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Junia and Bayesian Epistemology: Philosophical probability trumping Biblical scholarship?

Alexander Pruss is one of the smartest people I’ve encountered. Though I don’t always agree with his conclusions, the sharpness of his intellect and his wit is always fascinating. His blog is frequently a place to flex mental muscles, as he offers small, one-off arguments to spur discussion. Recently, he wrote a post entitled “Junia/Junias and the base rate fallacy” Pruss argued that application of Bayesian analysis to biblical scholarship would help solve the question of whether Junia/Junias was an apostle. Apologies in advance for possible lack of care with terms like “factor,” “probability,” and “odds”; I tried to be careful but I’m tired.

The Argument

The preliminaries are explanations of Bayes’ Theorem and the meaning of the “base rate fallacy,” both of which are easily searched online, but I provided the links here (with all the caveats that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing and Wikipedia articles don’t make anyone an expert). With that information in mind, we approach Pruss’s argument.

Pruss does fudge the numbers some, admitting he hasn’t explored the question on the actual numbers for some of these probabilities. So, for example, he begins by giving a 9:1 factor for Junia:Junias names in the early church. With that, and with the note that to avoid the base rate fallacy, we ought to assign a probability (he gives .9) to the question of whether this person was “among” the apostles, it yields a .19 rate of false positives for people who are not woman apostles to be assigned the notion of being a woman apostle. Moreover, if we say that there are 12 male apostles (the disciples) for every one female apostle (Junia), the probability of an apostle being a woman is now 1/13. Finally, because “not everyone Paul praises is an apostle” we have to assign a probability to whether Paul is praising an apostle here (Pruss gives it .3). This means that “the chance that a randomly chosen person that Paul praises is a female apostle even given the existence of female apostles is only about (1/13)×(1/3) or about three percent.”

Plugging in the .19 we got above for false positives and doing more math (read his post), we now discover that “even assuming that some apostles are female, the probability that Junia/s is a female apostle is at most about 14%, once one takes into account the low base rate of women among apostles and apostles among those mentioned by Paul.”

Pruss immediately notes the numbers are made up and could change the overall results.


There are some significant problems with Pruss’s argument here. First, the fact is that there is no extant name “Junias/Junianias” found anywhere in lexical evidence whatsoever. Thus, instead of .9 for Junia being a woman, it should be 1. One comment pointed this out and Pruss pressed the argument that even in this case, the math would still be “significantly less than 50%” for Junia to be a female apostle. Doing the math is too hard for my tired brain, but let’s just say he’s right. The question still remains of why the chances for Junia to be a female apostle would be so low.

Looking at his other percentages, it seems a large part of the argument, once we’ve established Junia is female, turns on whether it is the case that she may not be “among” the apostles. Pruss’s position here falls into the goalpost moving arguments that complementarians have engaged in since the lexical evidence turning her into a man came up dry. Typically, this is how it goes:

Junia was not a man => Okay, Junia was not an apostle => Okay, Junia was not the type of apostle that was authoritative

The third stage above is one that is essentially a theological fiction supported almost entirely by punting to the fallacious importation of the semantic range of a word into a foreign context. When Paul wrote to say that Junia was an apostle, according to this argument, but she was one only in the semantic meaning of the word apostle as witness/sent one/messenger. Never mind that the word is used for an office in the New Testament, including in the writings of Paul (1 Corinthians 12:28). No, because it does not serve the purpose of continuing to prevent women from holding pastoral office, the entire semantic range of meaning for the word “apostle” must be imported in order to reduce Junia in status once again. This fallacious importation of meaning is a demonstration of an ad hoc explanation. (Unfortunately, Pruss himself succumbs to this goalpost moving argument in the comments on this post when he questions whether Junia as an apostle would be an authoritative apostle or not.)

