Some Lengthy Thoughts on Women Leadership

Part 2: A Closer Examination of Junia, The Female Apostle
Part 3: Representation and Ordination: Of Sons and Wives

Having just read McKnight’s book, Junia is Not Alone, after reading Steve Holmes’ review on his blog, I have rather mixed feelings. McKnight makes a passionate case that the stories of women both in the Bible and in Church history have been ‘erased’. At the heart of his case lies the vexed issue of the translation of Romans 16:7, and the fact that for many years Junia was identified as a man, Junias, as theologians and Bible translators were supposedly unable to handle the possibility of a female apostle.

McKnight argues that Junia is an example for all women who God gifts to preach and lead in the Church. He claims that, if we were better acquainted with the biblical stories of women, we would see that Junia’s role as an apostle was nothing at all out of the ordinary or surprising, as she stood firmly in a line of strong and leading women in the Old Testament. Yet these characters have also been neglected or effaced, presumably on account of the Church’s desire to marginalize women. McKnight then mentions a number of women from Church history who have been subject to equal neglect.

Are the Stories of Women Effaced and Neglected?

I would love to see Christians better acquainted with the innumerable great women in the Bible and Church history. There is so much rich material there from which we can gain. However, McKnight seems to be making something closer to a conspiracy theory, suggesting that biblical women’s stories are purposefully neglected and, what is far worse, effaced.

However, I am not at all surprised that a generation of the Church with limited biblical literacy isn’t that well acquainted with characters like Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla, Phoebe, and Miriam. I am really not sure that this ignorance tells us a whole lot. How many modern Christians know the characters of, say, Jephthah, Jehu, Apollos, Philip, and Phinehas, as some examples of some key male characters from the same biblical eras, most of whom receive far more attention in the text than the female characters mentioned? How many Christians could discuss the books of Numbers, Judges, or 2 Kings at length? Could it be that the stories of characters such as Deborah, Huldah, and Miriam are merely collateral damage of our neglect of parts of the Old Testament that don’t fit tidily into our view of God or our understanding of our faith and seem either threatening or irrelevant?

In other words, I really don’t think that this is some conspiracy against women: it is just the fact that people don’t know their Bibles especially well, and certain books in particular. It is also on account of the fact that some of these characters just don’t receive a whole lot of attention in the text, and when they are mentioned, it is only in passing. How many sermons have you heard on Epaphroditus lately? I thought so.

Furthermore, having heard a grossly disproportionate number of sermons on the books of Esther and Ruth, and on characters such as Hannah, I wouldn’t be surprised if certain women of the Bible actually receive a great deal more attention than men of similar prominence in the text. In part this is because many of these texts work very well as self-standing stories, which can largely be abstracted from historical context. Characters like Huldah and Deborah get missed because the period of the judges and the period of the divided kingdom are somewhat less accessible or theologically uncomforting. The men of those eras are no less neglected. Mary is neglected because that is the Protestant thing to do (albeit not completely neglected: we hear about her at least once every year). The Song is neglected because it is awkward to preach in services where children are present. Is there a conspiracy of silence concerning the stories of women? I really don’t think so. And for those of us brought up in a context where the Old Testament was very much an open book, most of these stories are extremely familiar.

Similar things could be said about knowledge of Church history. Knowledge of Church history isn’t a whole lot better than biblical knowledge within the Church, and often tends to be focused rather narrowly on a few characters such as Luther and Augustine who stand in splendid isolation from their wider context and are often reduced to mere representatives of whatever denominational ideals we have imposed back upon them.

Obviously it is important to teach stories of the great women of the Bible. We all need examples of faith to which we can relate, and much good could be done through the celebration of the lives of great biblical women, and a deep acquaintance with the many female saints of history. However, modern Christians’ ignorance is not merely of individual characters, but of the larger histories and dramas in which they exist, larger dramas which can have a much more powerful effect when it comes to shaping our understanding of our place and role. A focus upon exemplary characters is helpful, but far more important is a firm grasp of the bigger pictures. The character example approach can also be incredibly selective, tailored to contemporary prejudices. Balance isn’t achieved by making sure that we speak as much about female examples of faith as male ones, but by telling the big stories, stories that transcend individual human actors, and are primarily stories about what God is doing. When you have a grasp upon the biblical narratives as a whole, you will have a far better sense of how much weight to give individual stories in terms of the whole, and will better be able to avoid making sweeping generalizations from exceptional cases. Also, while examples of faith are great, the big stories more clearly reveal the one in whom our faith is placed.

Within this post I want to assess the significance that McKnight gives to Junia and other biblical women, especially as they relate to the question of the ordination of women. A couple of paragraphs of the following post have been posted as comments in another context. Many people have also helped me to sharpen my thoughts in this area. James Jordan’s thoughts on the liturgical difference established in the creation account have been helpful. Others have helped me think through some of these questions through conversation. If you are reading this, you know who you are. I don’t feel that it is for me to associate your name with a piece as controversial as this, though.


I can’t help but feel that Junia is the Jabez for the women’s ordination crowd: that one character mentioned in passing that provokes intense levels of assured speculation, and on whose significance immense weight is placed.

Yes, we have characters such as Junia, and numerous other important female figures in the biblical narrative. However, closer examination of the actual roles played by women and the roles not played by women doesn’t really seem to support the case of women’s ordination as strongly as originally suggested. The important point that, despite Jesus’ many close female followers, the Twelve were all male is commonly made. The identification of Junia as an ‘apostle’ doesn’t really tell us as much as we would like, given the numerous senses in which this term is used in the NT: there is not just one class of apostle.

McKnight quotes Chrysostom’s high praise of Junia. However, when read alongside Chrysostom’s rather extreme statements about the subordination of women within the life of the Church and their exclusion from leadership and teaching in other contexts, it seems that Chrysostom definitely doesn’t share the absurdly far-reaching conclusions that McKnight draws from this one text. Similar comments could be made about Paul. If women in positions of leadership and teaching over men was really so familiar from the Old Testament, why do we have verses such as 1 Timothy 2:11-15? Perhaps Romans 16:7 really doesn’t present such unambiguous support for women’s leadership after all.

The fact that Junia is mentioned with Andronicus raises further questions. Jesus sent out a wider group of disciples in pairs, and the missionary pair seems to have been a more general pattern within the spread of the early church. Within these pairs (not a few married couples among them, I would suspect), both of whom could be termed ‘apostles’, there seems to have often been a lead missionary and an assistant missionary. This follows the OT pattern where leaders had assistants, helpers, or protégés in various capacities (Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Elisha and Gehazi, etc.). We see the same pattern with kings and queens, or rulers and their chief representatives. The question at the heart of women’s ordination is not whether women can play key and prominent roles within the life of the Church, but how they should relate to the leading authoritative office of the pastor, priest, or bishop, or whether their roles should primarily be ‘helping’ roles. The case of Junia doesn’t really settle this.

In fact, 1 Corinthians 9:5 might provide supporting evidence on this front. Paul speaks of the practice of ‘the rest of the apostles’, who ‘led about’ ‘a sister, a wife’ with them. This suggests that apostles generally came as husband-wife teams, with the husband taking the lead and the wife participating in and assisting in his ministry. In the third book of the Stromata, Clement of Alexandria (c.150-c.215) speaks of the apostles making their wives fellow workers in their ministry, and that the ministry of their wives was focused on women to whom the apostles would not have had access without causing ill will. It would also suggest that the man was always the lead apostle in such relationships. The pattern of a male lead apostle with a wife as his helper, ministering chiefly to women, fits both the historical record, the biblical text, Romans 16:7, and lends no support to the claims of those who want to claim that women exercised teaching authority over men in the early Church.

The Creation Pattern

The term ‘helper’, of course, is reminiscent of the story of the creation of Eve in Genesis 2, which Paul treats as paradigmatic for understanding the working of gender difference in the life of the Church (1 Corinthians 11:7-9; 1 Timothy 2:11-15). In the prototypical sanctuary of Eden, Adam was created first, and was the one given the priestly task of guarding and keeping the garden, the commandment concerning the forbidden food, and the kingly role of naming the animals. After Adam had been commissioned as the priestly guardian of the garden, Eve is created as an assistant and helper in his commission. Adam was both to lead in the priestly task, and to teach his wife God’s law concerning the Tree. The Fall involved an inversion of these roles. Their creation was oriented in key respects to the performance of this priestly task in the Garden (and later the wider world): one could well argue that in the second creation account, the primary difference between men and women is a difference in liturgical roles and the Fall hinged on a confusion of and failure to exercise roles in the realm of priesthood.

Variegated Leadership

A few further points are commonly ignored in this area.

First, teaching and leadership and their associated offices and roles are not univocal phenomena, but come in many different forms. Some are completely restricted to men, others are overwhelmingly dominated by men, still others are treated in a manner far more indifferent to gender, and some may be dominated by women, or even exclusive to them. At the heart of the women’s ordination debate is the question of women exercising priestly leadership, not of women exercising leadership per se. The offices of priest, king, and prophet are not the same. Although we find queens and prophetesses in the life of Israel, in contrast to the cults of the surrounding nations, YHWH’s cult did not involve priestesses. Although we find women exercising various prominent roles in the NT, we still do not find women being leaders of the liturgical assembly.

Even within these offices and roles there are differentiated forms. Some über-prophets inaugurate new covenant orders. There are lead prophets and helper/assistant/apprentice prophets, leaders of schools of prophets and their followers. The ‘prophetess’ of Isaiah 8:3 may have been named such, not because she was a prophet in her own right, but because she participated in her husband’s ministry. There are prophets with different levels of revelation, from uncertain dreams and dark visions, to ‘mouth to mouth’ revelation (Numbers 12:6-8). There are chief and high priests, regular priests, and assisting Levites. There are Spirit-anointed kings and regular kings, Davidic kings, and non-Davidic kings. There are priest-kings, prophet-kings, and priest-prophets, and figures such as Moses and Christ, to whom all of these offices are ascribed. There are apostles who are members of the Twelve, apostles who witnessed the resurrected Christ, apostles who were sent by a particular church, apostles who performed miracles and others who didn’t, apostles who were personally commissioned by Christ and others who weren’t. I have argued above that there were also apostles who (probably like Isaiah’s wife) enjoyed the title because they were made coworkers by their apostolically commissioned husbands. Even within the Twelve we find distinctions, with Peter as a sort of lead or chief apostle, and James and John as next to him. In my experience, arguments for women’s ordination often treat these categories as if they were homogeneous, and do not take sufficient cognizance of the huge differentiations that can exist within them.

Gender-Conditioned Roles

Second, gender conditions these roles in all sorts of different ways. The sex of animals was stipulated in the Law for various sacrifices. Male animals were stipulated for leaders, female goats or lambs for a commoner’s sin offering (peace offerings are primarily related to the eaters, rather than to the offerers). The existence of socio-liturgical genders suggests that this is not an area where biological sex is a matter of indifference. The priest himself played a symbolic and representative role in relation to the congregation, and as such his gender was a matter of importance. The gendered frameworks for relating the people of God, their leaders, and God don’t disappear in the New Testament.

