BOOK REVIEW Published in Volume 54, 2006
ELDON J. EPP, Junia: The First Woman Apostle (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005). Pp. xviii+138. $US16.00.
The thesis of this slim but learned book is simple and straightforward: the person named in Rom 16:7 as being, along with Andronicus, prominent among the apostles, and as having come to faith in Christ before Paul himself, was a woman. The name of this person, which is in the accusative case in the original Greek and hence could be taken, in an unaccented text, as either masculine or feminine, is correctly spelt as Junia, a feminine form, and not as Junias, as in most English translations between 1837 and 1973. This thesis is probably familiar to most of the readers of this journal. What Epp has done, however, is to marshal all the relevant evidence in a manner that this reviewer found totally convincing. The main arguments can be stated as follows:
The female name, Junia, occurs more than 250 times, whereas the (purported) male name, Junias, is not attested anywhere. Moreover, even if a dozen instances of the form, Junias, were to turn up in first-century papyri there would still be a compelling case for translating the name in Rom 16:7 as Junia. For the first seven centuries of the church’s life, Greek manuscripts did not use accents However, when accents did become common practice in the manuscript tradition, without exception they identified the name as feminine.
There is no suggestion in Christian writers of the first thousand years of the church’s life, or for several centuries later, that the person in question was a man. Theologians as diverse as Origen, Ambrosiaster, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Theodoret, John Damascene, Peter Abelard and Peter Lombard all assume that the partner of Andronicus is a woman by the name of Junia.
Of particular importance is Chrysostom’s observation concerning Junia: “How great the woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of ‘apostle’!” (Ep. Ad Romanos 31.2). Furthermore, all extant early translations of the New Testament transcribe the name without exception in what is to be taken as a feminine form.
With one exception, Greek New Testaments from that of Erasmus in 1516 to Erwin Nestle’s edition of 1927 print the name with the accent that indicates the feminine form. With very few exceptions, English translations of the New Testament from Tyndale (1526/1534) until the last quarter of the 19th century understood the person in question to be a woman, Junia.
In view of this overwhelming evidence in favour of understanding the name in question to be that of a woman, the question inevitably arises, whatever led so many scholars to conclude, for a century or more, that the person named as the partner of Andronicus was a man? The answer is not far to seek. The per-son in question is described as an apostle, indeed, along with Andronicus, as being “prominent among the apostles.” How could that be said of a woman? It is easy to find here evidence of male prejudice, so that the caustic comment of Bernadette Brooten seems entirely justified: “Because a woman could not have been an apostle, the woman who is here called apostle could not have been a woman” (quoted by Epp on p. 59). However, the persistent failure of scholars to recognise the obvious must also be attributed to the prevalence of a monolithic picture of the early church.
Besides arguing the case for the presence of Junia, a woman, among the apostles, Epp also provides a useful introduction to the current state of textual critical studies. As for the main thesis, this reviewer finds it established beyond any doubt. As Epp himself concludes, “It remains a fact that there was a woman apostle, explicitly so named, in the earliest generation of Christianity, and contemporary Christians—lay people and clergy—must (and eventually will) face up to it” (p. 81).
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