Problem Passages: Romans 16:7

This post is a part of the series comparing the teaching on various gender passages in the Bible. Read more about the series here.

Romans 16:7 says,

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. (TNIV)

Context

Paul is dictating his letter to the church in Rome from Corinth, at the home of Gaius (Acts 20:1-3, Romans 16:23). He mentions many Roman friends, co-workers and believers by name and sends his love.

Summary of Different Opinions

I include this reference in my series on Problem Passages because its existence has converted many Comps to Egals. Egals say it proves women can be in the top tiers of church leadership, and Comps say it’s a mistake of the pen or bad translation. The three disagreements are whether…

  1. Junia is a man or woman’s name;
  2. and if this Junia was an apostle herself, or only was “well known” by the apostles;
  3. and if apostle means a governing authority or simply “sent one.”

History of the translation

Bible translators are divided on whether the Greek name Iounian is male or female. The earliest English translations, Tyndale in 1534 through KJV in 1611, all translated this name as female: Junia. Then a trend developed to change this name to male by adding an “s”: Junias. There is no evidence to support there is a male Greek name of Junias. Yet Junia/Julia as a female name is common in Greek literature.

Why would translators alter the spelling? My guess is that instead of translating based on what the ancient document said; scholars, who couldn’t fathom a woman holding what was considered one of the highest positions in the early church, adjusted a letter to ease personal conviction. This spelling alteration continued until the 1970’s when Junia began to appear in English versions again.

Egalitarian Interpretation

This verse is used by Egals to prove Paul had no problem with women in church leadership. In fact, the entire chapter of Romans 16 lists many women in his ministry. Phoebe, a deacon, carried the letter to Rome and was a personal patron of Paul. Priscilla exhorted and taught Apollo, (Acts 18:26) and travels with Paul. Tryphena and Tryphosa, Mary and Persis are co-laborers and personal friends. He lists Junia as an outstanding apostle who was imprisoned with him, and who precedes him in the faith.

  • Was she a she or a he? Egals all agree Junia was a woman.

Junia has been demonstrated to be a woman based on the testimony of early manuscripts, recorded statements of various church leaders through the 12th century, and research performed by many other scholars attesting to the name Junia or Julia existing in ancient times. (Dennis Preato, http://godswordtowomen.org/juniapreato.htm)

  • Was she an important apostle or just well known to the apostles? Egals believe Junia was an apostle.
  • What kind of apostle? Remember, apostle means sent one. The word morphed into a title of sorts when applied to the Twelve or core church founders: James, the brother of Jesus, Paul. The generic word refers to someone commissioned with an errand or goal. Jesus was called an apostle in Hebrews. Jesus also sent out His disciples, and gave specific tasks to individuals: Mary Magdalene. Local churches sent out believers as missionaries or with a specific task: Silas, Barnabas.

Regardless of our understanding of apostolic status, Egals take Paul at his word.  Andronicus and Junia, though not well-known to us, were outstanding sent-ones who were active participants in serving the church.

Further Reading:

Complementarian Interpretation

Comps believe that Paul makes it clear that women cannot be in leadership over men (1 Corinthians 14:34-35, 1 Timothy 2:12). So they find an alternate understanding of Romans 16:7 besides the plain meaning.

  • Male or Female? Comps are divided. There is much scholarly-type debate in Comp circles to explain away the female translation. Some do. Some don’t. Apparently a few Greek manuscripts have a tiny mark that might indicate a scribal error in the name. This confuses the arguments further.
  • An apostle? Comps are divided. Again, much dusty debate about Greek sentence construction is written. Some say the Greek is clear that Andronicus and Junia are outstanding apostles, and others insist they are noted by the apostles, but not apostles themselves.
  • What kind of apostle? Was Junia a simple messenger or a Big-A Apostle, with authority? Chances are if a Comp believes Junia is female and an actual apostle, he or she will quibble on this point.

The NT is completely silent — with the possible exception of this verse — that a woman ever held the office of apostle. In all of the writings of the NT, there is no clear instance where a woman is numbered among the apostles or makes binding decisions for the church. Whatever is said here in Rom 16:7 regarding Iounian cannot be taken to mean that he or she was an authoritative apostle in the early church. (David Jones, http://www.cbmw.org/Resources/Articles/A-Female-Apostle)

Comps argue that if Junia had authority, we would have heard her and Andronicus’ name elsewhere. Especially considering Paul names them outstanding. More outstanding that Peter or Paul himself? Hence they argue for a lesser “position” of messenger or traveling missionary.

Also, Junia is mentioned outside of Scripture by an early church father, Epiphanius. Epiphanius says Junia became a bishop in Syria, and Comps question how an outstanding apostle would be demoted to bishop? Would that not be a step down?

Another common argument is that Junia was likely Andronicus’ wife, hence any authority would have come through him.

Further Reading:

Romans 16:7

Egals Believe… Comps Believe…
Junia She was a woman with apostolic authority that Paul called outstanding. May not have been a woman, but a man.
Outstanding among Andronicus and Junia were superb apostles! Paul greatly praises them. If they concede the female name, they conclude she was well known to the apostles, not an apostle herself.
Apostles Since Scripture gives a number of reasons for the title Apostle, it is most likely Junia was either commissioned with a certain task or sent by the church as a missionary. Apostles can only be men. She might have been a traveling missionary. She had no governing authority.
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4 thoughts on “Problem Passages: Romans 16:7

  1. Here is where the complementarian position that it is they who have the moral high ground in that it is they who read the “plain sense” of the scripture, while egalitarians do “verbal gymnastics” and rely on “extra-biblical sources” to show that the text doesn’t really mean what it seems to– falls apart. Complementarians go to a great deal of the kind of exegesis egals are known for, in order to show that Junia either wasn’t a woman, wasn’t an apostle, or was not the kind of apostle who had authority.

    Which goes to show that the issue is not that it is somehow wrong to do in-depth exegesis, since comps do it too, only on different verses. Complementarians should not fault egalitarians for doing what comps themselves do.

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    1. I thought the same thing. For that reason, I thought it was important to include the favorite Egal verses in this series to show how Comps dig and dig to explain away “clear” meaning of certain passages.

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  2. If… If the were imprisoned together in the same holding cell. Wouldn’t that hint that Junia is male?
    Did romans of pauls time imprison men and woman together?

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