Women as Ministers: Update and Some Scattered Thoughts

Posted By on February 24, 2011

A couple updated items on the “women’s ordination” issue.

First, Suzanne McCarthy has sent me a short commentary essay on Romans 16:7. She argues for Iounian being a woman.† This is no surprise, since only the most strident complementarians refuse to agree to that. As I noted in my initial post, I think the evidence is strongly in favor of Iounian being a woman. I noted as well that Wolters’ article raises the possibility that we still have a man here, despite the solid textual evidence in favor of a woman. I think the possibility Wolters raises is coherent, though unproven, naturally.† Suzanne takes umbrage with Wolters a bit. I’ll let you read her full paper, but here is an excerpt on Wolters:

. . . more recently Al Wolters wrote a paper arguing that the name could have been Junias, a transliteration of the masculine Hebrew name ????? Ye?unni. Wolters argues that Junias, as it was written in the minuscules, with an acute accent, I??????, could have been masculine. He proves that this is technically possible.

I argue that the accenting of the minuscules, dating from the 9th century onward, are proof of nothing at all, except that the scribes at that time thought that Junia was a feminine name. The scribes accented the word as feminine because they thought that the name was feminine. I suggest this, not because the acute accent automatically indicates a feminine name, but because all Greek and Latin writers up until the 12th century referred to Junia as a woman. The Latin name Junia was very common at the time that the letter to the Romans was written and the few Icons and images of Junia we have, portray her as a woman but never as a man.

Second, I have cobbled together a PDF of Linda Belleville’s article using screen shots, so I’m not sure about the quality. It’s the best I can do. You should all read it. I have also found a PDF of Wallace and Burer’s article, and so here is that one.† My advice for those interested is to read Grudem’s kephale article, Wallace and Burer, and Belleville. They are the major contributions.

I’ll be traveling this weekend and so I likely won’t get to my response to John Hobbins’ post.† Going to Portland, where I’ll be pretending that I made the trip for the regional ETS meeting and not to visit Powell’s bookstore. I can say this much now, though.

For me, the issue is not whether Iounian is a woman. I’m betting that’s the case. It’s also not whether the phrase in Romans 16:7 (epise?moi en tois apostolois) should be considered “exclusive” (Junia was “well known TO the apostles” [but not in that group]) or “inclusive” (Junia was “well known AMONG the apostles” [she’s an apostle]). I’m not persuaded that I should take this as inclusive, but let’s assume it (Belleville’s article does a good job of responding to Wallace and Burer here, but I’m not convinced this issue is settled by syntax, or even that the right syntactical search strategies were used).

So, let’s assume we have Junia (female) who is well known AMONG the apostles.† Frankly, I’m not sure “apostle” is a good equivalent for what we think of today as a pastor. Other than the church in Jerusalem (because that’s where the 12 were from), is any apostle depicted as what we’d think of as a pastor?† It seems to me that apostles were itinerant church planters or missionaries (and so the title/word fits) that went out to start churches, evangelizing and preaching. Once churches were established, they left and did it again.† I’d have Junia doing that with respect to the above scenario.

You might wonder how that is different than an ordained woman pastor.† Well, for starters, did Paul or any other apostle appoint other apostles in local churches the way they appointed other church leadership? I’m drawing a blank (it’s going on 1 am and I’m out of 5 hour energy drinks). That issue matters for me since the above definition of apostle would technically exclude a “stationary” (“normative” for today) pastorate — and create or allow for the sort of category, notorious among some egalitarians, of “woman missionary who isn’t actually a pastor.” But maybe that’s actually closer to the NT model than “non-missionary woman church pastor/leader staying put in a local church.” I’m fine with the former since it seems suspiciously like what the NT is describing for Junia. I’m not convinced the latter is consistent with that.† I’d have no trouble getting over that hump if the NT didn’t seem to *distinguish* apostles from local church leaders. For example, are the terms in† 1 Tim 2:7 and 2 Tim 1:11 the same or different? Is Paul an apostle who happens to preach and teach, or a preacher and teacher who also happens to be an apostle?† Put another way, why doesn’t 1 Tim 3 include or focus on the office of apostle? Why doesn’t it link overseer to apostle? Seems like its exclusion or absence suggests it wasn’t considered a synonym for “overseer.” An egalitarian view presumes such an equation, but it isn’t clear to me that the presumption is warranted. Further, we know elders were appointed in the local churches, but were they apostles? (Was that expected or assumed?). In passages like Acts 15:2, 4, 6; 15:22, etc., are the two terms (apostle, elder) synonyms or distinct? I don’t know. And while we’re at it, I’m not sure elders and overseers were the same, either.† Many presume elder, overseer, pastor, and teacher point to the same person. Is apostle synonymous with any, all, or most of these? That’s what Junia is called, but none of the others, and so these questions matter for settling the issue (at least for me, anyway).

