Junia:  The First Woman Apostle

Bob Goethe**
June, 2022


After struggling through Paul's sometimes-convoluted logic in the first 15 chapters of Romans, it is easy to simply skip over the greetings in chapter 16.  However, there are some interesting things to learn from chapter 16.  One has to do with the intriguing variety of translations of we find of Romans 16:7.



The New American Standard Bible** is pretty straightforward.

Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

Andronicus and Junias are both men's names...and belong to people who were considered "apostles" by Paul.  And they were not just "average apostles", but "outstanding apostles".


The Revised Standard Version is almost the same, and emphasizes (for those who do not know that Junias is a masculine name) that these apostles were "men of note".

Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are men of note among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.



The New International Version has a subtle variation, however.

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.


Rather than Junias (a man's name) they use Junia (a woman's name), while still indicating that she is one of the apostles.

Junias and Junia have much the same relationship in Greek and Latin as Stephen (a man's name) and Stephanie (a woman's name) have in English.  Other names that have a similar relationship in English include:

Greek and Latin have a very consistent set of grammatical rules for how female names relate to a male names.  Hence, the feminine equivalent of Junias (Ἰουνιᾶς) is undoubtedly Junia (Ἰουνία).

By eliminating one letter from a Greek name, the NIV translators have tossed a pebble into what people thought was the placid pond of Romans 16, setting up ripples in the current debate on the proper teaching role of women in the church.

How can this be? 

This is going to take a bit of explanation for people who do not read Ancient Greek.  But get yourself a fresh cup of coffee, and buckle the seat belt on your easy chair.  We are about to go for a ride together.


A Quickie Intro to Greek Grammar

English uses only a single spelling for a person's name, and clarifies the function of that person in a sentence by adjusting the word order.

Junia threw the ball to Bob...

...makes it clear that Junia is doing in the throwing and Bob is doing the catching.  It does this by putting the name "Junia" in front of  the verb and "Bob" after  the verb.  The spelling of the name "Bob" never changes.  We figure out Bob's role as reported in this sentence from word order.

Greek, however, pays almost no attention to word order.  It indicates who did the action of throwing by adding a suffix to the name.  If we find that Junia is spelled as Ἰουνία in Greek, it means that she was doing the throwing.  If it is spelled as Ἰουνί, however (with an at the end rather than an α), it would indicate that she was doing the catching. 

In this case, the name Ἰουνίᾳ could occur anywhere in the sentence: at the beginning, the end, or the middle...and we would still know that she was catching the ball.  The word suffix is the key.


The Ambiguity in Romans 16:7

If an apostle was the subject of the sentence (the one doing the action of greeting), there would be no ambiguity at all.  That is, if the Paul said:

"Junia (Ἰουνία ) greets you"

...it would refer to a woman sending her greetings.  If he said:

"Junias (Ἰουνιᾶς) greets you"

...it would unmistakably indicate that a man was sending his greetings.

But since Paul tells the Roman church-members to do the greeting, and the apostle to receive those greetings, a problem develops.  The form of name used for receiving greetings is:

The basic spelling of these names is the same, when used as the recipient of a greeting, whether it is a man or woman getting greeted.  The only difference is type and placement of the accent.

The female name has an accent over the iota (ί) while the masculine form has an accent over the alpha ().

This seems clear enough to us now...except that when Paul composed this in the first century, few writers had yet begun to use accents in written Greek.  People did not start writing accents regularly until AD 600.  Prior to that, they just assumed that you had heard the original author (or the delivery person; see the note on Phoebe at the bottom) read this aloud...which clarified the intended accent.

Or if you were some generations removed from the original author, the people who read this aloud to each succeeding generation passed it on with the proper accent.

But we, centuries later, are faced with an unaccented name Ιουνιαν in the oldest and best manuscripts, and wonder, "is this apostle in Romans 16:7 a man or a woman?"

From the Tyndale English translation of 1525 and the King James Version from 1611, through the 350 years where the KJV was the standard version, careful Bible readers who understood how men and women's names were formed in Latin (and there were many of these kinds of readers) understood Ιουνιαν to be the name of a woman named Junia, who was an outstanding apostle.  Here is the KJV rendering.

Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

This understanding dovetailed with the understanding of the early church. 

Almost as soon as the ink was dry on the original New Testament books, Christians started translating them into other languages such as Syriac, Coptic, and Latin.  In every case, they used a feminine form to translate the Greek word Ιουνιαν.

