People

Junia by Yii-Jan Lin

At the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul includes a list of greetings to individual members of the community—a commonplace ancient letter-writing element. Romans 16 presents us with a fascinating look at Paul’s network in Rome and a peek at who might have played certain roles in the community. Among the ten women mentioned in the chapter, Junia has been the focus of attention and controversy in the last century.

Who was Junia?

First, as stated above, she was one of ten women of note mentioned in Paul’s letter, indicating that women played visible, active, and significant roles in the community—and that it was socially (and theologically, one can argue) important that Paul greet them and praise them publicly in his writing. Rom 16:7 offers further details on Junia’s identity. She is paired with Andronicus, which makes it likely that they were either married or siblings, as is the case with other paired names of Paul’s greetings. Paul calls her a “relative,” which indicates that even if not a literal relation of Paul’s by birth, Junia was a Jew and part of his kindred (see Rom 9:3, which uses the same word to signify the Jewish people). Junia also spent time imprisoned with Paul, meaning she probably preached, taught, and led groups of people so as to land her in jail, just as Paul had. This is corroborated by Paul’s naming her an apostle—and a prominent one at that. We can also glean from Rom 16:7 (“they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was”) that Junia was an apostle and a follower of Jesus before Paul, placing her perhaps among the earliest generation of community leaders and probably in Palestine before her arrival in Rome.

Junia’s identity as a woman and apostle caused some controversy for scholars in the last century, but this controversy—and implicit rejection of a woman’s ability or right to hold such a position—is a needless, modern concern. Early Christian writers clearly understood Rom 16:7 to identify the woman Junia as an apostle. John Chrysostom writes in the fourth century, “Oh how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!” (Hom. Rom. 31). It was not until the twentieth century that the debate over Junia’s name began in earnest, when IOYNIAN was rendered masculine in some Greek editions of the New Testament—that is, the name was printed as Ἰουνιᾶν, which is masculine, instead of Ἰουνίαν, which is feminine, the only difference being the accenting of the word. Since ancient Greek manuscripts contain no accent marks, some editors believed there was reason to question the feminine form of the name, which they argued could have been masculine, since there was no indicative accenting of the name. Subsequently, English translations thus printed the masculine name “Junias.”

But this shift in gender should not have occurred. There are hundreds of occurrences of the feminine name “Junia” in the Greco-Roman world of the first century. Occurrences of a masculine “Junias” or the longer “Junianus” number a total of zero.

Since early Christian writers and later scribes understood the person of Rom 16:7 as a woman, and ancient texts testify to the feminine name “Junia” overwhelmingly, the only reason to render the name masculine comes from resistance to a woman apostle. The explanation for the printing of a masculine name in the United Bible Societies’ Greek edition is stated explicitly as due to “some members, considering it unlikely that a woman would be among those styled ‘apostles’” (see the discussion in Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New).

Was Junia anomalous among early Christian women?

Was it unlikely that a woman was an apostle? Was Junia an anomaly among early followers of Jesus? She is certainly the only woman named an apostle in the New Testament and early Christian texts. But much of the answer to these questions depends on what one defines as an “apostle” and when. Paul’s usage of the term is rather fluid, sometimes meaning one who encountered the postresurrection Jesus (1Cor 15:7), or someone part of the Jerusalem leadership before Paul (Gal 1:17-19), or a traveling missionary afforded certain rights (1Cor 9:1-18), or an emissary of a church (2Cor 8:23; Phil 2:25), or any combination of these. The author of Luke and Acts, writing several decades after Paul, focuses on the Twelve Apostles and thus narrows the definition of the term considerably. But, ironically, according to the narratives of Luke and Acts, the women followers of Jesus (see Luke 8:1-3, Luke 23:49) would more than qualify as apostles in Paul’s use of the term. They witnessed Jesus’s ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection (more so than the male disciples); they formed part of the core community in Jerusalem before Paul arrived on the scene (Acts 1:14); and they traveled as missionaries (see Priscilla in Acts 18). We also know from Paul himself that Phoebe served as an emissary between communities (Rom 16:1). Junia’s explicitly stated title of apostle may be anomalous, but apostolic women during her time were not.

Yii-Jan Lin , "Junia", n.p. [cited 3 Dec 2022]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/en/people/related-articles/junia

Contributors

Lin-Yii-Jan

Yii-Jan Lin
Associate Professor of New Testament, Yale Divinity School

Yii-Jan Lin specializes in textual criticism, the Revelation of John, critical race theory, gender and sexuality, and immigration. Her book, The Erotic Life of Manuscripts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), examines how metaphors of race, family, evolution, and genetic inheritance have shaped the goals and assumptions of New Testament textual criticism from the eighteenth century to the present. Her current book project, Immigration and Apocalypse: The Revelation of John in the History of American Immigration, focuses on apocalypticism and the use of Revelation in the political discourse surrounding American immigration—both in utopian visions of America and dystopian fear of outsiders.

Relating to the cultures of Greece or Rome.

Textual documents, usually handwritten.

Service or a religious vocation to help others.

One who embarks on a mission of good (usually religiously motivated) works, often to a distant locale.

A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.

Another name often used for the area of Israel and Judah, derived from the Latin term for the Roman province of Palaestina; ultimately, the name derives from the name of the Philistine people.

Rom 16:7

7Greet 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.

Rom 9:3

3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.

Rom 16:7

7Greet 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.

Rom 16:7

7Greet 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.

Rom 16:7

7Greet 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.

1Cor 15:7

7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

Gal 1:17-19

17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterward I returned to Damascus.
18 Then ... View more

1Cor 9:1-18

The Rights of an Apostle
9 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? 2 If I am not an apostle to othe ... View more

2Cor 8:23

23As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker in your service; as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ.

Phil 2:25

25Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need;

Luke 8:1-3

Some Women Accompany Jesus
1Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve wer ... View more

Luke 23:49

49But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Acts 1:14

14All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Acts 18

Paul in Corinth
18 After this Paul[a] left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 There he found a Jew named Aquila from Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with hi ... View more

Rom 16:1

Personal Greetings
1I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae,

 NEH Logo
Bible Odyssey has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.