THEOLOGY: Who Killed Junia?

Part 1

“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” Romans 16:7 (NIV 2011)

Paul had already named women as coworkers in Romans 16 and would go on to name several more. Naming someone or giving them prominence in one way or another was a meaningful act in the first century. Paul names 25 people in this chapter, praising seven women and five men as being most crucial to his work and to the church. Women get most of the “high fives,” you might say.

I had read the verse in question many times without giving much thought to what it meant.
Frankly, I wasn’t wired to be an iconoclast and I generally accepted what my church taught without question for the first 30 years of my life. Still, I was bothered by a few things, including Paul’s statements on women in two seemingly isolated passages.

When I first began wondering how to harmonize my church’s restrictions on women’s public participation in worship and ministry with some of the passages I found in scripture, I came across a mention of “Junia, a female, who was also an apostle,” and it startled me. Running back to Romans 16:7 I found the idea interesting, but my reading of the verse did not compel me to believe that it clearly stated that Junia was an apostle.

I had several questions that needed to be answered:
• Was “Junia” a female name?

• Is this verse saying that Junia was an outstanding apostle or merely that she was esteemed by the apostles?

• If this Junia was a female, could she have been in prison with Paul, a man?

• Why were some Bibles printing the name as “Junias,” “Junius,” or “Julian”?

I read several books on the subject but still had questions.
So I was happy to find the book “Junia, the First Woman Apostle” by Eldon Jay Epp. Epp is Professor of Biblical Literature (Emeritus) at Case Western Reserve University and a former President of the Society of Biblical Literature (2003–4). He is the author of Studies in the Theory and Method of New Testament Textual Criticism (Eerdmans, 1993) and the editor of several works. That all sounds impressive, but what I liked was that he approached this subject like a scientist; He first gathered all the material out there and then looked through it. He made no conclusions until he laid out every fact at his disposal.

He laid out some “introductory matters” like these:

1. The name in Romans 16:7 was considered a female name in the early church by all writers “without exception.”

2. Greek versions of the scripture continued to spell it as a female name with the exception of Alford in 1852 and didn’t even note that it could be a male name in the appendix until Weymouth in 1892.

3. Early translations such as the Old Latin, Vulgate, Sahidic, Bohairic Coptic, and Syriac versions spell it as a feminine name.

4. English translations read it as “Junia” until the last part of the 1800s when it was suddenly changed to a male name “Junian” or “Julian” or some variation.

5. While some believe that this was a nickname for the male name “Junias”, Junias never appears as a name in the first several centuries after Christ and, therefore, wouldn’t need a nickname form.

One of the first collectors of manuscripts was Erasmus, who was able to secure rare and previously unavailable documents from all over the known world. He made a note on this passage that all manuscripts agreed that this was both a woman and an apostle – a highly esteemed apostle. When Epp finished his own manuscript gathering he concluded:

“Junia” occurs in all Greek manuscripts except for five that have a variant of another kind, namely, “Julia”. But Julia is clearly a woman’s name – the most popular by far of all names in Rome…How, on any scheme, then, did scholars get to a masculine term and to a man Junias?” (Epp, p.31)

I do not want to go into what the word “apostle” meant¹. Clearly, there were more than twelve apostles as Matthias was added when Judas committed suicide. Paul was added later, as were others. Some go to Paul’s defense of his apostleship in the books of Corinthians and try to backwards engineer a definition, but there are times that the word is used to mean “messenger” or “leader” or “emissary” as well. Regardless, it is clear that Andronicus and Junia are leaders in the early church…or at the very least, highly esteemed by them.

Chrysostom raved about Junia in his comments on this passage.

“To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles – just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle.” (in ep. Ad Romans 31:2; PG 60.669-870 as quoted by Epp and Pederson).

I find it striking that Chrysostom has such effusive praise for Junia when he wasn’t keen on women in general (massive understatement) and because he was writing in the late 300s/early 400s when Junia was STILL considered a female apostle in the early church.

So what changed?
Martin Luther (who, if you remember, said that the purpose of women was to bear children and if they died in childbirth, so what?) translated the Bible into German, following a translator named LeFevre who had changed “Junia” into “Juniam.”² (Ed. Note: please see clarification below.) His translation was as influential in Europe as the King James Version was in the English-speaking world. From that point on, people took Luther’s translation and worked from it, never going back into the older manuscripts.

What was LeFevre’s justification for this change? What was Luther’s? From what we can find so far – they had none. Perhaps they just couldn’t imagine a woman being an apostle (and in the 1500s that is understandable, although changing the text is not). So they made the change, assuming the texts were corrupted somehow. Voices were raised against this (Locke, Drusius, et al) but once Luther’s translation was out there, it steamrolled over anything in its path. (Interestingly, the KJV kept Junia as a female name.)