Further, it is clear that early believers were undisturbed by the idea of a woman as an apostle.  People who were a lot closer to St. Paul and the first century church than we are (e.g. Origen) thought of Junia as an apostle. 

The very clearest expression of this was from John Chrysostom, the most influential preacher of the early centuries.  He was to the early church something like John Piper, Tim Keller, and John Stott all rolled together into one.  Of this passage he said:

"Greet Andronicus and Junia ... who are outstanding among the apostles".

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. **

Over a millenium later, Christians were still unfazed by the idea of women teaching in the early church.  In his commentary on Acts, John Calvin wrote this of Priscilla, in Acts 18:26, instructing Apollos:

We see that at that time women were not so ignorant of the word of God as the Papists will have them; forasmuch as we see that one of the chief teachers of the Church was instructed by a woman. **

For Calvin, the idea that women could not or should not teach the Bible to men was part of the general corruption of the Gospel during the dark age of medieval Catholicism.

Starting in the late 1800s, however, Protestant Bible translators joined the Roman Catholics in being uncomfortable with the idea of female apostles in the early church. One solution was to understand Ιουνιαν (Junian) as the accusative case of Junias (rather than Junia).  As we saw above, this is the solution that the NASB and the RSV adopted: that the apostle was actually a man.

The second solution is to understand Ιουνιαν as a woman's name, but then modify the translation of the rest of the verse.  This is the solution that the ESV follows.

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known (ἐπίσημοι) to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.

We will deal below with the appropriate translation of ἐπίσημοι (episēmoi); whether it indicates that Junia was an exceptional leader among the apostles, or was merely a woman who happened to be known to the apostles (who were, of course, all men).

For now, we will just deal with the question of whether Ιουνιαν is a man's name in this verse or a woman's name.


Ιουνιαν as a Woman's Name

The consensus of recent translations is that, regardless of your view of women in teaching roles in the church, it is unequivocally a woman's name.  There is not a single instance in the whole body of Greek literature of a man being named Junias. 

(The BDAG lexicon is explicit in saying that the masculine form of this name is "not found elsewhere", and the LSJ lexicon does not even have an entry for the masculine form of this name.)

We have a huge amount of data to draw from as we say this.  The LSJ Greek lexicon cites over 1500 Ancient Greek sources.  For many of these authors, we have over a thousand pages of their writings.

  • Homer:  1,120 pages
  • Plato: 3,351 pages
  • Herodotus: 1,004 pages
  • Dionysius of Halicarnassus: 1,481 pages
  • Julius Caesar: 731 pages
  • Josephus: 968 pages
  • St. Augustine: 741 pages

Taken altogether, we have thousands of pages of output by Ancient Greek authors, plus inscriptions on an enormous number of tombstones and memorial plaques, and not a single instance of a man having the name of Junias.  This was simply not a name that parents used in naming their baby boys.

For more than a century, Harvard University has been attempting to publish the full library of ancient Greek authors as part of the "Loeb Classics" series.  The volumes below in the green bindings are in Ancient Greek.  The ones in red are in Latin.

The point here is that when we say, "No parents in the Roman Empire ever named a baby boy Junias", we know what we are talking about.

Click here for an insightful commentary on this issue by Johnny Cash.

On the other hand, according to Bruce Metzger, the greatest authority in history of the Church (other than the biblical authors themselves, of course) on the precise, original wording of the NT:

The female Latin name Junia occurs more than 250 times in Greek and Latin inscriptions found in Rome alone, whereas the male name Junias is unattested anywhere. **

Hence, we may say with confidence that the name Ιουνιαν of Romans 16:7 is definitely the accusative form of Ἰουνία (Junia), and refers to a woman.


So What About ἐπίσημος?

So we can be settled in our minds that Andronicus' colleague was Junia, a woman, and not Junias, a man.

But what did Paul SAY about Junia? He said that she was ἐπίσημος (episēmos) among the apostles.  But what does that mean?

Does it mean she was an outstanding member of the group called "apostles" in the first century church?  The translators of the NASB and the RSV were convinced that this was exactly what ἐπίσημος (episēmos) meant. 

Of course, they found that notion so disturbing that—in spite the fact that there were simply no parents in the whole Roman Empire who thought Junias was a suitable name for their son—they flipped the gender of Junia's name to Junias.

