Romans 16v1-16 – Part 3

Continued from Part 2Part 1 here

16:3–15: Personal Greetings

A significant indication that there may have been equal opportunity for roles within the church is found in verse 3. One can argue that this list of greetings is structured not (as was typically the case) in terms of social status but in terms of ecclesial standing. The greetings list begins with greetings for Prisca and Aquila (a couple whom Paul most likely knew well) alongside the ekklesia (ἐκκλησία) community that meets in their house (vv. 3–4), and ends with greetings to whole groups and to ‘all saints’ belonging to them (16v15).1 In mentioning Prisca before her husband, Paul may be inferring that she was even more outstanding in her work for the church than was Aquila.2 Some commentators suggest that Prisca is mentioned before Aquila because she may have occupied a higher social rank than her husband.3 The co-text of these verses does not suggest that this is a correct interpretation however. Verses 21 – 23 lists five names before those of the socially elevated Erastus and Gaius with their “municipal office and spacious habitation” respectively (v. 23).4 It would appear that Paul is more interested in listing people’s importance for the church than for their secular credentials. For Paul to choose to over-ride social conventions in mentioning Prisca before her husband, it seems likely therefore that Paul was attributing particular importance to the role of Prisca in that house church community.

open quotes… whilst this passage does not prove apostolic leadership for women in the church, it certainly does not rule it out.close quotes

The identification of Andronicus and Junia (v. 7) as ‘outstanding among the apostles’ (ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις) may also indicate a degree of equity in gender roles within the church. Interpreters from the thirteenth century through to the mid-twentieth century generally preferred the masculine identification of ‘Junias’, with seemingly no supporting evidence, as a contraction of the name ‘Junianus’.5 Before the thirteenth century commentators largely preferred the feminine identification ‘Junia.’6

Cohick helpfully points out that the masculine name “Junias” appears on no known “Greek inscription, public monument, graffito or literary document.”7 With the debate hinging on whether the name is accented, made problematic by the fact that most MSS do not use accents, it would appear that the hypothetical masculine name “Junias” rests on “nothing more solid than conventional prejudice.”8

We must rightly ask, however, that if they are ‘outstanding’ examples of apostles, what was meant by the term ‘apostle’ as applied to them? Feminist commentators have usefully drawn attention to questionable methodology in regards to the translational decisions made over Junia’s gender. Accepting the case for ‘Junia’ over ‘Junias’, we cannot then state with apodictic certainty, however, that Paul was therefore making a statement about the role of women as apostolic leaders within the early church as some have sought to do. We still need to distinguish the sense in which the word ‘apostle’ is being used here. Wallace and Burer argue linguistically that the Greek phrase means “well-known to the apostles” and thus doesn’t indicate that Junia was an apostle. It would, though, appear that their analysis falls short of being able to explain how Andronicus and Junia could be an ‘outstanding’ example of being well-known.9 Paul often uses ‘apostle’ in a loose sense to denote ‘messenger’ or ‘emissary’10 and Moo suggests that we can therefore read this title here as “travelling missionary”11 rather than as an office or title within the early church.

Taking an approach commensurate with what Osiek identifies as a “hermeneutic of loyalty,”12 Harrison argues that in this passage Paul’s “relation to [women] and [his] appreciation for them makes suspect the verdict of those who would label him a misogynist.”13 To count Andronicus and Junia amongst the apostles, and not only this but outstanding among them, is highly significant evidence for the regard in which Paul held for women within the Christian movement. There is a danger here of over interpreting the evidence given in this text, yet it is clear that whilst this passage does not prove apostolic leadership for women in the church, it certainly does not rule it out.

Feminist theologian Schüssler-Fiorenza is quick to identify the trend to masculate Junia as an “androcentric theological assumption [which] cannot be maintained exegetically.”14 She goes further however, in suggesting that this example is only the “tip of an iceberg” in which the role of women has been “submerged… by an androcentric model of early Christian beginnings” that will refuse to recognise evidence for the leadership of women.15 In contending that our reading of this text has been held back by the unconscious bias of established scholarship and the “obfuscating functions of androcentric language of biblical sources,”16 she asserts that we have “erased”17 women’s role in the early church. Only through what she calls a “hermeneutic of suspicion”18 are we able to recover glimpses of women’s participation, leadership and experience in the beginnings of the Christian church. Whilst one must be suspicious of a conservative-traditionalist approach that grants the Bible absolute authority almost to the point of denial that the worlds of the reader and the author exist, Schüssler-Fiorenza is at risk here of using women’s experience as a hermeneutical principle which is over and above Scripture. If this is her stance, then she fails to articulate an evaluative criteria that seeks to justify this interpretive framework to safeguard against eisegesis without appropriate respect for historical context and appropriate exegesis.19

Continue to Part 4

  1. Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 66  ↩

  2. See also Romans 16:3; Acts 18:18, 26; and 2 Tim 4:19. Only 1 Cor 16:19 (cf. Acts 18:2) presents the opposite order. “If Luke had known anything about a socially elevated status of Prisca, he would have loved to mention it, distinguished women being a preferred subject for him: e.g. Luke 8:3; Acts 17:4, 12; vf. 16:14; 17:34.” Lampe (1991), p. 223  ↩

