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WHAT’S THE FUSS OVER FEMALE PASTORS—PART 7: Did Paul Have A Woman As His Pastor In The Early Days Of His Belief?

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The language used here cannot prove this indisputably, but a solid argument can be made that supports this, especially after a reader takes in all the mounting evidence within this series that points to Paul’s support of women in ministry as a fact. Consider how he instructed the men around her to receive her: “That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you.” They were to assist her, and “in a way that is worthy of the saints” (ESV)! How has Phoebe, over so many centuries, continuously been viewed as a subservient woman?

Without going into the complicated roots of the word “deacon,” as it involves an evolutionary process and admittedly varies from culture to culture in Paul’s day regarding the authority assigned to the title, I would like to note: It is no secret that a deaconess could be ordained as a minister early on in the development of Christianity in some areas. In fact, according to The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, “It is certain that a ritual was in use for the ordination of deaconesses by the laying on of hands which was closely modeled on the ritual for the ordination of a deacon.”[i] As to their level of a deaconess’ public speaking, especially as it relates to being carried out in the company of men, the jury is still out. Scholars haven’t yet been able to agree on whether a woman in Phoebe’s position would have been given a platform to adjust the theology of, or teach, men. (Maybe we should leave that legacy for Priscilla, that other woman church leader Paul praised who adjusted the theology of, and taught, a man…)

In any case, however, there is yet another layer to add to the “deacon” translation thread. If, let’s assume, Paul meant diakonos only as “servant” when he referred to Phoebe (which is, in and of itself, not a precise translation, as I just outlined), that still doesn’t dismiss the argument that he might very well have been referring to a woman in a position of church leadership. Would anyone—even in today’s culture—dare to dispute that Paul, himself, was a leader in the early Church? Certainly not. He was the leader, one might say, considering the hefty portion of New Testament Scripture that originated from him, much of which presents itself in the form of a “guidebook” for appropriate church service conduct as well as the correct theology of orthodox Christianity. Yet, Paul referred to himself as a “servant,” “bondsman,” or “slave” (Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1). The word for this is the Greek doulos, which is a well-known synonym for—wait for it—diakonos! Paul essentially referred to himself and Timothy, in all their leadership glory, as equals to Phoebe.

The idea that this “women as church leaders” issue has coerced us to dig this deeply into the “deacon”-versus-“servant” and “patroness”-versus-“ruler” debates is actually concerning to me anyway. Aren’t all ministers, pastors, preachers, Christian teachers, prophets, etc. technically “servants” to the Lord?

Paul evidently thought so.

To those who say, “The Church today needs to follow the example of Paul on this issue,” I am inspired to respond, “Yes, please. Can we?”

May we all strive to be as humble as Paul in our subordination to Jesus Christ, regardless of what titles or limitations our Western world wants to place on individual ministers.

Now, on to the issue of Junia. The name “Junia” (Greek literal: Junian) is feminine. In Romans 16:7, Paul writes, “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” This was a man and a woman. The Church Fathers and close-proximity historians—including Origen of Alexandria, Bishop Hatto of Vercelli, Deacon Theophylact of Constantinople, Jerome (translator of the Latin Vulgate Bible), Tertullian, Irenaeus, Ambrose, Augustine, Chrysostom (who served alongside a deaconess), and many others—all recognized Junia to be a female. Yet, in the Latin translations of the New Testament, “Junia” became the masculinized form: “Junias.” (Note that there is a discrepancy in Origen’s writings. The original work referred to her as a woman, and a late medieval copy of the same work adjusted her gender to a male. Also of interest to our reflection herein: All known instances of “Junia” are recognized as a woman’s name, and the alleged masculine “Junias” cannot be found in any Greco-Roman historic records.[ii])

The studies available on who originally made this switch and how it remained for so long afterward are so incredibly lengthy and complicated that including the information here would take another hundred pages (at least) to fully clarify. (There are several full-sized books devoted to discussion on this matter.) However, after having reviewed this material myself, I have come to the same conclusion as most others on this subject, and I believe it’s accurate to state that the changeover from Junia to Junias found its genesis through Aegidius of Rome (1245–1346), when he masculinized Junia in his commentaries. The concept was solidified within Martin Luther’s celebrated Bible translation, which reached multitudes and redefined much of Scripture for hundreds of years, and any hope Junia had of remaining female was lost for centuries. To this day, many are confused about whether Paul’s Romans 16:7 reference of Junia was of a man or woman. As to why the switch occurred, I will quote from Bernadette Brooten’s Women Priests: “What reasons have commentators given for this change? The answer is simple: a woman could not have been an apostle. Because a woman could not have been an apostle, the woman who is here called apostle could not have been a woman.”[iii]

However, as the earliest texts—as well as the men of authority during that era—all point to the name being female (and most translations also dropped the masculine form of the name in the mid-1980s), I will continue via the evidenced conclusion that Junia was a woman. (This evidence occurs both in the testimony of early Church leaders, as well as in modern, exhaustive, and astutely conducted research materials, such as Eldon Jay Epp’s, Junia: The First Woman Apostle by Fortress Press, 2005.)

