This name, Junia, is a Greek woman’s name. It comes from Juno, the god to whom Greek women prayed for an easy childbirth. So it is an extremely female name. However, some Bibles choose to replace it with Junias – a male version of the name. This male version is entirely made-up, it is not found in any ancient source. A masculine version did not enter common use until after the Reformation.
Why do they do this? Well, it seems some don’t like the idea of an apostle being a woman!
However, we can be very sure that Junia was a woman. She was always understood to be a woman in ancient times. The earliest mention of her was by Origen of Alexandria writing in the 2nd century CE, who understood that she was a woman. Indeed, the tradition among the churches was always that Junia was female. Attitudes only changed in recent centuries.
How can translators can get away with changing Junia to Junias? It’s not entirely their fault; it’s partly because of Greek grammar rules.
You see, the Greek source text doesn’t say either name, it actually says Junian, but that last letter is not part of the name. The last letter is added to put the name in what’s called “the accusative case.” What’s that? It’s a feature of grammar where the spelling is changed to show who is being discussed in the sentence (this also known as the grammatical object). This is a feature of many languages, including modern Greek and German. At one time, we also had the feature in English, but now we do the same thing by using word-order instead.
Now, to put something in this case, Greek-speakers must add the letter ν (which sounds like ‘n’) to the end of the word, or change the last letter to ν if it already ends in the letter s. So, if the name was originally Junias, it would be changed to Junian. However, if the name was originally Junia, then it would still be changed to Junian. The reader has to use their own personal knowledge and the context to decide whether the original spelling was Junia or Junias.
So what would an ancient reader have thought? Well, as we said, there was no such male name as Junias, and Junia was a female name about being blessed in childbirth. It couldn’t be more female if it tried! And also, we have 1,500 years of documented writings, starting from the 2nd century, all stating that the person is female.
Finally, this Bible book may have been originally written in Aramaic, and that language doesn’t change the word ending like Greek does. In Aramaic, this Greek name is turned into Aramaic characters (transliterated) and spells out the sounds for Junia.
So yes, an apostle was a female. While this may shock some, keep in mind that the meaning of the word apostle just means ‘sent one,’ and there is no implication that she was one of Jesus’ 12 apostles – we’re decades too late for that. The word apostle could actually be translated as missionary. See the commentary, How the first Christian Churches were organized for more information.