Junia: Prominent Among the Apostles

Early Christian missionaries Junia and her partner Andronicus traveled, like Paul, starting congregations and witnessing to Christ. According to Paul, they also served time in prison with him, likely because of their missionary work. We are not sure how literally to interpret Paul’s comment that they are his kin in one translation or his relatives in another. In yet another, the translation is compatriots. Regardless, their importance in the early church is clear from his words. 

Junia and Andronicus ranked “prominent among the apostles,” in the New Revised Standard Version of in Paul’s letter to Roman believers.  In the New International Version, they are described as “outstanding.” Again regardless, of the translation, Paul awards them the high status of apostle.

“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,” wrote John Chrysostom (344/54-407), at one time archbishop of Constantinople. Other early church leaders also accepted that Junia was a feminine name and that she was a woman, but that changed.

In the late 13th century commentators began to refer to Andronicus and Junia as “these honorable men,” while other commentators renamed her Junias, a masculine form of her name.  “What reasons have commentators given for this change?” Christian studies professor Bernadette Brooten asks rhetorically. “The answer is simple,” she writes: “a woman could not have been an apostle. Because a woman could not have been an apostle, the woman who is here called apostle could not have been a woman.” 

Scholar Karen L. King concurs with Brooten’s opinion: “Concluding that women could not be apostles, textual editors and translators transformed Junia into Junias, a man.” King further argues that other strategies to erase women from the roles of early Christian leaders have effectively been used, including changing the stories and destroying records. “In the last twenty years, the history of women in ancient Christianity has been almost completely revised. As women historians entered the field in record numbers, they brought with them new questions, developed new methods, and sought for evidence of women’s presence in neglected texts and exciting new findings,” according to King. This series of essays, including this one, have been built on the research and findings King that refers to.

The Orthodox Church of America commemorates Junia and Andronicus on May 17.

Biblical Source

New Revised Standard Version

Romans 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. 

Scholarly Sources

 Richard Bauckman, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdman Publishing Co., 2002), 215.

Bernadete Brooten, “’Junia…Outstanding among the Apostles’ (Romans 16:7)” http://womensordinationcampaign.org/timeline-links/2020/1/14/junia-a-woman-apostle-named-in-scripture (accessed June 12, 2021).

Karen L. King, “Women in Ancient Christianity: The New Discoveries,” Frontline, www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/first/women.html (accessed February 20, 2021).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *