Women in the Church – Snapshot of censorship and call for repentance

Eldon Epp is the author of a little book entitled Junia:  The First Woman Apostle.  It’s a book about a single verse in the bible, Romans 16:7 which reads wildly differently, depending on your translation, because it’s fraught (unnecessarily) with controversy.  Since this is a blog post and not a book, I’ll summarize Epps conclusions, also offered in Scott McKnights marvelous e-book, Junia is not Alone (about the censure of females voices in Christendom).

First the verse, translated without equivocation or footnote in the CEB version of the Bible as: 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.

You go to McKnight’s e-book to see the massive alterations to this seemingly inn0cuous verse, but here’s what Epp and McKnight both offer:

1. Junia was a woman.  That’s the name in literally all the best ancient manuscripts.

2. There is no evidence that any man had the name Junias

3. Junia is not, as some have argued, a contracted name of Junianus

4. “Among the apostles” means Junia herself was an apostle not simply that she was well liked by the apostles.

The office or title of apostle, though, carries a certain weight with it, implying spiritual authority, church planting initiative, and of course, preaching and teaching.

To quote McKnight further, “Junia was a woman in the Old Latin, the Vulgate, Sahidic and Bohairic Coptic and Syriac (as well as in) English to the last quarter of the 19th century.

However, history is also peppered with incidents where the Junia name is retranslated as Junias, which would have the affect of producing an immediate sex change.  Luther did it.  And, significantly, the prominent creators of the New Testament Greek Bibles that we pastors like to have on our shelves changed Junia to Junias for the first time in 1927, when Junias became the name of the apostle and Junia became a footnote.  Junia remained a footnote until 1979, when she disappeared from the footnotes completely.

Why is this?  I assure you it has nothing to do with scholarship and everything to do with patriarchal bias.  As one author writes, “Because a woman could not have been an apostle, the woman who is here called an apostle could not have been a woman”… ergo, lexical sex change, ergo, problem solved.

By 1998 things had changed (yes, not a typo – 1998) and Junia reappeared, with the non-existent Junias dead and buried, as he should have been all along.

Again, quoting McKnight, There was no evidence in ancient manuscripts that anyone understood Junia as a male, no evidence in translations she was a male, and there was no ancient evidence that Junias was a man’s name.  But, still, the church got into a rut and rode it out until some courageous folks said, ‘o yes, Junia was a woman and she was an apostle, and we’ve been wrong, and we’re going to do something about it.

McKnight tells the stories of three women in his book, Marie Dentiere, Phoebe Palmer, and Mary McLeod Bethume, to remind us that the silencing of women’s voices has a long and tragic history in the church.  That this history has happened is reality.  At stake is whether we’ll have the humility to learn from it as we move forward.  What is there to learn?

1. Cultural biases are embedded in faith movements. The patriarchy of Rome was carried by Luther into the reformation as something left unreformed, even to the extent of altering the overwhelmingly clear reading of a certain text in order to accommodate his bias.  If you think we don’t all still to do this, wittingly and unwittingly, you’re living in a self-righteous fantasy land.

2. We don’t like disruption.  This extends well beyond the common notion that the only acceptable women in the Bible lives in Proverbs 31, even though warriors, and judges, and beauty queens, and wealthy patrons, and yes, even apostles, were all making their mark.  They didn’t make the cut when it came to Sunday school curriculum, at least not as role models, other than to speak of Deborah in terms like, “do you see what happens boys and girls, when men don’t step up to lead?  God is forced to use a woman!”

I’m here to say that Jesus made his disciple’s heads explode all the time, not just the day they decided to follow him.  He ate with the wrong people, touched the wrong people, got violently mad in church, and conquered the world in a way nobody thought the world could be conquered – by dying.   Now here we are, some two thousand years later, running the risk that his explosive endeavor has become nothing more than our own personal comfort zone.  If we’ll open our eyes and ears though, we’ll see and hear things will make heads explode as well – and its high time they did, because we still get it mighty wrong too much of the time.

3. Scholarship matters. What’s needed, in the end, is a willingness to allow revelation to change our view on things.  Yes, we need discernment.  We can’t allow ourselves to be persuaded by just any old internet article (or blog).  But when overwhelming evidence points us in a certain direction, we need to be willing to go there.  Tampering with evidence is, in many parts of life, a crime.  In the fundamentalist fringes of both left and right however, such tampering is business as usual.  Christ’s followers would do well to see such behavior as the moral quicksand that it is, and stay far, far away.


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  • Shonnie

    Thank you for this post Richard! …and you know who to ask, should you want to do additional scholarly reading on this subject… 🙂

  • interestingly enough I had a conversation about this with someone this week. Not this verse, but the idea of women in ministry.

    good stuff. right on time.

