Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

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).

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 footnote 6]

The reason there has been some confusion over the gender of Junia and Nympha is because the masculine and feminine forms “Junia/ Junias” and “Nympha/ Nymphas” 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 spelt 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.

Perhaps scribes who were making copies of early 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 critical Greek texts of the New Testament. These texts were then used for English translations. A few modern English translations retain these mistakes.[2]

Euodia of Philippi

It is not uncommon 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 “Euodias” which is a masculine name. (Syntyche’s name, also mentioned in Phil. 4:2, remains feminine in the KJV.)[3] Furthermore, the KJV has “those women” rather than the correct “these women” (Greek: aitines). This makes it less clear that “these women” refers to Euodia and Syntyche and that, as well as Clement, they are among Paul’s coworkers or “fellow-labourers.”

Here is the faulty 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 [“these women” in correct 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 possible that the names are contracted masculine names (e.g., Olympiodorus = Olympas).

Stephana(s) 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 noun cases.[4] The different cases have different case endings: different suffixes attached to the stem of the noun. 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).[5]

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.[6]

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] John Thorley has observed,

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.
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 NASB 2020, 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 footnote 5 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] Some have also taken Syntyche to be a man. John Hugh Michael wrote,

Theodore of Mopsuestia (circa 350 – 428) tells of some who took the second of the two to be a man’s name—Syntyches. He also mentions the fact that some held that Syntyches was the husband of Euodia and that he was none other than the jailer who figures in the story of Acts 16.
Michael, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (Hodder and Stoughton: London, 1928), 188.

The early modern English translations, Tyndale Bible (1535), Coverdale Bible (1535), Matthew Bible, (1537),  Great Bible (1539-1541), Geneva Bible (1556-1560), Bishops Bible (1568-1602), each render both Euodia and Syntyche as masculine names, as did the 17th-century Dutch scholar Hugo Grotius.

[4] 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.)

[5] The names Stephanas, Thomas, Judas, Kephas (Cephas) and Akulas (Aquila), etc, are all first declension masculine nouns.

[6] 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, as they do for “Nympha”.]

© Margaret Mowczko 2011
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Postscript: January 16 2012
Are any of the named false teachers in 1 and 2 Timothy women?

There has been some discussion recently about whether any of the names of false teachers mentioned in the letters to Timothy are feminine names. The answer is “no.’ In the Greek text, the names Hymenaeus, Alexander, and Philetus each end with the typical second declension nominative masculine ending of “os.”

Hymenaios (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17)
Alexandros (1 Tim. 1:20)
Philētos (2 Tim. 2:17)

Hymenaeus was not an uncommon masculine name found in Greek mythology and elsewhere.
Alexander was an especially common name, thanks to Alexander the Great.
Philetus, which means “worthy of love,” was less common.

“How people could argue that women are more prone to deception, from a letter where the false teachers are men (1 Tim. 1:19-20) and have been excommunicated, is beyond me. The male false teachers have been targeting the women (2 Tim 3:6). The false teachers were the ones who were deceived first!” ~ Sean du Toit

Postscript: June 9 2022
Colossians 4:15 and Nympha in Vaticanus and Sinaiticus

Colossians 4:15 in Codex Vaticanus (c. 300–325), page 1506.

Nympha Nymphas
Aϲπάϲαϲθε τὸυϲ ἐν λαοδικεία ἀδελφὸυϲ, κὰι Nύμφαν κὰι τὴν κατ’ ὀικον ἀυτῆϲ ἐκ[κληϲίαν continues in the next column.] Nύμφαν is accented as a feminine name, but the accents and breathing marks were added by a later hand.
Greet the brothers and sisters in Laodicea, and Nympha and the church in her house.

Colossians 4:15 in Codex Sinaiticus (c. 330–360), quire 85 folio 2r.

Nympha Nymphas

Aϲπαϲαϲθε τουϲ εν λαοδικια αδελφουϲ, και Nυμφαν και την κατ οικον αυτων εκκληϲιαν
Greet the brothers and sisters in Laodicea, and Nympha, and the church in their house.

Image Credits

(1) “The Scribe” by Jean Mielot. From Scribes and Illuminators, C. de Hamel, British Museum Press.
(2) Colossians 4:15 in Codex Vaticanus (Source: DigiVatLib)
(3) Colossians 4:15 in Codex Sinaiticus (Source: CodexSinaiticus.org)


Further Reading

Five Female New Testament Leaders who were Given Sex Changes 

Explore more

7 Lessons in Ministry from the Ministry of Stephanas
Junias and Junia in Early Commentaries of Romans 16:7
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

11 thoughts on “Junia, Nympha, Euodia, Stephana(s): Men or Women?

  1. Hi Marg, your research is impressive. Thank you for writing this!

  2. I’ve already posted one of your posts to my Facebook account but I’ll have to pace myself before posting more from your blog. I wouldn’t want my readers to think that you are the center of my universe. Good stuff here. Thanks for your work.