The point:† It seems to me that, although local church leaders and apostles did some of the same *tasks* that they were not considered the same *office.* I haven’t found anything that really addresses this question well. What it comes down to is that I’m looking for the right analogy, the right way to follow the NT model. I’ve just come to expect I’ll never get clarity here.

Lastly, as fascinating as the early church data are, I don’t find them helpful for this for a simple reason. When it comes to early church data, the material just shows me that some serious believers were egalitarians and others weren’t (the data does NOT suggest unanimity). Kind of like today. Back to square one.

The above is also why I don’t get bent out of shape over the issue. I see it as an issue of conscience, not necessarily doctrine — not for me to judge someone else’s conscience, but for my own conscience — to feel like I’m getting things right. But if I have to get this granular on the issue, I need to be willing to acknowledge that I might be missing the forest for the trees.† Since I know that’s possible, I feel it would be wrong to negatively judge a woman’s call to ministry, but I’d feel less than completely sincere in defending it beyond the point of asking people to just give her a break.

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17 Responses to “Women as Ministers: Update and Some Scattered Thoughts”

  1. Jay says:

    Since we are talking about the naked Bible, I would like you to clarify exactly where in that Bible do we get this idea about “man” made ordination. Ordination is a word that has some pretty heavy baggage. Another word is the word “office,” such as in pastoral office. Please explain your Biblical source for that word office a bit clearer. The last time I looked the noun pastor was used in the New Testament in reference to a gift. Nevertheless, if one in the office of apostle has the authority to ordain a male to the office of pastor, it seems odd that a woman apostle would have such potential authority if the pastor she ordains must be a man. But I do appreciate that you don’t take the early church data too seriously otherwise we might next get into a discussion about whether or not it is right to have slaves.

    • MSH says:

      we don’t see the word ordination. What we do see is approval of authority figures. Words like ordination or office are used because they are part of the parlance. We know what is meant, so unless you’re going to invent your own language for the discourse, or have us all revert to Greek terms when we speak of this issue, it isn’t constructive to quibble about this.

  2. Sue says:


    Thanks for posting Belleville’s article. She did an amazing job of researching the data. I would like to say that Wolters article makes an original contributionalso in demonstrating that it is technically possible for there to be a first declension male name with an acute accent. I think that is what he was arguing. In our email exchange he ended it by saying,

    “My argument is basically that the attested Hebrew name yHny (Iím using capital H to designate the eighth letter of the Hebrew alphabet) would have been pronounced yeHunni, and that this name would have been Hellenized as as Iounias (gen. Iouniou, acc. Iounian). It is therefore possible that Iounian in Rom 16:7 is a Greek version of that Hebrew name. I do not argue that it is the only possibility, or even the most plausible one. It is certainly true that the Latin feminine name Junia is much more common. My article on this is forthcoming in JBL.”

    “Iím perfectly happy to have Junia be an apostle. In fact, I once wrote a popular piece defending that interpretation.’

    So I respect Wolters for writing an article of linguistic interest, but I think we all agree that it does not make it plausible that Junia was a male name.

    Regarding women in ministry, there were many women who evangelized British Columbia on horseback and by jeep. And many of them became unpaid lay leaders and preachers. But after WWII there were more men available and the towns could also afford to pay a minister. At that point men came to be ministers and the women were shunted aside.

    There was an old farmer, who was my neighbour, he has since died, but when the woman who had lead his congregation, was replaced by a salaried male, he simply left the church and never went back. That kind of inequity turned him off Christianity for good.

    • MSH says:

      yep, Wolters merely points to the possibility.

      Between you and me (!) I think the time is not too distant when we’ll bless the day when we meet anyone in pulpit ministry, man or woman, who takes the Scripture seriously. I believe pretty firmly that we are already in a post-Christian culture, and the church will become progressively more paganized (I use that term broadly). While I am aware that there are biblical concepts like stewardship of the earth and justice for the poor, I am very wary of efforts to redefine the gospel in light of those ideas, especially when they are simply paganized marxism. Some would put the women’s ordination in the pagan category, which I think is too extreme (though it has been used to move that direction – things like androgyny and sexual politics). I just care about what the text can sustain (by which I do not mean cultural hermeneutics).

      • Matthew says:


        Two questions:

        (1) You say, “I believe pretty firmly that we are already in a post-Christian culture, and the church will become progressively more paganized (I use that term broadly).” So what exactly is your view on the church in the long run? Are you Amill, Postmill, Premill?

        (2) Totally unrelated – I was watching your lecture on Genesis from Grace Church Bellingham, but it looks like video 2 out of 4 is down. Based on the other three videos, I wasn’t able to determine what someone with your view on Genesis 1 would make out of the days. Based on your view, the Genesis account is true, but only as detailed as would be approrpiate for that culture at that time. But, if we were to ask someone from that time and place what they were to make out of the days, what would they say? What exactly were the days?



        • MSH says:

          Aaargghh! Someone asking me about my eschatology! Please read the archived eschatology posts on the blog site (see the headers).