But it is the second stage that is at question initially, and here, once again, it seems that the importation of complementarian assumptions into the text has occurred, for this reading goes against the earlier known readings from church fathers (see here, for example) which saw Junia as an apostle and did not import the lexical range of the word into “among” either. So, again, the factor needs to be moved from .9 to 1.

The proportion of male:female apostles is made up, as Pruss acknowledges. It’s possible that the reality is 1:1 or 100:1. So it would be possible to move numbers around to make it either extraordinarily likely Junia was a woman apostle or unlikely. It also seems to me the 1/3 possibility that Paul is praising an apostle seems high. So again, this would potentially lower the probability for Junia as a woman apostle. It could raise it, though that seems unlikely given the biblical text. Nevertheless, significant gains were made with “Junia” being established as the name and being among the apostles. And, the question of just how likely something ought to be in order to be epistemically justified in believing it is itself a matter of very hot debate. If, say, the likelihood for Junia being a woman apostle were 33%, would someone be justified in holding that belief? The answer to that question is very messy indeed.

But the most relevant evidence, the most clear counter-point to Pruss wasn’t even considered. That is this: using prior probability to determine the likelihood of an event does not matter if the event has already occurred. That is, if it is the case that Paul does name a woman apostle, then whether or not this was likely or unlikely given any number of other prior probability considerations does not change what Paul does in Romans 16:7. And while Pruss tries to say that his use of Bayesian theorem ought to somehow guide biblical scholars in their reading of this text, what he doesn’t consider is that highly improbable events do occur and that if they do, whether or not the event is improbable does not impact the event’s actually having occurred. Indeed, it is unclear as to why a biblical scholar should take such prior probability into account to begin with (apart from, potentially, taking caution with offering interpretations that are particularly unlikely). Suppose that the name were not Junia but Rebecca and the Greek text were so clear as to make it impossible to take it as anything but “among the authoritative apostles” (despite their being no use of this term in the NT and it being a demand for evidence by complementarians that they cannot meet for people they themselves admit to being apostles). What then? Would a scholar be justified in dismissing the sentence written by Paul that “Rebecca was an authoritative office-holding apostle” simply because of prior probabilities? It seems obvious the answer is no. So then the question is why should the biblical scholar be beholden to prior probabilities in a supposedly less clear case (and again, I by no means grant that it is unclear)? Again, the answer seems to be that the scholar ought not to worry about that, given the relevant data is directly in front of them.


Bayesian reasoning is interesting. I’ve enjoyed reading about it and learning about it from time to time. Whether or not it is helpful to theological questions is a concern for a different time, though it is a fascinating question to ponder (related questions such as how can we fill in sometimes arbitrary probabilities for certain events/people/etc. and still think the theological reasoning is sound would be interesting to explore in depth). In this specific case, though, it seems clear that Pruss’s argument fails for several reasons. All of these center around the actual meaning of the text (the name Junia and the meaning of “among the apostles”) which no amount of external probabilities can alter. Pruss’s argument is a fun mental exercise that need not undermine confidence in the data of the text itself: Junia was a female apostle. Pruss’s claim that biblical theologians ought to use Bayesian reasoning in their exegesis does not seem to be sustained by this example.


A Brief Biblical Proof for Women Pastors– Read why 1 Corinthians 12:28 is an even bigger problem for complementarians, as it effectively guarantees women may hold the same or more authority than that of pastors.

On the Femnization of the Church– It is frequently alleged that the church is being “feminized” and that this is a bad thing. Check out this post, wherein I analyze this notion from a few different angles.

Women in the Ministry: The philosophy of equality and why complementarianism fails– I argue that the position in which women are excluded from church leadership entails inequality of being.



