Junia, of note among the apostles
In the last chapter of the book of Romans, the apostle Paul names a long list of co-workers and associates he wishes to greet. Included in this list are Andronicus and Junia, who Paul describes as “my countrymen and my fellows prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me” (Rom 16:7).
What is significant about this verse and how does it relate to our study on biblical equality? Its importance lies in the fact that Junia is believed by many scholars to have been a female associate of Paul’s, yet he calls her an apostle. To many who would confine Christian women to more subordinate roles in the church, this verse presents a serious problem. Indeed, the idea of a woman being an apostle is so offensive to some there are only two ways this verse can be dealt with by them: either Junia is a male, or Junia is not an apostle.
Is Junia Male or Female?
Historical records confirm that the name “Junia” (or Iounian in Latin) was a very common female name at the time of the early church, occurring over 250 times in Roman records alone.
Rena Pederson, in her book The Lost Apostle states: “The earliest scriptural references to a female apostle are contained in papyri from the eighth to the thirteenth centuries, known as No. 40 and 436. One refers to Junia and one to Julia, but both names are feminine. ....Most early scribes chose the female name.”* Jerome, who translated the Latin Vulgate (used as the basis for more modern translations for many years), based his translations on the oldest Greek texts available and used the name Julia in Romans 16:7, which was a female name.
Some more modern Bible translations, however, use the name “Junias” in Romans 16:7, a masculine form of Junia. Junias is an irregular form of Iounias not even heard of until certain medieval copyists started translating Junia into the male form in the Middle Ages. In fact there are absolutely no known records of Junias, the male form of the name, existing in Paul’s day. The male name Junias is believed to be a newly created name that came into existence in around 1298 during the reign of Pope Boniface VIII.
Looking into what history has recorded about Pope Boniface we find he deceitfully manipulated his way into the papal office, imprisoning the former Pope, Celestine, until his death. Among other things he was accused of heresy, gross and unnatural immorality, adultery and magic. It was Archbishop Aegidus (or Giles) of Rome, a contemporary of Pope Boniface and quite possibly under his influence, who is believed to have been the first to change “Junia” to “Junias”.
Pope Boniface was responsible for a papal edict that decreed all nuns were to be perpetually cloistered, unable to leave their monasteries except in the case of a life-threatening illness. Mediaeval monasteries of female nuns were renowned for being skilled at producing their own transcripts of scripture and it is thought Boniface’s edict was designed to severely limit the freedom and influence of the female nuns. After his edict in 1298, monasteries became virtual prisons for nuns where their former freedom to minister and influence their communities all but disappeared until recent times.
After this time the replacement of the female “Junia” with the male “Junias” became common practice until the female form disappeared from most Bible translations. It is certain, however, that prior to mediaeval times, the early church fathers regarded Junia to be a woman. John Chrysostom, for instance, who lived from 344 to 407 AD, wrote “To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles – just think what a wonderful song of praise that is....Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle.” Other church fathers who name Junia as a female are Origen of Alexandria, Jerome, Hatto of Bercelli, Theophylact, and Peter Abelard.
Is Junia an Apostle?
We have seen that historical evidence is firmly on the side of Junia being a woman. What about the argument that if Junia was a woman Paul could not have meant to infer she was an apostle. Those who hold this view argue Paul simply meant Andronicus and Junia were people well known to the apostles, but not included among the apostles. The word ‘among’ in this verse is the Greek ‘en’, translated over 90 times in the New Testament with the inference of being part of a group. One instance is found in Matthew 20:26 when Jesus uses the expression “to be great among you.” So we see that the argument that the person named alongside Adronicus in Romans 16:7 could not be an apostle is also implausible.
Another theory put forth is that the function of apostle died out with The Twelve, so neither Andronicus or Junia could possibly have been apostles. This theory is easily discounted by several passages of scripture. For instance 1 Corinthians 15:4-7 infers there were other apostles beside the original twelve: “...He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles.” Some further examples of New Testament apostles other than The Twelve are Barnabus (Acts 14:14) Paul, Sylvanus and Timothy, (1 Thes. 2:6). Additionally, Paul wrote to the Ephesians that after Christ ascended He gave apostles and other ministries to the church to bring the church to maturity (Eph. 4:11-16).
Add to this the fact that Jesus had no problem with women bringing the gospel to men, it becomes evident to most thinking people that there is no biblical reason why Junia could not have been both female and an apostle (see John 4:28-29 and 20:17). Indeed the historical and biblical evidence for her having been both is quite solid.
That leaves us with the unpleasant fact that translators down through the ages have, in order to perpetuate the tradition that women may not be leaders in the Christian church, continued to translate the female Junia as the male Junias. Wasn’t it Jesus who stated:
“...making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.” (Mark 7:13)
Finally, there is a third argument often used to cast doubt on the possibility that Junia was a female apostle. Those who oppose female leadership in the church declare that during His time on earth Jesus only chose male apostles, therefore all apostles must forever be male. However, this viewpoint needs to be taken to its full logical conclusion. It is quite true that Jesus chose twelve male apostles. It is equally true that He chose twelve Jewish apostles. Therefore the question must be raised should all apostles for all time be from Jewish heritage, and from no other race, or were there practical and cultural reasons why Jesus chose male apostles in the first instance? I believe in the light of Galatians 3:28 neither race or gender should hinder an individual’s call to ministry.
How sad that in some sections of the Christian church the unscriptural bias against women as leaders continues to cause deep division and heartache for many. The church suffers a serious lack of resources and gifted leadership because women are denied the opportunity to serve in the fullness of their God given capacity. How sad also that one day full accountability will be required by the One who gave ‘some’ to be apostles.
Copyright Cheryl McGrath
*The Lost Apostle, Rena Pederson, page 168