Having established the back-and-forth of Junia's history of gender-swapping and whether or not s/he was an apostle, Scot McKnight, speaking to an audience at Fuller Theological Seminary last week, suggested that Junia has been silenced by elements of the church. As I mentioned on Monday, the title of the lecture was "Junia is Not Alone in the Church." Junia is not the only woman of significance to the church, and Junia is not alone in having been silenced.
To illustrate this point, McKnight opened his lecture on Junia by talking about a time he had asked students in his class (McKnight is a professor at North Park University) if anyone had ever heard of Huldah. When no one could respond in the affirmative, he invited students to look up the appropriate passage, where Huldah is shown to be a prophetess. Why the silence about Huldah?
And it's not just Huldah, either. As McKnight asks, when was the last time you heard a sermon about Phoebe, or Deborah, or Priscilla, or any of the other stories about women that can be found in the Bible (the one significant exception seems to be Mary, the mother of Jesus)? Why the silence?
Unfortunately, this is not a problem limited to "conservative" churches. McKnight shared about how a female student of his expressed amazement and annoyance at having grown up in the church, never having ever heard of many of these women in all that time. And she came from a denomination that ordains women!
As I write this (highly abbreviated!) version of what McKnight had to share with us last week, I can guess that someone might respond by asking why the stories of Biblical women need to be told more than they already have been. If they're not being shared, is it not because those stories aren't as important as, say, the stories of the men we've heard more about? While this is unquestionably the take-away message of the way things have been, I question the implicit assumption behind it. For example, thanks to a series of books published starting in 2000, a great many Christians today know the name of Jabez (and, obviously, his prayer). Do you know how many verses Jabez appears in? A grand total of three (in two distinct sections). But after Wilkinson published his book, there were sermons being told of this obscure Biblical character all over the country! Surely Deborah (to whom two whole chapters of Judges are dedicated) deserves that kind of attention! Even Huldah gets four verses!
The silence in regard to women of God only starts with the Bible. It unfortunately also extends to women of God throughout the history of the church. McKnight demonstrated this by sharing the stories of three historic Christian women (withholding their names until the end, but to be honest, it wouldn't have made any difference with me if he'd shared them from the start, as I was completely unaware of their stories): Marie Dentière, Phoebe Palmer, and Mary McLeod Bethune. Check out those Wikipedia links. These are stories the church should know about! Break the silence!
McKnight's lecture is now available online as an e-book. Here's a link to it via Barnes and Noble, but it is sold via other outlets, if you prefer.