I have recently come across Scott McKnight’s eBook with the brilliant title “Junia is not alone”. It is a short and powerful essay on the female apostle Junia, one of the many women who Paul commends in Romans 16.
I love Romans 16. It blows out of the water any historic views that Paul was anti-women. In the light of Romans 16, the potentially limiting passages for women in 1 Corinthians 11, 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 are obviously seen for what they were meant to be; specific restrictions, for a specific context, for a specific time. Paul’s affirmation and celebration in Romans 16 of women’s contribution in the church would have been implausible otherwise.
In the first seven verses of Romans 16, four out of the seven commended co-workers are women.
Phoebe is the first person listed in this great ‘Hall of Fame’ and for good reason. Most of the people listed in Romans 16 are part of the church in Rome. Not so Phoebe. She came from Cenchrea, which was a port in Corinth. She had been selected by Paul to travel from Corinth in Greece to the capital of the Roman Empire, Rome; not an especially short or straightforward journey. It seems she did this journey alone as Paul is keen she is looked after by the Roman believers when she arrives and given any help she needs. As the person selected to deliver the letter, Phoebe would also be representing Paul and the gospel message. As the letter would have been read out, she would likely be the one to whom questions of clarification were asked. This is a woman deeply trusted by Paul. Paul describes her as a ‘deacon’, which can be translated ‘minister’ or ‘servant’ and is a term Paul uses three times of himself. She is also described as a ‘benefactor’ to many people, including Paul himself, so she was obviously a woman of financial means who saw her wealth as Kingdom resources in Kingdom hands to finance the ministries of many.
In verse 3 we meet Priscilla and Aquila, a husband and wife team in the early church who Paul regards as co-workers in his apostolic mission. Paul says of them ‘they risked their lives for me’, and that’s not thought to be exaggeration. In those days persecution was normal and being closely associated with Paul would not have been a safe option.
It’s telling that five out of the seven times this significant couple are mentioned in the New Testament, Priscilla’s name comes first, which was unusual in husband and wife teams. In New Testament writings, the name of the more well known or prominent person comes first when referring to two people. For example, we see the shift occur in Acts 13 from ‘Barnabas and Paul’ to ‘Paul and Barnabas’ as Paul became the more well known of the two. So Priscilla is probably more prominent than her husband Aquila in their shared ministry. Perhaps she was the more dynamic communicator of the two? Perhaps he was a deeply humble and secure man who loved seeing his wife fulfill the leadership call on her life? I know some good men like that today!
In verse 6 we meet Mary who Paul says ‘worked very hard for you’, which literally means ‘great exertion to the point of exhaustion’. She is a women giving her all, for the cause of Christ. Then in verse 7 we read, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” Andronicus and Junia had been in prison for their faith, had given their lives to Christ before Paul and are acknowledged as being outstanding amongst the apostles.
Junia was still being referred to in the 4th century by John Chrysostom as being great in wisdom and worthy of the title of apostle. Up until the 13th century her name was in every Bible and then a deliberate decision was made to add one letter to her name, an ‘s’, which therefore changed Junia to Junias. That additional letter changed everything. It changed the gender of the name from female to male, so Junia became a man, Junias. (Even though Junia was a common name for a woman back then, whereas Junias was unknown as a male name in the ancient world!)
In 2011, the NIV remedied that mistake and finally, after 7 centuries, Junia was no longer erased from early church history, but reinstated as an outstanding female apostle.
For us, as the Pioneer network, one of the ways we have always pioneered is with women being free to serve God’s people through the gift of leadership. Women were leading Pioneer churches before there were female vicars. In the early 1990s I remember being the only female church leader in Loughborough. I remember Christine Noble operating apostolically within Pioneer. I remember women were on the Pioneer National Core Team. We pioneered with women.
And still today, we continue to pioneer with women. Today, a third of all Pioneer churches are led or co-led by women. Today, we have apostolic female leaders leading Pioneer regions. Today, women are planting Pioneer churches.
Women are free to lead at every level in our network and as we model that quietly, humbly and effectively, we provoke possibility-thinking across the wider church.
As a champion for women in leadership, I’m really looking forward to gathering all the women in leadership teams across Pioneer churches on Friday 18th Jan – Sat 20th Jan 2019. Friday 18th daytime will gather those women who are serving as team leaders/co-leaders/senior leaders of the churches in our network. Then at 7.30pm, we will be joined by all the women in our leadership teams to share a meal together, an evening celebration together and spend most of Saturday together until 3.30pm. It has been a very long time since we gathered all the women in leadership together from across the network. One of my dreams is that Pioneer continues to pioneer in this distinctive of ours, not just because of the number of women leading at every level but because of the character, calling and calibre of those women. God’s church deserves nothing less.
Join me at the ‘Pioneer Women Leaders Conference’ 2019 to help make that a reality.
Junia is definitely not alone!