“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. Greet Andronicus and Junia*, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” – Romans 16:1-7
*Or Junias; other ancient authorities read Julia
Not being in school any more, I don’t pay as much attention to footnotes as I used to. But here’s the story of a footnote that makes my blood boil. At the end of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he sends greetings to a bunch of people. One of them is Junia, a woman whom he calls an apostle.
For a while at the beginning of Christianity, everybody was like, “Junia. Cool. Got it.” Then a bunch of churchmen got involved and for a long time (like, hundreds and hundreds of years), everybody insisted that it had to be a dude named Junias (the male version of the name), because how in the world could it ever be that a woman might be called an apostle?!? The vagaries of biblical Greek make it *just* possible that Paul was referring to boy Junias and not Junia. But Junias is a name virtually unknown in New Testament times, while Junia was fairly common. There is no reason to think that it would be Junias, except an assumption that men are better at Godding than women. Today most scholars agree that Junia was indeed a woman.
And yet, if you’re reading the New Revised Standard Version, you’ll see a little superscripted letter directing you to a footnote, which will tell you that the name could be Junias. It might look like academic rigor, but it is, quite simply, a nod to a lot of centuries’ worth of misogyny in the church. I suppose it could be worse; the translation The Message just renders it “Junias” in the text and has done with it.
Friends: it was never Junias, not in real life and not in a footnote. It was always Junia. She was always powerful. Always faithful. Always a carrier of God’s good news. Always an apostle. Just as women have always been.
For the leadership of women that has always been, and without which we would be lost, thank you. For the times we have erased or forgotten or changed their names, forgive us and set us free. Amen.
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Quinn G. Caldwell is the Pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church, Syracuse, New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.