A Female Apostle?

Proponents of appointing women as apostles in the church cite Paul’s reference to someone named “Junia” in his letter to the churches of Rome as evidence that the early church had female apostles. Apparently, his description of her as being “of note among the apostles” proves she was one.

But the grammar of the Greek sentence does not substantiate this claim, and it is not even clear whether this person was male or female.

Church Pew - Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash
[Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash]

The passage is one in a series of salutations made by Paul concerning specific individuals. In this case, he exhorts the recipients of his letter to “
salute Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also have been in Christ before me” – (Romans 16:7 - ASV).

GREEK SYNTAX


The passage provides the only mention of anyone named “Junia” in the New Testament. “Andronicus is a Greek name for a male. “Junia” is a Latin name that can refer either to a woman (“Junia”) or a man (“Junias”).

What determines the name’s gender is the “s” suffix at the end when the name is in the nominative case (i.e., ᾿Ιουνίας).

However, here the name is in the accusative case. Both Greek and Latin are inflected languages, and the spelling of a noun changes with its noun case (e.g., nominative, genitive, accusative, etc.). And in the accusative case, both the masculine and feminine gender. the suffix becomes an ‘n’.

And that means the name is spelled “Junian” whether it belongs to a man or a woman. And, in turn, this means the interpreter or translator cannot be sure whether the name in this instance is in the masculine or feminine gender.

This uncertainty is reflected in how different English translations spell the name. For example, the American Standard Version (ASV) spells it “Junias,” making it masculine. So, also, does the Revised Standard Version (RSV), Young’s Literal Translation, and the Emphasized Bible.

The King James Version (KJV), on the other hand, renders it “Junia,” indicating this was a woman, as also does the New American Standard Version (NASB) and the New International Version (NIV).

OF NOTE


There is no way to know with certainty whether the original name in this passage referred to a male or female, at least, not from the data provided in the Greek sentence.

And that explains why two different spellings are found in our English translations, and so, any conclusion that a woman named “Junia” was an apostle is shaky at best.

Paul identifies both ‘Andronicus” and “Junia(s?)” as his “kinsmen” and “fellow prisoners.” In the Greek sentence, both nouns are plural, and both are in the male gender (i.e., “kinsmen,” NOT “kinswomen” or “kins-PERSONS”). This does not prove that both persons were men.

Paul could have used the nouns in the masculine gender to refer to both persons generically. In a similar way, often in the New Testament, the noun “anthropos” or “man” is used in the male gender when referring collectively to a group comprised of men and women, and even to all humanity.

Nevertheless, the use of two nouns in the masculine gender certainly does not lend itself to the idea that “Junia(s?)” was a woman.

Finally, the clause, “of note among the apostles,” does NOT designate or identify either Andronicus or “Junia(s?)” as an apostle. It simply means they were well-known by the apostles.

Precisely why these two individuals were held in high regard by the apostles the passage does not say. Paul does state they were disciples before his own conversion on the Damascus Road, and that could suggest they were among the first believers in Rome, and perhaps even instrumental in founding the church there. But this is only a guess.

None of the preceding proves that women were not eligible to become apostles in the early church. However, the passage certainly does not provide evidence that they were. It has nothing to do with the issue. Even if “Junia” was a female apostle, the passage only states that she was known by the “apostles,” not that she was one.


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