Origen on the Apostle Juniaby Bridget Jack Jeffries, PhD Student (Church History), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

[UPDATE 12-17-2023: I no longer believe Origen wrote these comments below on Junia. They are instead the work of Rufinus of Aquileia (AD 340–410), and I will explain why this is most likely the case in a forthcoming article. In the meantime, I am leaving the rest of the post up unaltered from its original form.]

(Jump to Series Index)

Origen (AD 184/185 – 253/254) serves as one of six patristic witnesses [1] who commented on the apostle Junia and confirmed two of the three points of contention about her, namely, her gender and her apostolic status. While many Junia commentators mention this about Origen in passing, few bother to actually quote his comments on her in full, so I am presenting them here as a resource. Origen’s comments prove interesting because, not only does he confirm that Junia was an apostle in some sense, he says she was possibly a member of the seventy-two who were commissioned by Christ in Luke 10:1ff, a group that is predominantly thought of as exclusively male and viewed as an ordained, authoritative and/or venerated body in some church traditions. Later documents purporting to list the seventy disciples commissioned by Christ during his ministry would sometimes include women like Junia and Priscilla, but only after first turning them into men (!) [2] Origen, it would seem, had less reservations about a female member of the seventy.

If you have not studied Origen, know that while he wrote in Greek, the Greek text of his work survives only in fragments and quotations from other authors. Rather, most of his work has been preserved via a Latin translation by Rufinus of Aquileia (AD 345 – 410). This gives us two patristic witnesses for the price of one, as Rufinus’ Latin translation clears up some of the alleged ambiguity of the Greek text, assuming Origen quoted Romans 16 accurately.

The translations below are my own, working from Caroline P. Hammond Bammel’s critical edition of the Latin text. [3] 

Origen, Commentary on Romans 10.21.1-27

“Greet Andronicus and Junia (Andronicum et Iuniam), my relatives and fellow captives (concaptivos), who are excellent among the apostles (nobiles in apostolis) and were in Christ before me.” It may indeed be that they were relatives of Paul according to the flesh and that they believed in Christ before him and were regarded as excellent among the apostles of Christ (nobiles habiti sint in apostolis Christi). From this it may be understood that they were perhaps of the seventy-two (septuaginta duobus) who were themselves also called apostles (ipsi apostoli nominati sunt), and that it is on that account that he says they are excellent among the apostles (ideo nobiles eos in apostolis dicat), even among those who were apostles before him (in his apostolis qui ante eum fuerunt).

However, it troubles me when he says, “my fellow captives” (concaptivos meos). For, in fact, which imprisonment of Paul was there in which he attests that Andronicus and Junia (Andronicum et Iuniam) are also fellow prisoners (concaptivos)? Unless perhaps, by a more profound mystery, we should reflect on the captivity which Christ came to end, of which it is written was for coming and giving release to the captives and sight to the blind. They would seem to be in that captivity by one and the same estimation as even Paul was. Truly, if by way of example we were to say: when the nation of Israel was captive among the Assyrians or the Babylonians, all, indeed, seemed to be captives, but there was one reason for the captivity of everybody else and another for Daniel and Hananiah and also Azariah and Mishael. The former were in fact captives because of their sins, while in truth the others were captives themselves for the comfort of the captives. And on that account, if Daniel were to call someone from the common people, “My fellow captive” (concaptivus meus), it would not seem to be said as suitably as if he were to say to Hananiah and Azariah and Mishael, “My fellow captives” (concaptivi mei). With the latter, there is one reason for captivity which is very different from the reason for the rest of the nation. And so in this way Paul, perceiving something similar between himself and Andronicus and Junia (Andronico ac Iunia) according to the reasoning of a more concealed mystery, called them his fellow captives (concaptivos) in this world and excellent among the apostles (nobiles in apostolis).