  • Ryan

    Thanks for the article. A couple of thoughts:

    1. Any historical gender bias aside in translation, I find it quite a stretch to take one verse about Junia that may or may not imply “apostleship”, and make that prescriptive about women in leadership. We need to take the whole counsel of Scripture into our conclusions, and the Bible has a lot more to say on the subject of church leadership than just one verse on Junia.

    2. In your point #2, I think that your conclusion that women are not held up as positive role models in the church is overreaching. Having been in church my whole life – and having been in many different denominations of church – I can think of numerous examples where Biblical women are held up as examples of faith and godliness, more than just the Proverbs 31 woman. Ruth and Esther are obvious examples, not to mention Mary, the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, among many others.

  • Richard Dahlstrom

    yes, but what I was trying to say was that we don’t have women held up as positive roles models in leadership, even when they lead – Junias being the clearest, among several, as an example of that. Thanks for your comment

  • Eric

    What are your thoughts about how some scholars argue that Junia was not an apostle but the verse is better translated as “well known to the apostles”?

    Article on that here: http://www.michaelsheiser.com/TheNakedBible/Was%20Junia%20Really%20an%20Apostle%20A%20Re%20examination%20of%20Rom%2016%207.pdf

  • Richard Dahlstrom

    scholarly response from the other side here: http://bltnotjustasandwich.com/2011/12/14/the-junia-evidence-i/ This, of course, is a bit frustrating, leaving we who are not experts in ancient languages forced to decide on other factors since there’s evidence for two readings. My own conviction is that the trajectory of women’s involvement in leadership throughout the history of God’s people, through Christ and Paul, is on the rise. This shifts the weight of the argument in favor of Junia being an apostle.

  • Curt

    The role of women in the church is, I think, a “hot potato” in our culture these days. Saying anything biblically that would most likely be taken as demeaning to women, or those involved in homosexuality, etc. and one will most certainly hear cries of intolerance, bigotry, hate, etc. 1Tim 2:12 “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” This is not cultural bias as a few verses later Paul refers back to Genesis, citing the example of Adam and Eve. This is the Word of God, God Himself is saying this to us and it behooves us to diligently study this and take seriously what He is saying, even if it goes against what is culturally acceptable in our day. I think our culture is playing a big role in how the church interprets these “intolerant” biblical teachings. I don’t see Paul as hating women at all, but I see the Holy Spirit giving His church the use of proper ROLES for men and women in the church.

    Here is something I found from John MacArthur on the category of apostle – “I want to show you the two different categories of apostles. Second Corinthians 8:23 says this, “Whether any do enquire of Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker concerning you: or our brethren be enquired of, they are the messengers…King James says. The Greek is, “They are the apostles of the churches.” Now listen, you have then two categories of apostles. The apostles of the Lord. . .and Paul always said, ‘An apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.'” That’s one kind. The apostles of the Lord…and you have a second category…the apostles of the churches. The apostles of the churches would be folks like he mentions here, these brethren: Andronicus and Junia, James, the brother of our Lord, Barnabus, perhaps Titus. They were not personally commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ. They were not personally necessarily, personally visibly, acquainted with the post-Resurrected Christ. They had not seen Him, as the 12 had to have, and Paul. This is a different group. The word simply means “messengers.” These are the apostles small “a” of the churches. Theirs is an unofficial kind of area of ministry, distinct from the Apostles, capital A, of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

  • Richard Dahlstrom

    two questions for you Curt:
    1. do the apostles referred to in Ephesians 4 carry authority? they’re not called apostles of Christ OR apostles of the church (MacArthur’s categories) – so what are we to do? I find John’s category contrived because of verses like this, but either way, the passage implies that apostles have authority and if Junia was an apostle, since this verse doesn’t define which kind, there’s the possibility she has authority

    2. if the exhortation of I Tim 2:12, “she is to remain quiet” is absolute, then why does Paul admonish a woman to cover her head when prophesying, rather than telling her to shut her mouth? That he encourages her voice of prophecy clearly shows that both authority and speaking are allowed, at the very least, in some circumstances. There are a host of interpretations that allow for Paul’s I Cor. 11 admonition to be in harmony with I Tim 2:12, but absolute silence in church isn’t one of them.

