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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access November 19, 2020

Junia – A Woman Lost in Translation: The Name IOYNIAN in Romans 16:7 and its History of Interpretation

  • Andrea Hartmann EMAIL logo
From the journal Open Theology


The name of the second person greeted in Romans 16:7 is given as IOYNIAN, a form whose grammatical gender could be either feminine or masculine which leads to the question: Is it Junia or Junias – a woman or a man – who is greeted alongside Andronicus as “outstanding among the apostles?” This article highlights early influential answers to this question in the history of interpretation (John Chrysostom’s commentary, the discipleship list of Pseudo-Epiphanius, Luther’s translation, and Calvin’s interpretation) showing that societal perceptions of women’s roles were a factor in how they interpreted IOYNIAN. The article then summarises the last 150 years of interpretation history which saw (a) the disappearance of Junia from the text and from scholarly discussion due to the impact of the short-from hypothesis in the nineteenth century, (b) the challenge to this male interpretation in connection with second wave feminism, and (c) the restoration of the female reading in the ensuing debate. Bringing together the main lines of the argument, it will be shown that there is only one reading supported by the evidence, the female reading which throughout the centuries was the more difficult reading in light of the church’s and society’s perception of women’s participation.

1 Introduction

Among the many persons greeted at the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans[1] are Andronicus and Junia (Romans 16:7):

ἀσπάσασθε Ἀνδϱόνικον καὶ Ἰουνίαν

τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου καὶ συναιχμαλώτους μου,

οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις,

οἳ καὶ πϱὸ ἐμοῦ γέγοναν ἐν Xϱιστῷ.[2]

Greet Andronicus and Junia

my fellow-Jews and my fellow-prisoners,

who are outstanding among the apostles,

who were also in Christ before me.[3]

50 years ago, the accentuation of Ἰουνίαν and the translation of this name as “Junia” would have been strongly refuted. The majority view concerning this verse was that the second person could only be a man, namely Junias, which was supported by the form of the name found in the critical text editions of the day which rendered the name Ἰουνιᾶν. It was Bernadette Brooten who challenged this view in her article “‘Junia […] Outstanding among the apostles’ Romans 16:7” published in English in 1977 and a year later also in German. A series of articles discussing the gender of IOYNIAN followed, culminating in Eldon Jay Epp’s monograph Junia: The first Woman Apostle published in 2005.

Brooten’s article, though short, was a watershed moment for the reading of IOYNIAN, as the tide slowly turned (back) towards a female reading in the ensuing debate. After “Junias” had been the preferred reading for almost 100 years in the English-speaking world and almost 500 years in the German-speaking world, scholars started to re-evaluate the evidence, looking at the reading of the Church Fathers and subsequent interpretations of IOYNIAN, the accentuation of the form in manuscripts, and the use of the name in antiquity. This article after discussing the textual issue, brings together the different pieces of this re-evaluation and highlights influential moments in the history of interpretation: Chrysostom’s Roman’s commentary in which a female Junia is identified as an apostle, the discipleship list of Pseudo-Epiphanius, the only known Greek source mentioning a male Junias, Luther’s influential choice to translate the name masculine, Calvin’s female reading, the impact of the short-form hypothesis gaining momentum in the nineteenth century, and the ensuing debate after Brooten’s challenge to the male reading. It will be shown that in some cases the interpretation of the name gave way to societal perceptions of women at the time of the interpreters. This then will help to understand why Junia was lost in translation at certain points in history, re-found at the time she was, and restored to the text in recent years.

2 IOYNIAN – the textual issue

The issue whether the second person greeted in Romans 16:7 is female or male arises from an ambiguity in the Greek text. The form IOYNIAN found in the unaccented majuscules of the oldest manuscripts can be interpreted in different ways. Depending on the accentuation added, three interpretations are grammatically possible, two of them representing a male name – Junias, one of them representing a female name – Junia.[4]

If the name is rendered Ἰουνιᾶν[5] with the circumflex on the ultima, the name is assumed to belong to a “type of (hypocoristically) abbreviated names” which were “widespread in Greek.”[6] The majority of names that might fall into this category in the New Testament end in -ᾶς,[7] e.g. Πατϱοβᾶς – Patrobas (a short form of Πατϱόβιος – Patrobios),[8] Ἑϱμᾶς – Hermas (a short form of Ἑϱμόδωϱος – Hermodoros),[9] and Ὀλυμπᾶς – Olympas (a short form of Ὀλυμπιοδωϱος – Olympidoros).[10] In analogy to these names, IOYNIAN would be the accusative form of the male name Ἰουνιᾶς – Junias, a short form of Ἰουνιανός[11] the Greek transliteration of the Latin name Iunianus – Junianus.[12]

Ἰουνίαν with the acute on the penultima is the other possible accentuation. It is understood as a “feminine-accented” form, i.e. the accusative of Ἰουνία, the female name Junia.[13] Consequently, there is a tendency to make the accent “the […] determiner of gender”[14] (circumflex = male name, acute = female name).[15] Yet, there is a third option, to read Ἰουνίαν as the accusative form of Ἰουνίας, a first declension masculine noun.[16] Both in Robertson’s grammar[17] and Thayer’s lexicon[18] Ἰουνίας with the acute is the main form given and the contracted form Ἰουνιᾶς is only mentioned as an alternative. Junias would then be a male name in its own right[19] – similar to Ἀνδϱέας (Andrew)[20] – not a short form of another name.[21]

One form – three possible interpretations of the name. Naturally this ambiguity led and still leads to the question of how to best translate IOYNIAN. The reason why it became a debated issue far beyond the question of mere translation is the context in which it is found. A female name combined with the weighty words “outstanding among the apostles”[22] indicates that Paul had no problem to praise a woman for her apostolic ministry, thereby almost in passing affirming the existence of at least one female apostle.

It is, therefore, not surprising that Brooten’s article was published as part of a wider argument for the induction of women priests in the Catholic Church in the late 1970s, a massive challenge to Roman Catholic tradition undoubtedly influenced by the Women’s Liberation Movement.[23] Brooten argues strongly for a female reading of IOYNIAN because the existence of a female apostle “with authority in the church” who was acknowledged by Paul supports her wider argument.[24] “If the first century Junia could be an apostle, it is hard to see how her twentieth-century counterpart should not be allowed to become even a priest.”[25] It is clear that for Brooten’s argument to work, Junia has to be a woman otherwise she cannot serve as a role model for female priesthood. Thus, it is wise to take it with a pinch of salt.

However, the same can be said about the view Brooten challenged which simply assumed that “a woman could not be an apostle” and therefore “the woman who is here called apostle could not have been a woman.”[26] Brooten’s turn to tradition re-focussed attention to early readings of Romans 16:7 and demonstrated that the majority view among her (male) contemporary colleagues[27] actually was a minority view in the history of the church and a relatively recent development, especially in the English-speaking world.

3 IOYNIAN – from Chrysostom to the reformers

John Chrysostom, one of the Greek fathers writing in the late fourth century,[28] is the best and earliest evidence in support of the female reading. Concerning IOYNIAN he writes, “Bαβαὶ, πόση τῆς γυναικὸς ταύτης ἡ φιλοσοφία, ὡς καὶ τῆς τῶν ἀποστόλων ἀξιωθῆναι πϱοσηγοϱίας”[29] (In epistulam ad Romanos 31.2) [“Oh, how great is the devotion (φιλοσοφία) of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!”].[30] With these lines, Chrysostom, a native Greek speaker “who read an unaccented text and interpreted according to context and forms of the Greek,”[31] clearly identifies Junia as a woman who is called an apostle. He seems to marvel at the qualities a woman must have had to receive the title “apostle” and he assumes her to be someone with a great “love of wisdom,”[32] a quality that is lost in the rendering of his nineteenth century translators. Rather than choosing the natural meaning, they translate φιλοσοφία as “devotion,” a meaning not found in lexica[33] but obviously more appropriate for a woman in their eyes and in their time. They also categorically rule out that the person in Romans 16:7 can be both, female and an apostle, correcting Chrysostom in their comments on his commentary.[34] In comparison, Chrysostom almost has a progressive view concerning women and their participation in the propagation of the gospel:

Λεόντων γὰϱ θεϱμότεϱαι αἱ τότε γυναῖκες ἦσαν, διανεμόμεναι πϱὸς τοὺς ἀποστόλους τοὺς ὑπὲϱ τοῦ κηϱύγματος πόνους· διὰ τοῦτο καὶ συναπεδήμουν αὐτοῖς, καὶ τὰ ἄλλα πάντα διηκονοῦντο.[35] (In epistulam ad Romanos 31.2)

[For the women of those days were more spirited than lions, sharing with the Apostles their labors for the Gospel’s sake. In this way, they went travelling with them, and also performed all other ministries.][36]

Admittedly, the quote above can be interpreted in terms of gender-related tasks, meaning the women were serving the apostles by cooking, washing, mending, etc. or sharing their labour for the gospel by specifically ministering to women who the apostles as men could not reach.[37] Nevertheless, including one of these women in the apostolic circle and praising her for her love of wisdom seems to go beyond the accepted gender roles at the time. His own surprise that a woman could be deemed worthy of the title shows that Chrysostom’s reading of Romans 16:7 clashes with the “strong tendency to restrict women’s roles to those […] that are gender-related”[38] present since the second century and also shaping his thought. This can be seen a few sections earlier in his treatment of Mary (Romans 16:6) where he interprets 1 Timothy 2:12 as not prohibiting women to speak a word of teaching in general, but definitely in any kind of public capacity.[39] Considering his own conflicting views regarding women’s roles, it would have been easy for Chrysostom to opt for the male reading. Hence, it is all the more significant that he read Romans 16:7 and found himself forced to opt for the female reading despite the fact that it went against his and societal perceptions of women’s involvement in the church.

One might, therefore, expect that Chrysostom’s stance is singular, the exception among commentators living in a patriarchal world. Surprisingly, this is not the case, the female reading was the main reading within the first millennia of Christian history. Apart from Chrysostom, Fitzmyer lists more than 15 writers from Origen (third century) to Peter Lombard (twelfth century) who understood the second person mentioned in Rom 16:7 as the wife of Andronicus and thereby female.[40]

Origen would be an even older Greek witness to a female reading than Chrysostom, but his commentary on Romans only survived in the Latin translation of Rufinus (fourth/fifth century). Piper and Grudem quote a section of this translation from Migne’s Patrologia Latina which reads “Junias” in Latin.[41] In their view, under the condition that Rufinus’ “ancient translation is reliable,” Origen understood Andronicus’ partner to be male, which for them is “perhaps more significant” than the Greek references to Romans 16:7.[42] However, they fail to mention that the feminine reading “Junia” is also found in Migne, precisely in the passage referring to Romans 16:7.[43] This obviously throws doubt on the reliability of this nineteenth-century version of Rufinus’ translation. Epp, basing his view on a modern critical edition of the translation, comes to a very different conclusion: “we can be confident that Origen read Rom 16:7 as ‘Junia,’”[44] provided that the comment on chapter 16 is not a later addition by his translator Rufinus[45] in which case an early Greek witness in support of the female reading would be replaced by an early Latin witness.

Another Greek reference to a clearly female Junia is found in the seventh century Chronicon Paschale.[46] Junia is mentioned as part of a list of women who followed the apostles after the ascension, including, among others, also Prisca (and Priscilla), Mary, Tryphaena and Tryphosa, Persis, and Julia, the other named women of the Roman greetings list. “The admirable woman Junia” is also remembered in the menology of Emperor Basil Porphyrogenitus, a tenth-century calendar of saints, as “a consort and a helper in godly preaching” of Andronicus.[47] Though both sources are late, legendary, and emphasise the leading role of the men, they nevertheless show that within the eastern tradition the female reading was preserved and Junia’s sex never questioned.[48]

