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.

Tradução em português aqui.

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 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 warmly about this couple, who were possibly a married couple or brother and sister, and he tells us a bit about them.

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, more likely, 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 a few articles and commentaries that argue or simply assume 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 document apart from a reference attributed to Epiphanius, and he also refers to Prisca as a man.[4] The feminine name “Junia” is common enough in ancient inscriptions,[5] and, apart from Epiphanius, church fathers such as Chrysostom, Origen, and Jerome all took Junia to be a woman. This fact is widely acknowledged by most modern biblical scholars.

For instance, 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.'[6]

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 a minister who serves as a missionary, a church planter, or as an envoy.[7] In the New Testament, several people other than the Twelve are called apostles. These other apostles include Paul, Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Silas and Timothy (1 Thess. 2:6b; cf. 1 Thess. 1:1a), Apollos (1 Cor 1:12), Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25), Andronicus and Junia (Rom. 16:7)—all people with significant ministries.[8]

An apostle (apostolos) is literally someone who is “sent” (verb: apostellō) on a mission. Church history is full of examples of male and female missionaries.[9] Both men and women have been sent by the church or been driven by a personal calling to pioneer ministries that have furthered the gospel, ministries that can validly be described as apostolic.[10]

The ESV gives an alternative meaning for “apostles” in a footnote for Romans 16:7. The suggestion is 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, including the fact that they were imprisoned with the apostle Paul, it appears that both of them were involved in important ministry. Paul mentions that Andronicus and Junia were fellow prisoners as a way of honouring them, and the implication is that they were all imprisoned because of their missionary work.

Several Patristic writers regard Junia as a female apostle. In his 31st homily (sermon) on Paul’s letter to the Romans, fourth-century church father John Chrysostom preached favourably about Junia, and 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).[11] The ESV replaces the usual description of “outstanding” (Greek: episēmos) with milder words, “well known.”[12]

Furthermore, following the work of Michael Burer and Daniel Wallace,[13] the ESV has rendered the Greek preposition en (ἐν) as “to” rather than the more usual “among.” 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.[14] 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.”[15]

I can only think of one reason to translate en as “to,” as in, “well known to the apostles” in the ESV. That reason is to obscure the fact that Junia, along with Andronicus, was actually outstanding or notable among the apostles, meaning, the couple were outstanding missionaries. (More about among versus to, here.)

New Testament translators and commentators seem to fall into three groups in how they approach 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 a “softer” option and translate this phrase as “well known to the apostles” (cf. CSB).
  • (3) Others, who also acknowledge that Junia was a woman, keep the more literal translation of “outstanding/prominent/notable among the apostles.” This last group of translations includes the CEB, KJV, NRSV, and NIV. (My underlines.)

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.


It seems that in efforts to keep women out of leadership ministries, some Bible translators have chosen language to soften the impact of Junia as a precedent of a woman with a prominent ministry. In the past couple of centuries, 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 “outstanding among the apostles.”

Was Junia a distinguished or prominent 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 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)


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. More on this here.

[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 masculine to modern readers, to obscure the fact that Junia was a woman? Surely “relative” would be easier to understand. Though, “fellow Jews” is probably the sense intended by Paul (cf. Rom. 9:3 NIV; Rom. 16:11 NIV, Rom. 16:21).
BDAG 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 . . .”
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), 950.

[2] Paul obviously held Andronicus and Junia in high esteem. He wanted them, and twenty-six other Christians in Rome, to be greeted (Rom. 16:3-16). At least ten women are mentioned in Romans chapter 16, and Paul commends most of these women for their involvement in ministry. An annotated list of the people in Romans 16:1-16 is here.

[3] A few people who believe Junia(s) was a man, suggest 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. The true masculine form of the Latin name Junia, however, is Junius not Junias.

[4] The Index Discipulorum, a list of apostles attributed to Epiphanius and dated to the 4th century, though it may be late as the 9th century, has the masculine names Junias and Priscas. (See #64 ξγ’ Priscas and ξδ’ Junias here.)
There has been a question over how Origen understood the sex of Junia. Origen’s commentary on Romans, which was originally written in Greek but survives as a complete document in a 12th century Latin translation, has both “Junia” (1280c) and “Junias” (1289a). (A PDF of the Latin translation is here. English translations of Origen’s comments about Junia are here.)

Grudem claims that Origen has a reference to this name in the masculine form, Iunias (Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth, 225) but now a critical edition of Rufinus’s translation of Origen’s commentary (where the masculine form occurs) exists and demonstrates that the earliest and best manuscripts have a feminine form of the name. The masculine form exists only in two texts, probably one is dependent upon the other, from the twelfth century. In other places where Origen refers to Romans 16:7, he uses a feminine form of the name. Other scholars who translate Origen’s commentary also have the name as feminine (Epp, Junia, 33–34).
Amy Peeler, “Junia/Joanna: Herald of the Good News”, in Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible, edited by Sandra Glahn (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2017), 273-285, 276 fn14.

[5] Bruce Metzger writes:

The female Latin name Junia occurs over 250 times in Greek and Latin inscriptions found in Rome alone, whereas the male name is unattested anywhere, and when Greek manuscripts [containing Romans 16:7] began to be accented, scribes wrote the feminine Ἰουνίαν (“Junia”).
A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, Second Edition (D-Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 475.

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, TX: Word, 1988), 894.

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,” in Theology Matters, 6.1 (Jan-Feb 2000), 2.

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 webpage use the NASB and it 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 and Exegesis: Festschrift J. Delobel, A. Denaux (ed.) (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2002), 227-291. Parts of Dr Epp’s chapter are available on Google Books here.

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

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

And these were [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

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

[9] 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.

[10] Even though the church has mostly hindered women from prominent ministries, 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, teachers, and missionaries. Marcella of Rome, Catherine of Siena, Madame Guyon, Amy Carmichael, Gladys Aylward, Countess Huntingdon, Phoebe Palmer, Lottie Moon, and Dorothy L. Sayers are just a few women ministers who spring to mind. Who knows how much the progress of the gospel has been impeded by disallowing women to minister as equals, side by side, with men, or even on their own?

[11] 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, King James 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.

[12] BDAG defines episēmos as “of exceptional quality, splendid, prominent, outstanding” and it quotes from Romans 16:7: “outstanding among the apostles.”
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), 378.
LSJ’s entry on episēmos is here.

[13] M.H. Burer and D.B. Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Re-examination of Romans 16:7,” in New Testament Studies, CUP, 47.1 (January 2001), 76-91. Their paper is available here. I discuss this paper here.

[14] 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.”

[15] Peter Lampe, “The Roman Christians of Romans 16,” in 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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