The only reason this verse has become controversial and complicated is because Complementarians (those who restrict women from full participation in ministry) have made it controversial and complicated. But Rom. 16:7 is straightforward and clear and easily translated. (I updated this post.)
It seems we should all work together to promote women’s full involvement in the ministry, not by bending verses, but by exegeting them naturally, without complications. But some exegetes see complications in this verse.
So what does Romans 16:7 really say?
Let’s find out.
This post is divided into these main sections:
ADDITIONAL PARALLELS IN THE NT
WAS THE PERSON A WOMAN (JUNIA) OR MAN (JUNIAS)?
WHO WAS JUNIA?
BUT COULD A WOMAN EVEN BE AN APOSTLE?
REPLY TO AN OBJECTION
|Greek Text||My Translation|
|7 ἀσπάσασθε Ἀνδρόνικον καὶ Ἰουνίαν τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου καὶ συναιχμαλώτους μου, οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις, οἳ καὶ πρὸ ἐμοῦ γέγοναν ἐν Χριστῷ.||7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my co-prisoners, who are noteworthy among the apostles, and who were in Christ before me.|
“among the apostles” is transliterated as follows: “en tois apostolois.” This phrase is the preposition en + the dative plural: tois apostolois. “Noteworthy” is the adjective episēmoi, which is in the nominative masculine plural. In Greek, like many languages with masculine and feminine nouns or adjectives (and neuter ones), masculine nouns or adjectives perform double duty and include a woman or women within the group. And so it is here. Junia, a woman, can be included in the masculine plural (dative) noun apostolois. No one disputes this (or should dispute this), so let’s move on.
In this section I depend on Linda L. Belleville’s excellent, “Women in Ministry: An Egalitarian Perspective,” in Two Views on Women in Ministry, rev. ed., ed. James R. Beck, Zondervan, 2005, pp. 42-43. But I edit the formatting to fit this post.
The goal is to see whether the smaller or fewer items or persons still belong within the larger group of items or persons. If they belong, then the verses are inclusive. If they do not belong, the verses are exclusive. To apply it, we can ask: do Andronicus and Junia belong within the apostolic community (inclusive) or stand on the outside looking in (exclusive)? What does the Greek say?
Here are three parallels:
1.. Matthew 2:6
6 Even you Bethlehem, in the land of Judea–
You are in no way the least among the leading cities of Judea […]
“leading cities” could be translated as “rulers”: en tois hēgemosin Iouda; . :”among the rulers of Judea.” But the point is the preposition en and the dative plural tois hēgemosin: “among the rulers” or “among the leading cities.” Whichever translation is chosen, Bethlehem is included, not excluded, within the rulers or leading cities of Judea. The town is a member among other towns in Judea, a member of the club, so to speak. It did not stand outside of Judea. Inclusive.
2.. Acts 4:34
“No one among them was poor”: en autois is the dative plural pronoun autois (them) + en. Every member of the earliest community was included within the larger community. No one member was excluded. Inclusive
3.. 1 Peter 5:1
“So then I exhort the elders among you”: presbuterous oun en humin parakalō.
humin (you or y’all) is the dative plural + the preposition en. The elders were within the larger Christian community, not excluded from it. Inclusive.
To wrap up this subsection, in the same way, Andronicus and Junia were members within the community of apostles, not excluded from it.
I offer more examples in the NT, in the next major section. For the next smaller section, I’m still depending on Belleville.
Writings Outside the New Testament
Now we add the word “noteworthy” (episēmos). It can be translated as “splendid,” “prominent” or “outstanding” (BDAG). But as we will see, below, it can also be translated with other terms. The point to all of the next examples is that the item or person belongs within the larger group. They are not excluded nor stand outside it. Burer, a Complementarian, provides the larger context of these passages in his 2015 article, but this does not help his cause (see below).
1.. Additions to Esther 16.22 [8.22] (1st century)
“So then you shall observe this with all good cheer as a notable day [episēmon hēmeron] among your commemorative festivals [en tais hymon heotrais or en + plus dative plural].
