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Junia(s) in Romans 16:7

November 30, 2010

Introduction

In light of the recent and on-going discussions concerning the role of women in ministry both inside and outside the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the identity of the person and position of Junia(s) in Rom. 16:7 has become increasingly important.[1] As Paul draws his letter to a close, he sends his greetings to a number of individuals among whom we find 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).  The issues regarding the interpretation of this passage can be summed up in two primary questions: first, is Junia(s) to be understood as a man or a woman?  Second, was this individual an apostle?  The present paper will seek to answer these questions.

The Person

When reading Rom. 16:7 in a variety of Bible translations, one immediately notices that some translate the name Ἰουνιαν as Junias, a masculine name,[2] while others translate it as Junia, a feminine name.[3] This disparity is due, in part, to the fact that the name, being a first declension noun in the accusative case, declines in the same way for both genders.  The only way to determine the gender in this form is by the way it is accented.[4] However, this does not make the interpretation any easier in this case as there were no accents in the Greek manuscripts until about the ninth century A.D.  So what evidence is there to help in determining the gender of this individual?

First, it is important to note that from the time the accents were added until the early decades of the twentieth century, the Greek New Testaments were printed with an acute accent indicating a feminine understanding,[5] while the Greek texts published since have not all been in agreement.[6] This division has created further confusion for commentators and has proven that the issue cannot be conclusively solved on the basis of the text itself.

Looking for evidence beyond the biblical canon, Peter Lampe has noted some 250 examples of the name Junia in Roman literature.[7] While this clearly indicates that Junia was a common female name, “not a single example of the masculine name Junias has been found.”[8] The absence of this name has caused some commentators to propose the idea that the name Junias must be a contraction of the longer name Junianus.[9] It is true that such abbreviated names were common during this period,[10] but it remains to be seen whether Junianus was ever shortened to Junias.  Thus Richard Cervin states that this idea is “groundless because there is no evidence to confirm the theory.”[11] Based on linguistic evidence, the argument for the masculine name Junias is simply one from silence.[12]

Turning to the historical witness of the Church Fathers, who read the passage prior to the addition of the accents, we find at least sixteen Greek and Latin commentators down to the twelfth century who were unanimous in understanding this person as Junia, a woman.[13] For instance, John Chrysostom (died A.D. 407), who was no supporter of women in church leadership, declared: “Oh how great is the devotion of this woman Junia that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!”[14] Thus the Anchor Bible Dictionary states emphatically that “without exception, the Church Fathers in late antiquity identified Andronicus’ partner in Rom. 16:7 as a woman.”[15] So why is it then, that some interpreters maintain that the “evidence is indecisive”[16] and that from a historical perspective both genders are possible?[17] The issue seems to centre on the comments of two patristic interpreters, namely, Origen (died A.D. 254) and Epiphanius (died A.D. 403).

The earliest surviving interpretation of this verse was penned by Origen in his commentary on Romans.  In both his translation of the passage and his commentary on the passage, he clearly understood the name to be the feminine Junia.[18] While it is true that later in the same volume Origen uses the masculine Junias when commenting on Rom. 16:21, it would be wrong to conclude, as some have, that this is a possible indication of masculine understanding.  It would be incongruous to think that Origen changed his mind on the gender of this individual in the space of 14 verses.  This discrepancy should therefore be seen as most likely being a later corruption of the text.[19]

A glimmer of hope for a masculine reading is found by some in the writings of Epiphanius.[20] In his Index Discipulorum 125 we read: ᾿Ιουνιᾶς, οὗ καὶ αὐτοῦ ὁ Παῦλος μέμνηται, ἐπίσκοπος ᾿Απαμείας τῆς Συρίας ἐγένετο, “Junias, whom Paul also mentions, became bishop of Apameia of Syria.”[21] The masculine relative pronoun (οὗ) that follows the name makes it clear that here Junias is to be understood as being a man.  While some have tried to make much of this, it is important to consider the previous sentence in which Epiphanius writes that Aquila became bishop of Heraclea and Priscas (Pricilla), whom he also considers to be a man, became bishop of Colophonman.[22] Linda Belleville states that “both the gender confusion and the disparate locations call into question the overall reliability of the document.”[23] Furthermore, Richard Bauckham has pointed out that the document in which we find these statements was unlikely to have been written by Epiphanius at all since he is only attributed to be the author of it from the ninth century on.[24]

