Skip to content

Among the apostles

From The Briefing:

Our own experiences often affect how we read the Bible. Take Romans 16:7, for example:

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsfolk and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. (Rom 16:7)1

There’s something in this verse that often catches the eye of the modern reader: a woman, Junia,2 is said to be “of note among the apostles.” This means that she was either a person of note to the apostles, or that she was herself “among the apostles.” Either way, the Bible seems to be saying that there was a woman who had a ministry role that was important in the early church. Surely then, as many argue, the example of Junia means that women today, too, can and should have significant ministry roles? At this point, our own experiences can play a big part, particularly our experiences of Christian ministry.

It’s quite common today for ministry to be understood individualistically. That is, we often think in terms of ‘the minister’ or ‘the pastor,’ i.e. individuals entrusted with the sole care for a church. If you read Romans 16:7 with this individualistic kind of ministry model in mind, you might conclude that the verse is an excellent proof-text to show that women should be allowed (indeed, encouraged) to be individuals entrusted with the main responsibility for a mixed congregation (otherwise, how could they ever be “of note?”). On the other hand, if you don’t like this conclusion, you might consider this verse as a troubling little blip in Paul’s otherwise quite excellent letter to the Romans, and you might spend a great deal of time and energy proving that the verse doesn’t mean that women can be individual ministers/pastors of mixed congregations.

But what if you don’t read the verse in light of this individualistic ministry model at all?

By God’s grace, I’ve experienced churches where ‘women ministers/pastors’ are part of team ministries. I’ve rejoiced in the godliness and perseverance of women ministers/pastors, and I’ve seen the fruit of their work, and benefitted from it immensely: in fact, I became a Christian through the work of a woman who was part of a team of evangelists. The women I’m speaking about haven’t had the job of formally teaching men in mixed adult congregations (as per passages like 1 Timothy 2:8-15); but they have had prominent and important ministries. Women, in other words, have been “of note among the ministers/pastors.” I think this is a good thing, and I think it’s worth promoting (and, I have to admit, at times I’ve failed to promote this ministry to the full extent it deserves).

This experience of mine makes me read Romans 16:7 in way that’s different to the kind of reading that comes from the ‘individualistic’ model of ministry. I notice different aspects of the verse, beyond the simple fact that there is a woman in it. One thing I notice is the striking emphasis on team ministry. Paul is commending two people, together. What’s more, he’s talking about a group of apostles. In fact, there seems to be an intimate ministry partnership between Andronicus, Junia and Paul himself: Andronicus and Junia are involved in Paul’s experience of ministry, suffering alongside him, in some kind of ‘imprisonment.’ Furthermore, when I look at Romans 16 as a whole, I see that it’s all about team ministry and ministry partnerships and fellow workers and suffering together. In fact, when I look back over Paul’s letter to the Romans, I see team ministry in all sorts of places. For example, even though Paul introduces himself as a singular ‘apostle’ (Romans 1:1), in Romans 1:5, he says that he is among a plural group ‘we,’ who have received ‘apostleship.’3 In Romans 10:15, Paul implies that he himself is among a plural group of people who are ‘sent’ (a word that is directly related to the word ‘apostle’) to preach the gospel.4

So coming back to Romans 16:7: what’s Paul’s actual point here? Paul wants his readers in Rome to remember and greet two people in particular who are very significant in relation to the apostolic team ministry.5 Of course, this doesn’t necessarily imply that Junia and Andronicus have exactly the same role as the apostle Paul. We don’t have to assume, for example, that either Andronicus or Junia had a special revelation from God or that they each received a personal ‘apostolic’ commissioning (Gal 1:10). Furthermore, we don’t have to assume that either Andronicus or Junia founded a church, or were leading a church, or that Junia (or Andronicus for that matter) was preaching to mixed congregations. In fact, we don’t really know what Andronicus and Junia did. We don’t know about their relationship, either: maybe they were married to each other, or maybe they weren’t. But that’s not the point. The point is that whatever they did was important, and was connected closely with Paul’s (very non-individualistic) ‘apostolic’ ministry.

So what is the significance of this verse for us? On the one hand, we shouldn’t claim too much for this verse, as if it is some kind of blanket approval for women to be the sole ministers in charge of congregations or to formally preach to mixed adult congregations. On the other hand, let’s not be defensive about this verse, either. It’s not just a problem to be explained away. Among other things, it affirms the significance and prominence of the ministry of a woman in the context of team ministry. Junia (along with Andronicus) is “of note among the apostles.” How, then, might we ensure that we ‘note’ (promote, recognise, etc.) the ministry of women in our own contexts?


Comments at The Briefing.

Published inThe Briefing

Publications by Lionel Windsor:

  • Lift Your Eyes: Reflections on Ephesians

Recent blog posts

  • Elf on the Shelf Balloon. Photo by Kim on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/thegirlsny/8208193899God: Beyond us—and with us (Ephesians 3:20–21)
    God is nothing like the Elf on the Shelf. God’s power is far beyond us. Yet God’s power is at work in us. So God’s glory is our joyful goal.
  • EducationWhen education is not the answer (Romans 2:17–27)
    When education is not the answer (Romans 2:17–27). Amongst all the pragmatics & demands & struggles of ministry, you first need to know the why of ministry. You need deep and strong theology, and to apply that theology to your life & ministry.
  • Colosseum with skyThis is huge (Ephesians 3:18–19)
    God’s plans for his world, and his love for us in Christ, are vast and awe-inspiring. They change everything. That’s why need prayer to grasp them.
  • Inscription behind table in St Stephens Anglican Church NewtownWhere does God live? (Ephesians 3:16–17)
    Can God’s presence be with us? If so, how? In bread and wine? In a tangible experience of worship? In Ephesians, Paul speaks about how Christ dwells among us.
  • Photo by Greg Rakozy on UnsplashWho are you praying to? (Ephesians 3:14–15)
    Most people pray. But not everyone prays in the same way. Your view of God will have a profound effect on your prayer life. Who are you praying to?
  • Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi on UnsplashWith Israel Folau (repost)
    Given the current controversy surrounding Israel Folau's social media post, a piece I wrote for the ABC News website has again become highly topical.
  • My afflictions, your glory (Ephesians 3:12–13)
    We can react to suffering by avoiding or escaping or denying or rationalising it. For Paul, the gospel of Christ leads to a profoundly different reaction.
  • Ceiling Pattern, Christ Church College Staircase, OxfordGod’s multidimensional wisdom (Ephesians 3:9–11)
    Do you think being a Christian is boring? If so, maybe your view of God is one-dimensional. But Paul sees God and his purposes in vivid multidimensional glory.
  • People and the Post, Postal History from the Smithsonian's National Postal MuseumThe meaning of ministry (Ephesians 3:7–8)
    Christian ministry is hard. So why be involved at all? Pragmatics and techniques alone can’t answer that question. We need to know the meaning of ministry.
  • Photo by Sai de Silva on UnsplashThe open secret (Ephesians 3:4–6)
    How can we know God’s will? Some try to see God’s will in the progress of history. But this is disastrous. God’s will is something we can’t work out by ourselves.

On this site

All content copyright Lionel Windsor