Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me.
They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
Romans 16:7 NIV
A Female Missionary
Junia, mentioned by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, is a woman whose identity and whose ministry has been much discussed in the past few decades. It was first debated whether she was a woman or a man. But the overwhelming evidence from inscriptions and other ancient sources indicates that “Junia” was a common name for a woman, whereas the masculine “Junias” is non-existent. Practically all early Christian writers took Junia to be a woman, and the consensus among present scholars is the same: Junia was a woman. So this debate has been resolved. [I have more on this debate, here.]
The debate then shifted as to whether Junia was an apostle or not. The word “apostle” is translated from the Greek word apostolos and refers to a person sent on a mission. In the first century of the Christian movement, and in more recent centuries, women have served as missionaries without causing too much controversy. Yet there is controversy over Junia’s ministry.
The debate about whether Junia was “outstanding among the apostles” or, as some argue, that she was “well-known to the apostles” and not an apostle herself, has not been resolved. But either way, Junia was a prominent figure in the apostolic church. Junia and her partner Andronicus were not part of the Twelve, but they were well-known and respected Christian missionaries.
A Jewess and Jesus-Follower
What hasn’t been discussed as much is Paul’s description of Andronicus and Junia as suggeneis. This Greek word can mean “kin” or “compatriots” and it is translated with either meaning in various English translations of Roman 16:7. But which meaning is correct?
The couple were among the first people to become Jesus-followers and, almost without exception, all the first Christians were Jewish. So it is safe to assume that Andronicus and Junia were Jewish, as Paul was. If they were family relations of Paul this would also make them Jewish.
Paul’s use of suggenēs in Romans is marked. Romans is his only letter that contains this word, and he uses it four times: once in Romans 9:3 and three times in Romans chapter 16 (vs. 7, 11, 21). One of Paul’s aims in this letter was to foster unity between Jewish and Gentile Christians, and he does this by highlighting the value of the Jewish heritage. Romans chapters 9 to 11 are about the heritage and salvation of Israel, and Paul uses suggenēs here to refer to his fellow Jews. In Romans 9:3 he refers to them as, “my brothers and sisters” (adelphoi), my “kin/ compatriots” (suggeneis) according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:3).
Paul states that Andronicus and Junia were “in Christ” before him, and Paul was converted sometime during the years AD 33–36. I wonder if the couple had travelled to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost which is the setting of Acts 2. Did they hear Peter preach at that time? Did they accept Jesus as Messiah, and then return to Rome? Were they founding members of the church in Rome? Or did Junia become a follower of Jesus even earlier?
Are Junia and Joanna the same person?
Some scholars, notably Richard Bauckham and Ben Witherington III, argue that Junia may be one and the same as Joanna, a female disciple of Jesus who is mentioned in Luke 8:3 and Luke 24:10. Bauckham acknowledges this idea is not certain but “is a historical conjecture as probable as many that have classic status in biblical studies.
Luke tells us that Joanna was the wife of Chuza, the steward of Herod Antipas. As part of Herod’s court, Joanna would have known Latin and been familiar with Roman customs, making her a suitable missionary, or founding apostle, of the church in Rome. And she may have changed her Hebraic name to the Latin “Junia” to suit her new surroundings in Rome. “Joanna,” a Hebraic name rendered Ἰωάννα (Iōanna) in the Greek New Testament, has similarities with “Junia,” a Latin name, Iunia, rendered Ἰουνία (Iounia) in the GNT.
Another part of this Joanna-Junia scenario is the understanding that her husband Chuza divorced her (for becoming a Jesus-follower?) or that he died at some point, and that Andronicus became her new husband and ministry partner. A new husband is a possibility considering the length of time from when Joanna was a disciple who followed Jesus on his earthly mission (circa AD 30) to the time that Paul wrote his letter to the Romans (circa AD 57), some 27 years later. Joanna could have remarried during that time, assuming she was still alive. Nevertheless, the idea that Joanna is Junia cannot be substantiated. It is conjecture.
Persecuted and Imprisoned
What we do know is that Junia was a Jewish woman who, with her partner Andronicus, had become a Jesus-follower very early on, and that she had been persecuted for her faith. At some point, like Paul, the couple had been imprisoned.
From the very beginning of Christianity, women, as well as men, were imprisoned, beaten, tortured and even killed for their faith. Before his conversion, Paul himself murdered and imprisoned Christians. He admitted, “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison” (Acts 22:4 NIV; cf. Acts 9:1ff).
Nijay K. Gupta notes,
“… women were in the minority in prison. Part of the reason for this is because in Roman culture, law, and practice, women involved in public misbehavior would often be handed over to their husbands or fathers to be punished or shamed in the household. But we do know that for more serious charges, women were confined in prison (with men, not separately) before sentencing.
Dr Gupta also proposes that “that Paul’s use of συναιχμάλωτος [“fellow captives, fellow prisoners”] all by itself implies true prison confinement (not, e.g., a more comfortable situation like house arrest).” Perhaps Andronicus and Junia’s missionary work caused a civil disturbance, a commotion, and this landed them in jail. The Romans had little tolerance for social unrest.
