Junia | Notes & Review

Posted on April 30, 2011


Eldon Jay Epp. Junia: The First Woman Apostle. Fortress, 2005. (138 pages)

FOREWORD: To begin with, most scholars now agree that Romans, in common with other early Christian texts, was written in a specific context and to address a specific set of issues or concerns. (IX)

To put the point sharply: there is no Greek manuscript extant that unambiguously identifies Andronicus’s partner as a male.

How great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle. – Chrysostom

Finally, and not least of importance, the female name Junia is a widely attested Roman name, but there exists no evidence for the use of the masculine forms Junias or Junianus. (XI)

PREFACE: That is the burden of this book — to explain the basis in modern times on which Junia, a fellow worker with Paul, was denied her rightful place as an apostle, for she was in truth the first woman to be called “apostle.” (XV)

I trust that both theoretically and actually the Apostle Junias, who had deprived Junia of a century of apostleship, has evaporated–and rightly so–for he was merely 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–in this case a role that a named woman filled in the earliest period and fulfilled as an outstanding member. (XVII)

Part I. Contemporary Textual Criticism

1. Textual Criticism and Exegesis

…textual critics must now speak of multivalence in the term “original text” and in many instances must be willing to confront both ambiguity and inevitable difficulty (if not frustration) when trying to determine the earlier or earliest reading in a given variation unit–and more so when dealing with the text of a whole writing or of the entire New Testament. (5)

…the search for a single original text or reading may have to be abandoned. (5-6)

…to ask the apparently simple question about which text or reading to exegete whenever the New Testament shows meaningful textual variation, actually involves raising several concomitant (and more vexing) questions. (6)

…a rudimentary assessment of transcriptional evidence would support the shorter reading, “Jesus Christ” without “Son of God,” because Christian scribes, when encountering divine names, would be more likely to add the familiar, commonly associated words “Son of God” (as well as “Lord”) to an existing “Jesus Christ” than to remove the former phrase if it were present in the exemplar. (7)

…not only does textual criticism affect exegesis, but exegesis affects textual criticism in case after case.

An Example from Jesus’ Sayings on Divorce and Remarriage …the number of textual variants “rises dramatically” in sayings passages over against those in narrative passages. (9)

…with respect to the common debate “whether the earliest Christians were able to pass on accurately the traditions (specifically the teachings of Jesus),” Parker turns this conventional question on its head and affirmed that “the real question is why they chose not to”–an issue to be treated further in a moment. (10)

…the varying forms of Jesus’ sayings on the subject number twenty. (10)

“The recovery of a definitive ‘original’ text that is consequently ‘authoritative’ cannot be presumed to be an attainable target.” “The main result of this survey is to show that the recovery of a single original saying of Jesus is impossible.” “What we have is a collection of interpretive rewritings of a tradition.” (11)

…we are pressed to consider not one, but all forms of the text, for the sayings on divorce/remarriage have taken on “a life of their own” over time in various Christian communities. Hence, we must recognize that most of the textual variants in these groups of sayings arose out of specific settings in early Christianity and we must view “all the text forms as interpretations of the tradition.” (11)

…some forward-looking scholars, such as Parker and Bart Ehrman, are attempting to make a virtue out of adversity by asserting and then demonstrating that certain intractable text-critical cases actually open for us a window on the struggles and insights of the early church that can, in turn, enlighten the Christian community in our own time. (11) I have offered the bold and paradoxical principle that the greater the ambiguity in the variant readings of a given variation unit, the more clearly we are able to grasp the concerns of the early church. (12)

A Loss of Innocence …the nature of textual criticism as both art and science precludes any simple, mechanical application of “rules” or “principles” for determining the priority of readings–that is, the old “canons of criticism” can be counted on only rarely to yield a purely “objective” result. Useful, rather, are the “artful” skills of judgment in selecting the reading that best explains all others in a variation unit; interpretive dexterity in showing a reading’s conformity to a writing’s style or theology… (12)

