Stephana, Junia, Nympha, Euodia: Men or Women?

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

Junia of Rome and Nympha of Laodicea

It is commonly acknowledged by contemporary New Testament scholars that Junias and Nymphas, as their names appear in some older English translations, are actually two women: Junia (Rom. 16:7) and Nympha (Col. 4:15). [N.B. The highlighted orange texts in this article link to the NASB 1995 which has the incorrect masculine “Junias” in Rom. 16:7.]

One reason we know that Junia is really a woman, and not a man, is that the masculinised name Junias simply doesn’t exist in any surviving ancient papyrus, inscription, or piece of literature, whereas Junia appears numerous times.[1] The reason we know Nympha is really a woman is because of the feminine pronoun, corresponding to “her”, in some Greek manuscripts of Colossians 4:15. [See endnote 5]

Still, there has been some confusion over the gender of Junia and Nympha. This is because the masculine and feminine forms of “Junia(s)” are identical in the accusative case in the Greek, and the masculine and feminine forms of “Nympha(s)” are identical in the accusative case in the Greek. It is only the accents that are different; the letters are exactly the same.

For example, both “Nymphas” (masc.) and “Nympha” (fem.), in the accusative (or object) case, are spelled Νυμφαν (“Nymphan”). And Junia’s and Nympha’s names, as well as Euodia’s name (which we look at below), only appear in the accusative case in the Greek New Testament.

Ancient Greek was originally written without accents. But when the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament began to be accented, “Junia” and “Nympha” were accented as feminine nouns. At some point, however, 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 to a masculine pronoun (corresponding to “him”), or, in some cases, to a plural pronoun.

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 Greek texts of Romans and Colossians looked at the names and presumed they were supposed to be masculine names. So 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, Paul can’t possibly be implying that a woman, Nympha, was a house church leader—can he? And Junia can’t possibly be an apostle—can she?

These errors were then copied by other scribes, and these copies, with their mistakes, were used when creating Greek texts of the New Testament. These texts were then used for some English translations. A few modern English translations retain these mistakes.[2]

Euodia of Philippi

It is common in the New Testament for names to occur in the accusative case. And, like Junia and Nympha, the name of another woman, Euodia, only occurs in the accusative case (Phil. 4:2). The KJV renders her name as the masculine “Euodias”. (Syntyche’s name, also mentioned in Phil. 4:2, remains feminine.) Furthermore, the KJV translates the following verse in such a way that it obscures the fact that Paul is still referring to Euodia and Syntyche: “those women” (KJV). And it obscures the fact that these two women, as well as Clement, are among Paul’s coworkers or “fellowlabourers”. Here is the King James Version of Philippians 4:2-3:

I beseech Euodias [incorrect masculine name], and beseech Syntyche [correct feminine name], that they be of the same mind in the Lord. And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women [cf. “these women” in other translations] which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life. Philippians 4:2-3 KJV.

I wonder if Hermas and Olympas, mentioned in Romans 16:14-15, are really women named Herma and Olympa? Like Junia, Nympha, and Euodia, their names are also only given in the accusative case in the New Testament. It is impossible to work out the gender of either Herma(s) or Olympa(s) from the text, since no information is given about them apart from their names. However, it is probable that the names are contracted masculine names.

Stephana(?) of Corinth

Some people, aware that the feminine gender of certain New Testament women has been obscured in the past, speculate that Stephanas, mentioned three times in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (in 1 Cor. 1:16; 16:15,17) was also a woman whose gender has been obscured. 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 Στεφανα (“Stephana”), which may appear to be feminine to some. However, it is important to note that in all three occurrences, “Stephanas” is in the genitive (“possessive”) case.

In Greek, there are four main cases.[3] The different cases have 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 occasionally 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 Στεφανας (“Stephanas“) (nominative, or subject, case). But in each instance his name, Stephanas appears in the genitive (or “possessive”) case and is correctly written as Στεφανᾶ (“Stephana”) with a circumflex over the final alpha: .

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 ones 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 (ς) and becomes Stephana. Other similar masculine names found in the New Testament also lose the final sigma (ς) in the genitive case and end with an alpha (α).[4]

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 (ς) 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.[5]

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


Footnotes

[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.
[I have written more about Junia and the alteration of her name here.

[2] Junia: 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.
Nympha: 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.
Euodia: The KJV has the masculine “Euodias”. Most modern translations have “Euodia”.

From my observations (which are still sketchy), Nympha’s masculine name and pronoun occur 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.

[3] The four main cases are nominativeaccusativegenitive, and dative). There is also a vocative case for nouns and names used in direct speech. (Some Greek scholars maintain there are eight cases.)

[4] 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.)

[5] 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.


Related Articles

7 Lessons in Ministry from the Ministry of Stephanas
Junia in Romans 16:7
Nympha: A House Church Leader in the Lycus Valley (Col. 4:15)
Euodia and Syntyche: Women Church Leaders in Philippi
New Testament Women Church Leaders
Paul and Women, in a Nutshell
Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders