Junia and the Destructive Power of Sexism and Bias

We see the effects of sexism and bias all throughout our daily lives. It has effected both people living in the here and now and those living in the past; however, it does not only effect our present or the past in distinct and isolated bubbles. Rather, bias and sexism has effected the way in which interpret the past.

To explore this we are going to explore the story of Junia, a women who was literally written out of history. As well as Prisca and Phoebe who have been remembered, but often not for their full accomplishments.

Many women throughout history have been lost to the sands of time. Sometimes because their lives were never recorded, and sometimes because the sources they were recorded in were themselves lost; however, Junia is an exception to this rule as she was recorded in a literary source that people still widely read today. A literary source that has in fact been translated into 1,151 languages; however, up until the late 1970s, her identity had been stripped from her, and her gender removed (Hartmann, 2020). She was ultimately erased from history. This happened because her name was translated for hundreds of years into a masculine form, robbing her of her gender, and of the recognition that she deserved throughout history (Hartmann, 2020; Lin; 2020; Thorley, 1996).

To understand who Junia really is and what she represents, we have to acquire some background knowledge. You will notice that throughout this article there are videos, images, and links. Now all of these things aren’t necessary to understand this webpage; however, they are helpful to broaden your background knowledge which will help you to interpret what we are looking at as well as to understand the implications, and the impact of these debates surrounding translation. Because there is a lot to cover I have clearly marked off the beginning of each section and included a colour coded table of contents. While the article was written with the intent to be read from beginning to end, you are free to scroll to a section of interest.

-Early Christianity

-The New Testament Letters

-Paul the Apostle

-Phoebe the Deacon

-Prisca the Tent-Maker

-Junia the Lost Woman

-Roman Gender Roles

-Literary and Epicraphic Evidence for Junia

-IOYNIAN and the Feminine Junia

-Early Biblical Scholarship and IOYNIAN

-The Death of Junia

-Junia Reclaimed

-The Continuing Battle

-Feminine Religion

-Closing Thoughts

Early Christianity

The very first thing that we are going to stop and look at is the Early Christians who wrote and starred, in the Bible’s second half, the New Testament (NT).

After Jesus Christ’s crucifixion in 30-33 C.E. (Common Era) Christianity swept across the ancient world as followers of Jesus (who believed that Jesus had bridged the gap between their imperfection and the perfection of the God of Abraham without the need for constant animal and grain sacrifices) travelled throughout the Roman Empire (Kraemer, 2015, p. 524; NRSV, 1993, Acts 9:1; Powell, 2018, loc. 608, 5878). Christianity started as a sect within Judaism which means that they understood themselves to be followers of Judaism who saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the Jewish prophesies; however, they did not stay that way.

As the followers of Jesus shifted from being an exclusive Jewish-only group to an inclusive world religion they became known as a separate faith group. Persecution caused many Christian leaders and believers to travel from city to city where they told people about Jesus the Son of God (Acts, Kisau, 2006, p. 1339). While they spread the message of how Jesus had power over death eternal, they founded churches and baptized people(Collins & Price, 1999, p. 32, 40).

The churches that were founded were left under the care of their own leaders known as deacons. The term deacon comes from the Greek term diakonos which is often translated as ‘servant’ (Sema, 2009, p.108). This is important because the leaders of these churches were not only called to lead the people but to also serve those in their communities. It was these followers of Jesus, who was called the Christ (which means “the anointed one”), who would come to be called Christians (Powell, 2018, loc. 1790).

There were also primary leaders of the Church who were known as apostles. Many of these apostles had been the disciples (the students) of Jesus himself and had travelled with him for the duration of his ministry “during the reign of … Tiberius (14-37 C.E.)” (Powell, 2018, loc. 217). Others were considered to be apostles even though they had not walked with Jesus during his ministry in the Roman province of Judea.

This video walks through some of the impactful events in the Early Church that largely shaped what direction it went in for years to come.

