Bible Q&A: Was one of the apostles a woman?

Our Bible Q&A series explores the questions you’ve asked us about the Bible.

This article represents the author’s personal view. It accords with Bible Society’s values, but is not intended to express our position as an organisation.

Question:

Who was Junia, the female apostle mentioned in Romans 16.7?

Answer:

The short answer: we don’t know for sure. The slightly longer answer: depending on which scholar or Bible translator you ask, Junia will be one of these:

A female apostle
A female known among the apostles
A male apostle
A male known among the apostles

Male or female? The linguistic difference in the original Greek is subtle:

᾿Ιουνίαν is a woman’s name

᾿Ιουνιν is a man’s name

The problem is, there were no accents in the original; and by the time accents were added in the 9th century, most manuscripts of the period have the male form ᾿Ιουνιᾶν, which was essentially an educated (patriarchal) guess.

Now let’s look at two modern and widely used English language translations.

The New Revised Standard Version (a translation highly regarded for its accuracy) renders Romans 16.7 as follows (my emphasis):

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives, who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles …

The English Standard Version (similar to the NRSV) reads (my emphasis):

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles …

The NRSV uses the gender-neutral term ‘relative’, whereas the ESV has ‘kinsmen’. And the ESV suggests that Junia was not an apostle, whereas the NRSV maintains the ambiguity of the Pauline original: Junia might have been one of several prominent apostles, or known and held in high esteem by the apostles.

So, depending on which translation you read, you may arrive at different conclusions concerning the role of women in the early Church. Or, conversely, a scholar’s theology will at times guide the way they translate an equivocal passage.

The New Testament as a whole records a range of high profile female activity in the early church: running the houses where Christians met, serving as church deacons, praying and prophesying in worship, even acting as co-workers of the Apostle Paul, and of course being the first to witness the resurrection: based on John 20.11–18, Mary Magdalene has come to be known as the ‘apostle of the apostles’.

As for Junia – if indeed it was a woman and if she was an apostle, she would have been the only female New Testament character bearing that title.


Have you got a question about the Bible? Let us know and we’ll do our best to answer it!

This article was written Michael Pfundner, who works in our publishing team.

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