There is also no such thing as a woman king or woman prophet: there are queens and prophetesses. There are some things that certain kings and prophets do that no queen or prophetess could do. A prophetess could not symbolize God’s relationship to his people as Hosea did, or a queen as Solomon did in his Song. This is all related to the fact that God identifies himself as Father and Husband, and refers to himself using masculine pronouns.

Similar observations could be made about Deborah the judgess, an example to which frequent appeal is made. Deborah’s form of rule contrasts with that of the other judges in several respects. Deborah does not lead directly as the other judges do, but is seen as one who relays God’s commands to the people, the commands of the husband to his bride, or the father to his children. Barak does much of the work that is more generally associated with the major biblical judges as the frontline military leader, while Deborah judgeship is initially associated with the giving of legal decisions (Judges 4:5), perhaps akin to the minor judges of the book (Samuel’s role as a judge seems to have been predominantly of this character too). The other judges go out to judge and lead Israel in battle: Israel comes up to Deborah to be judged. When Deborah does go out, she only does so at Barak’s insistence (and Barak is perceived to be weak, and is told that he will not be the one who gets the great honour). None of this is to denigrate Deborah’s significance. It is just to point out that even when a woman does occupy such a rule, it is occupied in a manner conditioned by her gender.

Deborah describes herself as a ‘mother in Israel’, gendering her role. Her role as judge arose under exceptional circumstances, as civil life in Israel had collapsed (Judges 5:7), and she seems to be trying to re-establish it by serving as a mother figure who raises up Barak and his generation to take leadership. She protects and leads the people in their childlike state (the woman is presented as a key guardian of her children, while the primary task of guardianship in relation to the wider order falls to the man), but seeks to hand over guardianship to a man fit to exercise the role when the opportunity arises. Deborah’s guardianship is the temporary guardianship of the mother, which lasts as long as the minority of her children, and needs to be relinquished when her son comes of age, provided that he will assume his role. As such, Deborah’s leadership is very much the leadership of a ‘helper’. The fact that a woman killing Sisera is presented as a minor judgment upon Barak for his lack of faith merely underlines the fact that it was a particular humiliation for a woman to do what was his task as the man who was supposed to be leading and guarding the people (although Jael smashing Sisera’s head in with a tent pent is a powerful image of the role that the woman plays in the crushing of the serpent’s head).

Yet McKnight claims that Deborah ‘subordinated men’ and that she was ‘Ms. EveryOne in those days: she was president, pope and Rambo bundled in one female body.’ One could wonder whether he had read the text at all. Her rule is practiced in a manner more akin to that of a vice president in the absence of the president, she has no authoritative liturgical office, and she merely accompanies the army: she does not fight herself.

The Anomaly of Woman Leaders in Scripture

Third, women as authoritative leaders of the people of God in any role is incredibly anomalous in Scripture, and is openly portrayed as such (Deborah is described as ‘a woman, a prophetess, the wife of Lapidoth’, just to make sure that we grasp how surprising it is that a woman is acting as a judge of Israel). We are told of over a dozen judges, but only one of them was a woman. We are told of forty-two kings and queens of Israel and Judah (that number is from memory, so might be worth confirming), and only one of them, Athaliah, was a ruling queen, gaining the throne as the wicked queen consort after the death of her husband King Jehoram. As the only non-descendant of David to sit on the throne of Judah before the exile, and the wicked daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, the sign of a dangerous alliance with the evil Omrides, she could hardly be said to have any sort of divine sanction. All of the other queens (Esther, Jezebel, etc.) are queen consorts or queen mothers. No provision is made for priestesses. There are more women to be found among the prophets, but none among the first order of covenant-founding prophets, such as Moses, Samuel, Elijah, or John the Baptist. Nor are there any women among the prophets who received the highest level of revelation preserved for us in the canon. Of all of the ‘apostles’ of whom we know, only one was a woman, and we can only speculate about what role she played, as she only receives the most passing of mentions. There were no women among the Twelve.

All of which raises the question: who are the ones who are really misrepresenting the biblical emphasis in this matter?

‘Masculine’ Virtues in Leadership

Finally, certain roles are strongly conditioned by virtues and qualities that are regarded as particularly masculine. The great priestly leaders of the people of God were marked out by their preparedness to employ sacred violence without pity in the service of God’s holiness. The tribe of Levi was already marked out as one of the two violent tribes in Genesis. The Levites were set apart for service after slaying 3,000 of their brethren after the golden calf incident. Phinehas thrust the spear through the Midianite and the Israelite and was given an everlasting priesthood as a result. Samuel was the one who hacked Agag in pieces, when Saul failed to do so. The Israelite army temporarily has a sort of priestly status when called together for holy war, which suggests that the priests were regarded as a sort of standing army.

This pattern continues into the New Testament. Paul, Peter, James, and John all seem to have been men characterized by a sort of avenging zeal, zeal which was broken and harnessed for God’s service. Peter, the one who cut off the High Priest’s servant’s ear, later became the one proclaiming the divine death sentence on Ananias and Sapphira. Paul was the former persecutor of the Church, who called for the ecclesiastical death sentence of excommunication to be applied without pity or pause in the case of continued sexual immorality (note the allusion to the OT death penalty in 1 Corinthians 5:13).

The priest’s business was death. He was the man of knife, fire, cut flesh, and spilt blood. The priests were the crack troops who manned the moral and cultic boundaries of the nation, and were praised for being able to rise above all pity when judgment was necessary. The priest as the elite sword-wielder, who will not show mercy in the defence of truth when all others fail, and will not spare, pity, or compromise when others do, seems to be a pretty consistent theme in relation to priestly leadership in Scripture, yet rather noticeable by its absence in current understandings of pastoral ministry. The capacity to exercise agonistic, uncompromising, and strong leadership from the front, when such leadership is called for, seems to have been peculiarly characteristic of that which was expected of the priests, as the moral guardians of the nation.

Although life is the chief characteristic of the new covenant, death is still present at the threshold. We enter into new life through death, and the judgment of death must be cast on all those that reject the new life in Christ. The pastor, like the angel, is the one charged with keeping the threshold (and the pastor can be referred to as an angel – Revelation 2-3). The pastor is also called to be a specialist in death, even though he is no longer charged with cutting up animals. He has to be able to be a firm and uncompromising wielder of the sword of the Word, executing judgment upon the enemies of God, and preparing the people of God as sacrifices to ascend into God’s presence through the Spirit, cutting them to the heart (note the parallels between Peter cutting 3,000 people to the heart as chief apostle on the Day of Pentecost and the Levites’ slaying of 3,000 of their brethren at Sinai) and dividing joints from marrow.

In addition to the symbolic purposes of the priesthood (which to my mind make women occupying the office as impossible as a man being a mother, a matter of fact and not merely permission), these observations would seem to show that God has a preference for predominantly ‘masculine’ virtues in this particular ministry context. The biblical vision of new covenant pastoral ministry is far more akin to that of the priestly guardianship and fatherhood than it is to the nurturing and spiritually therapeutic role that modern priestly and pastoral ministry often predominantly tends to focus upon (although the pastor obviously needs to play a nurturing role too). The ‘teaching’ that the priest is charged with (and which 1 Timothy 2:12 forbids a woman to exercise over a man), is not mere instruction, but authoritative and ruling teaching: the priest is charged with inculcating and guarding ‘orthodoxy’, ensuring that the holy things are not profaned, and that those who profane the temple of God are judged. Many people within the life of the Church can play a role in instructing us in the truth, but it is the priest who has the peculiar responsibility and increased accountability in this area.

The movement away from this model of priestly leadership comes with a blurring of the boundaries in the life of the Church. The moral, theological, and relational boundaries of the Church are no longer guarded as they once were, and in the name of such things as sensitivity, relevance, and tolerance, teachings and practices that were previous firmly rejected become tolerated. Church discipline becomes a rare occurrence. The Church no longer operates on a war footing, with the pastor as a military commander. The Church also becomes overly focused upon the internal axis of its existence, on private spirituality, and loses sense of itself as a sharply distinct culture that proclaims, defends, and presses its creed against all others.

How Ought we to Regard Gifted Women in the Life of the Church?

What ought we to say about women who are obviously gifted teachers and leaders? The Church in many quarters has much work to do in order to value the ministry of women as it ought. However, the way to address this is not to treat all roles as if they ought to be indifferent to gender, or as if they should exhibit gender equality. Rather, the solution is to recover and celebrate the numerous prominent roles that women can play within the life of the Church. We need more female spiritual directors, lay teachers, theologians, commentators, scholars, churchwardens, vestrywomen, treasurers, vergers, sacristans, elder women (different from elders), deaconesses, lay chaplains, leaders of Bible studies, missionaries, etc. The ministries of women in the Church should not be limited solely to ones involving dealing with children and other women, and much more use should be made of women’s gifts of spiritual guidance and insight, administrative ability, and theological wisdom. If we were to push in this direction, we might find that the life of the Church would be considerably enriched, and that the clergy-laity opposition would become far less dominant in our thinking, as both clergy and laity would have prominent and valued forms of ministry.

We should be more attentive to norms. Overwhelmingly male leadership in certain realms is not merely common, but should be treated as normal and healthy. Grossly unequal representation of men and women in certain positions of leadership should not automatically be assumed to be an injustice to be rectified (although we should always be attentive to possibilities of injustice). Exceptional cases should not be pressed against the norm. History’s witness to female warriors such as Mulan and Joan of Arc is not an argument in favour of equal representation of men and women in the military, for instance. It is merely evidence that some norms have certain exceptions.

Conversely, those opposing the ordination of women should be more flexible when it comes to these exceptional cases, where the norms might not apply in the same manner. Even though women can never be priests, there are situations where a woman may by virtue of unusual circumstance, or peculiar gifting, play a role that women would not usually play. Deborah might be an example of this, Joan of Arc another. In both cases they were not ‘subordinating men’ but playing a critical helping role in raising up a man of limited strength to take over rule, when other leadership had failed. These situations may be more common in the current context, in which many churches have a serious lack of men, and even more so of spiritually mature men. A woman of spiritual maturity and with leadership ability that makes her stand out from the rest of a small congregation may well end up exercising a sort of priestly oversight, guardianship, and teaching leadership in that context. Like Deborah she would be leading as a mother and a helper until such a time as a man became spiritually mature enough to take over. When there is no man to step up in certain areas of leadership, the woman may have to do his job for him. Such cases are anomalous, and not arguments against the norm. There are also innumerable examples of women exhibiting a considerable overlap of areas of gifting with many priests, often exceeding them in many respects.

Women’s Leadership in Society

To sum up certain of the points made to this point, women are neither permitted nor able to exercise the office of a priest. The lead priestly role was given to the man at the creation. The woman can participate in her husband’s role, but only as a helper. The role of priest is gendered in further ways, as the priest represents and images God’s relationship with his people. The gendering of biblical priesthood is as intrinsic to the role as the gendering of the role of fatherhood is. No slight is made upon the gifts and competencies of women in excluding them from it. In Scripture, priesthood also privileges certain traits and strengths that are especially associated with men. Certain women can exhibit these traits, yet these traits are far more common and more widely desirable among men.