  • Curt

    I’ll do my best Richard:
    1. The apostles, along with the prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers mentioned in Eph 4 are given “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service,…”. In keeping with this equipping of the saints, and the roles of men and women in the church, Titus 2 outlines how the older men and women, the younger men and women are to do this. Even though the roles he outlines is different for each one that doesn’t mean the roles the women have are less important or less vital than the roles the men have. If Junia is an apostle she would fulfill her role as the Holy Spirit has outlined, wouldn’t she? I don’t think she would take what is outlined in Titus 2 and say, “I’m an apostle, therefore what the Holy Spirit has said here does not apply to me.”
    2. In 1Cor 14:34,35 Paul says, “Let the women keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but let them subject themselves, just as the law also says. And if they desire to learn anything, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church.” If he talks about women praying and prophesying with head uncovered in Chp 11 and then says in Chp 14 what I’ve just quoted, what is missing here? If it is improper for a woman to speak in church then is the praying and prophesying in Chp 11 taking place in the church? By this I mean the church service (at least that appears to be the gist, from what I’m gathering of the context). Chp 14 he’s just been explaining the use of tongues and prophesying and then moves into “Let the women keep silent IN THE CHURCHES”. “…it is improper for a woman to speak IN CHURCH.” So, in the church in this context they are to keep silent, meaning no tongues or prophesying. The 1Tim passages deals specifically with a woman teaching or exercising authority over a man in the church. Obviously outside of the church service women can pray and prophesy (speak forth the word of God). vs’ 36-40 of Chp 14 kind of wrap the apostle’s thought’s on this. vs 40 “But let all things be done PROPERLY and in an orderly manner.”

  • Richard Dahlstrom

    1. to whom is this woman prophesying w/ her head covered? We know from I Cor 14 that prophecy is a public gift, not a private one, since to prophecy requires an object, not just a subject. You say that a woman can prophesy outside the church, but I Cor 11 makes no distinction between using the gift inside or outside of a worship setting, and even if it did, makes no prohibition that men be the object of this prophecy.

    2. Further, we know that in the Greek culture, there was only one word for woman, which covers both ‘single woman’ (a group that didn’t really exist very much) and ‘married woman’. When, in I Cor 14, Paul prohibits women from speaking, and then insists that when they have questions, they need to go home and ask their husbands, he’s very clearly indicating that the context of the prohibition is the interruption that would have happened when women, newly empowered to be in a public worship service at all, are now, having never encountered the scriptures and being illiterate in many cases, disrupting the services with questions. They’re told to not do that, but instead go home and ask their husbands. The point, in other words, is to guard against disruptive questions. To take a contextual prohibition like that and absolutize it isn’t, in my opinion, the best hermeneutic. To do so randomly (unless you also forbid the braiding of hair, gold jewelry, pearls, or clothing from downtown instead of Costco – See I Tim 2:9) is terribly inconsistent. If you’re going to apply words without contextualization, then apply all of them.

  • Jim Henderson

    You might like my new book The Resignation of Eve

  • Dan

    wow Richard I’m surprised that you guys don’t hold women up in the leadership of your church. especially in Seattle of all places. it shocked me to read your words; “what I was trying to say was that we don’t have women held up as positive roles models in leadership, even when they lead.” man at our little church here in California we constantly hold up our women leaders.

    but then maybe I misinterpreted your comment … 🙂

    your california pal …. dan

  • Richard Dahlstrom

    When I said, “we” I meant “evangelicals in general” not our particular church… hope that clarifies, and hope you are doing well!!

  • Curt

    1. But Paul makes those distinctions, that women are not to lead or speak in the services of the church so there is a clear distinction about “in the church”. That being the case I would take her praying and prophesying as not happening in the worship service, but outside of it. Praying for her family, for unbelievers, for the church, etc. Prophesying, in the sense of speaking or proclaiming the gospel to unbelievers, teaching her children, the young women in the church, etc.

    2. The woman is not to be disruptive in the church service, but to remain silent. If she wants to learn she is to ask her husband at home. I agree with what you’ve said about the women in Greek culture, but this “contextual prohibition” is part of a larger “contextual prohibition” in scripture on the subject of the woman’s role. You can’t take this one portion out of that greater context and arrive at a teaching that is in conflict with that greater context. Regarding the braiding of hair, etc., I see this: Why is the braiding of hair, gold and jewelry forbidden in the 1Tim passage? The full reading of that verse is, “Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with PROPER clothing, MODESTLY and DISCREETLY, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments; but rather by means of good works, as benefits women MAKING A CLAIM of godliness.” This verse is saying he wants women to adorn themselves properly, modestly, discreetly. I see him speaking of women who come into a worship service, or anywhere else for that matter, with the intent of flaunting their appearance, to make themselves the focus of attention all the while making a claim of godliness, and he’s telling them this is the wrong attitude and motive. Her good works are to be the “attention getter”, not her outward appearance. The worship service is intended for the believers to focus on Christ, not on self.

    I’m not arguing for a “let’s beat down the women in the church and make them submit to the iron-fisted rule of men.” I don’t see this taught in the Scriptures. I can see how the teaching on the roles of men and women could be twisted to fit this argument (although I’ve never personally witnessed it in the church). God has ordained roles for both men and women in the church and we need to recognize that and submit to what He has ordained. 1Cor 11:3 “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” Christ has submitted to the Father as His Head, in the same way men submit to Christ as their Head, in the same way women submit to their husbands as their head. If Junia is a female apostle she still falls within the role God has ordained for women in the church.

