Speaking Out: Junia, Suzanne, Ruth
Interesting. A woman’s average age for being diagnosed with breast cancer is about 60, and average age of dying of breast cancer is 68. But the average age of a woman dying of heart attack is 70. However, many more women die of heart attack than breast cancer. But think of all the women in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s living with breast cancer who have raised awareness for their disease. Clearly it points to a need for visibility and speaking out. Women can’t ever give up on speaking out in areas of need.
— Suzanne McCarthy
Our dear coblogger, the late Suzanne McCarthy, wrote the above note to me, to all of us, as she herself was battling breast cancer. She was responding to a rambling post of mine, speaking out on a topic or two Suzanne herself was an expert on: 1) Junia, the one whom the Apostle Paul raved about; and 2) husbands, those who hide behind an interpretation of the Bible that excuses abuse. Suzanne was always good about speaking out.
My post today is to cheer on the speaking out. So, I start by quoting the letter of Paul to his friends in Rome (and translating their Greek into our English):
ἀσπάσασθε Ἀνδρόνικον καὶ Ἰουνίαν
τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου καὶ συναιχμαλώτους μου,
οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις,
οἳ καὶ πρὸ ἐμοῦ γέγοναν ἐν Χριστῷ.
Please warmly embrace Andronikos and Junia,
my dear brother and my dear sister, two dear cellmates of mine,
who are outstanding in the group of Apostles sent to speak out,
who were my first elder siblings in Xristos, our Messiah.
— Paul, the “Apostle”
And then I quote Suzanne speaking out to conversants in the Bible blogosphere, telling her own story, as a means of being visible and of making a change (my bold font added to highlight her timeframe):
The slave is powerful metaphor for the suffering of Christ, but we don’t maintain slavery in order to honour the use of that metaphor in scripture. I do not make any claims regarding these metaphors. When you voluntarily become a slave in order to honour the slave metaphor, then you can ask women to subordinate themselves….
And likewise women will submit to Christ. But to be the subordinate to a sinful human being who shares ones house and home, means living like a slave in some cases.
I ask you to live as a slave to an earthly and human master, to be physically punished, to live a lifetime of violence or potential violence, and then come back from that experience, and tell me then to live a subordinate. Just email me in 30 years, after living all that time in slavery, and offer me advice at that time. In the meantime, treat women as equals.
Perhaps you are ignoring the fact that some women are egalitarian NOT for a position and title, but in order to survive. I lived a life of routine physical assault, and it was only in converting to egalitarianism that I was able to negotiate my departure from a life of routine violence.
I challenge anyone who questions my egalitarianism to live for one week the life I led for 30 years. The Stanford prison experiment is an example. One week of violence will traumatize, but 30 years?
I am not making any accusation of violence against complementarians except that they do not equip women to leave lives of violence, only egalitarianism did that.
Actually I challenge a man to live for 24 hours with bathroom restrictions, no freedom of movement without orders or permission, and no recognition of basic functions. Just check in to spend the day in the cell of a much stronger and violent cellmate, and then tell me that I had no right to escape by becoming egalitarian. Stop the namby pamby in between neither comp or egalitarian! Women have the right to survive violence.
Finally, I would like to quote Ruth A. Tucker. She has a new book out this month, Black and White Bible, Black and Blue Wife: My Story of Finding Hope After Domestic Abuse (and a related blog).
Here’s how she speaks out there on Junia:
Most of the biblical passages relating to women that are pounded into dust with hermeneutical hammers are found in the three opening chapters of the Bible and in Paul’s letters near the end… This leaves an awful lot of pages skipped over— pages that refer to marital relationships and ministry roles. Who decides what passages carry the most weight in speaking to gender issues today? Who decides which passages are to be taken literally? And who decides to ignore many of the Bible stories, relegating them to Vacation Bible School or an occasional topical sermon?
Let’s look briefly at two biblical women— one obscure, the other quite well-known. The former, Junia, who is mentioned only once in Romans 16, has rated an endless stream of hermeneutical renderings. The latter, Sapphira, whose entire biblical life is boiled down to one episode in Acts 5, draws little attention from biblical scholars, though her story in some ways more closely ties into the subject matter of this volume and whose relationship with her husband should be observed as we contemplate headship and mutuality. Yet she is typically ignored….
And who were these “apostles” that the text mentions? Are they the twelve apostles? That is the very issue that has launched Junia into the spotlight, particularly among recent biblical scholars. Paul would become the greatest of the apostles, and Junia, among others, is also referred to as an apostle. But who is this individual, a man or a woman?…
“The consensus among modern New Testament scholars is that Junia was a woman.” 5 Indeed, that fight has been largely won. The big issue that remains is whether she was actually an apostle….
It would seem from the plain reading of the text that Junia (and Andronicus, perhaps her husband) were apostles. But if we make her an apostle, the whole edifice of headship crumbles. So she must either be a man or be denied apostleship. Therein lies the dustup— a big debate over one otherwise very obscure woman….
[T]hese debates pivot on the interpretation of Scripture. Was Junia an apostle? Does it really make any difference? Why should we care nearly two thousand years after the fact? But it does matter to women today if here in the biblical text we find a woman apostle working alongside Paul. And it matters to those who deny the legitimacy of women in ministry. The stakes are high. And the stories of Sapphira and Junia are relevant.
And earlier in her book, she has already spoken out to her readers about her own story. Here’s where she starts with the story of being invited to Wheaton College to debate John Piper on the question, “Should marriage be based on a model of mutual submission and equality or on a model of male headship?” This leads us all into her own story more profoundly and personally:
During the debate with John Piper, I addressed the matter of a wife submitting to her husband even if he physically abuses her. I told how Elisabeth Elliot had spoken to a large audience of women (primarily seminary wives) at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. After her talk, one of the wives asked, “Should a woman remain in a home where she is being physically abused by her husband?” In her remarks, Elliot pointed the audience to 1 Peter 2, which speaks of slaves being beaten. She then made reference to the next chapter: “In the same way, you women must accept the authority of your husbands.” With that, she added a troubling comment: “I don’t think that requires a woman necessarily to stay in a home where she is literally being physically beaten to death. But on the other hand, it might.” Were there any young women in that packed room that evening who only heard the words “on the other hand, it might”?
After this illustration, my allotted time was up. In my closing remarks, I said, “Scripture and good judgment tell us that a pattern of mutual submission and equal partnership is the best way we can effectively serve the Lord in a marriage relationship.”
I did not tell my listeners about the years of abuse I had endured and my own terrifying dread of being literally beaten to death. I was married to a Bible church minister. There were dozens of incidents I could have referred to. One in particular, however, might have caught their attention more than others as it….
I might have told stories about my parents’ marriage and revealed details of my own marriage breakdown. Imagine the impact we could have had on those students.
Some, of course, prefer debates and proof texting. But I would remind them that storytelling is the stuff of the Bible. True, there is nothing wrong with debates. We learn a lot from them….
Can we find common ground in all of the Bible’s stories, and not just the Adam and Eve account? Let’s talk about Sarah and Abraham, and Rebekah and Isaac, and Jacob and his wives. Let’s talk about Naomi and Ruth and their plan to approach Boaz in the dark of night. Let’s talk about Bathsheba and David, Mary and Joseph, Ananias and Sapphira….
Indeed, the accounts of Sapphira and Junia are telling. Sapphira is not excused in the real estate transaction because her husband is presumed head of the home and she is under his authority. Junia is recognized by Paul to be among the apostles, one who has authority….
How we interpret the Bible makes a difference. The stakes are high. And the stakes were high in my marriage….