Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was (Romans 16:7 NIV).
Egalitarian and feminist evangelicals would have us to believe that Romans 16:7 is indisputable evidence in favor of women's ordination in the early church. After all, they will reason, this mysterious first century believer, Junia (in other ancient manuscripts, 'Junias'), is not only given the title of "apostle" by Paul himself, but she also ranks as "outstanding" among them!
Reasoning forward, then, we can assume that if the Apostle Paul and the New Testament itself for that matter both approve of the office of apostle for Junia(s), all other evidence against female officers in the church has been dismantled de facto.
After all, how can we withhold women from the office of elder today if they were welcomed even among the ranks of the apostles in Paul's age?
But the case might not be so clear cut after all.
A computer search for all relevant variations of "Junia" in ancient Koine Greek in the classical era (9th century BC - 5th century AD, a total of 8,203 works) turns up only three results (cf. John Piper and Wayne Grudem Eds., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006. p. 79-81).
Among these three scants results, the data is decidedly, well, undecided. One referent is definitely a female--in a letter from Plutarch (ca. 50 - ca. 120 AD), we are told the sister of Brutus was named Junia.
The second and third are references to our Junia currently under discussion. One comes from Epiphanius (AD 315 - 403) and muddies the water considerably: he asserts that Junia was a man and eventually became bishop of Apameia! That he adds some historical information to an otherwise mysterious person would seem to fortify his assertion. He apparently knows something we otherwise did not.
Chrysostom (347-407 AD), contrary to Epiphanius, assumed Junia was in fact a female, probably since most names ending in "ia" or "as" in Greek are feminine. But these aren't firm rules for naming, however. Our Greek New Testament contains central male characters such as Isaias, Elias, Andreas, and Silas--all men.
A fourth computer result, this time in Latin, turns up in the writings of Origen, one of the more excellent ancient historians. He makes our research even more confounding: he too--using the masculine singular nominative case--takes it for granted that Junias was a man.
Of the four ancient references to the name "Junia(s)" two of the four are men. Of the three references that refer specifically to the Junia(s) of Romans 16:7, two of three refer to a man. This is hardly the "checkmate" argument from a narrative text that egalitarians and feminists have held it to be.
I am convinced that this inconclusive data drives us back again to the much clearer prescriptive texts in 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35; 1 Timothy 2:8-3:7 and Titus 1:5-9 that expressly reserve the office of teaching elder to men.
For more reasons that I hold to a complementarian position, see here.
Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Fl. Follow on Twitter at @matt_everhard.