2. Variant Readings in Passages concerning Gender Issues

I had planned to argue–as several have done so effectively in recent years–that text-critical evidence supports the conclusion that this “silencing of women” pericope [1 Corinthians 14:34-35] was not part of Paul’s 1 Corinthians and perhaps not Pauline at all. (15)

Part II. Junia/Junias in Romans 16:7

More than two dozen people are sent greetings: seventeen men and eight women, but–as pointed out frequently–those described as contributing most to the churches are seven women but only five men, and Prisca, a woman, is listed ahead of Aquila, her husband. (21)

3. The Lexical Form and Introductory Matters

It may be said at the outset, however, that “Junia” (feminine) is the easiest and most natural reading of ‘Ιουνιαν for several reasons:

  1. Junia was a common Roman name for either noble members of the gens Junia (the clan of Junia) or for freed slaves of the gens (or their descendants)–with the freed slaves more numerous than the nobles.
  2. Junia was how ‘Ιουνιαν was understood whenever discussed by ancient Christian writers of late antiquity “without exception.”
  3. ‘Ιουνίαν (so accented) was the reading of Greek New Testaments from Erasmus in 1516 to Erwin Nestle’s edition of 1927 (with the exception of Alford in 1852) and during that period no alternate reading (i.e., Ίουνιᾶν) appears to have been offered in any apparatus (except Weymouth [1892]) (see Tables 1 and 2 below)
  4. “All extant early translations of (Old Latin, Vulgate, Sahidic and Bohairic Coptic, and Syriac versions) without exception transcribe the name in what can be taken as a feminine form; none gives any positive sign that a masculine name is being transcribed.”
  5. The feminine Junia is how Rom 16:7 was read in English translations of the New testament from Tyndale (1526/1534) almost without exception (see Dickinson, 1833, and Table 3, below) until the last quarter of the nineteenth century.
  6. Neither of the alleged masculine forms of the name Junias has been found anywhere.
  7. The hypothesis of Junias as a contracted name has serious problems. (23-24)

It is important to emphasize, however, that the identification of Ἱουνἱαν as Junia does not depend on proving the nonexistence of the masculine name ‘Ιουνἱας. Even if a dozen instances of the latter suddenly should turn up in the first-century papyri, Junia would still be the most natural and compelling translation of Ἱουνἱαν in Rom 16:7. (27)

I may summarize the problem to this point. At Rom 16:7 the same Greek word, Ἰουνἱαν, occurs in all Greek manuscripts except for five that have a variant of another kind, namely, “Julia.” But Julia is clearly a woman’s name–the most popular by far of all names in Rome, and the variant’s significance is simply that it supports the presence of a feminine name in the text, rather than a masculine. So my concern is with only one Greek word in only one form, Ἰουνἱαν, an accusative singular most naturally of the feminine Ἰουνἱα or Junia. (31)

4. Junia in Early Christian Writers–and Beyond

In summary, the feminine understanding of Ἰουνιαν appears to have been dominant for at least the first millennium of Christianity, but then evolved, through what very much appears to have been an arbitrary change from “Junia” to “Junias,” into a view that came to be widely assumed/accepted without discussion or justification until the abbreviated-name explanation was invoked. (39)

5. The Contracted-Name Theory

The clear result of this lengthy discussion of “Junias” (masculine) is that, at least to date, this presumably male name is nowhere attested in the Greco-Roman world. (43)

To date not a single Greek or Latin inscription, not a single reference in ancient literature has been cite by any of the proponents of the Junias hypothesis. My own search for an attestation has also proved fruitless. This means that we do not have a single shred of evidence that the name Junias ever existed. – Bernadette Brooten