So “notable day” is part of all their other festival days; the day is not excluded but a member within the larger group. But it is an outstanding or notable day among all the other festival days. Inclusive.
2.. Fouilles de Xanthos VII Asia Minor 76-1-2
[–] … “president of the Lycians, general and admiral of the nation, prominent among Rome’s allies [en tais hyper Rõmaiõn symmachais episēmon genomenon], secretary of the Lycian nation, illustrious and great.”
In Burer’s long list (see below) he provides the larger context. An individual, the president of Lycia, who was a general and admiral of the nation / province, was prominent among Rome’s allies (en tais … symmachais or en + dative plural), so he was within the larger group of allies. Inclusive.
3.. Philo, Flight, 9-10 (1st century)
“While Laban had a flock devoid of all distinctive marks […] Jacob […] had a flock whose appearance was distinctive and varied in the whole universe [episēmon] […] en men tois holois [en + dative plural] to eidos.”
In this passage, though en is translated as “in” (which is its basic meaning anyway), it still shows that the flock was within–not excluded–from world or universe (dative plural). The smaller subset (flock) is within the large set (universe). Inclusive.
4.. Josephus, Jewish Wars, 2.148 (1st century)
“So the men of power sent ambassadors; some to Florus […] and others to Agrippa, eminent among whom were [en hois ēsan episēmoi] Saul, Antipas, Costobarus.”
If I understand the context, the latter three named men were eminent among all the ambassadors. The relative pronoun hois (dative plural) + en + episēmoi are translated as “eminent among whom.” Those three are included within the larger group of ambassadors. Look up Chapter 17, section 4, for the larger context. Inclusive.
5.. Lucian, On Salaried Posts in Great Houses, 28.4 (second century)
“So you must raise your thirsty voice like a stranded frog, taking pains to be conspicuous among those who praise [the mistress’s page; episēmos en tois epainousi].”
So the servant in a great household must stand out among those who praise (dative plural participle) the mistress. The servant is within the larger group of other servants and works hard to stand out, to be conspicuous. But his standing out does not mean he ceases being part of the larger group. Inclusive.
6. Lucian, Dialogues of the Dead, 438 (second century)
“We had quite a crowd with us on our way down; most distinguished among whom were [en autois de episēmoi] our rich countryman Ismenodorus.”
So rich Ismenodorus, their countryman, was prominent among all those (dative plural) going down to the dead. He was included within the larger group of the dead. Inclusive.
7.. Lucian, Harmonides, 1.17 (second century)
[…] “the fame which is given by the multitude and to be the conspicuous one in a crowd [to episēmon einai en plēsthesi]”
Here en is translated as “in,” but the conspicuous one is still within the crowd (dative plural) and is not outside looking in. Inclusive, though now he is famous.
So by these parallel examples I learn that Andronicus and Junia were within the larger group of apostles, and they were also well known to them (NET, ESV). The larger apostolic circle did not admire them from the inside looking out at the pair. The pair is still included in the circle, and the community acknowledged them from within. Inclusive.
Quick Note on the Debate
I cover–only quickly–the debate between Linda Belleville and Richard Bauckham on one side and Michael Burer and Daniel Wallace on the other. Belleville and Bauckham succeeded in refuting Burer’s and Wallace’s 2001 article. However, Michael Burer has replied to them in 2015 in the Journal of Evangelical Theological Society 58/4 (2015), pp. 731-55, focusing on epiēmos + en. Looking at many passages in Greco-Roman writings, in Greek, he concludes that the phrase is exclusive, and therefore Junia was not part of the apostolic circle. But Marg Mosczko has reinforced Belleville’s and Baukham’s conclusions at her website Marg Mosczko in 2019.
