Romans 16:7 mentions Junia, pronounced “ee-oo-nee-as,” when it states “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.” In Romans 16, Paul thanked a long list of people, including Junia. This passage is best known for his recognition of men and women in prominent ministry positions.
Throughout Scripture, women such as Junia were held in high esteem, valued for their opinions, and celebrated for their intelligence and gifting. There are stories about Lois and Eunice, the mother-grandmother pair who raised the man assigned to lead the church in Ephesus, and Priscilla, who lovingly corrected one apostle’s scriptural misunderstandings with great wisdom. Junia, Phoebe, Lydia, Mary, and many others were clearly used by God to build up the body of Christ and advance His kingdom.
Junia, referenced in Romans 16, is mentioned once in the entire Bible. Someone who has generated much scholarly debate over the centuries, Paul called her a relative, fellow prisoner, and an apostle. Many suggest she was married to Andronicus, the man mentioned alongside her. We also know he had a Jewish background and became a Christ-follower before Paul did, perhaps when he was actively persecuting the church. Had he, perhaps, once targeted this couple to whom he now, at the time of his letter, felt so connected? She and her husband’s imprisonment also suggests they were people of great faith.
She may have been one of Peter’s converts on the day of Pentecost or shortly after. Acts 2:10 says there were “visitors from Rome” who then took their new faith back to their home city. In this case, they may have met and worked with Jesus’ disciples who were living in Jerusalem. Based on what we read in the book of Acts, this would have been a tense and highly volatile area, one in which Stephen, the first Christian martyr, died by stoning.
What the Bible Says About Junia
NIV: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Greet also the church that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you. 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." (Rom. 16:1-7)
ESV: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me." (Rom. 16:1-7)
[Editor's Note: According to pastor and writer Paul Carter for The Gospel Coalition Canada, "The Greek construction has the preposition en plus the dative which generally has the meaning “in, on or among”. Thus an equally sound argument can be made that Andronicus and Junia were well known in the circle of the Apostles (the sense of the ESV) or that they were well known as being among the circle of the Apostles (the sense of the NIV)." To narrow the meaning scholars would normally look at a wider context, but there is not a wider context of the names Andronicus and Junia in Scripture.]
Was Junia (or Junias) an Apostle?
Romans 16:7 mentions Junia, pronounced “ee-oo-nee-as,” when it states “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.” In Romans 16, Paul thanked a long list of people, including Junia. This passage is best known for his recognition of men and women in prominent ministry positions. Like Jesus, Paul didn’t follow the protocols of his day related to gender.
Through his brief description, Paul demonstrated approval toward women in leadership roles. He referred to Junia and Andronicus (assumed to be her husband or brother) as his “relatives and fellow prisoners.” In the original Greek, he wrote that they were “en tois apostolois.” Many relatively recent theologians have translated this line ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις to read Junia and Andronicus were apostles, although he was probably not using the term as the authoritative position he and the original twelve disciples held but rather more broadly missionaries sent out as messengers. He used the same word to describe Titus in 2 Corinthians 8:23.
If the NIV has the correct emphasis ('being among' the apostles), then Junia was the first woman in Scripture to be called an apostle. The early church didn’t exclude females from leadership positions. Such restrictions occurred much later in its history the church began to bar women from leadership. While scholars debate on whether Junia was a woman or a man (Junias), there is little reason to believe the latter. For the first one-thousand years of church history, Junia was well known as a woman and recognized as such by the church fathers.
In 380 AD, John Chrysostom, the bishop of Constantinople, wrote of Junia “how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle!” In addition, “Bible commentators prior to the thirteenth century unanimously favor the female name, Junia. Moving forward, an overwhelming majority of Bible translations from the late 1300s through the mid-1800s translate Iounian as a woman, not as a man. These Bibles include Wycliffe (1382, 13902), Göttingen Gutenberg Bible3 (1454), Erasmus Greek-Latin NT (1519), Tyndale (1525), Coverdale (1535), Matthew (1537), Great Bible (1539–41), Taverner (1539), Geneva NT (1557), Bishops (1568), Spanish “Bear” Bible (1569), Rheims (1582), Geneva Bible (1583–99), Hutter Polyglot (1599), Reina-Valera4 (1602, 1858, 1909), King James Version (1611), Giovanni Diodati (1649), Wycliffe NT (1731), Webster (1833), Murdock NT (1852), and Julia Smith (1876)” (Preato, 2019). (Read more HERE).