The only Greek reference related to Romans 16:7 which mentions “Junias” rather than “Junia” is found in an Index Discipulorum, ascribed to the fourth century bishop of Salamis, Epiphanius: “Ἰουνίας,[49] οὗ καὶ αὐτοῦ ὁ Παῦλος μέμνηται, ἐπίσκοπος Ἀπαμείας τῆς Συϱίας ἐγένετο” (Pseudo-Epiphanius, Index Discipulorum, 125.19-20) [Junias, the same who Paul also mentions, became bishop of Apameia in Syria].[50] Though his reference to Junias is strongly emphasised by those questioning whether Junia was a female apostle,[51] the reliability of this Index Discipulorum is questionable on two grounds. Firstly, there is doubt about its authorship,[52] and consequently, it might be a much later writing.[53] Secondly, the document seems to be biased against women. Just before Junias, a Πϱίσκας (Priscas) is mentioned. Prisca, who is clearly introduced as Aquila’s wife by Luke (Acts 18:2) and the unambiguously feminine nominative form, Πϱίσκα, is found in 1 Cor 16:19, is turned into Priscas, a man.[54] Both Priscas and Junias are listed at the very end of the index (number 63 and 64 of 70),[55] set apart from those listed who are also mentioned in Romans 16 (numbers 16–30 and 34–42). The list generally follows the order of Romans 16, leaving out all women mentioned (Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’ mother, Julia, Nereus’ sister).[56] It seems like the author, being aware of Prisca’s and Junia’s sex, first dropped them like the other women of Romans but needed names to fill up his list at the end. Their prominence in the Roman greeting list might have helped them reappear at the end of the index, but likely only because a simple addition of a sigma was enough to create the prerequisites that allowed the author to name them as bishops in a world in which women could not hold that office.

Whether or not the obscuring of gender was deliberately done, Epp is right to conclude that “the credibility of the witness is tarnished.”[57] The writer of the Index Discipulorum was a minority voice in the first centuries of Christian history, but he also was an early example of someone who tried to resolve the discomfort caused by Paul’s mention of a female apostle by adapting a reading that was not just more in line with the church’s patriarchal structure at the time but moreover also seemed to fit better with Paul’s teaching elsewhere. Whereas for Chrysostom his expectations about women gave way to the text, for this author the text gave way to his tradition.

It was only from the thirteenth century onwards that the male reading became more common in the west, starting with Giles (Aegidius) of Rome[58] who is “commonly credited to be the first to identify Junia as male”[59] as he refers to Andronicus and Julias[60] as “these honorable men.”[61]

The most significant move towards the male reading, however, was Luther’s translation of Romans 16:7 (“Grusset den Andronicon vnd den Junian […]”)[62] in his Septembertestament of 1522. The added masculine article makes the name unambiguously male. Whether this interpretation reflects “Luther’s personal disposition against an apostolic attribution”[63] or the influence of Faber Stapulensis’ commentary,[64] who thought the accusative Iuniam derived from the nominative Iunias,[65] is hard to decide. Either way his translation places him among those who could not imagine a female apostle despite the textual possibility. Luther’s translation is based on the second edition of Erasmus’ Greek New Testament which reads Ἰουνίαν in Greek and Iuniam in Latin.[66] Epp suggests that Erasmus understood the form as a feminine noun pointing to Erasmus’ Annotations on the New Testament[67] (originally published in 1535 after Luther’s translation) where he interpreted the form Iuniam along the same line as Iuliam.[68] This Iuliam is identified in his Paraphrases on Romans (originally published in 1517 before Luther’s translation) as the wife of Philologus and therefore female.[69] Whereas the form of the name in Luther’s Septembertestament of 1522 is ambiguous (“Julian”), in the 1534 Lutherbibel it is clearly female (“die Julian”) due to the addition of the female article to the name.[70] Thus, contrary to Faber Stapulensis who read Iuniam as Junias and Iuliam as Julias,[71] Luther translated the same grammatical phenomenon once male and once female. To see bias against women in official roles here, as Belleville suggests, is therefore far from being far-fetched. Luther did not choose the male name for the otherwise unspecified person in verse 15 but for the person in verse 7 who together with Andronicus is referred to as “berumpte Apostel” (“famous apostles”).

