Monday, January 30, 2012

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Junia? Pt. 6


In the early days of Christianity, when the Church was more a movement than an institution, there was an outstanding female apostle named Junia. The Apostle Paul sent her greetings in Romans 16:7. Since the time of Martin Luther, Bible translators have tried to translate her out of existence. In earlier posts in this series, I’ve looked at three strategies they have used. The reasoning behind those strategies can be expressed as syllogisms.

A syllogism is a form of logical proof made up of three statements. The first two statements are called premises. The third statement, the conclusion is derived from the premises. If the premises are true, and the syllogism is constructed correctly, the conclusion will also be true. But, as I’ve said before, the most rigorous logic will yield false conclusions if it proceeds from faulty assumptions.

An example of a syllogism might be:

A. All Cretans are liars.
B. Bruce is a Cretan. Therefore,
C. Bruce is a liar.

If the premises, A and B, are true then the conclusion, C, is also true.

The first attempt to translate the female apostle away expressed as a syllogism would be:

A. A woman cannot be an apostle.
B. Junia is an apostle. Therefore,
C. Junia cannot be a woman.

On the basis of reasoning like this, the feminine name “Junia” was translated as a masculine name, “Junias.” The problem with this solution is that the name “Junia” is well-attested in ancient times, and the name “Junias” is did not exist. So the first solution to the Junia problem has largely been abandoned in favor of a second solution which can be expressed as follows:

A. A woman cannot be an apostle.
B. Junia is a woman. Therefore,
C. Junia cannot be an apostle.

At least three recent English versions of the Bible have adopted this solution, claiming that Junia was not “prominent among the apostles” but only “well-known to the apostles.” This translation, however, requires an unnatural reading of the Greek, one that was never, to my knowledge, used until the twentieth century. So, the second solution is unconvincing and brings us to the third.

A. A woman cannot be an apostle.
B. Junia, a woman, is called an “apostle.” Therefore,
C. “Apostle” cannot mean “apostle.”

So a footnote in the Holman Christian Standard Bible suggests that Junia was not an apostle but a mere “messenger.” The Greek word ἀπόστολος (apostolos) is translated as "messenger" in two other verses (2 Cor 8:23, Php 2:25). Context argues against this understanding of ἀπόστολος in Romans 16:7. If Junia is only a messenger, whose messenger is she?

I have stated these three solutions to the Junia problem as syllogisms to show that they all rest upon the same assumption, namely that a woman cannot be an apostle. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) Junia herself puts the lie to that assumption. The premise is false and any conclusion based on it will likewise be false. Junia just can’t be translated out of existence, and I think that honesty requires Christians of every ilk to recognize that.

Churches that would deny women leadership roles can still do so, of course. They can argue that Junia may well have been an apostle but the age of apostles is past. They can argue that it has been the tradition of the Church for many centuries to reserve positions of authority for men. They can argue on the basis of other Scriptures--Scriptures that were written when the Church was on its way to becoming an institution--that women should be silent and submissive. (Of course this last argument will be difficult for those Christians who teach that the Bible speaks with a single voice.)

What they cannot do, at least not convincingly, is deny that when Christianity was young there was a woman named Junia whom the apostle Paul said was “prominent among the apostles.”

I am proud to be a part of the stream of Christianity that recognizes that both women and men can be gifted for ministry.  “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Galatians 3:28

The illustration for this post is a detail from a mosaic at the Basilica of St. Appolonaire in Classe near Ravenna, Italy. I found the picture at this website.


  1. Good morning, Brant! I love the clarity of your argument! Doesn't it seem to be a common error - to start with the end already decided? So often, people come to the Bible with a position already decided ("women cannot be apostles"). Instead of being open to what the Bible actually says - and more importantly, to the leading of the Holy Spirit - they twist and turn; push, stretch, and jam, until they get the Bible to say what they already had decided they want it to say! Seems to happen all the time!

  2. Having studied Junia extensively both because I am obsessed with women of the Bible but also as research for my historical novel about Junia, this is the best summation of the Junia “problem” that I have encountered. I was just getting ready to write a blog outlining these same arguments but I’m going to refer my readers to your blog instead. Hope that works for you! My blog is at You can also follow me on my new Facebook profile at

    I’m looking forward to following your work and alerting my readers to your thoughtful blogs.

  3. Thank you, Robin, for your gracious words and for the links on your website.

    I took the opportunity to poke around your site a little bit and very much like what you do there.

    God bless!