I had a recent discussion with a friend about the role of women and leadership in the church. He cited what he felt was compelling evidence in favor of women serving as pastors and/or elders. The proposition is that Romans 16:1,7 speaks of Phoebe and Junia as a deacon and an apostle. My friend alleged that these are examples of an evolution in biblical thinking regarding women's roles in church authority. I was interested to know if the text supported the claims he proposed. This article will deal with one of these two assertions- that Junia was recognized as a female apostle. Junia is referenced in Romans 16:7 with Andronicus, and referred to in the New King James Version as “outstanding among the apostles" (episemoi en tois apostolos). Several questions need to be addressed:
- Is Junia male or female?
- Should the Greek phrase episemoi en tois apostolois be translated “outstanding among the apostles” or “well known to the apostles”?
- Do other contexts used for apostles help us decide whether Junia should be included or excluded?
- In my last article “What is an Apostle”?, the “Fourth Phase” of “Apostles” in the New Testament was identified a spiritual gift (Eph. 4:11). Because spiritual gifts are gender inclusive, does it make any difference to argue for masculine or feminine apostleship anyways?
I. Was Junia a Female?
It is interesting to see how different versions have rendered the gender of Junia. The following versions have adopted a masculine (Junias) reading:
Revised Version (1881), Rheims (American Edition), American Standard Version (ASV), Goodspeed, Complete Bible (1903), Modern Reader’s Bible, Moffatt, Revised Standard Version (RSV), Phillips, Amplified New Testament, New English Bible, New American Standard Bible (NASB), Jerusalem Bible, Good News Bible, Living Bible, New International Version (NIV), Darby Bible, the English Standard Version, God’s Word to the Nation Version, New English Translation (NET), and the Young Literal Translation.
On the other hand, the following versions have adopted the feminine (Junia) reading:
Tyndale, Cranmer, Great Bible, Geneva Bible, Bishops Bible, Rheims (“Julia”), King James Version, Weymouth, Lamsa (NT), New American Bible, New King James Version, New Jerusalem Bible, New Century Bible, New American Bible, Revised English Bible, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), Oxford Inclusive Version, New Living Translation, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, Today’s New English Version, and the Webster Bible.
New Testament Greek scholar Daniel Wallace comments on the gender issue: “The current trends of scholarship . . . [over] the past two decades, the tide has swung decidedly over to the side of the feminine form” (Michael H. Burer and Daniel B. Wallace, Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Re-examination of Rom. 16:7, 76-91). There are several reasons why we should consider “Junia” a female:
1 ) The name Iounian can be accented in two ways- which strongly suggest gender. If it is masculine, the accent is on the last syllable- Iounia’n (technically referred to as the circumflex on the ultima). If it is feminine, the accent is on the penultimate syllable (second to last)- Iouni’an. Accents on Greek manuscripts were not added until the 9th century- but they are “usually decent indicators . . . and reveal is that Iounian was largely considered a man’s name- the bulk of the MSS have the accent on the last syllable" (Wallace).
2 ) Church history reveals an almost “universal sense that this was a woman’s name. . . through at least the twelfth century. . . No instances of Junias as a man‘s name have surfaced to date in Greek literature, while at least three instances of Junia as a woman‘s name have appeared" (Wallace).
In conclusion, “the data on whether Iounian is feminine or masculine is simply inadequate to make a decisive judgment, though what scanty material we do have suggests a feminine name. Although most translations regard the name as masculine, the data does not yield itself in this direction" (Wallace).
II. Was Junia an Apostle?
Dr. Wallace noted that “the first issue [gender] has garnered a great deal of attention, with quite a bit of evidence enlisted on both sides. But the second has been the object of almost no substantive discussion; indeed, most commentators simply assume a particular viewpoint that has surprisingly never been demonstrated.” He goes on to say “there is a growing consensus that Junia is an apostle . . . in fact the vast bulk of translations and commentators indicate this . . . But only rarely is the syntax of the Greek word ‘outstanding’ (episemos) with its adjuncts discussed at all." The two views can be notated as the Exclusive view, “outstanding by the Apostles," and the Inclusive view, “outstanding among the Apostles" (Wallace).
Junia’s apostleship “is simply assumed, with little or no support. For example, Dunn states, 'the full phrase almost certainly means prominent among the apostles'; and he cites other authorities for his defense. Cranfield says, ‘virtually certain- that the words mean outstanding among the apostles’- enlisting patristic assumptions on his behalf. . . Schreiner notes merely that the inclusive interpretation is 'the consensus view', and that it ‘is almost surely right, for this is a more natural way of understanding the prepositional phrase'. . . The inclusive camp may well be traced back to Lightfoot. . . [who] offer no support other than that the inclusive view was adopted by the Greek fathers, his reputation as a careful grammatical exegete was legendary, prompting Schmithals to claim that Lightfoot has shut the door on the exclusive view" (Wallace).