This choice is in line with his understanding of women’s place in the divine order as reflected in his “traditional and socially conservative picture of Eve” in his Declamationes on Genesis (1523–1524),[72] lectures given shortly after the Septembertestament was published and therefore reflecting his understanding at the time of translation. The early Luther understood woman’s subjection to man as part of the created order prior to the fall.[73] On the basis of Luther’s later lectures Enarrationes on Genesis (1535–1545), Mattox argues that Luther’s view on Eve and her role changed in later years. He understood Eve’s subjection no longer as part of the divine order but as result of the fall.[74] Moreover, he did no longer consider Eve to be Adam’s “inferior in terms of her partnership in the rule over creation.”[75] Yet, there was no development in thought concerning the participation of women in the ministry of the church. Luther “did not think of Eve as a partner in her husband’s duty to proclaim the Word of God”[76] as the “office of preaching” was entrusted to Adam alone.[77] Consequently, he “did not support the ordination of women to the public ministry.”[78] A female Junia partnering in the proclamation of the gospel with her husband Andronicus as a famous apostle would have been unthinkable for him even in his later years.

This inability to allow the text to challenge his perceptions led to the disappearance of Junia from the text, especially but not only in the German-speaking world, because “through Luther the Junias interpretation was assured of a broad exposure for centuries to come.”[79] Yet, other Reformers retained the female reading.

Calvin translates Iuniam as “Junia” in his commentary on Romans[80] even though he considers women’s subjection as part of the created order and women’s silence in church as prescribed by Scripture and both, therefore, “not open to change.”[81] Considering that he was convinced “that women cannot occupy any leading positions in either the church or in the public sphere,”[82] it is surprising that he describes both Andronicus and Junia as apostles “who not only teach in one Church, but also spend their labour in promulgating the gospel everywhere.”[83] Calvin, therefore, alongside Chrysostom, is another example of an interpreter who – even though his thoughts “were […] embedded in the patriarchal and hierarchical thought of his time”[84] – opted for the female reading.

It does not surprise that the Geneva Bible which “had begun as a project of the Marian exiles residing in Geneva under the protective wing of John Calvin”[85] followed his lead and also reads “Junia.” The fact, that the Authorized Version of 1611 also favoured “Junia” over “Junias,” ensured that the female reading was the only English reading for the next 200 years.

4 Ἰουνιᾶν – the short-form hypothesis

The final shift towards the male reading occurred in the nineteenth century when the short-form hypothesis gained momentum. The view of Junias as a hypocoristic form of Junianus can be traced back to the seventeenth century,[86] and it had its opponents from the very beginning. Brooten lists examples from different centuries, e.g. Johannes Drusius (seventeenth century), Christian Wilhelm Bose (eighteenth century) and M.-J. Lagrange (1916), and shows thereby that the view was not held unanimously.[87] Nevertheless, in the second half of the nineteenth century it became so prominent that it made its way into lexica,[88] and commentaries,[89] and even into one Greek New Testament.[90] Most influential for the English-speaking world was Lightfoot’s understanding of “Ἰουνίαν (or Ἰουνιᾶν)” as a man’s name (“Junias contracted from Junianus”).[91] Already mentioned in his Galatians commentary, this understanding was also underpinning the translation of the name as “Junias” in the New Testament of the Revised Version (1881).[92]

An active female apostle proclaiming the gospel in the streets of Rome was unthinkable in a century in which “true womanhood” was defined by the “four cardinal virtues” of “piety, purity, submissiveness and domesticity.”[93] Thus, it could be expected that Junia would disappear from the text in a time in which the propagated ideal of womanhood limited women to the private sphere of their own houses, as “passive, submissive responders”[94] working “in silence, unseen.”[95] Preato might well be right to see in the change from Junia to Junia also a reaction against the suffragette movement[96] endangering the concept of “true womanhood” and thereby the “order of the Universe” as intended by God.[97]

