Any discussion of women’s roles in the church must take into account the apostle Junia. Paul writes in Romans 16.7, “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” (NIV2011). Though generally accepted as a female apostle throughout church history, Junia has fallen on hard times since the Reformation: her gender has been changed (to the male Junias in the NASB, NIV1984, RSV, UBS4 and NA27) and more recently her apostleship has been questioned.
But, for me at least, the weight of the evidence clearly falls behind these conclusions:
- Junia is Junia, not Junias. She’s a she, not a he.
- Junia is prominent among the apostles. Not “well known to the apostles” (NET), not “esteemed by the apostles” (NIV note). Junia is one of the apostles.
- Paul is not using “apostle” in a weak, generic sense to simply mean “messenger.” Rather, he is using it in the specific sense of someone directly commissioned by Christ to spread the Gospel.
I won’t belabor you with the evidence supporting these positions, but I think it is substantial and persuasive. If you are at all concerned about the “biblical” role of women in ministry, then I encourage you to investigate the issue for yourself. Some great resources are:
- Junia Is Not Alone by Scot McKnight
- Junia: The First Woman Apostle by Eldon J. Epp
- Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels by Richard Bauckham
- Ἰουνιᾶν … ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις: A Re-examination of Romans 16.7 in Light of Primary Source Materials by Linda Belleville
In short, Paul recognizes Junia as a notable female apostle and attempts to obscure or mitigate this fact are often driven by theological biases rather than careful exegesis. I’ll save a discussion of the broader role of women in the church and Paul’s other epistles for another day. But the fact that there was a female apostle in the first century church is highly relevant to our understanding women’s roles in the modern church.