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If you’ve got a Bible close at hand, open it up to Romans 16:7. Herein lies a tale I want to tell you. And I begin by quoting the NIV, then the NASB and then the NLT:
Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with
me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ
before I was.
Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who
are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
There’s a little trickiness in Greek here, but you’ll have to take my word for it that the best scholarship — and nearly all of it — thinks Junias (male name) was originally Junia (female name), and the earliest Greek-reading commentator here was John Chrysostom and it was clear as a bell for him: Junia was a woman, and a woman who was called an apostle.
But there was a persistent (and at times pernicious) logic sometimes at work that went like this: women can’t be apostles so, therefore, Junia (woman) was really Junias (man). This logic impacted what was printed in Greek New Testaments.
Here’s the story you need to know: the Greek New Testaments — the ones your pastor may well have studied in seminary and then studied from in his/her office — of the 20th Century began with Junia and then shifted to Junias and have only of late recovered the original text as speaking of a woman. What I also want you to know is that most readers of the Greek New Testament rely on the decisions of the textual critics who determine what goes in the text (Junias or Junia?) and what goes in the footnotes (Junia or Junias?). It makes a difference. Correct that: It can make a huge difference. Here’s what happened.
Early in the 20th Century some churches started ordaining women, and they had support in Romans 16:7 because it read “Junia” (female). The standard Greek NTs used then were the German-produced Nestle text (editions 1 through 12) and the English-produced British and Foreign Bible Society (from 1904-1958).
But, in 1927 Nestle’s 13th edition changed from Junia (woman) to Junias (man). In Nestle 13 the footnote said some other Greek NTs had “Junia.” So “Junias” was in the text and our female friend Junia in the footnote until 1979 when Junia disappeared even from the footnotes. That meant that pastors were trained from then on with a Greek text that didn’t even let the reader decide if the reading was “Junias” or “Junia.”
In 1958 the British and Foreign Bible Society Greek NT changed “Junia” to “Junias,” following in line with Nestle. They put the woman in a footnote and most simply trusted the critics who said that apostle was a man, not a woman.
Now a third Greek NT becomes well-known, the United Bible Societies’ text and from UBS 1 to UBS 3d edition Romans 16:7 read “Junias.” Oddly enough, and blatantly wrong-headed, the UBS text rated “Junias” (a man) as a “certain reading.” Only in 1993 did UBS admit that “Junia” might be a reading.
In 1998 Nestle’s 27th edition lifted poor “Junia” from the footnotes into the text itself; in 1998 the UBS 4th edition did the same. Now the Nestle-Aland 27th edition doesn’t even mention “Junias” in the footnotes.
This once gifted woman, Junia, because she was a woman — and because women can’t be apostles by definition (so it was assumed) — was removed from the text and hidden in a footnote and then she disappeared altogether. But, thanks to folks like Eldon Epp and others, Junia has returned to the fold, Junias has returned to his own non-existence, and we’ve got once again a woman whom Paul considered an apostle.
This story is best studied in Eldon Epp’s technical book Junias but if you’d like a short story, one on which I relied for this day, you can read two quick pages in R.R. Schulz, “Twentieth-Century Corruption of Scripture,” in a journal called The Expository Times 119 (2008) 270-271 (the whole article is 270-274). Yes, there is some dispute; there were no accents in the original texts, but there is now a consensus that “Iounian” was a woman.