Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Regarding Junia

Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed has an excellent post about Romans 16:7:

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
—Romans 16:7, NRSV

Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
—Romans 16:7, NIV

Notice that the NRSV says "Junia," a woman's name, while the NIV says "Junias," a man's name. The consensus among scholars is that the original Greek manuscripts read "Junia"; later Greek New Testaments changed "Junia" to "Junias" using the following logic: Women can't be apostles. Therefore Paul could not possibly have meant to call someone named "Junia" an apostle. McKnight tells the story of how modern Greek New Testaments have dealt with the Junia/Junias question and the impact of this single verse on the ordination of women in some denominations.

Those who really want to keep women down can still argue that Paul was saying that Junia was held in high-esteem by the apostles and not as one of the apostles. Many Greek prepositions have several meanings and are not easily translated into English. (This is one of those rare instances in which I can put to use the Greek I took in seminary.) This ambiguity is reflected in the English preposition among. McKnight feels that the most faithful translation has Paul calling Junia an apostle. He notes that, for John Chrysostom in the fourth century—who was the "earliest Greek-reading commentator" and who had no interest in empowering women—it was "clear as a bell": "Junia was a woman, and a woman who was called an apostle. It is also worth noting that, elsewhere in Romans 16, Paul refers to a woman named Phoebe as a "deacon" (verse 1) and defies convention by listing Prisca before her male partner Aquila (verse 3).

Romans 16:7 is one of the main reasons why I'm reluctant to use the wildly popular New International Version. (That and the fact that the New Revised Standard Version is, for all intents and purposes, the official translation of many mainline Protestant denominations, and I'm a devoted mainliner for better or worse.) I was glad to see that Today's New International Version atoned for the sins of its predecessor by replacing "Junias" with "Junia." I'll be eager to see what the Common English Bible does with Romans 16:7.


Blogger elvisfreakshow said...

I grew up in the Southern Baptist church and even as a youth was troubled by my elders' (not Elders) interpretation of Scripture. I just couldn't get my head around why anyone would think that any part of the Bible could be presumed to be a job description of a member of a modern day Board of Deacons.

I finished my degree at (what was at the time) a moderate Baptist college, which meant that my classmates were a blend of everyone from Catholics to Southern Baptists, which provided some lively discussion from time to time. It was with great delight/sadness that I overheard two of my more conservative classmates discussing the Junia/Junias "issue" one evening, with one of them eventually conceding that while Paul, due to shorthandedness, might have allowed a woman to have the "title" deacon, he certainly would never have allowed her to become the Chair.


7:43 AM  

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