There has been a great deal of controversy in recent years concerning the woman Junia mentioned in many translations of Romans 16:7, and described, along with the man Andronicus, as “outstanding among the apostles” (NIV). This has apparently stemmed from the reluctance of some to accept that a woman could be called an apostle. As a result some have argued that the name is in fact not the common female Junia but the otherwise unknown male Junias, whereas others have argued that the description should be understood as “well known to the apostles”.
Suzanne McCarthy has reported on this issue several times, most recently in a post The Junia Evidence: X transgendered again. Scot McKnight has written a whole e-book on the subject, Junia Is Not Alone, which I have not read. Both the SMc’s seem to conclude that the evidence strongly supports Junia being both a woman and an apostle.
So I was pleased to find today a self-proclaimed complementarian accepting this conclusion, and not attempting to force the Bible to fit the grid of his theology. Phil Whittall, who describes himself as “a church planter in the Newfrontiers family of churches currently in the south-east of Sweden”, writes a post Junia Or Junias?, in which he surveys commentaries and shows a clear majority of scholarly support for Junia as a female apostle – not as one of the original Twelve, of course, but as some kind of missionary. Phil concludes:
What is the consensus? Andronicus and Junia were an outstanding missionary couple who no doubt planted churches. Arguably they were apostles both because they witnessed the risen Christ and because they were sent. As a complementarian pastor I have absolutely zero problem with this. If anyone was ever to write a history of church planting in Sweden in the 21st century, I hope they’d write about Phil and Emma Whittall and not just me – we’re in this together, it is a joint venture all the way and yet our roles are different. For more on how this works out read this.
I am glad to read this from a Newfrontiers leader, and I have no real quarrel with it. It is fine that Phil and Emma have different roles, within their partnership and within any wider team they are in, as long as they have both freely agreed on those roles. But I would hope that they have chosen them not according to some dogmatic human position about which roles are for men and which for women, but on the basis of the different gifts and different callings which they have received from God.
Sadly, I don’t think that is what the Whittalls feel able to do, as Phil’s final link is to an article by Andrew Wilson, on an apparently official Newfrontiers site, which prejudges the whole issue by starting with The Presumption of Complementarianism. Well, at least he makes it explicit that Newfrontiers approaches Scripture with this presumption, which of course makes it no surprise that that is what they find there. I won’t attempt here to answer Wilson’s arguments in detail, but I note that his appeal to 1 Timothy 2:12 completely contradicts his claim to “passionately support and encourage women in ministry, prophesying, deaconing, worship leading, preaching, teaching, leadership, missionary work, church planting and so on … but I still believe that only men should be elders” (a point which he promised, in a comment “25/01/2012 at 15:57” to address “in next Wednesday’s post” i.e. on 1st February).
I can understand why Phil Whittall sees the need to defer to this official Newfrontiers teaching. After all, they are very likely sponsoring his and his wife’s church planting work in Sweden. But I wish he had left out of his post that final sentence with its link to Wilson’s post.