The Apostle Junia
By David Tatro
Were there women apostles in New Testament times? Though this may be a surprise to some, yes, there were. St. Paul mentions such a woman in the sixteenth chapter of his letter to the Romans. Often times Romans 16 is glossed over when reading the Bible, being treated like the cast and credits that appear at the end of a film that one quickly glances over while leaving the cinema. So it is easy to overlook Romans 16:7 (New Revised Standard Version), which says: “Greet 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.”
Was Junia an apostle? Jehovah’s Witnesses and some Fundamentalist groups say no! The Jehovah’s Witness Bible version, the New World Translation, following a medieval tradition, renders Romans 16:7 as: “Greet Andronicus and Junias my relatives and my fellow captives, who are men of note among the apostles and who have been in union with Christ longer than I have.” Interestingly the Greek word that the Witness translator, Fred Franz, renders as “men of note,” is translated as “notable (ones)” in another Witness Bible version, the Kingdom Interlinear Translation, thus not necessarily referring to two men, but to persons of note. So did St. Paul commend Junia, a woman, or Junias, a man?
Regarding Junias/Junia, the ANCHOR BIBLE DICTIONARY Volume 3, page 1127 says: “Without exception, the Church Fathers in late antiquity identified Andronicus’ partner in Romans 16:7 as a woman, as did minuscule 33 in the 9th century which records iounia with an acute accent. Only later medieval copyists of Romans 16:7 could not imagine a woman being an apostle and wrote the masculine name ‘Junias.’ This latter name did not exist in antiquity; its explanation as a Greek abbreviation of the Latin name ‘Junianus’ is unlikely.”
St. John Chrysostom, one of the Church Fathers who lived in the Fourth Century A.D. clearly understood Junia to be a woman. In commenting on Romans 16:7, Chrysostom writes: “And 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! But they were of note owing to their works, to their achievements. Oh! How great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle! (A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church Volume 11, Edited by Philip Schaff, page 555.
The fourth century Christian scholar, St. Jerome, also understood Junia to be a woman. In the Latin Vulgate Jerome translates Romans 16:7 thus: “Salutate Andronicum, et Iuniam cognatos, et concaptivos meos: qui sunt nobiles in Apostolis, qui et ante me fuerunt in Christo.” Which literally means: “Salute Andronicus and Iunia my relatives and fellow-captives, who are well known among the Apostles, who before me were in Christ.” Granted my Latin is sort of ruff due to years of inactivity but the name Junia, though in this sentence the name appears in the accusative thus the “am” ending, is in the feminine gender. Therefore, from above and other early Christian testimony, there is no doubt that Junia was a woman. THE NEW INTERPRETER’S BIBLE COMMENTARY, Volume 10, page 762 says: “Junia is thus one of the female ‘apostles,’ the only one so called; though presumably others, such as Mary Magdalene, were known as such as well.”
Though not of the “Twelve,” to be apostles Andronicus and Junia held positions of responsibility in the early church. Perhaps as a husband and wife team they shared these responsibilities. Nevertheless, it would be mere speculation to assign to Junia positions and responsibilities in the church that are not mentioned in the New Testament. However, unlike other women who had important roles in his ministry, St. Paul uses the title apostle in reference to Junia.
Regarding the definition of the term “apostle,” THE INTERPRETER’S DICTIONARY OF THE BIBLE Volume 1, page 170, says: “A title denoting a commissioned messenger or ambassador. It occurs seventy-nine times in the NT, but with various shades of meaning, both of a precise and general character. In Christian usage the term has two distinctive connotations: (a) it is limited to certain men of the first generation of the church’s history; and (b) it marks the bearer of the title, among other qualifications, as a missionary of a gospel.”
THE ANCHOR BIBLE DICTIONARY Volume 1, page 309, says: “Chronologically, in the earliest use of the term in the NT, apostolos is an administrative designation for envoys, delegates, and representatives. Their title and function are given in 2 Cor. 8:23 as “envoys of the churches” (apostoloi ekklesion), that is, envoys appointed and sent out by the churches to represent them. In other places, the term “apostle” is understood in a more religious sense as a missionary and preacher of the gospel. Acts 1:21-26 and 13:1-3, passages describing the appointment of different types of ‘apostles,’ show that such appointments did not exclude divine intervention and authorization. The tasks of these apostles could vary but they seem to be centered in the proclamation of the gospel and the founding and administering of new churches.”
It is true that “apostle” has several meanings in New Testament usage. Which definition applied to Junia? The Scriptures are silent about this unique woman. Nevertheless, Junia has the honour of being the only female apostle mentioned in the New Testament.