Rena Pederson, a thirty year investigative reporter and editor for the Dallas Morning News, wrote the book The Lost Apostle: Searching for the Truth about Junia. She spent years and a great deal of retirement money interviewing experts in the Vatican and Oxford and all points in between. She is convinced that the villain here is Giles of Rome (1298), sometimes called Giles of Colonna or Aegidus Romanus. According to Pederson, he was the first to refer to Andronicus and Junia as “honorable men.”

Giles changed “Junia” to “Julian” – and this is critical – assuming it had to be a male name since it belonged to an apostle.
Giles served the popes, including the incredibly corrupt Boniface VIII, known for his rabid opposition to women in any position of power, secular or spiritual. He suppressed convents and took missions and teaching roles away from nuns, forcing them into cloistered lives. Boniface was in constant battle with another corrupt leader of the day – King Phillip IV of France. Phillip was the king who trumped up charges against the Templars, outlawed their order, and hunted them to the ends of Europe so he could confiscate their wealth. Each side had their theologians or lawyers to write defenses of what they wanted to do.

Giles was charged by the popes he served to craft treatises of sufficient weight to give them license to do what they wanted to do. This is called “scholasticism” – deciding what you believe or do and then using scripture to gain the warrant for doing it. Boniface – whose adultery was so well known that he felt free to casually say that adultery was of “no more harm…than rubbing your hands together” – directed Giles to defend his edict stripping women of their place in the church. One of the ways he did so was to replace Junia with Julian, a male name.

But Giles was not alone. This tale gets even more twisted, but that will have to wait until Part II. For now, I find it sad and interesting that Microsoft Word tells me that there is no word spelled “Junia.”

It seems Giles, et al, were quite successful in silencing an early Christian leader…and half of the church.

When it comes to figuring out who killed Junia (as in, “removed her from the record and changed her name to the male form”) we could pick any of a number of powerful men who added weight to the concept and value of male-only leadership.

Part 2

In Part 1 Pederson pointed us to Giles, a bishop who wrote theological treatises defending whatever Pope Boniface (a truly reprehensible human being) wanted defended. Giles (1243-1316) may have written the first arguments making Junia a male but he didn’t sway the majority of scholars of his day.

Eldon Epp surveyed all collections of scripture available to us today and found that Junia remained a female with a female name until Alford’s 1858 edition of the Greek New Testament. Alford changed Junia to a male name but did not explain why in the notes to his text.

Other versions of the Greek New Testament kept Junia female until Nestle’s text which, once again, changed the name into a male name without explanation. Epp was astounded to see that the earliest manuscripts, records of names in the first few centuries after Christ, and all translators other than Alford and Nestle indicated that Junia was a female AND an apostle.

Why the change?

We can sum up the entire argument against Junia being a female by referencing just one scholar – Joseph Barber Lightfoot. As the 19th century became the 20th, he wrote in his notes on this text that Junia MUST be Junias, or male, because Paul called her/him an apostle and only men can be apostles.

That’s it.

Since most translators in modern times use Nestle, Westcott, Hort, Barber, et al, they follow them in re-naming Junia “Junias.” Since 1970, this has sometimes been corrected as translators go back to the extant manuscripts and bypass the homogenized, collected, and edited editions by scholars of the late 1800s. When Epp published a chart of which translation had Junia as female and which named her Junias/Junian/Julian (sometimes with alternate readings in the notes, often without them), my jaw dropped at how clear it was that sabotage and assumptions, not Greek or history, killed Junia.

Epp lists manuscripts and collections all the way up to Baljon (1898) and they all have Junia as female, except for Alford (1858). That is 31 authoritative editions of the Greek text against 1.

Epp then traces editions from Nestle (1898) to the United Bible Society’s 3rd printing of 1998. It was the Nestle-Erwin edition of 1927 that changed Junia to male. The Majority Text compiled by Hodges-Farstad (1982) changes her back to female.

Epp then searches English versions of the New Testament from Tyndale (1525) to the New Living Translation (1996). He finds that Junia is female until the Dickinson version of 1833/7. The majority of English versions after this time refer to Junia by a male name until the New American Bible of 1970.

Then, as if by magic, most English versions have her as female once again. That includes the New King James Version (the original had her as female also), New Century Version, New American Bible (1987), Revised English Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Oxford Inclusive Version, and New Living Translation.

