Tuesday, August 16, 2005

women and apostolic leadership


For the last few months, at Digestion, our evening service, I’ve stumbled on a bit of a winner in terms of participation. Early in August, I did a sermon called my favourite Biblical hero is …

To my surprise, a number of people told me they had a different hero and could they share. So far 5 different people have shared and 2 more are waiting in the wings. There’s been something about the mixing of two stories; the preacher and the hero, that has been rich and interesting.

But it had become a bit male focused, men talking about male biblical heros. So to break things up a bit, on Sunday I talked a second time, about my favourite female Biblical hero. She also happens to be an apostle, and thus for me continued some of my thinking about gender and leadership. I drew heavily on Richard Bauckham’s book Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels.

After the sermon all the women in the congregation were invited to stand, and two of our current women in leadership prayed for them. If you’re interested, here’s the sermon: my favourite female Bibical hero.

My biblical hero who is a woman first appears is Luke 8:1-3. After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others.

When I was growing up I had this picture of Jesus traveling around with 12 male disciples. You know, 13 men. Doing what 13 men do together – making a mess, farting, eating too much red meat.

That was until I met Joanna and her friends. And this sudden realization that around Jesus were a large group of people, men and women.

Jesus traveling, he’s on the road, he’s with men and women. And to be a disciple is to be with him.

I like that. It makes Christianity so simple. To be with Jesus; to hang, watch, listen, appreciate, learn.

You can be arrested by the Police for “loitering with intent.” Joanna, along with the other disciples is “loitering with intent” – intent to a disciple, intent to be with Jesus – hanging, watch, listen, appreciate, to learn to preach, to heal, to love and to challenge.

This is the first reason Joanna is my favourite female Biblical hero; she’s with Jesus – loitering with intent.

The 2nd reason she’s my hero is that she’s using her gifts. Her primary role is to loiter with intent – to be with Jesus. But this strange thing happens, when you are with Jesus, you get to use your gifts. Look at Luke 8:3. Mary (called Magdalene); Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

Now this is not men around the barbeque, farting, making a mess, while the women are inside doing the dishes. This is not women barefoot and in the kitchen.

The word “support” – “women were helping to support” – appears in Acts 11:29. There was a famine and the disciples, as each one was able, decided to support the believers in Judea. The same word appears in Acts 6:1, apostles were supporting the poor, which included distributing food.

So Joanna is not washing dishes. She’s got the gift of organizing; of being fair and just and making sure the resources for the mission.

Joanna is a reminder that following Jesus isn’t just spiritual. It’s not just about coming to church and enjoying some music. Joanna joins a long list of people who realise that following Jesus must include our time, talents, our financial resources.

Joseph of Arimathea, who has land and uses it to bury Jesus body; Zacchues, who upon meeting Jesus gives 50% of his bank balance and repays 400% anyone he’s ripped off; For Joanna, to be with Jesus, to loiter with intent, will mean using her gifts and her financial resources.

The 3rd reason Joanna is my favourite Biblical hero requires a bit of a jump.

Romans 16:7 Greet Junia, my relative who has been in prison with me … outstanding among the apostles, and in Christ before I was. When I first read this verse, it blew my mind. The original Greek language is feminine. Junia is a woman. “Greet a woman, Junia, who was outstanding among the apostles.” A woman apostle, who preached and who led and who started churches.

When I was growing up, people use to point to 1 or 2 Bible verses and tell me women couldn’t speak in church. That’s why Junia blows my mind. Junia tells me that using the Bible isn’t that simple. Junia is a NT woman apostle. Who speaks. Who teaches.

There are too many blokes speaking in this church. Where are our Junia’s?

Consider this: Joanna is a Jewish name. And Joanna is very hard to pronounce in Greek, the language spoken of Rome and in Romans. But Joanna has a nickname in Greek. And that nickname is Junia. Junia in the Greek, means Joanna.

Romans 16:7 – Greet Joanna …. outstanding among the apostles, in Christ before I [Paul] was. So this woman apostle could also be named Joanna. And this Junia/Joanna was following Christ before Paul was.

Consider this: Back in Luke 8, Joanna is a manager in the house of a King. King Herod. Joanna’s got connections. Joanna’s used to high Roman society. So if you’re sending a person to start in church on Rome, wouldn’t it make a lots of sense to send someone who’s got connections?

A woman, called Junia and Joanna, who was a very early Jesus follower (before Paul), and who’s got the connections in Rome to help start a church.

Hmm. I wonder what happened to Joanna (nickname Junia) in Greek after Luke 8? I wonder what happened to a woman who’d been on the road with Jesus; hanging, watching, listening, learning, how to preach and minister to people. I wonder what happened to Joanna after she met Jesus after the resurrection, after she received the great commission? I wonder what she did with Matthew 28:19?

Joanna, nickname Junia is my favourite female biblical hero.
1 – She’s a disciple, loitering with intent.
2- She’s a disciple who uses her gifts and her resources.
3- She could well have become an apostle, a female apostle, an outstanding female apostle.

Posted by steve at 12:12 PM


  1. Hello! Thank you for pointing out this neglected saint. Not to be outdone (by her humility and service), Mary of Magdala is also celebrated in the ancient churches as “apostol apostolorum,” equal with the apostles.

    Unfortunately, the verse mentioning Junia has been taken up on a rather wild goose chase by feminist groups. It is unlikely that this was Joanna, and more likely that this pair was another Priscilla and Aquila, not “among the apostles” (as the Greek construction reveals) but “known to the apostles.” That does not diminish either Junia or Joanna. On the contrary, it expands our list of heroes of the faith.

    I am Orthodox, and we celebrate the female saints, their humility, courage and their gifts, with as much fervor as the male. More, if you consider that Mary is first among the first, our hope of salvation. May God indeed increase the number of women around us today who live as these did!

    God bless you in your ministry.

    Comment by Gina — August 16, 2005 @ 4:20 pm

  2. Gina,
    Thanks for dropping by and adding your wisdom to this site. My claim for Joanna/Junia link comes not from someone I would call feminist: Richard Bauckham, Gospel Woman. Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels, T&T Clark, 2002. Fairly solid, conservative scholar.


    Comment by steve — August 16, 2005 @ 7:17 pm

  3. interesting Steve.

    my hero is Nehemiah. He too didn’t sit around twiddling his fingers 🙂 but saw a need, responded to it, and motivated others. My kind of guy!
    cripture doesn’t mention his farting though, but we won’t hold it against him! … I mean some women do that too, just a little more discretely I think :)LOL

    Comment by Lorna — August 27, 2005 @ 3:37 am

  4. Thank you for this… 🙂

    Comment by wilsonian — August 28, 2005 @ 7:42 am

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