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).

“Why The Silence?” Forgive me the Cynicism … (on Women in the Church)

I don’t know about you, but when I first read this it shocked and appalled me.

During the times of Jesus, the religious leaders prayed at least three times a day and always thanked God for three specific things:

  • Thank God that I am a Jew and not a Gentile.
  • Thank God that I am free and not a slave.
  • Thank God that I am a man and NOT a woman.

In the Babylonian Talmud, a Rabbi still says that one is obliged to recite the following three berakhot daily: “Who has made me a Jew”, “who has not made me a woman”, “who has not made me an ignoramus.”

Ouch!  I’ll bet a lot of men in seminary today secretly thank God they are not a woman or an ignoramus, that is if they think of women at all.

I love pastor Eugene Cho’s reflection thanking God he is a man (tongue in cheek kind of) saying:

“There’s great privilege and power in simply being a man. This is why I contend that the treatment of women is the oldest injustice in human history. We can talk equality and equity all day long and while we can acknowledge how far we’ve come, we still clearly live – even in 2011 – where there’s great advantage in simply being a man.”

This is why the message of Jesus is so powerful.

The apostle Paul in Galatians 3:28 subverted the dominant worldview by saying in the Kingdom of God, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Powerful, meaningful words to me of the way God intended things and what he promises to restore in us all.  And yet, I easily become discouraged about the state of things.

I needed prudence yesterday when within the same hour I read two very different posts.

One was this post by a pastor saying that women should not read scripture in church.  Apparently, according to this writer, women are not to read scripture out loud in public. WOW.   I post it just to give perspective to some of my more progressive and enlightened friends about why I always seem concerned with women in the church.  It’s sexist crap  and I found myself  wishing a Bible scholar like Scot McKnight, or Sharon Hodde Miller, or Mary Elizabeth Fisher would please take him on.  I wrote him asking where he got the idea that only MEN should be the ones to do public reading of scripture.  It was is a sincere question as a Christ follower who loves scripture passionately, because I have never seen anything there that prescribes such an action.  He promised to write on it soon.

And then I saw this ebook by one of those wonderful people by Scot McKnight, titled Junia is Not Alone. You must pick it up.  You must read it.  He encourages more women to study, research and speak out on “women in the ancient world, about women in the early church, and women in church history … many whose stories are untold.” Amen!

Amazon says:

It tells the story of Junia, a female apostle honored by Paul in his Letter to the Romans—and then silenced and forgotten for most of church history. But Junia’s tragedy is not hers alone. She’s joined by fellow women in the Bible whose stories of bold leadership have been overlooked. She’s in the company of visionary women of God throughout the centuries whose names we’ve forgotten, whose stories go untold, and whose witness we neglect to celebrate.  But Junia is also joined by women today—women who are no longer silent and who are experiencing a re-voicing as they respond to God’s call to lead us into all truth.

Scot says:

Moving toward my second decade of teaching college students, more than half of whom grow up in a church, of this I am certain: churches don’t talk about the women of the Bible. Of Mary mother of Jesus they have heard, and even then not all of what they have heard is accurate. But of the other woman saints of the Bible, including Miriam, the prophetic national music director, or Esther, the dancing queen, or Phoebe, the benefactor of Paul’s missions, or Priscilla, the teacher, they’ve heard almost nothing.

Why the silence?

Why do we consider the mother/wife of Proverbs 31 an ideal female image but shush the language of the romantic Shulammite woman of the Song of Songs? Why are we so obsessed with studying the “subordination” of women to men but not a woman like Deborah, who subordinated men and enemies? Why do we believe that we are called to live out Pentecost’s vision of Spirit-shaped life but ignore what Peter predicted would happen? That “(i)n the last days… your sons and daughters will prophesy…” and that “(e)ven on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit.”

You can buy the ebook for $2.99.

Sometimes God answers your prayers in strange ways.

Not a direct response obviously, but rather this was an encouragement to me.  Women are quite literally being silenced in the church by men like Tim Challies and Piper who talks about women’s submission even with in abusive marriages.  And movements like Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church and his crazy notions about men and women.

In my article, The Voice of The Feminine I said:

I’ve been thinking about the lack of presence and example of women in the Church.  That Sunday* at my church in particular, women were simply spectators, the audience, the bystanders, the recipients and beneficiaries.

