How to change the world (or a union)

Neil generated some discussion with his ‘top ten list of influential English Baptists’ here (see also Juliet’s thoughts in response here). Neil was imagining who ought to be round a table if the future of BUGB was up for grabs. It seems to me three things have been conflated, perhaps unhelpfully, in the discussion that has followed. First, ‘influential’ most naturally means those with influence. There are people in any community or organisation who, if you convince them of the rightness of your case, can make something happen. These might be those who hold senior positions, or those who are key opinion-formers. I’m not going to list names, but it’s not hard… Second, and what Neil was intending, I think, there are those who have a rich enough awareness of the core values and narratives of the community, and of its present reality, that they can imagine new futures which are both responsible to the community’s own vision, and possible at the present moment. For a denomination like BUGB, this is about theology: what would a more authentically Baptist future look like? Third, as Juliet and others have pointed out, there needs to be a responsibility to the breadth of the community. What dreams are being dreamed, what irritations felt, in Baptist communities up and down the land? This is might be about consultation, but only if done extremely well (consultations, like radio talk shows and web comment threads, tend to attract unrepresentative and extreme voices, & can easily be influenced by well-organised pressure groups). It is more likely to be about the presence of those who have spent hours and years in a wide variety of Baptist contexts, who know the people and can authentically represent their voices in all their variety, uncertainty, and heartfelt conviction. Not that we need always to follow the majority – there is always a time for prophetic leadership – but we need at least to have people in the conversation who can tell us what the majority, and the minorities, are thinking, and what they variously find simply unthinkable. Find the best people in each of these areas, get them together, and you have the opportunity to see something new and authentic that will commend itself to the...

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Junia (3): a different witness from history

From (an English translation of) a commentary on Romans: Though Paul is not wont to make much of kindred, and of other things belonging to the flesh, yet as the relationship which Junia and Andronicus bore to him, might avail somewhat to make them more fully known, he neglected not this commendation. There is more weight in the second eulogy, when he calls them his fellow-prisoners; for among the honors belonging to the warfare of Christ, bonds are not to be counted the least. In the third place, he calls them Apostles: he uses not this word in its proper and common meaning, but extends it wider, even to all those who not only teach in one Church, but also spend their labor in promulgating the gospel everywhere. He then, in a general way, calls those in this place Apostles, who planted Churches by carrying here and there the doctrine of salvation; for elsewhere he confines this title to that first order which Christ at the beginning established, when he appointed the twelve disciples. It would have been otherwise strange, that this dignity should be only ascribed to them, and to a few others. But as they had embraced the gospel by faith before Paul, he hesitates not to set them on this account before himself. The author knows that Junia is a woman; indeed he never even considers the alternative; he knows that she is an apostle, and doesn’t consider any other possible translation to be worth mentioning. He lists the works she did as teaching in her own church; a broader evangelistic ministry; and church-planting. He paints Junia as a significant and active leader in the early church. Who is this raving feminist, this traitor to traditional Christianity? He wrote his Romans commentary, his first attempt at Biblical exposition in 1539, in Strasbourg; later he moved to Geneva, where he preached and and published some more Biblical commentary; rightly or wrongly, however, he is more famous for a work entitled Institutes of the Christian Religion… …take a bow, John...

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Junia (2): the evil of bad scholarship

I hope I conveyed both something of Scot’s passion in Junia is not Alone, and something of the fact that I share it, in the previous post. Strangely, however, one of the results of reading the book for me was a greater degree of sympathy for (some) of those I’ve met who take/took a male-only leadership position. You see, they were faithful men & women, striving hard to be true to the Bible. And they’d been given Greek Bibles and commentaries that wrote Junia out of the picture so totally that the idea that ‘Junias’ could be a woman was never even considered. It wasn’t their fault that they’d never heard of her; they’d never been given the chance to hear of her. Now, I know Rom. 16:7 isn’t the only text, and I know that actually you could always find witnesses to a better reading of Rom. 16:7 if you looked for them (see next post for a great example…), but the tale of bad scholarship that Scot tells made it at least more difficult for Bible-believing Christians to hear and understand the argument that male-only leadership was wrong. Scholarship matters, and it needs to be done...

