Does the Bible refer to a female apostle named Junia? At the end of Romans, nestled amid a series of greetings which Paul extends to various women and men, one finds this salutation, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was” (Rom 16:7, NRSV). What makes the NRSV translation of this verse noteworthy is the gender of the latter individual, which is feminine. Older translators typically rendered the name in a masculine form, Junias, but the translators of the NRSV have followed a growing number of scholars who see this latter individual to be a woman.
This translation has far-reaching implications. If it is indeed the proper understanding of this obscure verse, egalitarian scholars are provided with one instance in Scripture where a woman is called an apostle — and a prominent apostle no less, who may have planted churches throughout the Roman world and exercised governing authority over them. It challenges the traditional belief in an all-male apostolate, as well as the implication that complementarians have drawn from it, namely, that women should not exercise pastoral authority over men. Complementarians argue that since Jesus chose only men for the apostolic office, the church today should do likewise when appointing leaders. While some egalitarians have responded that Jesus was merely acting within the bounds of his patriarchal culture and was not wanting to offend unnecessarily the Jews of his day, an all-male apostolate remains nevertheless a weighty piece of evidence for the complementarian position and something of an embarrassment for egalitarians. But if the early church had at least one female apostle, as some argue, is there any reason why women should not exercise spiritual authority over men today?
It is the purpose of this paper to evaluate the claim that Rom 16:7 refers to an authoritative female apostle named Junia. In order to evaluate this claim properly, at least three lines of investigation must be pursued: (1) whether the ambiguous Greek name Iounian found in Romans 16:7 is masculine or feminine in gender; (2) whether the construction en tois apostolois should be understood in a locative sense, “among the apostles,” or in an instrumental sense, “by the apostles”; and (3) whether the term “apostle” is used here technically as an authoritative leader in the early church, or in a more general way denoting a “messenger.” I intend to prove that, whether man or woman, the one whom Paul calls Iounian was not an authoritative apostle, but rather, alongside Andronicus, a prominent messenger entrusted to deliver letters to various churches, bringing back to Paul status reports on each of the congregations they visited.