Junia? Who is that?
She’s a biblical character who doesn’t get much attention, really, unless one is discussing the role of women in the church. Particularly, are women allowed to be leaders (apostles, pastors, teachers, elders, etc) in the church?
Where does Junia show up in Scripture?
Romans 16:7. This is the passage:
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.
With that, at first glance, it seems this passage is of little consequence. But as noted above, it becomes not central, but still an important discussion piece, when complementarians and egalitarians debate the role of women.
This came to the forefront in recent days as we passed Mother’s Day in America. In particular, some complementarians had some, well, interesting thoughts to offer at the table. One was Owen Strachan summed up in tweets like these:
Yikes! A lot of things come to mind when reading these words, but I will leave it for now.
Another was Gospel Coalition blogger and pastor Kevin DeYoung, as seen through his recent post Let Us Reason Together About Complementarianism. DeYoung addresses many points, but I am simply focusing on Junia at this point. Junia is brought up in DeYoung’s fourth objection on women in ministry as an argument for women in leadership. While he gives brief attention to a few women, he does bring up Junia. He asserts:
Paul gives Andronicus and Junia greetings, hailing them as “outstanding among the apostles” (Rom. 16:7, NIV). Some Christians use this verse to argue that a woman can exercise authority over men because Junia (a woman) was an apostle. This is a thin argument for several reasons.
First, it is likely that Junia (iounian in Greek) is a man, not a woman. Second, “outstanding among the apostles” suggests that Junia was held in esteem by the apostles, not that she was an apostle. Third, even if Junia was a woman and was an apostle, it is not clear that she was an apostle like the Twelve. “Apostle” can be used in a less technical sense as a messenger or representative (2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25).
It’s an odd approach to try and argue a fairly outdated claim, one that Junia is likely not a woman. Junia is a woman, just as Julia is a women in 16:15. (Interestingly, their names are almost exactly similar, except for one letter. So, why is Julia a clear female, but not Junia?) If you are interested in a more thorough approach to Julia’s femaleness, I posted one some years ago. I also noted a simple e-book written by Scot McKnight, Junia Is Not Alone.
In my article, and McKnight’s little book, the argument is put forth that Junia is an actual apostle. I tend to agree, but here is a recent thought that has come to me, which is why I have ultimately posted this article.
Even if Junia is not an apostle, Romans 16 remains quite clear regarding her ministry role, with her husband Andronicus, alongside Paul. I think this is evident by these three noteworthy points:
1) Andronicus and Junia’s imprisonment with Paul. People who were seriously involved in gospel ministry would have been imprisoned at that point. Again, a significant ministry role is identifiable for this couple.
2) The two were “outstanding among the apostles”. Even if this statement indicates that they were not apostles, but rather seen as outstanding by the apostles (or they were “lesser” apostles), the statement still recognizes their important capacity and gift in ministry.
3) Paul’s mentioning of them being “in Christ before I was” is in all probability a reference to something unique about the couple, i.e., in their ministry role of the gospel. Perhaps they even held a ministry role into the life of Paul, for why mention when they came to follow Christ unless it meant something in his own life?
Along with her husband, it seems they are simply mentioned in passing, carrying little significance. Yet, for me, this couple of Andronicus and Junia together are listed by Paul to clearly highlight their ministry role – to the church, outside the church, to Paul, recognized by the apostles, etc. I am grateful for Junia standing within a biblical list of women who led, governed, prophesied, taught, and were apostolically sent out by the church to accomplish the mission of God.