At the end of the book of Romans, Paul greets many individuals by name. Romans 16:7 reads, “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.” Many have suggested that one or both of these individuals were actually apostles, interpreting the phrase “among the apostles” to mean Andronicus and Junias were part of (or “among”) that group. If this is a correct reading, it would be significant because Junia (as the name appears in the KJV and ESV) would be the only female apostle mentioned in the New Testament.
The scholar Dr. Daniel Wallace has extensively researched the Greek grammar of the phrase: “In sum, until further evidence is produced that counters the working hypothesis, we must conclude that Andronicus and Junia were not apostles, but were known to the apostles” (from http://bible.org/article/junia-among-apostles-double-identification-problem-romans-167).
Historically, there has been much discussion regarding the gender of Junia/Junias as well as the meaning of the phrase regarding apostleship. John Chrysostom, writing in the fourth century, noted Junia as named among the apostles. Many of Chrysostom’s contemporaries interpreted Junias as a man’s name, a matter that biblical scholars still debate to some extent today, although the feminine identification is more common.
Outside of Romans 16:7, Junia is not mentioned in the Bible or in the extra-biblical writings of her time. Later writings are conflicting and inconclusive in determining the true identity of this individual. With the existing information, the syntax of the Greek language provides the best means of understanding what Paul meant when he wrote that Junia was outstanding (or “well known”) among the apostles.
The Greek language construction is not 100 percent definitive, but strongly leans in favor of translating the verse as the ESV does: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles.” The wording here makes it clear that Andronicus and Junia were known to the apostles but were not apostles themselves.
The fact that Junia was “in Christ before I was” would make Junia one of the earliest Christians, since Paul had become a believer within three years of the resurrection (Galatians 2). She may have even been in Jerusalem for Pentecost when Peter preached in Acts 2. Whenever Junia first believed, she was likely living in or near Jerusalem during the early days of the church. This would have given her ample time to become acquainted with the apostles.
Romans 16:7 also says that Junia was imprisoned for her faith at some point before Romans was written (approximately A.D. 55). This fact would make her one of the first believers arrested for her faith (she was maybe even in prison alongside Paul). Further, she was involved in the formation of the early church in Rome.
It is unlikely that Junia was an apostle, yet Romans 16:7 gives a short but impressive résumé of her service to Christ. Two thousand years later, we still know her name.