Patron saint of invisible women?

Model of woman priest.

I was going through some of the ideas I had for a next post, wondering what I was going to write about, when I got the urge to see if the Roman Catholic Church had finally relented in its determination to turn the first female apostle into a man.  Do they now translate the Greek name “ιουνιαν” correctly as Junia (female) rather than Junias (male)?

My understanding of this (and I don’t know Greek), is that the case ending makes it impossible to tell if this name is female or male.  However, Ehrman not only alerts me to this issue of Junia/Junias, but explains that “whereas Junia was a common name for a woman, there is no evidence in the ancient world for ‘Junias’ as a man’s name.” 1

Earlier versions of the Catholic Bible (DRA and Confraternity) both had Junias.

Wasn’t I amazed to see that the current Vatican Bible has Junia!

This is a huge, huge crack in the Vatican’s wall of misogyny (which prevents full participation of women in the Church).  In a burst of genuine intellectual honesty the Vatican finally acknowledged in its 2002 New American Bible what the King James Bible published in 1611 or thereabouts, that it is JUNIA, a WOMAN.  Absolutely amazing!!!  Why didn’t this make the headlines?  It is on a par with the Exodus, the birth of the Christ, and the arrival of the New Jerusalem!

Junia, female apostle.  Does the Pope know about this?  It is right there on his very own website.  Did someone slip this one past the censors?  As of today’s date of posting, “Junia” is still there.

Here it is:  Romans 16:7 (NAB):  “Greet Andronicus and Junia, 5 my relatives and my fellow prisoners; they are prominent among the apostles and they were in Christ before me.”

The footnote for this verse explains:  “The name Junia is a woman’s name. One ancient Greek manuscript and a number of ancient versions read the name ‘Julia.’ Most editors have interpreted it as a man’s name, Junias.”  Most Catholic editors?

The NIV has almost the same thing, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among[a] the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.”  But I am disappointed that the NIV seems to backpedal with this footnote:  “Or are esteemed by.”

So either Junia is an outstanding apostle or she is merely someone who is esteemed by the apostles.  The NIV is getting more Catholic than the Catholics?

Seems like the New King James Version can go either way:  “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.”  So Junia has either been noted by the apostles or she is a noteworthy apostle.  Isn’t English a strange language?

Why can’t these translators agree?

Ehrman’s1 translation is that Junia is “foremost among the apostles.”  Foremost.  I had to get out my Webster’s for that.  “Foremost” means “first in time, place, or series; most advanced.”  So how is Junia first or most advanced?  I don’t know.

What do we know about Junia?  Only what Paul writes in Romans 16:7 (above), that Junia is one of his “relatives,” “countrymen” (men?) or a “fellow Jew” (fellow?).  Unless the Greek says “Jews” and I don’t see it??, that would possibly be an incorrect translation as Paul had Roman citizenship and maybe, Roman relatives.  Junia seems to me to be a Latin name, as Latin as the goddess Juno and the month of June, so perhaps Junia was a Roman or from Italy.  Of course she could have been a Jewish woman with a Latin name.  It’s a good bet she was living in Rome, because the letter of Paul’s which contains the greeting to her is addressed to the Romans.

What else?  Junia went to prison with Paul.  What’s the story behind that?  Unknown.  But I’ll guess Junia was not merely decorative, but rather doing something significant to be so persecuted.

What else?  Junia was “in Christ” before Paul was.  Meaning she was from the group led by James and Peter?  It’s not likely a member of Paul’s group would also be a member of that rival group as there seems to be very little joint membership and very little communication between the two groups.  Did Paul mean that she was a member of a group practicing and preaching a Pauline-type of Christianity before Paul?  If so, maybe she was Paul’s mentor or teacher.  Could she possibly be the founder of Pauline Christianity, with Paul just a famed missionary or spokesperson, not the architect of it?

If so, then Junia would indeed be a very suitable candidate for patron saint of invisible women.

Since Roman Catholicism is a branch of Pauline Christianity, they should honor Junia.  She is not necessarily one of the founders, but according to the NAB, she is an apostle.  She is at least Paul’s equal in terms of position.

I’m not going to try to research right now whether any denomination has canonized a Saint Junia or Saint Julia or which is which – I guess there is yet at least one other Junia/Julia (16:15) – it gets too complicated.  For sure this Junia in Romans 16:7 really is a saint.  Anyone who could endure Paul’s (um) assertive personality and go to prison with him would have to be a saint.

That Paul praises his co-worker Junia and call her an “apostle” is, I believe, a truly extraordinary happening, because only she and Andronicus are so honored by Paul, aside from him honoring himself and some of the Twelve also mentioned in the Gospel.  Maybe Junia was foremost in some extraordinary way.

Is Junia necessarily the first female apostle?  She is the first named as such, named as such by Paul.  Was she also named as such by Jesus?  Unknown.  But if the Church accepts Paul’s designation of himself as apostle, then certainly the Church can accept Paul’s designation of Junia as apostle, regardless of whether Paul is referring to a direct connection to Jesus or not.  If we take the word apostle to mean generally “messenger” announcing Jesus, then the Samaritan woman becomes an apostle, and the Magdalene is also an apostle using this definition.  But again, Junia is the first female apostle so named in scripture.  The only one.

Did her hands break the bread?

The switch from Junias to Junia by the Catholic Church in its official Bible is epic because it opens the door wide to women priests.  How?  The Catholic priesthood is an extension of apostleship, and modeled on it.  Now that the apostles are no longer exclusively male, the Pope has some explaining to do.  If a woman can be an apostle, why can’t a woman be a priest?

Also, Paul says that apostles outrank bishops.  In the following quote from 1 Corinthians 12:28 in The New American Bible, understand that bishops are “teachers.”  That is their role in the Church; they consider themselves to be the teaching magisterium of the Church:

Some people God has designated in the church to be, first, apostles; 6 second, prophets; third, teachers; then, mighty deeds; then, gifts of healing, assistance, administration, and varieties of tongues.”  The footnote is important here:  “[Apostleship] is not just one gift among others but a prior and fuller gift that includes the others. They are all demonstrated in Paul’s apostolate . . . ”

And presumably demonstrated in those Paul has designated as apostles.  We can infer from this that any apostle will outrank any bishop and will have the gifts of a bishop.  If a woman can be an apostle, why can’t a woman be a bishop?

I would like to be able to welcome a woman pope.  Of course, she would not be called a “pope” which means father, but maybe she would take the title “madre.”  What new given name would she take (following the tradition that popes take new names)?  Let’s welcome the new female leader of the Catholic Church:  Madre Junia II.

Someday Junia, you won’t be invisible any more.

Odd that there are many parishes named “Sts. Peter and Paul,” and a feast day, June 29, for this pair.  Odd because they were rivals.  How much more appropriate it would be to name a parish Sts. Junia and Paul.

Someday, Junia.

Could Junia and Andronicus have had some sort of primacy among the apostles?  The Greek word “επισημοι,” translated as “outstanding” or “prominent,” is also used to refer to Barabbas (Matthew 27:16), where it is translated as “well-known” or even “notorious” prisoner.  Given that Barabbas is some sort of mystifying stand-in for Jesus (however brief and baffling this is), it would seem appropriate to accord Barabbas, as transitory Jesus-substitute, the dignified qualifier “foremost prisoner.”  If Barabbas can be labeled “foremost,” then I have less difficulty applying the same label to Junia, assuming that she had primacy of some sort.

What I’ve really been after here is whether Junia could have had the primacy of a Magdalene, a James-brother-of-the-Lord, or a Peter-rock.  My guess is no – that Junia’s importance is simply due to being “in Christ” in advance of Paul.  Otherwise she would not be listed so far down (sixth person named) in Paul’s long list of those who should receive his greetings.  If she were the founder of his faith or a major leader, she would not be sixth.  Just a guess.

By the way, I am not interested in being a priest.  I don’t believe the New Testament provides for a priesthood, other than the priesthood of all believers.  But since the Church teaches that Holy Orders are derived from apostleship, and a woman was an apostle, then certainly ordination should not be closed to women.  Even if the apostles were only men, they were people and women are people, too.  So you don’t need a female apostle in order to ordain women.  But since there was a female apostle, what’s left to argue about?

The Church’s treatment of Roy Bourgeois (Maryknoller and advocate for woman priests) and the Church’s treatment of women in general, is appalling.

