Thursday, May 3, 2012

Romans 16:7 A woman famous AMONG or TO the apostles?

As a rule I usually try to avoid modern debates as much as possible. Most are ivory tower debates that wax technical. Occasionally, however, they succeed in finding their way into readily available translations and study notes, such as this one which concerns women in ministry.

A week or so ago I came across an unusually extensive text note in the NET Bible (#8 Romans 16:7) arguing that Junia was not an apostle. The ESV and the NET stand out as the only two major translations that translate the verse in this manner (as opposed to the KJV, NIV, NAU, NRS, NLT). In general, the NET Bible is a great translation and study tool that I highly recommend, but this particular note stood in contrast to my own position and so I decided to investigate further for the benefit of readers such as yourself.

In discussing how different Greek grammatical constructions are used the note is basically quoting a 2001 article co-authored by none other than Daniel Wallace, who just happens to also be the author of the second year intermediate Greek Grammar: Beyond the Basics used by Biblical Greek students far and wide, including myself. Formidable indeed.

Eldon Epp, author of Junia: The First Woman Apostle (2005) devotes the better part of an entire chapter to debunking Wallace's study and he is not the only one (Richard Bauchman and Linda Belleville also offer critiques). Epp writes that Wallace's study, "was overdrawn and misleading..." and is now left, "somewhat in shambles and with exceptionally minimal data." (74).

Basically, Wallace narrows the parallel instances of this construction in surrounding literature artificially through interpretation (down to 13), and has not admitted the full range of occurrences as evidence to the court. This leaves the the grammatical argument over the inclusive and exclusive use of the phrase "outstanding of/to the apostles" at best mixed and ultimately inconclusive on linguistic grounds.

Here's my attempt to simplify the statistics of the study in graph form:

If "outstanding" with εν + dative (as in Rom 16:7) is used in an...
   Exclusive sense = Junia is NOT an apostle
   Inclusive sense = Junia is an apostle

In surrounding literature (smaller list as reinterpreted by Epps):
(8) εν + dative = exclusive use                     (2 or 3) εν + dative = inclusive use
(0)   + genitive = exclusive use                     (3)   + genitive = inclusive use

In surrounding literature (additional occurrences Wallace discounts which are counted by Epps):

(1) εν + dative = exclusive use                     (5) εν + dative = inclusive use
(0)   + genitive = exclusive use                     (6)   + genitive = inclusive use

Wallace's hypothesis wants the examples in green to be high and the others to be low. The problem for Wallace's hypothesis is that those examples in red should be low, but they are not. A flaw in his study is that he neglects to look for examples that would fit into the above category colored purple, which would also contradict his study.

At the end of the day, even if Wallace is right about Romans 16:7 this would not be evidence against women in leadership, it would only take away one of many supporting verses. But since the grammatical evidence is conflicted, we must appeal to historical evidence. Consider this quote from the early church father John Chrysostom about Andronicus and Junia from the fourth century:
"To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles--just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title apostle. (In ep. ad Romanos 31.2; PG 60.669-670)" as quoted by Epps, 32.
 Hope this re-balances the debate a little.

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