I looked over several items in Burer’s long list of examples (pp. 746-54), and I believe he has misinterpreted the data and imposed the “exclusive” interpretation on them. Here’s why he is mistaken (in my view). Each member or smaller subset still belonged within the larger group or set. The individual or smaller number of individuals or items did not stand outside the larger group because he or they were praised or acknowledged by the larger community. On the contrary, the individual or smaller group was praised or acknowledged precisely because they were members among the larger community. Burer translates the Greek en + dative correctly as “among,” but this preposition definitionally means to be within the larger group. So his conclusion that says the passages are exclusive is puzzling.
In the same way, Andronicus and Junia were noteworthy among the large apostolic circle–outstanding, yes, but still within it because of the preposition among, which is definitionally inclusive. They did not cease being part of the apostolic community because they were conspicuous or outstanding or noteworthy. Inclusive.
A star quarterback may be prominent or conspicuous relative to his teammates who esteem and know him well, but he does not, for this reason, cease to be part of the team. He is still a team member. Inclusive.
ADDITIONAL PARALLELS IN THE NT
The translations are mine, but I have also embedded links in each reference to all the English translations at biblegateway.com. Hint: all (or nearly all) of them translate the key phrases with the preposition “among.” When some translations switch things up, they do so because they are virtually paraphrasing.
Close (Enough) Parallels
The goal here is to find verses with these elements because they roughly match the elements in Romans 16:7b: (1) an adjective or noun to set things up, (2) the verb “to be” (stated or implied) or the verb “to become” (stated or implied) (3) and en + the dative plural. I can’t promise that the following verses will exactly parallel the grammar or syntax (sentence structure) of Rom. 16:7, for episēmos is used only twice in the NT, here and in Matthew 27:16. But the following verses have the same elements. At least we will get an idea how to translate en + dative plural in Romans 16:7. It is not complicated.
1.. Mark 10:43 (see all the translations at that link)
“But whoever wants to become great among you, he will be your servant”: all’ hos an thelē megas [adjective] genesthai [verb “become” = “to be”] en humin [en + dative plural], estai humōn diakonos.
“To” (in their opinion), though possible, is not the best fit. The natural reading is “among” and not “to” or “by” because Jesus is speaking to a group and calling an individual from them to take the path of servanthood, in order to be great among the group. The true leader of the group must lead by humility, but he is still a member of Jesus’ community, particularly his apostolic community in the verse’s original context. Inclusive.
Plus, nearly all translations say “among” (never “to”) for this verse. (The extra-conservative ESV and NET have “among.”) Why? Because of the translators’ experience with NT Greek. It is how one naturally translates en + dative plurals. I see no reason therefore to work extra hard to coerce the text into an unnatural meaning, just so I can later deny Junia her rightful place among the apostolic community in Romans 16:7. Inclusive.
2.. Mark 15:40
“There were some women watching from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary (mother of James the younger and of Joses), and Salome.” ēsan [verb “to be”] de kai gunaikes [noun] apo makrothen theōrousai en hais [en + dative plural] kai Maria hē Magdalēnē kai Maria hē Iaköbou to mikrou kai Iōsētos mētēr kai Salōmē.
This verse has the verb “to be,” a main noun to set things up, and en + dative plural. So from the larger group of women there is a subset who is actually named. The natural reading is “among” and not “to” (in their opinion) or “by.” And the named subset belongs within the larger group of women. The subset is not excluded from the larger group, standing on the outside looking in. Inclusive.
3.. Luke 1:42
“You (are) blessed among women […] “eulogēmenē [participle functioning as adjective] su en gunaixin [en + dative plural]
The verb “to be” is implied, and the participle functions as an adjective which describes her state of being. (But if for this reason you insist on moving the verse to the next subsection, then that’s okay too.) The most natural reading is “among” and not “to” (in their opinion) or “by” because Elizabeth’s announcement was private. (Extra-conservative ESV and NET have “among.”) No one even knew about the announcement when her words were spoken. And no woman in Israel would say she was blessed to them (in their opinion) or by them, particularly when her pregnancy was scandalous. No, Elizabeth is simply saying that out of all the women in Israel, Mary is blessed because she was chosen by God to birth the Messiah. Yet Mary was still a member of womankind, particularly in Israel, and was not excluded from the larger group, standing on the outside looking in, just because she was specially chosen and conspicuous among womankind. Inclusive.
