Matt Colvin on Junia and Apostleship

Matt posts some thoughts in response to my earlier post on the subject of Junia as a female apostle in Romans 16:7. He has some helpful remarks on the grammatical case for and against Junia’s apostleship.

Especially helpful is Ephraem Syrus Theol., Ad imitationem proverbiorum (4138: 006)

(“Ὁσίου Ἐφραίμ τοῦ Σύρου ἔργα, vol. 1”, Ed. Phrantzoles, Konstantinos G. Thessalonica: Το περιβόλι της Παναγίας, 1988, Repr. 1995. Page 187, line 6)

Θέλω πρακτικὸς εἶναι καὶ ἐπίσημος ἐν τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς ἢ παραβαίνειν ἐντολὰς καὶ εἶναι αὐτοῖς βδελυκτός.

I translate: “I want to be ready for action, and ἐπίσημος among the brothers, rather than to transgress the commandments and be repugnant to them.”

What is nice about this example is that the parallel construction of the sentence makes clear that there is not a comparison being made, nor any partitive construction, but that ἐν τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς is parallel to αὐτοῖς in the second half, and that both indicate the subjective perceivers of the good qualities the author desires to have — precisely how Wallace and Burer think “among the apostles” should be taken in Romans 16:7.

In the course of the comment thread, I remarked that it is a methodological mistake to think that the interpretation of Romans 16:7 will be determined by inductively concocted “rules” of Greek idiom. The idiom, rather, will be determined by context. As I put it in the comments: “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.’”

He then briefly explores the concept of a female shaliach in Jewish sources. In my own thinking on the subject, I came to take a step back from parallel forms of representation of another party in my final post on the subject, arguing that we need to attend to the differences between the form of representation engaged in by the son, and the form of representation engaged in by the wife. Such a differentiation maintains that both can equally serve in a representative capacity, but that the wife’s form of representation (and the form of representation of women more generally – this isn’t limited to married women) differs in kind in a manner that might mean that shaliach is not the best word for the woman’s form of representation.

Edit (16/12/11): Matt has reposted some remarks on the subject of Ben Witherington’s exegesis of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, pertinent to the present discussions. There have also been extensive discussions in the comments of my original posts, Matt’s post, and on a post on Junia by Suzanne McCarthy.

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.
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20 Responses to Matt Colvin on Junia and Apostleship

  1. It’s clear that the speaker is one of the brothers so this provides strong grammatical support to the notion that Junia was one of the apostles. In addition to this, the Greek church and Greek literature as well as the Vulgate recognized her as an apostle. It is only in the last few years that this grammatical construct has been questioned, and it appears to be a post-feminist movement.

    • Suzanne,

      As Matt points out, the fact of his being one of the brothers is completely irrelevant to the meaning of the grammatical construction. Matt’s example is pretty clear support for the claim that the construction need not mean what you say that it means: it is neither comparative nor partitive.

  2. Alastair,
    You cannot use this to indicate that the person labeled episemos was not a member of the group. You cannot create a new category of non-partitive use of en plus dative with this example.

    It certainly cannot be used to indicate that Junia was not an apostle, and with dozens of examples of adjective with en pluc dative, I hardly need to use it to support my position. I don’t need to cite this even though it is an obvious example where the person is a member of the group. I don’t see that this can have usefulness to an argument that she is NOT necessarily a member. The speaker in this phrase that you have cited is necessarily a member of the group of brothers. This is not up for debate. I was not the one to introduce this citation – I just don’t see how it counters my claim that the largest part of the evidence indicates that the person described is a member of the group. That still stands.

    Please explain to me why you think this example is useful to your suggestion that Junia is not a member of the group. The most I can say is that this would not be a defintive example for my side, but I never said it was, just that it supports the basic premise of being a member of the group. You still need an example where the person is not a member of the group.

    • The way that the grammatical construction functions in that context is clearly not partitive, irrespective of whether the man was a member of the group or not. This is the point, and your failure to engage with that distinction between the fact of membership and the meaning of the grammatical construction isn’t helping. While I still hold to the position that Junia is being spoken of as one of the apostles in Romans 16:7, I think that Matt has made his case here.

      I have no more interest in discussing this with you, Suzanne. You seem rather determined to force your reading onto this text.

  3. Pingback: The Junia Evidence: III « BLT

  4. Alastair,

    I confess an honest misunderstanding, “best among the students” “first among the leaders” “prominent among the brothers” all are partitive as far as I know. I really don’t see how one can view it any other way. There is clearly something that I am missing. I am trying to stick with common sense, and what we can clearly see, that the person is a member of the group. I am not trying to be difficult or force anything. Please visit my most recent post on BLT and see if you think that the case if well defended in Burer and Wallace’s article.

    http://bltnotjustasandwich.com/2011/12/16/the-junia-evidence-iii/

    That is my main interest. How has something which has no published support found its way into Bible translation.

    Anyway, I accept if you want to close this thread. I can only see that the person mentioned is absolutely a member of the group and that means that the possibility of the contsruction being partitive must exist. It is simply impossible to demonstrate from this citation that it does not function as a partitive.

