Junia the Apostle. Really?

Mike Lambert
The July 2013 issue of Ministry magazine carries the lead article, “Junia The Apostle.” Much is made by the author of Junia being a “female apostle.” This claim is based on the apostle Paul’s description of Andronicus and Junia as “my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me” (Romans 16:7 KJV).
The conclusion on p. 9 boldly declares, “Paul recognized her as one of the apostles, a woman who was willing to suffer for the gospel she was busily spreading.” Receiving my July copy, seeing the cover with its title, then reading the article and evidences provided, I could only react with astonishment. One question. On what basis? Junia the apostle? Really?
Theologians and historians have debated the text used in support of this claim and come to differing conclusions. To be fair, in her opening paragraph the author states that “through the years, questions have been raised about her identity, occupation, and especially her gender.” Yet, she claims unequivocally in the title and the conclusion that Junia was a female apostle.
In proving her case, three and a half pages are spent looking at the name Junia in the Greek language, in antiquity, in early Christian references, in Greek NT manuscripts, in printed Greek New Testaments, and in modern translations. Energy is also spent discussing the word for “of note,” EPISHMOI, and the phrase “among the apostles,” EN TOIS APOSTOLOIS. Yes, much discussion. But the conclusion far exceeds the evidence. I am left with that nagging question: Really?
The problems:
There are two main problems in the text (Romans 16:7). First of all, does the name Junia have a feminine ending (proving Junia was a woman), or does it have a masculine ending (proving Junia was a man)? This is a grammatical problem arising from the Greek language. In Romans 16:7, the ending for the name of Junia in the Greek is -AN, which would be the direct object (accusative) form both for men’s names that end in -AS (like Elias, Zacharias, Silas, Thomas, or Cephas) or women’s names that end in -A (like Martha, Joanna, or Lydia).
Therefore, it is impossible to tell from the Greek ending alone whether the person described by the apostle Paul is Junias (male) or Junia (female). The author recognizes this by accurately stating on p. 6 of the article, “In truth, the oldest manuscripts, the uncials, are written in capital letters, without accents. Hence both genders would be given IONIAN, leaving the reader to decide which gender Junia was.”
Thus, from a grammatical standpoint, both genders are possible. The question is, how are we to decide which interpretation is best when both are allowed by the Greek? Outside of the Greek text and manuscripts, our author turns to antiquity, early Christian references, and modern language translations. But do these sources “really” provide evidence for the author’s firm conclusion that Junia was a female apostle? Is there a better place to go to decide the matter?
Secondly, let’s assume that the person Paul refers to is a woman by the name Junia. Does Romans 16:7 require us to believe that Junia was a female apostle? The answer depends on how one understands the phrase translated “among the apostles” (EN TOIS APOSTOLOIS). In Greek the phrase is ambiguous. Does it mean that Andronicus and Junia were numbered among the apostles (as the NIV has it, “They are outstanding among the apostles,”) or, does it mean that their reputation was well known by the apostles (as the KJV puts it, they are of “note among the apostles”)? Again, the question must be asked how are we to decide which interpretation is best when both are allowed by the Greek? On p. 8 our author turns to the debates of between Michael Burer, Daniel Wallace and Bauckham, Belleville, and Epp. But is there a better place to go?
We now have come to the place where one’s hermeneutical principles are revealed. When it comes to interpretation the long standing Adventist approach is to 1.) interpret an obscure passage by a plain passage in Scripture, and 2.) look for any applicable precedents in Scripture, noting that one Scripture will never contradict another. Staying within Scripture is the best place to go when questions concerning a particular verse leave us initially puzzled. This is safer and more sound than antiquity, modern translations, and the debates of man.
On this foundation and as Adventists living at this crucial time in earth’s history, we should recognize five relevant facts: 1.) Paul’s doctrine of headship was firmly established on the creation order (1 Timothy 2:1; 1 Corinthians 11; Ephesians 5). 2.) Jesus Himself ordained only males as apostles. 3.) Every known apostle in the New Testament was a male—Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14, 4), Apollos (1 Corinthians 4:6, 9), Silvanus and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:6), Titus (2 Corinthians 8:23), Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25). 4.) While women played important and vital roles in the early church’s soul-winning ministry, none of them is known to have served as apostle, elder, or bishop. 5.) The apostle Paul, who worked closely with these active women, taught that the headship function of elder or overseer could be held by only a person who, among other things, was the “husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6).
The above considerations lead to the conclusion that the phrase “among the apostles” (EN TOIS APOSTOLOIS) is best understood, “of note among the apostles” in the sense that Junia, whether a male or female, was well known by the apostles, not numbered as one of them. The most biblically-consistent understanding is that both Andronicus and Junia were well known and appreciated by the apostles as Christian converts prior to Paul’s own conversion.
Unlike the speculative and arbitrary interpretation offered in Ministry magazine’s lead article, “Junia The Apostle,” this interpretation does not violate clear and plain biblical teaching on headship, the example of Jesus Christ in appointing only males as apostles, and the fact that all known apostles mentioned in the New Testament are male.
Based upon evidence, not conjecture, we must conclude that Junia, even if a woman, could not have been an apostle. Any assertion that Junia was a “female apostle” is speculative and causes me to scratch my head and ask that question: Really?

