On the subject of women's
ministry, priesthood, and episcopacy, I am surprised at how limited
and selective is the appeal to the Bible by those who claim that
they are faithful to it.
Most often ignored, in my
experience of discussions on the issue, is Paul's greeting in
Romans 16.7 to Andronicus and Junia, Paul's kinsfolk (fellow-Jews),
"who are prominent among the apostles, who were in Christ
[Christians] before me".
• It is clear that
Iounias is a female name: that Paul was referring to a woman,
Junia, who was universally recognised by the commentators of the
Patristic period and beyond; and the study of Graeco-Roman names
(from inscriptions, papyri, and so on) gives no indication that
there was a male name "Junias" in use at the time, but plenty of
references to "Junia". So Paul was greeting a woman, and quite
probably a husband-and-wife duo, Andronicus and Junia.
• The Greek of the next
phrase almost certainly means "who are prominent or outstanding
among the apostles", as, again, Patristic commentators agreed. Had
Paul wanted to say "well-known to the apostles", he would have
written the phrase differently.
Interestingly, those who
assume that the name must be masculine ("Junias") take it for
granted that the phrase means "distinguished among the apostles".
So Paul regarded Junia as an outstanding apostle. (Both points are
thoroughly examined by the well-known New Testament scholar E. J.
Epp in Junia: The first woman apostle (Fortress Press,
• Since Andronicus and
Junia were Christians before Paul, the most obvious inference is
that they were numbered among "all the apostles" to whom the risen
Christ appeared some time before his appearance to Paul (1
Corinthians 15.7-8). That is, they belonged to that body of
apostles which was larger than the Twelve, and which had been
appointed by the risen Christ as apostles - just as Paul
For Paul, this would mean
that they had been commissioned by the risen Christ as missionaries
and church-founders - like Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 9.1-2). They
could not be "apostles" in the sense of "church delegates", as in 2
Corinthians 8.23, a usage that does not appear until later;
"prominent among the apostles" clearly has in mind a recognised
group - most obviously the group referred to in 1 Corinthians
• It is also worth noting
that, since Andronicus and Junia are the only apostles mentioned in
connection with churches in Rome, before Paul and Peter appeared on
the scene, one or more of the churches of Rome were most probably
founded or jointly founded by the woman apostle, Junia.
• The corollary follows:
if one of the first church-founding apostles was a woman, then what
subsequent ministries of the Church can be denied to women?
Do 1 Corinthians 14.34-35
and 1 Timothy 2.11-12 override such a corollary? Not necessarily,
and probably not; for the Greek word "gynê" can also mean
"wife", as any lexicon will demonstrate (cf. 1 Corinthians
"If they [the
gynaikes] want to learn something, let them ask their own
men [andres = husbands] at home" (1 Corinthians 14.35).
Does that not naturally imply that "gynaikes" here should
be taken in the sense of wives?
Since 1 Corinthians 14
has in view worship-meetings in private homes, the counsel is
presumably determined by the concern that the paterfamilias be not
embarrassed by his wife's asking questions in public, which he, as
head of the family, can deal with in their own home.
It is equally probable
that "gynê" should be translated "wife" in 1 Timothy
2.11-12. The gynê should "learn in silence in full
(hypotagê) is the language of the household code: the head
of the household ("anêr") should be able to expect other
members of the household, notably his wife, to be subject to him
(Colossians 3.18, Ephesians 5.22, Titus 2.5, 1 Peter 3.1, 5);
similarly, children should be subject or submissive to their
parents (Luke 2.51; cf. Colossians 3.20, Ephesians 6.1), and slaves
to their masters (Titus 2.9, 1 Peter 2.18; cf. Colossians 3.22,
It is therefore not at
all surprising that the call here, as in 1 Corinthians 14.34, is
for the gynaikes to be "submissive", that is, to give due
respect to the head of the household.
So when we read in 1
Timothy 2.12 that "I do not permit a gynê to teach or have
authority over an anêr," we are almost certainly still in
the language of the household code: "I do not permit a wife to
teach or have authority over her husband."
Here we should appreciate
that in Graeco-Roman society the household was the basic unit and
building-block of community. It would have been seen as wholly
irresponsible and subversive to act in a way that could be taken as
mounting a challenge to the headship and authority of the
paterfamilias, who was the only legal entity in the household, and
gave it its identity.
The teaching here, then -
for all its theological harking back to the story of the first man
and woman/husband and wife (1 Timothy 2.13-14) - is most obviously
motivated by the concern to reassure city authorities that the
Christians were not seeking to undermnine social stability.
It is a very
dubious procedure, therefore, to abstract these texts from the
historical situations within which and to which they were written.
Given Paul's high commendation of the apostle Junia, and the fact
that about 20 per cent of his co-workers were women, it is at least
very doubtful whether Paul would have approved of such a
generalised use of 1 Corinthians 14.34-35 and 1 Timothy
Although he did not think
of churches as ordered by priests - and the references to
episkopoi in Philippians 1.1, 1 Timothy 3.2, and Titus 1.7
are hardly to "bishops" as understood in terms of apostolic
succession - I have little doubt that Paul would have been
indignant that 1 Corinthians 14.34-35 and 1 Timothy 2.11-12 are
being cited as his justifying the refusal to accept that women
could be priests or bishops in the Church of England today.
At the very least,
therefore, conservative Evangelicals cannot justifiably claim the
authority of Paul for their unwillingness to recognise that God may
today be calling women not only to the priesthood, but also to the
James D. G. Dunn is Emeritus Lightfoot Professor of Divinity
at Durham University.