The New Testament Letters

The apostles would write letters to different churches across the Empire. Some of these letters were preserved within the New Testament (NT) of the Christian Bible. In these letters, the authors would greet, by name, Christian individuals with whom they had special connections. Interestingly these letters were to be read to all the people who gathered in the church since the words in the letters were thought to carry the same authority as the authors themselves (Powell, 2018, loc. 5841,6669; 1 Thessalonians 5:27).

One such letter written to the church in the city of Rome is now referred to as the Epistle to the Romans, or more simply as Romans. Paul, who is the author of Romans, is thought to have penned the letter in C.E. 57 or 58, this letter has since been divided into sixteen chapters in the modern NT (Kasali, 2006, p. 1375; Powell, 2018, loc. 6504).

In this letter, Paul called for the “reconciling [of] Jewish and Gentile believers and exhorting them to unity” (Kasali, 2006, p. 1375) (a Gentile being a person who was not Jewish) (Powell, 2018, loc. 1465). Therefore, a large portion of the letter was “devoted to discussing [the] implications of [his] claim that the gospel puts Jews and Gentiles on the same footing, concerning both their need for salvation and God’s provision of that salvation through Christ” (Powell, 2018, loc. 6550).

Because of the content of the letter, it is still highly regarded and read in the Christian Church today. This is significant because, at the end of his letter, Paul greets believers, both men and women, by name. In the sixteenth chapter of Romans, Paul mentions ten women “three of [whom] are especially noteworthy” (Powell, 20158, loc 6577) as they are identified as important members and leaders of the Church. Throughout this webpage, we are going to be looking at these three women. But first I am going to introduce you to the man who wrote about them.

Paul the Apostle

Paul, who is referred to as Saint Paul in traditional circles, is one of the most famous and influential leaders of the early Church (Powell, 2018, loc. 6393); however, he was not one of the original twelve apostles who travelled through Judea with Jesus during the three years that he ministered and taught the Jewish people (Collins & Price, 1999, p. 26,30). It was not until after Paul had miraculously met Jesus (after his crucifixion, resurrection and ascension) in a blinding light on his way to the town of Damascus that he became a member of the Way (those that followed Jesus’ preaching and believed that he was the way to forgiveness and restoration with God) (Collins & Price, 1999, p. 30-31; Acts 9:1-22).

Before this event (which happened sometime between 32 and 36 C.E.), Paul was known as Saul. Saul hunted down believers of Jesus and was present at the killing of the first Christian martyr (a martyr being “a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion“); however, after Paul started following the teachings of Jesus Christ, he played a large role in the spread of Christianity (Acts 7:58, 9:1-2; Powell, 2018, loc. 670). He is also credited with writing many of the letters that survive within the pages of the NT (Powell, 2018, loc. 5890, 5937).

Phoebe the Deacon

The very first person that Paul mentions in his final greetings to the Romans in chapter 16 is Phoebe. He says this: “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as in fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and myself as well” (NRSV, 1993, Romans 16: 1-2).

As was mentioned earlier on this page, to be a deacon was to be the leader in a local church. Therefore, due in part to sexism and different biblical interpretations there has been debate over Phoebe’s roles as a deacon; however, there are scholars such as Sema and Kasali that argue that Paul uses the same language to describe himself as he does to describe Phoebe. They present that the language that Paul chose shows that he has a “regard for her work [that] seems to support the conclusion that she functioned as a deacon” (Sema, 2009, p. 110-111). Kasali (2006) puts forward a less assertive argument and says that Paul’s language has caused “some commentators [to] think that Phoebe may even have been the minister or pastor of the church in Cenchreae” (p. 1401).

It is also widely held that Paul entrusted Phoebe with the responsibility of carrying his letter, from her home church in Cenchreae (spelt Kenchreai in the Greek), to the church in Rome (Powell, 2018, loc 6580; Kasali, 2006, p. 1401).

