Paul and the Apostle Junia

What about the women in The Apostle Paul’s life and ministry? I am not speaking of the wife that he may or may not have had. Nor am I referring to anyone to whom he may have had an unfulfilled romantic attraction. These are matters of speculation and not our business, anyway, but grist for novels. Who were those females who were his associates and partners in ministry? This is an important question because the answer goes a long way to defining the role of women in the ministry of the church. The answer also helps us interpret and reconcile some of the seemingly inconsistent statements of the Apostle in his letters to the churches. In the 16th Chapter of the Book of Romans, Paul talks about the role that women have had in his ministry as he sends greetings to individuals in the church at Rome. One of the greetings is to two people, “Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.” Romans 16:7 (KJV)

Who is this woman, Junia, that Paul refers to as an apostle? The great preacher of the early church, John Chrysostom, wrote of Junia, “Oh! how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!”[1] Theodoret of Cyr also, including the other men and women mentioned by Paul in his greetings, says, “…he (Paul) says that they are men and women of note, not among the pupils but among the teachers, and not among the ordinary teachers but among the apostles.”[2] According to Paul, Phoebe was a deacon (diakonos), and a protective leader of many (prostatis)[3], and to “myself as well.” Priscilla put her neck on the line for Paul, and in Acts, taught a preacher named Apollos about the Holy Spirit. Do we really think that Paul ordered these women to be silent in church? Do we suppose that Paul believed that these women could never teach spiritual things to men? Do we think that when he refers to Junia as a person “of note among the Apostles,” that it was meaningless flattery or a mere eulogy?

The King James Version got it right this time. The modern translations of Romans 16: 7 give us a man’s name, “Junias”, instead of Junia, with only the NIV correcting the translation in their 2011 update. This is despite the fact that the name is spelled the same way in almost every Greek manuscript that is known.[4] However, sometimes the name is not accented and becomes, according to some, masculine and not feminine in form. (Sorry to bore you with Greek, but it is the original language of the New Testament and the basis of our English translations.) The early church considered that the person to whom Paul referred was a woman, “Junia.” I do also.

So, at this point, what difference does it make? It is time for most of the churches to reevaluate the role of women in ministry. The objections that are raised by some, because of the statements of Paul in his other letters, can be solved by a careful analysis of the language together with the words of this passage in Romans 16. A big difference can be seen in our churches and institutions. As a novelist writing about Paul’s sojourn into Corinth, I have confidence writing, in a speculative way, about the women that were in Paul’s life, and his attitude toward them. Truly, we could make the prophesy of the Bible come alive, “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” (Joel 2:28-32; Acts 2:14-18)

George Cargill

January 6, 2018

[1] Homily XXXI on Rom.xvi.5

[2] Interpretation of the Letter to the Romans

[3] A leader, ruler, manager, patron

[4] The Greek New Testament, ed Barbara Alund, etc., Scholar’s Edition, 1994 Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, D-Stuttgart

George is writing a book of devotions based on his series of audio devotions at Following the Book Ministries. Would you be so kind as to participate in a short four question survey to help in producing the book? Click here for the survey.