Who “Killed” Junia? Part Two

Patrick Mead


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Part 2 in a series. You can find Part 1 here.

When it comes to figuring out who “killed” Junia (as in, “removed her from the record and changed her name to the male form”) we could pick any of a number of powerful men who added weight to the concept and value of male-only leadership.

In Part 1 Pederson pointed us to Giles, a bishop who wrote theological treatises defending whatever Pope Boniface (a truly reprehensible human being) wanted to be defended. Giles (1243-1316) may have written the first arguments making Junia a male but he didn’t sway the majority of scholars of his day.

Eldon Epp surveyed all collections of scripture available to us today and found that Junia remained a female with a female name until Alford’s 1858 edition of the Greek New Testament. Alford changed Junia to a male name but did not explain why in the notes to his text.

Other versions of the Greek New Testament kept Junia female until Nestle’s text appeared around 1927.

Then, once again, the name was changed into a male name without explanation. Epp was astounded to see that the earliest manuscripts, records of names in the first few centuries after Christ, and all translators other than Alford and Nestle indicated that Junia was a female AND an apostle.

Why the change? We can sum up the entire argument against Junia being a female by referencing just one scholar – Joseph Barber Lightfoot. As the 19th century became the 20th, he wrote in his notes on this text that Junia MUST be Junias, or male, because Paul called her/him an apostle and only men can be apostles. That’s it.

Since most translators in modern times use Nestle, Westcott, Hort, Barber, et al, they follow them in re-naming Junia “Junias.” Since 1970, this has sometimes been corrected as translators go back to the extant manuscripts and bypass the homogenized, collected, and edited editions by scholars of the late 1800s. When Epp published a chart of which translation had Junia as female and which named her Junias/Junian/Julian (sometimes with alternate readings in the notes, often without them), my jaw dropped at how clear it was that sabotage and assumptions, not Greek or history, killed Junia.

Epp lists manuscripts and collections all the way up to Baljon (1898) and they all have Junia as female, except for Alford (1858). That is 31 authoritative editions of the Greek text against 1. Epp then traces editions from Nestle (1898) to the United Bible Society’s 3rd printing of 1998.

It was the Nestle-Erwin 1927 edition that changed Junia to male.

The Majority Text compiled by Hodges-Farstad (1982) changes her back to female. Epp then searches English versions of the New Testament from Tyndale (1525) to the New Living Translation (1996). He finds that Junia is female until the Dickinson version of 1833/7. The majority of English versions after this time refer to Junia by a male name until the New American Bible of 1970.

After 1970, as if by magic, most English versions have her as female once again.

That includes the New King James Version (the original had her as female also), New Century Version, New American Bible (1987), Revised English Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Oxford Inclusive Version, and New Living Translation. Those still listing Junia by a male name (with or without alternative readings in their notes) are the Living Bible (1971), the NIV of 1973, New Jerusalem Bible, The Message, and the Contemporary English Version.

Epp makes a compelling case that the only reason these versions have Junia as male is that they rely on older Nestle texts, circa 1927, instead of doing the hard work of going into linguistics, history, and earlier compilations of the text. But there might be another reason.

The power of women in the church was eroded heavily by early Christian Fathers whose misogynistic rants are embarrassing to read – truly cringe-worthy. Chrysostom believed Junia was female and an apostle even though he couldn’t stand women. But a few others, (Epiphanius, for example, who also thought Prisca was a man) called Junia “Junias” because they could not imagine a woman having any prominence or power in the church. They didn’t get their attitudes from Jesus or – I dare say – Paul, but from the dominant culture of the day. Scholars today agree that “Junias” did not appear in early Christian centuries as a name, male or female. It was bias and nothing more that caused Epiphanius and Origen to decide Junia was a man (and that they should change the name found in the text to a non-existent one).