Apostle Junia, thanks for your example.  What remains on Earth of all your efforts? now held like a treasure in the heart of God.

(I’m sorry they made you into a man all those centuries.)

Well, I couldn’t resist taking a look at the Vatican Catechism2 to see how it explains the absence of women in the priesthood.  Here it is:

“1577 ‘Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination.’66 The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry.67 The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ’s return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.68

So the priesthood is based not just on apostleship, but on the apostleship of the TWELVE apostles.  Peter was one of the Twelve, but not so the apostle Paul.  So where is Paul in this scheme of things?  By linking the priesthood exclusively with the Twelve, the Catechism seems to be making Paul a lesser apostle, something he did not accept.  (Whoever wrote the Catechism will someday be in the unenviable position of having to answer to Paul.  Hehehe.)

Regardless, Paul’s authority can be derived from Peter’s agreement with Paul that Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles as recorded by Paul in Galatians 2:8-9 (TNIV).

So Paul was duly authorized to authorize Junia to be an apostle (or to confirm her prior authorization).  In this way Junia’s apostleship would be valid.

I don’t doubt that the Catechism is correct when it says that the apostles chose men to succeed them.  But did they choose only men?  That would be a fiction because we don’t know the names of all those chosen.  But we do know from the writings of the apostle Paul that he had numerous female co-workers.

What about the argument that Jesus chose only men to be apostles?  Jesus chose 12 Jewish men in Palestine.  So a person can be ordained if male, Jewish, and living in Palestine.  Get it?  The New Testament says there were 12 apostles.  It does not say there were no more than 12.  In fact, Jesus sent out some 72 individuals with his message (Luke 10 (TNIV)).  These were “appointed” by Jesus as were the Twelve in Mark 3:14-16 (TNIV).  So were the 72 apostles?  Was Junia one of these?

Whereas Paul places apostles above teachers in 1 Corinthians 12:28 (see above), the bishops usurp first place for themselves in the Catechism, going beyond deriving their office from the Twelve, to having their office make the Twelve an “ever-active reality.”  More than equals – they are each other.  (Huh?)

Also, the bishops place themselves above God when they place their male-only traditions above God’s law of love.

For cryin’ out loud all you hierarchs, let the women preach and say Mass.  And don’t be making Jesus into a discriminating women-hater.  That’s not his way.  He ministered in a graciously inclusive way.

Dear Apostle Junia, you were a woman and you were there before Paul.  I envision you as foremost among the apostles, an advocate, and a saint.  Did you break the bread and say the sacred words or did you step aside tamely for a man to do it?

Did you change history?

Can you do it again?


1 Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, HarperCollins, 2005, p.180, 185, regarding Romans 16:7.

Updated:  December 26, 2011


  1. care4earth says:

    Would you believe that “Junia” is the Roman way of naming “Joanna”?

  2. Darlene says:

    I believe Junia is a woman since God’s Holy Spirit is neither male nor female. In Word format when typing Junia it has a red line under it because Word doesn’t recognize the spelling. When I right click to correct it, the only name to replace it is Julia. Therefore, Junia was a female apostle in the Body of Christ. When Jesus said, “Go ye therefore and preach the gospel to all the earth, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. He didn’t exclude anyone because Jesus died for all mankind including, men, women, boys, and girls. His Holy Spirit baptizes anyone who is available or called. It was man in modern day times who excluded women to distinguish head of households. For anyone to lie on God as being prejudice of His salvation is irreverent.

  3. truleeyours says:

    Let’s celebrate the accomplishments of the founding mothers:
    ♀⌂♀ the apostle Junia,
    ♀⌂♀ Phoebe the deacon,
    ♀⌂♀ Chloe with her following, and
    ♀⌂♀ Prisca with the church that met at her house.
    Junia was “in Christ” before Paul was. I wonder who made her an apostle? (Romans 16:7)

  4. truleeyours says:

    Junia and Andronicus are saints in the Greek Orthodox church, “The Holy Apostles Andronicus and Junia” at http://www.goarch.org/chapel/saints_view?contentid=58
    But evidently, this first-century pair are not Catholic saints as I can’t find either on http://www.catholic.org/saints/

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