This order is focused upon the worship of the sanctuary, the starting point where the direction of life is set, and from which it flows. However, similar patterns can be observed in other, wider or secondary spheres of life. The Scripture seems to ascribe a similar sort of ‘priestly’ role to the husband and father in a family. He is the one chiefly responsible for establishing, upholding, and protecting the moral and cultural boundaries and norms of the household, and ensuring that his children are raised in the truth. He is the one who must be prepared to lay down his life to defend his wife and children. He stands on the frontline of the family, as the primary representative of and defender of his family in the relationship with the wider society and world. The wife is his vice-president and chief counsellor in relation to that role, which he undertakes to serve her and his family. In turn, he must support and empower his wife in her role, subordinating his own concerns to hers.

Understanding the leadership of the husband as a priestly leadership, after the analogy of the pattern of the sanctuary, helps us to appreciate more clearly what is and what isn’t involved here. Priestly leadership is authoritative leadership in regard to the elementary and foundational things of life. The priest is the one who secures the foundation, and the one who guards the boundaries. The priest’s leadership is protological leadership. It is leadership concerned primarily with the law, rather than with the richer realms of wisdom and vision. It is leadership that is at its most prominent in the period of institutional immaturity, and which gradually becomes less prominent in the life of the community over time. This sort of male priestly leadership, practiced properly, should progressively move into the background and end up primarily involving empowering service of women in their perfecting and glorifying ministry, which comes to occupy the foreground.

If the life of the family is lived on four axes (borrowing a model from Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy), one could argue that the men are primarily active on the axis relating the family to the wider world, with the women as helpers, the women are primarily active on the axis that relates the family to the future, with the men as helpers, the men are primarily active on the axis relating the family to its moral and cultural norms and its past, with the women as helpers, and the women are primarily active on the internal axis of the family, within which the community of the family is formed, with the men as helpers.

Parallels between the role of women and the role of the Spirit should not be missed: the Spirit is the one who brings the future and forms communion. The Father is the initiator and author, who establishes the mission. The mature Son is the one who fights and dies for his sister-bride and his younger brothers.

Similar comments could be made about the Church. If you look at virtually any Church, the congregational life and the knitting together of it as a community is primarily accomplished by women. In a similar manner, the flowering of the life of the Church occurs as the ministries of women in its life start to become more prominent and widespread. This is not occurred through the displacing of the male priestly ministry, but through the expansion of lay ministries as the Church grows out into the wider world. In wider society a similar pattern applies. A country without father figures loses sight of the boundaries and norms and becomes vulnerable to attack, infiltration, and corruption. A country that effaces women cuts off its future and becomes violent and fragmented.

In the more general cultural sphere of society, women leadership is not treated in the same way as it is within the context of worship and the family, however, leadership does not cease to be gendered, and many forms of authority and leadership will be dominated by men, not on account of some dark patriarchal conspiracy, but because the sexes are generally gifted differently in different areas. The task of laying down one’s life to defend the boundaries of society from attack, for instance, is still primarily regarded as the task of sons who have attained to maturity.

In Scripture, authority is symbolically masculine, as it originates with a God who stands over against us (a symbolically female deity will usually be accompanied by a downplaying of the Creator-creature distinction, and a tendency to place stress upon some original unity), and who refers to himself with masculine pronouns. This masculine character of authority means that men can ‘image’ authority in a manner that women can’t, although women can represent authority (as a wife can represent her husband, for instance). This creates a distinction between ‘priestly’ forms of leadership that can image authority, and ‘helper’ forms of leadership, which can only represent it (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:3-10).

One will often also be able to recognize differences between ‘helper’ forms of leadership and ‘priestly’ forms of leadership between men and women, even in this wider realm, authority being parsed differently, depending on the person who exercises it. A helper form of leadership, for instance, has a less direct relationship to authority, but tends to displace primary authority onto institutional structures, some deeper social identity, or the office as distinct from the person occupying it. Such leadership does not stand over against people in the same way in which a leader that personally identifies strongly and directly with the authority of his office does. ‘Priestly’ leadership that images final authority over men and women is overwhelming the preserve of male leaders.

A focus on authority being masculine need not exclude women from occupying leading positions in society. However, it means that when they do so, their leadership will tend to take a different form from that of many males. In certain contexts this different form of leadership may be considerably more effective. It also means that men will almost certainly be more represented in many areas of leadership.

Finally, does this character of authority disempower women? Under the biblical model of authority, no, it ought not to. The one who exercises authority is a servant and a minister to others, exercising it on their behalf, placing their needs and concerns above his own. Biblically, the minister of authority does so in order to empower others, not subordinate and dominate them.

We can see this at work in the Scripture, where the woman is presented as the chief counsellor of her husband, and as the one with privileged access to his heart. The man may have the authority and direct power, but the wife has an immense indirect power to harness the heart of her husband and other men and turn it to the direction that she desires. We see this in such bad cases as Herod and Herodias, Ahab and Jezebel, Solomon and his wives, but also in positive cases such as David and Abigail, and Ahasuerus and Esther. We also see it in God’s constant attention to the prayers of his people. The woman is the one who inspires and directs action.

Although some see the manipulative wife as proof that the wife should just ‘keep in her place’, it seems to me that such a wife is rather an example of a God-given power used for ill. The contrast between Esther and Herodias is informative here. In both cases they are promised up to half the kingdom (Esther 5:3, 6; Mark 6:22-23) and end up giving counsel that leads to the taking of a man’s life. However, the contrast is stark: Esther’s counsel is good and designed to save the righteous from their enemies; Herodias’ advice is evil, calculated to destroy and silence the faithful prophet.

The good husband uses his authority to serve the interests of his wife, and puts it at her disposal to empower her. Since one more controversial comment is hardly going to attract that much attention after all of those already made above, let me end by observing that I don’t think that feminism has really changed much at all on this front when it comes to the fundamental dynamics of authority in society. Society is still primarily founded upon male power and authority, vested in government, the legal system, the police force, and the primarily moral authority of such as fathers and clergymen.

As a group women represent a far more vulnerable group than men (largely because they are vulnerable to men) and so society has always needed to make provision to protect women. In the past security for women was provided through the family and a patriarchal structure. This traditional familial structure, while providing a measure of security and protection for women, tended to abuse and mistreat them in various ways, constraining their horizons and limiting their opportunities. The structure of society is primarily created and enforced by men. Although some women will be more dominant than many men, the most dominant and powerful figures in any given society will tend to be male. Women need protection to a degree that men do not as they are both more vulnerable as a group than men, and are also exposed to many risks that men are not.

To escape the limits of oppressive family structures, and to achieve equal opportunities in the wider world of business and education, etc., women needed legal protections and government involvement and protection to take over from the old family structure. While men were expected to take unreasonable behaviour in the workplace, for instance, on the chin and stand up for themselves, the movement of women into traditionally male workplaces necessitated many more protections to be put in place. Where formerly the family had borne the primary responsibility of protecting and providing for women, in many ways that task has been shifted to the government and the legal system.

The actual underlying direct power and authority in society hasn’t really changed hands as significantly as many seem to think. There have obviously been shifts, but the chief gains have been made by the leveraging of the key male-dominated institutions that are most powerful in our society to empower women against the men that they relate to more immediately, and by limiting the scope of ‘priestly’ forms of authority, by ‘displacing’ authority as much as possible. The fundamental logic of authority remains, though.

This is not to attack the genuine gains that have been made in this area. However, it should serve to encourage us to work with the grain of the world as God created it, rather than against it. Strong and uncompromising masculine leadership, ministered in a biblical fashion for the sake of others, empowers everyone, and not just the one who exercises it, while a departure from this pattern compromises society, to the detriment of all. In certain contexts, most particularly in the life of the Church and the family, such leadership can play an incredibly important role. The fact that many women feel oppressed and marginalized rather than strengthened and given an ever-growing space for their own ministries by the way that such leadership has been exercised is a good sign that it has been approached poorly. Although this lengthy post has concentrated on tackling the claim that women should be ordained pastors and priests, such a position would have been far less likely to have arisen had we a clearer grasp upon and fuller practice of the empowering and liberating form that the ministry of authority takes for those for whom it is ministered. My hope is that we take clear steps to address our own failures in this matter.

Part 2: A Closer Examination of Junia, The Female Apostle
Part 3: Representation and Ordination: Of Sons and Wives

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, Society, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

71 Responses to Some Lengthy Thoughts on Women Leadership

  1. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Wow. I can’t believe you wrote this much. I always write the same thing because it refers to the Greek basis in Romans 16:7. The Greek can’t possibly say “well-known to” that was thought up in the last few years and now appears in numerous translations. In Greece, Junia has been one of the apostles for 2000 years. They know their own language. It is consistent and continuous.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Suzanne.

      I think that the most natural reading is that Junia is referred to as an apostle, and this was the position that I assumed in this post. I am not sufficiently competent in the Greek to argue the grammatical point, but I see no good reason to dispute the claim of McKnight and others. The fact that I assume that Junia is being referred to as an apostle also means that I am granting McKnight and others their primary point, while arguing that little of what he claims actually follows.

      Calvin and Chrysostom are among those who were quite happy to grant that Junia was a woman apostle, yet who would also deny that she exercised authority over men. As part of the apostolic husband-wife teams that Paul mentions and Clement of Alexandria describes we see that the wife would have acted in an apostolic role in relation to the women, teaching them and practising a sort of spiritual oversight in relation to them. She would be led in her distinct ministry by her husband, as described in 1 Corinthians 9:5. As the lead apostle and the chief commissioned one, the term ‘apostle’ applied to the husband in an especial manner, which is why the apostles are spoken of as if they were exclusively male in such places as 1 Corinthians 9:5.

      All of this, unlike McKnight’s reading, fits in very well with the pattern of leadership that we see throughout the Scripture, and in the NT more particularly.

      I quite agree with your comments regarding the need for ‘quasi-masculine’ virtues in women, and ‘quasi-feminine’ virtues in men. However, ‘masculine’ virtues are most prominently manifested among males, and in certain males in particular. The point that I make above is that God seemed to select men who were outliers in the degree to which they exhibited key masculine virtues as the prominent leaders of his church. These were not just men, but men’s men. All of these great leaders exhibited a range of virtues, many of which are not conventionally regarded as masculine, and often to an exceptional degree. We could think of Moses’ meekness or of Paul’s tenderness in certain circumstances.

      I am not here suggesting that all men should exhibit these hyper-masculine virtues of the great priests and pastoral leaders. The Bible presents us with many forms that masculinity can take. However, that particular point was that, if God selects leaders on the basis of a set of virtues that are especially masculine, the very least that we should expect is a male-dominated Church leadership (much as the characteristics that render persons apt for military service, and in the top percentages of the population in strength and endurance, will naturally lead to a overwhelmingly male-dominated army).

      Part of my point in stressing the particular character of this pastoral and priestly leadership is actually that of creating a greater space for the expression of women’s gifts. The real question for me is not ‘should we recognize the gifts of women?’ but ‘what should we recognize these gifts as?’ As we appreciate the especial task and purpose of the masculine priestly ministry, I believe that we will begin to see that a lot of space is created for the many gifted women teachers and spiritual guides in the Church today. I believe that recognizing the obvious gifts of such women as gifts for priestly leadership over the congregation is a misrecognition, but that other forms of recognition are open to us.