4.. Luke 7:28
“Among those born of women, no one is greater than John”: meizōn [adjective] en gennētois [en + dative plural] gunaikōn Iōannou oudeis estin [verb “to be”]
“Among” and not “to” (in their opinion) is the natural reading because John is one member of the large group: those born of women. Though he is greater, he is included in the larger group, not excluded. Inclusive.
5.. Luke 22:24
“There was even a dispute among them”: “Egeneto [= verb “to be”] de kai philonikia [noun] en autois [en + dative plural]”
“Among” is the most natural reading, for the dispute emerged within the group, among the individuals. Inclusive. (It could be translated inceptively, “there began a dispute,” but it is still “among.” Kai could be translated as “also).
6.. Acts 17:34
“There were some men who joined him and believed, among whom was Dionysus […] and a woman named Damaris”: tines de andres [noun] kollēthentes autō episteusan, en hois [en + dative plural] kai Dionusios […] kai gunē onomati Damaris.
The verb “to be” is implied, and the noun is “men.” “Among” is the natural reading here. Dionysius and Damaris are included within the larger group of believers. Inclusive.
7.. Romans 1:6
[…] “among whom you are also called of Jesus Christ”: en hois [en + dative plural] este [verb “to be”] kai humeis [subject pronoun] klētoi Iēsou Christou
“Among” is the natural reading. “You” is the subset of everyone who is called of or by Jesus Christ. Inclusive. Extra-conservative ESV says, “including you.”
8.. Romans 8:29
[…] “that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters”: eis to einai [verb “to be”] auton prōtotokon [adjective] en pollois adelphois [en + dative plural]
“Among” is best. The verse is inclusive, though Jesus is clearly the leader of humanity. The God-man is our firstborn. In a human context, inclusive.
In this subsection, the parallels deviate a little (e.g. they do not have the verb “to be” or an adjective), but the natural reading is still clear, without controversy. Links are again provided that go to all the available English translations for each verse, at biblegateway.com.
1.. Matthew 4:23
[…] healing every disease and every sickness among the people”: therapeuōn pasan noson kai pasan malakian en tō laō [en + dative singular but functionally plural]
In Greek “people” is singular, but it is the people or many individuals, so let’s call it functionally plural. The most natural reading is “among” or “in” (inclusive) the people. “To” (in their opinion) or “by” does not work. Inclusive.
See Acts 6:8: Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. And he was still a member of the people of Jerusalem, and the miracles and signs were worked within and upon the people. Inclusive.
2.. Matthew 11:11
“There has not arisen among those born among women (anyone) greater than John the Baptist”: “ouk egēgertai en gennētois [en + dative plural] gunaikōn maizōn Iōannou tou Baptistou”
The most natural reading is “among.” John was born of a woman, so he was part of Israel. But he was greater than they were. But he did not, for this reason, lose his place within the larger group, even though he became greater than they. Inclusive.
3.. Matthew 16:7
“They began to debate among themselves”: “oi de diēlogizonto en heautois [en + dative plural]”
The most natural reading is “among,” not “to” (in their opinion). The debate happened within the group. Inclusive.
Matthew 16:8 has the same construction.
4.. Mark 5:5
“And night and day (he was) among the tombs and in the mountains” “kai dia pantos nuktos kai hēmeras en tois mnēmasin kai en tois oresin [en + two dative plurals]
In this verse the subject (he) and verb “to be” are implied. The verse does not have an adjective. “In” is the best translation here (which is the basic meaning of en anyway) and not “to” (in their opinion) or “by” (instrument) because he lived in those two areas; he was among the tombs and hills. So, inclusive, though a sad fact about isolation from humanity.
5.. Luke 2:44
“They began to look for him among the relatives and acquaintances” “anezētoun auton en tois suggeneusin kai tois gnōstois [en + dative plurals].
