Junia: The Female Apostle (Pt. 1)

In Romans 16:3-16, Paul concludes his letter with a list of greetings he wishes to send along to members of the church in Rome. In those verses, Paul lists several women, including Priscilla, Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis, and Julia, many of whom are explicitly said to have ministerial roles. However, one name stands out among these noteworthy women. In 16:7, Paul extends a special greeting to two individuals, Andronicus and Junia, and says that they are “noteworthy among the apostles.” Many interpreters have taken this text to imply that Andronichus and Junia were both considered apostles in the early church. If this is the case, then Junia would be the first woman in our early Christian sources to be called an apostle.

As one can imagine, this conclusion has been met with some criticism. In particular, three contentions are commonly brought against the conclusion that a female named Junia is called an apostle in Romans 16:7:

  1.  The name  Ἰουνίαν may not be a reference to a female name but a male name instead.
  2. The phrase “they are noteworthy among the apostles” (οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις) is not identifying Andronicus and Junia as apostles but is rather indicating that the apostles (as a distinct group) considered them to be “noteworthy.”
  3. Even if Junia is called an apostle in this passage, it does not mean she had authority over men or taught other men, since Paul uses the word ἀπόστολος (‘apostle’) to refer to different ministerial functions.

In this series of posts, I want to consider all of these objections and show why so many scholars today believe that Junia was, in fact, the first woman to be called an apostle in the early Christian literature we possess. In this post, I want to consider the first objection and show why Ἰουνίαν is almost certainly a reference to a woman named Junia. I will consider the other two objections in the remainder of the series.

Those who take Ἰουνίαν to be a reference to a masculine name do so by arguing that it is the accusative form of Ἰουνιᾶς (‘Junias’) or Ἰουνίας, a contracted version of a more common Latin name, Iunianus. Some contemporary translations of the Bible include this masculine rendering of the name.

“Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” (Rom 16:7 NASB)

There are several problems with this rendering of Ἰουνίαν. First, the name ‘Junias’ is not well-attested in antiquity. In fact, to my knowledge, no documented instance of this name has yet been discovered in all of antiquity. Second, the gender of the noun here is going to be dermined in large part by the accent it has, and the more clearly masculine form of the name (Ἰουνιᾶς) would require a circumflex accent on the penult of the noun: Ἰουνιᾶν. However, if the word is properly accented with the acute (Ἰουνίαν), then one would need to argue for the existence of the masculine form Ἰουνίας, an argument which (to my knowledge) no one has taken up at this point. Third, the idea that ‘Junias’ is a contracted form of ‘Junianus’ seems to be somewhat problematic. Here is Eldon Epp’s summary of the problem:

Symptomatic of the problem is the fact that, until the mid-1990s, there was (to my knowledge) no extended discussion (and never any detailed defense) of the masculine forms or of the contracted name theory for this specific name, Junias. Rather, interpreters, nor nearly a century now, merely repeated what two standard reference works (and their predecessors) had long suggested about the origin of the masculine name, Junias, in order to legitimate it, namely, Walter Bauer’s lexicon and Friedrich Blass’s grammar. These works invoked the contracted name phenomenon of the Greco-Roman world, but when they applied it to Junias they did so with caution…Numerous interpreters who followed them dropped the caution and assumed the validity of the theory.¹

Juna in Sinaiticus
‘Junia’ in Codex Sinaiticus (א)
Junia in Vaticanus.png
‘Junia’ in Codex Vaticanus (B)

In contrast to these many problems with the masculine rendering of Ἰουνίαν, there are several factors which make the feminine translation the most natural. First, while the earliest Greek manuscripts did not accent the name Ἰουνιαν (see the examples of Sinaiticus and Vaticanus (right), later manuscripts do accent the noun in the manner given above:  Ἰουνίαν.

Second, the name Junia was a very common Latin female name, deriving from a family named after the Roman goddess Juno. In the Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.), Bruce Metzger notes that there are over 250 Greek and Latin inscriptions of this female name in Rome alone.² Thus, the more natural way to take Paul’s words here would be to assume that he is indeed talking about a woman named Junia.

Junia in P46
P46 changes Junia to ‘Julia’ instead

Additionally, our earliest manuscript of Paul’s letters, P46, contains a textual variant here. Instead of giving the name  Ἰουνιαν as the later uncial manuscripts do, P46 has the name Ἰουλίαν (‘Julia’), a much more common female name. It is unlikely that any scribe who thought Ἰουνίαν was a man’s name would change it to be a woman’s name. Thus, the textual variant of P46 actually provides further evidence of a feminine name in Romans 16:7.

Finally, as we will see later in the series, the early church fathers almost unanimously agree that this name refers to a woman. We will look more closely at some of their comments next time to see whether or not they took Paul to be calling Junia an apostle.

While more evidence could be brought into the discussion at this point, hopefully it is clear by now that when Paul sends greetings to Ἀνδρόνικον καὶ Ἰουνίαν, he is greeting a man called Andronicus and a woman named Junia. Paul lavishes high praise on this pair of ministers, and we will explore what he means by that praise in Part 2.

Works Cited

¹ Eldon Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), 24.

² Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft and United Bible Societies, 1994), 475.

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