  3. Hi Marg,
    Do you know, Epistle to the Laodiceans?

    Probably for Nympha, a woman ! 😉

    Blessing

    Sandra

    Wikipedia:

    And when this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read before the church at Laodicea, and that you yourselves read the letter which will be forwarded from there.
    — Colossians 4:16 OEBFor centuries some Western Latin Bibles used to contain a small Epistle from Paul to the Laodiceans.[14] The oldest known Bible copy of this epistle is in a Fulda manuscript written for Victor of Capua in 546. It is mentioned by various writers from the fourth century onwards, notably by Pope Gregory the Great, to whose influence may ultimately be due the frequent occurrence of it in Bibles written in England; for it is commoner in English Bibles than in others. John Wycliffe included Paul’s letter to the Laodiceans in his Bible translation from the Latin to English. However this epistle is not without controversy because there is no evidence of a Greek text.[15] It contains almost no doctrine, teachings, or narrative not found elsewhere, and its exclusion from the Biblical canon has little effect.[citation needed]

    The text was almost unanimously considered pseudepigraphal when the Christian Biblical canon was decided upon, and does not appear in any Greek copies of the Bible at all, nor is it known in Syriac or other versions.[16] Jerome, who wrote the Latin Vulgate translation, wrote in the 4th century, “it is rejected by everyone….

    —————

    Century then womans was prohibited

    1. Hi Bereenne,

      The Epistle to the Laodiceans is an ancient apocryphal letter. No one thinks it is the letter Paul wrote to the Laodiceans. You can read the letter, with a little bit of good information as well, here.

      The letter is addressed to the Laodicean brothers (and sisters). It’s not addressed to Nympha.

      1. The Epistle to the Laodiceans was declared apocryphal letter. Why? Because no greque’s spripture, perhaps…

        Certainly, we will speak about in a couple of years.
        The first time, I heart speaking about Junia(s), a woman, I think it’s impossible! Probabely a feminist “joke”! A long time after, I’am sure it’s possible to change some caractere in the Bible…

        Blessing

        1. There are lots and lots of ancient Christian documents that have survived, other than those contained in the New Testament (and the Apostolic Fathers). Some of these documents, including the apocryphal letters, are interesting and they give us insight into the thinking of some Christian groups in the second and third centuries.

          You can read English translations of many of these ancient documents on the Early Christian Writings website.

          However, the genuine letter to the Laodiceans has not survived unless it is actually what we call Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. There are good reasons for thinking the other letter referred to in Colossians 4:16 is Ephesians.

          The short letter that claims to be Paul’s letter to the Laodiceans borrows phrases from Philippians and is certainly a fake.

  4. Hi Marg,
    I have only just discovered your website this week and have enjoyed reading your articles on women leaders in the church. I particularly love that your writing is so well researched and well-written.
    I was wondering about Junia and the mention of her name as an apostle in the Romans passage. It refers to Andronicus and Junia as “fellow Kinsmen”. Does the word ‘kinsmen’ in the greek have any connotation of being either male or female, and if so would that aid in shedding further light on whether Junas was indeed a woman or not?
    Would love to hear your thoughts on this further.

    blessings,

    1. Hi Gay,

      The ESV uses the word “kinsmen” which I believe is unnecessarily masculine, especially considering they acknowledge Junia is most likely a woman. The Greek word means either “relatives” or “compatriots”, which, in the case of Paul, means “fellow Jews”. Unlike the ESV translation, the Greek word doesn’t have a masculine leaning or connotation. (I’m in a rush at the moment, I need to be off to work, so I won’t comment on the grammar just now.)

      I’ve written more about this Greek word here: https://margmowczko.com/junia-jewish-woman-imprisoned/

      And I’ve written more about the ESV’s treatment of Junia and Romans 16:7 here: https://margmowczko.com/junia-and-the-esv/

  5. Hi Marg,

    have you come across any discussion about the gender of ΠΑΤΡΟΒΑΝ (Rom 16:14)? Was he Patrobas, or was she Patroba? P46 switches the order of ΠΑΤΡΟΒΑΝ and ΗΕΡΜΑΝ, so I am curious.

    Richard.

    1. Hi Richard,

      I’ve wondered about the sex of Olympa(s) in v.15 but, because of the etymology of the name, I’ve just assumed Patroba(s) was a man. It’s not a valid reason, however, as there are women’s names with “father” in them. Abigail, for example, means “my father’s joy” in Hebrew.

      Lightfoot says Olympas is a contraction of Olympiodorus, a man’s name. But I still wonder. (I’ve heard that the similar name Olympias is the Latin equivalent of Olympiades, Chrysostom’s female friend and supporter.) I haven’t read anything convincing about Patroba(s) or, possibly, Patrobius.

      So P46 has Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Hermas, Patroba(s)?

      Have you come across anything?

  6. Yes, women’s names in Greek covered much the same meanings as men’s names. Yes, P46 demotes Patroba(s), as you have shown.

    If you have access to it, read John Thorley’s “Junia, a woman apostle” Nov Test (1996), especially note 8 and pages 21-23. He discusses how Patrobas and Olympas were rendered in early translations. The plot thickens. I can send you some further thoughts if you can send me your email address.

    Richard.

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