The request that Paul makes of the Roman church on behalf of Phoebe is so important. In my experience, she is the first woman who is brought up when defending women’s leadership within the modern Church. The way that we interpret Phoebe’s role as deacon therefore, impacts the way Church dynamics function today.

Prisca the Tent-Maker

The second influential woman mentioned in Romans 16 by Paul is Prisca. He writes to the church: “greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Greet also the church in their house” (NRSV, 1993, Romans 16:3-5a).

This was not the first time, however, that Prisca is mentioned in the NT. She is in fact also mentioned in the account of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 18:2, 18, 26). In the letter to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:19). As well as in the letter to the young missionary Timothy (Powell, 2018, loc 6583; 2 Timothy 4:19; Manser & Reid, 2012, p. 239).

In Acts, we learn that Prisca (who is also called Priscilla) was the wife of Aquila. We learn that they were a Jewish couple who were tent-makers by trade (Acts 18:2-3). These tent-makers welcomed Paul into their home, and he stayed with them while they were all living in Corinth, working alongside them in their tent-making business (Acts 18:3). They had a particularly strong relationship with Paul, and journeyed with him on the first leg of one of his missionary journeys (Acts 18:18-19). They decided to stay in Ephesus, where they seem to have become respected leaders in the faith as they are listed in Acts as having offered instruction to another missionary about the role of the Holy Spirit (Acts 18: 26; Kisau, 2006, p. 1359).

What is particularly remarkable about Paul’s relationship with this wealthy couple (they owned a house large enough for a church to gather) is that he had an obvious respect for Prisca (Kasali, 2006, p. 1401). We see this because she is listed as the primary person of note, due to her name being mentioned before that of her husband.

Junia the Lost Woman

The third prominent woman that Paul mentions, and the woman that we are going to explore in-depth, is Junia. Paul introduces us to Junia when he says: “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” (NRSV, 1993, Romans 16:7).

While Junia is not mentioned before Andronicus in the greeting, like Prisca, she has been the subject of much debate in biblical scholarship. This is caused, in part, by the original Greek spelling of her name, and the description that accompanies it. From the thirteenth to the early twentieth centuries, the passage that included Junia’s name was translated as Andronicus and Junias; the ‘s’ in that translation is very important because it changed the name from feminine to masculine thereby erasing Junia from history (NRSV, 1993, Romans 16:7b; Powell, 2018, loc 6577; Longenecker, 2016, p. 1357).

Roman Gender Roles

As is often the case in studying antiquity we have “scattered and varied evidence of women in the high and later Empire” (Fantham et al., 1994, p. 343) of Rome, and while Romans was written in the early Imperial period this is important because the little that we do have “suggests that the conservative Republican gender ideals … remained normative and defined ‘tradition’ for many within the Empire” (Fantham et al., 1994, p. 343). This means that the values and culture of the Romans had a thread of consistency in regards to the women’s roles in society throughout the Republican and Imperial periods. When we look at the ideals surrounding women we find that, in the Roman republic, married women had little more rights in domestic law than “that of her daughters” (Fantham et al., 1994, P. 229).

This means that the father of the Roman family (the pater familias) “carried the right of life and death over the entire household” (Fantham et al. 223).

Women were also not looked upon equally in relationships. Within their marriages they were legally expected to stay true to their husbands while their husbands in turn were free to have sex with anyone who was not married (Fantham et, al 1994, p. 297).

This video briefly (around the 2 minute mark) explores with sexual inequality that the women experienced in the Roman Empire

It is apparent from Roman portraiture that women were known, and celebrated, for their connection to their families. More specifically for their connection to the men in their families.They were “mostly honoured for being someone’s wife, mother, or daughter” (Meyers, 2015, p. 460) instead of being recognized for their own personal contributions to their communities. In funerary inscriptions for example, women are remembered and characterized based on “the specific role they fulfilled in family relationships” (Riess, 2015, p. 498). The types of roles that women were remembered for on their graves were their roles as “daughters, mothers, wives, [and] sisters” (Riess, 201, p. 493). This is significant because Paul was greeting the women in Romans as individuals who were important in their own right.