      I have been in many contexts with women priests and pastors, and one of the things that has struck me is that, although in many cases they are obviously exercising a ministry by which the Church is edified, it doesn’t really take the form of biblical priestly ministry. With true priestly ministry established, I don’t believe that these ministries will just be ‘disappeared’ in a male-dominated Church. Rather they will be practised somewhat differently, and given more accurate names. My goal here is not to argue for a return to some earlier ideal state, but to move beyond both the unsatisfactory traditional positions of most churches that oppose the ordination of women and the challenging counter-position that is presented in favour of their ordination. I think that the questions raised by those in favour of women’s ordination are frequently very important ones, and any adequate response demands that we move away from certain traditional practices and church forms, even if the position advocated by those in favour of women’s ordination is not found to be biblically sound.

  2. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Just one more comment to check for follow ups. I have really researched the Greek foundation of this question, but few are really interested in the Greek. Perhaps there is a gender difference here in terms of being interested in language.

  3. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    PS godly women are called andreia in Greek that is manly or courageous. In the Bible and in early Christian writing a Christian woman must have the masculine virtues, that is just the way it was. I don’t know why, but a woman must always be “manly” and a man must always be “nurturing” as Paul and Moses mentioned. I can’t tell you why, but this is what I read in the Bible and in the early Christian writing.

  4. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I appreciate your very thoughtful response. Thanks! For me, at this point, the primary issue is that it appears that there is a conspiracy or cover up. But why? And how can I trust men if they insist on a Bible translation that covers up the Greek? If the men that are in leadership position in my context are denying what is in the Greek in verses which refer to women, how do women trust them and how do they ever develop a view that male authority has some moral value? I am getting on in life, so too late for me now. From here on in, I won’t be trusting what some man tells me about the Greek, that ‘s for sure. I am happy to discuss these issues with men, but they have to present facts not opinions.

    Regarding “men’s men” no, I don’t see either Moses or Paul this way at all.

    • Thanks for your follow-up comment, Suzanne. Here is a detailed answer.

      Melodramatic cases for the ‘murder’ of Junia notwithstanding, I think that we have a duty to try to understand the position of those who took this decision and take a Proverbs 18:17 approach here before making such a judgment. Jumping to accuse people of a ‘conspiracy’ or ‘cover up’ is rather precipitous. At the very least, we should seek to discover why such a surprising and questionable route was taken. I don’t know the considerations that led those producing editions of the Greek New Testament to change Junia to Junias. However, neither do you, and McKnight provides no evidence here either, so all that we can do is speculate. Where only speculation is possible, we should probably content ourselves with saying that the scholars producing these Greek critical texts made a serious error and argue for the alternative reading.

      As for men in leadership positions, who insist on Bible translations with Junias, why not just say that they are in error too? Why must we impute bad motives to such people? A woman being termed an apostle seems rather incongruous in light of many other New Testament passages, not least verses such as 1 Corinthians 9:5, which speak of apostles as if they were all male. For those who assume that a person being an apostle means that they would have exercised authority over men, the existence of a female apostle causes other problems as it might not seem to square with other Pauline teachings.

      In examining a text like this, we all try to find ways of creating a picture that accounts for and relates different strands of biblical and historical evidence. Those advocating women’s ministry tend to give a text like this one immense weight, and use it to challenge other detailed texts that speak more directly to the subject, and which argue for a difference between the roles that men and women can play within the life of the Church. Those arguing against women in roles of Church authority over men will often explore possible alternative readings of such a text, readings which bring such a text more clearly into line with other biblical evidence. Some of these ‘alternative readings’ are actually impossible or incredibly unlikely, without those advocating them actually realizing the fact.

      Much of this comes down to how wide the scope of the admissible evidence that weighs in our interpretative decisions is. If we focus very narrowly on Romans 16:7, the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of Junia being a female name, and Andronicus and Junia being spoken of as among the apostles, and not just known to them, is by far the likelier reading. However, if we expand the realm of admissible evidence to the wider Pauline corpus we are faced with a number of texts that limit the leadership roles women can play in the life of the Church, and which seem to speak of the apostles as if they were exclusively male. Expanding the realm of evidence even further, we are faced with the fact that no other female apostles are mentioned, and there are no clear cases of women in Church leadership positions over men. Of the Twelve, not a single one is female, and of the ten or so other apostles mentioned, Junia would be the only case of a female apostle. As we expand the picture even further to encompass the rest of the Bible, we see a pretty clear pattern of male-dominated leadership more generally, of the complete restriction of liturgical leadership to males, and the lack of any clear skid marks on the record that might indicate a change in direction on this issue. Similar comments could be made about the Church history.

      What I share in common with many of those who argue that Junia must have been a man is the conviction that this verse has been given a completely disproportionate amount of weight, and has been used as a pretext to neglect far more compelling and less ambiguous evidence. I do not, however, believe that we need to adopt the sort of forced readings of this text that would make Junia out to be something other than a female included among the apostles. To sum up, for many the choice is either that of treating Romans 16:7 as a problem text, or that of employing Romans 16:7 as a text that problematizes what I believe to be a far clearer picture and pattern that emerges from the wider biblical canon. Church leaders who adopt forced readings of Romans 16:7 are generally not doing so as a conspiratorial attempt to cover up some clear truth, but as an attempt to treat the text in a manner that they perceive to be faithful and honest to a larger biblical picture (certain elements of which I have broadly sketched in the post above).

      Treating this as if it were some conspiracy on the part of XY types strikes me as rather paranoid, not to mention uncharitable. Every view has its problem texts. Some views do far more violence to their problem texts. Whether the violence was witting or unwitting, what many have done to Romans 16:7 appals me. However, I am no less appalled by what many have done to passages such as 1 Timothy 2:11-15, or to the larger biblical picture of gendered roles, and male-dominated leadership. I believe that in many ways the problem texts for us in our Bibles are among the most important texts of all. The way that we relate to these texts reveals a lot about our attitude to the Bible more generally. Merely observing the violence that others do to their problem texts does not justify the violence that we do to our own problem texts (and problems don’t merely lie at the level of individual texts, but also in the bigger picture, where glaring absences and larger patterns start to become clear).

      As regards Moses and Paul being ‘men’s men’ and exhibiting strong masculine traits in their leadership, let me provide some more detail to back up my claims. Firstly, both Moses and Saul of Tarsus are introduced to us as men of a violent zeal. Our first encounter with Moses after his birth is in his slaying of the Egyptian in Exodus 2, an action that is portrayed in very positive terms in Stephen’s speech (Acts 7:23ff.). After he flees from Pharaoh we then see him defending the daughters of the priest of Midian against the shepherds. Our first encounter with Saul is at the stoning of Stephen. Later we see him breathing threats and murder against the Church in Acts 9:1. He was a violent man (1 Timothy 1:13), who stood out as a natural born leader, more zealous than any of his peers.

      Both Moses and Paul were changed by God and endured incredible hardship and suffering. The marks of Paul’s ministry were stripes, beatings, stints in prison, gruelling hard labour, stoning, perilous journeys, hunger, and cold (2 Corinthians 11:23ff).

      Central to the ministry of both Moses and Paul was their role as guardians, prepared and able to stand for God and hold back the crowd. Their leadership was marked by being strong and confrontational at crucial moments. Paul withstood Peter, the strongest figure in the early Church, to his face at Antioch and stood his ground against the entire crowd. Moses was the buffer between a rebellious people and a holy God, shielding the people from divine judgment, and withstanding their murmuring, rebellion, and opposition. These were not consensus style leaders, but leaders who led by strength of authority.

      Both Moses and Paul were marked by their strength in executing leadership, and their preparedness to be absolutely uncompromising. They were both prepared to be pitiless when the situation demanded. They were persons who respected no ties and relationships when it came to God’s truth (the Levites were marked by this leadership virtue when they slew 3,000 of their own brethren). There are several examples of this that can be listed. We see Moses delivering God’s judgment against Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, calling for the Levites and others to stand against their brethren, forcing the Israelites to drink the water of the ground golden calf. We see Paul delivering the man of 1 Corinthians 5 and Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan, judging men like Elymas, etc.

      Both Paul and Moses had the character traits of ideal guardians. To be able to withstand the pressure of the crowd, all external opposition, stand unbowed through all persecution and hardship, and resist the internal pull of pity in cases where compromise should not be made, and the undisciplined desire to avenge yourself, requires a particular set of strengths. Such strengths are particularly masculine, although they are obviously found among women to some extent too. However, especially when you are dealing with a mixed group of men and women, those who will most powerfully exhibit the capacity to exercise such a guardian role over the community will almost invariably be male, as for all sorts of reasons physical and otherwise, men are generally more suited to the confrontational sort of leadership that guardianship can demand. Such guardian figures guard the boundaries, so that other men and women within the Church have a securer place within which other sets of virtues can thrive.

  5. Alastair,

    Thanks for a thorough response, even if you swallow up the major points — how Junia was treated in textual history — into your conclusions about a leadership issue. Implicit in my e-book is a belief in women’s ordination to the ministries of the Word, and I assume that in some of what I write, but my book is primarily about the textual history of Junia, not about leadership. Nor do I think what I say about Junia proves my own conclusions about the ordination of women; that has to be done on other grounds.

    But there are few points to make, even if terse:

    1. Conspiracy is not at all what I was doing; effacement, of course, for that is exactly what happened to Junia. Using the word “conspiracy” is a way cheapening both my argument and the seriousness of what happened to Junia.

    2. And connecting Junia to Jabez is a cheap shot. The one and only book about Jabez isn’t worthy of comparison with Epp’s work on Junia. Not even close.

    3. I can think of exactly no one who thinks because Junia is an apostle she’s the same as Paul; in fact, the assumption is that “apostle” has a variety of meanings, and I would say Junia is a church-planting, missionizing, etc… kind of apostle.

    4. I use Chrysostom only for what he says about Junia being an apostle; not for what he says about women; absurd is absurd therefore.

    5. Your connection to Andronicus is speculative in implication.

    The facts are these: Junia was a woman and an apostle; she was converted into a male by males because they believed women couldn’t be apostles; this is the issue at hand and it would be good to see you deal with that set of facts. I don’t think I’ve uncovered some kind of conspiracy, but pointed to a set of uncomfortable facts. Then the text critics raised her from the dead, with hardly a word, and all of a sudden the woman is back in the Bible. That’s the issue.

    • Scot,

      Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      My response to your book was also shaped by my reading of several reviews of it. In practically all of the cases, women’s ordination to positions of Church teaching and leadership over men was presented not merely as an assumption of the argument, but as something powerfully supported by it. In my post I took certain of the claims of your book as a starting point, before focusing on the issue that underlies most treatments of Romans 16:7.