The impact of the short-form hypothesis reached its climax with the inclusion of the form Ἰουνιᾶν (without any hint to an alternative reading) into the thirteenth edition of the Greek New Testament by Erwin Nestle (published in 1927). This finally sounded the death knell for Junia for decades to come. Subsequent critical editions of the New Testament up to the end of the twentieth century used this form in the main text.[98] As a consequence, the female reading either disappeared completely from the scholarly discussion[99] or was dismissed as impossible.[100]

Brooten’s article ushered in a new era for the interpretation of IOYNIAN. In the wake of her article the short-form hypothesis was no longer simply reiterated but challenged on philological grounds. In her argument against “Junias” as the short-form of a Latin male name, Brooten points out that hypocoristics (“terms of endearment or diminutives”) of Latin names usually lengthen rather than shorten,[101] Πϱίσκα (Prisca)[102] for example becomes Πϱίσκιλλα (Priscilla).[103] Yet, she overlooks that there are Latin names in the New Testament that have been abbreviated in the same way as Greek names. Λουκᾶς (Luke),[104] an abbreviation of Λούκιος (Lucius), Λούκανος (Lucanos)[105] or the more common Λουκιανός (Lucianus),[106] is one example; Σιλᾶς (Silas)[107] is another if understood as the short-form of Σιλουανός (Silvanus).[108]

Another argument that has been invoked against the short-form hypothesis by Belleville is that it was “not Paul’s habit to use nicknames […] or shortened forms.”[109] This is true in the case of Prisca and, assuming he is the same person as Silas, also Silvanus,[110] but Paul uses the short form Λουκᾶς in Philemon.[111] “Luke” then is an example of a shortened Latin name found in one of Paul’s undisputed letters and thereby a close analogy to “Junias.” Consequently, it needs more than the arguments above to dismiss Ἰουνιᾶν as a possible form.

Thorley provides such an additional argument by taking a closer look at the formation of hypocoristic names ending in -ᾶς.[112] In almost every case the ending is added to a consonant (e.g. Λουκ-ᾶς, Πατϱοβ-ᾶς). If there is an iota in the long form that might become part of the stem of the short form, it is usually dropped (e.g. Λούκ-ι-ος/Λουκ-ι-ανός = Λουκᾶς; Πατϱόβ-ι-ος = Πατϱοβᾶς). Thorley mentions Ἰουλᾶς (Julas) as an example, a name found in the papyri. It is probably derived from Ἰουλιανός (Julianus), a name very similar to Ἰουνιανός (Junianus), the assumed long form of Ἰουνιᾶς (Junias). The problem is obvious. If the pattern above is applied, the correct short form of Ἰουνιανός would be Ἰουνᾶς (Junas) not Ἰουνιᾶς.

Moreover, neither of these two short-forms is found in Greek literature,[113] nor is there any “empirical evidence whatsoever”[114] of a shortening of Junianus outside of Romans 16:7. This is the reason why Cervin strongly opposes the idea of a short-form Ἰουνιᾶς by mere analogy to other shortened names in the New Testament. “It is […] the actual existence of a nickname, not its supposed existence, which is crucial.”[115]

A look at the manuscript evidence also shows that even in Romans 16:7 itself Ἰουνιᾶς has nothing more than a “supposed existence.” After an analysis of the most important manuscripts, Arzt comes to the conclusion that the circumflex accentuation must be a later invention; the only accent found in both, the later added accentuation of the majuscules and the accentuation of the minuscules, is the acute on the penultima.[116] He further concludes that the inclusion of a form with no textual support into a text-critical edition might raise suspicions about the influence of ideological motives behind the decision.[117] It can be inferred from a comment of Metzger in the Companion Volume to the UBS4 (1993) that such motives were present among Committee members working on this critical text edition of the New Testament. Concerning the accentuation, he writes that “some members, considering it unlikely that a woman would be among those styled ‘apostles,’ understood the name to be masculine Ἰουνιᾶν.”[118]

