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Career Women of the Bible: Apostles and Prophets – Shawna R. B. Atteberry
Apr 042007
Junia and Adronicus with Athanasius

Andronicus, Athanasius of Christianopoulos and Saint Junia

Before Jesus ascended to the Father, he told his followers to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came empowering them to continue building the kingdom of God on earth. They obeyed him. Acts 1:14 tells us the disciples and “certain women” including Mary, the mother of Jesus, waited in the upper room and prayed. In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit fell on both men and women, and both genders were empowered to proclaim the word of God on the day of Pentecost. Peter confirmed this when he quoted Joel in his sermon that day: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17, NRSV). As we have seen throughout this series, Career Women of the Bible God has never discriminated between calling and empowering both men and women to lead God’s people and accomplish God’s plans on earth. This will not change with the coming of the new age. Now God’s Spirit would not be for the called few, but for everyone–all flesh, and both sons and daughters would prophesy, only now in greater numbers.

In Galatians 3:28 Paul proclaimed that “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, no longer bondservant nor free, no longer male and female, because you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In Christ every human erected barrier comes down. Because Christ died for all, and all are saved through grace, there can no longer be superficial hierarchies of race, class, or gender. In Ephesians 4:8 Paul tells the church that Christ has given them gifts, and in verse 11 he tells us the gifts are “that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers” (NRSV). These gifts are given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12, NRSV). Paul never says that some or all of these gifts are for men only. In fact, the New Testament goes on to describe women in these places of leadership within the Early Church.


The literal meaning of apostolos is someone who has been sent with orders (Spencer, 100). The basic meaning is “messenger.” In the New Testament an apostle could refer to one of the Twelve. It could also refer to all of those “who had accompanied the original twelve from the time that John baptized until Jesus ascended (Acts 1:21-22; ibid).” This would include Barnabas, James the brother of the Lord, and Silvanus who were not among the Twelve. It would also include the women we have seen in previous articles who followed Jesus: Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James; Mary, mother of Jesus; Joanna, and Salome.

There is a woman in the New Testament specifically named as an apostle: Junia. In Paul’s personal greetings to the believers in Rome he tells them to “7Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were prisoners with me. They’re outstanding among
the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was” (Rom. 16:7). In the Roman world, Junia was a common name for women. Junia was assumed to be a woman by the early church fathers such as Origen and Jerome. In the fourth century John Chrysostorm said of her: “Oh! how great is the devotion of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle!” Up until the thirteenth century when Aegidus of Rome referred to both Adronicus and Junia as “men” (he translated Junia as “Julian”), most commentators assumed Junia was a woman (the male form “Junias” is completely unknown in the Roman world). Since then there have been many textual variations trying to turn Junia’s name into a male form (Spencer 101-2, Grenz 94-5).

Another way that Junia’s role as an apostle has been marginalized is by watering down the translation of “outstanding [or “prominent,” NRSV] among the apostles.” Opponents of women in leadership positions have suggested Junia was only admired by the apostles, or she was well known to them. She was not one of their number. The word normally translated “prominent” is episeimos. Its proper meaning is “a sign or mark upon,” and is used to describe an inscription on money; “it implies selection from a group” (Spencer, 102). Coupled with the preposition en, which means “within” or “among” in the plural, it is clear that Adronicus and Junia are prominent or notable “from among the apostles” (ibid).

As apostles in Rome they were Paul’s counterparts. They apparently had witnessed part of Jesus’ ministry and his resurrection, and were sent by God and the church to proclaim this news in Rome. These two apostles “apparently laid the foundation for the churches’ in Rome, just as Paul had planted and laid the foundation for churches in Asia Minor and Eastern Europe (ibid). They would have done this through preaching the gospel and teaching the way of Christ. It is possible they were married and operated as a ministerial team like Priscilla and Aquila (Grenz, 96-7). This does not change the fact that Junia was named as an apostle. Since there is no mention of any of the apostle’s wives being named “apostle” simply by being married to one, it is safe to assume that Junia was an apostle because she functioned as one in the early church.