An immediate content disagreement arises among scholars regarding Paul’s words “who are of note among the apostles.” The two possible translations of this string of words are: a) “of note [distinguished] among” and b) “well known to.” The former insinuates that Paul called Junia a “prominent apostle” outright, as she is “among” them (a member of them); the latter insinuates that Junia was a well-known and respected name “to” the apostolic circles, thought she was not, herself, an apostle. It’s the difference between whether “of note among” is exclusive or inclusive, grammatically speaking. Some have gone far lengths to prove that every leading Bible scholar (those just mentioned and countless others)—for a thousand years after Paul’s words were written—believe that

Paul called Junia an apostle, and their evidence is extremely convincing. Some of the celebrated, historical, and scholarly names who openly wrote of Junia as a woman apostle were: Origen, Jerome, Hatto, Theophylact, Peter Abelard, John Chrysostom, Ambrosiaster, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, John Damascene, Haymo, Oecumenius, Lanfranc of Bec, Bruno the Carthusian, and Peter Lombard (and this is in no way an exhaustive list).[iv]

The overwhelming consensus of the Church Fathers and historians—the men who are far closer in historical proximity to Paul’s writings—is that Junia was a) a woman, and b) an apostle. When a preacher today blares from the pulpit that Junia’s identity as a female apostle is a modern “women’s lib” or “feminist” alteration of Scripture, they are not paying attention to the multitudes of men around or closer to Paul’s day who made the conclusion first. The following quote by John Chrysostom surfaces frequently in related research: “O how great is the devotion of this woman that she should be counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!”[v]



A question that arises at this point is: “Why would it be so hard to believe that a woman was an apostle anyway?” The Greek word for apostle, apostolos, means “delegate,” “messenger,” or “one sent with orders.”[vi] We already know there were more than twelve apostles, as the list also shows the additions of Matthias (Acts 1:26), Barnabas (Acts 14:14), James (Galatians 1:19), and Silas and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 2:6). So the issue is not whether there may have been more than twelve apostles, the challenge is accepting that one was a woman.

A curious pattern begins to develop in these circles as well, and it’s a pattern that all the authors of the several books on Junia that I have read are also noticing: Those who believe Junia to be a man interpret “him” to be “among” (a member; one of) the apostles. Those who believe Junia to be a woman say she was “known to” (respected by, but not a part of) the apostles. Those who first agreed that this friend of Paul’s was clearly called an apostle quickly change their minds as soon as her gender is revealed as a woman. Then she becomes “known to.” Why? It’s just like Brooten said: “Because a woman could not have been an apostle [a default set by cultural misunderstanding], the woman who is here called apostle could not have been a woman.”

Could not a woman be “one sent with orders” or a “messenger”? Why not? But also, this is not to say that the apostolic title is one that Paul would have easily thrown around. Ann Graham Brock, in her book Mary Magdalene, the First Apostle: The Struggle for Authority, relates that Paul was protective of the term: “Thus Junia becomes another example of a woman who was called an ‘apostle’ in early Christian history but whose status has since been mitigated or challenged. Paul’s generally sparing use of the term apostolos indicates his recognition of the term’s significance for claiming authority.” Brock goes on to say that Paul’s “bestowal of the term upon a woman is in turn strong evidence that the category of ‘apostle’ in the early church was not only of considerable importance but also gender inclusive.”[vii]

But what of the actual Greek? The English word “among” from Paul’s string “who are of note among the apostles” is the Greek en: “a primary preposition denoting (fixed) position (in place, time or state).”[viii] Thayer’s Greek Lexicon states the first meaning of en as “I. Locally; 1. of Place proper; a. in the interior of some whole.”[ix] In other words, a part of some whole, or in the case of a person, a member of a group. The KJV translates en as “in” 1,902 times and “among” only 117 times. Additionally, PhD professor of biblical studies Linda Belleville weighed in on the subject from the position of common usage in the New Testament writings, and her academic inference was interesting: In Greek, “primary usage of en and the plural dative (personal or otherwise) inside and outside the NT (with rare exceptions) is inclusive ‘in’/‘among’ and not exclusive ‘to.’”[x] Her conclusion, based on a rather extensive and meticulous sweeping over Greek nouns, plural nouns, genitive personal modifiers, dative personal adjuncts, and the variations/comparative senses of the language in use during the New Testament times, were that Paul’s words “bear the inclusive meaning ‘a notable member of the larger group.’”[xi]

