Stephanas or Stephana: Man or Woman?

Image Credit: “The Scribe” by Jean Mielot
From Scribes and Illuminators, C. de Hamel, British Museum Press.

Junia and Nympha

It is commonly acknowledged by contemporary Bible scholars that Junias and Nymphas, as their names appear in some older English translations,[1] are actually two women: Junia (Rom. 16:7) and Nympha (Col. 4:15).[2] [N.B. The highlighted references on this site use the NASB 1995 which has the incorrect masculine “Junias” in Rom. 16:7.]

When the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament began to be accented Junia and Nympha were accented as feminine nouns.[2] But at some point, the genders of Junia and Nympha were made masculine by changing the accents. Furthermore, the personal pronoun in Colossians 4:15 was also changed from a feminine pronoun (corresponding to the English “her”) to a masculine pronoun (corresponding to “him”), or, in some cases a non-gendered plural pronoun.[3]

The alterations to the genders of these two women happened on two separate occasions, sometime in the middle ages. I suggest the scribes who were making copies of the Greek Scriptures looked at the names and presumed they were masculine names, and they changed the accents accordingly. It seems the feminine pronoun in Colossians 4:15 was also seen as a mistake that needed to be corrected. After all, a woman can’t possibly be an apostle—can she? And Paul can’t possibly be implying that a woman was a house church leader—can he?

These errors were then copied by other scribes, and these Greek copies were subsequently used as resources for some English translations. A few modern English translations retain these mistakes.[4]

[I have written more about Junia, including the alteration of her name here. See especially the endnotes.]

Stephana?

Some people, aware that the feminine gender of Junia and Nympha has been obscured in the past, speculate that Stephanas, mentioned three times in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, was also a woman whose gender has been obscured (1 Cor. 1:16; 16:15,17). The idea that Stephanas was a woman may seem plausible to people with a scant knowledge of Greek. This is because each occurrence of the name Stephanas appears in the Greek as Stephana, which appears to be feminine. However it is important to note that in all three occurrences, Stephanas is not the subject of the sentence, and so the name is not in the nominative (subject) case but in the genitive (“possessive”) case.

In Greek there are four main cases.[5] Each different case has different case endings: different suffixes attached to the stem of the word. Many names in the New Testament have nominative, genitive, accusative and dative case endings, and sometimes a vocative case ending.

Stephanas is a man’s name and, if he had been the subject of the sentences in 1 Corinthians, the Greek would have read Stephanas (nominative, or subject case). But in each instance his name, Stephanas appears in the genitive, or “possessive” case, correctly, as Stephana.[6]

By way of explanation:

  • In 1 Corinthians 1:16, Paul is the subject. He was the one who did the action of baptizing.
  • The household is the object (accusative case). The people in the household are the one’s who Paul “acted” upon with baptism.
  • The household belonged to Stephanas, so Stephanas is in the genitive (“possessive”) case and thus, according to the rules of Greek grammar, Stephanas loses the final sigma (s) and becomes Stephana. Other similar masculine names found in the New Testament also lose the final sigma (s) in the genitive case. [See endnote 7.]

In English we usually add an ‘s to indicate possession, as in: Mary‘s book. Or we might use the word “of”, as in: The house “of” Stephanas (1 Cor. 1:16; 1 Cor. 16:15), and the coming “of” Stephanas (1 Cor. 16:17).

If the person in 1 Corinthians 1:16, 16:15, 17 actually had been a woman called Stephana, the name would have ended in a sigma (“s”) in the Greek of these verses, because feminine names typically end in a sigma in the genitive (“possessive”) case.

Admittedly Stephanas is an uncommon name. The usual form is Stephanos, which is equivalent to Stephen (e.g. Acts 6:8). However, taking into account the Greek grammar, Stephana is a singular masculine noun in the genitive case, indicating that the person Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians is a man named Stephanas. Furthermore, there are no variants of the name in different Greek manuscripts of 1 Corinthians. That is, there is no evidence that the gender has been altered in any of the various Greek manuscripts, as was the case for Nympha and Junia.[8]

Who was Stephanas?

