wrote that

    “Some members, considering it unlikely that a woman would be among those styled as “apostles” understood the name to be masculine.”

    Metzger was there, he was among the group of men who determined the critical Greek text and how it was printed.

  • Ann F-R

    Sue, I so appreciate the depth of your studies!

    Scot, thanks again. A preacher long ago made a big deal out of “Success” and “Lucky” to diminish the contributions of the women and lend a pejorative tone to Paul’s words. Although I’d dropped the pejorative in my own reading, but hadn’t re-framed it so well. So, I continue to appreciate your work, very much.

  • Jeremy

    Sue,

    Thanks, that’s all very helpful!


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