How things are gonna work
The New Testament (the events of Jesus’ life and the early church, recorded in the second half of the Bible) records a new turn of events. By Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, he brought in the new covenant.
The new arrangement between God and man.
To paraphrase a pastor I knew, “the new way things were gonna work around here.”
And things that were broken are being fixed. The relationship between God and man. Between people.
And the newly formed church is to look ahead – and illustrate – the wholeness of the kingdom of God. While still working in the broken world – and with our broken selves.
So as Christians, we see a movement in the Bible. A trajectory. That Jesus’ life and ministry show us clearly what God is like. Clarifies what’s been fuzzy. Sets us up for kingdom living.
And the early church? Not everything they did is “prescriptive” for us now. Some things might just be for that time, or just for that culture.
But the way they worked is a strong model for how we do things now. And the New Testament teaches us truth and how to do things properly. In the New Covenant.
The new way things are gonna work around here.
So as I studied the New Testament more, there were three major shifts in my thinking.
One by seeing a power couple. The other by compiling a mental list. And finally, by seeing an apostle.
The Power Couple
One was Priscilla and Aquila, mentioned an amazing six times in four books of the New Testament. The original ministry power couple: . No Instagram accounts, no salary from a church, no book deals. Just working, traveling, and teaching about Jesus.
Luke mentions them three times in the events he records in Acts. Paul mentions them three times in his letters.
- They made tents as an occupation
- They worked with the Apostle Paul – first making tents, then on a trip to churches in Syria.
- They end up in Ephesus.
- Hear someone teaching well (but incompletely!) in the synagogue.
- So they invite him into their home and explain things more accurately.
- They even risked their lives for their co-workers in Christ Jesus (Paul mentions this in Romans 16).
- Oh and they also have a church in their house.
A few other names stood out to me too.
Phoebe, the benefactor of many and a deacon who took the letter to the Romans.
Joanna, a woman of means who provided financially for Jesus and his disciples. Other women did this too.
Lydia, another business owner whose conversion and hospitality would be key in starting the church at Philippi.
Euodia and Syntyche have contended beside Paul and Clement for the gospel. He encourages them to be of the same mind, and he asks the church to help them.
The Final Straw
I want to be cautious – as always – about the above list.
- Being a financial benefactor… doesn’t mean you get a say.
- Bringing a letter to Rome may be risky…but it doesn’t mean you have authority.
- Working beside someone implies equal standing… but it doesn’t specify that they all teach.
- Hosting a church in your home may involve some leadership… but that connection isn’t clear.
It was harder to explain away Priscilla and Aquila. According to the style and standards of writing at the time, she was likely the more prominent worker and teacher in the couple. And she is instructing a man. Explaining the way of God more accurately to Apollos.
But was teaching men only OK in a home setting? Even if you had a church out of the same house? Or was it OK only because it was being done along with her husband?
Or was it just that this lady is legitimately teaching and leading?
The real question
Remember, the question wasn’t of my worth. Or my contribution.
It was – do we see women in the New Testament teaching, preaching, and taking leadership in the church? Even in cultures that don’t typically accept women in leadership? Do these women do it in a way we should imitate?
And while I see leadership in these above women, I’m not so sure about how much public speaking and teaching they did. At least not speaking that can’t be explained away if you’re motivated to.
And then I noticed Junia for the first time. I’d seen her name before in this list in Romans 16. She was noted along with Andronicus as being outstanding among the apostles.
Among the apostles.
As in, not just an apostle. But outstanding among the apostles. A good one.
Preach. Teach. Travel.
See, at that time, that term “apostle”? Had moved beyond just being Jesus’ inner circle. She may have seen him after he was resurrected and been an actual eyewitness. Or she may just had a role of proclamation and teaching the gospel. But the sense of apostle? Always includes this witness, proclamation, teaching. Being sent to tell about Jesus.
So if we have Junia, a female apostle? Teachin’? Preachin’? That’s a big ol’ deal.
A female apostle sounds unusual.
