I just finished Scot McKight’s book titled, “Junia is not Alone.” In the book he provides us with an illustration of how the voice of women who served in levels of leadership throughout biblical history have been silenced, with Junia being just one such woman. Reference to the apostle Junia is found in Romans 16:7
“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.”
McKight tells the story of how Junia was buried and then resurrected through the manipulation of the biblical text. Noting,
“Luther gave to the German name Juniam a masculine article (den Juniam [today, den Junias]). Then he said, “Andronicus and Junias were famous apostles” and were “men of note among the apostles.” Luther’s influence is inestimable.
No Greek New Testament had anything but Junia, a woman’s name, until Nestle’s edition in 1927. And then it happened. In 1927, in the 13th edition of his composite Greek New Testament, Eberhard Nestle silenced Junia and gave birth to a new Christian man named Junias. In changing her name and creating a new male name, Nestle buried Junia alive.
While the priesthood of believers seemingly promised a restoration of the Juniases of this world, and while equality in Christ did the same, the Reformation’s evident emphasis on sola scriptura curtailed liberation for women. Most notably, both the silence of women passages as well as subordination of women to men played their part in Calvin’s Geneva.
Remember, Junia was a woman, and she was an apostle. But since a woman couldn’t be an apostle, Junia became the male Junias. You don’t have to dig deep to know why this happened.
Eldon Epp sums this all up well: ‘What may be more difficult to understand now is that such a sociocultural environment, one imbued with a view of a limited role for women in the church, still could influence some editors of the Greek New Testament in the mid-1990s to the extent that they could impose the masculine form upon an unaccented name . . . when all the church writers of the first millennium of Christianity took the name as feminine . . . when . . . the name was a very common female name . . . and . . . that the alleged masculine forms are nowhere attested.”
Junia has come back to life, and she is now in the text. Who says New Testament texts and translations are not political?
Junia, my friends, is not alone. Many women today are active in ministry and are continuing with confidence and power the storied history of women in the Bible and the silenced history of women in the church. They are not silenced as they once were, and so we look around and sing to the women among us who are embodying the gifts God has given to them.
Junia was a woman. Junia was an apostle. Junia was an outstanding apostle. And Junia is alive and well today. There are many like her in our churches today. It is our calling to let freedom ring, to let the Spirit use people whom God chooses, to let the gospel’s inclusiveness have its way with us. It is our calling to hold one another accountable to Junia’s noble example. Junia is not alone. Do you hear her voice?”
McKnight’s passionate telling of Junia’s struggle to find voice brought me to tears. While I share his appreciation for the Juniases of our day who have found their voice, I have also felt the pain of being silenced. These acts of silencing are alive and well in our churches today and they are committed under the guise of “biblical teaching” which further injures women.
As a young minister in one such church, I was told that I could do anything I wanted as long as no one ever saw me as the leader. I did all the same work as my male counter-parts, but I was a “director” and they were “pastors.” The sad thing is that at the time I did not even question this. The stories of Deborah, Phoebe and Junia were never told in that church. Women were to submit to men and never to be in positions of authority over men. It was a given. For me to argue differently would be judged as “un-Christian.”
It was at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond that Junia finally found a place in my world thanks to the brilliant and passionate teaching of Dr. Scott Spencer. Even though Dr. Spencer laid a strong biblical foundation for the role of women in ministry based on the New Testament, I still lived with the fear of once again being silenced by the church. Upon graduation from seminary, I choose not to enter into the institutional church nor to pursue ordination within the Baptist tradition. It was far easier for this Junia to find her voice and exercise her call outside the church.
In the nearly ten years since I began my ministry, my voice has grown stronger and my fear of being shoved back into a box of silence has diminished. God has brought affirming male pastors like Pastor Sammy Williams into my life – men who recognized me as a pastor and affirmed my call to ministry even ministry within the Baptist tradition.
So here I am at age 45 hearing God’s call to re-engage in the institutional expression of the church. Not as a staff member but as one who has discovered the church beyond the walls and the pews.
I feel like Junia came back from the grave in a season when I need affirmation of my pastoral call. I am so thankful to Scot McKnight and Scott Spencer because they are shaping the next generation of female pastors. I pray more of my sisters will find their voice inside the church and I also pray I can use my voice to help them achieve that goal.