      When it comes to the marginalization of women in the life of the Church, I have no desire to deny that the historic Church has an appalling track record on this front. Nor do I deny that the treatment of Romans 16:7 has been quite unjustified from a strictly textual standpoint. However, your strong implication that scholars and theologians were purposefully silencing Junia and all other women in the Church in their handling of this text strikes me as uncharitable and unwarranted. It seems far more likely that they were firmly persuaded from the rest of Scripture that a woman could not have been an apostle, and were adopting forced solutions to bring a wayward text in line with the bigger picture.

      Scholars do this all of the time. For instance, the most natural reading of John 8:44 would have us speaking of the ‘father of the devil’. Most see no reason to believe that such a figure exists, so adopt readings that are rather more strained and somewhat unlikely on the evidence of the Greek alone. Are they ‘murdering’ the poor father of the devil?

      In response to your points:

      1. You write: ‘Let me be clear once more: The editors of Greek New Testaments killed Junia. They killed her by silencing her into non-existence. They murdered that innocent woman by erasing her from the footnotes.’ If this statement really is as clear as you claim that it is, you suggest intent to silence Junia on the part of the editors. As you later observe, murdering non-existent people isn’t really murder. The very strong implication of your statement, and much of its rhetorical force, is that the editors knew that Junia was a woman, and that they purposefully buried the fact. This, I submit, is a clear conspiracy theory.

      2. My comparison of Junia with Jabez referred to the way that one figure mentioned in passing becomes the basis of assured speculation and far-reaching theological conclusions, conclusions which frequently run contrary to far more established teachings and patterns elsewhere in Scripture. I have no wish or intention to denigrate Epp’s work on the subject, and am in large agreement with his conclusions about the text, if not the supposed theological implications. However, both Junia and Jabez are thin reeds on which to rest a larger theological edifice, yet this is what I frequently observe.

      Much of the use of Junia reeks of ‘prooftexting’, manifesting a clear form of the same approach to Scripture of which those who employ this text will frequently accuse their theological opponents. I think that the irony should not go unnoticed. The amount of weight put on this one text starkly contrasts with the handling of numerous other texts that don’t seem to support desired theological conclusions.

      3. I don’t believe that I ever claimed that anyone did. However, even among apostles outside of the Twelve, and less significant than Paul, we still find distinctions. For instance, some have suggested that Andronicus and Junia were merely messengers of a particular church (I see no compelling reason to hold such a position). Perhaps we might also raise questions about whether or not they were witnesses of the resurrected Christ.

      As a matter of fact, I would happily describe Junia as a church-planting, missionizing sort of apostle, just as you do. However, her mission work and church-planting would have been under the leadership of Andronicus, and would largely have involved ministry to women. My parents were Baptist missionaries and church-planters in the Republic of Ireland when I was growing up, and as a pair they would have been referred to as such. However, the form of their ministries differed significantly: only my father exercised an office of teaching authority over men and women in the church, and he was also clearly the leader in their shared church-planting work, with my mother as his helper.

      The assumption that as a woman, Junia would have been an apostle in just the same way as a male apostle is just that, an assumption, not something derived from the text itself. The broader evidence of Scripture and other early Church writings suggests that the roles of men and women in these apostolic teams differed markedly.

      4. My point in raising such figures as Chrysostom and Calvin is simply to show that, even when we grant that Junia was a female apostle of considerable reputation and powerful ministry, as I readily do, we are certainly not driven to the conclusion that she exercised teaching authority over men. This would also weaken the case for some attempt to cover Junia up. The presence of a female apostle simply doesn’t seem to have bothered such writers who unequivocally opposed women’s ordination as much as the argument supposes that it ought to have done. She was more anomalous than threatening. Perhaps, rather than firmly believing that a woman couldn’t be an apostle, these writers simply believed that, given the rest of the biblical picture, descriptive and not merely prescriptive, it was unlikely that there were any female apostles.

      5. There is a measure of speculation, yes. We cannot know for sure. However, there is a fairly simple case being made and none of the leaps are too great: a) given their seemingly close connection and long term relationship, Andronicus and Junia would appear to be married; b) elsewhere in Scripture the apostles are spoken of, as in the case of other church offices of leadership, as if they were exclusively male; c) Paul gives us evidence that most of the apostles took their wives with them in their travels, and that the husbands led their wives around in such relationships; d) from Acts and passages such as the one mentioned from Clement of Alexandria, it appears that these wives were active co-workers with their husbands, and not just menial support staff; e) from the pattern that we see in the pastoral epistles and that described elsewhere, it seems that these women would have exercised the apostolic ministry, under the leadership of their husbands, to women, many of whom their husbands could not reach without scandal; f) as we see illustrated in various other cases, a woman who helps in effecting a ministry that has chiefly been committed to her husband can rightfully share in the title of the ministry; g) all of this fits with the pattern of a divinely commissioned man with a wife as the honoured helper and right hand in his task that we see from the second chapter of Genesis onwards. This picture is definitely not a certain one. However, it is a plausible one, and considerably more plausible than one which simply assumes that Junia exercised teaching authority over men. That is the far more speculative account, having little evidence to rely on beyond its mere assertion.

  6. Don Johnson says:

    There is no question that the books of the Bible were written in patriarchal societies, the question is how much should that imply? I think it implies that God works with people where they are at and moves them into the Kingdom step by step as they let Him. And it means no more and no less than that.

    Why were only men priests in the Mosaic covenant? As far as I know the Bible does not say. But they also needed to be from Aaron and without blemish to serve. Do you know any pastors with acne? Do you know any that are not Jewish? Why the selectivity?

    There is no question that one can make selective arguments that God is a masculinist, just wear blue lenses when reading the Bible. The challenge is to take off those kinds of lenses so one can see clearly.

    • Don,

      It seems to me that all that you are doing here is explaining away evidence. There is ample evidence that God differentiated between the roles that men and women could play in the Church and the cult of Israel. There is also clear biblical evidence to support the privileging of strong masculine virtues as qualifications for key positions of leadership, and testimony to male-dominated leadership throughout the history of the people of God. There is absolutely no need for a ‘selective argument’ here.

      What I don’t see you doing is giving the smallest shred of evidence beyond the assertion that my appeal to the overwhelming pattern of leadership in Scripture, and its explicitly gendered character is selective, and the product of biased lenses. What grounds your conviction that, after thousands of years of biased reading and practice of these texts, you and those who share your position have been freed of all such clouding bias? And if you cannot seriously deal with the many biblical texts that I bring up without simply dismissing their relevance, why should I give any weight to your opinion, which appears to rest upon nothing much beyond the strength of your own conviction of it?

    • The really ironic thing here is that only one of us is trying to do serious business with every text that is brought forward. If I am accused of being selective, what am I neglecting? More particularly, how is your argument not even more selective?

      Ultimately this seems to boil down to the fact that I am not selective in the way that fits your prejudices. However, if this debate is to go anywhere, it must involve both sides grappling with the biblical texts that might challenge our perspective, and providing readings that take them seriously, not merely dismissing or explaining away evidence that is unfriendly to us.

  7. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I would like to specifiy what I think is a cover up, since I have made that claim.

    In Burer and Wallace’s article, they cited Pss of Solomon 2:6 as saying “episemw en tois ethnesin”, and stated that it was a close parallel to Romans 16:7. However, Pss of Solomon 2:6 says “en episemw en tois ethnesin” and is not in any way a parallel for Romans 16:7. This has never been corrected, and remains in the NET Bible notes, and underlies the translation “well-known to” in the ESV. This has never been addressed and so the basis of the ESV text is not valid. The cover up is that many claim that the ESV is accurate. This needs to be addressed first and foremost.

    • I will leave this discussion to the Greek experts. I have no horse in this race.

      • Sue says:

        If you are aware of even one complementarian who will engage with this discussion about the Greek, please let me know. So far, I am aware of none. This is what I mean by a cover up. If you find even one complementarian who will investigate this, and respond publicly then I will have to alter the word cover up, and call it a quasi cover up. Till then …

  8. Thanks to everyone for their involvement in this discussion. I am bowing out, so that I can concentrate on other work, but please feel free to continue discussing without me.

  9. Sue says:


    I respect the fact that you cannot continue to comment at this rate. You wrote,

    “Where only speculation is possible, we should probably content ourselves with saying that the scholars producing these Greek critical texts made a serious error and argue for the alternative reading. As for men in leadership positions, who insist on Bible translations with Junias, why not just say that they are in error too? Why must we impute bad motives to such people?”

    Its tough. If they don’t have bad motives then why are so many Christian leaders not able to read the Greek background, which is very clear, and come to common sense conclusions, which are found in the King James Version, for example. That Junia was among the apostles, is not a difficult finding. In any case, I could not endorse the leadership of any who do not understand these very simple things in Greek. Male authority has been a tragedy for many and offers no scholarly advantage.

    Even 1 Tim. 2:12 in the King James Bible had ” to usurp authority.” Why has the ESV introduced so many changes from the KJV?

    • Sue,

      Thanks for the continued engagement.

      The problem is that by itself the Greek is not a completely open and shut case. No matter how compelling the evidence might be in favour of Junia being an apostle in terms of the Greek of the text, the Greek is just not sufficient to settle the case by itself, as I believe that your increasingly complicated qualifications of your position in discussing the issue with Matt are revealing. At some point we need to make a judgment call, balancing a whole range of different considerations.

      Those arguing against Junia being an apostle are trying to fit the text into an exceedingly clear biblical picture in which women exercising authority over men in Church leadership is completely ruled out, in which over twenty male apostles are mentioned, but no single other female, and in which the apostles are spoken of as if they were exclusively male. They adopt what might appear to be a rather strained reading of the Greek of Romans 16:7, but do so to avoid doing far more violence to the bigger picture. You have consistently failed to engage with this larger picture.

      Although Greek is a helpful tool for the preacher, it really comes quite far down the list of skills required by the biblical leader. Christ founded his Church primarily using fisherman, rather than with elite scribes and learned scholars. In my experience, all too many Greek experts try to justify an inflated perception of their skills’ importance by treating the technicalities of the Greek language as if they were the sole or even primary way to resolve every exegetical question. The technicalities can be incredibly helpful on occasions, but they fade in significance next to an intimate acquaintance with the thought world of the biblical writers.

      Your claim that male authority ‘offers no scholarly advantage’. Male authority is not about decoding the finer points of Greek grammar, but about directing churches in the path of discipleship, resisting false teachers, teaching the saints, leading the liturgy and doing battle with the powers. Greek expertise is great, but relying upon it alone in the leadership of the Church is akin to trying to build a house using nothing but a screwdriver.

      If you know the bigger picture of the Bible, the meaning of the text of 1 Timothy 2:12 really isn’t that hard to figure out, especially in light of what follows. Frankly, it is hard to remain patient with egalitarian scholars who practice a studied ignorance to the bigger picture, trying to miss the forest by arguing about the texture of each particular tree’s bark.

      • Reader says:


      • Sue says:

        Hi Alistair,

        I missed this until today. But that made for a good Christmas break! I persisted with Matt Colvin, in covering the details, since he did move from claiming that his example was clear proof of episemos being exclusive to recognizing that it was ambiguous. I also included only the conditions imposed by Wallace and Burer. This is because their article is used as a basis for several Bible translations and fidelity of Bible translation is paramount to me.