This “theological and functional predisposition against the naming of a woman among the first century cadre of apostles”[119] seems to have led to the invention of the short-form Ἰουνιᾶς making up for the lack of evidence for the name Junias in the sources but ignoring the fact that the form is unsupported in the manuscripts. Considering the form Ἰουνιᾶν specifically rather than the male reading in general, Epp’s harsh criticism seems justified. This form might be called “the figment of the wishful imagination of some influential white European, British and American male scholars, caught up in but actively abetting a culturally shaped bias that wished to exclude women from leadership positions in the church.”[120] However, it also needs to be admitted, if the charge of bias wants to be avoided, that both grammar and manuscript evidence, while not supporting a short-form, allow for a male reading for Ἰουνίαν.

5 Ἰουνίαν – Junias or Junia?

Ἰουνίαν without any other grammatical pointers (article or pronouns clarifying the grammatical gender) can be feminine or masculine and usually there is no indication of how a scribe interpreted the form.[121] The same ambiguity is found in all early translations (Latin, Coptic and Syriac).[122] Yet, a closer look reveals that “Junia” is a much likelier option than “Junias.” In all three early translations the natural reading of the form is the female reading, the male reading is possible but less likely.[123]

Another indicator that the person in question was assumed to be female is the only attested variant reading Ἰουλίαν,[124] a transcription of the common Latin name Julia which is so widely attested as a female name[125] that there is generally no doubt about its gender.[126] Ἰουνία, on the other hand, is rare in Greek literature. Outside of the context of Romans 16:7 there is only one mention by Plutarch referring to Junia, Cassius’ wife and Brutus’ sister (Plutarch, Brutus VII.1.). To assume, as Moo does, that “Ἰουνία was not a popular name”[127] can only be held if the search of the Greek form is limited to literary sources, widening it to epigraphic sources changes the picture. Belleville lists several first-century examples of inscriptions from Asia Minor and Rome in which the Greek form appears as a female name.[128] Also worth considering is the first-century inscription to Junia Theodora, a female benefactor residing in Corinth.[129] Winter even discusses whether the Junia of Romans could be identified with this Junia Theodora but concludes “that the arguments on the present evidence are weighted against the identification of Junia Theodora and Junia.”[130]

Including the Latin evidence, it becomes clear that Iunia was a common female name in Roman antiquity. It is found, for example, in Cicero (Letters to Friends XV.8), Pliny the Younger (Letters VII.19), Suetonius (Gaius Caligula, IV.12), and Tacitus (Annals III.76). In addition to its presence in Latin literature, the female name also appears more than 250 times in Latin inscriptions found in Rome.[131] Junia might not have been a popular Greek name but it certainly was a popular Latin name,[132] usually given to a family member or slave/freedwoman of the gens Iunius,[133] “a distinguished Roman family.”[134] Junia, therefore, was a natural reading for a first century audience, not just for those who knew the person but also for those who were not familiar with her. Moreover, as the example of Junia Theodora has shown, “ancient readers were familiar with a variety of forms of leadership of women”[135] despite the restrictions placed on women in society. So, contrary to later interpreters, there was no need for a first century audience to adjust the name due to role the person is given in the context.

But what about the masculine form Ἰουνίας/Iunias, could this name have been a natural reading as well? Apart from the mention in Pseudo-Epiphanius, this name does neither appear in Greek or Latin literature, nor in inscriptions or papyri.[136] As the name is unknown outside of the context of Romans 16:7, “the Junias theory is an argument from silence.”[137] The likelihood that evidence for the male name Junias will ever be found is extremely slight due to the existence of a male counterpart of Iunia in Latin, the very common name Iunius,[138] also found frequently in its Greek transliteration Ἰούνιος.[139] Thorley is adamant that in light of the name Junius Ἰουνίαν cannot be a male name;[140] it must be, as Bauckham states, the “feminine equivalent of Junius.”[141]

6 Conclusion

In summary, it can be said that of the three grammatically possible forms of IOYNIAN found in the history of interpretation

  • one (the masculine short-form Ἰουνιᾶν) was a theoretical construction reiterated by scholars (especially in the nineteenth century) dealing with the lack of evidence for a male name Junias and struggling with the concept of a female apostle due to the generally accepted views on women’s roles at their time;