There are many limitations to what we can know about the individual women who lived in antiquity. Therefore, it is important to read about, and study, women who were recognized by their contemporaries for their contributions to the Church. Moreover, it is an opportunity to appreciate how they are valued as persons beyond their familial relations (Kraemer, 2015, p. 535).

Literary and Epigraphic Evidence for Junia

The letter to the Romans was written thousands of years ago within a different cultural and lingual context. Therefore, it is important to understand the culture within which the author and the audience lived when trying to interpret the original Greek text. This is particularly true when looking at the name Junia as there had been a long history of controversy surrounding the translation of her name.

Romans was written in Greek, as was the rest of the NT (Powell 2018, loc. 896). This is important to note because Junia was not a popular Greek name, as it is only found once in Greek-language literature aside from Romans 16:7: “Plutarch [referred] to Junia [as] Cassius’ wife and Brutus’s sister (Plutarch, Brutus VII. 1.)” (Hartmann, 2020, p. 656). There are also some first-century Greek inscriptions in both Asia Minor and Rome wherein Junia appears as a feminine name (Hartmann, 2020, p. 656).

Junia, however, was “a popular Latin name, usually given to a family member or slave/freedwoman of the gens lunius” (Hartmann, 2020, 656). John Thorley goes so far as to claim that “the bearer of the name [Junia] most probably acquired it though manumission(…) from slavery in the household of a member of the Junius family resident in Syria” (Thorley, 1996, p. 20) (manumission being when someone was released from slavery). The name was found in Latin literary sources including Cicero (Letters to Friends XV.8), Pliny the Younger (Letters VII.19), Suetonius (Gaius Caligula, IV.12), and Tacitus (Annals III.76) (Hartmann, 2020, p. 656). Moreover, the name was inscribed in Latin “more than 250 times in … Rome” (Hartmann, 2020, p. 656; Lin, 2020, p. 194). Epigraphic evidence for the Latin name was also found outside of Rome. For example, an inscription dedicated to Junia Theodora, “a female benefactor who resided in Corinth” (Hartmann, 2020, p. 656) dates to the first century C. E.. Due to the popularity of the Latin name, Junia, in Rome the reading of the person’s name as feminine in Romans 16:7 would not have been unusual.

In contrast, there is no surviving evidence for men with this name in contemporary Latin literature or inscriptions (Hartmann, 2020, p. 657). There is only one known Greek mention of the male name Junias and that is in the discipleship list of Pseudo-Epiphanis (Hartmann, 2020, p. 567, 647, 651). While the discipleship list, or the Index Discipulorum as it is known, is historically ascribed to the Epiphanius the fourth-century C. E. bishop of Salamis, the authorship had been questioned. Therefore, casting doubt over the date in which the text was written (Hartmann, 2020, p. 651).

Moreover, this Pseudo-Epiphanius appears to have held a bias against women, as he also lists Prisca’s name as masculine. He also completely excluded all the other women mentioned in the Romans 16 greeting, having only included ‘men’ in his list (Hartmann, 2020, p. 651). Therefore, the only historical occurrence of the name Junias in either Latin or Greek is found within an unreliable source (Hartmann, 2020, p. 651).

IOYNIAN and the Feminine Junia

You might be asking yourself at this point why people can even debate the gender of a name when it is so supported by historical evidence. Well in the case of a Greek name such as IOYNIAN (the name we have been referring to as Junia) the gender of the name was decided by the “word’s immediate context” (Longenecker, 20016, p. 1358). It was not until the sixth-century C. E. that Greek names within the NT started to receive gender markers (Longenecker, 2016, p. 1358). As such in the absence of articles or pronouns indicating without a doubt the gender of IOYNIAN there is technically room for an argument (Hartmann, 2020, p. 656).