        In reviewing the examples by Matt and Wallace and Burer, only 1 out of 8 or 9, were non-inclusive. This was from classical Greek, and in all other examples from Hellensitic Greek, the person was clearly and obviously a member of the group. This means the example does support the notion that Junia is among the apostles.

        This means that the examples in the article do not support the conclusions of Wallace and Burer, and Matt concurs with this. My first argument is not about men and women, but about Bible translation.

        Regarding 1 Tim 2:12, the recognized scholarly translation is found in the KJV, that a woman not usurp authority over the man. The editor of the KJV was Lancelot Andrewes and in his sermons, one can read that a usurper was a person who tried to kill the current king, and take over his power. It was a crime worthy of torture and death. But Queen Elizabeth was in no way a usurper, and was one of the most powerful monarchs England ever knew, although the British Empire reached its apogee of its power under Victoria.

        Jerome, Luther and Calvin all concur that authenteo means “to usurp or assume power” or to “dominate.” There is exactly zero chance that the word authenteo meant to lead in church. Here is the only full example of a passage where the word was used close to the New Testament era.

        3 cent. AD) Hippolytus (d. AD 235) On the End of the World. De consummatione mundi, in Hippolyt’s kleinere exegetische und homiletische Schrften, ed. H. Achelis in De griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller, 1.2 (Leipzig: Himrichs, 1897), 239-309.

        “Therefore, everyone will walk according to his own desire, and the children will lay hands upon their parents, a wife will hand over her own husband to death and a man his own wife to judgment as deserving to render account. Inhuman masters will authentein their servants and servants shall put on an unruly disposition toward their masters.”

        If anyone is able to come up with an example of authentein used in a benevolent way, within 5 centuries of the NT then I will be ready to discuss it further. Unfortunately, the examples used by Baldwin and Grudem are reconstructed fragments, neither of which indicate the meaning of “exercise authority.” Didaskein is negative in Titus 1. In my view 1 Tim. is has not been properly translated in most Bibles. I prefer the Bibles of the reformation.

        I don’t think anybody needs to read Greek at all. All that is needed is to regard one’s neighbour as an equal human being and treat them as such. If men treat women as they wish to be treated themselves this will set things at right, and line up gender relations according to the Bible. Women need to be treated as those who have equal and God-given capacity for making decisions, and that the very condition of their existence and motherhood is that they bear equal responsibility for their family.

        This has been a long journey for me, out of darkness and into light. I wish others this same journey, of coming to understand love and leadership.

  10. Sue says:

    And …. there was no torture that male Christians endured that female martyrs did not also experience. This was well recognized at the time. When the suffering of male Christians is elevated above the suffering of female Christians, then Christian women are done a serious disservice. If the intent is to detract from the fidelity and suffering of female martyrs, I have to say that I don’t understand why someone would do this.

    • Sue,

      I had no such intention. However, men are generally more physically resilient than women, able to stand more of a beating. Men are also generally more equipped for succeeding in agonistic and confrontational situations for a host of reasons. This is the issue here: the priest is the sort of guy who can withstand a serious beating, and still succeed in driving opposition back. It is not merely a matter of how much suffering we can come through, but how strongly you can fight through it. If people like Paul and Moses were merely sufferers, able to take the punches, they wouldn’t be sufficient leaders: they needed to be heavyweight enough to take the punches, not give ground, and still continue landing telling punches of their own.

      • Sue says:

        “the priest is the sort of guy who can withstand a serious beating, and still succeed in driving opposition back.”

        Not in my Bible – can’t find that. If you mean physically, then this is news to me, I don’t think of most theologians this way at all. They are often not very physically adept at all, but I won’t name names – it sould be embarassing.

        If you mean psychologically, then women can be just as tough as men, and those women who have become national leaders demonstrate it.

      • PLTK says:

        Do you have any support for your physically resilient claim? After all, I believe there is a significant difference between physical strength and physical resilience. As an extreme example, in the WWII concentration camps, women had a higher survival rate than men (after initial gassings and murders were taking into account) and generally came out of these camps more psychologically healthy than the men — i.e, the women were more resilient. I have read other research supporting this area where women tend to the physical and emotional edge when long-term resilience is addressed as compared to short-term outcomes. Part of this is arguably the issues of relatedness that women have the edge on. Again, in the studies of the concentration camp survivors, women tended to support each other, while in the men’s camps relationships degenerated into individualistic survival competitions (which could easily lead to arguments that men are less capable in these areas).

        Just to point out–your arguments above are quite inadequate to support any kind of generalized male superiority (arguing from physical resilience) in the area of leadership. In addition, they are predicated upon a very narrow definition of leadership which includes dominating and beating your opponent. You should note your language is very physical and aggressive in nature. You should look into the recent research on leadership and management which, while allowing for this more traditional leadership view (the aggressive lonely leader) has in the last two decades more focused on other conceptualization of leadership that are more relational and “servant” oriented. (arguably more more Jesus like and Biblical)

      • PLTK,

        Thank you for your comment.

        Just to be clear before answering your question, my argument against women priesthood is not at all founded upon claims of physical resilience. It is rather founded upon the differentiated relational and symbolic significance of the genders. On a secondary level, there are traits, characteristics, and strengths that make people apt for particular roles, and the traits highlighted in the context of priesthood in Scripture are virtues that are especially masculine.

        The physical resilience point was just a response to Sue’s comment about the female martyrs. It was making the minor point that male bodies are more resilient to the harm occasioned by physical assaults upon them. This led to the broader point, which is that men are generally better equipped to succeed in confrontational and agonistic situations.

        Human societies have almost invariably treated men as dispensable and to be exposed to risk and danger to a degree that women should not be. Men have generally not been granted the same degree of legal and social protection in society, they represent the overwhelming majority of deaths in the workplace, it is almost solely men who are expected to die for their country on the battlefield, our prison populations are overwhelmingly male, etc. Positions of risk, danger, conflict, and confrontation are predominantly male ones, and in general men have particular strengths in these areas, both naturally, and on account of social training.

        In any given population, the persons who will be the most effective in representing and maintain a firm and uncompromising leadership presence against all assaults and pressures to conform to the crowd, getting others to conform to the principles that they uphold, tackling and overcoming opposition, both external and internal, and resisting the dangers of empathy in the context of principle will tend to be predominantly male. This is not because women lack these skills, but is similar to the manner in which the top ten runners in a population of fifty random men and fifty random women are almost all going to be male.

        The resilience that I am talking about is not the ability to make it through a traumatic experience as an individual (although there is research to suggest that women have lower resilience after disaster:, but the resilience to function as a determined and firm leader, whatever is thrown at you. I am not saying that loneliness and conflict are the ordinary state of the leader, but that the true leader should have an exceptional ability to lead through such things and to have a form of leadership that withstands opposition from any quarter, while still retaining its effect within the community.

        This is not the only form of leadership that there is, and there are contexts where other forms of leadership are more effective, including forms of leadership that play to women’s strengths over men’s. Within the wider life of the Church, I believe that there are many forms of leadership roles that women can generally fulfil more effectively than men. If you look at the communal life of any church you will generally find that it has women at its heart: they are the most effective and active organizers of community life. However, the task of priesthood is not one of these (and besides, a woman can no more be a priest than a man can be a mother). So, no, I am not advocating a ‘generalized male superiority … in the area of leadership’. What I am advocating is a generalized male superiority in the sort of leadership involved in the priesthood.

        And, yes, conflict is a crucial framing factor (although definitely not the only one) of this notion of priestly leadership. While the priest does not and never should dominate the flock, he must be capable of overcoming all who would harm it, and must be firm in resisting pity or empathy in the face of error or falsehood. He needs to guard the boundaries. He must be capable of maintaining a strong and healthy presence within the community that resists the pull of other competing false leaders and rival groups, preserves the group, and encourages others to join.

        Most positions of leadership within society are of a different type, where the values and identity of the group aren’t so vulnerable to challenge, and a secure institutional structure makes leadership roles less subject to threat. In such a context, women can be very effective at marshalling consensus, and improving the intelligence of a group through their form of leadership. This form of leadership is quite different from ‘guardian’ leadership, though.

        How does this mode of leadership relate to biblical and Christ-like leadership? For starters, the priest maintains a clearly defined, but non-dominating presence within the community. He is a guardian and overseer of the community, not the master of it. Rather, he serves the community by protecting it from external and internal threats, thereby empowering the community to fulfil its calling in a secure and peaceful context. He is not aggressive, but rather is able to persevere through conflict, not settle for a compromise or false peace, and overcome opposition. The priest exercises his strength to protect the community, a community that he must treat with gentleness, kindness, and love, while being pitiless to all who would seek to destroy or undermine it.

        In our recognition of Christ as the tender and loving Bridegroom and servant, we have tended to lose sight of other side of this picture: Christ is the terrifying warrior, who avenges the blood of his saints, and mercilessly overcomes all of their enemies. Christ doesn’t just suffer, he avenges. This is the vision of the servant that we see at the beginning of Isaiah 63, or the vision of the bridegroom in Revelation 19. The role of the priesthood is lovingly to contend to protect the flock delivered to their charge from all attack, and to give the Church a strong and defined identity within itself and in the world, enabling the Church to play a more general leadership role within the society at large. We cannot erase conflict, antithesis, agonism, and antagonism from this picture without doing violence to it, and rendering the Church vulnerable to a loss of definition against the world.

      • Don Johnson says:

        This argument I find so ridiculous I am at a loss for words. You use many words in erudite ways to advance sexism? Sheeesh!

      • Suzanne McCarthy says:

        “I am at a loss for words.”


      • Don, in the absence of a coherent counter-argument, I see no reason why I should care one whit how offensive or repugnant my position is to your sensibilities or understanding. In what dialogue I have had with you, especially over on Matt’s blog, it has become clear that your rejection of my position is bound up with certain views that are fairly theologically eccentric, and that your commitment to a reading of Scripture that precludes what you conceive to be ‘sexism’ leads you down some rather questionable theological alleyways.

        The same can be said of Sue, whose obsessive writing on the subject (what number of ‘The Junia Evidence’ series are we on now?) and incessant ducking, dodging, and changing of the rules in debate with Matt suggest that the text is being put at the mercy of a preconceived theory and personal agenda, rather than being dealt with honestly.

      • Suzanne McCarthy says:

        Let me point out that Matt is 100% in agreement with my main point, He wrote,

        “Suzanne, I hold a PhD in Greek, and I agree that the Wallace/Burer article is overreaching to try to make Pss. Solomonis 2:6 match Romans 16:7 in every respect. I agree with you that it is completely irrelevant because the word in the verse is probably the dative of the επισημον (as a Hebraic parallelism with εν σφραγιδι earlier in the verse). Thus, it is not even an instance of the construction in question.”

        He also called the article shoddy and sloppy. My agenda is to ask people to reflect on why they want Bibles based on shoddy and sloppy scholarship. I take as long as it takes. If Wallace and Burer showed even a scintilla of dedication to scholarship they would not have produced such an article. It was based on short phrases of Greek taken out of context and reinterpreted to support their anti woman agenda. It is a disgrace.

