The one about underdogs

We are doing a series at my church called God of the Underdogs based on the book with the same title by Matthew Keller. It’s been a really great series and the book is excellent too! While I was reading the book I found myself thinking about some other underdogs from the Bible not mentioned in the book. At the same time, a friend of mine on Facebook recommended I like a page called The Junia Project and BOOM. I found the underdog I wanted to write about.

I first became aware of Junia the Apostle when I read Rachel Held Evans book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. The book is equal parts serious and tongue in cheek. Evans doesn’t cut her hair for a year and lives in a tent in her back yard during her period. But, she also talks to different denominations of Christian Women to find out how they define Biblical womanhood. At the beginning of each chapter she highlights a different woman of the Bible and the things they can teach us. It is an amazing book and I highly recommend it.

Anyway, Rachel starts her story about Junia by saying, “Although her name appears just once in Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, Junia the Apostle is perhaps the most silenced woman of the Bible.” Junia is mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:7

“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews

who have been in prison with me. They are

outstanding among the apostles,

and they were in Christ before I was.”

When we think about the apostles we tend to think of the “greatest hits” like the original twelve, Paul, Timothy, Silas, and Barnabas. But here sitting in the book of Romans is a woman apostle specifically mentioned by Paul. Not just mentioned, but called outstanding among ALL the apostles. Like, all those dudes just mentioned? Junia is called outstanding among them! Amazing!

So how does this make Junia an underdog? Two ways. One is that being a woman in first century Israel was no walk in the park. It is amazing that at a time where a woman’s testimony didn’t even matter in a court of law, a woman was considered an outstanding leader in the early church! Look at how many women are specifically mentioned in the New and Old Testament and you can pretty much give them all the title of underdog because just to be a woman in this time period meant you were one. And yet Jesus continually chose and used underdogs including women. I love when Jesus knocks down a barrier.

The second way Junia is an underdog comes well after the time she lived. You see the early church fathers were not too stoked about a woman being given such high praise on the same level as the likes of Peter and Paul. I’ll quote Evan’s book here. “But as time went on, the mention of a female apostle became inconvenient for the increasingly hierarchical Church, so a medieval theologian found a creative solution to the problem: he turned Junia into a man. Andronicus and Junia became Andronicus and Junias.”

I know! It’s crazy! Junia moves from underdog to “outstanding among the apostles” and then gets erased completely from Biblical existence for centuries! In case you are doubting the veracity of this story (ie translation issues etc) I’ll let Evans explain further. “This was no small error. The masculine name Junias does not occur in a single inscription, letterhead, work of literature, or epitaph in the Grec0-Roman world, while the feminine name Junia is everywhere.” (emphasis mine)

She continues that early Christian theologians all identified the apostle Junia as woman, but “…the myth caught on, especially after Martin Luther used Junias, rather than Junia, in his German translation. ” 

Even today some translations still identify Junia as a man. How does something like this happen? I know I’ve been quoting a lot but professor Lynn Cohick of Wheaton College had an answer for Evans in her book. “The answer lies in the translation committees’ convictions that a female apostle was unlikely, and so the name Junias-unknown throughout the Greco-Roman world-was created ex nihilo to match their presuppositions.” 

So, now that there is mounting evidence proving that Junia is a woman the problem is over right? She’s back on top! Wrong.  Evans tells us that even today “some contemporary theologians now argue that since Junia is a woman, the phrase ‘outstanding among the apostles’ should instead be read as ‘esteemed by the apostles,’ thus allowing Junia to be female so long as she is not actually an apostle.” (emphasis mine)

What do I take away from this? One thing is that some people will go to any length to try and silence a strong woman. But more importantly, what I learn from Junia is that I won’t necessarily stop being an underdog. Junia seemed to have overcome her label as lesser than. She lived in a time that was way harder on her than my own time is now, but in some ways she’s still as much of an underdog as she ever was. There will be moments where I will feel like the odds are stacked against me. Then, with God’s help, I will rise to the occasion and accomplish something I never imagined I could. The trick is to hold onto the moment and lock it away in my memory. That way when I wake up to a fresh set of obstacles that threaten to overwhelm me, I’ll remember who I am. I am an underdog who God has chosen to use in mighty and powerful ways. Life may try to tell me I am less than I am. But the truth of who I am is in the One who called me. And he says I am more than a conqueror. I’m going to keep moving so that one day I too will get the honor of being called “outstanding among the apostles.”

What about you? Do you ever feel like an underdog? How do you get past that feeling? What do you think of Junia’s story? Do you ever feel like Junia? Underestimated and forgotten?

For further reading:

A Year of Biblical Womanhood 

The Junia Project


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