Church history says: Weird but neat!
Even though it was an unusual thing, that didn’t drive people in church history to say she wasn’t an apostle. It drove guys like John Chrysostom to praise her, saying how amazing it was that she was called an apostle!
Unusual – but praiseworthy!
Now that wasn’t unanimous.
Some people have tried to explain her away.
Was Junia actually a dude?
The first of two ways to explain this away? It was tried a few times.
A few folks said “ah, well, Junia? that name should be Junias, a guy.”
Except the name Junias wasn’t around yet. While Junia was a common female name. The male variant? It didn’t exist yet. (Something we’re even more confident of now that we’ve digitized a lot of ancient writings and made them searchable!).
And it’s not what the earliest writings we have say anyway.
With any reasonable level of confidence, the name in the Bible is definitely Junia.
Hope in the hallway
At that time, there weren’t a lot of people that tried the second tactic to explain away Junia. I’ll talk about that second tactic below.
There is a Bible translation that used the second. It would grow to be popular. But it had only come out a couple years prior to me being at Tyndale! It wasn’t incredibly popular at that point.
So when I was at Tyndale, I hadn’t yet encountered the second argument.
But I read about and learned about Junia. I considered the “she’s Junias” argument and rejected it.
And I remember walking down the hallway that connected our student lounge and classrooms. I mulled this over. I breathed this sigh of relief.
- I thought – wow. This is amazing.
- I’m NOT making this up.
- I didn’t put this in the Bible or invent this.
- And the attempt to explain it away is deficient – terribly deficient.
- So I can accept this confidently.
Junia the apostle existed and her work and gifting were praised. She was outstanding. Excelled. Her work was praised, and here we see a proper role for a Biblical woman. An apostle. Proclamation. Involving preaching and teaching.
Paul’s reference to Junia as an apostle – an outstanding apostle – had clinched it for me.
Preach. Teach. That’s someone affirmed by Paul himself as outstanding.
That settled things in my heart.
Women in ministry, right there. Leading, teaching, preaching.
I may not have the greatest personality, and I have hurdles of other kinds… But I can pursue a life that looks like Junia. And know that isn’t shot down, but actually praised.
Now later on, after that point in Bible college, I would encounter a second “Junia isn’t an apostle” tactic. Especially as one of the many recent Bible translations gained popularity.
“Junia is the name…so apostle can’t be the game”
The second way people get around this one is almost as weak.
They figure hey, okay, it was Junia. Can’t argue that. It’s been tried. Doesn’t work.
But what about this “among the apostles”? That doesn’t mean she IS an apostle. Especially if we think that’s not a possible translation in the first place.
If she’s not an apostle? Well, maybe we can translate this something like she’s “held in high regard by the apostles.”
Problem solved, right?
And while that is grammatically possible to read it that way, it’s not a strong possibility. Not common or likely.
Too much innovation
Ultimately, it was the recent nature of this idea that killed it for me. To say she simply isn’t an apostle is too innovative. Too convenient.
That’s new stuff, baby.
And even if we have a really strong case? New interpretations are something we have to be exceptionally careful and conservative about.
There’s a big burden of proof to change it.
This passage hasn’t been super controversial before. Not years upon years of questions and reams written on it like that 1 Timothy “bomb” passage.
There was no major history of dispute on what “among the apostles” meant. It hasn’t been a “difficult” piece of Scripture to look at in context. It got a “hey, female apostle: weird, but cool!” reaction for the most part.
Until really recently.
And I don’t want to grab onto an interpretation that’s
- recently invented
- significantly changes the typical translation of this passage
- is advocated by those who really want a passage to fit their ideas of proper roles for men and women.
- not likely grammatically in the first place
I’m far too cautious and conservative to do that.
I was ready to accept either Anti-Junia argument… if they had merit. But they don’t.
Either way you end up at “Junia isn’t an apostle?” Those arguments really are weak sauce.
And I had to be consistent and accept that.
Junia was an apostle. And outstanding among the apostles.
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22. Strength to strength