But that notwithstanding, they were unequivocal about what ἐπίσημος (episēmos) meant.

Sanday and Headlam, in their older (but still well-regarded) commentary on Romans, say that a priori, apostles have to be men.  In their minds, this much was obvious.  So then, Paul had to have been speaking about Junias, a man.  This being settled left them free to interpret ἐπίσημος (episēmos) on its own merits.

They said that this phrase ought to be translated as:

"distinguished as Apostles.  In favour of this interpretation...are the following arguments.

      (i) The passage was apparently so taken by all patristic commentators.

      (ii) It is in accordance with the meaning of the words. ἐπίσημος, lit. ‘stamped,’ ‘marked.’

      This word would be used of those who were selected from the Apostolic body as ‘distinguished’...

      ...but not of those 'known to the Apostolic body', or 'looked upon by the Apostles as illustrious'...." **

I find Sanday, Headlam, and the translation committee of the RSV to be enormously persuasive proponents of the translation of the ἐπίσημος (episēmos) phrase as meaning outstanding in the group who may be designated apostles

Since they already decided that Junias was a man, they had no particular axe to grind when it came to a translation of the rest of the verse.

After all, there was nothing stopping the RSV translators from saying that Junias and Andronicus were both "men who were well known to the Apostles"...but they felt this was not the most legitimate translation of the Greek phrase. 

Another author summed up the issue nicely, saying that Paul was clearly speaking of two apostles in Romans 16:7.  This is the plain meaning of the text. So then...

Because a woman could not have been an apostle, the woman who is here called apostle could not have been a woman. **

But more recently, even the translators of the English Standard Version feel they cannot turn their back on the overwhelming evidence in Greek literature that Junia had to be a woman's name.

Given their predispositions in terms of church practices, they solve the problem of women as apostles by choosing a novel translation for ἐπίσημος (episēmos).

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known (ἐπίσημος) to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.

We are left asking, is this a legitimate translation of ἐπίσημος (episēmos)?  Sanday and Hedlam thought not back in 1897.  But perhaps more recent scholarship has opened up some new possibilities.


The Process of Developing a Greek Dictionary

When one is developing a Greek dictionary (or "lexicon"), you are not allowed to make up simply any meaning you want for a word.  Rather, you need to do a review of the whole range of Greek literature, and see how a given word is used in a variety of contexts, by a variety of authors.

This tells us what is the allowable range of meanings that a given word could have had for the native speakers of that language.

To use an analogy from English, we could say that all of these shades of color are within the allowable range of meanings for the word "yellow".

But no matter how broad the range of meanings is for the word "yellow",
this ↓ color is simply outside that range:

It is not "yellow" and you cannot legitimately call it yellow just because you want to.  Anybody who knows anything at all about English knows that we use the word "blue"
to describe this ↑ color.

Greek lexicons help us establish the range of meanings for every word in the Greek language. 

There are two lexicons (i.e. Greek-English dictionaries) that are the gold standard in translating Ancient Greek.  The editors in both cases organized teams of scholars who spent decades reviewing tens of thousands of pages of Ancient Greek writings, looking at specific words and how they were used. 

Both lexicons are named after their primary editors:

  • The LSJ lexicon (Liddell, Scott, and Jones).  This lexicon tries to capture the use of every Greek word ever used by any and every ancient author (including New Testament authors and the translators of the Greek Old Testament — the Septuagint).

The process the LSJ editors followed is breathtaking in its scope.

In their preface to the lexicon, the editors tell us that they employed the services of Dr. E. T. Withington, who read every piece of Greek medical literature in existence, seeking to clarify the translations of technical medical words. Of his results, the editors say, "there is scarcely a page in the Lexicon which does not bear traces of his handiwork."

They continue with "For the subject of Botany, again, expert assistance was indispensable. Sir William Thiselton-Dyer, F.R.S., has for a long while been collecting material for a Glossary of Greek plants....

"The province of Greek Mathematics belongs in a special sense to Sir Thomas Heath, F.R.S., whose History of Greek Mathematics and editions of Euclid, Apollonius of Perga, Aristarchus of Samos, and Diophantus mark him out as the first authority in this subject."

You can start to get the picture of why it takes decades to pull together a lexicon with the scope of the LSJ.