“To” (in their opinion) or “by” does not work here. “Among” is the natural reading. Just because the Bible shines the spotlight on Joseph and Mary looking for their son does not mean they were no longer members of the larger group of relatives and acquaintances. They were still members. Inclusive.
6.. Acts 15:22
[…] “to send to Antioch, with Paul and Barnabas, Judas […] and Silas, men who are leaders among the brothers and sisters”: pempsai eis Antiocheian sun tō Paulō kai Barnaba, Ioudan […] kai Silan, andras ēgoumenous en tois adelphois [en + dative plural]
In Greek adelphos is “brother” but in most contexts the plural form of the one noun performs double duty for the entire community, so it is perfectly legitimate to translate it as “brothers and sisters.” Now to the main point: “To” (in their estimation or opinion) may be coerced or shoehorned in, but it is unnatural. “Among” is the best translation. Judas and Silas, though leaders, were still part of the larger community in Jerusalem. And nearly every translation has “among.” (Even extra-conservative NET and ESV translate the preposition as “among.”) Again, why? Because it is how one translates en + dative plurals in such verses. No controversy. No complications. No over-thinking. And I say it is the same for Romans 16:7. Inclusive.
7.. Acts 26:18
“So they might receive […] an inheritance among those sanctified by faith, which is in me”: tou labein […] kai klēron [noun] en tois hēgiasmenois [en + dative plural] pistei tē eis eme”
“Among” is the natural reading. Gentiles could now join the community, the people of God, by faith in Christ. Inclusive.
8.. Romans 11:17
“you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others” (NIV): su de agrielaios ōn enekentristhēs en autois [en + dative plural]
“Among” the other branches works best here. (Note: “the others” is not quite right in the NIV’s translation. It is better to go with “them.”) But in any case, Gentiles are now part of the people of God. Inclusive.
I must stop now because I don’t want the post to go too long, but I could have kept going. I checked out many, many verses of the 2752 occurrences of the little preposition en. Its basic meaning is “in,” and sometimes it is used in this way even with the dative plural (e.g. Rom. 5:5; Gal. 6:6; Eph. 1:2, 20). Further, 1 Timothy 5:10 says that a godly widow must be “testified to by good works” (marturoumenē en ergois kalois). The participle marturoumenē is passive. She is well-known for them. She simply does good works, which is the cause or reason for her positive testimony. This is not an adjective like episēmos. She stands within the Christian community and has become noteworthy for doing good works. Similarly, Andronicus and Junia stood within the apostolic community and achieved prominence because they had been in the Lord before Paul and were co-prisoners, which indicates she was not a silent witness. Prisca herself was also prominent in Christian communities, but she did not stand outside of them looking in.
And so in many sentences, when the context requires it, the phrase should be translated as “among such-and-such things or persons.” In nearly all translations, they translate the above examples in this major section as “among” (or once in a while as “in,” in the inclusive sense). A smaller number of people or things belonged within the larger group, even though sometimes the people or things were noteworthy or prominent or conspicuous. They did not, for this reason, cease being part of the large group.
All the above verses were inclusive.
This translation (“among”) is further confirmed by the Greek-speaking church fathers who had no problem saying that Junia was “noteworthy among the apostles,” and not merely “well known to the apostles.” I accept the opinion of these Greek fathers and their natural reading of Rom. 16:7, for the fathers were educated native Greek speakers, and that is how they read the dative plural clause with the Greek preposition en in Rom. 16:7 (see Belleville, p. 40, and Bauckham, p. 166, for the references to the fathers).
Evidently, the fathers did not see episēmos + en + dative plural as complicated. My hunch is that they read episēmoi en tois apostolois the same way that many translations (and I) do. They did not create a long list of writings with episēmos + en and then decided whether the meaning was inclusive (Junia was inside the apostolic circle) or exclusive (she was outside). For the fathers, it was clear, not complicated.
To repeat the main thesis, the natural reading of the key phrase in Rom. 16:7 is “noteworthy among the apostles.” And “among” is automatically and definitionally inclusive. Just because the Andronicus and Junia stood out or were conspicuous in the eyes of the larger apostolic community does not mean they ceased being part of this community. The couple was still among them. The Greek, properly interpreted, says so. Inclusive.
