Junia, the Female Apostle

My friend Scot McKnight has spent most of his academic life studying the apostle Paul and his theology. Scot has read and taught the book of Romans many times over the years. In his interview with Religious News Service, Scot said that “In reading Romans over the years, I became convinced that the book became abstract theology, if not systematic theology, and it totally lost connection with its historical context.”

With the publication of his new book, Reading Romans Backwards: A Gospel of Peace in the Midst of Empire, Scot makes an attempt at helping people read the book of Romans differently. In his interview with RNS, Scot presents the reason people should read Romans backwards.

Among the many things Scot mentioned in his interview was the character of the church in Rome. Scot said, “there are probably five house churches in Rome, evidently comprised of mostly slaves with a clear presence of female leaders.” One of those leaders was Junia who, together with Andronicus, were “ prominent among the apostles” (Romans 16:7).

Scot has written an ebook on Junia, “a female apostle honored by Paul in his Letter to the Romans.” Over the years, and even in modern times, Christians have debated whether Junia was a woman or a man. English translations of the Bible differ on the gender of Junia.

In order to celebrate Scot’s publication of his new book on Romans, I dedicate this article on Junia to Scot.

Junia, the Female Apostle

Junia was the name of a Christian in Rome, a person whose name is mentioned in the letter to the Romans in connection with Andronicus, as being Paul’s relatives, who were in prison with him; they were prominent among the apostles and they were in Christ before he was (Romans 16:7).

However, the gender of the person named Junia is uncertain. Was Junia a man or a woman? If the name Junia is feminine, then she was probably the wife of Andronicus. However, even the various English versions of the Bible do not agree on how to translate the name.

Eldon Jay Epp, in his book Junia: The First Woman Apostle (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), said (p. 65) that “English versions move from a consistent feminine understanding of ‘Junia’ for the first three centuries (1526 to 1833, though the 1833 Dickinson version is an anomaly), then a second, fairly consistent masculine period of about a century (1870s to 1960s, with a few exceptions), followed by nearly three decades (1970 to 1996) of alternation between masculine and feminine, but with an increasing trend of returning to the feminine.”

According to Epp (p. 66), the following versions have adopted the feminine (Junia) reading:

Tyndale, Cranmer, Great Bible, Geneva Bible, Bishops Bible, Rheims (“Julia”), King James Version, Weymouth, Lamsa (NT), New American Bible, New King James Version, New Jerusalem Bible, New Century Bible, New American Bible, Revised English Bible, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), Oxford Inclusive Version, New Living Translation.

In addition, other English versions not included by Epp which translate the name as feminine include the Bible in Basic English, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, Today’s New English Version, and the Webster Bible.

According to Epp (p. 66), the following versions have adopted the masculine (Junias) reading:

Dickinson, Emphasized Bible, Revised Version (1881), Rheims (American Edition), American Standard Version (ASV), Goodspeed, Complete Bible (1903), Modern Reader’s Bible, Moffatt, Ronald Knox, Revised Standard Version (RSV), Phillips, Amplified New Testament, New English Bible, New American Standard Bible (NASB), Jerusalem Bible, Good News Bible, Living Bible, New International Version (NIV), The Message, Contemporary English Version.

In addition, other English versions not included by Epp that translate the name as masculine include the Darby Bible, the English Standard Version, God’s Word to the Nation Version, New English Translation (NET), and the Young Literal Translation.

Bruce K. Waltke, in his book, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), p. 241 said: “Al Wolters of Redeemer College (Hamilton, Ontario) in personal communication makes a convincing philological argument that Junia (Gr. Iounia) in Rom. 16:7 is a Jewish name; Yehunniah (“Yah is gracious”). If so, the name is masculine, not feminine.”

The basis by which Wolters and Waltke claim that the Jewish name Junia is masculine is not made explicit. The implication of their statement is that since the Jewish name Yehunniah is a theophoric name, that is, a name that includes the name of a god, then, the bearer of the name must be a man.

Although masculine names bearing the name of Yah, such as Obadiah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, were common in the Old Testament, a few names of women also include the name of YHWH, usually shortened to Yah.

The most prominent name of a woman bearing a theophoric name in the Old Testament was Athaliah, the daughter of Omri, king of Israel (2 Kings 8:26). Another woman with Yah in her name was Abijah, the wife of Hezron (1 Chronicles 2:24). Other women with theophoric names were Jecholiah, the mother of Azariah, king of Judah (2 Kings 15:1), Michaiah, the daughter of Uriel of Gibeah and the mother of Abijah, king of Judah, and Noadiah, the prophetess (Nehemiah 6:14).

Thus, if the argument that Junia is the name of a man because the name bears the name of YHWH, then the argument is not very strong. The fact is, that recent studies have revealed that Junia is a feminine name.

In his commentary on Romans (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992), James E. Edwards wrote (p. 355):

Andronicus and Junias (v. 7), both Greek names, were doubtlessly Jewish since Paul calls them my relatives (literally in Greek, “fellow-countrymen”). Depending on the Greek accenting of Iounian (a form of the name which unfortunately obscures its gender), the name could be either male (Junias) or female (Junia). The name is normally presumed male (so NIV), but a recent study reveals over 250 examples of it in Greek literature, not one of which is masculine! This seems to be early incontrovertible evidence that the name is feminine (Junia), which would make the pair husband and wife (or perhaps brother and sister). If the name is feminine, then Paul’s referring to Andronicus and Junia as outstanding among the apostles, who were in Christ before I was, is very significant. It would indicate that (1) apostles refers to a group larger than the original Twelve, (2) among whom was to be counted a woman, (3) and probably a wife, (4) who had been an apostle before Paul was (emphases his).

So, the evidence points to the fact that Junia was a woman and that Paul called her an apostle. As Peter Lampe (Anchor Bible Dictionary 3:1127) wrote:

Without exception, the Church Fathers in late antiquity identified Andronicus’ partner in Rom 16:7 as a woman, as did minuscule 33 in the 9th century which records iounia with an acute accent. Only later medieval copyists of Rom 16:7 could not imagine a woman being an apostle and wrote the masculine name “Junias.” This latter name did not exist in antiquity; its explanation as a Greek abbreviation of the Latin name “Junianus” is unlikely.

The gender Junia has been debated for centuries. One reason for this debate is ideological, that is, some people believe that a woman could not be an apostle since all the apostles were men. However, the fact that Junia was the name of a woman was a view shared by many of the early Christian writers.

In his thirty-first homily on Romans, Chrysostom declared that Junia was a woman and an apostle. When describing the work of Junia, Chrysostom wrote,

“Who are of note among the Apostles.” And indeed to be apostles at all is a great thing. But to be even amongst these of note, just consider what a great encomium this is! But they were of note owing to their works, to their achievements. Oh! how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!

Junia was called an apostle because she was active in proclaiming the message of Christ. The reason Andronicus and Junia were in prison with Paul (Romans 16:7) was because, like Paul, Junia was openly preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Rome. Thus, being a woman, did not prevent Junia from being an apostle and from preaching the Gospel.

Claude F. Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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