  • When Constantine organized the early church he did so with Roman eyes and attitudes. Men ruled Roman society so he assumed that was the only proper way to rule the church, ignoring the fact that there is no male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free in the new community of faith. He ignored the daughters of Philip, Dorcas/Tabitha, Junia, Julia, a slew of Marys, Priscilla, Phoebe, and more.
  • Then came Giles and Pope Boniface who stripped nuns of their powers and authority in the church, shoving them into a cloistered, separate existence.
  • Martin Luther launched the Reformation but he was more anti-women than most priests of his day. He considered them nothing more than child-bearers, incubators for men’s seed.
  • Victorian England made male and female roles even more rigid and defined by “decency” and “acceptable standards.”
  • The American South enthusiastically championed those roles and attitudes. They became part of American fundamentalism and the text was changed to match the attitude of the times.
  • In the 1980s, when the New International Version announced a translation with gender-accurate language, conservative evangelicals rebelled. Articles were written, sermons preached, and threats were mad. The plan was abandoned and it was published only in Europe. It wasn’t until 2011 that the NIV was republished in the U.S., not because the text didn’t support it, but because of opposition from the prevailing male culture of the church. It isn’t pretty…but it’s true.

When I contemplate all I’ve read concerning these matters, I rejoice that God called us into a new community where the barriers are dropped and where we can all use our gifts to serve God. And I am troubled, wondering what cultural forces and assumptions are working on my attitudes and beliefs presently. Much more could be said…but I have probably said enough.

I will simply say this: we are all ONE in Christ Jesus.

Our chains are gone, we’ve been set free. Jesus thought that Mary, sitting at his feet in the posture of a student of the rabbi, was in the right place even though that was unheard of in his day. Instead of creating more Marthas to stay in the kitchen and cook for the church, Jesus said they belonged with him – and the men – learning alongside them as equals. If it’s good enough for Jesus…

See Part 1 here. 

NOTE: Now that scholars agree overwhelmingly that Junia was a woman, those opposed to women in leadership have tried to make the case that she must not have been a “real” apostle. Scot McKnight (author of Junia is Not Alone) gives the broader picture here.  Suzanne McCarthy provides extensive documentation on the meaning of Junia being “outstanding among the apostles” in her Junia files, where she effectively counters Grudem and other prominent complementarian theologians.

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  • “Instead of creating more Marthas to stay in the kitchen and cook for the church, Jesus said they belonged with him – and the men – learning alongside them as equals.” – Not only this, but he himself cooked breakfast for the Twelve after his resurrection. What a wonderful way to cross the boundaries.

    • I guess there’s a time to ‘cook’ (serve others) and a time to ‘learn’, whether you’re a man or a woman. Martha’s problem was one of priorities.

  • Thankyou, Patrick! I would have liked to hear the ‘much more’…

    What hurts is the fact that even faced with the evidence, some in positions of authority will not budge. They say they are defending ‘truth’ and the ‘bible’. But if they are unable to look at the facts objectively, then they’re not.

    What IS so horrible about about a fellow Christian, bought with the blood of Christ, preaching the gospel, or building up the church? Jesus expected his chosen authoritative apostles to listen to Mary and those with her after the Resurrection – and Jesus called them ‘foolish’ when they didn’t, taking their words as ‘nonsense.’

    I suppose some have painted themselves into a corner. It would be embarrassing to admit one was wrong. But what is it they say about men – that they are fundamentally courageous?

  • So much theology hangs on this: If Junia is an Apostle; she sets the tone for the Church. All women as well as men are gifted as God decides. I Corinthians 12 ranks the gifts in order of importance. “. . . first apostles, second, prophets, third, teachers, after that . . . “the other gifts are named.

    I noticed that Andronicus and Junia are “eminent among” the apostles. They are not just noted by the Apostles as outstanding servants of the Lord.

    And in God’s kingdom, eminence always includes humility, “He that will be greatest must be servant of all.”

    Wouldn’t this be a stunning development among the high ranking in the Church! Coming full circle by giving respect and freedom to all to follow Christ and be led of the Spirit.

  • These are not exactly corrections but further details. The story keeps unfolding, and many people, especially complementarians want to keep an open door for the notion that Junia was a man – Junias.

  • Thanks for presenting all this detail. Its more than I can remember. One tiny detail. Origen did not think Junia was male. The male form Junias, is found only in two 12th century copies of Rufinus Latin translation of Origen. Earlier citations from Origen indicate he thought Junia was a woman.

    Epiphanius, however, was likely biased. He also thought Prisca was a man. Thanks for going over all this. It does need to be revisited as so many still believe there is some chance that the unknown name Junias may have existed.

    • Corrections made! Thank you, Suzanne. Talk about twists and turns. And yes, I’m astounded that despite this evidence (as well as evidence that indicates Paul meant she WAS an apostle) people are still trying to show that Junia was a man. Appreciate your diligent scholarship on Junia’s behalf!

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