And the more I thought I could not remember the last time one of the teaching pastors suggested a book they were reading written by a woman.  Women are never quoted in my church.  Female theologians or scholars are never referenced or even mentioned, probably because the pastors don’t read them.  I can’t remember the last time, if ever, a pastor in my church has suggested or referred to or quoted a female theologian, religious author, or historian.  Am I the only one that notices these things?

The entire thing makes me very sad.  And so tired.  I am tired of the male dominated culture on the platform, as authors, as experts, as theologians, as speakers at conferences and in the Church at large. Considering women are half the church (some would say more) I do not buy the argument that there aren’t capable women to select from, though I’ve been told that very thing.  “The women haven’t risen up who have the gift of teaching.”

Risen up?   To be honest, one would think in a service-by-gifts based church there must not be any qualified gifted female teachers.   I attend an EFCA church of 5,000. You do the math.

*this is not always true!

But there are wonderful people who are articulating a different reality.  And I am most grateful to them. Perhaps in the coming weeks I will try to highlight more of them.

I worry at times that I think about this topic too much.  My overwhelming focus when it comes to thinking about injustice is the place of women in the church, their identity before God and whether they are using those talents for the purposes of the Kingdom.  I care about whether women, my daughters, who are made in God’s image too, know that they are indeed made to be that way.  I think about it all the time.  How much is too much?

Theologian Willard Swartley talks about the degree to which our ideologies warp our reading of Scripture.

 “Our willingness to be changed by what we read, to let the Bible function as a “window” through which  we see beyond self-interested ideologies, and not a “mirror” which simply reflects back to us what we want it to show.  Biblical interpretation, if it is worthy to be so called, will challenge the ideology of the interpreter.  It can and will lead to change, because people do not come to the text thinking as God thinks, or even as the people of God thought in serving as agents of divine revelation.  Interpreters [must] listen to the text carefully enough not to like it.  [When they do so] it powerfully demonstrates that the text’s message has been heard and respected.”

This is challenging because I am full of self-interest when it comes to being a Christian woman.  I am a proud woman and this is my tribe which I feel a responsibility to care for, not because I crave authority, but because I long to see every women and girl carrying out every gift from God in their lives, not just in the marketplace, but within the church!  I am hopeful that this will happen in my lifetime.

Much of the church is stifling more than half of the church  and our “interpretations” are silencing many incredible women.  My heart weeps with that thought.


Other things I have written on the subject:

There is more, just search for WOMEN in the categories.

{I Know What “ezer” Means — Further thoughts on being a Woman in the Church}

Sometimes people listen to me.  And I think,
I have a responsibility to talk about what it is like to be a woman in the Church.

Sometimes people listen,

so hear me,

this is what I don’t understand

Why are women still oppressed?

And why do (some) men not understand?
Why do (some) men treat women the way they do?

It’s not like I want to live my life angry.
It’s not like I want to live my life on the defensive.
It’s not like I want to be oppressed.

(Some) men will always question

the word “oppressed.”
They will ask: How are you exploited? How are you possibly offended

when you can be our helper?

Here’s my problem.  I know what ezer means.

Jesus was a liberator.
Women traveled with him,
supported his ministry,
anointed him for burial,
stayed with him at the crucifixion, and
saw his resurrection because they were waiting, believing.

Jesus loved women and wasn’t afraid of us.
He healed us.
He talked to us.
He listened to us.
In the early Church women were teachers, donors, apostles, ministers, laborers.

Why is the Church today so unlike what I think Jesus meant it to be?
I read the Bible and I see
Jesus gave women freedom.  Why do (some) men read it
and see separation? Partitions.
Why do (some) men only see all of our differences?
I am simply a person in love with Jesus.

I look at the Church today—so many men reading and teaching theBible from a masculine perspective. 
I see the Church today, its teachers and preachers—its magazines—its writers—its leaders —its conference speakers.
Man oh man, it is so full of men.
It is so full of entrenched hierarchy and deep biases
that the Church perhaps thinks is subtle, if they even think about it at all. 

But I see and hear the lack—of a Female Voice.
And even when She speaks, is she heard?

He said:
“There is no longer male or female.”
And I say, except— in the Church.
Sometimes people listen.
Are you listening?

P.S. Donald Miller: Women are so much more than simple sexual beings waiting for you to write our story. And you may have erased the “Love Story for Girls” but women have longer memories. You should take more care with your words.

One Perspective.