  • another (the feminine form Ἰουνίαν) is the Greek transcription of a very common female Latin name, namely Iunia connected to the gens Iunius; as well attested as a variety of leading roles of women in the first century,

  • the third one (the masculine form Ἰουνίαν) is an otherwise unattested Greek name or, if understood as Latin name, a redundant construct as there is a common and well-known male equivalent of Iunia in Latin, namely Iunius assumed by interpreters for whom women in leading positions were unthinkable (Pseudo-Epiphanias, Luther).

Both male interpretations lack evidence to support their existence. The female form, on the other hand, is widely attested outside of the New Testament and, consequently, is not just the wishful reading of female scholars like Brooten but the most natural reading of the text. In light of this evidence, there is not just no good reason to replace the known female name Junia for a hypothetical male name Junias,[142] there is not even the slightest reason to even mention a male alternative to Junia. To quote a famous fictional detective, “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”[143] The truth in this matter is, however improbable it still seems to some,[144] considering all the evidence at hand, that the only possible interpretation of IOYNIAN is to read it as the female name Junia.[145]

There might not yet be “universal” agreement on the “Junia” reading as Lin suggests but she is right to point out that even “dissenting voices” have changed their opinion in recent years,[146] swayed by the evidence not a change in their perception of women’s roles. This can be exemplified by the different evaluation of the IOYNIAN issue in the first and second edition of Schreiner’s Romans commentary. Despite already leaning towards the female reading in his first edition, Schreiner still emphasises that concerning the gender question “certainty is impossible.”[147] 20 years later, considering developments after his first edition, he concludes that “it is almost certain that Junia was a woman,” though he still doubts that she was an apostle having “the same level of authority” as the Twelve or Paul.[148]

Significant changes have also been made in critical texts and more importantly translations which enables a wider public to (re-)discover Junia. Though the male reading still is found both in the main text and as alternative in footnotes,[149] the short form is no longer part of the main text in critical New Testament editions and the female reading has become the main reading in various translations:

  • The SBL Greek New Testament (2010) has Ἰουνίαν in the main text though it still mentions the unattested form Ἰουνιᾶν in the footnotes. The name is rendered Ἰουνίαν in the Tyndale House Greek New Testament (2017) and no footnote is given. The latest editions of the UBS (fifth edition) and the NA (twenty eighth edition) have Ἰουνίαν in the main text and the female variant reading Ἰουλίαν in the footnote.

  • The Today’s New International Version (TNIV) published in the same year as Epp (2005) already reads “Junia,” as does the latest edition of the New International Version (NIV, 2011). Three other English translations not yet included in Epp, the English Standard Version (ESV, first published 2001, latest edition 2016), the New English Translation (NET, first published 2005, latest edition 2017), and the Revised New Jerusalem Bible (RNJB, 2019) have “Junia” in the main text and “Junias” in the footnotes.

  • Even more significant is the change that happened in German translations. From 1522 up to the 1984 edition, “Junias” was the only reading of the Lutherbibel. “Junia” made her entrance into a footnote in its 1999 revision, and is now the only reading of the latest edition (2017). The Zürcher Bible going back to Zwingli reads “Junias” from 1531 up to the 1931 edition which was the standard version until the latest edition (2007) which reads “Junia.” The Einheitsübersetzung has changed from “Junias” in its 1980 edition to “Junia” in its 2016 edition. The two newest German translations the Neue Genfer Übersetzung (2011) and the Basisbibel (2012) both have “Junia” in the main text, and the Neue Genfer Übersetzung mentions “Junias” in the footnote.[150]

It seems that after centuries of absence or banishment to footnotes, Junia who was lost in translation, slowly regains her place in the text, and rightly so not because of a shift in the perception of women’s role in the church or in society but because of conclusive evidence.


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Received: 2020-06-30
Revised: 2020-10-13
Accepted: 2020-10-27
Published Online: 2020-11-19

© 2020 Andrea Hartmann, published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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