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Junia is Not Alone: Review of Scot McKnight

June 29, 2012

In Junia is Not Alone, Scot McKnight asks, “Why are we so obsessed with studying the ‘subordination’ of women to men but not a woman like Deborah, who subordinated men and enemies?” And, “Why is there so much silence in the church about the women in the Bible?”

Noting how few of his students (i.e., none) had heard of Junia and other women in the Bible, he dedicates his short ebook to “ending the church’s deafening silence on women in the Bible.”

Junia “appears innocently enough” in just one verse of the New Testament, Romans 16:7, “alongside her husband, Andronicus.” (See my Junia post here.) McNight goes on to say that Junia “had no idea she would someday be the subject of endless discussions,” although unfortunately his own discussion of her ends pretty quickly.

On the bright side, McKnight does what often goes undone in conversations about the apostle Junia–he explains what the term “apostle” means in Romans 16:7. He writes,

So, we conclude that there was a first-century relative of the apostle Paul named Junia; she entered into Christ before Paul did; and this Junia was an apostle. Which means (because this is what apostles did) she was in essence a Christ-experiencing, Christ-representing, church-establishing, probably miracle-working, missionizing woman who preached the gospel and taught the church.

Nice. Unfortunately, however, readers who are looking for anything else about Junia will be disappointed. Of course there is only the one Bible verse that mentions her, and no other first century documents where she is known to appear (although someone please correct me if I am wrong?). But there is a long history of interpretation and textual criticism around “Junia” and Romans 16:7, which I would have liked to see McKnight delve into a bit more. As it is he merely favorably summarizes the conclusions of Eldon J. Epp (the text does read “Junia,” not a male “Junias”; she was an actual apostle).

In addition to Junia, McKnight mentions other women in the Bible–Priscilla, Mary, Phoebe, Deborah, Miriam. Although his listing these women and briefly discussing their ministry is helpful, he says very little about each (Miriam: led Israel in song). Perhaps this is due to the nature of a deliberately short ebook, but I was left wanting more.

McKnight helpfully traces the history of the Greek New Testament editions, and how “Junia” became “Junias.” But his conclusion feels dramatic:

The editors of Greek New Testaments killed Junia. They killed her by silencing her into non-existence.

All I could think about after reading that line was Dan in Real Life, where one of Steve Carell’s teenage daughters (whose romantic relationship he is trying to end) storms off and says, “YOU!  ARE A MURDERER… OF LOVE!”  McKnight again: “They murdered that innocent woman by erasing her from the footnotes” (my italics). A bit much.

But I’ll give McKnight that even Bible translations can be “political” and motivated by other external factors. He says it better here: “Who says New Testament texts and translations are not political?” Some editors/translators think that a woman couldn’t hold the office of apostle, so they essentially tamper with the text… if he’s right that that has been a common motivation for reading “Junias” and not “Junia,” then I agree; it’s poor form. Actual textual evidence for “Junias” would be a good reason to read “Junias” in the text, but there is not much. All the same, the charge of murder seems harsh.

In the end McKnight asks about Junia, “Do you hear her voice?” But ultimately the God who calls, gifts, and equips women and men alike for ministry is the one whose voice we ought to be listening for. McKnight knows this, and I get his point, but I think his appeal could have been strengthened by calling the Church to hear and heed Junia’s example and to let her significant ministry as an “outstanding apostle” inspire us. Junia didn’t write anything (at least that we have today), so what “voice” are we to listen for, and how? It almost sounds like she is supposed to speak to me from the grave or via some warp in the space-time continuum.

I’d wager that’s not what McKnight is getting at, however. I think he simply wants the “silence” about women in the Church to end. Although the preponderance of Biblical heroes are male (for cultural but not theological reasons, in my opinion), there are some pretty significant ministry roles that women play in both testaments.

And my criticisms notwithstanding, I’m with McKnight–those women’s stories need to be told more often and more fully as preachers and teachers expound the whole Bible to their congregations. Where there is silence about how God has used and continues to use women to spread his Gospel, the silence should end. I just wish McKnight himself –as someone fully qualified to do so–had made more noise about Junia and the other women who join her in the pages of Scripture.

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