IOYNIAN, therefore, needs to be translated within the context of the passage in which it is found, as well as with cultural consideration. It is necessary to look for the natural reading of the passage at the time it was written. This has been troublesome for many biblical scholars because Paul considered this individual named IOYNIAN to be “outstanding among the apostles” (Hartmann, 2020, p. 467; NIV, 2001, Romans 16:7b), or alternatively “prominent among the apostles” (NRSV, 1993, Romans 16:7b), and “of note amongst the apostles” (KJV, 2010, Romans 16:7b). If therefore, IOYNIAN was indeed a female name then this passage would be indicating that Paul was not opposed to praising “a woman for her apostolic ministry” (Hartmann, 2020, p. 658). It is precisely this praise for a woman that has caused friction amongst biblical scholars concerning the translation of IOYNIAN throughout the centuries. This perfectly demonstrates the dangers of allowing our personal or societal bias to affect translations and interpretations of historical texts.

The Greek text of Romans 16:7 is as follows:

“ἀσπάσασθε Ἀνδϱόνικον καὶ Ἰουνίαν

τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου καὶ συναιχμαλώτους μου,

οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις,

οἳ καὶ πϱὸ ἐμοῦ γέγοναν ἐν Xϱιστῷ”

(28th edition of Nestle-Aland’s Novum Testamentum Graece as cited in Hartmann, 2020, p. 646)

Andrea Hartmann (2020) translates it as follows:

“Greet Andronicus and Junia

My fellow-Jews and my fellow-prisoners,

Who are outstanding among the apostles,

Who were also in Christ before me”

(p. 647).

As a quick side note, if you are wondering why IOYNIAN ends in an ‘N’, unlike the English translation of Junia. It is due to a set of complex Greek grammatical rules that are very different from English. While we won’t dive into any of those rules, just know that it is essentially there to indicate that Paul is greeting Junia.

Early Biblical Scholarship and IOYNIAN

One of the earliest surviving examples of a biblical scholar accepting and supporting the female reading of IOYNIAN is without question John Chrysostom, who wrote his biblical interpretations during the late fourth century (Hartmann, 2020, p. 649; Lin, 2020, p. 201-202). Chrysostom who as “a native Greek speaker” (Hartmann, 2020, p. 649 ) read Romans 16 and saw the context surrounding the name IOYNIAN, as support for a feminine reading. He saw this person as a woman whose devotion was so great that she was “counted worthy of the appellation of apostle” (Hartmann, 2020, p. 649) (appellation meaning simply “an identifying name or title“).

A little flashback to 90’s educational videos….

His interpretation is particularly interesting because “it went against his … perceptions of” (Hartmann, 2020, p. 650) how women should be involved in the Church. Chrysostom believed that women should be generally prohibited from teaching “in any kind of public capacity” (Hartmann, 2020, p. 650). This would disqualify a woman from being a deacon, let alone an apostle; however, it was not only Chrysostom who read IOYNIAN as feminine in contrast to the contemporary “societal perceptions of women’s involvement in the church” (Hartmann, 2020, p. 650). Joseph “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 … female” (as cited in Hartmann, 2020, p. 650). It is clear, therefore, that the early Church fathers “treated the … name [IOYNIAN] as feminine” (Longenecker, 2016, p. 1358).

The Death of Junia

Unfortunately, the trend of biblical scholars reading Romans 16:7 outside of their cultural and personal biases regarding female leadership within the Church changed in the thirteenth century.

In the thirteenth century, Giles (Aegidius) of Rome is attributed to having been the first to refer to IOYNIAN as masculine (Hartmann, 2020, p. 651; Longenecker, 2016, p. 1358). In 1522 this new trend of following personal biases instead of the biblical text culminated with Martin Luther’s translations of Romans 16:7 in which he translated IOYNIAN as male. Luther’s translation was the first to translate from the original Greek into German (Houghton, 1980, p. 90-91). As such it was not questioned by German scholarship for the next five centuries (Hartmann, 2020, p. 647, 652). Martin Luther was (and still is within certain Church circles) an incredibly influential member of the historical Church.

