Before Jesus ascended to the Father, he told his followers to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came empowering them to continue building the kingdom of God on earth. They obeyed him. Acts 1:14 tells us the disciples and “certain women” including Mary, the mother of Jesus, waited in the upper room and prayed. In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit fell on both men and women, and both genders were empowered to proclaim the word of God on the day of Pentecost. Peter confirmed this when he quoted Joel in his sermon that day: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17, NRSV). As we have seen throughout this series, Career Women of the Bible God has never discriminated between calling and empowering both men and women to lead God’s people and accomplish God’s plans on earth. This will not change with the coming of the new age. Now God’s Spirit would not be for the called few, but for everyone–all flesh, and both sons and daughters would prophesy, only now in greater numbers.
In Galatians 3:28 Paul proclaimed that “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, no longer bondservant nor free, no longer male and female, because you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In Christ every human erected barrier comes down. Because Christ died for all, and all are saved through grace, there can no longer be superficial hierarchies of race, class, or gender. In Ephesians 4:8 Paul tells the church that Christ has given them gifts, and in verse 11 he tells us the gifts are “that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers” (NRSV). These gifts are given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12, NRSV). Paul never says that some or all of these gifts are for men only. In fact, the New Testament goes on to describe women in these places of leadership within the Early Church.
The literal meaning of apostolos is someone who has been sent with orders (Spencer, 100). The basic meaning is “messenger.” In the New Testament an apostle could refer to one of the Twelve. It could also refer to all of those “who had accompanied the original twelve from the time that John baptized until Jesus ascended (Acts 1:21-22; ibid).” This would include Barnabas, James the brother of the Lord, and Silvanus who were not among the Twelve. It would also include the women we have seen in previous articles who followed Jesus: Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James; Mary, mother of Jesus; Joanna, and Salome.
There is a woman in the New Testament specifically named as an apostle: Junia. In Paul’s personal greetings to the believers in Rome he tells them to “7Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were prisoners with me. They’re outstanding among
the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was” (Rom. 16:7). In the Roman world, Junia was a common name for women. Junia was assumed to be a woman by the early church fathers such as Origen and Jerome. In the fourth century John Chrysostorm said of her: “Oh! how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!” Up until the thirteenth century when Aegidus of Rome referred to both Adronicus and Junia as “men” (he translated Junia as “Julian”), most commentators assumed Junia was a woman (the male form “Junias” is completely unknown in the Roman world). Since then there have been many textual variations trying to turn Junia’s name into a male form (Spencer 101-2, Grenz 94-5).
Another way that Junia’s role as an apostle has been marginalized is by watering down the translation of “outstanding [or “prominent,” NRSV] among the apostles.” Opponents of women in leadership positions have suggested Junia was only admired by the apostles, or she was well known to them. She was not one of their number. The word normally translated “prominent” is episeimos. Its proper meaning is “a sign or mark upon,” and is used to describe an inscription on money; “it implies selection from a group” (Spencer, 102). Coupled with the preposition en, which means “within” or “among” in the plural, it is clear that Adronicus and Junia are prominent or notable “from among the apostles” (ibid).
As apostles in Rome they were Paul’s counterparts. They apparently had witnessed part of Jesus’ ministry and his resurrection, and were sent by God and the church to proclaim this news in Rome. These two apostles “apparently laid the foundation for the churches’ in Rome, just as Paul had planted and laid the foundation for churches in Asia Minor and Eastern Europe (ibid). They would have done this through preaching the gospel and teaching the way of Christ. It is possible they were married and operated as a ministerial team like Priscilla and Aquila (Grenz, 96-7). This does not change the fact that Junia was named as an apostle. Since there is no mention of any of the apostle’s wives being named “apostle” simply by being married to one, it is safe to assume that Junia was an apostle because she functioned as one in the early church.
As we saw in previous chapters female prophets who spoke God’s word and led in worship were part of Israel’s history and theology. The tradition continued through Anna in Luke 2 and Philip’s four unmarried daughters in Acts 21:9. From Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian church we find that women praying and prophesying during services was an accepted part of the worship service in the early church. Paul does not condemn the women for taking an active part in the service, which would have included authoritative prophetic utterance of God’s word. He only exhorts the women to do so in a manner that will not be scandalous to outsiders. If they are married, they are to keep their symbol of marriage on–their head was to be covered with a veil or worn up as was the custom for married women in that day. This way they would not be confused with the temple prostitutes that were numerous in Corinth due to the temple of Aphrodite-Melainis. The temple prostitutes were identified by wearing their hair loose or shaving it off. Christian women were not to bring shame onto their husbands by looking like prostitutes, but were to keep their “wedding ring” on, and prophesy and pray in a socially acceptable manner. (For a great overview of the cultural and sociological context of these verses in 1 Corinthians, see my friend Mark Mattison’s “Because of the Angels: Head Coverings and Women in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 14:34,35.)
Whether widowed as Anna, never married as Philip’s daughters or married as some of the Corinthian women were, Christian women continued the ancient tradition of speaking God’s word to his people.
Shawna Renee Bound, Your Daughters Shall Prophesy: A Biblical Theology of Single Women in Ministry, unpublished thesis, (© by Shawna Renee Bound 2002), “Women in the Early Church.”
Stanley J. Grenz with Denise Muir Kjesbo, Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995).
Aída Besançon Spencer, Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), 43-63.
All biblical translations are from the New Testament: Divine Feminine Version unless otherwise noted.