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A Female Apostle

Was Junia a man or a woman?

Greetings to Andronicus and Junia, my relatives, who were in prison with me. They are very important apostles. They were believers in Christ before I was. (NCV, Rom. 16:7 )

Was the Junia mentioned in Romans 16:7 a man or a woman? The Greek word Iounian has been translated either as “Junias” (male) or as “Junia” (female). And what is the meaning of “outstanding among the apostles”? These questions influence how the church should carry on her mission. The answers may indicate that both women and men in the early church participated in all areas-- as ministers, deacons, leaders, and even apostles.

Two views: male or female

The word translated Junia(s) appears only one time in the Greek New Testament, and the Greek form used, Iounian, depending on how it is accented, could refer either to a man with the name “Junianus,” found here in its contracted form “Junias,” or to a woman with the name of Junia.1 The use of such accent marks did not occur, however, until the ninth or tenth century.

There is a limited amount of data regarding the gender of this person that Paul refers to as Iounian. Why? Probably because the issue was not a concern for those who lived in Paul’s time. The early Christian community would have known the gender of the person in question.

Bible versions differ on how they translate the Greek. The American Standard Version (ASV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), New International Version (NIV), Today’s English Version (TEV), New American Bible (NAB) all refer to this person as Junias, while the King James Version (KJV), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), New King James Version (NKJV), New Century Version (NCV), and Revised English Bible (REB) use the name Junia.

Evidence of early manuscripts

The majority of support for the name Junias (male) comes from manuscripts dated in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. These contain accent marks reflecting Iounian as a masculine name.2 But manuscripts from this late date do not provide justification to support a male reading.

How about earlier church writings? John Piper and Wayne Grudem state that Epiphanius (A.D. 315 to 403) wrote an Index of Disciples, in which he writes, “Iounias, of whom Paul makes mention, became bishop of Apameia of Syria.” According to Piper and Grudem, Epiphanuis wrote “of whom” as a masculine relative pronoun thereby indicating that he thought Iounias was a man.3 They also did a computer search of early literature and found only three examples of Junia as a woman’s name. They found none, however, for a male named Junias.

Scholar Douglas Moo points out that in the same passage where Junias is understood to be a male, Epiphanius refers to Prisca (Priscilla) as a man.4 Epiphanius also wrote that “the female sex is easily seduced, weak, and without much understanding. The Devil seeks to vomit out this disorder through women. … We wish to apply masculine reasoning and destroy the folly of these women.”5 Epipha-nius’s misogynist statements concerning women casts strong doubt about his provision of objective evidence in support of a male reading. His beliefs about women no doubt colored his thinking and writing.

According to many scholars, “Junia” was a common name in Greek and Latin literature. Brooten states, “the female Latin name Junia occurs over 250 times among inscriptions from ancient Rome alone.”6

Support for a female named Julia appears in one papyrus, P 46, dated about A.D. 200. Other early manuscripts from the third, fourth, and fifth centuries provide additional support for this female name.

The quality and age of these manuscripts provide strong support for a female name whether it is rendered Junia or Julia.

Evidence for female church leaders

We have seen that evidence from writings of early church leaders testify that Junia was a woman apostle. In writing on Romans 16:7, John Chrysostom (347-407) states:

Greet Andronicus and Junia. . .who are outstanding among the apostles: To be an apostle is something great! But to be outstanding among the apostles—just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle.7

Chrysostom was not alone in confirming the gender of Junia as female. Origen of Alexander (185-253) understood the name to be feminine.8 Others include Jerome (340-419), Hatto of Vercelli (924-961), Theophylack (1050-1108), and Peter Abelard (1079-1142.)9

From the earliest times, the attitude of the church fathers toward women could be described at best as negative.10 Origen, Chrysostom, and others were no exceptions to the prevailing attitudes. Yet, despite their negative attitudes regarding women, they gave testimony that Junia was female. Thus we can see that the testimony by church leaders through the twelfth century provide convincing support that Junia was female.

An apostle or just “highy regarded”?

A second question is whether Andronicus and Junia were “among the apostles” or simply “highly regarded by the apostles.” Although some have said that both meanings are possible, virtually all English Bibles translate the phrase as meaning they were “among the apostles.” Contemporary and past scholarship, lexical definitions, and grammatical construction all support the understanding that these two people were “regarded as apostles.” Here are some translations:

Outstanding apostles, NAB
Outstanding among the apostles, NASB, NIV
Prominent among the apostles, NRSV
Eminent among the apostles, REB
Of note among the apostles, KJV, ASV. NKJV
Very important apostles. NCV

Natural meaning of apostles

Greek scholar A. T. Robertson states that the phrase en tois apostolois “naturally means that they are counted among the apostles in the general sense of Barnabas, James, the brother of Christ, Silas, and others. But it can mean simply that they were famous in the circle of the apostles in the technical sense.”11

J. B. Lightfoot agrees that the only natural way to trans-late episemoi en tois apostolois is “regarded as apostles.”12 Aida Besançon Spencer makes the grammatical point that “the Greek preposition en used here always has the idea of ‘within.’”13 F. F. Bruce adds that not only were they “well known to the apostles,” but they were “notable members of the apostolic circle.”14 James A. Witmer states that they are “illustrious, notable, or outstanding” among the apostles.15

Early church bishop attests Junia as apostle

The fourth-century bishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, wrote a series of homilies that have been preserved. On Romans 16:7, he wrote of Junia, “Oh, how great is the devotion of this woman that she should be counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!”16 He also praised other women. In reference to Paul’s greeting of Mary in Romans 16:6, he wrote

How is this? A woman again is honored and proclaimed victorious! Again are we men put to shame. Or rather, we are not put to shame only, but have even an honor conferred upon us. For an honor we have, in that there are such women among us, but we are put to shame, in that we men are left so far behind by them…For the women of those days were more spirited than lions.17

Chrysostom’s writings provide us with important insight into the ministry of women in the early church, despite his misogynist views.