A fun little video introducing Martin Luther and his role in the split between the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church, an event that is referred to as the reformation.

The translation of the Greek and Latin Bible into English, however, was done by “Marian exiles residing in Geneva under the protective wing of John Calvin” (Hartmann, 2020, p. 653). John Calvin (another one of the heavyweights in the historical Church) translated the Latin version of IOYNIAN (luniam) as feminine using the name Junia (Hartmann, 2020, p. 653). Therefore, the Geneva Bible’s translation of IOYNIAN as Junia “ensured that the female reading was the only English reading for the next 200 years” (Hartmann, 2020, p. 653). This is important because the Latin from which Calvin was working presented the same ambiguity that was found in the Greek IOYNIAN as did the other early translations from Greek into Syriac and Coptic (although in all three early translations the feminine reading is seen as the most natural) (Hartmann, 2020, p. 656).

An academic look at the life of John Calvin.

However, as mentioned earlier all Greek names were lacking in gender tags which meant that it was not specific to the name of IOYNIAN. This is important because in many ways it was not the grammar that was up for debate, rather the grammar was used as an excuse to write Junia out of the historical record.

The prominence of the feminine reading of IOYNIAN slowly dwindled and was lost in English scholarship in the 1800s. It was at this time that there was a shift amongst English-speaking biblical scholars, during this shift they began to understand the masculine version of IOYNIAN (Junias) as a pet name for Junianus. This theory was named “the short-form hypothesis” (Hartmann, 2020, p. 653). It is similar to how Prisca is seen as the shortened form of Priscilla. The theory continued to gain popularity until, in 1927, Erwin Nestle published his “thirteenth edition of the Greek New Testament” (Hartmann, 2020, p. 654). In this edition, he intentionally gendered the Greek IOYNAN so that it could only be read as masculine. It was at this point that Junia was officially lost in the translation for English New Testaments as this edition was used as the primary source to create new English Translations (Hartmann, 2020).

This one man’s choice to follow centuries’ worth of disregard for Junia’s identity is unacceptable. As was the continual shift towards giving in to cultural biases by the many scholars that came before him. 

The removal of Junia from the biblical record is obviously unacceptable, and unfortunately, very far-reaching, as there are still translations that reflect this incorrect and sexist translation. The practice of people altering the text to reflect their own societal prejudice is something that scholars are often having to fight against. In the case of biblical translations, it also dishonours the legacy of hundreds of people who fought to have a accurate Bibles in their own languages. It also dishonours the scribes that copied the Bible meticulously to prevent copy error before the age of the printing press. 

A short look at what it was like for the scribes who copied the Torah (the Jewish scriptures that make up the Old Testament).

The question that we must now ask is ‘How do we now know that there has been this distortion of the scriptures? and ‘How has scholarship fought against this historical travesty?’

Junia Reclaimed

In 1977 a woman by the name of Bernadette Brooten was fighting for the recognition and ordination (the official blessing, recognition and commissioning) of women within the Catholic Church. A part of this push for recognition included an article she wrote and published arguing for the ordination of female priests within the Catholic tradition (Hartmann, 2020, p. 648).

In the article Brooten used Junia as an example of a biblical woman who held a place of leadership within the Church. She challenged the idea that IOYNIAN had to be translated as masculine due to its context, the context being that IOYNIAN was regarded as a respected apostle (Hartmann, 2020, p. 649). She argued that it was unacceptable to read Junia out of the scriptures due to her position of leadership (Hartmann, 2020, p. 649).

It is important to remember that Brooten is making a biased argument due to her desire to use Junia as an example of woman leadership to further her argument for a female priesthood. Nonetheless it “re-focused attention to early readings of Romans 16:7 and demonstrated that the majority view among her (male) contemporary colleagues [was] a minority view in the history of the church” (Hartmann, 2020, p. 649). One year later in 1978 Brooten also published her article in German, thus impacting German biblical scholarship as well, which had accepted the masculine reading for the past five centuries (Hartmann, 2020, p. 647).