  • Andronicum et Iuniam — Junia is accusative feminine singular here.
  • nobiles in apostolis — It is possible for the Latin in + ablative to mean “in the eyes of;” for example, De Bello Civili 1.61, “Caesaris in barbaris erat nomen obscurius / The name of Caesar was more obscure among the savages [but Caesar was not himself a savage].” However, Origen’s comments demonstrate that he interpreted the phrase inclusively, making it clear that Rufinus deemed in + ablative to be the most accurate inclusive translation of the Greek ἐν + dative, as opposed to some other construction, such as a genitive. This will be discussed in greater length in my article on Rufinus and Jerome.
  • septuaginta duobus — Origen believed that there were seventy-two of these apostolic disciples rather than seventy.
  • Andronico ac Iunia — Junia is ablative feminine singular here.

Origen, Commentary on Romans 10.26.1-7

Greet Herodion, my relative. And as with Andronicus and Junia (Andronicus et Iunia), this man is called a relative of Paul, but unlike them, he is named neither a fellow captive (concaptivus) nor excellent among the apostles (nobilis in apostolis) among those who were in Christ before Paul. From this it should be discerned that there is a considerable difference even among those whom Paul calls his relatives, in my opinion, according to the hypothesis that we undertook to explain above.

  • Andronicus et Iunia — Here, in this fourth mention of Junia, the nominative feminine singular occurs. This makes it absolutely clear that Origen was speaking of a woman since, if he had written Ἰουνιας, Rufinus likely would have translated it “Junias” or “Junius.” There are two late variants with the masculine “Junias” here, one from the 11th century and one from the 15th century, but four manuscripts dating to the 8th and 9th centuries all witness the feminine “Junia” or “Julia.” [4]

Origen, Commentary on Romans 10.39.41-47

Otherwise, if anyone disagrees with interpreting these things as a figure of speech, let him set forth to us how Timothy and Jason and Sosipater, who were citizens not just of greatly different cities but even provinces, were somehow relatives and of the same blood as Paul, and not just them but even Andronicus and Junia (Andronicus et Iunia) and Herodion, all of whom he names his relatives and fellow captives (concaptivos).

  • Andronicus et Iunia — Nominative feminine again, a final testament to the fact that it is a woman in view. Again, there are two late 12th century variant manuscripts which have “Junias,” but an 8th century, a 9th century, and two other 12th century manuscripts all have the feminine “Junia” or “Julia.” [5] Rabanus Maurus aka Hraban of Fulda (c. 776-856) quoted Origen’s commentary here and had Junia as feminine. [6]
  • Note that Origen has made a mistake here as Paul does not call Herodion his “fellow captive.”

Conclusion: Origen said that Junia was a woman, an apostle in some sense for whom a “considerable difference” existed between herself and other believers, and a possible member of the seventy-two (Luke 10:1ff). As the earliest commentator on Junia, Origen’s witness is an important one, every bit as important as the oft-cited passage from John Chrysostom. Christians who advocate for this forgotten female apostle would do well to refer to Origen liberally.

(Series Index)

The Junia Series – Introduction

  1. Who is Junia? A Brief Overview

II. The Patristic Commentators

  1. Origen on the Apostle Junia
  2. Did Origen say Junia Was a Man?
  3. John Chrysostom on the Apostle Junia
  4. Rufinus and Jerome on the Apostle Junia
  5. Ambrosiaster and Theodoret on the Apostle Junia

III. Later Commentators

  1. Index Discipulorum: A Troubled Witness

IV. Junia: An Apostle Herself, or Just Well-Regarded By Them?

  1. An Overview of the Burer-Wallace Contention
  2. Junia and the Island of Tyre

More will be added to the index as the series develops . . .