However, some translations stumble on the normal and near-universal translation of en + dative plural, when they get to Romans 16:7 (en tois apostolois).
Click on this link and look, for example, at what the extra-conservative NET and ESV say:
Here they are:
NET: “They are well known to the apostles.”
ESV: “They are well known to the apostles.”
Their translations indicate that Andronicus and Junia stood outside of the apostolic community (exclusive). But the translations are being inconsistent, compared to their translations of all of the other verses in the above list. They write “among” or for Romans 1:6 the ESV says “including.”
Counterfactual: I claim that if Paul had written that Andronicus and Junia are prominent “en tais ekklēsiais,” the NET and ESV translators would have rendered the phrase, “among the churches” without hesitation nor complications, because the phrase would pose no problems about a woman being prominent or noteworthy in the larger ecclesiastic (church) community and because this is how they translated all the above examples: “among” or “in.”
But Paul did not write the phrase “en tais ekklēsiais” (“among the churches”). He wrote “en tois apostolois” (“among the apostles”); and, as noted, this preposition is inclusive by definition. And the NET and ESV translators have a problem with a woman being numbered with the apostles.
WAS THE PERSON A WOMAN (JUNIA) OR A MAN (JUNIAS)?
I let Prof. Belleville summarize the data:
The masculine name Junias simply does not occur in any transcription, on any tombstone, in any letterhead or letter or in any literary work contemporary with NT writings. In fact, “Junias” does not exist in any extant Greek or Latin document of the Greco-Roman period. On the other hand, the feminine “Junia” is quite common and well attested in both Latin and Greek inscriptions. Over 250 examples to date have been documented (p. 39)
Even the extra-conservative NET and ESV translations call her by the woman’s name. The person paired with Andronicus was Junia, a woman. For me, the debate is now settled.
WHO WAS JUNIA?
Richard Bauckham (pp. 165-88) provides an excellent discussion on Junia. He argues that Junia is a sound-alike name for Joanna (Luke 8:2-3; 24:10). She added a Latin name to her Hebrew one, to relate to the Romans, where she was living. Many Jews had biblical names but also adopted Greek or Latin names to relate to the larger Greek and Roman cultures. Next, Chuza, her husband, had probably already died, and she got remarried to Andronicus, likely also an early follower of Jesus who had an (unknown) Hebrew name and this Greek name.
Bauckham’s idea is ingenious. Plausible. If his evidence and argument are true, then Joanna-Junia followed Christ from the beginning or close to the beginning (Luke 8:2-3), watched him die on the cross (Luke 23:49), and then proclaimed the resurrection to the eleven (Luke 24:10). So she deserved the praise “prominent among the apostles.”
Andronicus and Junia were probably husband and wife (or less likely brother and sister) because it would have been scandalous for an unmarried couple to travel together. Junia and Andronicus were also Paul’s co-prisoners, so they must have been fearless in their gospel witness. Amazing (if you think about it).
BUT COULD A WOMAN EVEN BE AN APOSTLE?
Yes, if we define the ministry “apostle” broadly, as Paul in fact does. There are 80 occurrences of the Greek noun apostolos (apostle, pronounced ah-poh-stoh-loss) in the NT, not counting the verb apostellõ (ah-poh-stehl-loh), which appears 132 times. The noun often just means “messenger” or “commissioned one” or “sent one.” The verb most often means “send.” (And for the record, the noun apostolē [pronounced ah-poh-stoh-lay] appears 4 times and means “apostleship”: Acts 1:25, Rom. 1:5, 1 Cor. 9:2, Gal. 2:8).
In my post Do NT Apostles Exist Today?, I look at various levels or kinds of apostles in the NT.
