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The July 2013 issue of Ministry magazine carries the lead article, “Junia The Apostle.” Much is made by the author of Junia being a “female apostle.” This claim is based on the apostle Paul’s description of Andronicus and Junia as “my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me” (Romans 16:7 KJV).
The conclusion on p. 9 boldly declares, “Paul recognized her as one of the apostles, a woman who was willing to suffer for the gospel she was busily spreading.” Receiving my July copy, seeing the cover with its title, then reading the article and evidences provided, I could only react with astonishment. One question. On what basis? Junia the apostle? Really?
Theologians and historians have debated the text used in support of this claim and come to differing conclusions. To be fair, in her opening paragraph the author states that “through the years, questions have been raised about her identity, occupation, and especially her gender.” Yet, she claims unequivocally in the title and the conclusion that Junia was a female apostle.
In proving her case, three and a half pages are spent looking at the name Junia in the Greek language, in antiquity, in early Christian references, in Greek NT manuscripts, in printed Greek New Testaments, and in modern translations. Energy is also spent discussing the word for “of note,” EPISHMOI, and the phrase “among the apostles,” EN TOIS APOSTOLOIS. Yes, much discussion. But the conclusion far exceeds the evidence. I am left with that nagging question: Really?
There are two main problems in the text (Romans 16:7). First of all, does the name Junia have a feminine ending (proving Junia was a woman), or does it have a masculine ending (proving Junia was a man)? This is a grammatical problem arising from the Greek language. In Romans 16:7, the ending for the name of Junia in the Greek is -AN, which would be the direct object (accusative) form both for men’s names that end in -AS (like Elias, Zacharias, Silas, Thomas, or Cephas) or women’s names that end in -A (like Martha, Joanna, or Lydia).
Therefore, it is impossible to tell from the Greek ending alone whether the person described by the apostle Paul is Junias (male) or Junia (female). The author recognizes this by accurately stating on p. 6 of the article, “In truth, the oldest manuscripts, the uncials, are written in capital letters, without accents. Hence both genders would be given IONIAN, leaving the reader to decide which gender Junia was.”
Thus, from a grammatical standpoint, both genders are possible. The question is, how are we to decide which interpretation is best when both are allowed by the Greek? Outside of the Greek text and manuscripts, our author turns to antiquity, early Christian references, and modern language translations. But do these sources “really” provide evidence for the author’s firm conclusion that Junia was a female apostle? Is there a better place to go to decide the matter?
Secondly, let’s assume that the person Paul refers to is a woman by the name Junia. Does Romans 16:7 require us to believe that Junia was a female apostle? The answer depends on how one understands the phrase translated “among the apostles” (EN TOIS APOSTOLOIS). In Greek the phrase is ambiguous. Does it mean that Andronicus and Junia were numbered among the apostles (as the NIV has it, “They are outstanding among the apostles,”) or, does it mean that their reputation was well known by the apostles (as the KJV puts it, they are of “note among the apostles”)? Again, the question must be asked how are we to decide which interpretation is best when both are allowed by the Greek? On p. 8 our author turns to the debates of between Michael Burer, Daniel Wallace and Bauckham, Belleville, and Epp. But is there a better place to go?
We now have come to the place where one’s hermeneutical principles are revealed. When it comes to interpretation the long standing Adventist approach is to 1.) interpret an obscure passage by a plain passage in Scripture, and 2.) look for any applicable precedents in Scripture, noting that one Scripture will never contradict another. Staying within Scripture is the best place to go when questions concerning a particular verse leave us initially puzzled. This is safer and more sound than antiquity, modern translations, and the debates of man.
On this foundation and as Adventists living at this crucial time in earth’s history, we should recognize five relevant facts: 1.) Paul’s doctrine of headship was firmly established on the creation order (1 Timothy 2:1; 1 Corinthians 11; Ephesians 5). 2.) Jesus Himself ordained only males as apostles. 3.) Every known apostle in the New Testament was a male—Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14, 4), Apollos (1 Corinthians 4:6, 9), Silvanus and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:6), Titus (2 Corinthians 8:23), Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25). 4.) While women played important and vital roles in the early church’s soul-winning ministry, none of them is known to have served as apostle, elder, or bishop. 5.) The apostle Paul, who worked closely with these active women, taught that the headship function of elder or overseer could be held by only a person who, among other things, was the “husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6).
The above considerations lead to the conclusion that the phrase “among the apostles” (EN TOIS APOSTOLOIS) is best understood, “of note among the apostles” in the sense that Junia, whether a male or female, was well known by the apostles, not numbered as one of them. The most biblically-consistent understanding is that both Andronicus and Junia were well known and appreciated by the apostles as Christian converts prior to Paul’s own conversion.
Unlike the speculative and arbitrary interpretation offered in Ministry magazine’s lead article, “Junia The Apostle,” this interpretation does not violate clear and plain biblical teaching on headship, the example of Jesus Christ in appointing only males as apostles, and the fact that all known apostles mentioned in the New Testament are male.
Based upon evidence, not conjecture, we must conclude that Junia, even if a woman, could not have been an apostle. Any assertion that Junia was a “female apostle” is speculative and causes me to scratch my head and ask that question: Really?
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Mike and Jayne Lambert have served throughout the NPUC, including Montana, Idaho, and Oregon. Elder Lambert is presently pastor of the Stateline Church, in Milton Freewater, Oregon.