The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“The New Testament and the Ordination of Women” by Henry P. Hamann, part 1 in “Women Pastors?” edited by Matthew C. Harrison and John T. Pless

I grew up as a member of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, a church body which rejects the ordination of women to the role of pastor. The publishing branch of that denomination, Concordia Publishing House, put out a book entitled Women Pastors? The Ordination of Women in Biblical Lutheran Perspective edited by Matthew C. Harrison (who is the current President of the LCMS) and John T. Pless. I have decided to take the book on, chapter-by-chapter, for two reasons. 1) I am frequently asked why I support women pastors by friends, family, and people online who do not share my position, and I hope to show that the best arguments my former denomination can bring forward against women pastors fail. 2) I believe the position of the LCMS and other groups like it is deeply mistaken on this, and so it warrants interaction to show that they are wrong. I will, as I said, be tackling this book chapter-by-chapter, sometimes dividing chapters into multiple posts. Finally, I should note I am reviewing the first edition published in 2008. I have been informed that at least some changes were made shortly thereafter, including in particular the section on the Trinity which is, in the edition I own, disturbingly mistaken. I will continue with the edition I have at hand because, frankly, I don’t have a lot of money to use to get another edition. Yes, I’m aware the picture I used is for the third edition.

The New Testament and the Ordination of Women by Henry P. Hamann

Hamann begins with a quote from the Lutheran Church of Australia’s Theses of Agreement: “Though women prophets were used by the Spirit of God… 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-14 prohibit a woman from being called into the office of the public ministry for the proclamation of the Word and the administration of the Sacrament…” (13). Already, I am left wondering what Hamann and the Lutheran Church of Australia thinks prophets are/were. Anyway, Hamann goes on to state, interestingly, that these words were “formulated in the early 1950s,” a time, he apparently thinks, at which point “agitation about and for female ordination had hardly begun” (13). It is possible Hamann simply means within the specific branch of American Lutheranism he inhabits, but he doesn’t say that. In any case, women were ordained in the United States in the 1800s across multiple denominations. Looking into church history, it is easy to find women ordained throughout time.

That introduction aside, I’d like to simply focus on the meat of Hamann’s argument, which is, one would think, the exegesis of passages of Scripture. One would then be mistaken. Rather, Hamann’s focus is rather 4-ish theses, which he does little more than provide proof texts for rather than deep exegesis. We will look at them individually.

Section 1

Hamann’s first thesis is “The New Testament gives no support at all for the ordination of women” (14, emphasis removed). Such a thesis is indeed a universal negative that is doubly affirmed. It’s not just no support; Hamann suggests there is no support at all. How does he arrive at this thesis? First, he defines ordination “as authorization and commissioning to do the work of a pastor or minister of the church, a task involving control and pastoral care of a congregation, the public independent teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and the public carrying out of the task of announcing the absolution or, on occasion, the retention of sins” (14). I can hardly wonder why Hamann is then able to claim the NT doesn’t support the ordination of women: after all, there is nowhere in the New Testament where anyone is ordained thusly. But Hamann is quick to add, “Offices exactly corresponding to this definition cannot be shown to have existed in the New Testament…” (ibid). The understatement here is palpable. Hamann would be unable to come up with a single instance of any such office anywhere in the New Testament whatsoever. So he sustains his argument by punting it, pointing to Acts 20:28 instead as a “direction like that [of his view of ordination]” (ibid).

Thesis 1, then, is flatlined from the beginning because the author himself admits he can’t even affirm his own definition of ordination is found in the New Testament… only that it might have a “direction” pointed towards his definition. But Hamann doesn’t actually exegete any texts to support that his definition of ordination is the way the New Testament was pointing. He simply assumes it, and believes his readers will go along. Of course, he later states “No woman appears in the NT as carrying out an independent pastoral charge, as defined above.” Well of course not, because his definition by his own admission doesn’t appear in the NT.