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Scot McKnight, Junia is not Alone: a review

Last week Scot McKnight put out a little ebook, available from your national Amazon, under the title Junia is not Alone: Breaking our silence about women in the Bible and the church today. I downloaded and read it the day after it came out. It is short, cheap, passionate, and excellent. McKnight opens his book with some anecdotal evidence about how the female leaders in the Bible are somehow overlooked in the contemporary church. Huldah is as important as Nathan in the story of Israel’s prophets, but put the two of them on a quiz paper, and I think we all know what the result would be… Junia is then introduced as a way into the big picture of female leaders in the Bible. Why doesn’t Paul make more of Junia? Because Paul knows his Bible, and knows that God has been calling women to play major roles in the story of salvation from the first: ‘Junia was not alone. Paul knew that she fitted comfortably into the Bible’s storied history about women.’ (l.97). There is then a whistle-stop tour of this storied history: Rebekah; Ruth; Esther; Miriam; Deborah; Huldah; Mary; Priscilla; Phoebe. The focus then returns to Junia, and the history of readings and editions of the NT. If you know your Greek, you’ll know that an accent is all the difference between Junia (a female name, very well attested in history, as I’ve commented before on this blog) and Junias (an otherwise-unknown male name). This happened late. All the ancient versions (Old Lt; Vulg.; Syr,; Copt.) have a female Junia in Rom, 16:7. (So, incidentally, do all – without exception, I think – the church fathers. You know? Those native Greek-speaking church leaders? McKnight does not mention this.) And the English versions? ‘from Tyndale to the last quarter of the 19th century in English translations, Junia was a woman.’ (l. 148). Humanistic scholars in the C16th were examining the texts, however. Somewhere in there, the idea that Junia should have been Junias arose; Jacques Lefevre d’√Čtaples, in his 1512 edition of the Pauline corpus, offered Junias, and was followed by Luther in his German Bible. McKnight then traces the history of critical editions of the Greek, which was all new to me, and a fairly chilling tale. Erasmus had Junia as a woman; so, McKnight claims, did every Greek edition down to Nestle’s 12th edition. Then, in Nestle-13 (1927), Junias appeared in the main reading, with Junia as a footnote. McKnight does not investigate Nestle’s reasons for this change, but surely this was entirely an editorial decision? I cannot think of any textual discoveries or grammatical explorations that would have prompted it. In the 1979 edition of Nestle-Aland,¬† the alternative reading offering Junia was deleted. McKnight’s text implies that UBS maintained the variant, but rated the reading ‘Junias’ as A; this is exceedingly generous; the UBS3 I was given when I entered theological college offers Junias, rated A, but the alternative reading is not Junia, but ‘Julia’ (which is found in one or two texts, including the important P46); Junia has been written out of the story. McKnight’s conclusion is strong, but hardly excessively so: Let me be clear once more: the editors of the Greek New Testaments killed Junia. They killed her by silencing her into non-existence. They murdered that innocent woman by erasing her from the footnotes. Junia suddenly re-appeared in 1998 printings of UBS4/NA27, rated an A reading in UBS. No reason seems to have been given for the change. (McKnight does not discuss the commentators, but a similarly reprehensible story can be told. Sanday & Headlam, in the old ICC volume, commented ‘Junias … is less usual as a man’s name,’ which is about as accurate as saying ‘Jennifer is less usual as a man’s name’ in English. Cranfield’s replacement ICC is much better; calling out the editors of the Greek, and then saying of the rest of the verse that whilst ‘ “outstanding in the eyes of the apostles” … must be judged grammatically possible, it is much more probable – we might well say, virtually certain – that the words mean “outstanding among the apostles” … which is the way it was understood by the patristic commentators [you know, those native Greek speakers…]’ Quite.) McKnight then turns to church history, telling stories of unnamed women leaders in the church. The tactic is effective: the reader is left trying to guess, have I heard of this woman? Do I know her story? (I knew two of the three, but one was from Calvin’s Geneva, which is a period I really ought to know about…) It struck me...

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The Politics of Christmas

I don’t usually highlight my own writing here, but since this is available for free, I thought I’d mention it. I was commissioned by the excellent political thinktank Theos to write on ‘The Politics of Christmas’. The brief noted that we tend to assume that Christmas should be apolitical in our contemporary celebrations, but that the original gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus were perhaps less than apolitical, and that this invited some exploration. (If you know your recent NT scholarship and you’re thinking ‘shooting fish in small bucket; never mind barrel’ – well, yes, guess why I took the commission…) The report was released today; it explores the reasons Christmas became depoliticised in the Victorian period, and (at least some of) the various political commitments and implications of the gospel narratives. It owes more than a little to my colleague Tom Wright’s ‘anti-imperial’ reading of the NT, but I think that most of the positions taken are accepted by all strands of contemporary scholarship. As a result of press releases on the launch, I got to give a live interview with Kingdom FM. Every hairdresser and taxi driver in Fife is now convinced of my...

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