Some suggest Junia was an incorrect translation of the male name Junias, but this theory didn’t appear until after the thirteenth century. By the sixteenth century, many prominent leaders pushed the notion that Junia was actually a man’s name. This was most likely because they were uneasy with the idea of a woman apostle. For example, Martin Luther changed Junia to a man’s name in his German translation in the late 1490s. However, most Greek and English translations of the Bible kept the feminine form of Junia until 1927 when the masculine Junias began to be more commonly used. However, since 1998, almost all translations have returned to the female name.
What Was Junia’s Role in Paul’s Ministry?
As family, Paul knew Andronicus and Junia well and recognized them as “remarkable” and “outstanding among (or as)” apostles. The local church commissioned Junia as an apostle/messenger or a missionary and gave her opportunities to teach and serve others, to what degree we cannot know. However, we know she played a prominent and practical role in early Christianity. There were many “house churches” in Rome and, at the time of Paul’s letter, he’d never visited their church nor did he help start it. He relied on his coworkers in Christ to spread the good news of Jesus to their own local communities. Given women’s social status at the time, the fact he delegated so much authority to so many women was extraordinary.
What Can We Learn from Junia?
Junia reminds us of the value Christ places on all people, male and female; we all have a role to play in expanding God’s kingdom. When our Savior lived on earth, He modeled counter-cultural living not dictated by the popular principles, behaviors, or beliefs of His day. He sought out those rejected by society and deemed unclean by religious leaders. Scripture demonstrates that He also esteemed and included women in His ministry for the gospel, which was unheard of in ancient Jewish traditions. Through this, He sent a clear message to His followers regarding the value of all of His followers. Despite His clear example, however, by the 9th century, the church as a global organization had relegated women to a subservient and even oppressed position within ministry.
Women make up more than half of the graduating classes in American Protestant seminaries, but only three percent are assigned to churches larger than 350 members. In a time where women can be CEOs of global corporations, head surgeons, fly to space, and Vice-President of the United States, many large Christian denominations hinder or prohibit them from becoming a preacher or even a teacher. These examples and the demotion of women to subordinate roles remind us why we need to remember and teach about women like Junia.
[Editor's Note: Paul does not specifically associate women with the role of pastor, elder, or overseer in Scripture - though women are mentioned in the roles of deaconess, corporate prayer, prophesy, ministry, and business (benefactors) so there is room for debate about the role of women in modern-day churches.]
Junia may not be a prominent name throughout the Bible but her impact on the spread of Christianity throughout Rome and beyond is undeniable. She embodied the counter-cultural life Jesus calls His believers to follow. A Jewish woman, possibly scorned by the rabbis and unable to attend school, was well known either as an apostle or by the apostles for her contributions in spreading the gospel message. Paul praised her accomplishments and faith. Jesus praised a woman named Mary when she sat at His feet like a male student of a rabbi, which would have been considered scandalous behavior for the time. In this, Christ demonstrated that a woman’s place is with Jesus and studying beside the men as equals. Women’s stories count and their lives mean something to God, therefore they should mean just as much to the church.
Preato, Dennis J. (2019). “Junia, a Female Apostle of the Historical Record. CBE International. Viewed 10.27/21
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Kelly Campbell, team manager for Wholly Loved Ministries, survived a massive stroke at 40 and has come through with a passion for prayer and other survivors. She is currently completing her Masters of Divinity in Healthcare Chaplaincy and serves on the board of directors for the Brain Injury Association of Georgia (BIAG). Kelly currently leads the prayer team at her church in Woodstock, GA. She is a single mother of adult sons and has two beautiful daughters-in-law. She leads a number of brain injury support groups around her home state of Georgia and loves to use her testimony to help others.
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