What Christians Owe to Unsung Leaders of the Early Church

Three stalwart sisters in faith.

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But for many, the question of gender is the stickler. As Bernadette Brooten, professor of Christian Studies at Brandeis University, has noted, early church writers "either explicitly interpreted Junia as a female or did not comment" on gender at all. It was not until the 13th century that church leaders began to assert that the person in question was not Junia but Junias, a man.

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    • What reason did they give for this change? "The answer," Brooten writes in Women in Scripture, a dictionary of women in the Bible, "is simple: A woman could not have been an apostle," and therefore, "the woman who is here called an apostle could not have been a woman." Further, she notes, while the female Latin name Junia has been found over 250 times in inscriptions from ancient Rome, "we do not have a single shred of evidence that the name Junias ever existed."

      The implications for modern Christian women, says Brooten, are unmistakable. "If the first-century Junia could be an apostle, it is hard to see how her 20th-century counterpart should not be allowed to become even a priest."