Prisons in ancient times were often dark, cramped, putrid, and generally miserable places. Prisoners could be chained or placed in stocks. And women, such as Junia, could be sexually abused by prisoners or prison guards. This was not an uncommon experience for female prisoners. Furthermore, if Andronicus and Junia were freedmen, rather than freeborn Roman citizens (which Joanna would have been), their imprisonment would most likely have involved torture.
Rather than being Joanna, an aristocratic member of Herod’s court, there is a real possibility that Junia and Andronicus had once been slaves. Amy Peeler notes that “Andronikos is a male Greek name, often given to slaves or freedmen (manumitted slaves). [While Junia’s name is] … related to the esteemed Roman family the gens Junia, which could be taken by their slaves or the descendants of their slaves.” If Junia was a freedwoman, a former slave, it is likely she suffered a great deal when she was in prison.
Junia was one of the first Christians and, if she was Joanna, she would have even known Jesus personally. She suffered for her faith, but it did not seem to have hindered her ministry. So much so that when Paul wrote to the Roman Church in around AD 57, he was able to describe her and Andronicus as “outstanding” (NIV, NASB), “esteemed” (CEB), “highly respected” (NLT), “well known” (GNT) among the apostles. Paul, who was himself an outstanding apostle, was well-qualified to use this phrase to describe Andronicus and Junia.
This article is an Additional Resource recommended by Yale Bible Studies (Women in the Bible).
 The word “apostle,” from the Greek word apostolos, has a similar range of meanings as the word “missionary,” from the Latin word missionis.
 The lexical form of suggeneis (which is plural) is suggenēs (which is nominative singular).
 Amy Peeler suggests, “it is possible that Andronicus was a member of the Greek-speaking Jewish Christians mentioned in Acts 6:1 who were scattered out of Jerusalem because of persecution, went to Antioch, and began preaching to the Greeks about Jesus (Acts 11:19–20). If this is the case, then Andronicus and Junia could be among the Jewish Christians who would have supported Paul’s controversial mission to the Gentiles, and that would make them important allies indeed.”
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, 278.
 See Richard J. Bauckham, Gospel Women (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 109–202; and Ben Witherington III, “Joanna: Apostle of the Lord—or Jailbait?” Bible Review (Spring 2005): 12–14.
 Bauckham, Gospel Women, 110.
 Paul refers to Andronicus and Junia as his “fellow prisoners” (synaichmalōtoi). He uses the same word in Colossians 4:10 and Philemon 1:23 for other fellow prisoners of his. The word seems to indicate that the couple were imprisoned with Paul at the same time, but this may not be case. Another possibility is that Paul uses the term “fellow prisoners” as a badge of honour for Christians who had similarly suffered imprisonment because of their ministry, but not necessarily at the same time or in the same place as him.
 Gupta, “Reconstructing Junia’s Imprisonment: Examining a Neglected Pauline Comment in Rom 16:7,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 47.4 (2020): 385–397, 391.
 Gupta, “Reconstructing Junia’s Imprisonment,” 390.
 The couple may have been acquitted or fined, or perhaps the church paid a bribe for their release. The imprisonment of Perpetua and Felicitas in AD 202 or 203, recounted in the prison diary of Perpetua, gives insight into prison conditions for women and it mentions bribes. See The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas 1.2. (Online at New Advent)
 Peeler, “Junia/Joanna,” 278.
Postscript: November 20, 2023
The Etymology of Junia’s Name
I’ve seen some people claim that the name Junia and the (true) masculine equivalent Junius are derived from the name of the Roman goddess Juno, the wife of Jupiter. Maybe they are, maybe they’re not, but I don’t find this idea helpful in understanding the identity of the Junia in Romans 16:7. I’ve also heard that the names Junia and Junius come from the Latin word iuvenes which means “young.” (The English words “junior” and “juvenile” are derived from this Latin word.)
Whatever the derivation of the name, it’s likely that the Junia in Romans 16:7 was given a family name. If so, this may mean she was somehow connected with the distinguished gens Iunia; though, perhaps as a freed slave. Another possibility is that Junia is the same person as Joanna in Luke’s Gospel and that Joanna adopted the similar-sounding Roman name, Junia, when she moved to Rome. (These two ideas are mentioned in the body of the article above.)
There are many Roman women with the name Junia in the ancient record; there are even more men named Junius. (See here.) As one example, the legendary founder of the Roman Republic had the name Lucius Junius Brutus. On the other hand, there is no man named “Junias” in ancient records. “Junias,” the name that appears in some translations of Romans 16:7, was not a name given to Roman men.
Junia in Romans 16:7
Is Junia well-known “to” the apostles?
Junias and Junia in Early Commentaries of Romans 16:7
Jesus had many female followers—many!
Were Priscilla, Phoebe and Junia Friends?
Paul and Women, in a Nutshell
Paul’s Greetings to Women Ministers