          Apparently that video is history. I’m told that it isn’t available. I think they were describing “days” in normal terms, but it actually means nothing since so much content in Genesis 1-2 (and elsewhere) is pre-scientific.

          • Ed Roberts says:

            About that second video (and all those videos… they were really good)… would you be willing to post the slides so one could at least look through the arguments you gave for that teaching?

  3. Don J says:

    From my study, I agree that apostle and pastor are not the same ministry. But they are both included in the group called elders or overseers (plural leadership) of a congregation as examples. An apostle is put first on a list by Paul, so if a woman can be an apostle in 1 Cor 12:28, a woman can be anything in a later category of ministry, like a pastor.

    The point is that text that are used by masculinists to exclude women pastors do not even mention pastors, so I see doing that as a strained interpretation of those other texts.

    • MSH says:

      I think apostles are first because of honor (in the case of the 12). All apostles were not equal. Show me where a “non-12” apostle had the same authority as one who walked with Jesus. I’d need that in this part of the debate.

  4. Don J says:

    I agree the 12 are special and needed to be 12 to map to the 12 tribes/patriarchs. There are lots of apostles in the NT beyond the 12. The 12 were apostles of Jesus, the others were apostles sent out from congregations. Paul is a special case.

    But a pastor of a congregation is also a non-12 person. A ministry gift of a congregation’s pastor is simply different from a ministry gift of a congregations’s apostle (now often called missionaries). Same for evangelist or prophet, they are all different and provide different perspecitives that work to advance the Kingdom in different ways and when done in plural leadership can provide balance.

  5. Sue says:

    “I think apostles are first because of honor (in the case of the 12). All apostles were not equal. Show me where a ďnon-12? apostle had the same authority as one who walked with Jesus. Iíd need that in this part of the debate.”

    Can you provide an example of an apostle which has less authority than a pastor? Perhaps we need this as part of the debate.

    Can you demonstrate that a person with higher honour has less authority?

    In fact, Junia did know Jesus, so perhaps she did “walk with Jesus.” That is what Paul is saying about her. She knew Jesus, she endured prison, she had the credentials.

    • MSH says:

      As I noted to someone else, the 12 and their apostleship needs to be distinguished from what we conceive of as the pastorate and other apostles. One of my primary reasons for this is that the 12 were involved in the production of canonical material (inspiration). I think it would be utter folly to level all apostleship since it would give license in the minds of people to think that the canon continued well beyond what I or John (and most any other orthodox theologians) would have it. I do not believe the canon is still open, and I don’t want any modern pastors (or apostles for those who’d link pastors to the 12) to think their work might be worthy. There is also the issue of spiritual gifts. The pattern is that the 12 could impart miraculous gifts to others through the laying on of hands. I dare say it’s a bad idea to give the impression that such a practice is part of the pastoral office today (I think we know how that one has worked). Then there is the issue of the 12 having authority over many churches (all?) in their lifetime. Again, that isn’t a good idea to perpetuate now.

      I would ask YOU to defend the idea that a first century Christian would normatively think that their pastor was at the level of the 12. I highly doubt anyone felt that way. The 12 were special.

  6. Sue says:

    ” I would ask YOU to defend the idea that a first century Christian would normatively think that their pastor was at the level of the 12.”

    I never made such a suggestion. But there are two lists which make clear that apostles and prophets in general are in some way over the others. Women are clearly both apostles and prophets. I just don’t remember men being called priests in the NT, although later the language of presbyter may have been reinterpreted as priest. But this is not present in the NT – only Christ is priest in the NT.

    I simply don’t see any way to exclude women from functions that they clearly filled in the narrative of the NT. Those who restrict women in ways that women were not restricted in the NT, in the narratives, are imposing on women a cross that was not intended for women.

    • MSH says:

      the point is that so much of this argument is based upon certain assumptions about how apostleship parallels our pastorate. I’m asking egalitarians to prove that instead of assuming it, and also asking for a more nuanced understanding of apostleship. I do not see the 12 (+ Paul) as being the same as other apostles, and do not see apostleship as a neat parallel to our pastorate.

  7. realvilla says:

    The Egalitarians are so quick to make it a “slam dunk” that Junia (Junias) was a female apostle when the debate is far from resolved. John Gill, one of the most highly respected Bible Scholars who ever lived says the passage refers to Junias (a male) which is short for Junilias. (See his note on Romans 16:7). He is the only scholar, as far as I know, who ever wrote a verse by verse commentary of the entire Bible. He was well versed in both Greek and Hebrew. When the church fathers don’t agree, the translations don’t agree, we should have reason for concern, especially when a someone of the stature of John Gill disagrees.

    Even if we are talking about a female, there is no consensus that the Greek word “en” (among) is inclusive or exclusive. Even the egalitarians admit that the Greek can allow for both uses.

    • MSH says:

      The problem is that Gill’s work is so dated (not in his ability). But that doesn’t make me egalitarian, obviously (see the whole cycle of posts on this).

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