Eldon Jay Epp, author of Junia: The First Woman Apostle, has a fairly impressive résumé, indeed. His Master of Sacred Theology through Harvard University is only one of the many educational triumphs this man can claim. Moreover, he has been a well-respected professor in the field of proper exegesis for decades. He is known for such works as The Theological Tendency of Codex Bezae Cantebrigiensis in Acts; New Testament Textual Criticism: Its Significance for Exegesis; Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism; and Perspectives on New Testament Textual Criticism. With such a collection under his belt, it’s no wonder that he is celebrated for his adherence to true, exegetical, nonbiased studies of the original Greek language. In abundance, Epp has expounded upon the importance of accuracy within biblical interpretation, and his knowledge of the various formations of Greek words throughout history is astounding.

In the conclusion of his book on Junia—after spending well over a hundred pages specifically on the study of the Greek texts, their variations throughout history, the “weigh-in” from numerous scholars, and the cultural implications of it all—Epp states:

Therefore, the conclusion to this investigation is simple and straightforward: there was an apostle Junia. For me, this conclusion is indisputable, though it will not, I fear, be undisputed… Yet, if this perfectly natural reading of [Junia] in Rom 16:7 as feminine, followed by all early church writers who treated the passage, had continued in late medieval to modern times, lengthy and tedious studies like the present one would be unnecessary, as would the manipulations and machinations of countless less male scholars (presumably otherwise enlightened) over the past two centuries. But far more significant and regrettable is the unnecessary alienation of women that has taken place and continues in many quarters of the church….

[I]t remains a fact that there was a woman apostle, explicitly so named, in the earliest generation of Christianity, and contemporary Christians…must (and eventually will) face up to it.[xii]

Might I remind the reader at this point—whether he or she is for or against the interpretation that Junia was a woman apostle—that Eldon Jay Epp (to whom the previous quotation is indebted) is a man. A theologian and a scholar, yes, but he is also a man—and a modern one—who has come to this very learned conclusion through an exceptionally proficient knowledge of the original Greek and exegetical protocol. Folks, it is not only women and their “lib movement” or “feminist” mentalities that are bringing a revival to the “women’s leadership in the Church” discussion with a lean on full equality.

Another significant detail that argues for Junia’s role as an apostle relies on the reader’s willingness to acknowledge the profound burdens she carried and the work Paul attributed to her. Once we take a moment to consider the enormous implications of Paul’s reference to her as a “fellow-prisoner,” we begin to see a boldness that most women of her day wouldn’t have been able to conceive, and it no doubt paints her as a leader among men. She didn’t allow her gender or social status to stand in her way of spreading the Gospel alongside Paul. She didn’t fear persecution or imprisonment, she embraced it as a necessary evil in the fight of getting the story into the hearts of as many listeners as possible no matter the consequence. Any other woman in her position might have tightened her apron strings and retreated into the safety of her kitchen, and it would have been a choice that her culture would have supported since women were not expected to don their sandals and march throughout the territory as a minister. But nothing would stop Junia from doing the same work as Paul while she ministered alongside him. It’s as if she said, “If you boys think you’re alone in this, you’re mistaken. I may be a woman, but I believe so passionately in the message of Christ that I will follow the Great Commission if it kills me. If Paul is willing to journey into the wickedest cities and confront thousands of years of pagan culture in the name of Christ, then I’m willing, too. If Paul is committed to throwing his own safety and comforts out the window in trade for seeing souls come to the saving grace of Christ, then I’m committed also. If Paul is beaten, I will be beaten alongside him. If Paul is thrown with his gaping wounds into a freezing prison cell, I will be thrown in as well.” She was with Paul; she spread the word of Jesus with Paul; she suffered as a prisoner with Paul. If Paul had written about her actions as immoral or inappropriate because of the fact she was a woman, then her zeal to share the work, as viewed by the apostles, would have likewise been immoral or inappropriate. Yet that’s not how he wrote of her. Much to the contrary, her choice to become a “fellow-prisoner” led Paul to instruct others to welcome her as a distinguished servant of Christ “among the apostles.”

I believe it’s clear that Junia was an apostle, but to those who still interpret her as “known to” the apostles, we are still challenged to admit that she did the work of an apostle, and Paul openly acknowledged that as a fact. (Her function in the early Church was that of an apostle, just as Priscilla’s function in the early Church was that of a pastor/preacher.)

