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Junia or Junias?

A while ago I read Steve Holmes review of Scot McKnight’s Junia is not Alone: Breaking our silence about women in the Bible and the church today. Holmes recounts that McKnight gives a history of how Junia became Junias and then Junia again. The highlighted quote is,

“Let me be clear once more: the editors of the Greek New Testaments killed Junia. They killed her by silencing her into non-existence. They murdered that innocent woman by erasing her from the footnotes.”

That’s strong stuff. Academic murder no less. McKnight’s argument is that that Junia was undisputed until the 16th century when Junias began to appear and then in the 1920s Junia began to disappear from the Greek New Testaments. McKnight senses foul play to get rid of Junia by giving her a man’s name (albeit a highly unusual one), Junias hence the quote at the top. As Holmes recounts:

Humanistic scholars in the C16th were examining the texts, however. Somewhere in there, the idea that Junia should have been Junias arose; Jacques Lefevre d’Étaples, in his 1512 edition of the Pauline corpus, offered Junias, and was followed by Luther in his German Bible. McKnight then traces the history of critical editions of the Greek, which was all new to me, and a fairly chilling tale.

So I thought I’d have a look at the commentaries that line my shelves to see what they said – is the evidence of a conspiracy borne out? If so you’d expect to lots of Junias and lots of interpretations of Junias as a man. Now I don’t actually have a vast set of commentaries on Romans, in fact due to the oddities by which I gained my books, but I found the results interesting. Here they are discussing Romans 16:7:

The oldest commentary on Romans I have is from the venerable Matthew Henry writing around 1712.

“Concerning Andronicus and Junia, Rom_16:7. Some take them for a man and his wife, and the original will well enough bear it; and, considering the name of the latter, this is more probable than that they should be two men, as others think, and brethren.”

Adding,

“They were of note among the apostles, not so much perhaps because they were persons of estate and quality in the world as because they were eminent for knowledge, and gifts, and graces, which made them famous among the apostles…”

So 300 years ago Henry, aware that some at think that it should be read Junias, still has Junia, and sees them as a highly gifted husband and wife team.

Next, I’ve a commentary Charles Welch, Just, and the Justifier : an exposition of the Epistle to the Romans, considered doctrinally, dispensationally and practically, together with complete structural analysis. (London: Berean Publishing Trust, 2004 but written in 1948.)

He simply notes,

“Andronicus and Junia are said to be not only ‘kinsmen’ but also ‘of note among the apostles’. There is no difficulty about this phrase, if we remember that the apostles were not limited to the ‘twelve.’ Barnabas, Sylvanus and Timothy, Apollos and Epaphroditus all appear to have held this office, besides others who are not named (2 Cor 8:23).”

So we have Junia but no comment is made on Junia’s gender and happy to note their apostleship in the broader use of the term.

William Barclay in 1955 wrote,

Andronicus and Junias form an interesting pair of names, because it is likely that Junias is a female name. That would mean that in the early Church a woman could be ranked and honoured as an apostle. The apostles in this sense were people whom the Church sent out to tell the story of the gospel of Jesus at large.

So Barclay sticks with Junias but recognises her as female. He follows Henry in seeing them as a missionary couple.

Then I have CK Barrett’s  Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans. (London: A. & C. Black, 1957) and this is interesting because Barrett has Junias and makes no comment on their gender. He says,

“Andronicus and Junias were, it appears, apostles, and senior in standing to Paul himself. In the NT the word [apostle] is sometimes used of the twelve disciples especially appointed by Jesus, but also in a wider sense, as here.”

Another famous British scholar CH Dodd has a longer discussion on the issue of the nature of their apostleship in The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (Fontana, 1959) but with reference to whether it is Junia or Junias says,

“We may note that the second name might equally well be the feminine Junia. In that case, Andronicus and Junia would be husband and wife working together as missionaries, like Aquila and Prisca. Chrysostom, preaching on this passage, saw no difficulty in a woman-apostle; nor need we.”

In The Gospel as it really is : Paul’s Epistle to the Romans simply explained. (Evangelical Press, 1979), Stuart Olyott says,

“Verse 7 mentions a certain Andronicus and Junia. Whether these were two men, or a man and a woman, we do not know. They were related to Paul, and had at some time been imprisoned with him for the sake of the gospel. They were well known to the apostles, and noted among them as outstanding believers.”

So clearly aware of the gender issue so references the issue but feels unable to make a call on it.

John Stott in his The message of Romans : God’s good news for the world. (Inter-Varsity Press, 1994) says,

“The other woman to be considered is mentioned in verse 7. In the Greek sentence the second name is Iounian, which could be the accusative of either Junias (masculine) or Junia (feminine). Commentators are agreed that the latter is much more likely to be correct, since the former name is unknown elsewhere. Perhaps then Andronicus and Junia were a married couple…it is probably better to…conclude that Andronicus and Junia were indeed outstanding missionaries.”

