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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: Were There Female Apostles?

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Were There Female Apostles? (Junia)

The Various Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Question 7

While it is clear that the apostles which were specially chosen by the Lord Jesus were made up of men, not women, there is a possibility that there were some female apostles in the wider apostolic group. However, the issue is anything but settled. The following facts have to be taken into consideration when attempting to answer this very difficult question.

It Would Be an Apostle in the Wider Sense of the Term

To begin with, if there were female apostles, then it would be in the wider sense of the term “apostle.” The twelve disciples, or apostles, that Jesus originally chose were all male. However, the term apostle is used in the New Testament for others apart from the Twelve. Therefore, it is not impossible that the wider circles of apostles included females.

There Are No Clear Examples of Female Apostles

There are, however, no clear examples of female apostles in the New Testament. In each of the instances where apostles are mentioned in historical narratives, or in other contexts, they are clearly male. There is, however, one verse that may be an exception to this.

Was Junia a Female Apostle?

There is a reference in the Book of Romans to a person who may have been a female apostle. As Paul closed his letter he wrote the following.

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 (Romans 16:7 TNIV).

Paul says that these two people Andronicus and Junia were fellow countrymen his. He also says that they had been believers before him. What is at issue is the person called, “Junia” or “Junias” as some translations render this name. Junia is a female name while Junias is a male name. It has been argued that Andronicus and Junia were husband and wife.

If this is the case then, it is possible that Paul referred to a female apostle because he said that the husband and wife team of Andronicus and Junia were notable, or prominent, among the apostles.

Yet there are a number of issues that make the identification problematic. They include the following.

Was This Person a Male or a Female?

The first question that needs to be decided is whether or not this individual is a male or a female. Junia is a common female name in Latin but the name is rare in Greek. The masculine form of this name Junias is even rarer. Indeed, it is found only once in ancient Greek literature.

To make matters more complicated, the only difference between the male and female form of the word is not in the spelling but rather how it is accented. Yet there were no accent marks in the original Greek. So the question must seemingly remain undecided.

Therefore, while is possible that this is referring to a female, Junia, it is anything but clear.

Bible Translations Differ as to Whether It Is a Male or Female

Translations differ on whether a male or female is in view here. We will list some examples of how this name is understood.

The Revised Standard Version takes the position that both of these individuals were men. It translates the verse as follows.

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 (Romans 16:7 RSV).

This translation calls these two people “men of note.”

Yet many translations use the female name Junia when translating this verse. For example, the English Standard Version reads.

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me (Romans 16:7 ESV).

These translators see this second person as a female.

The fact that English translations are not uniform in how they render this name further illustrates the problem.

Julia Is a Variant Reading in the Text

There are also some ancient authorities that read “Julia” instead of Junia. Julia is clearly a feminine name. Whether that gives more support to the idea that it is a female who is in view in this passage in Romans is something that can be argued either way.

They May Be One of Three Husband and Wife Teams Mentioned

The fact that Junia is mentioned with Andronicus possibly indicates that they were a husband and wife. There are two other husband and wife teams that were mentioned together by Paul in his concluding words to the Romans. The first is Prisca, or Priscilla and Aquila.

Give my greetings to Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus (Romans 16:3 HCSB).

We know from the Book of Acts that these two were husband and wife.

There is also the greeting to Philologus and Julia.

Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them (Romans 16:15 HCSB).

Philologus and Julia may also be a husband and wife team.

Therefore, this would be consistent with other husband and wives listed in the final chapter.

It Is Not Certain They Are Husband and Wife

Some do not think it is that certain that Andronicus and Junia were husband and wife. While Paul seemingly mentions two other husband and wife teams apart from Andronicus and Junia, he also links two females together Tryphena and Tryphosa.

Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord (Romans 16:12 NIV).

However, Paul does qualify the fact they are both female. Therefore it may actually give support to the argument that Andronicus and Junia were a husband and wife team because their relationship was not qualified. Again, there is no way to be certain.

Were Andronicus and Junia Listed among the Apostles?

Even if Junia is considered to be a female, there is another issue that needs to be settled. Was Junia listed with the apostles? Junia is said to have been “prominent among the apostles.” The question must be answered, “In what sense are Andronicus and Junia prominent, or famous among the apostles?”

Does this mean they should be considered among the company of the apostles or were they outstanding in their work among the apostles? This is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Junia Was Well-known in What Sense?

The phrase, “well known among the apostles” can also be translated, “well known to the apostles.” If this is the true meaning of the text, then it says nothing about the role of Junia in the church. For some reason, this long-time believer Junia was well known among those in the apostolic circle.

Some translations understand that Junia was merely respected among the apostles rather than being a person that belonged to that select group. For example, the New Living Translation says.

Greet Andronicus and Junia my fellow Jews, who were in prison with me. They are highly respected among the apostles and became followers of Christ before I did (Romans 16:7 NLT).

This rendering of the text removes the problem. It sees Junia as respected among the apostles.

Did Junias Have the Gift of Apostleship without Holding the Office?

Some have argued that Junia, if female, had the gift of apostleship but did not hold the office of an Apostle. This argument accepts that Junia was to be reckoned with the apostles but not as one who had apostolic authority. The idea would be that she did things similar to the apostles without having their unique authority.

Thus, this view makes the distinction between the public office of an apostle, which was held by men, and the gift of apostle, which may have been given to women. However, this, like every other aspect of this question, is highly debated.

Highly Esteemed May Have Been for Her Work, Not Her Position

There is also the possibility that she was prominent, or highly esteemed by the apostles, for her work without necessarily being an Apostle. There is also the possibility that Paul was referring to the fact that she was simply well known among the apostles.

Concluding Observations on the and Position of This Person

While it is possible that Junia was a woman, there is not enough information to be certain. Furthermore, if a woman is in view, it is not clear that she was listed as one of the apostles.

It may seem more likely that Paul was saying that she was well known to them rather than being well known as one of them.

However we cannot be absolutely certain either way. There is simply not enough information to make a clear choice. This is where we must leave this question.

Summary – Question 7
Were There Female Apostles? (Junia)

There is a question as to whether there were any female apostles. We know that there were certainly no female apostles among the original twelve that Jesus chose. Neither are there any clear examples of a female being an apostle. Yet it is argued that there may have been some females who had the apostolic gift rather than holding the apostolic office.

There is a possible illustration to a female apostle in Romans 16:7. Paul closes his letter by greeting a number of people. Among them are Andronicus and Junia, or Junias. Junia is thought by some to be the husband of Andronicus as well as a female apostle,

However there are a number of complex issues which makes this identification difficult, if not impossible, to confirm.

First, it is not certain that this person is a female. The name is either Junia, female, or Junias, male. English translations are not uniform in how they understand this name. The original Greek can be read either way so it is of no help in determining whether a male or female is in view.

If it were a female who is mentioned in this reference there is then the question as to the sense that woman was outstanding among the apostles. Does it mean that she was an outstanding apostle? Or was she merely well-known to the apostolic group? Again, there is ambiguity in the description which makes any exact identification difficult.

There is the argument that Junia had the gift of an apostle but she did not hold the apostolic office. In other words, she was sent out like a missionary to help new churches become established. However, she was not looked upon as a leader in the early church since it is clear that only males held the position of leadership. As with every other aspect of this question, this conclusion is also debated.

These problems make it seemingly impossible to say that there were female apostles based upon this reference. The best we can say is that it is not impossible but that the evidence is certainly not compelling.

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