As we saw in previous chapters female prophets who spoke God’s word and led in worship were part of Israel’s history and theology. The tradition continued through Anna in Luke 2 and Philip’s four unmarried daughters in Acts 21:9. From Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian church we find that women praying and prophesying during services was an accepted part of the worship service in the early church. Paul does not condemn the women for taking an active part in the service, which would have included authoritative prophetic utterance of God’s word. He only exhorts the women to do so in a manner that will not be scandalous to outsiders. If they are married, they are to keep their symbol of marriage on–their head was to be covered with a veil or worn up as was the custom for married women in that day. This way they would not be confused with the temple prostitutes that were numerous in Corinth due to the temple of Aphrodite-Melainis. The temple prostitutes were identified by wearing their hair loose or shaving it off. Christian women were not to bring shame onto their husbands by looking like prostitutes, but were to keep their “wedding ring” on, and prophesy and pray in a socially acceptable manner. (For a great overview of the cultural and sociological context of these verses in 1 Corinthians, see my friend Mark Mattison’s “Because of the Angels: Head Coverings and Women in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 and 14:34,35.)

Whether widowed as Anna, never married as Philip’s daughters or married as some of the Corinthian women were, Christian women continued the ancient tradition of speaking God’s word to his people.


Shawna Renee Bound, Your Daughters Shall Prophesy: A Biblical Theology of Single Women in Ministry, unpublished thesis, (© by Shawna Renee Bound 2002), “Women in the Early Church.”

Stanley J. Grenz with Denise Muir Kjesbo, Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995).

Aída Besançon Spencer, Beyond the Curse: Women Called to Ministry (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), 43-63.

All biblical translations are from the New Testament: Divine Feminine Version unless otherwise noted.

Did you know there are only eight verses in the Bible that discourage women from speaking and holding leadership positions in the church? Did you know there are thousands of verses in the Bible that tell the stories of women who were leaders in their homes, towns, and religious circles? Meet the women in the Bible who were religious & civic leaders, business women, & women who challenged both Jesus and Moses in What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School. What else didn’t you learn in Sunday School? Find out when you buy What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down from Wipf and Stock Publishers or Amazon.com today.

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  15 Responses to “Career Women of the Bible: Apostles and Prophets”

  1. Hey, thanks for putting my girl Junia out there for people to know….BTW, I linked to your great Purity Ball post a week ago today (“Hijab for a Day”)

    Every blessing for Holy Week and Easter!

  2. Thank you Mother Laura. I’m still catching up on my feeds. I’ll have to go read your post.

  3. I’m undecided on the issue of the ordination of women, but I was once asked a question concerning the ordination of women that I feel is an important one for those in favor of it to ask themselves.

    What would God have had to do in history to make it clear that women should not be ordained?

  4. Matthew, I don’t know. I think the biblical evidence is pretty clear that God calls women to be leaders. We have Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah in the Old Testament and Mary Magdalene, Priscilla, and Junia in the New Testament. And that Jesus trusted women to proclaim his resurrection, when they couldn’t be legal witnesses, is the proverbial cherry on the sundae for me.

    Ordination is the man-made thing, and I do think we need a process of training and anointing leaders, but in the New Testament the process was the Holy Spirit called you then the church anointed you and you were “ordained” for ministry. If that, in Acts Paul would just appoint a couple of recent converts to oversee the house churches before he moved on to the next town.

  5. I think the arguments in favor of women’s ordination are more convincing than those in opposition, but, at bottom, the Catholic and Orthodox churches (for whom I tend to trust much more than Protestant churches) do not base their stance on any argument. Women are not ordained because Jesus chose twelve men to be his apostles. There were, of course, women leaders, as you make clear. But the twelve were men. Why? We don’t know. Maybe it was because he was adamant that the apostles could only be men, or maybe it was because it made travel easier, or maybe there was a sale on male tunics. We don’t know. Because of that, we don’t know the importance of his decision. Thus, we also don’t know if it was arbitrary. But, just in case Jesus chose all men for an important reason, the Catholic and Orthodox churches only ordain men.

    This may seem silly, but that is what it boils down to. And because of this Pope John Paul II made it clear that the Roman Catholic Church does not have the authority to ordain women.