In my mind, as well as the judgments of literally incalculable scholars—comprised of men and women alike—Paul clearly showed that women were, have been, are, and will be leaders in the Body of Jesus Christ’s Church. In Colossians 1:27–28, we read how Paul describes what he views as the perfect ministry—one that describes his own work, which he expects all believers in Christ to follow. In it, he directs that we are all called to a common goal of “teaching every man in all wisdom.” Later in the same epistle, Paul lays out the foundation of the Colossian church as one that operates in full mutuality and equality, even among genders: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (3:16). The Greek root for “teach” and “teaching” is didaskein. Women are called to didaskein (teach) within the Body of Christ! (Interestingly, this is the same exact word used in 1 Timothy 2:12, when Paul writes, “I suffer not a woman to teach.” This is spoiler-alert intel that Paul’s letter to Ephesus had to have been an isolated issue.)



Which brings me to my last verse analysis for this portion of the series. Galatians 3:28 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus” (emphasis added).

Why didn’t I begin this whole study with that one, since it appears to put the whole issue at rest? Because the context of this one verse in Galatians is complicated, at least as it applies to this specific study. The Jews believed that when the Messiah arrived, He would be coming only for the nation of Israel. The enormous “Jews and Gentiles” problem that arose within the early Church led Paul to write to several churches throughout the territory, including the believers in Galatia, telling them that as we are all one in Christ, we will all inherit the Kingdom of God together: Jews, Gentiles, slaves, free, men, women, etc. Many pastors are actually correct in stating that Paul’s foremost goal in this verse was not to talk about women’s rights in church clergy, but to lift high the concept of full equality in the inheritance of a glorious afterlife apart from social boundaries.

However, the principle of internal consistency relies on more than just one isolated verse being interpreted correctly—and proper interpretation protocol, as addressed in the previous chapter, only begins after an attempt has been made to digest the whole, which includes the author. That is why I held this powerful verse back until now, because it’s not just about this verse, it’s about unpacking the nature of Paul (getting to know the voice behind the text) so we can understand this verse in relation to all his others. If we don’t understand Paul, we can’t properly understand his letters.

As a quick recap so far:

  • Paul did not attempt to place any kind of spiritual “off switch” upon the giftings of the Holy Spirit in relation to women. He was well aware that the Holy Spirit had equipped both men and women alike for His work on the Day of Pentecost, and that women went out to preach the Gospel on that day, even to men. Nowhere in his letters did he specifically say women were not spiritually equipped by the Holy Spirit to do the same work as men in the interest of spreading the Gospel. This shows: Paul respected the Holy Spirit’s anointing upon women to have equality in preaching Christ’s message from the Day of Pentecost onward. Equality of all in Christ.
  • Paul was likewise aware of the prophecy of Joel and the teachings of his contemporaries about women preaching, teaching, and prophesying, and he never set out to “correct” these theological statements. Because of the fact that an entire Church was arising with new questions and new cultural movements around this Messiah in the most important religious shift in world history—and because of Paul’s exceedingly apostolic authority being central during this shift—he would have known it was his duty to oppose these prophecies or replace these “false teachings” for the sake of Christ if they were, indeed, false teachings. All eyes were on him, and he knew that. The fact that he didn’t oppose, replace, or correct these prophecies displays his acceptance of them. This shows: Paul respected the Word of God as it relates to women preaching, teaching, and prophesying. Equality of all in Christ.
  • In several places throughout his letters, Paul taught of a radical social reformation among the households of believers, cautioning against a patriarchal society where only women submit. He did this despite the implications for future generations. He also spoke diplomatically on the “slaves and masters” issue in his letter to Philemon; he did not attempt to dissolve a master’s rightful and legal ownership over a slave, but he spoke of a spiritual equality among all people: “Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord” (16). Over and over again, he taught that there were no “elect” inheritors of Christ, but that we were all one—no longer “Jew versus Gentile,” “man versus woman,” or “slave versus free.” This shows: Paul respected the value of every individual—including his or her talents, callings, and gifts—as equal to all others in the light of Christ. Equality of all in Christ.
  • Paul, in his own choice of introductory terms, presented Priscilla and the great pastor Timothy of Ephesus to be equals (synergos). At another time, he presented Phoebe, Timothy, and himself as equals in their work (doulos, synonym of diakonos). Yet elsewhere, he presented Junia (if one chooses to accept the overwhelming evidence of this as fact) as a fellow apostle (apostolos)! This shows: Paul saw equality in both male and female positions in the Church, and went as far as to introduce them as such. Equality in Christ.

