St Junia

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).

St Junia is commemorated on May 17 along with her husband, Andronicus.   Historian Garry Wills comments on the rather sad treatment which St Junia received in later Western church history misogyny gained the upper hand in the male dominated church.  Junia remains a saint in the Orthodox Church as she was well attested in early church fathers, though the Orthodox hagiographical literature also tends to focus on her husband and give her only a secondary role.   Wills writes:

In the long list of people Paul greets at the end of his letter to the Romans, he gives special notice to the husband and wife evangelical team of Andronicus and Junia (Rom 16:6-7), whom he calls ‘my kindred’ (suggeneis mou).  . . .

Though there are no offices in the early gatherings, only functions and though Paul stresses the equal dignity of all gifts of the Spirit, he does list emissaries (apostoloi) first in the ‘big three’ charisms – emissaries, prophets and teachers (1 Cor 12:28).  For Junia to be included not only among the emissaries but among the outstanding (episemoi) ones was a high honor, as John Chrysostom recognized in his commentary on Romans: ‘How great this woman’s love of wisdom (philosophia) must have been, to merit her inclusion among the apostles.’  She and her husband had a liturgy devoted to them as married saints and apostles in the Byzantine church.  Most early fathers and commentators of the church, including Origen and Rufinus, celebrated her extraordinary eminence.

But sometime in the Middle Ages, apparently before the Ninth Century it was decided that a woman apostle was unthinkable.  This offended the male monopoly of the church offices and honors that had grown up by that time, so Junia had to be erased from history.  It took only a little smudging to do this.  Paul uses her Greek name, Iounia, in the accusative case, Iounian.  A mere change in accent markings (a circumflex over the last vowel) would make it an accusative form of a hypothetical male name Iounias.  But there is one problem here.  ‘Junias’ is only a hypothetical name  – it never occurs in all the ancient literature and inscriptions – whereas Iounia is a common name, occurring hundreds of times.  Besides, the other teams Paul mentions in Romans 16 are male-female ones – Aquila and Prisca, Philologus and Julia, Nereus and Olympas – with the exception of a female-female one (Tryphaena and Tryopha, probably sister Sisters).  We know from Paul’s reference to Peter and the Lord’s brothers, who travelled with their wives, that male-female evangelical teams were common (1 Cor 9:5).  Only the most Soviet-style rewriting of history could declare Junia a nonperson and invent a new team, Andronicus and the philologically implausible Junias.  Paul was generous to his female coworkers, a title he proudly gave them.  (WHAT PAUL MEANT, pp 91-92)

Wills  is pointing out one problem we face interpreting St Paul’s letters.  Through the centuries, churchmen changed their reading of Paul to make him conform to their understanding of Christianity.  Paul praises certain women disciples and upholds them as examples of faithfulness and holiness.  But later generations of churchmen would read Paul as being as misogynistic as they were.  So they read back into all other passages of Paul an anti-woman attitude which doesn’t fully reflect Paul’s attitude toward his female coworkers in the Lord.

See also my posts on St Apphia, Equal-to-the-Apostles and Apostle among the Seventy:  She is the Forgotten Apostle and also St Phoebe the Deaconess.

4 thoughts on “St Junia

  1. Pingback: She Is the Forgotten Apostle – Fraternized

  2. Pingback: St Abercius, Equal to the Apostles  – Fraternized

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