At that link, under the sixth point, I concluded:
According to the NT, the twelve are in a class by themselves, and even Paul referenced them by their number, “the twelve,” almost reflexively and automatically, since he had just named Cephas (Peter), as if Cephas were not part of the twelve (1 Cor. 15:6)! Therefore, no one could ever “graduate” to their level, even in the first century, and not even Paul. There is a God-ordained wall, so to speak, between them and the other apostles.
The second group, the apostles of Christ, are those outside of the twelve, and this evidence comes from one verse in Acts (Barnabas in 14:4) and Paul’s passing references in his writings. He seemed to assume a very broad definition, including himself and many others. So let’s not build up a thick wall between them and the next possible class.
Some interpreters see a third class, the apostles of the churches or church apostles. They were commissioned by the churches or by Paul, for example. They represent the nontechnical use of apostle: representatives or messengers or delegates. Examples of this kind of apostle are Titus, Epaphroditus, and Timothy. They may be considered emissaries or “sent ones,” so they may not be apostles in a formal sense.
In other words, the title apostle is far larger than just the twelve, in Paul’s letters. (Click on the above link for the evidence.) Therefore Andronicus and Junia could be part of the larger apostolic community and in fact were among this circle. Since they were part of this community, the community knew them well and considered them outstanding. Inclusive.
REPLY TO AN OBJECTION
Junia appears in a descriptive passage. In contrast, certain passages, e.g. 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-36, are prescriptive. They issue commands–timeless imperatives. Prescriptive passages always trump the descriptive ones.
Here is my reply.
Some interpreters call the passages where women’s ministry is described as they practiced their ministry as “descriptive” (e.g. Priscilla, Phoebe, Syntyche, Euodia, Nympha, Junia et al. See the references below). In contrast, the verses in the objection are often called “prescriptive passages.” They issue commands and instructions. How do we interpret the two kinds–descriptive and prescriptive?
One interpretation misses things: if we make the so-called prescriptive passages “smack down” the descriptive passages, then we make the women to be transgressors of the prescriptive passages in their active, vocal ministries. So something has gone wrong with the interpretation of the prescriptive passages. It is a sure thing that Paul would have laughed it out court because he observed those women in action. (Or if he could time-travel to right now, he may weep from discouragement at modern American, uptight interpretations.) He knew them. Instead, the descriptive and prescriptive passages are mutually clarifying. Neither one trumps the other.
Women’s real-life ministries are found throughout the NT. Examples: named and unnamed women who followed Jesus to the very end of his life (Luke 8:2-3; 24:10); Priscilla taught the mighty Apollos (Acts 18); Euodia and Syntyche strove alongside Paul in the cause of the gospel (Phil. 4:2-3); Junia was a co-prisoner with Paul and was outstanding among the apostles (Rom. 16:7). Junia could not have been passive and silent in ministry to land her in prison. Phoebe was a minister of the word (Rom. 16:1-2). Philipp’s daughters prophesied (Acts 21:9). A certain Mary worked hard for the Romans (Rom. 16:6). It is impossible to believe that she kept her mouth closed throughout her hard work.
Do modern Complementarians / restrictionists really want women not to say one word in church? Those verses in the objection were not written two weeks ago in America (or another nation), but two thousand years ago. Scripture is not flat or one dimensional. It was not written to us, but it was written for us.
This objection sets up a needless dichotomy between the two types of Scripture. Paul wrote that we are supposed to learn even from the (descriptive) stories in the Old Testament:
11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. (1 Cor. 10:11, NIV)
We need both types of Scripture to explain each other. I see both types as essential and part of the inerrant, authoritative word of God. Both types are mutually explanatory and clarifying. Don’t pit one against the other, or else you will turn Priscilla and other women (e.g. in Rom. 16) into transgressors of the “prescriptive” commands of Paul. Bad idea.
Those verses, of necessity, have an original cultural background that must be explored, particularly about the role of women in the church. The background clarifies the “plain” meaning of the text, even more. It is very risky to ignore the cultural background because we can reach needlessly severe restrictions.
Culture, culture, culture! Context, context, context!
You are an NBA star, and you become conspicuous and outstanding on your team. But you still belong on the team. Your excellence does not unexpectedly and automatically exclude you from it. Inclusive.