    I think it is important to keep in mind that it is not based on any arguments concerning whether or not women would make good clergy, etc. And that not all those who are opposed to the ordination of women do so because they are being reactionary.

    I don’t find that because “ordination is a man-made thing” that it is ultimately dispensible or changeable. It is one of the sacraments.

    • Funny how there was female pope in the Roman Catholic Church in early history.

  6. I am an ordained minister in my denomination, so I don’t take ordination as lightly as my last comment made it sound like. But I do see it as, at least a church-made thing, something they had to do to train and hold pastors accountable, which I think is great. In fact, we should have more support and accountability as pastors in my denomination.

    As far as the twelve disciples being men, for me it’s a case of semantics. All 12 were also Jewish and yet we ordain Gentiles. Given the women leaders in the New Testament–particularly Phoebe in Romans 16, whom Paul calls a servant using the same Greek word he uses when he calls Timothy and Titus (a Gentile) pastors, I don’t think the 12 disciples can be the be all end all of ordination requirements.

  7. As I said, the arguments in favor of women’s ordination are very often more convincing than those in opposition…

  8. […] describe women in these places of leadership within the Early Church. In the last essay we looked female apostles and prophets. Now we will look at the female teachers in the New […]

  9. […] articles we have been looking at women who ministered in leadership positions in the New Testament (Apostles and Prophets and Teachers, Elders, and Coworkers). We saw women minister as prophets, apostles, teachers, […]

  10. I Believe in ordination of Women. Thank you
    for your insight.

  11. I think that this is a great topic that should be discussed. Just as the apostle Paul indicated that God chose the base things of the world to confound the wise or the so called “prudent.” I believe that when those who are called (male or female, Jew or Greek, bond or fee) rise up in the demonstration of God’s power, it will eradicate and overthrow the inerrant philosophies those that think they are wise. But again we do not move or reprove the Scriptures based on man’s wisdom but through the power, so that people’s faith can rest not in man’s wisdom but in the wisdom of God.

    I am so glad that you are standing for what you know to be the truth and the Law of Liberty for all mankind! For those who have a question about Jesus’ decision to choose only men don’t understand the difference between the Law and Faith in Christ. Jesus chose only men because He had not fulfilled the requirements of the Law yet. It was only until the veil (which is His flesh) was torn and ripped that all and I do mean all could come boldly to the throne of grace. Therefore because He had not fulfilled the Law until then, He subjected Himself to the obedience of the Law until it was satisfied by His atonement. How can anyone fulfill the Law if He does not yet subject himself to its very rules and regulations.

    However, we are living in the Davidic age that says all are welcome to come and offer up to God the sacrifice of Praise. It is funny how the enemy makes a big deal about women serving in the Temple, but he never seems to stir up strife about the Greek or the slave. Neither of these were able to serve as well until Christ broke the wall of partition that kept them out. Now what reamins the problem is the fact that we will not allow the spirit of God to pour into us fresh wine because we like the old better! Needless to say, we have to continually remind those that in the spirit their is no gender! That’s why Christ indicated that in heaven there will be no giving away in marriage in the Resurrection. Lord Please let us be transformed into a resurrected mentality so that the dead can bury the dead and the war can cease. Again, as I close we are no longer under fleshly ordinances (for those were only a shadow until the real comes)Hebrews 9. You have to ask yourself this question: Which is more real, the natural which is temporal or the sirit which is eternal? We must learn the difference between the natural order of things and the spiritual entity of the the corporate body of Christ. It is time for a reformation(change or renewing of mind). Unfortunately, changing mindsets can be painful because people take pride in the way that they think; rather than allowing the mind of the spirit of christ to formed in them. Those who try to receive this new wine wihtout putting on a new wineskine will have many outbursts of wrath. They must be willing to take on a new mindset. So instead of humbling themselves, the remain prideful. These people will not go to hell persay but they will never know the fullness and abundance that this new order can bring. As for me, I refuse to walk in any one els’s shadow(Meaning the Law).

    Grace and Peace,
    Prophetess Alicia Kee
    Hadassah Ministries
    Charlotte, NC

  12. Thank you for comments Alicia and for letting me know you stopped by.

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