The Continuing Battle

While the majority of modern scholarship and biblical translations are once again shifting to reflect a feminine reading of IOYNIAN, there are still occurrences of the masculine form of IOYNIAN being supported (Hartmann, 2020, p. 647, 658: Lin, 2020; NIV, 2001, Romans 16:7; Manser & Reid, 2012, p. 243; Kasali, 2006, p. 1375; Longenecker, 2016, p. 1358).
Al Wolters is one such scholar that argues against the feminine reading of IOYNIAN (Wolters, 2008, p. 398). Wolters agrees that when reading IOYNIAN as a Latin name it is unequivocally a feminine name; however, he claims that it is just as reasonable to read IOYNIAN as a masculine Hebraic name that is inscribed in the Greek alphabet (Wolters, 2008, p. 398, 408).

This concept, however, is argued against in response to Wolters by Yii-Jan Lin (2020). Lin argues that it is simply illogical to interpret a well-known female Latin name, such as Junia, as a Hellenized male Hebrew name; especially when the name Junia is so well documented in the city of Rome where IOYNIAN was living (Lin, 2020, p. 193-194).

Thorley also argues against the principle of Junia being a Hebrew name when in 1996 he stated that “the name [IOYNIAN] is definitely not of Semitic or Greek origin.” (Thorley, 1996, p. 20). He argued that the “initial vowel combination [of the name] is very uncommon in Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic/Syriac and [that there was] no obvious roots for the name … in these languages” (Thorley, 1996, p. 20).

There is still debate amongst scholars over Junia’s place in the Church in relation to the apostles. Even when the feminine reading is accepted. David Huttar for example argues that Andronicus, and therefore, in extension Junia, are not well-respected apostles but rather believers that are well known to the apostles. He refers to this as a “non-inclusive interpretation” (Huttar, 2009, p. 778). Huttar argues throughout his article that it is against the nature of Paul and against the purpose of his greeting to address Andronicus and Junia as apostles (Huttar, 2009). One such argument that Huttar uses is that to read the phrase: “prominent among the apostles” (NRSV, 1993, Romans 16:7b) with the interpretation that Andronicus is an apostle reflects an apostolic hierarchy. This hierarchy he argues goes contrary to Paul’s apparent disdain towards ranking systems. He supports his argument by saying that Paul himself “regularly claim[ed] equality” (Huttar, 2009, p. 760) amongst himself and the other believers (Huttar, 2009, p. 759-760).

Lin (2020) however, argues that while it does seem to be correct to say “that Paul disdains rank” (p. 201) the phrase “prominent among the apostles” (NRSV, 1993, Romans 16:7) “hardly implies ‘rank,’ especially rank in any formal sense” (Lin, 2020, p 201). Lin (2020) argues that “Huttar overlooks social rhetorical realities and presents a simplistic reading of status, public pronouncement, and community” (p. 200). In support of this, we know that in Rome ‘good’ women received “praise in stereotypical phrases”(Sarah Pomeroy as quoted in Riess, 2015, p. 491) in inscriptions. This means that it would not have been unusual for the readers of Romans to see exemplary believers and leaders of the Church receiving praise. This is important because if we were to follow Huttar’s logic then we would be left with an interpretation that admits that Junia is a woman, but not a leader. Reading Junia as not a leader in the Church robs her of a defining quality of her persons, which is something that scholars such as Brooten, Hartmann, Lin and Thorley have fought to reclaim.