  3. Lampe (1991), p. 223  ↩

  4. Lampe (1991), p. 223  ↩

  5. Moo (1996), p. 922. (cf. NIV; RSV; NASB; TEV; NJB)  ↩

  6. Moo (1996), p. 922. (cf. KJV; NRSV; REB). John Chrysostom: “Think how great the devotion of this woman Junia must have been, that she should be worthy to be called an apostle!” Bray (1998), p. 372  ↩

  7. Cohick (2002), p. 644. Moo rightly cautions, however, that the Greek form of the name (as opposed to the Latin form) was not a popular name. Moo (1996), p. 922  ↩

  8. Cranfield (1985), p. 377  ↩

  9. Burer & Wallace (2001), p. 91  ↩

  10. See 2 Cor 8:3; Phil 2:25  ↩

  11. Moo (1996), p. 924  ↩

  12. Wacker (1998), p. 36  ↩

  13. Harrison (1976), p. 166  ↩

  14. Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 68  ↩

  15. Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 60  ↩

  16. Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 71. Wacker (1998) describes Schüssler-Fiorenza’s work as representing a ‘hermeneutic of liberation’ approach to feminist theology, p. 44  ↩

  17. Schüssler-Fiorenza (1995), p. xlviii  ↩

  18. Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 71  ↩

  19. Wacker (1998), p. 46, echoes this critique as pointing to “… different basic decisions in feminist hermeneutics that need to become subject to discussions in critical solidarity beyond the domain of feminist exegesis.  ↩

2 thoughts on “Romans 16v1-16 – Part 3

  1. I feel like stroll so here goes – I suspect this will be an ill-defined ramble but may lead to a conversation or two…
    It seems to me that we all too easily confuse equality with equity. Once equity is made synonymous with equality there can be no debate about male/female roles in society generally and, more specifically, in access to positions of church leadership.
    I’m not so sure that Jesus was that vexed with producing equity through equality. To my reading of his agenda he seems far more concerned with (true) greatness in us than equality between us.
    I feel real sadness when I see someone striving for position as an attempt to achieve significance. Our desire for leadership can have more to do with a desperate attempt to hide our insecurities from the gaze of others.
    All of us who ever end up in positions of responsibilities know this tension between a healthy willingness to do our best and the vulnerabilities that can be exposed under the pressure of those responsibilities.
    When, therefore, I meet groups of people who want to be leaders (e.g. men or women) by virtue of their sense of being an underclass (and many men in many professions are feeling the heat in this direction for perhaps the first time, women for a long time) I am troubled.
    If I’ve undestood the word ‘apostle’ correctly it means ‘sent one’? It is the language of slavery and servanthood. The person is sent. He has no choice. Only someone not striving for leadership can be an apostle like Jesus.
    Jesus, of course, does things backwards. He chose the 12 knowing that they would fail and succeed. Almost their final lesson from Jesus was John 13. I’m sure this got through to them that Jesus had called them not to strive for position relative to each other but to kneel and serve each other.
    A verse that polaxed me almost ten years ago is ‘He kneels down to make me great’.
    The decision of Jesus to select twelve men to be apostles has nothing, I would suggest, to do with following social mores. Goodness, the very reason that Jesus caused such a stir was that he flouted the Sabbath conventions and deliberately ate with dirty hands. He constantly overturned social nicities to make a point!
    I don’t pretend to understand why Jesus chose men only. What I do see is that over time He taught them a profoundly new form of leadership based on a redefinition of slavery and servanthood and greatness.
    As far as in see none of the apostles imposed their authority in any of the churches they planted – unless invited to do so (e.g. Paul and Corinth). John’s letters are full of anguish with the antithesis of servanthood leadership that had gained ground in one of his churches.
    I’m not sure that gender rules you in or rules you out but it does seem that the sword that pierces anyone who encounters Jesus’ model of leadership is ‘if anyone desires to be great among you let him be your servant…the son of man did not come to be served but to serve…’
    Interesting that we are in a church led by Pam. She may want to argue with this but in my observation we are being constantly enriched as people by her example of servanthood – and loving submission to Rob as her husband. And her sense of the rediculous!
    Anyway I ought to go and lie down now. Thank you for making me burn off the last vestiges of energy from a busy half-term.


  2. Crikey, I hope you had a lie down in a dark room after that one John!
    I completely agree that striving for equality in terms of ‘position’ is unhelpful in a number of ways. I guess, for me, a key issue is whether our structures are promoting or preventing people from experiencing and developing the fullness of the gifts that God has given them to serve with. [Many churches know the ‘faithful wife behind the male leader’ scenario…]
    What Schüssler-Fiorenza points towards (and I disagree with her on a whole number of levels but in this I find her helpful) is what she describes as our “androcentric assumptions” – assumptions that *may be* creating an environment and culture in which people are not empowered (through the teaching and example of the church) all that God has for them. I guess that’s what I’m trying to explore in this post: where can we start, biblically on this? It probably also throws a few pointers towards the fact that the evidence we has does point towards women playing significant roles in the early church, whether as the ‘main leader’ or not.


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