    Richard, I also want you to know that I view our exchange as “iron sharpening iron”, as two brothers in Christ arguing and debating what we see in the Scripture. It is not my intent to belittle or attack you. If I come across that way then please accept my apology as I ask for your forgiveness.

  • Richard Dahlstrom

    Curt, you don’t come across as belittling at all, so no apology is necessary, and I too don’t mean to reflect sarcasm or belittling in my comments back to you. It’s a good conversation.

    There’s more to say, but sadly (well, not really sadly) I’m moving offline for the rest of the day, other than to catch up on e-mail for an hour, so need to let this pass, at least until Monday. However, I’ll leave you with an over-arching principle that I see, which is rooted in my understanding that the Bible is a narrative with a trajectory, and that the light of the trajectory, along with exegetical principles, point me to different conclusions than you. In the same way that you don’t want to see women “held down”, I don’t want to interpret the text to accommodate what’s popular in culture. It’s precisely my desire to be faithful to the text that takes me down this road. MORE LATER… I HOPE 🙂

  • Curt

    Thanks Richard! I appreciate your graciousness.

    I’ll check back on Monday. My day is full as well. We purchased an old acreage and just dug a piece of machinery out of the ground that the prior owners left half buried. It’ll be a fun day, I’m sure.

    Peace to you, brother!

  • Jim Henderson


    I dont engage in this theological comnversation because I became aware of these arguments in the 70s and I’ve notice…d as Phillip Yancey once said “no one becomes a Christian (or changes their mind) because they lost an argument. For me this is a problem of power and the church is in a dead heat with (their dreaded enemy) “the world” to see who can win the race to the bottom as to will be most effective at blocking women access to the top.

    all of which is wrapped up in interviews with women from conservative to liberal to now atheist perspectives in http://www.resignationofeve.com

  • Dan

    haha … i knew that Richard, but i guess a lot depends on the interpretation of words. one mustn’t inject meaning into a singular sentence when it is not necessary.

  • Theophile

    Hi Richard, Curt,
    When it comes to “Apostolic authority”, wasn’t that derived from when our Lord told Peter 1st hand “What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven…”? Now considering that Peter listed out the qualifications of the “office” of Apostle in Acts 1:21, and Paul fails to meet any of the qualifications Peter lays out, how could a discussion about the qualification of an apostle be derived from a salutation in a letter he(Paul) wrote?
    Please,as a iron sharpening brethren we should consider the questions: Didn’t Jesus give us the “guidelines” for His church in Matthew 23? If we replace “Scribes & Pharisees” with “religious leaders”, we quickly see it’s the women stocking the food pantries, providing care for others, etc. that are the “greatest” in the church, not the “title holders”.
    I have to point out the one thing the high priest, Pharisees, Peter, Paul, and Jesus all agreed on, and that is the definition of “scripture” is what we would call the old testament. Jesus said “Moses and the prophets, they testify of me”. Why all these divisions among God’s children over things Paul wrote in his letters, when we have scripture, and testimony of God’s own WORD in the flesh, in the gospels? How many denominations have separated over differing viewpoints over “something Paul wrote” in his letters? I have even heard it said: “The old testament is the old covenant, it’s ALL done away with”, because in Paul’s letter he says….Do we really believe that Paul was implying his letters have done away with scripture? Jesus said where to look to find out about Him: Moses and the prophets. If we want to see how history repeats itself, for “God’s people”, just check out Kings and Chronicles, or the Destruction of Jerusalem(Josephus), for some other times “God’s people”, with God’s word, ignored it, um sorry, I meant rejected it.
    Sorry to be the Equalecuminical wet blanket here, but when God speaks to us in Isaiah 3:12 does it resonate for our “Christian” nation?: “As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. Oh my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths”.

  • SR

    Thank you Richard for highlighting this topic. I grew up in the evangelical church and often experienced the spoken and unspoken messages that leadership was not for women. Many of the women I grew up with left the church because in their heart they felt they were made for more, but there was no place for them. The repeated messages of their second class citizenship put a distance between them, their community, and their relationship with the “patriarchal” God written in the bible. Thank goodness for authors, speakers, and women leaders who help women like myself and others to live out their talents in the body of Christ.

  • Nice post about Junia. John Chrysostom, an early church father, praised her for her apostolic ministry, so we can be fairly certain she was an apostle. Her sex-change operation occurred about a thousand years later.
    The Bible, on its surface, appears to place women in a secondary position. However, I spent 6 years studying these passages, and learned that both Judaism and Christianity are inherently egalitarian. My research was published in 1998 by Smyth & Helwys as “Hidden Voices: Biblical Women and Our Christian Heritage”
    (http://www.helwys.com/books/hidden_voices.html ). It addresses all the difficult passages, including 1 Tim and 1 Cor.