Climbing Mt Durham - Scaling the Arguments for Women’s Consecration
The question of the consecration of women in the Anglican Communion, whether they should be made bishops, is one that is currently raging both here in Australia and back home in the Church of England and about which I have written before.
Perhaps the most prominent and respected “evangelical” supporter of such moves in the CofE is Tom Wright, bishop of Durham. His piece, co-authored with +Salisbury back in 2006 entitled “Women Bishops: A Response to Cardinal Kasper” appears to be widely accepted by the more moderate proponents of the position as the standard summary of their argument. While the piece responds to the Roman Catholic Cardinal Kasper, who spoke to the CofE General Synod on the subject, it also sets out what it calls “Women Bishops: Biblical Exegesis and Theological Anthropology” in a second section.
It is my intention in a series of posts to address the arguments raised in that piece. I do not doubt that there are many proponents of women’s consecration who will be unmoved by what I have to write. Sadly they are all to often unmoved by Scriptural argument anyway. On the other side there will be others who are thoroughly convinced that the consecration of women is not God’s will who will not need further persuasion. But I suspect there are also a good number of people in the middle who are genuinely interested, but also cannot honestly say they’ve seen a decent discussion of the issues from a Biblical perspective. Also I hope to at least demonstrate to some that our objection to this move is a theological one, as the clone has recently remonstrated.
The first argument made by +Durham and +Salisbury is as follows:
Cardinal Kasper’s reference to Junia in Romans 16:7 itself seemed to allow that there might after all be a possibility of re-opening the question; if, he seemed to imply, it could be demonstrated that Junia really was a woman (not ‘Junias’, a supposedly masculine name, as most translations have had it), then even Roman tradition might be forced to recognise the possibility that women could be apostles, and therefore presumably could hold ordained ministry in the apostolic succession. In fact, despite what the Cardinal suggested at that point in his paper, recent scholarship, drawing on excellent philology and study of ancient names, strongly suggests that the person in question was female. Junia is a well-known female name of the period, but the suggested male name Junias is not otherwise known; and, when Greek scribes began to introduce accents into their texts, they accented the name in such a way as to make it clear that it was female. That, despite what the Cardinal said, is how it appears in the most recent edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament; and the newest edition of Metzger’s commentary on textual variants indicates that those who still preferred the masculine accentuation did so simply on the grounds that they doubted whether a woman would be referred to as an ‘apostle’ - which precisely begs the methodological question.
Romans 16:7 reads as follows (and I’ve chosen the NIV here for reasons that will become apparent):
Romans 16:7 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.
The argument, as Wright notes, has been over whether ‘Ιουνιαν (“Junias” or “Junia”, as other translations put it) is a man or woman. As Wright argues, the weight is probably in favour of a female for the reasons he states.
But that is not the end of the matter, although Wright seems to believe that it is. For having identified Junia as female is a long step from having established her as an Apostle.
The actual greek of “outstanding amongst the apostles” is
επισημοι εν τοισ αποστολοισ
which might be best literally translated “they are well respected in the apostles”. The problem here is that it is entirely uncertain whether Paul, by this phrase, means us to understand:
- “They are well respected amongst (ie as part of) the other Apostles”
- They are well respected by the Apostles
It should be obvious that much hinges upon this.
Paul does not, anywhere else, use this phrase “εν τοισ αποστολοισ” or anything similar and this is his only use of επισημοσ (“well known”). επισημοσ is, incidentally, used in Matt. 27:16 to speak of the notoriety of Barabbas - the same word is obviously used by Paul in a much more positive light in Rom. 16:7.
Even if the first option is accepted, and there is no convincing reason in the grammar alone to demand it, the next hurdle to be jumped is Paul’s use of the word “apostle”, αποστολοσ. The word literally means “sent one” and although Paul uses it frequently to speak of his perculiarly Apostolic ministry he also uses it in the more general sense. So, for example (with the translation of αποστολοσ italicised):
2 Corinthians 8:23 If there is any question about Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; if there is any question about our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ.
Philippians 2:25 But for now I have considered it necessary to send Epaphroditus to you. For he is my brother, coworker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to me in my need.
and again he uses the verb “to send” (αποστελλω):
2 Corinthians 12:17 I have not taken advantage of you through anyone I have sent to you, have I?
2 Timothy 4:12 Now I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus.
These individuals are “apostles” in a wider sense. They are sent on gospel ministry but they are not the Twelve, the Apostles.
It may very well be, then, than Junia was a female (in fact I think she most certainly was). But that is a long stretch from proving that she was a female Apostle, in the sense that Paul himself was. It seems a massive burden to place on what is an ambiguous text. She is one in a list of many, no doubt a faithful gospel minister of one form or another. But to claim, on the basis of this one verse that there was a female Apostle is, I would suggest, almost far-fetched. The text will simply not support the claim, as keen as some may be to have it be so.
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