Bible translations have also picked up on this thinking: the NIV and NASB say Andronicus and Junia are “Outstanding among the apostles”; the TEV- “well known among the apostles”; the NRVS and NAB- “prominent among the apostles”; NJB- “greetings to those outstanding apostles”; KJV, NKJV, ASV, RSV- “of note among the apostles”. Only a handful of translations take the Greek syntax to mean that they were not apostles: CEV- “highly respected by the apostles”; Amplified- “They are men held in high esteem by the apostles”; NET- “Well known to the apostles.” It is the opinion of Michael Burer that “inclusive commentators do not adequately discuss the syntax of the Greek phrase episemos en tois apostolois. When the construction is discussed, the focus is on the prepositional phrase en tois apostolois and the meaning of en (EV) , not on the collocation of episemos with prepositional phrases."
Episimos can mean well known, prominent,outstanding,famous,notable, eminent, illustrious, distinguished, or a bad sense--notorious. Episemos can be used either in an implied comparative sense "prominent, outstanding, among" or in an elative sense "famous, well known to/by". Therefore, lexically, both meanings are possible. We will have to turn to syntax, extra-biblical sources and context to determine which meaning should be used (Wallace).
Dr. Wallace asserts that “if Rom. 16:7 meant to say that Andronicus and Junia were outstanding among the apostles, Paul would have used the genitive--ton apostolon" (Wallace). However, these forms were not used, which indicates that they were not members of the Apostles. Some of Dr. Wallace’s explanations and discussion are technical and beyond the scope of this article. If interested, please see his article online.
When doing a search in the exhaustive Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, which includes non-Biblical Greek literature, scholars have found that episimos with the EV plus the dative and genitive modifier is common (Wallace). “Repeatedly in biblical Greek, patristic Greek, papyri, inscriptions, classical and Hellenistic texts- the genitive personal modifier was consistently used for an inclusive idea, while the (EV plus) dative personal adjunct was almost never so used. To say that episemoi en tois apostolois can only mean “noteworthy among the apostles” is simply not true. It is more accurate to say . . . [and] almost certainly means ‘well known TO the apostles.’ Thus Junia and Andronicus are recognized by Paul as well known to the apostles, not as an outstanding member of the apostolic band. To sum up the evidence of biblical and patristic Greek: every instance of EV plus personal nouns supported the exclusive view" (Wallace).
III. “The Apostles” (Ton Apostolon)
When the Twelve Apostles and Paul are mentioned in the N.T., the context contains certain words or phrases which identify them with certainty. The following indicators confirm their identity: 1 ) The number “twelve,” 2 ) The specific names of the “twelve” (“Peter,” “John,” “Paul,” etc.), 3 ) Jesus in person- while He walked on earth, 4 ) The Definite Article preceding the word “Apostles” (“THE Apostles“- Gr.-tous, tois, ton apostolos), and 5 ) The context (Acts 1:2- “He had chosen”; Acts 4:33- “witness to the resurrection”; 2 Pet. 3:2- “apostles of the Lord”, etc.). When one or any of these contextual markers are present, Scripture is signaling that the passage is only referring to this special role of the Twelve Apostles or Paul. Romans 16:7 contains the phrase “ton apostolon”- “the Apostles”. This is confirming evidence that Junia was NOT a member of “the apostles” (as stated in Rom. 16:7), otherwise the contextual marker(s) would be absent.
IV. Gift of the Spirit
In the “Fourth Phase” of Apostolos (See “What is an Apostle?”), the office or unique role (as it related to the Great Commission fulfilled in the First Century- see Col. 1:23) was replaced by the spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11-13). After the initial establishment of the churches (including the church in Rome- - to whom “Romans” was written), the Holy Spirit gifted people to be missionaries from their home church “outpost." Since all spiritual gifts are gender inclusive, Paul’s commendation of Junia as a female member of the apostolos is a non-issue. Paul was not including her as a part of the unique, one-time role that the twelve, Paul and his companions were called to. The fact that she was gifted as an apostolos does not add anything to the current debate of leadership in the church, since with apostles, prophets, etc. gender is inclusive and therefore irrelevant.
The majority of information regarding Junia is that she was a female. Scholarly consensus that Junia was a member of the apostleship could be based upon Lightfoot’s misunderstanding of the evidence. The syntactical, extra-biblical evidence points to Junia as being recognized by the apostles, not a part of them. Interestingly, as we saw in the last article, Contextually, when the definite article is used with the noun apostolos, (ton apostolon) it signifies the unique, twelve-member office, and Paul’s ministry only. Finally, when the Apostle Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans, the gift of apostolos had already commenced. The whole discussion of whether Junia was a male or female, a part of the apostles or not is a mute point! Since gifts are gender inclusive, and a non-ordained office, it is irrelevant in the conversations of leadership positions and roles in the church.