Did the Early Church think Junia was a man?

I have a lot of time for The Gospel Coalition, and though their content is often US-centric, they produce a lot of helpful articles for believers this side of the Atlantic. One article that has caused a lot of controversy in recent days has been about complementarianism. You can read the article for yourself here.

From the outset of this post I should make it clear that I myself am a complementarian. I believe the office of pastor and preacher is reserved for men, and I believe the case for this can be made compassionately and compellingly from Scripture. I don’t, however, think it is helpful to support our case with cheap or even dishonest arguments.

The aforementioned article discusses common objections to the complementarian view, and this includes a brief discussion on Junia, mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:7. In an effort to counter egalitarian arguments, the piece claims that “it is likely that Junia was a man.” This claim is supported by a single academic article, and taken as gospel. It strikes this author that just as revisionism is dangerous in liberal contexts, conservative revisionism ought to be avoided as well. As a result this post will seek to address a simple point raised in this wider discussion, namely that the Early Church was divided on whether Junia was a woman. The article cited by DeYoung in his assertion that Junia was likely a man is from the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, and argues that the Early Church was divided on this point. I want to briefly suggest that this claim is simply not supported by the evidence. I will first suggest that the vast majority of ancient commentary on Romans 16:7 held Junia to be a woman, and then that the onomasiological culture of the ancient world similarly supports this conclusion.

Early Church Views on Junia

The Early Church is clear that Junia was a woman. Paul himself wrote in a first century context (we must not forget that the New Testament was written through divine inspiration within the time of the Early Church.) He gives us the name in the feminine; the biblical evidence is thus simple: Junia was a woman.

But this of course is the point of contention, and so it is worth charting the appearance of Junia in later Early Christian authors. The idea that Junia was a woman was largely unquestioned in the writings of the Early Church Fathers. Origen, Jerome, Ambrosiaster and John Chrysostom all recognised Junia as a woman, and did so unquestioningly. The sole voice of dissent from the first four centuries of Christian history is Ephiphanius, whose famously unreliable writings also claim that Priscilla (the wife of Aquila cf Acts 18:2) was a man.

Chrysostom’s case is an interesting one. Discussing the verse in question, and speaking in the mid 4th century, he praised this woman saying “how great the devotion of this woman, that she should be counted worthy of the appellation of apostle.” This is from Chrysostom’s 31st homily on Romans, and it is clear in his discussion of this verse that he considers Junia a woman. Interestingly, he argues elsewhere that Junia was set aside for a specific role, but that this needn’t be understood as a teaching role in line with pastoral preaching. His discussion of this early Christian believer offers an example of complementarian understanding of Junia’s role.

The article argues idea that Junia ought to be read as a variant of Junias (a masculine name), but this idea did not gain serious traction until the 12th/13th centuries, and even then remained a minority view. It finds no widespread basis in the writings of the Early Church Fathers.

Junia/Junias, What’s in a Name?

The name Paul writes in Romans 16:7 is Ἰουνίαν. [I have taken this spelling from the Tyndale House Greek New Testament, the most recent critical edition of the Greek New Testament, and one produced by world-renowned Biblical scholars whose intention was to produce the most accurate and faithful edition of the Greek text as it was handed down to the first Christians.]

Ἰουνίαν is the feminine accusative singular form of the name Junia, and it stands in the verse alongside Andronicus (Ἀνδρόνικον – masc., acc., sing.) as the objects of Paul’s intended greeting. The readers of the epistle are asked to greet both these people, as part of Paul’s wider closing salutations. It is hard to see how this can be read as anything but the female name Junia, and it rarely has been. As noted by several scholars in recent days, the overwhelming majority of critical commentaries produced in recent years have recognised that Ἰουνίαν is a woman. (See the image below.)

Though extant examples of Ἰουνία as a Greek name are limited, usage of the name Junia (the Latin name from which Paul’s Greek spelling originated) is widespread in the ancient world. We have records of several noblewomen from the first century called Junia, the first wife of the Emperor Caligula was Junia Claudilla, and plenty more from both preceding and subsequent centuries. We even have an inscription from Rome in c.43 AD by one Junia Theodora, whose dedication illustrates the place of leading women among the Roman converts (cf. Acts 17:4.) As the article cited by The Gospel Coalition piece points out, we have over 250 references to Junia (and the corresponding Greek form Ἰουνία), but no attestation of Junias as a masculine Latin name (the corresponding Latin name for Junia is Junius.) Surviving epigraphic and literary evidence preserve no examples of the masculine name Junias. Ancient onomasiological evidence therefore overwhelmingly supports the idea that Junia was a woman.

Conclusion

Whilst I have not engaged with the whole argument that Junia ought to be read as a man, I have endeavoured to suggest that both the writings of the Early Church and the contemporary onomastic culture of the Roman world simply do not support the idea that Junia could be read as a masculine name in Romans 16:7. As I stated above, I am a complementarian, and I believe God has ordained roles for men and women to thrive in the church and beyond. I simply do not think we should defend this argument with flimsy and erroneous revisionist approaches to Scripture and its contents.

I have not made a case for the theological implications of this verse, nor do I intend to. I believe biblical complementarianism can be defended, and that this case can be made from a divinely inspired inerrant Scripture. This, I believe, is a Scripture that lists Paul’s greetings to the man Andronicus, and the woman Junia.

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