Woman Up Like Junia

I just finished reading Scot McKnight’s new short eBook Junia Is Not Alone. It’s a quick read
and a concise, bold summary of Junia’s role in the New Testament and how that
role was misrepresented by some Bible scholars and English translators in the
interest of preserving and affirming the convention of male superiority.
McKnight asserts that through their interpretive acrobatics, scholars have effectively
silenced Junia—and eventually killed her off, striking her from the biblical record.
In doing so, they silenced the voices of other women leaders, both in Scripture
and throughout the history of the church. He points out that in our own
experiences, we rarely hear sermons or receive other teaching about strong
women of the Bible like Miriam, Deborah, Huldah (I had no idea this great
prophet was a woman), Ruth, Esther, Mary, Priscilla, Pheobe, and Junia. And we
have forgotten the names of great women who have transformed the church and
driven it forward in more recent times.

This is a good book (well, essay). It’s intellectually honest, straightforward,
and encouraging. It’s also cause for grief—I found myself mourning the loss of
so many voices over the centuries and thinking, as I often do, about how much
the church is missing out on by continuing to silence and alienate women who
are made in God’s image, gifted, and called to minister in his name. McKnight’s
book reads like an academic paper—I suppose it is in a sense—and at points I found
myself wishing for more passion and clarity. On the other hand, other portions
of the book contain plenty of passion and clarity, particularly the ending,
which calls us all to do something in response to the truth about Junia and
what her treatment represents. The only other thing I didn’t like about this
book is that it had to be written at all, and that a man had to write it in order
for it to have any credibility and serious attention.  But I certainly can’t fault McKnight for that.
I thank him for championing the cause of women.

Among the provocative questions McKnight raises in this
book, one jumped out at me. He echoes Rita Finger’s contention that the first person
to ever read Romans aloud, and therefore the first commentator on Romans (such
commentary would have been inherent in the role of the one who read it before
the Roman church) was a woman—Phoebe. His question:  If this is true, “why the silence of women
commentators on Romans?”

Why indeed? I supposed this stood out to me because I’ve
been thinking myself about why so few serious Christian commentaries are
written by women. And so few serious theological works, for that matter. Why I
so often hear people talking about the authors they really respect—and naming
only men. One reason certainly is that women have been and continue to be silenced
by powerful people within the church. No doubt about it. And when publishers
are looking for the author who will write their next best-selling commentary on
Romans (or any other book of the Bible), they’re unlikely to seek out a woman. Therefore
opportunities are limited.

But this is not all forced silence. It’s not all about men
keeping women quiet. Women are to blame for this as well. We are complicit in
our own silencing—we silence one another and we often avoid taking the risk of
saying something serious, something beyond commentary on the experience of
being a woman.

Unlike most generations of women who have gone before us, this
generation collectively has very little reason to be silent. As individuals we
might be vulnerable to attack. We might be taking huge risks when we dare act like
church leaders. But together we are mighty, powerful, and loud. And no other
generation of women has held the qualifications we do, to say and write
important things about the church, the Bible, and culture.

Scot McKnight will not take the kind of flack “Susie McKnight”
would take if she had written this book. And that’s a good thing—his work will
be read and received. When women dare to speak or write with authority, they
will be received differently. But as people called to serve our God in his power
and in truth, we need to “woman up.” Those of us called to speak need to speak
with boldness. Women called to lead need to exercise their leadership gifts
within the church, following the example of women like Junia, Phoebe, Deborah,
Miriam, and our other spiritual foremothers. For the sake the men and women of
the church.

6 Comments
  1. Amen! I loved “Junia is Not Alone,” and echo everything you said. Let’s go all Judges 5:12 on this–Awake, Deborah!!!

  2. Amy says:

    You said it, sister!

  3. Halee says:

    Amy, great post! One of the tragedies, I think, of sidelining women is that there are very few *conservative* biblical commentaries because the *conservatives* seminaries aren’t so welcoming to women–but the liberal ones welcome women with open arms–and then you get women writing liberal commentaries, and that gives conservative seminaries more reasons for not trusting women. A vicious circle! And I agree with your point that we are to blame, too.

  4. Amy says:

    Great point, Halee, about the vicious cycle. Alienation leads to self-fulfilling prophecy, which leads to further alienation.

  5. Excellent review. And I could not agree more and have said much the same on my blog.
    “…why so few serious Christian commentaries are
    written by women. And so few serious theological works, for that matter. Why I
    so often hear people talking about the authors they really respect—and naming
    only men. One reason certainly is that women have been and continue to be silenced
    by powerful people within the church. No doubt about it. And when publishers
    are looking for the author who will write their next best-selling commentary on
    Romans (or any other book of the Bible), they’re unlikely to seek out a woman. Therefore
    opportunities are limited.” Men in power need to advocate. Need to work harder to provide women the platforms. Need to not accept the status quo, simply because it has always been so…..

  6. Amy says:

    Yes, and this is not just for the sake of women, or for being fair. It’s for the sake of the church and for our calling to act, collectively, as the Temple of God’s presence in the world.

© 2011 Amy Simpson.