6. Junia/Junias in Current Greek New Testaments

7. Junia/Junias in Past Editions of Nestle, Nestle-Aland, and UBS

8. The Accentuation of Ιουνιαν in Reference Works–and the Attendant Cultural Bias

9. Junia/Junias in Greek New Testaments and Their Influence on Exegesis

The following table includes representative Greek New Testaments from the first Nestle edition (1898) to the recent 1998 edition of Nestle-Aland–a hundred years of critical texts–as well as the 1998 printing of UBS. A fourth of the way through this period a significant and almost unanimous change took place in the accentuation of Ἰουνιαν in these editions… The two tables (talbes one and two) together show the dramatic change that took place between the Greek New Testaments, on the one hand, from the sixteenth century through the first quarter of the twentieth century… (61)

10 Junia/Junias in English Translations

An additional table (table 3)…[lists] numerous English translations of the New Testament and tabulating whether each prints the feminine or masculine form of the name, as well as indicating whether notes to the text furnish the alternative reading (i.e., Junia or Junias as appropriate, but not the Julia variant–which is a separate issue). (65)

The assumption that it must be male is a striking indictment of male presumption regarding the character and structure of earliest Christianity. – James Dunn

Are we then faced with another generation of “Junias” while the standard reference works continue their reign and until the now current Greek text (with “Junia”) is purchased by students and slowly permeates our theological schools and clergy libraries? How long will it take for translations in English and other languages to follow the new Greek reading? I for one sincerely hope that reference works and translations will be updated in a timely manner (not a likely possibility) and that the United bible Societies’ sales of the current Nestle-Aland and UBS Greek Testaments are brisk! (68)

11 Andronicus and Junia as “Outstanding Among the Apostles”

First, it is hardly necessary to remark that the notion of “apostle” was much broader in the earliest church than merely what the arbitrary number “twelve” implies, for it could also designate “messenger,” “missionary preacher,” or “itinerant missionary.” (69)

Second, it is equally clear that Paul, in his letters, feels compelled to defend his apostleship (especially in 2 Cor 12:11-12), which he does vigorously, making it highly unlikely that he would employ the term “apostle” loosely when applying it to others. When Paul defends his apostleship–and thereby defines what apostleship means–he implies that to be an apostle involves encountering the risen Christ (1 cor 9:1; Gal 1:1, 15-17) and receiving a commission to proclaim the gospel (Rom 1:1-5; 1 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:1, 15-17), and in the process he strongly emphasizes (a) that being an apostle involves “the conscious acceptance and endurance of the labors and sufferings connected with missionary work,” and (b) that apostleship is certified by the results of such toil, namely, “signs and wonders, and mighty works” (1 Cor 15:9-10; 2 Cor 12:11-12). (70)

Hence–in the minds of some–the gender of Ἰουνιαν is intertwined with the interpretation of the phrase describing the two individuals, so that, if the phrase means “distinguished apostles,” Ἰουνιαν is a man; or, if a man is designated, the phrase more easily carries the sense of “prominent apostles.” On the other hand, if the name is female, the phrase means “of note in the eyes of the apostles,” that is, the person is not an apostle, or, if the phrase means “well known to the apostles,” a woman is more readily acceptable. (72)

Again, it is clear that Andronicus and Junia, in Paul’s description, were “outstanding apostles.” (78)

Conclusion: There was an Apostle Junia

Chrysostom affirmed that Junia was an apostle and, what is more, a distinguished apostle. (80)

Therefore, the conclusion to this investigation is simple and straightforward: there was an apostle Junia.(80)

— VIA —

In Junia, Epp has provided conclusive evidence through his vast technical and scholarly work. A popular work referencing Epp can be found in The Lost Apostle. I have hesitation with the apparent ethic to “abandon” the search for the original text as Epp started his work. The whole point of textual criticism seems to be antithetical to this “abandonment.” However, I can understand the premise of humility and reality in searching for texts that may no longer be in existence, and may truly be lost to history forever.

Regardless, Junia is, as Pederson puts it, “a wonderful gift,” to the discussion of women in the Bible and provides a necessary component for anyone desiring to truly understand and engage with this topic.