Was Junia in Romans 16:7 a female apostle in authority?

by Matt Slick

Another argument raised by the egalitarians in support of women being an authority is the case of Junia in Romans 16:7.  It is said that Junia, a woman, was an apostle.  Since apostles are in place of authority, then Junia demonstrates that women can be in authority over men in the church.  There are several issues involved here.  Let's take a look at them.

First, there is debate on whether or not Junia is a feminine noun or not.

"The church father Chrysostom (died A.D. 407) referred to this person as a woman (Homily on Romans 31.7; NPNF 1, 11:555) but the church father Origen (died A.D. 252) referred to Junias as a man (MPG 14: 1289), and the early church historian Epiphanius (died A.D. 403) explicitly uses a masculine pronoun of Junias and seems to have specific information about him when he says that "Junias, of whom Paul makes mention, became bishop of Apameia of Syria" (Index disciplulorum 125.19- 20). 1

Alright, so we can see that there is disagreement even among early church fathers on the gender of Junia.  But, what do others have to say?

  • AV translates as “Junia” once. 1 a Christian woman at Rome, mentioned by Paul as one of his kinsfolk and fellow prisoners.2
  • Junias, a Christian to whom Paul sends greetings in Rom. 16:7. It is unclear whether a masculine (Junias) or a feminine name (Junia) is intended (the masculine is not found elsewhere ). If a woman, Junia may be the wife of Andronicus. It is significant that the two are perhaps referred to as ‘apostles.'3
  • Junia is feminine—perhaps Andronicus’ wife? rsv Junias would be masculine, contracted from Junianus.) Affectionately greeted by Paul (Rom. 16:7) as (1) ‘kinsmen’, i.e. probably fellow-Jews, as in Rom. 9:3.4

Different sources see Junia as male and a female.  But, if we look at the word strictly as being masculine or feminine, it appears that it is feminine.5

ανδρόνικον και ιουνίαν ... οιτινές εισιν επίσημοι εν τοις αποστόλοις
Andronicus and Junia ... who are prominent in the apostles
NMSA CCK NFSA ... OIRMPN V3PPAI JMPNX PD AMPD NMPD
noun, masc., Singular accusative
conjun-ction
noun,
mas/fem
sing. accus.
  pronoun,
masc.,
plural,
nomin.
verb, 3rdp.,
present,
indicat.
adjective,
masc.,
plural,
nomin.
prepos.,
dative
article, masc., plural, dative noun, masc., plural, dative
TABLE 1

In Table 1 above, the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament gives the interlinear parsing of Junia as "noun, feminine, singular, accusative." On the other hand, when the same word is analyzed in Gramcord (a biblical language analysis program attached to that same interlinear), it shows both Masculine and Feminine parsing.  So, which is it?

It is difficult to determine since evidence seems to support both options.  But it seems that the majority of references support the feminine form--though we cannot say it is conclusive.  Alright, if Junias is feminine, then what does it mean and how do we translate the words mentioning the apostles?  This is important.  Let's take a look at how different Bibles translate the relevant part of Romans 16:7.

Translated as . . . Bible Translation
who are of note among the apostles Darby, ASV, KJV, NKJV, YLT
they are men of note among the apostles RSV
They are well known to the apostles ESV, GNB
They are outstanding among the apostles HCSB, NASB, NIV
are prominent among the apostles ISV, NRSV
They are very important apostles NCV
They are highly respected among the apostles NLT
TABLE 2

So, different translations show this verse differently.  We have to ask if Andronicus and Junia are known among the apostles, or are they apostles?  Were they man and wife or close companions?  Different translations suggest different options.

Are there Different kinds of Apostles?

The Greek word for apostle, "apostello," occurs over 80 times in the New Testament and over 700 times in the LXX.6  Since apostles did not exist in the Old Testament times, we have to understand the word to mean someone who was sent and/or was a messenger; and that is exactly what the word "apostle" means, "sent one."  So, an apostle is someone who has been sent to transmit a message per the instructions of the sender.  Let's look at how it is used in the New Testament.

First, it is used in the reference to those in the inner circles of Jesus' 12 apostles.  In order to be one of "the twelve" a person had to be with the witnesses from the beginning of Christ's ministry until the day that Christ was taken from them.  Acts 1:21-22, "It is therefore necessary that of the men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us--22 beginning with the baptism of John, until the day that He was taken up from us--one of these should become a witness with us of His resurrection.”   So, there is a type of apostle that is restricted to the 12.  We could say that even Paul didn't fit into that category.

Second, though Paul was not one of the original twelve apostles, he was considered an apostle later on (Acts 14:14).  After all, Jesus appeared to him (1 Cor. 9:1) and commissioned him.  Paul even refers to himself as an apostle (Gal. 1:1).