Where Hamann does interact with the NT texts that are brought up to show that his initial claim is false, he is either ignorant of or ignoring serious studies that contradict his conclusion. For example, regarding Junia, who appears in Romans 16:7 as an apostle who is a woman, he states simply “A number of editors… get the name ‘Junia’; however, there seems little likelihood that they can be right, and the masculine ‘Junias’ of the RSV is the right translation…” (14). What basis does he have for saying there is little likelihood that those unnamed and uncited editors (who cannot therefore be looked up to see what their arguments are) to be right? The English translation, the RSV, uses Junias. Never mind that the NRSV has Junia in the text, should we really be looking at English translations as our basis for making an exegetical point about the translation of a contested word in the text? Absolutely not. As multiple studies have shown, the name Junias does not exist in the ancient world, and is therefore an invention of editors, unlke the name “Junia.” Eldon Jay Epp, in Junia: The First Woman Apostle notes, quoting Bernadette Brooten:

To date not a single Greek or Latin inscription, not a single reference in ancient literature has been cited by any of the proponents of the Junias hypothesis. My own search for an attestation has also proved fruitless. This means that we do not have a single shred of evidence that the name Junias ever existed. (44)

Think about that for a moment. Hamann is willing to dismiss those who translate the name as Junia, which is what the Greek seems to state, because he prefers the masculine Junias for theological purposes. But the name Junias has not “a single shred of evidence” of ever having existed in the ancient world. Hamann, however, doesn’t interact with serious studies of the name Junia. Instead, he simply asserts that because an English translation of his choosing uses Junias, that doubt is cast upon those who believe Junia is the proper reading. Such is apparently the best exegetical support he can find. To be frank, it may very well be, because, again, the invention of Junia as male is just that: an invention, and one that can be demonstrated by studying the Greek and contemporary sources. Moreover, even the Nestle Aland Greek New Testament uses “Junia” rather than having the alleged name Junias or its supposed longer root name.

Hamann believes, however, that the formidable challenge of Junia can be simply dismissed (despite our demonstration that it cannot). He does, however, believe that Galatians 3:28 might provide a stronger argument against his thesis. In dealing with the text, however, he simply says that “the declaration of [v. 28]… has to do with the oneness of all those who are in Christ, infants included… Believing and baptized women do not suddenly cease to be women” (15). Apparently, for Hamann, oneness in Christ means that women are still women (okay so far, I suppose) and that apparently means women cannot be pastors. But how does that actually follow from the Galatians text? It doesn’t, though as we will see below, Hamann, like many complementarians, simply imports his interpretation of other passages (specifically 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 2 Timothy 2:11-14) into Galatians 3:28. Galatians 3:28 gives no indication of role differentiation in the body of Christ between men and women. But complementarians like Hamann must have it there, so they get it from outside the text–indeed from an entirely different letter–and bring it to the text. This isn’t exegesis, it is a theological assumption layered onto the text.

Given that Junia provides a direct contradiction of Hamann’s point, and that Hamann himself admits that his definition of ordination isn’t actually found in the New Testament, and that Galatians 3:28 is simply dismissed, I believe it is fair to say that his first thesis fails.

Section II

Hamann next states his second thesis: “there is specific NT prohibition of the ordination of women” (16). The first problem with this thesis is that his definition of ordination, as he stated and admitted above, is unsustainable from the biblical text. So because his definition of ordination, as he himself says, “cannot be shown to have existed in the New Testament,” (14) it would be impossible to use the New Testament to exclude anyone from such a position. Nevertheless, he presses on. For the sake of engagement, we will hereafter simply assume that Hamann’s definition of ordination is wrong and simply let ordination mean pastoral office.

Hamann of course cites the two texts thought by many to exclude women from the pastoral ministry, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-14. Now, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is perhaps an interpolation, which would immediately exclude it from any meaningful discussion of the biblical text. But supposing it is original to the text, Hamann and others’ interpretation still faces difficulties. After all, in the very same letter, Paul writes about women praying (1 Corinthians 11), but the passage being pressed tells women to be silent. This apparent contradiction can only be resolved in a few ways, and it should be unsurprising that excluding women from the office of the ministry is not one of the consistent ways to do this. First, as already noted, it could simply be that the 14:34-35 is an interpolation, so the apparent contradiction which seems fairly strong simply didn’t exist in the original text. Second, Paul could be concerned, as he is in the rest of this section, with orderliness in worship. Thus, women, who were often uneducated in the ancient world, may have been interrupting worship with questions, and so are instead being told to go ask their husbands at home the questions they have instead of interrupting. Third, the passage could be part of the method of quotation-refutation: Paul is quoting the Corinthians their own position so that he may refute it with what follows (see here for a lengthy defense of this position). If any of these is correct, then Hamann’s use of the text fails.