Having now briefly considered both the linguistic and historical issues regarding the gender of this individual, the evidence examined unanimously supports Junia, a woman.  According to C.E.B. Cranfield, the idea that the name is masculine “seems to rest on nothing more solid than conventional prejudice.”[25]

The Position

While in the past the interpretative battle lines over Rom. 16:7 have almost always been drawn along the gender of the name, more recent studies have focused on the phrase ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις, that Andronicus and Junia were “prominent,” “of note,” or “outstanding among the apostles.”[26] Some have claimed that the clause is ambiguous and could be understood as either being inclusive, meaning that they were known as apostles, or exclusive, meaning that they were known by the apostles.[27] Though the vast majority of modern Bible translations and commentators accept the former as being the most natural reading of the text,[28] a small minority still maintain that “we cannot be certain” how to understand this phrase.[29]

The most significant study that has challenged the generally accepted view was done by Michael H. Burer and Daniel B. Wallace in 2001.  Though they demonstrate support for name Junia, they cannot accept the inclusive view that she and Andronicus were prominent or outstanding among the apostles.  Instead they argue that the Greek syntax ἐπίσημος with (ἐν plus) the personal dative when used elsewhere in contemporary literature indicates an exclusive meaning.[30] Their article elicited three independent responses that rigorously examined their hypothesis, methodology, and sources and found them wanting.[31] Eldon Epp has confidently stated that collectively these detailed critiques “should put to rest any notion” that ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις could have been understood in an exclusive sense.[32]

That they were known to be included among the apostles is “almost certain.”[33] The historical witness also lends support to this view.  To quote Chrysostom once again, whose position is representative of the patristic commentators: “Indeed to be apostles at all is a great thing. But to be even amongst these of note, just consider what a great encomium this is!”[34] Cervin has pointed out that this understanding is also confirmed by the way the phrase is translated in the Vulgate.[35]

A further question that is then faced by commentators is what role Andronicus and Junia played as apostles.  Ben Witherington has suggested that the title ἀπόστολος was used in four ways in the NT: it could refer to the Twelve Apostles (Matt. 10:2); it could refer to a person who had been commissioned by the risen Lord Himself in the resurrection appearances (1 Cor. 15:7); it could refer to a messenger or emissary of a particular church (1 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25); and it could also refer to a missionary (Acts 14:4, 14).[36] While there is no consensus among commentators, the second and fourth options are generally favoured which regard Andronicus and Junia as apostles either commissioned by the resurrected Lord,[37] or as itinerant missionaries.[38]

Though it is a matter of debate, I would like to suggest that their role should be seen as including both.  Paul writes that they were ἐν Χριστῷ before he was which indicates that they were early believers and could certainly have been among the apostles mentioned in 1 Cor. 15:7, especially since Paul considered himself the last to have seen the risen Lord.[39] This would mean that Junia was not only included in the same apostolic group as Paul, but that she and Andronicus were likely to have held a similar status.[40] The fact that they were known to be outstanding apostles would also seem to suggest that they had experienced a successful ministry, perhaps in terms of their own missionary endeavours in Rome and further abroad.[41]

Whatever specific function they served as apostles, there is no question that the evidence strongly suggests that they were not simply known by the apostles, but that they were in fact outstanding among the apostles and were known to be leaders of considerable significance among the Roman Christians.

Conclusion

After examining the two issues of interpretation regarding the person and position of Junia(s) in Rom. 16:7, it must be concluded that first, the linguistic and historical evidence overwhelmingly supports a feminine rather than masculine name.  There is no substantial reason why Junia should be considered a man, despite the numerous attempts throughout history to give her such a sex-change.  These attempts seem to have been largely driven by the anxiety of some who cannot support the possibility that a woman could also be an apostle.[42] Second, the phrase ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις should also be understood both linguistically and historically as being inclusive of Andronicus and Junia.  With James Dunn, we must therefore conclude that “one of the foundation apostles of Christianity was a woman.”[43] So here in Rom. 16:7 we have the first example of a female apostle.  If this was so in the first century church, why is it not so in the twenty-first century church?


[1] See for instance the discussions in Nancy Vyhmeister, ed. Women in Ministry (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1998), 47; and Mercedes H. Dyer, ed. Prove All Things: A Reponse to Women in Ministry (Berrien Springs, MI: Adventists Affirm, 2000), 132-133, 190-191.