Stephanas was a member of the church at Corinth, and his household were among the first Christian converts in Archaia (cf. Acts 16:14-15). Stephanas and his household had been baptised by Paul and they were devoted to Christian ministry. Stephanas, along with two other men, went to visit Paul in Ephesus to help him in his mission.

Paul thought very highly of Stephanas and his household. This is what he wrote about Stephanas as he closed his first letter to the Corinthians:

You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you.  For they refreshed my spirit and yours also.  Such people deserve recognition. 1 Corinthians 16:15-18


Endnotes

[1] “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.
John Thorley, “Junia, a Woman Apostle” in Novum Testamentum, Vol. 38, (January, 1996) 18.

[2] One reason we know that Junia is really a woman is that the masculinised name Junias simply doesn’t exist in any surviving ancient papyrus or inscription, whereas Junia appears numerous times. The reason we know Nympha is really a woman is because of the feminine pronoun in the older unaccented manuscripts of Colossians 4:15.

[3] The masculine and feminine forms for Junia(s) and the masculine and feminine forms for Nympha(s) are practically identical in the accusative case: it is only the accents which are different, the letters are the same. These names only appear in the accusative case in the New Testament. (See endnote 8.)

[4] The NASB 95 and the NIV 84 have the masculine name “Junias”. The NIV 2011, KJV, NKJV, ESV, NLT and many other English translations have “Junia”. Some of these translations add a footnote suggesting the possibility of “Junias” as a translation.
The KJV and the NKJV have the masculine “Nymphas” with the masculine pronoun “his”. Most modern English translations have “Nympha” and “her” in Colossians 4:15.

From my observations (which are still sketchy), Nympha’s masculine name and pronoun occurs in the  Textus Receptus which has affected the KJV and NKJV translations of Nympha. (See endnote 7 also.) Junia’s name is masculinised in the Majority Text and Wescott and Hort which has affected the translation of Junia into Junias in the NASB and NIV 84, etc. These mistakes (and others) also appear in some other Greek manuscripts, but they do not appear in the older, more ancient Greek manuscripts which are considered to be more faithful to Paul’s original letters.

[5] Some Greek scholars maintain there are eight cases.

[6] With a circumflex over the final alpha. (See endnote 8.)

[7] The names Stephanas, Thomas, Judas, Kephas (Cephas) and Akulas (Aquila), etc, are all first declension masculine nouns. (They are declined differently to the more common second declension masculine nouns.)

[8] There are a few variants involving the accents of Nympha’s name in various Greek manuscripts.

If the name Nympha is accented with a circumflex on the ultima (Νυμφᾶν, Numfan), then it refers to a man; if it receives an acute accent on the penult (Νύμφαν), the reference is to a woman. Scribes that considered Nympha to be a man’s name had the corresponding masculine pronoun αὐτοῦ here (autou, “his”; so D [F G] Ψ Ï), while those who saw Nympha as a woman read the feminine αὐτῆς here (auth”, “her”; B 0278 6 1739[*] 1881 sa). Several mss (א A C P 075 33 81 104 326 1175 2464 bo) have αὐτῶν (autwn, “their”), perhaps because of indecisiveness on the gender of Nympha, perhaps because they included ἀδελφούς (adelfou”, here translated “brothers and sisters”) as part of the referent. (Perhaps because accents were not part of the original text, scribes were particularly confused here.) The harder reading is certainly αὐτῆς, and thus Nympha should be considered a woman.  Note from the NET Bible here.

There are also a few variants of Junia’s name involving accents. A few sources even have the name (equivalent to) Julia instead of Junia. The variants of Junia’s name are given in the apparatus of good Greek New Testaments. [The NET Bible does not give a rundown of the variants of Junia which I can simply copy and paste, like they do for “Nympha”.]

© 20th of November 2011; Margaret Mowczko

Postscript (16.01.12)

There has been some discussion recently about whether any of names of false teachers mentioned in the letters to Timothy are feminine names.  The short answer is ‘no’.  The names Hymenaeus and Philetus end with the typical nominative masculine ending of “os” in the Greek of 2 Timothy 2:17, as does Hymenaeus and Alexander in 1 Timothy 1:20.  Hymenaeus is not an uncommon masculine name found in Greek mythology and elsewhere.  Philetus is less common and in Greek means “worthy of love”. Alexander is a very well known masculine name.


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