But think if Hamann is correct. If he is, then Paul is clearly stating here that women must be silent in churches. Do women stay silent in your church? If you’re in the LCMS, or a different complementarian body, are women allowed to read from Scripture; do they sing the hymns; do they respond in prayer; do they say “amen”? All of these would be women not being silent. But the verse itself says “the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says” (ESV). I don’t see anything there about allowing women to sing, give praise, respond, or pray! So any churches which allow these things are contradicting their own literal reading of the text. This demonstrates another difficulty with such a reading: even those who affirm what they say are a literal reading cannot follow the text. Moreover, it would mean Paul contradicts himself. So 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 cannot be used to exclude women from the pastoral ministry.

1 Timothy 2:11-14 is an interesting selection, because Hamann leaves off verse 15, which in almost every version I know of is interpreted as a continuation of the clause in verse 14. Why Hamann leaves it off is up for speculation, though I can’t help but thinking it is because it is an extremely difficult verse and his interpretation is already strained. Anyway, here Hamann enters perhaps the most exegetical portion of his essay as he argues that the speech being used is authoritative teaching (17-18). What is interesting is that these verses can easily be affirmed by those who are for women in the ministry as their literal meaning-women not speaking authoritatively. Why? Because cultural context is important. Craig Keener, an eminent New Testament scholar, notes that there are 4 ways of dealing with 1 Timothy 2 here:

(1) Read all other Pauline passages in light of a not-very- literal interpretation of this one (so most traditional interpreters);

(2) Read this passage as applying to a specific situation (so most evangelical egalitarian interpreters);

(3) Argue that Paul moved from an egalitarian to a nonegalitarian position; or

(4) Deny that Paul actually wrote 1 Timothy (the view of many scholars, though not of most evangelical scholars).

Keener goes on to note that Paul frequently addresses specific situations in his letters, and argues that this passage is one of those times. He cites numerous reasons why this would be the case. In this same letter, Paul notes that some have been deceived by silly myths (4:7)- it is entirely possible that women were among those deceived and so are being silenced to stop the spread of heretical or pagan ideas in the church–a plausible, temporal tactic to stop false teaching until it can be corrected or rebutted. What’s interesting is Hamann himself admits that this is the cultural context of the letter, stating that “women were quite prominent in heathen cults” (19). That’s exactly the point, and the cultural context is important, but generally ignored, as far as interpreting the text is concerned, by Hamann. Most importantly, though, it is worth saying that once again complementarians fail to read this passage in the literal way they wish, because they always qualify it in some sense. Even if this is a direct command from Paul, Keener notes, we do not follow all of his direct commands, such as drinking wine to help with stomach ailments (5:23). But why not? Selective readings of the text is the easiest way to answer this.

Hamann does attempt to argue that the notion of “authority” in this passage is that of teaching authority, but his position places him against many, many biblical scholars. Instead, the concept of authority restricted in this passage seems to be that of authority taken up wrongly. Yet even if Hamann is correct, his interpretation, as already shown, is strained at best.

Now, we’ve seen that Hamann’s reading of these passages fail because they cannot be reconciled with the rest of Pauline teaching or because they are inconsistently literal. If one reading of a biblical text allows for a consistent reading that can be applied to all situations, that one ought to be preferred. Thus, the egalitarian reading is to be preferred, and Hamann has failed to demonstrate his second thesis.

We will examine the rest of the chapter in my next post on the book.


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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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