Feminine Religion

The push for these women to be hidden and not recognized for their positions within the Church goes against what seems to be “a long tradition of associating women with religiosity” (Lieu, 2016, p. 101). It does make predictable sense however, when we realize that while there have been times that the members of the Christian community have gotten it ‘right’, that there are many times when they do not. There are times in which those that claim the mantle of the Church have disregarded its doctrines in exchange for cultural and personal biases. These are biases that have no place in the understanding and interpretation of Scripture. This is why there is a sad, and unfortunately often seen, fact in which the Church oppresses women by way of creating and manipulating a “collective memory and [by] subtly shifting perceptions of women and femaleness” (Denzey, 2007, p. xvii) under the banner of Christendom; however, I think that the examples we have looked at today demonstrate how the banner of Christianity is misused and not understood. These women are a ripe example of how biases hold power if we are not deliberate in our fight against them.

Closing thoughts

The case of Junia displays how translation and scholarship plays a large role in the way that we interpret the women of the past. It shows how often we, as individuals and scholars, are impacted by our own cultural understanding of gender. While this bias has affected scholarship in the past I believe that the case of Junia shows how scholarship is moving to fight against the biases.

It gives me hope that scholarship will continue to fight for the remembrance and the acknowledgement of women leaders throughout not only the Church’s history but also throughout the history of all peoples.

I hope that you were able to be inspired on our journey together by the people who fight to remember those of the past. By the amazing women who were leaders in their time, and by the blessing of having a record of them no matter how small it is.

For more on Roman marriage check out “Dowry, Divorce, and Separation in Rome

For more on Roman women involved in Religion check out “Ancient Rome’s Obsession with Purity: The Vestal Virgins” and “The Cult of Diana at Nemi, Italy


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Fantham, E et al. (1994). Women in the Classical World: Image and Text. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hartmann, A. (2020). Junia – A Woman Lost in Translation: The Name IOYNIAN in Romans 16:7 and its History of Interpretation. Open Theology, 6, 646-660. doi:https://doi.org/10.1515/opth-2020-0138

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Kraemer, R (2015). Becoming Christian. In A Companion to Women in the Ancient World (pp. 524-538). West Sussex: Wiley & Sons.

Lieu, J. (2016). Neither Jew nor Greek: Constructing Early Christianity, sec ed. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark.

Lin, Y. (2020). Junia: An Apostle before Paul. Journal of Biblical Literature, 139(1), 191-209. doi:https://doi.org/10.15699/jbl.1391.2020.10

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Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Martyr. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved April 2, 2021, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/martyr

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Riess, W (2015). Rari exempli femina: Female Virtues on Roman Funerary Inscriptions. In A Companion to Women in the Ancient World (pp. 491-501). West Sussex: Wiley & Sons.

Sema, A. (2009). Phoebe: Deacon or Deaconess. The Bible Translator,60(2), 106-111. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/026009350906000205

Thorley, J. (1996). Junia, a Woman Apostle. Novum Testamentum, 38(1), 18–29. www.jstor.org/stable/1561521.

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YouTube References

Bible Character Sampler. (2020, August 12). Bible Character: Phoebe, [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/zGjwLl-gkGM

Bible Character Sampler. (2020, March 28). Bible Characters: Priscilla and Aquila, [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/Nydf9Mv582Q

BibleProject. (2018, June 21). The Apostle Paul: Acts 8-12, [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiVAbkINtRU

Big Think. (2016, July 22). Sex in Ancient Rome: Behind the Tales of Wild Eroticism, a Different Truth | Mary Beard | Big Think, [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/RmTZLL48SxY

Christian Youth Channel. (2015, November 26). Saint John Chrysostom, [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/PzLkF0ZYH-0

Josh McDowell. (2015, December 22). The Work of a Scribe, [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6IGj42UX_Y

KIS KIS – keep it short. (2021, March 4). Funny CG short film on Martin Luther and the Reformation | “Luther” – by Tumblehead, [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/JqdCw27T3-k

The Federalist Society. (2019, July 8). The Roman Law of Family Relationships: Paterfamilias [No. 86], [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/Ur-G60Hc1MI

Westminster Seminary California. (2016, June 22). Who are the Reformers: John Calvin, [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/5de_yGzBPMk

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