[1] The six patristic authors who commented on Junia or translated Romans 16:7 into Latin are {1} Origen (184/185 – 253/254) via {2} Rufinus (345 – 410), {3} John Chrysostom (c. 349 – 407), {4} Ambrosiaster (ca. AD 375), {5} Jerome (c. 345-419), and {6} Theodoret of Cyrrhus (c. 393 – 458/466). All of these authors said Junia was a woman and arguably all of them said that she herself was an apostle; the “esteemed by the apostles” interpretation now favored by complementarians is absent from antiquity. Note also that I exclude from this list the 6th century Index Discipulorum, often falsely attributed to the 4th century church father Epiphanius of Salamis.

[2] See my post on the Index Discipulorum later in this series.

[3] Origenes, Der Römerbriefkommentar des Origenes: Buch 7-10, edited by Caroline P. Hammond Bammel (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1998), 836-39, 853. For an explanation of the manuscript evidence, see Buch 1-3 (1990), 5-32.

[4] Ibid., 838.

[5] Ibid., 853.

[6] Patrologia Latina 111.1607-8.


14 Comments on Origen on the Apostle Junia: A New Translation

  1. Nice work again. In my Catholic Biblical Quarterly article (April 2022) I argue that sexist Greek speakers often took Prisca, Junia, and Julia to be men. Latin speakers were familiar with these Latin feminine names so they knew that they were women.

    So, Rufinus took Junia to be a woman (though it is interesting that the later manuscripts of Rufinus change Junia into a probable man). But did Origen? If Origen mistakenly took Junia to be a man, Rufinus could have corrected Origen’s mistake, couldn’t he?

    • Richard! I’m glad you commented. I’m prepping something to present on the Index Discipulorum and Origen’s comments on Junia at ETS and it will mention something the late Suzanne McCarthy said. I know you used to read her blog, and I thought maybe you’d be willing to take a look at my paper when it’s done?

      Your paper was phenomenal! The tension in P46 where Rom. 16:7 is concerned is interesting (both changing the text to say only Andronicus was in Christ before Paul—indicating that the author had some sense Junia was a woman—but also the textual change in 16:15 attempting to cast doubt on the earlier 16:7). I’ll have to think more about that.

      It’s also very interesting that Jerome lists “Priscus” in his Book of Hebrew names; he was certainly familiar with Priscilla (“Aquila and Priscilla educated Apollo, an apostolic man learned in the law, in the way of the Lord. If to be taught by a woman was not shameful to an apostle, why should it be to me afterwards to teach men and women?”, Ep. 65.1; he does reverse the most common order of their names there though). Now I’m wondering how often there was a tendency to make Prisca/Priscus and Priscilla in to separate people.

      The one thing I don’t think you talk about in your paper is, Junia was a well-known name apart from examples of women actually having the name because of Marcus Junius Brutus’ role in the assassination of Caesar. Even if fewer actual women had the name “Junia,” people would have had some sense of how the Roman gens system worked and that Junia was the likely feminine of Junius.

      As far as Origen goes, I do plan to argue that he saw a woman in the text. I’ll say why in my paper. Let me know if you’d be interested in reading it.

      • Hi again, Bridget. I have just been rereading Gamble (The Textual History of the Letter to the Romans). He questions whether Origen commented on Rom 16 (see pages 125-6).

        Your translation “even among those who were apostles before him” seems to suggest that the author of this part of the commentary was using the “western” text of Rom 16:7, which says that the apostles (and not A and J, or not just A and J) were in Christ before Paul. If this is correct, then the comments probably came from Rufinus, rather than Origen. Rufinus would certainly know that Πρισκαν and Ιουνιαν were female names. I’m not sure about Origen.

        Do you think Origen commented on the people in Rom 16? I have not studies the question.

      • Thanks Richard, I will look up Gamble this week! I haven’t studied this question yet, either; I’m wondering if Hammond Bammel addresses it in her text-critical edition of Origen’s Commentary on Romans. I’ll check it out!

  2. Question – Do you have a quote re: Mary in Romans 16:6, in which someone (Origen?) says that we are not ashamed but proud to have such women among us?

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