Junia in Romans 16:7 Sarah Beth Baca

Watercolour and ink portrait of Junia by Sarah Beth Baca.
Used with permission of the artist. All rights reserved.
Prints of this portrait can be purchased here.

This article is also available in Hungarian (Magyarul) here.

I was talking with a friend recently and Junia came up in our conversation. My friend stated with a great deal of confidence that Junia was definitely not an apostle. My friend also mentioned that his Bible translation of choice was the English Standard Version. I looked up the ESV online [here] to see whether this translation might have had something to do with his view that Junia was not an apostle. It did.

This article about Junia is written in response to my friend’s confident statement, and so I have deliberately chosen the ESV as a reference point. Here’s what it says about Junia:

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen[1] and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.  Romans 16:7 (ESV)

Who was Junia?

Andronicus and Junia are mentioned in the New Testament only in Paul’s letter to the Romans.[2] Paul speaks very warmly about this couple who were possibly a married couple or brother and sister. From Romans 16:7, we can see that both Andronicus and Junia were well known to the church (otherwise Paul would not have mentioned them in his letter); they were related to Paul (or were fellow Jews); they had been imprisoned with Paul; they had been Christians longer than Paul (they may even have been among the founders of the church at Rome); and they were considered as outstanding among the apostles. This last point has been debated in recent times. An older debate, however, is whether Junia was male or female.

Was Junia a woman?

I have read several articles which argue that Junia was a man named Junias and not a woman.[3] The weakness of this argument is that the masculine name Junias never occurs in any ancient Greek inscription, it also never occurs in any manuscript that dates before the 13th century AD, but the female name Junia is common enough in both inscriptions and manuscripts.[4] This fact is widely acknowledged by most modern biblical scholars.

Michael Bird writes,

There is a tsunami of textual and patristic evidence for ‘Junia’ that proves overwhelming. Despite some naughty scribes, biased translators, lazy lexicographers and dogmatic commentators, the text speaks about a woman named ‘Junia.’ Jewett goes so far as to call the masculine ‘Junias’ a ‘figment of chauvinistic imagination.'[5]

The translators of the ESV concede Junia was most probably a woman; however, they retain the masculine name “Junias” in a footnote.

Was Junia an apostle?

I have also heard people minimise the meaning of the word “apostle” when applied to Junia. Certainly, apart from Jesus’ twelve (or eleven) apostles who are in a special class, an apostle is simply a minister who serves as a church planter, as an envoy, or as a missionary.[6] In the New Testament, several people other than the Twelve are called apostles. These other apostles include: Paul, Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Silas, Apollos (1 Cor 1:12), Timothy, Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25), Andronicus and Junia (Rom. 16:7)—all people with significant ministries.[7]

An apostle (apostolos) is literally someone who is “sent” (apostellō) on a mission. Church history is full of examples of male and female missionaries.[8] Both men and women have been sent by the Church or been driven by a personal calling to pioneer ministries which have furthered the gospel, ministries which can validly be described as apostolic.[9]

The ESV gives an alternative meaning for “apostles” in a footnote for Romans 16:7. They suggest that “apostles” might be translated as “messengers” here. It could be that Andronicus and Junia were “well known among the messengers”; however, people in the New Testament who were called apostles were usually more than just messengers. From the description we have of Andronicus and Junia, it appears that both of them were involved in important ministry.

Several Patristic writers regard Junia as a female apostle. In his Homilies on the Book of Romans, fourth-century church father John Chrysostom preached favourably about Junia, and clearly acknowledged her as a female apostle. Writing about Andronicus and Junia, he said:

And indeed to be apostles at all is a great thing. But to be even among these of note, just consider what a great tribute this is! But they were of note owing to their works, to their achievements. Oh! How great is the wisdom of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle! Homily 31 on Romans.

Was Junia outstanding?

In most English translations of Romans 16:7, Andronicus and Junia are referred to as “outstanding among the apostles” (Greek: episēmos en tois apostolois).[10] The ESV replaces the usual description of “outstanding” (Greek: episēmos) with “well-known”.

BDAG (p.378) defines episēmos as (1) “of exceptional quality, splendid, prominent, outstanding” and it quotes from Romans 16:7: “outstanding among the apostles”.[11]

Michael Brurer and Daniel Wallace suggest that the phrase, episēmos en tois apostolois, can be understood and translated in two ways: that Andronicus and Junia may have been “(a) notable members of the group of the apostles; or, (b) not apostles themselves but well known among (i.e. to) the apostles.”[12] (My underlines.) Both “notable” and “well known” have a milder sense than “outstanding”.