        You find my work obsessive, and I call it dedication and love of language. I treat language and the Bible with the respect it deserves.

  11. Pingback: A Closer Examination of Junia, the Female Apostle | Alastair's Adversaria

  12. I have posted some follow up thoughts on the subject of Junia as a female apostle here.

  13. mattcolvin says:

    Suzanne, I hold a PhD in Greek, and I agree that the Wallace/Burer article is overreaching to try to make Pss. Solomonis 2:6 match Romans 16:7 in every respect. I agree with you that it is completely irrelevant because the word in the verse is probably the dative of the επισημον (as a Hebraic parallelism with εν σφραγιδι earlier in the verse). Thus, it is not even an instance of the construction in question.

    However, it does look to me like Wallace and Burer have succeeded in demonstrating that when επισημος is used with the preposition εν followed by the dative, there is nothing in the Greek to make anyone suppose that the επισημος thing is a member of the group that follows εν. They are making their job harder than it is by trying to find persons who are επισημοι. Finding things rather than persons is, if anything, better for their case, because it shows that the construction, just considered as a grammatical construction, is not inclusive. It does not function as a partitive. And really, that’s all they needed to prove to overthrow the use of Romans 16:7 as a proof of female apostles (whatever apostles are!).

    It is an interesting question whether a woman could be a man’s shaliach. It cuts quite close to the heart of the matter regarding female apostles. I would be very surprised if the Rabbis did not weigh in on that question, but unfortunately I don’t know the answer. For me, however, that is what will be determinative on the question of female apostles: even though the modern and medieval
    Christian church have had all kinds of wrong ideas about ordination — to the point that we have basically forgotten what it does — it remains, at root, a piece of Jewish ritual poiesis, and it is depicted in the New Testament being used as such, in a consistent way, by Jewish Christians who knew what they were doing. No one back then was as clueless as modern Christians about what the laying on of hands does — it is, after all, mentioned as one of the elementary principles of the faith, along with baptism, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment (Heb 6:2). So if I were going to give this question the time it deserves, I would start rummaging through the Talmud and Mishnah to see if there are any restrictions on who the Jews thought could serve as a shaliach to whom. (And even here, we might need to distinguish between “licit” and “valid.”)

    Then again, proving female apostles might not establish anything about female presbyters in the earliest churches. For instance, within the pages of the NT Timothy is evidently Paul’s shaliach (not yet the bishop of Ephesus, or indeed an officer of any church), and he is supposed to be treated like Paul. Paul has to tell him not to take any guff from those who despise him because of his youth — a contempt perhaps made more possible by his obviously not being old enough to be a presbyter in a church. So it is possible that one could be made an apostle of someone, and yet not be qualified to be an elder in a church.

    • Thanks for the comment, Matt.

      Since writing last night’s post, I have given further thought to the role of the female apostle and the form of representation involved. I want to step back a bit from some of the statements that I made on the subject, and suggest what I believe to be a far more satisfying model, with much more biblical and theological support. I will hopefully post something on the subject later this afternoon. I would be interested to hear any feedback that you might have. As you observe, proving the congruity of all of this with the world of Jewish thought and practice is a crucial test of the viability of the thesis.

    • Once again, thanks for your comments, Matt. I have posted my more considered thoughts on women and representation here.

  14. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    “However, it does look to me like Wallace and Burer have succeeded in demonstrating that when επισημος is used with the preposition εν followed by the dative, there is nothing in the Greek to make anyone suppose that the επισημος thing is a member of the group that follows εν.”

    Usually, when εν is used, that is what it refers to, being a member of the group, as a partitive, with episemos as with any other adjective. Here are some examples from the article,

    Καλ[λιάδου οὐ μόνον ἐ]ν̣ τ̣ῇ [π]α̣τρίδι πρώτου, ἀλ̣λὰ [καὶ ἐν τῷ ἔθ]νει ἐπισή̣μου καὶ διαπρεποῦς TAM II:905, 2:15


    φ[ιλοτειμίαις ἐν ταῖς πόλεσι κα]ὶ ἐν τ[ῷ ἔθνει]

    And here are examples with other adjectives in the NT,

    καὶ σύ Βηθλέεμ γῆ Ἰούδα οὐδαμῶς ἐλαχίστη εἶ ἐν τοῖς ἡγεμόσιν Ἰούδα Matt. 2:6

    ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; ESV

    ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν οὐκ ἐγήγερται ἐν γεννητοῖς γυναικῶν μείζων Ἰωάννου τοῦ βαπτιστοῦ ὁ δὲ μικρότερος ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν μείζων αὐτοῦ ἐστιν Matt. 11:11

    Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. ESV

    εὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξίν Luke 1:28

    blessed art thou among women KJV

    οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐνδεής τις ἦν ἐν αὐτοῖς Acts 4:34

    There was not a needy person among them ESV

    Ἰούδαν τὸν καλούμενον Βαρσαββᾶν καὶ Σιλᾶν ἄνδρας ἡγουμένους ἐν τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς Acts 15:22

    Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers ESV

    αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸ εἶναι αὐτὸν πρωτότοκον ἐν πολλοῖς ἀδελφοῖς Romans 8:29

    in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. ESV

    καὶ προέκοπτον ἐν τῷ Ἰουδαϊσμῷ ὑπὲρ πολλοὺς συνηλικιώτας ἐν τῷ γένει μου Gal. 1:14

    And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people ESV

    πρεσβυτέρους οὖν ἐν ὑμῖν παρακαλῶ 1 Peter 5:1

    So I exhort the elders among you ESV


    In every case, en means “among.” And in the Vamva Bible of the 1800’s in Greece the translator put in metaxu, that is, among, in Romans 16:7.

    If you know of any evidence to support your suggestion, I would be interested in reading it.

  15. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    These are specific examples of “episemos en” meaning among, taken from Burer and Wallace’s article. It is a partitive sense in these examples. Prominent among, or outstanding among is a good fit in each of the following examples.

    But in Add. Esth. we read that the people are to ‘observe this as a notable
    day among the commemorative festivals’ (ejn tai`~ . . . eJortai`~ ejpivshmon hJmevran).
    In this text, that which is ejpivshmo~ is itself among (ejn) similar entities.

    Lucianus speaks of Harmonides the pipe-player craving fame for his musical abilities
    to the extent that he wants ‘glory before the crowds, fame among the masses’
    (hJ dovxa hJ para; tw`n pollw`n kai; to; ejpivshmon ei\nai ejn plhvqesi).

    . you must raise your thirsty voice like a stranded frog, taking pains to be conspicuous among the claque and to lead the chorus’ (ejpivshmo~ e[sh/ ejn toi`~ ejpainou`si . . .).

    In Jos. Bell. . we read of certain leading citizens who dispatched
    some representatives, ‘among whom were eminent persons, Saul, Antipas, and
    Costobar, all members of the royal family’ (ejn oi|~ h\san ejpivshmoi Sau`lov~ te kai;
    ΔAntivpa~ kai; Kostovbaro~ . . .).

    I apologize for the poor quality of the text, but I think the case is clear. Even among the examples put forward by Burer and Wallace “episemos en” usually means “outstanding among” or perhaps also “oustanding above.” There is no evidence that it means “well-known to” but not “more prominent than.” Aphrodite is not a mortal, but she is clearly outstanding or prominent among mortals. This is true if taken in the comparative sense, that Aphrodite is more prominent than mortals.

    So there is no example of someone being episemos in the sense of only well-known to a group, without being outstanding among that group. I don’t think that Burer and Wallace offered even one example of that.

  16. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    You wrote,

    “Finding things rather than persons is, if anything, better for their case, because it shows that the construction, just considered as a grammatical construction, is not inclusive. It does not function as a partitive.”

    I couldn’t find any ex\mples which support this suggestion.

    • mattcolvin says:

      Suzanne, you appear to be saying, “En + dative” usually functions as a partitive, except when it functions as a comparison.” But this is special pleading. 1 Timothy 3:16 has Christ (a Jew) “preached among the Gentiles” (en ethnesin, dative).” Not comparison, and certainly not partitive. And this is just what I came up with off the top of my head, trying to remember Bible passages that use the word “among” in English versions! Do you think it is some sort of rare exception?

  17. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    I provided
    – 4 examples of episemos with en plus dative meaning “among” that are partitive
    – But in addition, I gave a list of examples where adjectives with en plus dative are partitive.
    – You have provided one counter example of where the verb “preaching” with en is not partitive.

    Here is another example,

    ὁ δὲ μείζων ὑμῶν Matt. 23:11 (genitive)
    the greatest among you

    ὁ μείζων ἐν ὑμῖν Luke 22:26 (en plus dative)
    the greatest among you

    I am suggesting that just as an adjective with genitive is partitive, so also an adjective with en plus dative is partitive. But in contrast, a verb followed by en plus dative is not necessarily partitive depending on the sense of the verb.

    I think the examples support this.

    • mattcolvin says:

      First you said “en+dative is usually partitive”. Then I gave you a counter example, “preached among the Gentiles”.

      Now you say, “OK, I guess not all en + dative constructions. Only those with adjectives.” You have an a priori conclusion you want to arrive at, and you are prepared to gerrymander your “rule” of Greek idiom until it eliminates all the instances that hurt your case.

      The truth is that in Greek, as in English, it is context and common sense that determines whether Sweeney is a nightingale, or sheep are wolves, or the virgin Mary is a woman (“blessed art thou among…). It is not some special rule about “en + dative with verbs” and “en + dative with adjectives.”

      If Junia is an apostle, then we will take “among the apostles” in a partitive sense. If she is not, then we will not.

  18. Pingback: Representation and Ordination: Of Sons and Wives | Alastair's Adversaria

  19. Don Johnson says:


    You need to really study both sides in this debate. You think it is a slam dunk for the female restrictionists but when you study it you will see it is anything but. Phil Payne’s recent book is a great place to start.

    • Don,

      I have read parts of Payne’s book, along with a couple of his articles. I was far from persuaded. Most particularly, I felt that he failed to account for certain important parts of the larger biblical picture, especially the weight of the Old Testament background, which weighs strongly in favour of traditional readings that maintain a clear differentiation between the ministries of men and women in the Church from the outset.

      What I have yet to encounter is an egalitarian who really does serious business with the huge Old Testament background that is clearly at operation in Paul’s thinking throughout his epistles. If you screen out this background it isn’t too hard to place different constructions upon what Paul is saying. However, if you see that within Genesis 2-3 clear differences between the place of men and women in the context of worship are already established, interpreting Paul’s appeals to Genesis 2-3 in 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2 in the manner that Payne and others do will seem incredibly forced.

      Payne’s book also speaks completely past my position in all sorts of areas. As I articulate in this post, restricting women from positions of Church authority over men is perfectly consistent with a non-subordinationist position.

  20. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    Your approach is very odd. I started from the premise in Burer and Wallace that we were looking for some kind of parallel construction. I provided 4 examples of episemos with en plus the dative as among. I provided numerous examples of adjectives with en plus the dative as partitive.

