We can no longer take their word for it. [A response to Scot McKnight’s Junia essay]

“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.”–Paul writing in Romans 16:7

This is life affirming and beautiful, I thought, as I read  for the first time in my life (and after having grown up in the church) that Junia, the apostle in the New Testament, was actually a woman.  She was “outstanding among apostles.”

The lack of women in leadership in the church is a tragedy. The Church needs our voices. As I try to advocate for how difficult it is to be a woman in the Church and not have our stories told more easily and readily.  I talk about how wrong it is to have our children growing up in the church without being taught about the many incredible women in the Bible.

Our children, and women are growing up to watch, and listen, and see all that isn’t there.  

And yet it is there and no one told us.

“Sometimes it takes extra energy to get a silenced voice back.” Scot McKnight wrote in is riveting essay Junia is Not Alone.  “There is no evidence  …  in ancient manuscripts or translations” that Junia was a man.  “The church got into a rut and rode it out.”

A rut is kind way put it — more like a stinky hell-hole in my opinion!

When I was young woman studying for the first time in university, I was expected to take a bible class at my Christian liberal arts college.  For the first time in my life, I learned the fact that scripture was translated from other languages.  I didn’t know that.  (Perhaps I wasn’t paying attention.)

As I reflected on this, my passion to really understand scripture grew!  I wanted to study these texts for myself!  As I began I noticed there’s a lot left to one’s interpretation.  I began to wonder why I should just  blindly trust or believe someone else’s interpretation or opinion?  The longer I studied the more conscious I became.   I saw that my bible professors were all male, the bible translators were male,the  authors we were reading were male, and pastors are male.

Hey wait a second?!  I started looking around the church and realized everyone in authority is male. It’s a slow waking up sometimes to justice and truth, especially when you are questioning what you have always been told and injustice as you begin to see it.

Although unsettled, I didn’t really develop an understanding of the priesthood of believers and what equality in Christ means until I was in my late thirties.  My bible professor had actually discouraged me from further language study saying “What will you do with it?”  And it has been a strange and painful path, because I now know differently.  I have found people who are writing about egalitarian ideas and I do not feel so crazy or alone.

Actually often I feel very crazy and very alone which I suppose is why Scot’s essay struck me between the eyeballs.  Junia is not alone.  I am not alone.

I go back to my evangelical free church where women never preach.  And women can’t be elders. And they won’t really say publicly what they believe about women — too controversial and divisive.  And my church is open-minded.  They care about women and work to have women on the platform singing and playing instruments.  They do not restrict women from serving on committees and women definitely outnumber men in participation in the church I was told.  There are even a few women pastors who manage program areas although they cannot be ordained.  So why should I have a problem?

What is my problem?

It’s clear to me that my pastor’s (who I love and respect) don’t read books by women, don’t study commentary by women, nor have trusted advisors who are women (except their wives, which is cool if they actually respect them and the women speak up for these things), nor do they appear to have major influences on them who are women.  How do I know?  They never quote women, or suggest books by women.  And I think this matters.

Reading about Marie Dentière for the first time I felt angry for her and I often feel like her, as McKnight described “her tone was preachy, her mood was argumentative, her hermeneutic was clearly liberationist, her biblical knowledge vast…”

Screech.  Halt!  No my biblical knowledge isn’t vast.   I had never even heard that Junia was a woman, rather that she may have been but it was unlikely.  I could not tell you the stories of almost any of women listed below.  I am a simple person.

I believe in Galatians 3:28  – – that it liberates women to use the gifts God gave us!  God gave me this gift of putting words together compellingly, compassionately, and sometimes even clearly.  When Scot McKnight asks these questions I want to shout AMEN!

“Why the silence on the stories of women?

Why are men and women so obsessed with studying

the subordination of women?

Who says translations are not political documents?”

Halle-fricken-lujah Scot!  That’s what I’ve been thinking and saying all along, even with my ignorance and lack of theological study and lack of penis.

I am challenged by what he says.  Women need to study for themselves.

We need read the Bible for ourselves.  This almost sounds  silly to write because in the 21st century it is so obvious — duh, read it for yourself!  But it is not so in the church!   I am challenged to look up every single woman in scripture, now with several translations open, and a suspicious mind (already had that) to see what those women actually did.  What was their role?  How did God gift them?  If scholars and translators have been able to turn a woman into a man just because they said so, what else might they possibly have done?

These are a few of the women I jotted down from Scot’s article… Many of which I have never heard talked about or have just briefly referenced in Church.

Huldah famous prophet that helped provoke israel’s revival 2 kings 22; Miriam the prophetic national music director; Esther the dancing queen; Phoebe the benefactor of Paul’s missions probably the first to read Romans aloud in public. The first to defend and commentate on Romans. (Scot asks “Why the silence of woman commentators on Romans?”; Priscilla the teacher of Apollos; Rebekah mother of Jacob; Ruth; Esther; Mary mother of Jesus; Phoebe was a Deacon, not “deacon”; Shulamite woman in song of songs; the Proverbs 31 woman; Deborah;  and finally Junia  (married to Andronicus) was “outstanding among the apostles.” Romans 16:7

McNight says that all early translations of the New Testament translated Junia as a woman. From Tyndale to the last quarter of the 19th century, Junia was a woman. Then Luther played an important part in turning her into a man.

“Look at Junia in several translations:

  • NIV 2011: Junia was woman, but apostles unclear about their opinion of her. “Outstanding among the apostles.”
  • ESV: Junia may be man.  May be messenger.
  • CEB: prominent among the apostles.
  • NRSV and Holman Christian Standard Bible:  MIX the options.”

(Noted from Junia is A Woman by Scot McKnight)

Peter the Apostle said: “In the last days our sons and daughters will prophesy.”  And he said, “Even on my servants both men and women I will pour my spirit.”

My conclusions:

  1. Always look at more than one translation for any and all references of women in the bible.
  2. Never blindly trust what you are told about interpretations.
  3. Study it for yourself!  If we don’t we have no one to blame but ourselves.
  4. And personally, God gave me this gift of putting words together compellingly, compassionately, and sometimes even clearly.  I need to write about women.

Yes, it is sad that we have to do this for ourselves but if not me or you, then whom?  It is clear that we can no longer take their word for it.  Also, it is redemptive and life affirming.  Just as this essay by McKnight was significant for me, so will the other stories of women in scripture be on the future church!  It will be a call, a challenge, a cry for the girls and women and men who do not know the truth.

It is our challenge, our obligation, our honor to tell these stories.

May it be so!


Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. He is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University (Chicago, Illinois).

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