There is nothing really all that controversial or complicated about Romans 16:17. Junia was a woman, and the Greek construction says that she was a member within the larger apostolic community; she and Andronicus were among them. The pair was conspicuous and stood out among them, but they did not cease being part of the larger apostolic community, for this reason. The pair still remained within it.
I believe that this is Paul’s main, uncomplicated point when he singled out the couple in his list of greetings and acknowledgements in Romans 16. I wish the restrictionists would see that the noun “apostle” is so broad that it can surely include some women who were early eyewitnesses or who were messengers of the church or were commissioned by it. Andronicus and Junia may have also overseen church plants, much like Aquila and Prisca did. Andronicus and Junia probably even planted churches.
Therefore, Junias’ inclusion within the broad apostolic community is no threat to the restrictionists’ belief, unless it is too restrictive. But then, that’s the point of contention.
Now let’s assume that Junia and Joanna are the same person because Joanna adopted a sound-alike Roman name.
Junia must have enjoyed a certain level of authority, and even prestige, in the early Christian communities, since she followed Jesus for so long. (Paul said she was in the Lord before he was, and he had his Damascus Road conversion two or three years after the ascension.) She must have preached Jesus from first-hand, eyewitness experience, in the public assemblies, the gathered churches. Of course she would. Why wouldn’t she?
It is unrealistic and needlessly restrictive to assume that she would keep her mouth shut when she was a treasure trove of eyewitness testimony, much like Mary Magdalene was. It is unrealistic and needlessly restrictive to believe that Junia chased out all the men and older women from the meeting place before she got up to speak, because she was permitted to teach only young women and not dominate men authoritatively (Titus 2:4 does not say “only” young women, by the way, and 1 Timothy 2:12, which is about “domination” and “teaching,” must be interpreted in its own Ephesian cultural context).
Are Older Women Restricted to Teaching (‘Only’?) Young Women? A Close Look at Titus 2:3-5
Are Women Allowed to Teach Men? A Close Look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15
Junias’ longevity and being an authoritative eyewitness is surely why Luke names her in his Gospel (Luke 8:2-3; 23:49; 24:10), as a kind of bookends to this long section. (Recall that Luke was Paul’s traveling companion, even into Rome [Acts 28], and Paul knew Andronicus and Junia, and all three were co-prisoners somewhere along the journey, so Luke probably met the pair.)
Whatever the circumstances, Luke surely interviewed her and heard her teach / preach in public or from prison. She impressed him.
She impresses me.
In fact, this apostolic female should impress everyone, particularly women who believe that they are called to ministry today, with full participation in all biblical leadership gifts, say, in Ephesian 4:11. God backed Junia; he can back women today.
Go here for the gifts available to them:
Women, Men, and Five Ministry Gifts in Ephesians 4:11
To finish on a personal note, I cannot understand why some work so hard at finding restrictions in a verse that is so clear. It seems that we should easily go in the opposite direction and work extra-hard to involve women in church ministries, since they are such blessings to the church. But let’s leave aside the restrictionists’ motives and my bafflement and wishful thinking, for those who restrict women would tell me that they are simply exegeting and interpreting Scripture in good faith.
But Junia’s ministry is one more reason why I could not keep on being a (mild) Complementarian / restrictionist. It was easy for me to switch to egalitarianism. Better exegesis from the experts.
Women, Men, and Five Ministry Gifts in Ephesians 4:11
Do NT Apostles Exist Today? (I discuss levels of apostles in NT).
Should Women Not Speak One Word in Church? A Close Look at 1 Cor. 14:34-36
Are Women Allowed to Teach Men? A Close Look at 1 Timothy 2:11-15
Women Teachers: New Translation and Reinterpretation of 1 Timothy 2
And no, this is not a post advocating progressive, leftwing, postmodern feminism. I speak out against it and progressivism generally:
Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Danger Signs
Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Authority of Scripture
Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Marriage and Sex
Warning to Evolving, Progressive Churches: Judgment Is Coming