    I honestly never even thought that verbs with en plus dative entered into the discussion. Clearly you can bring it into the discussion, but you cannot take the accusaotry tone that you have done. I have not shifted ground, I wrote,

    “Usually, when εν is used, that is what it refers to, being a member of the group, as a partitive, with episemos as with any other adjective.”

    I said “usually” and I said “adjective.” Please stay with the topic. I really don’t understand why anyone would need to study Greek if you can simply say,

    “If Junia is an apostle, then we will take “among the apostles” in a partitive sense.


    I you need to offer some kind of counter example to further the discussion. I await a reasoned response. You really need to stay with a discussion of the Greek, and not make personal comments to me, as if I am not arguing fairly.

    • Suzanne,

      It seems to me that Matt’s basic point is that knowledge of the technicalities of Greek, like knowledge of the technicalities of any language is not actually a magic bullet that can solve all such questions of interpretation. Greek may make a reading of Romans 16:7 other than the one that you follow exceptionally unlikely, but until it makes it completely and utterly impossible under any circumstance, we will actually just have to make a judgment call on the matter, weighing up all evidence.

      It seems to me that Matt’s perfectly valid point is that, if we have very good reason to believe that a reading of a text that is overwhelmingly the most likely on purely grammatical grounds is absolutely impossible on contextual or other grounds, we should follow Sherlock Holmes’ advice: “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

  21. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    I cannot accept that we make the impossibility of a female apostle a starting point.

    Here are further facts.

    1) In Greek, for 2000 years, Junia was consistently and unambiguously considered among the apostles, as one of the 70. There was never any consderation for those speakers of the Greek language, that Junia was “well-known to” the apostles.

    2) In the 1800’s Vamva published a revision of the Greek NT. He changed the preposition from en to metaxu. What this means is that he, a Greek archbishop and scholar, had no doubt that Junia was truly among the apostles.

    3) All examples of adjectives (so far) with en plus the dative point to an inclusive and partitive sense.

    4) Then in this century, just a few years ago, Burer and Wallace published a paper in which they stated that Pss of Solomon 2:6 was the closest parallet to Romans 16:7 and THEREFORE Junia was only well-known to the apostles, and not an apostle. But we all know and freely admit that Pss of Solomon 2:6 is not a parallel construction.

    There is no evidence at all, and no argument or analysis for sayng that Junia was not an apostle. But the NET Bible and the ESV translate the Greek in a way that has no basis at all in scholarship. As a woman, I cannot trust the men who have made these translation decisions. And this undermines my trust in male authority.

    Please point out why we should have a Bible with translated phrases that do not reflect scholarship. I really can’t move on to the bigger picture, because I find that this is only one example of changes that have been made in translations. My desire to have a Bible which translates the Greek is a fundamental, not a subsidiary interest.

    • Suzanne,

      A few points in response:

      1. I believe that Junia was an apostle. I don’t accept Burer and Wallace’s position.

      2. If we knew for certain (which we definitely don’t) on other sure grounds that Junia wasn’t an apostle, none of this debate about the Greek would count for much. Even if it was highly unlikely that Junia was an apostle, and highly unlikely that the Greek supported a reading in which she was not an apostle we would still be left with a decision on which we could justifiably go either way. Greek isn’t ultimately going to settle this debate one way or another by itself. Romans 16:7 could just be that single text that doesn’t obey some otherwise strong rule or pattern.

      As in English, mere intimate knowledge of the language is often insufficient in and of itself to settle questions of a particular sentence’s meaning. English may be our first language but we frequently fail to grasp the sense of other people’s statements, especially when we are separated from the original context of the utterance. For some reason, some biblical language scholars seem to believe that the biblical languages operate differently.

      Larger context is usually the key. In other words, at some point or other we need to engage with the bigger picture.

      3. Frankly, I don’t understand your obsession with an article for which no one here is arguing. You seem to want to have a debate on your own terms. Burer and Wallace’s article is a late arrival to this debate. People were opposing women’s ordination long before people thought that Junia was anything other than an apostle, and many of us still oppose women’s ordination while remaining totally indifferent to the truth or falsity of Burer and Wallace’s position. The question of Junia’s identity as a female apostle is a small sideshow in a far bigger discussion, a discussion with which you just haven’t engaged. Many of us just don’t have anything much riding on the Burer and Wallace debate.

      4. ‘As a woman, I cannot trust the men who have made these translation decisions. And this undermines my trust in male authority.’ To be honest, I am not sure where to even start with this. Are you genuinely saying that the bad call of a few scholars is sufficient to justify a blanket judgment concerning the entire male sex?

      I also wonder what exact sort of ‘male authority’ you are referring to here. I don’t believe that scholars are ‘authoritative’ in the sense that the Scripture employs the word in the passages relevant to this debate. Male scholars and female scholars make bad calls, not a few of which permit misleading conceptions to prevail for some time. Most of us satisfy ourselves with arguing that they are wrong. I believe that many feminist and egalitarian readings of Paul and the rest of the Scriptures are strained and implausible: I don’t for that reason start to distrust every woman’s scholarship or biblical insight when they disagree with me.

      5. I don’t use the ESV. I may not like their decision on this particular text, but a translation involves judgment calls on thousands of texts. Some decisions will be very wise; others may be daft. Many translations are very unsatisfactory in their rendering of certain matters. However, we recognize that scholars are fallible and errant human beings just like us. They miss things, lack the imagination to envisage better solutions, lack knowledge of relevant scholarly material, can be lazy and not as rigorous as they ought to be, they can seek to overdetermine certain ambiguous passages, or underdetermine other passages whose message troubles them, etc. Paranoid, don’t believe anyone style conspiracy theories are a very unhelpful response to this. No Bible is going to satisfy everyone, or even anyone all of the time.

      6. Finding a Bible that does justice to the Greek would be great. Please inform me when you find the perfect text. Most biblical translations make certain judgment calls that rule out readings that are widely held, sometimes by a majority of scholars. Some of these readings would actually have a significant impact on our understanding of key biblical passages (for instance, debates over the faith of Jesus Christ or the righteousness of God). Rather than presuming a dark agenda on the part of the translators, it really is best just to argue that they were wrong and leave it at that. The perfect translation isn’t going to come any time soon.

  22. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    I guess it really boils down to Greece vs Texas. Sorry but Greece wins out on this one.

  23. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    You wrote,

    “It seems to me that Matt’s basic point is that knowledge of the technicalities of Greek, like knowledge of the technicalities of any language is not actually a magic bullet that can solve all such questions of interpretation.”

    Matt opened the discussion with his qualifications in Greek and proceded to provide an example. It was only when he could not provide other more useful examples that he retreated from his position that technicalities in Greek were important. I am disappointed. Since Burer and Wallace published their article, they introduced into the field of interpretation a paper which cannot be defendedn and has not been discredited. They have created a position in which personal faith is challenged because readers know that they cannot trust exegesis.

  24. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    Please forgive my fragmented comments rather than one longer comment. I have been thinking about your questions regarding the bigger picture.

    For me, as an older person, not interested in the male female relationship issue, the bigger picture is one of faith. The fact that exegesis and translation was proven to me to be unfaithful, created an honest crisis of faith. What should I believe? Certainly not the ESV translation. And certainly not the teaching of my pastor, who cited various CBMW theologians Certainly I want to be taught by someone who I can trust.

    This created a serious and honest crisis for me. This is my bigger picture.

  25. mattcolvin says:


    I’m with Alastair as regards Wallace and Burer. The article looks pretty sloppy to me, and I have no interest in defending it.

    I also think that the institution of apostleship in NT Judaism is poorly understood, and that a better understanding of it is necessary before any headway will be made concerning Junia and Andronicus. I have argued for a rather strong divide between apostleship and the presbyterate. I do not believe that presbyters or bishops hold (transmitted) apostolic authority. I am therefore happy to grant that IF Jewish men could make female shaliachim, then Junia might have been one… and this still would not give us any grounds for female officers in the post-apostolic church, because “apostle” is not in itself an office of the church.

    While I may not agree with all of Alastair’s conclusions about the OT background of complementarianism, I agree with him that it is crucial.

    One of the biggest hindrances to progress in studying ordination, and especially the question of female ordination, is that nearly every modern scholar has an axe to grind: they are partisans of their own church’s form of polity, or they are egalitarians or complementarians out to justify their own beliefs.

    I may do a TLG search for you, just to see what turns up. But I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it, since I’m skeptical about the putting too much weight on either Wallace and Burer’s article (bad as it is), or your own lists of, and demands for, examples.

  26. mattcolvin says:

    I’m sorry your faith has been shaken by bad, partisan exegesis on the part of complementarian scholars.

    I will only add that I have caught Ben Witherington and NT Wright doing equally bad, partisan exegesis in the service of women’s ordination.

  27. Suzanne McCarthy says:

    Well, I am not going to argue female ordination here, it is too big a topic. All I wanted to say is that the Junia issue comes across as a cover up, a conspiracy of sorts. its better to do honest exegesis and pay no attention to the gender of the exegete, I believe.

  28. Suzanne McCarthy says:


    I just want to thank you for an honest discussion, and I agree with you that egalitarians do some odd exegesis also. However, their’s is not so often found worked right into the Bible translation. Also, NT Wright and Witherington don’t ask me to respect leaders for being male. I just feel that I can use my common sense with them, there is no male prerogative.

  29. mattcolvin says:

    I did some TLG work and some research in the Talmud on apostleship. I’ve posted it all here:

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  44. info says:

    “This traditional familial structure, while providing a measure of security and protection for women, tended to abuse and mistreat them in various ways, constraining their horizons and limiting their opportunities. The structure of society is primarily created and enforced by men. Although some women will be more dominant than many men, the most dominant and powerful figures in any given society will tend to be male. Women need protection to a degree that men do not as they are both more vulnerable as a group than men, and are also exposed to many risks that men are not.”

    It is also God ordained way of doing things. Reflecting the relationship between God and his Church. But I treat this the same way abusive parenthood is to be treated.

    The same can be said of parenthood in general in terms of the existence of abuse.
    But if you say that God instituted familial structure causes more abuse compared to the relationships between parents and children for example.

    There is an implicit accusation that Male Headship is inherently more abusive. Men as being more sinful than women as a Sex.

    Which makes God guilty of instituting such a structure including how he created Men and Women.

    The Familial structure isn’t the problem. But the abuses of it.

    “This is not to attack the genuine gains that have been made in this area. However, it should serve to encourage us to work with the grain of the world as God created it, rather than against it. ”

    Indeed. But many such “Gains” may actually be detriments in the long term. Especially when they transgress God given boundaries. What is termed gain must also be defined according to God’s definitions. Lest what actually results is sinful destruction.

    “The fact that many women feel oppressed and marginalized rather than strengthened and given an ever-growing space for their own ministries by the way that such leadership has been exercised is a good sign that it has been approached poorly.”

    Not all “oppression” is real oppression. But it needs to be properly biblically evaluated. In Psalm 2 the Kings of the Earth feel oppressed and marginalized by the Rule of God. And choose to rebel. None of this actually proves they were actually oppressed or marginalized themselves.

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