Was Junia (Romans 16:7) a female apostle?
By J.R. Ensey
In Romans 16, the apostle Paul sends greetings to a number of his fellow laborers in the gospel, some of whom were “kinsmen,” and even “fellow prisoners.” He is giving thanks for their selfless service to the kingdom. Some of them evidently were preachers; others were laypersons who were outstanding servants of God.
In verse 7 in the KJV English rendering, Paul sends greetings to “Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me” (v. 7 KJV). Some assume from the wording that the persons named here were a man and a woman, both of whom served the early church as apostles.
The text itself does not seem to offer certainty that “Junia” was a woman, and less absoluteness that either were apostles. Dr. Marvin Vincent, noted publisher of Greek reference works, comments: “The latter name [Junia] may be either masculine or feminine [in Greek]. If the latter, the person was probably the wife of Andronicus. If the former, the name should be rendered as Junias.”1 At first glance, the former understanding would seem to be more accurate since the writer goes on to refer to them as “kinsmen” and “fellow prisoners,” which, on the surface, although not in an absolute sense, suggests the likelihood that they are men. Since some have heralded this verse as a proof-text for female leaders and overseers in the early church,2 it deserves a closer analysis. Please note that this article has nothing to do with women ministers, per se, but only the status of Junia as an apostle.
Was Junia a woman?
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown commentary has this to say: “Andronicus and Junia—or, as it might be, ‘Junias,’ a contracted form of ‘Junianus’; in this case, it is a man’s name. But if, as is more probable, the word be, as in our version, ‘Junia,’ the person meant was no doubt either the wife or the sister of Andronicus.” However, Goodspeed’s translation renders it, “They are noted men among the apostles.” Phillips’ translation rendering is “outstanding men.”
Clark delves more fully into the questions raised in this verse: “It is grammatically possible that Junia(s) could be a yeoman who is here termed an apostle. On the other hand, it is possible that Junia(s) is a man. In addition, it is even possible that the passage does not identify Andronicus and Junia(s) as apostles at all. The phrase could be translated ‘they are people well known to the apostles.’ This translation would mean that the two were among the first Christian converts and known to the Twelve. Hence, it is not clear either that Junia(s) is a woman, or that this person was an apostle. Grammatical considerations leave open the possibility that this passage might refer to a female apostle. However, this possibility has much less weight in view of the evidence that only men were chosen to be apostles and the complete lack of evidence elsewhere for the existence of any female apostle. It is unlikely that this is a reference to a female apostle.3
Was Junia an apostle?
The phrase “of note among the apostles” is sometimes used to claim that “Junia” was both a woman and an apostle. However, most scholars agree that the words do not necessarily mean that Andronicus and Junia[s] were apostles along with the others but were honored by them for their faithfulness. MacArthur comments, “Their ministry with Paul, and perhaps with Peter and some of the other apostles in Jerusalem before Paul was converted, was well known and appreciated by the apostles.”4 In the broader context of the New Testament record, it is highly unlikely that Paul would be naming Junia[s] as an apostle. Even if this reference were to a woman, she would be the lone and solitary example of a female apostle.
The King James rendering of the Greek is not necessarily inaccurate, but it is unlikely that the words “of note among” were meant to say these two were apostles. The KJV translators would probably not have used those words if they knew they would have been taken to suggest that the early church had authoritative female apostles. As Church of England (Anglican) clergymen, they did not even countenance female priests in 1611 (only since the early 1990s), and certainly not apostles.
Other translations that supply a different rendering of the Greek phrase hoitines eisin episemoi en tois apostolois make it clear that the probable meaning is that they were simply well known to (en) the apostles, as the following translations suggest:
New Living Translation
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews, who were in prison with me. They are highly respected among the apostles and became followers of Christ before I did.
English Standard Version
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.
Aramaic Bible in Plain English
Invoke the peace of Andronicus and of Junia, my relatives who were captives with me and were known by The Apostles and they were in The Messiah before me.
“Remember me to Andronicus and Junias, my tribal kinsmen and once my fellow prisoners. They are men held in high esteem among the apostles, who also were in Christ before I was.”
Contemporary English Version:
“Greet my relatives Andronicus and Junias, who were in jail with me. They are highly respected by the apostles and were followers of Christ before I was.”
Holman Christian Standard Version:
“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow countrymen and fellow prisoners. They are noteworthy in the eyes of the apostles, and they were also in Christ before me.”
Mounce Reverse Interlinear New Testament (Greek-English)
“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my compatriots and my fellow prisoners; they were well known to the apostles, and they also were in Christ before me.”
Also, consider the words of some noted commentators:
The Greek word translated “of note”, denotes properly those who are “marked,” designated, or distinguished in any way, used either in a good or bad sense; compare Matthew 27:16. Here it is used in a good sense. “Among the apostles” - This does not mean that they “were” apostles, as has been sometimes supposed. For,
(1) There is no account of their having been appointed as such.
(2) The expression is not one which would have been used if they “had” been. It would have been “who were distinguished apostles”; compare Romans 1:1; I Corinthians 1:1; II Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1.
(3) It by no means implies that they were apostles. All that the expression fairly implies is, that they were known to the other apostles; that they were regarded by them as worthy of their affection and confidence; that they had been known by them, as Paul immediately adds, before he was himself converted. They had been converted “before” he was, and were distinguished in Jerusalem among the early Christians, and honored with the friendship of the other apostles.”
J-F-B Commentary states: “…where the connection or some qualifying words show that the literal meaning of ‘one sent’ is the thing intended, understand by the expression used here, ‘persons esteemed by the apostles’ [Beza, Grotius, De Wette, Meyer, Fritzsche, Stuart, Philippi, Hodge]. And of course, if “Junia” is to be taken for a woman, this latter must be the meaning.”
An interesting observation is that the Greek preposition “en” (en) can be translated in numerous ways. In Romans alone, the term is translated 156 times as “to” and only 9 times as “among.” It was a choice made solely by the translators. Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Geneva Bible translators rendered the term “well taken among the apostles.” Romans 15:9 may shed some light on the matter: “And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy: as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.” The use of “among” here did not mean that the one glorifying God, confessing Him, and singing unto His name (Christ) among the Gentiles was one of them. He was born a Jew and died a Jew, but He did these things among the Gentiles.
It is entirely possible to find those in academia who may feel pressure to say absolutely that Junia was a woman and an apostle, giving a nod to political correctness. Since the language chosen for the KJV seems to leave a small loophole in some minds, it has become the culturally popular position to take. However, looking at the whole of Scripture, and the preponderance of scholarly analysis, the conclusion most apparent is that these two individuals were faithful saints of God—perhaps ministers, although not stated—and were early converts well known to the apostles, having a reputation for faithful, outstanding service in the body of Christ. Beyond that, speculation takes over.
Contention about the issue is not the objective here. Division and misunderstanding based on emotionalism is not needed in the body of Christ. On the other hand, we should exalt the Word of God above all subjective feelings and experiences, ensuring that political correctness, cultural accommodation, and speculation not influence our interpretation and understanding of God’s Word.
1. Marvin R. Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament Vol. III (McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Co.; undated), pp. 179,180.
2. Thetus Tenney, The Ministry of Women in the Oneness Movement, in the Appendix by David M. Scholer (Hazelwood: Word Aflame Press, 1988/90); pp. 166-173.
3. Stephen Clark, Men and Women in Christ (Ann Arbor: Servant Books, 1980; p. 131.
4. MacArthur Study Bible notes, p. 1724.