Here is what the LSJ says about ἐπίσημος (episēmos):

A serving to distinguish, τοῖς δ' ὄνομ' ἄνθρωποι κατέθεντ' ἐ. ἑκάστῳ Parm.19.3.
II. having a mark, inscription or device on it, especially of money, stamped, coined, χρυσὸς ἐ., opp. ἄσημος, Hdt.9.41; ἀργύριον Th.2.13; χρυσίον X.Cyr.4.5.40, cf.IG12.301, al.; so ἀναθήματα οὐκ ἐ. offerings with no inscription on them, Hdt.1.51; ἀσπίδες ἐ., opp. λεῖαι, IG12.280, cf. Men.526.
2. of epileptic patients, bearing the marks of the disease, Hp.Morb.Sacr.8; of cattle, spotted or striped, LXX Ge.30.42.
3. notable, remarkable, μνῆμ' ἐπίσημον = a speaking remembrance, S.Ant.1258(anap.); ξυμφοραί E.Or.543; εὐνή, λέχος, Id.HF68, Or.21; τύχη Id.Med.544; χαρακτήρ Id.Hec.379; τάφος ἐπισημότατος Th.2.43; τιμωρία Lycurg.129; τόποι IG12(3).326.42 (Thera, Sup.); of garments, fine, SIG695.39 (Magn. Mae., ii B.C.); and of persons, ἐ. σοφίην notable for wisdom, Hdt.2.20; ἐ. ἐν βροτοῖς E.Hipp.103; ἐ. ξένοι Ar.Fr.543: in bad sense, conspicuous, notorious, ἐς τὸν ψόγον E.Or.249; δέσμιος ἐπίσημος Ev.Matt.27.16; διὰ δημοκοπίαν Plu.Fab.14; ἐπὶ τῇ μοχθηρίᾳ Luc.Rh.Pr.25.
4. significant, οὐκ ἐ. Artem.1.59, 3.32.
III. Adv. ἐπισήμως Plb.6.39.9, Sm.Ps.73(74).4, J.BJ6.1.8: Comp. ἐπισημότερον Gal.9.762; ἐπισημοτέρως Artem.2.9: Sup. ἐπισημότατα Luc.Hist.Conscr.43.


  • The BDAG lexicon (Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich).  The BDAG lexicon is more highly focused as a lexicon of biblical Greek...

...though they still support their definitions by referencing over 500 other ancient sources. 

Biblical writers were of course writing to people who understood the standard, first-century Greek that was used by these other authors. So their evidence is a powerful indication of how the apostles used Greek words in their writing.

While LSJ is of course a standard tool for all students of Greek, among Evangelical scholars the BDAG is their key source when it comes to defining the range of meanings that a word can have in Scripture.

If we look at the BDAG lexicon, we see this:

of exceptional quality, splendid, prominent, outstanding (Hdt., Trag. et al.; pap, LXX, EpArist, Philo; Joseph.) κριὸς ἐ. ἐκ ποιμνίου a splendid ram fr. the flock MPol 14:1. Of pers. (Diod S 5, 83, 1; Jos., Bell. 6, 201; 3 Macc 6:1; Just., A II, 12, 5) ἐ. ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις outstanding among the apostles Ro 16:7. διδάσκαλος MPol 19:1.
② Also in a bad sense: notorious (Trag. et al.; Plut., Fab. Max. 182 [14, 2]; Jos., Ant. 5, 234) δέσμιος Mt 27:16.—DELG s.v. σῆμα. M-M. TW.

Those of us who read Greek may use a more limited, concise lexicon for quick-and-dirty translation work.  But whenever we have a serious question to answer, we always return to LSJ and BDAG.

The key thing to notice from the LSJ entry is that not one of these ancient authors makes any use of the word where the context suggests the translation would be "is well known to".

As you carry on by looking into in BDAG, you see that they come up with precisely the same results as LSJ does. 

Even more, they make specific reference to Romans 16:7, and explicitly clarify that it means "outstanding among the apostles".

Together, these tell us that there was zero ambiguity about the meaning of the word ἐπίσημος (episēmos) in ancient times, and that the lexical range for this word was quite narrow.

If we take all that we learn from the Sanday, Headlam, the translators of the NASB, the translators of the RSV, the translators of NIV, and the LSJ and BDAG lexicons, we are getting input from an enormous number of scholars.  From them all we conclude that:

Junia was an exceptional apostle...