Is there evidence for “highly regarded”?

Some interpreters have said that Andronicus and Junia were merely “held in high esteem by the apostles.” Piper and Grudem say that they were held in high regard or were “of note among the apostles,” meaning that they were well known before Paul was converted.18 Thomas Schreiner states that if Junia was a woman apostle, then tension would be created because “apostles were the most authoritative messengers of God.”19 He implies that women could not serve God in this manner.

Craig Keener says, “[S]ince they [Andronicus and Junia] were imprisoned with Paul, he knows them well enough to recommend them without appealing to the other apostles, whose judgment he never cites on such matters, and the Greek is most naturally read as claiming that they were apostles.”20

There is no exegetical evidence that could substantially justify that “highly regarded” is the probable and natural reading of this passage.

What does apostle mean?

Paul said that Andronicus and Junia were apostles. What did he mean?

James Walters offers four distinct ways that the term “apostle” is used in the New Testament. (1) The twelve original followers of Jesus; (2) persons who had seen the risen Lord and been commissioned by him (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:1-11); (3) a missionary successful in church planting, labor, and suffering (which underlie Paul’s arguments in 2 Corinthians; (4) an emissary or missionary sent out by a particular church to perform specific tasks (2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25).21

The first and fourth choices can be ruled out because they were not among the “twelve” nor was their apostleship specifically associated with a particular church or specific task. Selecting between 2 and 3 is more difficult, for they could certainly have been among either or both of the remaining groups. I believe they ministered together in the pattern of Prisca and Aquila, who are mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:3-5a. Paul did not assign any gender-specific roles in his greeting to Andronicus and Junia. They were both equally deemed outstanding apostles, probably by virtue of their apostolic sufferings, the number of years they had been in Christ, their labor, and their humble service for Christ.

May the eyes of all those in the church be opened to see this important truth and its implication that women should be allowed to minister equally as they are called by God. To do otherwise is to deny the full redemptive work of Christ (Gal. 3:28).

Dennis J. Preato has practiced as a business and financial advisor. He is currently enrolled at Bethel Seminary, San Diego in the Master of Divinity — Greek Track program of study — and is expected to graduate in 2004. Dennis along his wife, JB, also an M. Div. candidate, participated as panelists in CBE's recent Marriage and the Family of God conference in Portland,.

Notes

  1. Douglas Moo, “The Epistle to the Romans”, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 921; James Walters,“Phoebe and Junia(s)-Rom. 16:1-2,7,” in Essays on Women in Earliest Christianity: Vol. I, ed. Carroll Osburn (Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 1995), 186.
  2. Ibid.
  3. John Piper and Wayne Grudem,“An Overview of CentralConcerns: Questions and Answers,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, eds. J. Piper and W. Grudem (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1991), 80.
  4. Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Tes-tament, 922.
  5. Ronald L. Dart,“The Christian Woman” [on-line article],available from http://www.abcog.org/woman.htm; accessed 9 October 2001.
  6. Bernadette Brooten,“Junia,” Women in Scripture (2000):109; quoted by Dianne D. McDonnell,“Junia, A Woman Apostle” [online article]; available from http://www.churchof goddfw .com/monthly/junia.html; accessed 8 February 2002.
  7. Bernadette Brooten,“Junia . . . Outsanding Among the Apos-tles (Romans 16.7)” [on-line article], available from http://www.womenpriests.org/classic/brooten.htm; accessed 2 February 2002.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Dianne D. McDonnell,“Junia, A Woman Apostle” [onlinearticle]; available from http://www.churchof goddfw.com/monthly/junia.html; accessed 8 February 2002. This article includes discussion of how Junia become known as a male during the papal reign of Boniface VIII.
  10. Dart,“The Christian Woman", accessed 9 October 2001.
  11. Archibald Thomas Roberston, Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. 4: Epistles of Paul (Hiawatha, Iowa: Parsons Technology, Inc., 1997), electronic edition.
  12. Walter Schmithals, The Office of Apostle In the Early Church, trans. John E. Steely,(New York: Abingdon Press, 1969), 62.
  13. Aida Besançon Spencer, Beyond the Curse (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1985), 104.
  14. F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981), 298, 388.
  15. John A. Witmer, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty: New Testament (Hiawatha, Iowa: Parsons Technology, Inc., 997), electronic edition.
  16. Leonard Swidler, Biblical Affirmations of Woman (Philadelphia: Westminister Press, 979), 299.
  17. Ibid, 295.
  18. John Piper and Wayne Grudem,“An Overview of CentralConcerns: Questions and Answers,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood:A Response to Evangelical Feminism,, 80.
  19. Thomas R. Schreiner, “The Valuable Ministries of Womenin the Context of Male Leadership: A Survey of Old and New Testament Examples and Teaching,” in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism, eds.John Piper and Wayne Grudem (Wheaton: Crossway, 1991), 221.
  20. Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women and Wives (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992), 242.
  21. James Walters,“Phoebe and Junia(s),” 188.

 

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