Was Junia an Apostle?

My current contention is no, and if she was, she was probably not an apostle in the sense that the 12 apostles were apostles having been ordained to the priesthood by Jesus. I was told I should read Eldon Jay Epp’s book, Junia: The First Woman Apostle by Scot McKnight because it “shatters my view” on this subject. So…I picked it up from my university library, started reading some of it, and, sure enough, I maintain my view. Why? Because it doesn’t “shatter my view” on Junia. Any way though, I will send this article via e-mail to McKnight so he can see that I’ve at least engaged with this book “shattering my view” on a subject.

Unfortunately, McKnight’s honesty will be tested. In our brief conversation, he insisted that the issue is not ordination of women but rather women in ministry. Epp declares though that “Rom 16:7 has been chief among several passages prominent in the exploration…of full ordination for women” (21). So apparently, there is another issue than just “women in ministry” (which I’ll come back to later) that is a driving force behind the advocates defending the apostleship of Junia in the west (the Orthodox are a slightly different case and I only have a few sources available on this plus an Eastern Orthodox who follows my blog who might be able to give me better insight in case I inaccurately represent their position). So it seems strange that an advocate trying to find what women “did” in the New Testament would give me a book by a scholar addressing that Junia’s apostleship may indicate she was “ordained”.

Continuing onward though, the introduction to Epp’s book is already off to a terrible start. He asserts that “textual critics must now speak of multivalence in the term ‘original text’ and…must be willing to confront…ambiguity” (5). Already an admission that you cannot prove anything from the Bible. Hence, a refutation of sola scriptura which is awesome! The chapter though that I was mostly interested in was his chapter on Junia in the early Christian writings. He references St. John Chrysostom, St. John of Damascus, and Bishop Theodoret of Cyrrhus. The only problem is that he cites them from two sources specifically focused on maintaining the same exact view on Junia he does (94-95). While this isn’t too big of a problem, scholars generally should tend to using primary sources and engaging with interpretations of those sources differing from theirs. I probably wouldn’t have this frustration if he was a professor at an Evangelical divinity school but a professor at Harvard should know a little bit better than that.

Regardless, I have chosen to provide reasons as to why I don’t think that even these guys provide conclusive evidence. He quotes Chrysostom saying, “Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle” (qtd. in Epp, 32). I’m going to re-quote that with a new emphasis. “Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle”. She is deemed worthy of the title. Worthy is not the same thing as having it though it may imply you have it. For instance, if someone is worthy of honor, this does not mean they are treated with respect. It may mean that they ought to have it but just don’t get it because other people are being jerks to them. It may mean that they don’t get it because something else prevents them from getting it (someone being more worthy or venerable). That they were both deemed worthy does not necessarily mean that they were worthy.

Continuing, he cites Bishop Theodoret as saying that Junia and Andronicus are “‘of note’…among the apostles” (33). Of note but not actually apart? One source would differ with Epp’s conclusion on this one.

He cites St. John of Damascus as saying “to be even amongst these of note…what a great enconium this is” (33). Again, there is a similar problem to that of Theodoret that is reached when encountering St. John of Damascus. I think Epp’s conclusions on what the fathers are saying here is rash at best. As with all my readings of the folks in the women’s ordination crowd (including Manfred T. Brauch and Scot McKnight).

As a matter of fact, one scholar asserts that “The interpretation [that Junia was a female apostle in the same sense as the twelve] is a bit tendentious and relies on a complete absence of corroborating evidence (as well as a fairly large body of evidence contra)” (Cavanaugh, 128). Even the Eastern Orthodox sources aren’t conclusive in viewing her among the seventy. If she is an apostle though, they, holding a different view of apostleship than Catholics do (and I hope my Eastern Orthodox follower will contribute), wouldn’t assert she was one in the same sense as the twelve. Apostle Junia may just mean, “the sent one Junia”. Ironically, wives of priests would often times be referred to as the same title as their husbands. This could be an honorary title Junia had as the wife of Andronicus who was an ordained man as well.

Nevertheless, Epp seeks to defend what an apostle is. For Epp, “to be an apostle involves encountering the risen Christ…receiving a commission to proclaim the gospel…endurance of the labors and sufferings connected with missionary work…certified by the results of such toil, namely, ‘signs and wonders, and mighty works'” (70). So Mary Magdelene could in reality be the first apostle at this rate. Jesus is definitely an apostle of God. But no one else is an apostle so why the fascination then about whether Junia is an apostle any more? Because it’s about politics! Epp has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt at this point that Protestantism is nothing more than an individualist power-grab.

His book is overall rash. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t convinced by it. Written by a Protestant obviously, to Protestants, and for other Protestants. I find him entirely unconvincing in this category but no doubt a good scholar for those who actually do agree with him. I maintain my case though, Junia as an apostle in any sense is inconclusive. Junia may have been an apostle in a different sense then the twelve ordained by Christ but this would have no value in Christian circles since the majority of Christians already maintain this. Well, at least those backward Protestants are finally catching up to the progress of Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians after all these years, and, you know what they say…”If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!”

Epp, Eldon Jay. Junia: The First Woman Apostle. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005. Print.
Cavanaugh, Stephen. Anglicans and the Roman Catholic Church: Reflections on Recent Developments. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Online.

P.S. Perhaps when I go into Byzantine studies which is what I desire to do in grad school prior to working on canon law (if not theology), then I may change my mind after reading these guys (in Greek hopefully). But right now, things aren’t looking too bright for the women’s ordination folks.


About newenglandsun

A student. Male. Passionate. Easily offended. Child-like wonderer. Growing in faith, messing up daily.
This entry was posted in Bible, Catholicism, Eastern Christianity, Feminism, New Testament. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Was Junia an Apostle?

  1. brianniemeier says:

    I greatly enjoyed this post. Well done, taking up McKnight’s challenge and on your critique of Epp’s book. Would you recommend that I read it?

    It’s probably no surprise that we’re in agreement on women’s ordination. In my experience, those who favor it reduce Holy Orders to a power struggle.

    • it’s probably the best source in favor of junia being an apostle i’ve ever read. it really veers away from the notion of ordination save for that one passage. i would recommend always reading the other side.

  2. jrj1701 says:

    I have stayed out of this debate and from what I have gathered, most Orthodox are against the ordination of women, they state that it ain’t traditional, although there is a group under the Syrian Orthodox that are ordinating women priest. They are under the radar and are pretty much not in communion with any other Orthodox Church.

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