My thanks to the many who replied positively to yesterday’s post, and in the spirit of that, and as an homage to Jessica, I want to begin the next eight years with a topic which risks taking us back to polemical times, but in a way which invites, I hope, a more considered response. I would add that this is not me advocating any change in my own church, whose position seems clear except to those who don’t like that position. Here goes.

Toward the end of St Paul’s letter to the Romans (and yes, I know that there are those who think it wasn’t by St Paul, but the Church, and Tradition do, and that does it for me) is this salutation:

Salute Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and fellow prisoners: who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

At least that’s what the Douay-Rheims translation says, as does the American Standard version and the New Life version. The assumption is that this is a male name, athough scholars have been unable to provide any other examples of the name “Junias;” there are numerous examples of the female name, “Junia.” In his homily on Romans, Ambrosiaster, who was writing in the second half of the fourth century wrote:

“Think how great the devotion of this woman Junia might have been that she should be worthy to be called an Apostle!”

Professor Moo, in his great commentary on Romans offers a typically balanced view:

“Paul’s mention of nine women in this list reminds us (if we needed the reminder) that women played an important role in the early church … Ministry in the early church was never confined to men; these greetings and other similar passages show that women engaged in ministries that were as important as those of men. We have created many problems for ourselves by confining ‘ministry’ to what certain full-time Christian workers do. But it is important that we do not overinterpret this evidence either, for nothing Paul says … conflicts with limitations on some kinds of women’s ministry with respect to men such as I think are suggested by 1 Tim. 2:8-15 and other texts.” (Douglas J Moo, New International Commentary (1996)).

The idea that the name “Junias” was to be preferred to the reading “Junia” was a twentieth century phenomenon, based on the assumption that since an “apostle” had to be male, “Junias” had to be the correct reading. The probability that the name is “Junia” and therefore a woman, has, naturally enough, led some modern scholars to argue that this supports the idea of women as priests. That may be as much a case of reading into the text what one wants to read, as the older idea that “Junia” was not a possible reading because a woman could not have been an apostle.

If we assume that “Apostle” is always a position of authoritative leadership, then the case for a female priesthood is certaily strengthened; but must it be read that way? Often Paul uses the word to denote a messenger or emissary (1 Cor. 15:5,7; 1 Cor. 9:5-6; Gal 2:9), and that may be the case here. Just because scholars in the last century went out of their way to insist the name was male because a woman could not be an “apostle’, that is no reason we should do the same the other way – understandable as that temptation might be. (Chapter 9 of Epp, Junia).

One of the problems, or so it seems to me, is that this issue gets swallowed up in an agenda-driven way. On the one hand a swift resort to a version of what Professor Moo has written, which emphasises the other possibilities, minimising the possibility of Junia being an Apostle in the strongest sense of that word. On the other, a ready resort to the claim that it can only be read in this sense seems unwise.

At this point the argument can get taken up with either explaining away or emphasising 1. Tim 2 11-15, 1 Cor 11: 2-16, 1 Cor 14:34-35, and in the literature it is easy to discern why one choice or the other is made. It is important here to emphasise that such discussions take us into the wider realm of how we read Scripture, and how tradition should weigh in the balance. What cannot be in doubt is that for much of the history of Christianity women have not had a sacramental ministry, whatever may, or may not have been the case with the “Apostle” Junia.

If Junia and other women were “Apostles” in the stronger sense of the word  then would it make a difference? Well, it would tend against the argument that Jesus chose only men, not least because we know there were many women followers and He appeared first to a woman, but I really don’t want to go down that route here, not least because the chance of it not provoking people is zero. But it is worth reflecting on the experience of the one big communion which has had women priests and bishops, the Anglicans. There, I think many who were against the idea for the usual reasons would say they have found the contribution of their new colleagues invaluable and that women have added a dimension to ministry which, perhaps, Junia would have recognised. Certainly, in my own dealings with women priests, I have been nothing but impressed by what they bring to their vocation, and without their contribution things would be poorer. At that point, I shall stop and await comment.