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Was Junia a woman apostle?

Depiction of Andronicus and Junia in the Church of Most Holy Saviour in Palermo, Italy
Credit: Asia/Wikipedia/Creative Commons 4.0

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. (Romans 16:7 NKJ)

At the end of February 2023, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) announced it had kicked out Saddleback church. The reason for its removal is that the California megachurch, founded by Rick Warren, had appointed three women as pastors, which the SBC did not believe was Biblical (1 Timothy 2:12).

While this is part of growing discussion about the role of women in church. A verse from the book of Romans cited above adds to this, because the Apostle Paul suggests that a woman might have been an apostle in the early church.

In an article for Christianity Today, Professor Nijay Gupta of Northern Seminary writes that Junia was a popular female name in Roman times. Meanwhile, the male equivalent (Junias) is extremely rare, essentially non-existent, leaving little doubt this was describing a woman

The verse seems to imply that she was looked upon as an apostle. According to Gupta, for the first several centuries most of the early church fathers accepted as fact that Junia was not only a woman, but that she was also an apostle.

And not just any apostle, but many believed she was an apostle of note in the early church.

Others believe, similar to Priscilla and Aquila, that Andronicus and Junia were part of a husband and wife apostolic team.

And the Apostle Paul adds another clue stating that the two had believed in Jesus before the Apostle Paul who had been converted after Christ’s resurrection around 33 AD.

Early church theologian, Origin, 185 and 235 BC, wondered if Andronicus and Junia were among the 35 teams that Jesus had sent out two by two:

 After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them [apostellō] two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. (Luke 10:1 NKJV)

The Greek word for sent is apostellō, from which we get the word apostle and Dr Gupta describes the two as ‘among the “‘first generation’ of Christian apostolic leaders.”

Then in this verse commending Andronicus and Junia, Paul adds that they were ‘fellow-prisoners’, which suggests at some point the two had been in prison with Paul. Roman prisons were a dark place for men, but even more dangerous for a woman.

But as Dr. Gupta points out, Paul used a unique Greek word here, synaichmalōtos. This word does not describe a person imprisoned for crimes such as robbery or assault but specifically described a ‘prisoner of war,’ or one taken captive in war.

While Christianity was not at war with Rome, Paul understood that their enemy was not flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12), but rather dark, satanic forces that were at work manipulating human authorities to turn on Christianity.

According to Eastern Orthodox tradition, Andronicus and Junia preached the gospel across Asia resulting in the closing down of temples and the establishment of churches. The two were eventually martyred for their faith.

READ: Junia, the Female Apostle Imprisoned for the Gospel AND What Made the Southern Baptist Convention Cut Rick Warren’s Church Loose?

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