Circularity Demonstrated

In her article in Books and Culture, Lower Criticism, Sarah Hinlicky Wilson demonstrates how to assume your argument in your premise and therefore guarantee your own conclusion.

Advocates of the ordination of women to Eucharistic ministry are forced, by virtue of the textual and historical evidence, to seek the support of their arguments in the singular instances and obscure passages of Scripture and epigraphical evidence. Thus, almost without fail, Romans 16:7 is brought up.

(NIV) Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

(RSV) Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are men of note among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.

(English Standard Version) Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.

(New American Standard Bible) Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

(KJV) Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

Clearly there is a difference as to whether some versions take Junia/s as a masculine name (Junias) or the feminine name (Junia).

Why is this significant? Because of the phrase “hoitines eisin episemoi en tois apostolois“–especially those last three words en tois apostolois, notable/well-known in/among the apostles. If Junias is a male, then whether or not the import of the phrase “in/among the apostles” means that Junias himself belonged to that group of things called “apostles” is somewhat negligible. A man was called an apostle. Ho hum. On the other hand, if Junia is a female, then the import of whether or not she is to be included among the class of things called “apostles” is a big deal. It would possibly be evidence, from inspired Christian Scripture, that a woman was an apostle. (Though it might also still leave open what sort of an apostle she was, and whether the sort that she was in any way mitigates what has been the two thousand year tradition of the Church regarding the restricting of ordination to some males.)

So, out of the twelve paragraphs of her article, Ms. Wilson spends three-fourths (a total of nine) establishing that the form of the name Junia/s in Romans 16:7 is, in fact, that of a woman.

And a fairly strong case she makes.

In the tenth paragraph she writes:

Could Paul have called a woman an apostle? He certainly did not use the term lightly. He was compelled to defend his own apostolicity, as the last and untimely born, to the disciples of Jesus, whose friendship with the Lord automatically granted them apostolic status. It can only be the highest of Pauline praise to call Andronicus and Junia prominent among the apostles.

Notice her question begging: she already assumes that, whatever the sex of Junia/s, that person was a member of the class of the apostles. But is that an assumption that can be made?

She proceeds with more such question begging in her penultimate paragraph:

That he was capable of applying this praise to a woman is suggested not only by the textual evidence but by the context of Romans 16 as well. A woman and deacon by the name of Phoebe is entrusted with the letter itself. Seventeen men are greeted along with eight women (omitting Junia), but of the twenty-five, seven of the women are described as contributing the most to the churches, while only five men receive that distinction. Prisca is listed ahead of her husband Aquila, and in two places (vv. 6 and 12) four of the women are said to have “worked very hard,” the same verb Paul uses to describe his own apostolic ministry in 1 Cor. 4:12, Gal. 4:11, and Phil. 2:16.

The implications here are to a jot tendentious. All of this is assumed, none of it is argued. Ms. Wilson has already assumed that the person spoken of was an apostle and marshalls some facts into a presupposed framework.

She concludes:

The early church thought that Junia the woman was an apostle, yet remained indifferent to the implications of her status.

Oh, really.

Perhaps another voice can speak to this contention.

The venerable Dr. William Tighe, responding to a study by another author put forward by a commentator on his post over at Pontifications puts the lie to this sort of nonsense:

What argument in support of women’s ordination would be complete without an appearance of “the Apostle Junia” of Romans 16:7? Despite the heated rhetoric of Ms. Dufield’s passage about the supposed intentions of the English translators and their “management” of the passage, it is not impossible that the accusative-case word Iounian in Greek represents the male name Junias (a short form of Junianos, as in Silas = Silouanos), but it does seem more likely to represent a woman, Junia, the wife of Andronikos, with whom her name is coupled in the passage. But was she an apostle? The answer is, almost certainly not. Romans 16:7 calls Andronikos and Junia episemoi en tois apostolois – notable in/among the apostles. This can mean either (1) “notable members of the group of the apostles” or (2) “notable among the apostles, but not apostles themselves.” Which is it?

Thanks to an article on this subject by M. H. Brurer and O. B. Wallace which appeared in the January 2001 issue (Vol. 47, No. 1) of New Testament Studies, we have an answer. The two scholars examined the whole of extant Greek classical literature to ascertain the meaning of the usage episemos en; and what it means is clearly (2) above. Had St. Paul wished to convey the meaning of (1) above he would have used a different grammatical construction, episemos with the Genitive case: episemoi ton apostolon. So while Junia was renowned among the apostles, she was not one herself. Good-bye apostle girl.

And so we have a case of circularity. Ms. Wilson wanted Junia to be an apostle. By spending 75% of her article arguing about noun gender, and with a huge assumption about a phrase she does not really exegete, she could then simply slip in all the unargued assumptions she brings to the matter, and, with a puff of smoke and flash of light, voila, an apostle is created.


Thanks to Eric (see the comments), here is an article by Daniel Wallace dealing specifically with the issues noted by Dr. Tighe.

2 thoughts on “Circularity Demonstrated

  1. Saint Junia (a woman) will be commemorated on May 17th:

    Andronikos the Apostle of the 70 & Junia the Martyr
    Apolytikion in the Third Tone
    O Holy Apostles, intercede to our merciful God, that He may grant our souls forgiveness of sins.

    Kontakion in the Second Tone
    As notable companions of the Apostles and true ministers of Jesus, ye proved to be sacred heralds of His condescension; for having received the grace of the Spirit, O glorious Andronicus and Junia, ye shine like lamps unto the ends of the world.

    These Apostles are mentioned by Saint Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, where he writes: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the Apostles, who also were in Christ before me” (Rom. 16:7).

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