Can a woman be an apostle? (Besides Junia?)

I am wrapping up teaching a course on the theology of Paul. One of our last topics was Paul’s view of women in ministry. He says some tough things in the Pastorals, which usually leads to one of two responses from us. Either we deny women the upper roles of leadership in the church and thus pay some sort of lip service to Paul (hardly anyone really has women be silent in the church, how in the world could Sunday School exist if no women taught?). Or we ignore Paul.

In the course of the discussion I mentioned the great (not really, but it should be) Junia conspiracy from Rom. 16 (that’s a post for another day), where she gets a gender change by modern translators because Paul calls her an apostle (4 in 5 chance the closest Bible to you right now gets this wrong, except the old KJV, which has it right oddly enough) which led to one student asking me these questions (I don’t have anything else parenthetical to say in this run-on sentence, but 4 makes a personal record I think). “Can a woman be an apostle? Can a woman have authority in the church?” I thought my response came out well enough that you might want to read it too.

Well, the first thing I would say is that we need to completely recast how we think about authority in the church. The only one who gets to “have” authority (possess it) is the Holy Spirit. The rest of us just get to exercise it as the Spirit sees fit. If we walk outside of this, we are being disobedient (and yes I think disobedience is rampant in the church. Thankfully we serve a gracious God.)

The second thing I will say is that authority in the church should always look like the authority Jesus displayed – servant leadership. He made a big deal of this when He washed the disciples’ feet (Jn. 13) but most of our leaders pretend this never happened.

Given those two statements, I would say yes, women can and do exercise authority in the church. In fact, I think this happens a lot now, where the true ministry and kingdom growth is going on in children’s Sunday School, in food pantries, in so many ways that “fly under the radar” of the big powerful pastors and deacons who are busy wielding their power and building their little fiefdoms and not doing God’s work, not building Christ’s kingdom at all. And I am an elder so I am judging myself here as much as anyone. It breaks my heart all the time we waste playing power games in church.

Jesus came and turned all these power structures upside down. We work so hard to turn them back over and get back to comfortable. We need Jesus to stand us on our heads again. Always.

So here’s a prayer you could join me in: Jesus please break us of our power addiction. Make us uncomfortable. Make us feet washers. May our leaders be servants and our servants leaders. Fill us with the perspective of John the Baptizer: let us decrease so you can increase. Raise up the voices of the disenfranchised in Your church. Let Your women lead. Let people of all ethnicities have a place and a place of influence in our communities. Forgive those of us who have abused our privilege and not spoken up for those who aren’t heard. Forgive us for not calling to account those who misuse the Scriptures to oppress the very people you came to set free. Let your kingdom come and the social reversal it brings spread. Teach us to trust you and trust each other. Enable us to practice justice. Empower us to reject all worldly forms of dehumanizing power and live in unity and equality under Your loving rule. Amen.

4 thoughts on “Can a woman be an apostle? (Besides Junia?)

  1. I am going to have to say no to your question, and then ask you a question. Why would you say that Junia is a woman when it clearly states (in the KJV) that HE is (“Junia, my kinsmen”) (Junias) a man. Yes I agree that women do alot of work in the church. I think the reason they do is becous there is not enough MEN that will stand up an do it. I think it is time for the men to be men and to roll up their sleeves and start doing the work of God.
    We do as leaders of the church need to yeild to the Holy Spirits leading. Too often the church gets caught up in too many ‘programs’ and we miss what God is trying to do. It would be wise if we would committ our lives to doing the will of God.

    1. Paul,
      I will do a post in the near future explaining in full about the Junia issue, but to answer your question directly Junia is a woman’s name and the KJV (not that it is the final authority) does not call her a man. It renders Rom. 16.7 thus: “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” The word ‘kinsmen’ there does not imply gender; it was the early 17th century English word for ethnicity. Andronicus and Junia were of Jewish descent like Paul.

      This is one of the reasons the KJV is not the best translation to use: we don’t understand it most of the time because it is nowhere close to modern English. It was a great translation in its day, but now we need a translation of it, except that we are better off to go back to the original languages, in this case Greek. In the Greek it is clear that Junia is a woman and that Paul regards her as an apostle.

      Your ‘no’ response and your rationale trouble me Paul. Women don’t do a lot of work in the church because men don’t step up. Women do a lot of work in the church because the Holy Spirit calls and empowers them to do that work.

      The Holy Spirit calls and empowers as the Spirit wills, regardless of gender. At the same time, there is no work, function, or office of the church that lies outside the Holy Spirit’s purview to call and equip for. Therefore, there is no work, function, or office of the church that is open to one gender but closed to the other gender.

      When the Spirit calls and equips a woman to lead, teach, prophesy, and pastor the body of Christ, we need to be obedient to the Spirit and receive the gift the Spirit is giving to the church in the person of that woman (see Eph. 4 for people given as spiritual gifts to the church). Too often we let our doctrines and prejudices get in the way of the work of the Spirit in the church. Being wise and doing the will of God means following the leaders God gives us – women and men alike.

  2. Clearly Paul has not done any studying on that particular scripture. If that had been the case, it would have clearly shown you that Paul was addressing laypersons specific to a congregation who were having issues with their wives asking questions during service. Why would Paul later in the same passage say women should have their head covered when they prophesy if they are to keep silent in the church? Clearly you cannot prophesy with your mouth shut. It was customary during this time that women and men sat in different places and the women were separating from their husbands during the service. Thus, the reason why he continues, if you have questions ask your husband when you get home. He was answering that problem, that’s why he was telling them to shut up. Be quiet and stop asking questions during service. The same thing any leader would have said even to the men if they kept interrupting the teaching. You cannot pull a few scriptures out of the word of God and receive revelation about what is going on. You have to read it all to understand the context in which it is being presented. Finally, I would not agree that Matthew Henry is the final authority on scriptural interpretation. I strongly urge you to refer to the original Greek translations instead of relying on someone else’s interpretation of the scripture. Their own opinons, background, attitudes on issues play a major roll in how things are explained.

  3. Clear up – Paul our commentor has not studied this issue out. I am also referring later to the Apostle Paul.

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