Punctuation Matters

I come from a family where punctuation and spelling didn’t really matter. Spaghetti noodles could be spelled “spagetti” on the grocery list and it was fine as long as you purchased the right ingredients. I managed to make it through Honors English in high school. I tested out of English 101 in college and was bumped up to English 102. What I learned from all of my studies was that the English language can be tricky, especially as far as punctuation is concerned. 

Part of obtaining a B.A. degree in Christian Ministry is a requirement that you take two years of biblical language. I took Koine Greek, which is the language that was spoken during the Hellenistic period of the Roman Empire. The easiest way to describe it is that it is like what Old English is to our modern English. Koine Greek is no longer a spoken language; so it is difficult to fully understand how to pronounce, and therefore translate, words and phrases. Remember I said difficult not impossible. 

I was mesmerized by my seminary professor, Dr. Tim Dwyer, who could open up the Greek New Testament and translate, as he read it, into English. Hearing him talk and explain scripture was what helped me fall in love with the Bible. Every seminarian was required to take New Testament for a year. At Anderson School of Theology our New Testament classes exhaustively covered every book of the New Testament. As electives you could take a more in-depth study of a biblical book. I decided since the book of Romans is Paul’s magnum opus, that I should study it more in depth. I learned so much, I even memorized the 3rd chapter, but one discovery changed my life forever. The craziest thing about my discovery is that the average Christian believer passes right over it, and classifies it as part of the “junk reading” in scripture. What I’m referring to is part of the formal salutations and greetings in Romans 16. 

In Romans 16:7 it says, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” Some of the translations have “Greet Andronicus and Junias…” In my opinion never has so much hung in the balance over proper spelling. The earliest and most frequently occurring manuscripts have the rendering “Junia.” Someone at a later time decided in some manuscripts to “correct” this name to “Junias.” The question is, “Why would someone want to do this?” 

In my opinion, a patriarchal church realized that Junia can never be found in ANY Greek literature in reference to a man. Junia can be found in at least three other occurrences, always referring to a woman.  The person who added the sigma at the end of Junia was attempting to make the name masculine even though there is no record of ANY kind of that name ever being used in literature. The closest we can come to is the Latin name Junianas. 

This matters because in Romans 16:7 we have a woman named Junia who served alongside Paul in his ministry. She was effective enough to be considered a threat to local authorities and was imprisoned along with Paul.  The Apostle Paul thinks so highly of Junia and her co-laborer Andronicus, that he commends them as being “outstanding among the apostles.” If a woman is an apostle working beside Paul, then we have to conclude that Paul’s other remarks concerning women in leadership are contextual (1 Tim. 2:12, etc.). Any theological inferences we might make from these contextual passages are shaky at best. We must then permit women to have authority over men in the church, because the only scriptural evidence to the contrary is trumped by an apostle named Junia who Paul commends. 

I have two daughters, and it is hard for me to look at them and think that someone might discourage them from being whatever God calls them to be. It’s hard for me to understand how people with daughters (and wives, mothers, sisters, etc. for that matter) would choose to be a part of a church system that would tell them that God cannot call them into ministry: and if he does, it wouldn’t be a ministry where they would hold any authority over a man. I would challenge women to not follow husbands or family traditions into churches that subtly say they don’t matter. A point of irony: every Christian fundamentalist running around with a King James Version (because it’s the only God-inspired version) of the Bible, touting that women should sit under the feet of a man, has in their hands the truth that God has already had an apostle that was a women; but they just haven’t read deep enough yet to discover it. 

I had the opportunity to name one of my daughters, and her middle name is Junia. I would like to think that both Emma and Phoebe have the opportunity to listen to God and become all God is calling them to be. I think of Junia as a woman of power, a woman who is fearless and willing sacrifice herself for God’s call on her life. These are characteristics that we should all aspire to be.

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