Another agreement then that it is Junia and likely a fine missionary husband and wife team.

Grant Osborne in his commentary Romans (IVP 2004) writes,
“The name Junia is debated, but the feminine is most likely. She was probably the wife of Andronicus (like Priscilla and Aquila in v3)… It is hard to know what use of apostle is meant here. There are the 12 and a few others like Paul and Barnabas, but there is also the term apostolos for wandering missionaries….and that may be the meaning here. Still that would have been an office in the church, and Junia with her husband is an outstanding example of such a leader.”
So another vote for an outstanding missionary couple.
FF Bruce says in his Tyndale Commentary Romans: An introduction and commentary (1985 IVP)
“Andronicus and Junias. The second of these names might be either masculine (Junias, a shorter form of Junianus) or feminine (Junia, as in the AV). But, since there seems to be no certain occurrence of the form Junias, the feminine Junia is to be preferred. This couple (perhaps husband and wife) were Jewish by birth (Paul calls them his ‘kinsfolk’); they had shared one of Paul’s frequent imprisonments (cf. 2 Cor. 11:23), possibly in Ephesus. Moreover, they were ‘of note among the apostles’, which probably means that they were not merely well known to the apostles but were apostles themselves (in the wider, Pauline, sense of the word), and eminent ones at that. They had been Christians from a very early date, since before Paul’s own conversion. They may have been among the Hellenists of Acts 6:1 (their names suggest that they were Hellenists rather than ‘Hebrews’); their title to apostleship was probably based on their having seen the risen Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 15:7, ‘all the apostles’).”

Yet again no real question in his mind about the gender of Junia and again seeing this couple as an outstanding missionary pair, which would have given them the first century term ‘apostle.’

Joseph Fitzmeyer is a little hard to quote, littered as his 1993 commentary is with Latin references but

Thus Paul would be sending greetings to a male and a female apostle, to some of those who probably carried the Christian message to Rome before him. They could be considered paired messengers of the gospel, even if husband and wife, and not necessarily two male emissaries

Interestingly Fitzmeyer notes (contrary to McKnight) that ‘Giles of Rome (1247–1316) is said to have been the first to break with the patristic tradition and to interpret Andronicus and Julia(!) as two men’ and notes that there are manuscript from the ninth century with the masculine form.

In  the Africa Bible commentary edited by Tokunboh Adeyemo (Zondervan, 2006), David M Kasali writes,

“Another couple, Andronicus and Junias are identified as Paul’s relatives who had been imprisoned with him for the gospel. They are apostles who became Christians before Paul. The term ‘apostle’ used for Andronicus and Junias does not mean that they were among the twelve apostles, but that they worked as messengers (as did others) or had been commissioned as missionaries.”

So we have Junias, but happy to see them as a couple and therefore Junias as female. They are apostles in the sense that they are missionaries. Anyone else spot a theme here?

I have another single volume commentary, the massive Eerdmans commentary on the Bible edited by James Dunn (Eerdmans, 2003). The Romans commentary is by John Reumann. Reumann goes with Junia and says,

“Especially significant are…the Jewish-Christian apostoloi, the husband and wife missionary couple, Andronicus and Junia, believers before Paul, likely appointed by the risen Christ. Until about 1300 Jounian in most manuscripts was taken as accusative singular of a woman’s name, then down through the RSV as a man’s name, Junias.”

So a vote for Junia but the same theme, a husband and wife team and missionary couple.

Craig Keener in his 2009 commentary on Romans in the New Covenant Commentary series says,

Andronicus and Junia seem to be a husband-wife apostolic team (16:7; brother-sister is less likely, and anything else would have been scandalous). “Junia” is plainly a woman’s name, as ancient commentators commonly recognized (and often found surprising). It is grammatically possible to read “of note among the apostles” as being honored by other apostles,but Paul nowhere else appeals to the opinion of “the apostles” as a group, so most scholars prefer the other possible grammatical reading, namely, that Paul calls them “noteworthy apostles.” The larger question is what Paul means by calling them apostles.

Keener argues that apostle just means apostle but note the agreement of a husband and wife team.

Last but never least is the irrepressible Tom Wright in his Paul for everyone : Romans (SPCK 2004) who is not one to sit on this particular fence:

“We note, not least, the importance of women in the list. Paul names them as fellow-workers, without any sense that they hold a secondary position to the men. One of them, Junia, is an apostle: the phrase ‘well known among the apostles’ doesn’t mean that the apostles know her and Andronicus (probably wife and husband) but that they are apostles, that is, they were among those who saw the risen Lord. She has the same status as all the other apostles, including Paul himself. Don’t be put off by some translations which call her ‘Junias,’ as if she were a man. There is no reason for this except the anxiety of some about recognizing that women could be apostles too.”

