By Rev. Crystal Schmalz
In Romans 16:7, Paul names a female apostle named Junia. Scholars know very little about Junia, because this is the only time she is mentioned in the NT. It is significant however, that Paul lists this female name alongside Andronicus as an early Apostle. The question then becomes, what is an apostle?
Without speculating, we can say a lot about apostles in the NT. First, we know apostles held a position of leadership within the early church. Apostles might be compared to modern day church planters or missionaries. Church structure was different in the first century. Many churches were essentially house churches, which met in homes. It is certainly clear throughout Paul’s writings that these house churches began the birth of what we now know as modern day Christianity. The point is that Junia is listed as an apostle, one who held a leadership position within the church, and is female. In existing texts of the time period, the name Junia is attributed to being female. If it were a male apostle, the ending of the name would have been masculine. This is not simply a scribal error. Junia is listed with a feminine ending, because she was female.
Secondly, we know Apostles in the NT were considered to be a part of the Ephesians 4:11-12 ministry set. Ephesians 4:11 lists apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds (pastors) and teachers as the most familiar leadership set within the church. In our day and age we often elevate pastors as the highest ministry opportunity, but in the early church several different leadership roles existed. There really is no question about women in leadership in the NT. They are listed among men as leaders within the early church. In fact, this passage of scripture (Ephesians 4) is written to the church in general, and has no male qualifications or identifiers added to it. Some have often said women could not be a part of the five-fold-ministry. Unfortunately (or fortunately), Junia is listed as a female apostle, there are the four daughters of Philip in Acts 21:9 listed as prophetesses and also Peter says women will prophesy in Acts 2:17 and then there is a prophetess Anna listed in Luke 2:36, Euodia and Syntyche are listed as fellow laborers of Paul-most likely earning the title of evangelists, Prisca in Romans 16:3 is listed alongside her spouse as a pastor of a house church who most likely taught several Bible Studies qualifying her for the title of teacher. The point is that there is at least one female example of every role of leadership for Ephesians 4 “five-fold-ministry” set listed in the NT, and we haven’t even begun to talk about the OT.
Now some will bring up the issue of submission and authority. I agree. NO problems here! Let me be the first to say, all women and men should be submitted to other leaders in their life, held accountable for their leadership behavior, and be in authority to their governing church body (local, general, and national). All leaders within the early church were held accountable to other leaders. Part of being a leader is being accountable to other Christians. This is true for women and men. Both need to be accountable to other leaders, and need to be submitted in obedience to God and to leaders which are placed into their lives. Teaching should line up with scripture, should be tested by scripture, and should be for the unity of the body and the work of the Kingdom.
In conclusion, I have brought up Junia as a case study, but have also listed more female leaders in the early church for you to consider. Certainly, more research and study needs to be done, but this is a good start for those of us who are curious about women fulfilling leadership roles within the church.
To be continued…
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