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Mike and Jayne Lambert have served throughout the NPUC, including Montana, Idaho, and Oregon. Elder Lambert is presently pastor of the Stateline Church, in Milton Freewater, Oregon.

5 replies on “Junia the Apostle. Really?”

One of the other things to consider that makes it unlikely that Junia, regardless of what their gender is, is the fact that the list of people included are prisoners within the gaol. I have this picture in my mind that if Junia is an apostle then these prisoners would also needed to be considered apostles. The picture further develops where I see the thief apostle or the murderer apostle standing at the pulpit, chains, prison clothes, the works and preaching away using the clink of chains as an occasional sound effect while they deliver the sermon.
Come now! Such an image should be considered as enthusiastically and seriously as the idea that Junia is a female apostle now shouldn’t it?

Loved Pastor Lambert’s article. We are continually praying that God will intervene and stay the tide of rebellion in our church. The proponents of women’s ordination are really grasping at straws and trying to make a haystack out it.

The NIV says that these two individuals were “outstanding among the apostles” and the KJV says they were “of note among the apostles”, as this article shows.
If these individuals were so outstanding among the apostles, and are to be understood as actual apostles, then why is Scripture so silent about their work? Surely there would be some story about them somewhere if they were so outstanding as apostles. Some try to make Junia out as more outstanding than the apostle Paul himself, since she/he came before him in Christ. But we read far, far more about the apostle Paul than we do the very little we have about Junia and Andronicus. If they were so outstanding as apostles, then isn’t it strange that we know so little about them? Wouldn’t we at least know more about them than we do Barnabas, Timothy or Titus? It would seem so if all the apostles revered these two so much!
If the text is taken to mean that these two individuals were apostles and outstanding among the apostles, then that seems to say they were equal or greater than the main apostles we know of, such as Peter and Paul and Barnabas, etc.! But if they were greater than these men, then why do we not read about their experiences in Scripture? Surely there would have been at least one book written by them or some record of their work, wouldn’t there?
It seems far more reasonable to conclude, as Pastor Lambert does, that the apostles recognized these workers for Christ as of note in their work for Him, which led to their imprisonment, but not as main apostles in head leadership. Paul appreciated that they were willing to suffer for Christ’s sake and that they had been long in the work of Christ. They were well-established workers who had been in the cause before him, but they were not apostles themselves in the highest leadership positions. This is the natural and most consistent understanding of the text in comparison with other of Paul’s writings and plain common sense, since neither wrote a book of the Bible, nor is there any detailed description of them, as I noted.
I don’t know you Pastor Lambert, but I highly appreciate your article and your standing for the truth in an area of the country where the push is strong for change in the wrong direction on this issue. May God strengthen you daily to stand against the satanic tide of pressure being brought on the truth and may you not fail in your faithfulness in standing for the truth no matter what your fellow pastors and leaders may say or do.

Even though one has to consider Junia as among the apostles (what I do not believe), then the person has to be honest with the text itself: aspasasthe Andronikon kai Iounian tous sungeneis mou kai sunaichmalôtous mou, hoitines eisin episêmoi en tois apostolois, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles” would mean that the couple not Junia was apostle. This is in line with v. 3 where “Priscilla and Aquila” as couple are fellow workers of Paul. I suggests that saying that she was apostle is stating a biased fact.

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