New Testament translators and commentators seem to have chosen one of following three options when translating the phrase episēmos en tois apostolois into English:  

  • (1) Those who think that Junia(s) was a man, such as the translators of the NASB, have typically translated this phrase as “outstanding among the apostles”.
  • (2) Some who acknowledge that Junia was actually a woman, such as the translators of the ESV, the NET Bible, and a few others, have chosen the “softer” option and translate this phrase as “well-known to the apostles”.
  • (3) Others, who also acknowledge that Junia was a woman, keep the more literal translation of “outstanding/prominent among the apostles”. This last group of translations includes the CEB, NRSV and the NIV. (My underlines.)

[See for yourself how the translation changes when the translators think Junia is a man–Junias, or a woman–Junia, here. Watch out for the “s” ending on the name. And scroll down the linked page and read the unashamedly prejudiced Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on Romans 16:7.]

Was Junia well-known to the Apostles?

Another troubling aspect of the ESV translation of Romans 16:7 is how the Greek word ἐν (en) has been translated. En is a common word and is used approximately 2830 times in the New Testament. This word is frequently translated as “in” or “among” in English.[13]  Here are a couple of examples of Scriptures where the word en occurs:

“Our Father who is in heaven . . .” Matthew 6:9
“. . .to those among the Diaspora” James 1:1

Writing about Romans 16:7, Peter Lampe, a foremost scholar of early Christianity, succinctly states, “The en has to be translated as ‘among’ (the apostles) like in 1 Corinthians 15:12 and James 5:13-14, 19.”[14]

I can only think of one reason to translate this phrase as “well known to the apostles”. That reason is to obscure the fact that Junia, along with Andronicus, was actually outstanding among the apostles.

It is important to note that the Greek New Testament never states that a woman cannot be an apostle, missionary, or church leader. Moreover, in the New Testament, several women are mentioned who obviously were church leaders. Sadly, some Bible commentators have persistently tried to minimise their roles.

Conclusion

In efforts to keep women out of leadership ministries, some Bible translators have been keen to soften the impact of Junia as a valid scriptural precedent of a woman with a prominent leadership ministry. In the past they have tried to make her a man. Now that this idea no longer has credence, some translators are trying to downplay her description of “well-known among the apostles”.

Was Junia a distinguished or notable apostle, or was she well known to the apostles? The more obvious reading of Romans 16:7 is that both Andronicus and Junia were outstanding, or possibly notable, among the apostles. However, even if they were just well known, and it was their reputation that was outstanding among the apostles, surely this in itself is a wonderful endorsement of their ministry.

Here is how the New Revised Standard Version translates Romans 16:7:

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.  (NRSV)


Endnotes

Some people have suggested that Junia is the same person as Joanna who is mentioned in Luke 8:1-3 and Luke 24:9-10. Joanna certainly qualifies as being an apostle according to the traditional understanding of apostolic prerequisites (e.g., seeing the risen Jesus). However, I am unconvinced that Junia and Joanna are one and the same.

[1] The Greek word translated in the ESV as “kinsmen” (from suggenēs) in Romans 16:7 can refer to male and female relatives.  I wonder whether the ESV chose the word “kinsmen”, which sounds particularly masculine to modern readers, to obscure the fact that Junia was a woman? Surely “relative” would be easier to understand.
BDAG (p. 950) defines suggenēs as: (1) “Belonging to the same extended family or clan, related, akin to” . . . [or] (2) Belonging to the same people group, compatriot, kin . . .” [9]

[2] Paul obviously held Andronicus and Junia in high esteem. He sent them, and several other ministers, both men and women, his personal greetings in chapter 16 of his letter to the Romans 16. At least ten women are mentioned in Romans chapter 16. These women were all active in some sort of ministry for the gospel, some were house church leaders.

[3] Some people who believe that Junia(s) was a man, claim that the name found in Romans 16:7 is a contraction of the male name: Junianus. An interesting and scholarly article by Albert Wolters, somewhat defending this position, is here.

[4] The masculinised name Junias does not exist in any Greek manuscript or inscription, religious or otherwise. (The true masculine form of Junia is Junius.) The feminine name Junia, however, is found over 250 times in various Greek manuscripts.

James D. G. Dunn writes:

Lampe 139–40, 147 indicates over 250 examples of “Junia,” none of Junias, as was taken for granted by the patristic commentators, and indeed up to the Middle Ages. The assumption that it must be male is a striking indictment of male presumption regarding the character and structure of earliest Christianity. . . We may firmly conclude, however, that one of the foundation apostles of Christianity was a woman and wife.
Romans 9-16, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol 38B, (Dallas: Word, 1988), 894.