    • I remain uninterested in Burer and Wallace. The significance of Matt’s example was that, although the person is one of the brothers, the parallel form of the sentence reveals that the sense of the grammatical construction in this instance is not partitive. Matt makes the point well in his earlier comment to you in the thread of his post:

      “A better comparandum: “He is laughable among his classmates.”

      Does this primarily mean that he is more ridiculous than they? (Comparative) Or that he is the only ridiculous one out of the whole group? (Partitive) Or does it not obviously mean that they are laughing at him? (Note that “among his classmates” would be ἐν τοῖς συμμαθήταις in Greek.)

      Just so, the parallel clauses of the Ephraem sentence make clear that ἐν τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς is not comparative or partitive, any more than the later dative αὐτοῖς is. The speaker is not competing with his brothers or comparing himself with them. He is seeking to be of use to them, have reputation with them, and not be hateful to them.

      There is no grammatical or lexical reason why Junia and Andronicus cannot be doing the same thing in Romans 16:7.”

  5. The constructions in Matt’s example are not grammatically parallel, one has en plus dative and the other has dative. The dative is commonly recognized as behaving as “to” and the en plus dative as “among.” I am taking the most obvious and traditional, in fact, really the only approach found in Greek grammars following an adjective. I will check on this, but I am following the most natural and traditional understanding of the Greek. Nothing at all says that these two lines have to have a parallel sense. I can say, that a student who goes by unnoticed was “neither the tallest member of the class nor much talked about by his classmates.”

    Here is another example, that does seem parallel.

    οὐ μόνον ἐ]ν̣ τ̣ῇ [π]α̣τρίδι πρώτου,
    ἀλ̣λὰ [καὶ ἐν τῷ ἔθ]νει ἐπισή̣μου

    Not only in his hometown first,
    but also in his nation (among his own people) prominent.

    The parallel constructions and the fact that both groups are his own people seem to reinforce the partitive.

    “He is laughable among his classmates.” I don’t think that this is English. I would say “laughable to” How are you going to translate “laughable?” If you use some form of the verb, then we are no longer discussing an adjective with en plus dative.

  6. Alastair,
    Perhaps we have a different starting point I would say that we should stay with the 2000 year old history of interpretation found in Greek, Latin and European languages unless there is absolute evidence against it I simply hold to a more conservative approach when it comes to interpretation.

    You suggest that a change is warranted if there is even the slightest chance that this change is possible. I feel that is unwarranted and a dangerous approach to take to Bible translation as a whole.

    • Suzanne,

      I am not arguing that we should change. I see no reason to read the verse in a manner that doesn’t characterize Junia as an apostle. However, should someone choose to do so for some reason, we don’t ultimately have grammatical grounds for dismissing their position.

      How about we show no less respect to the far more firmly established Church tradition of an all-male priesthood?

  7. “However, should someone choose to do so for some reason, we don’t ultimately have grammatical grounds for dismissing their position.”

    Normally, bible translation is done based on scholarly consensus. There is a community of scholars that produce trusted work that underlies the translation There is also the unbroken tradition of 2000 years.

    Suppose someone were to ask why Junia is not among the apostles in many modern Bibles. Would this one example, which indicates that the speaker is one of the brothers, which does not contain any parallel construction counter indicating membership – would this one example be enough?

    Remember that this example does not contain a parallel construction. Each phrase is functioning according to published Greek grammar. 1) En plus dative means among 2) dative means to or by. In Romans 16:7 the construction is en plus dative.

    I personally do not think that this example would persuade anyone who did not already have firm beliefs about women.

    However, the most important question is not about women. It is about what we base Bible translation on. Bible translation should not contradict the normal way that language works. Only the King James Version, the NRSV, NIV 2011, and the NABRE represent the unbroken tradition of the Vulgate and Greek literature.

    Do we want a Bible which has 21st century Texan translation style, or which honours an unbroken tradition? This is far more integral to our life, that what we do about women. I live a single life, I attend church with a male pastor, and really, gender issues are peripheral to my life, but the Bible is not.

    I was raised as a Brethren and J. N Darby, a Brethren leader, believed that the priesthood was the sin against the Holy Spirit. I don’t know that I agree with him but if I seem lukewarm on arguing one way or the other on the all male priesthood, I come by in honestly.

  8. oops. I hope you can read by the typos!

  9. Pingback: The Junia Evidence: IV « BLT

  10. “What is nice about this example is that the parallel construction of the sentence makes clear that there is not a comparison being made, nor any partitive construction, but that ἐν τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς is parallel to αὐτοῖς in the second half, and that both indicate the subjective perceivers of the good qualities the author desires to have”

    Matt has revised his position to agreeing that this phrase is ambiguous, so its not accurate to say that it is “clear that there is not a comparison being made, nor any partitive construction.” He wrote “Yes, it could be partitive… But it also could not. That’s my point.” I think that was my point also, so we happily agree. But Greek grammars still state that the construction is partitive so I am still going with it.

  11. Pingback: The Junia Evidence: V « BLT

  12. Pingback: The Junia Evidence: VI and the reliability of software « BLT

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  14. Pingback: The Junia Evidence: VII and Syriac as commentary « BLT

  15. Pingback: The Junia Evidence: VIII what Sherlock Holmes had to say « BLT

  16. Pingback: The Junia Evidence: IX what the trial lawyer said « BLT

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