Monday, July 21, 2014

Junia(s), Priscilla, Phoebe, Chloe and Daughters of Philip

I admire women leaders and politicians. My coming to adulthood was very much influenced by two women politicians. One was Margaret Thatcher and the other Benazir Bhutto. Now one of my favourite leaders is German Chancellor, Madam Angela Merkel. We may see the first woman President of the United States in 2016. However much I admire woman leaders in politics and in business, when it comes to the Church, the Word of God must govern our understanding of their roles and functions in relation to church leadership. Often my friends and scholars will interject and cite a number of women leaders in the New Testament. Let me quickly deal with the point that women leaders in Old Testament can't be used as examples of women in leadership unless it is also supported likewise in the New Testament. Thus there is not much weight given in this issue by quoting Deborah as the Judge of Israel or Huldah as the prophetess. We need New Testament examples to decide this issue whether in the church women could hold leadership positions and if so, what kind of leadership positions? Several names are normally mentioned when this woman in leadership issue is debated.

First, Junia(s). It is said that Andronicus and Junia are prominent among the apostles (Romans 16,7), There is a dispute over gender whether Junia was a man or woman. Though modern scholarship has appeared to take Junia as a woman (Eldon Epp wrote a whole book on this) the jury is still out there. There is a significant minority position which takes Junia spelt Junias as a man (e.g. Al Wolters). Even though the late 4th century bishop John Chrysostom takes Junia to be a woman, yet if you look at Chrysostom's teaching on women's role in church, he took the traditional and conservative view that women could not speak or teach in church (see Chrysostom's sermons on 1 Cor). The other issue noted by others (Dan Wallace) is that though Junia was likely to be female it is not altogether certain whether she was included within the ranks of apostleship. All said, it is not conclusive to cite Junia as a woman apostle to over-ride other clear passages by Paul the apostle on this issue.

The second woman named is Priscilla. Did she not teach Apollos together with her husband, Aquila? Yes, but Priscilla taught Apollos privately and the context in Acts 18 clearly shows Priscilla giving private instruction to Apollos and not in the setting of a church or assembly as are the 1 Cor 14 and 1 Tim 2 passages.

Third, Phoebe. In Romans 16, Phoebe is said to be a servant (diakonos) in the church and there is no indication that she taught in the house church where she was obviously a hostess.

Recently, Michael Bird made the ingenuous suggestion that Chloe must be a teacher since she was the letter carrier of Paul's 1 Corinthians. Again this argument is spurious at best. Just because some letter carriers were known to be teachers or asked upon to explain what the author had written does not make Chloe a teacher in 1 Corinthians. At best it is an argument by silence and cannot overthrow clear passages on this issue. That would also go against what Paul clearly taught in 1 Corinthians 14.

The fifth and final example is the mention that the daughters of Philip prophesied (Acts). This occurence of female prophecy should not surprise anyone since Paul had mentioned in 1 Cor 11 that women could prophesy or pray in the assembly or church. Obviously, prophesying is not the same as teaching as the latter connotes authority where the person who teaches has authority over those who are taught. Here, Paul makes the allowance of women prophesying in churches but when it comes to evaluating prophecy (see Paul's advice to test prophecies in 1 Thes), women are to remain silent (1 Cor 14, 34). Again, this is not an instance where a woman exercises authority over men in teaching or exercises leadership over men in the church.

I hope for the next post, God willing, I will look at 1 Cor 14,32ff passage more closely.

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