Bernadette Brooten has noted that the earliest commentator on Romans 16:7, Origen of Alexandria (c. 185–255), took the name Junia to be feminine, as did Jerome (c. 340–c. 420), Hatto of Vercelli (924-961), Theophylact (c. 1050–c. 1108), and Peter Abelard (1079–1142). In fact, no commentator on the text until Aegidus of Rome (1245–1316) took the name to be masculine.
Bernadette Brooten, “Junia . . . Outstanding among the Apostles” (Romans 16:7) in Women Priests: A Catholic Commentary on the Vatican Declaration, Arlene and Leonard Swidler (eds.) (Paulist Press, 1979), 141. Brooten’s chapter can be viewed online here.

Kenneth Bailey writes:

The first noticeable shift from Junia to Junias was apparently made by Faber Stapulensis, writing in Paris in 1512. His work subsequently influenced Luther’s commentary on Romans.
“Women in the New Testament: A Middle Eastern Cultural View,” Theology Matters, Vol. 6 No. 1 (Jan-Feb 2000), 2. (This paper can be read free and online here.)

John Thorley writes:

The universal view of the early fathers was that the name was Junia, and that she was a woman, and the English Authorised Version of 1611 followed this reading “Junia”, clearly a woman’s name; and in fact “Junias” became a man in English translations only in 1881 when the Revised Version was published. Luther, however, in his German translation of 1552 had already opted for [the masculine] “den Juniam”, and continental translations have since then mostly followed this masculine interpretation.
“Junia, a Woman Apostle” in Novum Testamentum, Vol. 38 (January, 1996), 18-29, 18.

The female name “Junia” was used in the Tyndale and King James Bible. Later English translations used the masculine name “Junias” until recently. N.B. The highlighted Scripture texts on this page use the NASB that has the masculine  “Junias”.

Eldon Jay Epp writes on the “Text-Critical, Exegetical and Socio-Cultural Factors Affecting the Junia/Junia Variation in Romans 16:7” in New Testament Textual Criticism: Festschrift J. Delobel (ed.) A. Denaux (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2002), 227-291. Parts of Dr Epp’s chapter are available on Google Books here.

[5] Michael Bird, Romans (The Story of God Bible Commentary) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016)

[6] The function of being an apostle is one of the church leadership gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4:11.

And these were his [Jesus’] gifts: some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip God’s people for work in his service, to the building up of the body of Christ.  Ephesians 4:11

[7]  Jesus is also called an apostle in Hebrews 3:1.

[8] What I find peculiar about the whole debate of whether Junia was really an apostle, is that the word “apostle” (derived from Greek) is just another word for “missionary” (derived from Latin), and there have been numerous examples of women being missionaries without causing controversy. 

[9] Even though the church has mostly hindered women (instead of encouraging them in ministry), there have always been a few women who, because of their elevated social position (nobility), personal wealth, exceptional intelligence, tenacity or extraordinary gifts, have functioned as leaders. Catherine of Siena, Madame Guyon, Amy Carmichael, Gladys Aylward, Countess Huntingdon, Phoebe Palmer, Lottie Moon and Dorothy L. Sayers are just a few who spring to mind. Who knows how much the progress of the gospel has been diminished by disallowing women to minister as equals, side by side with men. or even on their own?

[10] The following Bible translations use the phrase “outstanding among the apostles” or “of note among the apostles” in Romans 16:7: New International Version (1984, 2011); New American Standard Bible (1995); Common English Bible: American Standard Bible; International Standard Version (2008); Douay Rheims Bible; Bible in Basic English; Darby Bible Translation; English Revised Version; Webster’s Bible Translation; Weymouth New Testament; Word English Bible; etc.

[11] BDAG = A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition, by Walter Bauer, revised and edited by F.W Danker (University of Chicago Press, 2000) As a second, alternative definition, BDAG has: (2) “Also in a bad sense: notorious.” It goes without saying, that Paul could in no way have been implying that Andronicus and Junia were notorious. Episēmos is used only one other time in the New Testament, in Matthew 27:16, in reference to Barabas, who certainly qualifies as being notorious!

[12] M. H. Brurer and D. B. Wallace,”Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Re-examination of Romans 16:7″ in New Testament Studies, CUP, Vol 47, Number 1, (January, 2001) 76-91.  A version of this paper is available here.

[13] En is always followed by a word or phrase in the dative case. En is commonly translated as “in” or “among”. It can also be translated as “on”, “at”, “by”, “with”, “when”, and occasionally, “to”.

[14] Peter Lampe, “The Roman Christians of Romans 16”, The Writings of St. Paul, Wayne A. Meeks and John T. Fitzgerald (eds) (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007) 665.

© 1st of April, 2010; Margaret Mowczko


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