Well my supposed anxieties aside, Wright goes for Junia, a woman witness of the resurrection and with her husband Andronicus an apostle. And that’s my lot on the commentary front so lets sum up.

Of 14 commentaries, 11 opt for Junia while only 3 have Junias and even then one of them still thinks that Junias is a woman while the other two make no comment. All but one of those who opt for Junia are clear that Junia was a woman and only one sits on the fence. So it strikes me that McKnight’s point about Junia being erased by scholarship just isn’t born out by the evidence I have sitting on my shelves. Matthew Henry is an ancient and popular set and the others are spread across the last 70 years. Perhaps there is a commentary tradition in the US that runs contrary to what I have here but that would be somewhat surprising.

So what is the consensus? Andronicus and Junia were an outstanding missionary couple who no doubt planted churches. Arguably they were apostles because they both witnessed the risen Christ and because they were both sent.

As a complementarian pastor I have absolutely zero problem with this. If anyone was ever to write a history of church planting in Sweden in the 21st century and thought we were deserving of a mention, I hope they’d write about Phil and Emma Whittall and not just me – we’re in this together, it is a joint venture all the way and yet our roles are different.

*Post updated (13.06.2019) to include Barclay, Keener, Fitzmeyer

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12 Thoughts to “Junia or Junias?”

  1. Andrew Lowe

    Very interesting post, Phil. A bit of research gets you a long way. How long did it take?

    1. @ Andy. Couple of hours, to sift through and copy various bits out. 
      @ Rob – yes I think the pendulum even for us comps is swinging back in the right direction

    2. @ Andy. Couple of hours, to sift through and copy various bits out. 
      @ Rob – yes I think the pendulum even for us comps is swinging back in the right direction

  2. Robert Mason

    I wasn’t aware of the Junias / Junia debate till recently… from http://whatyouthinkmatters.org/blog/article/twenty-facts-in-the-gender-debate#  but then I find this debate isn’t so much about understanding what the bible says, but what we do about feminism, or poor male leadership models, or that we have churches filled with women and few men, etc etc.. 

    What I do find heartening, (especially with 3 daughters) is that more than ever before we’re understanding that women have an enormous contribution which equals those from males irrespective of roles.    

  3. Gary McMurray

    Inspired by your post, I had a look through some additional commentaries and they seem to opt for the both men, not necessarily family but more fellow Jews, type approach. So there are some commentaries out there, perhaps on the more conservative wing, but I’m not sure it could be seen as a conspiracy as such…

    1. That’s interesting. Olyott is the most recent conservative and he hedges his bets. But I think the consensus is clear…

  4. I recently read McKnight’s booklet and found the whole discussion really intriguing. I think I could agree that there was a conspiracy if we defined that as the passive attempt at never mentioning this passage. All I mean is that in the tradition I’ve been a part of, Junia has definitely been silenced. I think, if I read McKnight correctly, that was his point as well.

    1. That’s a fair point, I think on the whole complementarians have done a good job of ignoring the contribution of the women in Paul’s team and even the fact that women were in his team! But to be even-handed I’ve never heard anyone mention Andronicus either and he goes with Junia!

  5. David Aubert

    Thanx Phil…interesting conclusion! Do we need to come up with a new word for the position between complementarian and egalitarian or should we sit safely in the complementarian position?

  6. interesting post Phil. I’ve often felt people try to prove far too much from far too little data in this verse. From what I’ve read it does seem likely that Junia was indeed a woman, but tend to prefer the translation that she and Andronicus were “highly regarded” by the apostles rather than being “famous apostles”, since if they were the latter it seems a bit odd to me that we have no other historical records about what they did.

    1. I think there is some weight to that argument but again the consensus I had is that reading is less likely. Much more to the point is what is meant by apostle and most take it as itinerant messenger/missionaries.

  7. Thanks for this – interesting post.

    For reference here is Jamieson, Fausset and Brown’s take on it, which agrees that it is more probable that Junia was a lady:

    “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….which are of note among the apostles– Those who think the word “apostle” is used in a lax sense, in the Acts and Epistles, take this to mean “noted apostles” [CHRYSOSTOM, LUTHER, CALVIN, BENGEL, OLSHAUSEN, THOLUCK, ALFORD, JOWETT]; others, who are not clear that the word “apostle” is applied to any without the circle of the Twelve, save 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.”

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