Third, Barnabas is called an apostle along with Paul in Acts 14:14. In Acts 14:8-18 Paul and Barnabas are together at Lystra and Paul heals a man--but not Barnabas.  In Acts 15 Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem concerning the issue of the gentiles being circumcised.  Though Barnabas is an apostle, we have no record of his performing miracles or writing scripture.  So, in what sense was he an apostle?  He is called one but he isn't one of the 12, was apparently not commissioned by Christ, and performs no miracles.  So, we can conclude that there is a type of apostle that isn't directly commissioned by Christ and performs no miracles.

Fourth, Jesus is called an apostle in Heb. 3:1, "Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession."  What are we to make of this?  Simple, Jesus was sent by the Father (John 5:23); and in that sense, he was an apostle.

Fifth, there seems to be a generic category of apostles as "sent ones" and messengers.  Consider 2 Cor. 8:3, "As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker among you; as for our brethren, they are messengers (apostoloi) of the churches, a glory to Christ."  Also, Phil. 1:19, "But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger (apostolon) and minister to my need."  And, John 20:19, "Jesus therefore said to them again, 'Peace be with you; as the Father has sent (apostalken) Me, I also send (pempo) you.'"   We can see that the Greek term "apostello" doesn't just mean an apostle but someone who is sent.

 Sixth, since one of the qualifications of being apostle is having been involved in Christ's earthly ministry before his crucifixion and then having seen the risen Lord later (Acts 1:21-22), we could make the case that an apostle would be anyone who fits this category.  In that case, there could be hundreds of apostles in the early church.

Seventh, there are false apostles.  2 Cor. 11:13, "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ." See also Rev. 2:2.  Apparently, there were some who claimed to have apostolic authority but were really false teachers.

Let's summarize.

  1. There are apostles who were only among the 12.  They performed miracles.  Some wrote scripture.
  2. Paul was an apostle (unique?) specifically commissioned by Christ.  He performed miracles and wrote scripture.
  3. Barnabas is an apostle.  He performed no miracles, wrote no scripture . . . 7
  4. Jesus is called an apostle.  He performed miracles
  5. There are apostles in the sense of simply being sent.  They are messengers.  They perform no miracles.
  6. It could possibly be that anyone who was involved in Christ's ministry before his death and saw him after his resurrection could be referred to as apostles.
  7. There are false apostles. 

So, in which category does Junia fit?  Junia isn't one of the 12, nor an apostle like Paul, or Jesus, nor a false apostle.  That would leave only being an apostle like Barnabas--an apostle in the sense of one who is simply sent to proclaim the truth or one who was with Christ before his death and saw him after his resurrection.  But if Junia were one like Barnabas, then shouldn't there be more of a mention of him/her than this one citation in Romans 16:7?

So, we are left with categories five and six: Five: someone who is sent; Six: someone who was involved in Christ's ministry before his death and saw him after his resurrection.  If the later two, then it doesn't require that Junia have been in a position of authority in the church.

What if Junia were a female apostle in authority

So let's just assume for a bit that Junia was a woman apostle in full authority.  We don't accept that position but let's just work with it for a moment.  Would that mean that it is okay for women to be pastors and elders since Junia would have been exercising that authority over men in the church?  First, even if that were the case, the office of apostle is finished; and Junia's case would only apply in the early church and not today. Second, we see apostle and elders mentioned together in Acts 15:2-6.  An apostle is not an elder, and the requirements for eldership include being male.  No such requirement for apostleship is made.  So, even if Junia were a female apostle in the early church, it does not mean that women today are qualified to be pastors and elders.

Conclusion

The early church fathers are not in agreement about the gender of Junia. There even seems to be evidence that strongly suggests Junia was a male. Commentaries differ on the gender. Translations differ on how Romans 16:7 is to be rendered into English. There are different uses of the Greek word "apostello," and it cannot be conclusively demonstrated to which categorical use of the term Junia should fit into. Even if Junia were an apostle in the sense of having seen the risen Lord, it doesn't mean she was in authority in the Church. Therefore, for someone to conclude that Junia was a woman apostle in full authority in the Church cannot be maintained from the Scriptures.

 

  • 1. http://www.cbmw.org/Journal/Vol-2-No-5/Willow-Creek-Enforces-Egalitarianism
  • 2. Strong, J. (1996). The exhaustive concordance of the Bible : Showing every word of the text of the common English version of the canonical books, and every occurrence of each word in regular order. (electronic ed.) (G2458). Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship.
  • 3. Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row, P., & Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). Harper's Bible dictionary. Includes index. (1st ed.) (519). San Francisco: Harper & Row.
  • 4. Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1996). New Bible dictionary (3rd ed.) (36). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
  • 5. ιουνία (Iounia), n.pr.fem.—LN 93.177 Junia (Ro 16:7, 15 v.r.), Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.) (GGK2686). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  • 6. LXX is the Septuagint, a translation of the Old Testament Hebrew Bible into Greek.  This translation was done around 200-250 B.C. by about 70 scholars; hence, the term Septuagint which is rendered by Roman numerals as LXX.
  • 7. Some have attributed the book of Hebrews to Barnabas, but this is only a theory.

 

 

 

 
 
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