Those still listing Junia by a male name (with or without alternative readings in their notes) are the Living Bible (1971), the NIV of 1973, New Jerusalem Bible, The Message, and the Contemporary English Version. Epp makes a compelling case that the only reason these versions have Junia as male is because they rely on older Nestle texts, circa 1927, instead of doing the hard work of going into linguistics, history, and earlier compilations of the text.

But there might be another reason.

The power of women in the church was eroded heavily by early Christian Fathers whose misogynistic rants are embarrassing to read – truly cringe worthy. When Constantine organized the early church he did so with Roman eyes and attitudes. Men ruled Roman society so he assumed that was the only proper way to rule the church, ignoring the fact that there is no male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free in the new community of faith. He ignored the daughters of Philip, Dorcas/Tabitha, Junia, Julia, a slew of Marys, Priscilla, Phoebe, and more.

Then came Giles and Pope Boniface who stripped nuns of their powers and authority in the church, shoving them into a cloistered, separate existence.

Martin Luther launched the Reformation but he was more anti-women than most priests of his day. He considered them nothing more than child-bearers, incubators for men’s seed.

Victorian England made male and female roles even more rigid and defined by “decency” and “acceptable standards.”

The American South enthusiastically championed those roles and attitudes. They became part of American fundamentalism and the text was changed to match the attitude of the times.

When the New International Version first announced a translation that used inclusive language, Americans rebelled. Articles were written, sermons preached, and threats were made so that they abandoned their plans and published it only in Europe. It would take from the mid 1980s until 2010/2011 before they would republish the NIV using inclusive language in the US, not because the text didn’t support it, but because of opposition from the prevailing male culture of the church.

It isn’t pretty…but it’s true.

Even in the early church, some men were so heavily influenced by Greek and Roman attitudes toward women (not good!) that Paul’s endorsement of Junia and other women, calling them leaders, ministers (Phoebe, anyone?), and more would have been scandalous. So…many of them decided he couldn’t have meant that at all.

Chrysostom believed Junia was female and an apostle even though he couldn’t stand women. But a few others, (Epiphanius, for example, who also thought Prisca was a man) called Junia “Junias” because they could not imagine a woman having any prominence or power in the church. They didn’t get their attitudes from Jesus or – I dare say – Paul, but from the dominant culture of the day. Scholars today agree that “Junias” did not appear in early Christian centuries as a name, male or female. It was bias and nothing more that caused Epiphanius and Origen to decide Junia was a man (and that they should change the name found in the text to a non-existent one).

When I contemplate all I’ve read concerning these matters, I rejoice that God called us into a new community where the barriers are dropped and where we can all use our gifts to serve God, and I am troubled, wondering what cultural forces and assumptions are working on my attitudes and beliefs presently.

Much more could be said…but I have probably said enough.

I will simply say this: we are all ONE in Christ Jesus. Our chains are gone, we’ve been set free. Jesus thought that Mary, sitting at his feet in the traditional posture of a student of the rabbi, was in the right place even though that was unheard of in his day. Instead of creating more Marthas to stay in the kitchen and cook for the church, Jesus said they belonged with him – and the men – learning alongside them as equals.

If it’s good enough for Jesus…

Now that scholars agree overwhelmingly that Junia was a woman, those opposed to women in leadership have tried to make the case that she must not have been a “real” apostle. Scot McKnight (author of Junia is Not Alone) gives the broader picture and Suzanne McCarthy provides extensive documentation on the meaning of Junia being “outstanding among the apostles” in her Junia files.



¹For an extensive study on Junia and what it meant to be “outstanding among the apostles”, see Suzanne McCarthy’s series on Junia, the Apostle.

²” Thanks to Suzanne McCarthy for this clarification: “Juniam” is the accusative case of the feminine form. What Luther did was place a masculine article “den” in front of “Juniam” and it is this article which indicates Juniam was masculine. He was quite right to use Juniam but he added a masculine article not in the Greek, because this is more colloquial in German to use articles. Why did he use the masculine article? That is the question. Clearly he had read some commentary that referred to Junias as a possible masculine name. The affair is complicated – the Greek manuscript has Iounian, an accusative case, in which the name is the object of the verb, and this could equally be masculine or feminine in form if the masculine name Iounias existed, which it didn’t. So the hypothetical set is this –

Nominative form Iounia is feminine, and accusative case is Iounian.

Nominative form Iounias is masculine and accusative case is Iounian.

However, they are accented differently. In the 9th century AD accents started being used and the accent pattern for Iounian indicated that scribes believed she was feminine.”


This is article first appeared on the Junia blog, author Patrick Mead.