What do you do with Junias and Phoebe?

Now this one threw me for a loop. I never noticed this before – “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

There is no doubt that Paul is referring to Junias as a female apostle in this verse. Paul’s use of the plural seems to include her and not just Andronicus. Add on top of that his reference to Phoebe as  a female deacon in 16:1 and you really have some issues to work out. This is a really tough one for me because I want the Bible to inform and shape me and not the other way around. I don’t want to try so hard to make the Bible fit my preconceived ideas that I miss what is being said.

The good news is, I think there is a consistent answer that makes sense of this. N.T. Wright sheds some light on this verse by pointing to 1 Cor 9:1 which seems to say that anyone who witnessed the resurrected Lord might be considered an apostle. What is an apostle? The word literally means someone who is sent. In this light it is presumed that if you witnessed the resurrected Lord that you had the obligation to go out and share what you saw and are then by definition an apostle. So Paul’s reference to Junias as an apostle may just be about her observance of the risen Lord, which fits with Paul saying that they were Christians even before Paul was.

Then you have Phoebe in 16:1 who is a “servant of the church in Cenchrea”. In Greek the word for deacon is literally the word “servant.” We have formalize this in the church into male leadership roles. Paul calls her a deaconon. Paul certainly didn’t feel uncomfortable using the word.  So I don’t have much trouble with Paul calling Phoebe a servant of the church in Cenchrea. How formal of a role that was we don’t know! And that’s fine with me. Does this mean we need female deacons today? One might argue we already have them in an informal way…that females already serve the Lord and the church but are not officially recognized as “deacons.” I think this is up to the eldership of individual congregations to decide what is best for their flock and for those who see different in other congregations to not point fingers at those who take that step. If you follow the principles of CENI you could certainly argue the example of female deacons/servants in the early church. Much care has to be taken in how we understand that verse and apply it, to not throw holy hand grenades in the midst of the congregation.

Anyway, Romans 16 has more in it than meets the eye. As Fred Craddock said in his famous “When the Role is Called Down Here” sermon on Romans 16 repeatedly said “This is not a list.”

0 Responses to What do you do with Junias and Phoebe?

  1. nick gill says:

    There you go, meddlin’ again! 🙂

    Thank you for mentioning this challenging passage. I’ve read a ton of literature trying to invent a male name Junias (which has never been found in any ancient inscription), suggesting that “outstanding among the apostles” meant that when the apostles got together to watch football on Sunday, they spoke very highly of Andronicus and Junias (although we have no recorded gathering of all the apostles, required for such a theory to make any sense), and postulating that Phoebe must be part of a female-only congregation somewhere in Rome.

  2. nick gill says:

    oh, and…

    The number to which you will count shall be THREE.

  3. jde22 says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Matt. There are some things that we tend to skip over simply because we think we already now the answer to it. I wonder how many people doing their daily Bible readings have read over Junias’s name and never stopped to consider that she’s a female and what the implications of that might be.

  4. Frank says:

    Sister Phoebe is the only person in the NT said to be the diakonos of a particular congregation. Alex Campbell regarded her as a deaconess. The earliest Campbellite interpreters said deaconesses were just as scriptural as elders and male deacons. It seems that two articles by J. W. McGarvey had a lot to do with the demise of this position (and practice) among the descendants of Campbell.

  5. What do you do with them?

    I think you have to let Phoebe serve and let Junias witness the Christ.

    It’d be a shame to stop ’em!

  6. preacherman says:

    I agree with Keith.
    Matt, I think this is a very interesting subject.
    Thank you for addressing this topic brother.
    Keep up the great work by challenging our theology and faith in scripture. 🙂

  7. K. Rex Butts says:

    Surely the ministry, worship, and/or leadership roles given to women in most traditional churches of our time have been surpressed in ways that even a hiearchal reading of scripture does not lend to. Yet I also realize that those of us who fall somewhere between a soft-complimentarian and egalitarian reading of scripture can be two quick to snatch the mention of Junias and Phoebe and read things into the term “apostle” and “deacon” that Paul never meant all in an attempt to prove our own views.

    Grace and peace,

    Rex

  8. wjcsydney says:

    Thanks or this, Matt. I am now blessed to be part of a church where women are not suppressed and the difference is profound. It was such a struggle to attempt to fit into a hierachical congregation before. My reading of Scripture has Jesus affirming and elevating women from the position 1st century society had them thrust down into. God wants us to use our talents to serve!

  9. Matt,

    I came across your blog from a comment made today by a friend, Al Maxey. I was looking down the categories list for a few select topics and saw this one, which deals with a subject that needs major study in our churches and appropriate changes made in our fellowship. I would like to pass on the titles of two really great studies on Junia, our female apostle, and female deacons, in which Phoebe is discussed.

    Regarding Junia, the first woman apostle. I would like to recommend a study done by Eldon Jay Epp. He tackles this subject in a way that leaves little doubt as to the gender and apostleship of Junia ! In the process, the study shows just how much translation is influenced by traditions and personal views. The study is published as “Junia, The First Woman Apostle”.

    Regarding female deacons/Phoebe, I highly recommend a study done by Stepben Sandifer, S.W. Central CoC, Houston, published un the title “Deacons: Male and Female? a study for the Churches of Christ” It is a very thorough study done before the present push for removing barriers to women in the CoC. The historical info in this study is something anyone who is interested in church history should read. The publication date was 1989,

    I will continue to read your blog as I have found some interesting information so far.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Follow

Follow this blog

Email address