Once we “unpack” the Paul of New Testament times, we see that equality was one of his greatest passions. Yes, the verse in Galatians is referring to salvation as it related to believers in Galatia, but the whole message of Paul as the author of all his epistles, once pieced together, is one that: a) praises a peaceful camaraderie amongst the saints, for b) the sake of the spreading of the Gospel, so that c) all might be saved no matter the cost (including extreme persecution, which he personally suffered), and that this would be done d) without the social barriers that existed in his day!

This verse by Paul is inaugurating a whole new community!

A growing number of scholars in the past hundred years have come to this same conclusion, and they, too, are admitting that even though the focus of the verse is upon freedom from ritual, the whole voice behind the letter to the Galatians demands liberty from the social restrictions that had for so long dictated whose personal giftings and talents were allowed to be used in the interest of witnessing to others. Professor Gilbert Bilezikian, author of Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says about a Woman’s Place in Church and Family, puts it this way: “The inaugural texts of the church, one of which was penned by Paul himself, emphatically declare the church to be a community in which distinctions of race, class, rank, and gender become irrelevant (Acts 2:15–21; Gal[atians] 3:28).”[xiii]

It’s what Paul stood for and what he wanted in the short span of his life: to finally observe genuine equality, not just in salvation inheritance, but in the common and universal goal that as many souls as possible would be saved in Christ, and he never stopped writing about that very goal despite the harsh circumstances of his own literal prison cells—even to the day of his violent death. He saw us all “as one” in the aim of ensuring that the message about Christ was heard and received to the ends of the earth. The whole picture has to be viewed before the whole message can be analyzed.

So the fact that the epistle to the Galatians was written as a response to a salvation issue and not to Church leadership positions is not proof that Galatians 3:28 is irrelevant to that subject. It’s another chink in the distracting-competition-within-the-Body-armor. It merely speaks of Paul’s innate nature. If anything, it further supports his willingness to see equality in Church leadership, because it’s yet another verse that serves to tear the social walls down and embrace a full oneness as a team: the objective being the Great Commission, the tools being Body members who do not squabble against each other about church politics and legalism while thousands around us are dying daily.

Was the verse written to address women as preachers, teachers, and prophets? No, and it would be improper exegetic practice to claim that it was. Does the verse support the whole message of Paul throughout the whole of the same author’s epistles as it stood for widespread and far-reaching equality among believers who are “neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free, neither male nor female” in the work that the Holy Spirit poured out upon everyone equally? Does the verse support the idea that, within the realms of this very endeavor, we are “all one in Christ Jesus”? If a person is willing to see the verse as the heartbeat of the man named Paul, then he or she will “hear” the “voice” of the man who constantly cried out for equality, and he or she will know that this verse in Galatians is yet another extension of the man who saw us all “as one” in Christ’s work.

John Ortberg said in his book, Who Is This Man?: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus, “Because they share a common humanity, the highest calling of a woman is also the highest calling of a man: The glorious adventure of coming to know and do the will of the God in whose image they are created. Through Jesus, this calling is now available to any woman.”[xiv]

Now onward to the situation in Corinth and Ephesus that led to Paul’s words about women being silent in the church and learning in submission.

UP NEXT: Context of 1 Corinthians

[i] “Deaconesses,” The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia,” last accessed July 16, 2017,

[ii] Eldon Jay Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle (Kindle edition, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), location 346.

[iii] Bernadette Brooten, Women Priests (Costa Mesa, CA: Paulist Press, 1977), 142–143.

[iv] Rena Pederson, The Lost Apostle: Searching for the Truth About Junia (Kindle edition, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006) Kindle locations 2470–2484.

[v] “Junia,” The Full Wiki, last accessed August 3, 2017, However, note that this quote can be found in almost every discussion on Junia anywhere. A simple Google search of the words “Junia Chrysostom” reveals hundreds of references.

[vi] “Strong’s G653,” Blue Letter Bible, last accessed July 17, 2017,

[vii] Ann Graham Brock, Mary Magdalene, the First Apostle: The Struggle for Authority (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), 147; emphasis added.

[viii] “Strong’s G1722,” Blue Letter Bible, last accessed July 17, 2017,

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Eldon Jay Epp, Junia, locations 955–956.

[xi] Ibid., location 958.

[xii] Ibid., locations 990–1006.

[xiii] Gilbert Bilezikian, Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says about a Woman’s Place in Church and Family: 3rd Edition (Kindle edition, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2006), 133.

[xiv] John Ortberg, Who Is this Man?: The Unpredictable Impact of the Inescapable Jesus (Kindle edition, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 53.

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