...the first woman apostle in the early church.


This conclusion is reinforced when we read in the volume from 2004 that complements and updates the standard Romans commentary from 1897 by Sanday and Headlam.  In it, the author says:

It is...probable—we might well say, virtually certain—that the words (ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις) mean ‘outstanding among the apostles’, that is, ‘outstanding in the group who may be designated apostles’, which is the way in which it was understood by the patristic commentators (it would seem, without exception). **


It would be nice to find something positive to say about the English Standard Version's rendering of Junia as being "well known to the apostles"...but I simply cannot.  The translators have chosen to render ἐπίσημος (episēmos) in a way that has no support from either of the standard lexicons, nor in a way that any first-century Greek-speaking Christians would have recognized as legitimate.

In a fashion reminiscent of the young Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade, the ESV publisher has said, "Everybody's lost but me."

While I cannot say what really happened, it certainly looks like the ESV translators intentionally skewed** their translation of ἐπίσημος (episēmos) so as to appeal to church denominations that object to women in leadership...that they treated reports from their marketing department as more authoritative than they did the Greek New Testament.  Based on the evidence, it is challenging to come up with an alternate hypothesis.

The New International Version, on the other hand, is transparently honest with the text.  They translate just what Paul wrote, and do not attempt to skew their translation to suit directives from their marketing people.  Rather than having some pre-existing theological position determine how they will translate, they:

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. (NIV)


Those who forbid women to serve in teaching and leadership roles today can do so most legitimately if they acknowledge that their model is the Catholicism of the medieval dark age, and not the early churches that Paul helped to lead.  They should acknowledge that Roman Catholic tradition is more authoritative for them than Scripture.

Replicating church leadership models from the Dark Ages is not what I would do myself...but if you are honest about it, it is certainly something that can be done.

There remain some other significant NT passages to address, most notably 1 Timothy 2:12.  But once we start to notice the NT clues about Paul's letter writing, and understand his view of leadership** of the Roman church, we shall find ourselves intrigued and motivated to dig deeper into the letter he wrote to Timothy about how to lead the Ephesus church.  There is a mystery here worth further investigation.  What fun!

The final issue to address around Romans 16:7 is who we choose to talk to about it, and how.  In Matthew 7, Jesus said:

1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Before we talk to anybody about Romans 16, we first need to be sure that our hearts are right.  Verses 1-5 make it clear that we must not act from any desire to simply win arguments and score points of some sort.

The second thing, which Jesus clarifies in verse 6, is that we need to make a clear-headed assessment of whether a given person is teachable or not before we speak to them.  And if we judge that they are not teachable, then we keep our thoughts about Junia to ourselves.

This is not a suggestion by Jesus, but a clear and unequivocal command.  So be careful of who you talk to...and be cautious about who you share this web page with. 

For my part, in an effort to be obedient to Jesus, I have hidden this page from Google.  People will only discover it as you and I explicitly tell them about it.



**Postscript:  Junia's friend Phoebe

In addition to the Roman church having a woman apostle in the leadership team, Rom. 16:1-2 is intriguing.

We should keep in mind that Cenchreae was the community centered on the port of Corinth—we would call it a suburb of Corinth—from where Paul wrote his letter to the Roman church.**

Tourism as we know it was unknown in the Roman Empire. This, plus what we know of letter writing practices in the 1st c., suggests that the reason Phoebe was in Italy was to hand-deliver and then read/explain/preach her way through the Book of Romans to the men and women in the Roman church.

A letter-courier in the 1st c. was not so impersonal as a Canada Post delivery person today. Before departing, the courier would practice reading the letter aloud...even to the point of reproducing the voice inflections and body language of the sender.

This gave the recipients of the letter an even more personal connection with the author than we would normally imagine. It made the reading of a letter something of an entertainment—like a one-person performance of a play authored by a playwright that you know and love.

There was a man named Gene Thomas who was enormously influential in Western Canadian university student ministry from the 1960s to the 1980s. He is largely unknown today, as he wrote no books. But he influenced dozens of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) staff people and hundreds of students.

My sister saw one of the rare videos of Gene teaching from the Bible, and realized that her boss on IVCF staff, Al Anderson, used the same gestures and even the same little pauses when he taught that Gene used to use.

This is a little like hearing a distant echo of Phoebe reading a letter from Paul.

[Return to main essay.]