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  • Daniel Botkin

The Transgendering of Junia


“Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me” (Romans 16:7 KJV).

Based on this one single verse, some Christian feminists have stated that because there was a woman apostle named Junia, women can be apostles and exercise apostolic authority over men in the assembly.

My response to this claim is to ask the following question: Where is the proof that Junia was a woman?

I cannot prove with absolute certainty that Junia was a man, but I have seen no proof that Junia was a woman. As far as I know, there is absolutely nothing in the Greek text to suggest that Junia was a woman. And as far as I know, there is nothing written about this person Junia in any first-century extra-biblical history that says Junia was a woman. Even uber-feminist Skip Moen admits it is possible Junia was a man.

Why, then, do so many people assume and dogmatically assert that Junia was a woman? I am not sure, but I suspect it is probably because English names that end with the -ia suffix are usually female names: Amelia, Cecilia, Dalia, Eugenia, Julia (which sounds almost like Junia), Maria, Nadia, Ophelia, Petunia, Tania, Zinnia.

Male English names usually do not have the -ia suffix. A more common suffix for male names in English is the -y suffix: Andy, Benny, Charley, Danny, Eddy, Freddy, Gary, Harry, Jerry, Larry, Manny, Perry, Robby, Sammy, Terry, Wally.

Based on the above examples of English names, we can state the following linguistic observation:

“English names with the -ia suffix are usually female names.”

This is a true statement. However, imposing a general observation about something in the English language onto a text that is written in Greek is a baseless assumption. It is what linguists call Native Language Transfer.

If you take some rule or observation that you know from your native language and impose that rule or observation onto something you hear or read in a foreign language, you are erroneously assuming that the foreign language follows all the same rules that your native language follows. And as any student of a foreign language soon learns, foreign languages do not follow all the same rules that English follows.

Therefore even though the -ia suffix at the end of an English name normally denotes a female, -ia at the end of a Greek name does not always denote a female. It can just as easily denote a male, and does in fact often denote males, as we shall soon see.

If you look up Junia in a Greek lexicon, you will find it spelled Junias. If you look at it in the Greek text of Romans 16:7, it is spelled Junian. The reason for this difference is because Junias is the nominative form, the form used when Junia(s) is the subject of the sentence. But when a name with the -ias suffix is used as a direct object in a sentence (as it is in Romans 16:7), it takes the accusative form, and the -ias suffix is replaced by the -ian suffix.

This rule that changes the -ias suffix in the nominative form to the -ian suffix for the accusative form applies not only to proper names but even to common Greek nouns. For example, the Greek word for “young man” is neanias when used as the subject of a sentence, but neanian when used as a direct object in the accusative form. [See Alfred Marshall’s Greek Primer (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1977), p. 11f.]

This -ias to -ian change can be seen in the Greek text of the genealogy of the Messiah. “Amon begat Josias, and Josias begat Jechonias” (Matt. 1:10f KJV). Even though Josiah is written both times as “Josias” in the KJV, in the Greek text it is written first as Iosian (because here Josiah is the direct object, the one who was begotten), and it is written the second time as Iosias (because here Josiah is the subject of the sentence, the one who did the begetting).

This same pattern can be seen in the LXX (Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures). For example, Jeremiah is Ieremias when Jeremiah is the subject of the sentence. But when Jeremiah is the direct object of a sentence, as in “Pascor brought Jeremias out of the dungeon” (Jer. 20:3 LXX), Jeremiah’s name is written Ieremian (even though the English translation retains the nominative form Jeremias, even when Jeremiah is the direct object of the sentence).

Therefore one cannot assume, based on the -ia(s) suffix, that Junia (whose name was actually written Junias) was a female, any more than one can assume that the KJV’s Esaias (Isaiah) and Elias (Elijah) were females. One cannot claim that Junia was a woman just because Junia “sounds like a girl’s name” and “sounds feminine” in English. That is Native Language Transfer, and Native Language Transfer often leads to erroneous conclusions.

For another example of this sort of language-based misconception about gender, see the article by Philologos on page 24, “Why God Can Sometimes Sound Female: When Language Changes Gender.” This article demonstrates how some people, in the words of the author, “confuse grammar with theology.”

Even though I am inclined to believe that Junia was most likely a man, I will not make the assumption that Junia was a man, because if Junia was in fact a woman, I do not want to be guilty of transgendering Junia the opposite way, from female to male, the way that feminists have transgendered Junia from male to female -- if Junia was in fact a man. All that might sound confusing, but transgenderism begets all sorts of confusion.

“So, Daniel, you seem to be willing to admit that it is possible that Junia was a woman. Does that mean you also believe it is possible and permissible for a woman to be an apostle and exercise apostolic spiritual authority over men in the assembly?”

Yes to the first part of that question; no to the second part. Yes, I believe it is possible and permissible for a woman to be an “apostle” in a generic sense. By that, I mean a woman can be “a sent one,” which is what the word apostle literally means in its most general sense. A woman can be sent someplace to work for the Lord. Many women throughout history have gone to foreign lands as missionaries, or to needy areas in their own country to minister to people. Most of them went with their husbands, but they were and are still considered missionaries (an English word derived from the Latin word for “send”). Women who are sent to do a work for the Lord are “sent ones.”

However, being an apostle/sent one/missionary does not give a woman the right to exercise spiritual authority over men in the assembly. There are far too many passages in the Bible that present male headship in the assembly as the Biblical norm.

As for the possibility of Junia being a woman, even if Junia was a woman, Romans 16:7 does not say that Junia was an apostle. It only states that Junia, along with Andronicus, was “of note among the apostles.” This might mean only that Junia and Andronicus were known to the apostles and had been “noted” (i.e., noticed) by the apostles. In other words, they had a good reputation in the eyes of the apostles. The phrase “of note among the apostles” does not necessarily mean that Junia and Andronicus were themselves apostles.

Regardless of whether or not Junia was a woman, and regardless of whether or not Junia was an “apostle” in some sense of the word, a woman exercising spiritual authority over men in the assembly is contrary to the Biblical norm of male headship in the assembly. And the Biblical norm is what we should aim for and pursue.


| DB


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