Junia is a name that may not be known by many, but her story is remarkable and deserves to be heard. She is considered by many to be the first female apostle mentioned in the New Testament, yet her contributions have often been overlooked and suppressed throughout history. In fact, during the Middle Ages, her identity was even changed to that of a man, likely in an effort to fit her into a patriarchal society that had little room for powerful women. This erasure of her true identity speaks to a larger issue of the suppression of women’s voices and their contributions to religious history. In this blog post, we will explore Junia’s story and the many ways in which women have been marginalized within religious institutions throughout history.
Who Was Junia(s)?
Junia appears in the Epistle to Romans 16:7 – “salute Andronicus and Junias, my kindred, and my fellow-captives, who are of note among the apostles, who also have been in Christ before me.” Junia is thought to have been a woman, and her significant work and status within the early Christian community have been a subject of scholarly debate. While there is a varying interpretation of her role, it is generally accepted that she played an important part in the early church.
There isn’t any definitive information about Junia’s marital status in the Bible or other historical sources. However, some scholars have speculated that she may have been married to Andronicus, who is mentioned alongside her in Romans 16:7. Andronicus and Junia are referred to as ‘my fellow countrymen and fellow prisoners‘ by Paul.
There are some theories surrounding them, particularly regarding their relationship and background. One suggests that Junia and Andronicus were husband and wife and that they were relatives of the apostle Paul. Another theory suggests that they were siblings or even twins.
Furthermore, there are some early Christian writings that mention Junia and Andronicus. For example, in the apocryphal Acts of Andrew, Andronicus is described as being a disciple of the apostle Andrew. And in the early Christian text known as the “Martyrdom of Andronicus,” he is depicted as being martyred for his faith.
Junia, Junius and Juno | The Fertility Goddess
It’s quite intriguing to observe that the discussion regarding Junia’s name emerged during the Middle Ages, which was a time of great upheaval characterized by the rise of the Roman Church and the execution of numerous women throughout Europe. It seems that this debate was an attempt to disrupt the growing momentum of a matriarchal upheaval, as people began to connect the dots between women as teachers, which contradicted the message conveyed in 1 Timothy 2:12 that prohibits women from teaching or having authority over men.
It’s All in the Name | Goddess Juno
Variants of the Name
Ἰουνιᾶν is Junia(s) in Greek. | Ἰούνιος is June (masculine, noun) | Iunia, and Ἰουνίᾱ in Ancient Greek (feminine, noun) is June but also translates as “youth“
Let’s review her name. “Junia” is a feminine name that has Latin origins. The name is derived from the ancient Roman name “Junius“, related to the goddess Juno. Juno was the patroness of marriage and women and the queen of the gods in Roman mythology.
The meaning of “Junia” is often associated with the qualities attributed to Juno, such as being noble, strong, and protective of women and family. It’s interesting that the name Junia/Junias in the Bible has been the subject of debate and discussion among scholars, theologians, and others.
One theory is that the name Junia/Junias is related to the Latin goddess Juno, who was the wife of Jupiter and the queen of the gods. Juno was associated with femininity, fertility, and childbirth, among other things, and her name may have been used as a reference to these qualities in early Christian communities.
Another possibility is that the name Junia/Junias is a variant of the name Junius, a common Roman name during the time when the New Testament was written. The name Junius is derived from the Latin word “juniores,” which means “young men.”
The Apostle Debate | Discrediting Female Apostles
The debate about the number of apostles centers on the belief that there were only 12 apostles that Jesus chose. However, some argue that there are more as the Bible mentions additional individuals who played important roles in spreading Christianity. For example, in Acts 14:14, Barnabas is described as an apostle along with Paul. Furthermore, some believe that the designation of “apostle” should not be restricted to those who had personally met Jesus but rather should include anyone who had been commissioned by Jesus to spread his teachings.
This includes Junia, and even Mary Magdalene as “esteemed among the apostles”. This debate highlights how even the inclusion of a woman among the apostles has been subject to controversy and scrutiny, underscoring the importance of challenging gender norms and promoting gender equality within religious institutions.
But let’s review the definition of an “Apostle“, the word derives from the Greek word ἀποστόλοις “apostolos,” which means “one who is sent off on a mission.” In the New Testament, the term is used to specifically refer to Jesus’ original twelve disciples, whom he selected and sent out to spread his teachings. Later, the term “apostle” was used more broadly to refer to Christian missionaries who were sent to spread the faith. If even Paul and Barnabas can be considered apostles to this day, then why can’t Junia be identified as a ‘fellow’ since Paul himself noted that she served in the same way?
Other Mentions of the Apostle Junia
There is relatively limited literature mentioning Junia outside of the biblical text Romans 16:7. However, she has been referenced in early Christian writings and by Church Fathers:
- Origen (c. 185-253) – An early Christian theologian and biblical scholar who probably referred to Junia in his Commentaries on the Epistle to the Romans.
- John Chrysostom (c. 349-407) – A prominent early Christian bishop and preacher, he praised Junia in his Homilies on Romans.
- Jerome (c. 342-420) – Translated the Bible into Latin (called the Vulgate). He mentioned Junia in his Epistles and, like Chrysostom, praised her status as an apostle.
- Rufinus (c. 345-411) – A theologian and translator, he included Junia in his Latin translation of Origen’s Commentary on Romans.
In addition, modern scholars and theologians have been increasingly discussing and evaluating Junia’s role in the early church. However, it’s important to note that ancient sources mentioning Junia and her role are not extensive. Most of the information available is relatively sparse and extrapolated from these references.
The Takeaway | The Empowering Female Apostles
Junia, a prominent female figure mentioned in the New Testament, inspires women everywhere who desire to dedicate themselves to a ministry or professional career rather than conforming to traditional gender expectations. Despite being ostracized by some male-dominated church communities due to her gender, Junia persisted in her mission work alongside her male counterparts. Her dedication and impact on the early Christian church are a testament to the importance of empowering women to follow their dreams and passions, regardless of societal pressures. By choosing to prioritize her calling over traditional wifely duties, Junia serves as an inspiration to single women today who face similar challenges and seek to blaze their own trail. Her legacy is a reminder that women have always played a vital role in shaping history, and there is no limit to what they can achieve when they are empowered to pursue their calling.