[2] Such as the RSV, NASB, NIV, TEV, NAB.

[3] Such as the KJV, NKJV, NRSV, ESV, NCV.

[4] A circumflex (Ἰουνιᾶν) would indicate masculine while an acute (Ἰουνίαν) would indicate feminine. See Richard S. Cervin, “A Note Regarding the Name ‘Junia(s)’ in Romans 16.7,” New Testament Studies (1994), 464.

[5] Stanley J. Grenz, Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry (Downers Grove: IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 95; Ray R. Schulz, “Romans 16:7: Junia or Junias?” The Expository Times (January 1987), 109.

[6] See Cervin, “A Note,” 464-465. For a history of the accentuation of past and present editions of the Greek NT see Eldon Jay Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), 45-52.

[7] Cited in James D. G. Dunn, Romans 9-16, Word Biblical Commentary 38B (Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1988), 894.

[8] Robert Jewett, Romans: A Commentary (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2007), 961.

[9] Or Junianius, or Junilius. See Schulz, “Romans 16:7,” 109. For a more detailed discussion see Epp, Junia, 40-44.

[10] Richard Bauckham in Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 168-169.

[11] Cervin, “A Note,” 467.

[12] Schulz, “Romans 16:7,” 109.

[13] This list was compiled by Joseph Fitzmyer in his commentary on Romans, as cited in Bauckham, Gospel Women, 166. See also Douglas Moo, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1996), 922.

[14] John Chrysostom, The Homilies of S. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the epistle of St. Paul the apostle to the Romans (London: F. and J. Rivingtons, 1848), 489.

[15] David Noel Freedman, ed.  Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3 (New York, NY: DoubleDay, 1992), 1127.

[16] John Piper and Wayne Grudem, ed. Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 79.

[17] Dyer, Prove All Things, 190.

[18] Linda Belleville, “A Re-examination of Romans 16.7 in Light of Primary Source Material,” New Testament Studies (2005), 235; Grenz, Women in the Church, 95.

[19] Michael H. Burer and Daniel B. Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Re-examination of Rom. 16.7,” New Testament Studies (2001), 76.

[20] Piper and Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 80.

[21] Cited in Burer and Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle?” 77.

[22] Belleville, “A Re-examination of Romans 16.7,” 235.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Bauckham, Gospel Women, 166, note 242.

[25] C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), 377. Jewett notes that “the modern scholarly controversy over this name rests on the presumption that no woman could rank as an apostle…” and concludes in a rather blunt fashion that “it appears that the name ‘Junias’ is a figment of chauvinistic imagination.” Romans, 961-962.

[26] For instance, see David Huttar, “Did Paul Call Andronicus an Apostle in Romans 16:7?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, (2009); Belleville, “A Re-examination of Romans 16.7” (2005); Burer and Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle?” (2001).

[27] I am in debt to Burer and Wallace for this “inclusive”, “exclusive” terminology.

[28] See Burer and Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle?” 78-84.

[29] Piper and Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, 80; see also Dyer, Prove All Things, 134. It is not surprising that those who aruge that we cannot be certain about the gender of the name also aruge that we cannot be certain about the meaning of this phrase.

[30] Burer and Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle?” 76.

[31] Bauckham, Gospel Women, 165-180; Belleville, “A Re-examination of Romans 16.7,” 231-249; Epp, Junia, 72-78.

[32] Epp, Junia, 78.

[33] Dunn, Romans, 849.

[34] Chrysostom, The Homilies, 489.

[35] Cervin, “A Note,” 470.

[36] Ben Witherington III, Women in the Earliest Churches (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 115.

[37] Bauckham, Gospel Women, 180; Dunn, Romans, 894-895; Jewett, Romans, 963.

[38] Cranfield, Romans, 377; Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 924; Witherington, Women in the Earliest Churches, 115. It is interesting to note at this point that Origen held the view that Andronicus and Junia were among the seventy-two sent out by Jesus in Luke 10. See Schulz, “Romans 16:7,” 109.

[39] 1 Cor. 15:8. Jewett also states that this means they were converted prior to A.D. 34. Romans, 964.

[40] N.T. Wright, Paul For Everyone, Romans: Part Two (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 134.

[41] Bauckham suggests that they “may well have been involved in the founding or early growth of the Christian community in Rome.” Gospel Women, 181.

[42] Wright, Paul For Everyone, 134.

[43] Dunn, Romans, 895.

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