Women Paul wrote to in Rome

Junia (Romans 16:7)

So, we have begun to get something of a handle on Junia. We can establish with confidence, she was a woman. But we are still trying to figure out whether she was an apostle.

  • IF Junia was a woman, then is it possible a woman could be an apostle? This has been a Big Question for the second thousand years after Jesus’ resurrection. There was no question in the earl church fathers’ minds that Junia was an apostle.

To be clear, this meant there is at least one instance in Scripture where a woman is called an apostle, in fact, a prominent apostle, who—if we take the example of Paul and Peter in the Book of Acts—would have planted churches throughout the Roman world and exercised governing authority over them.

But in later centuries, this became an issue, because the idea of woman holding any authority, especially in the church, had become unthinkable. Furthermore, though there were (evidently, from scripture) many woman prophets in the first century church, the idea that women could speak—let alone teach, preach, or prophesy—in a church setting was also variously frowned upon.

  • Is it possible that the title “apostle” could, or would, be given to anyone but Jesus’ original eleven disciples, and Paul?

Part of what drives this particular controversy is the actual, original Greek. I am not conversant in Greek, so I have to rely o the scholars who are. One scholar I particularly trust is Dr. A. Nyland, who translated the Greek New Testament about ten years ago, drawing from all the newest research and archaeological discoveries made in the last fifty years. Here’s how Dr. Nyland translates Romans 16:7,

“Greet Andronicos and Junia, my fellow people of my race and fellow prisoners. They are famous among the apostles. They were also followers of the Anointed One before I was.”

Dr. Nyland commented in the footnote to this verse, “A woman being noted among the apostles has caused problems for some theologians, with several trying to present cases that the clause means something else.” The actual word in Greek is “apostolos.” Even for non-Greek scholars, that seems fairly straight forward to me. (thoughts taken from "The Source, by Dr. A Nyland)

The ESV, for instance, translates thIS verse very differently,

“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.”

Did you catch that? Is it “among,” meaning they are apostles, having been counted among the apostles; or is it “to,” so not apostles, but well-known to the apostles.

Evidently, this is a really tough sentence to get the grammar right. So, theologians and translators have had to make decisions based on the other material presented. Those decisions become less technical, more subjective, based on interpretation, through the lense of one’s theology. Technically, according to Greek scholars, you could legitimately go either way.

Before we try to land on an answer to that question, let’s look at what other data Paul gave us.

Paul connected Andronicus and Junia together. There’s no telling what their relationship was, father/daughter, brother/sister, husband/wife, a good case could be made for any of those possibilities based on scriptural precedent (think of Philip the evangelist and his four daughters who were prophets. Then, there was Mary and Marth, who had set up house with their brother Lazarus. And finally, Prisca and Aquila, a married couple who were also missionaries together). They may even have been cousins, or had some other family tie.

Paul called Junia his ‘people.’ At the very least, that meant she was Jewish. Some people wonder if maybe she also had come from Paul’s tribe, clan, or extended family.

Paul also referred to her as a fellow prisoner. Like Paul, she had suffered persecution and imprisonment for the Gospel.  Evidently, her ministry and faith were known even outside the church.  She really lived it, she was all in., and she made enough of a stir that it landed her in jail.

What would it have taken, do you think, to gain Paul’s frank admiration, and praise? If you look at Paul’s and Peter’s careers, you know what they did to get themselves thrown in prison. There is no question in my mind, Junia was bold, she was strong, she didn’t back down. She got out there in the public eye and proclaimed the gospel with courage and conviction. When persecution hit, I imagine her fearless and resolute. I picture her saying, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain!” The early church was known for their prayers, and I imagine her powerful in prayer, a woman of real faith.

Being an apostle, actually, was not first about who got to be boss and have the final say on things. It meant being a pioneer in a very dangerous and hostile terrain. I heard, recently, someone say “the pioneers got all the arrows, and the settlers got all the nice towns.” Yes. Well said. Apostles pioneered the faith. Paul even referenced that thought when he wrote the church is built on, “on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:20)

Think of the pioneers you know. That’s what being an apostle all about.

And, interesting, Junia had become a Christian before Paul himself.  Paul’s conversion happened really early on, just a few years after Jesus rose from the dead. Junia may have been numbered among the original 120 in the Upper Room, or maybe converted among the 3,000 that first day of Pentecost. It would not be a stretch to say she probably was one of the founders of the church at Rome.

The church in Rome was already well established before Peter and Paul travelled there, as evidence by Paul’s opening remarks in his letter to them, saying,

I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.”

He had been wanting to visit them for years, and finally, God was opening the way for him (Romans 1:7-13)

So where will I land, on the question of whether Junia was an apostle. I think John Chrysostom had it right, 1,700 years ago,

“They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle.”

All passages taken from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.