Stephanas or Stephana: Man or Woman?

"The Scribe" by Jean Mielot

Image Credit: “The Scribe” by Jean Mielot
From Scribes and Illuminators, C. de Hamel, British Museum Press.

Junia and Nympha

It is commonly acknowledged by contemporary Bible scholars that Junias and Nymphas, as their names appear in some older English translations,[1] are actually two women: Junia (Rom. 16:7) and Nympha (Col. 4:15).  [N.B The highlighted references on this site use the NASB 1995 which has the incorrect masculine “Junias” in Rom. 16:7.]

At some point the genders of Junia and Nympha were altered in Greek texts.  In Junia’s case, the accent was changed to make her name masculine.  In Nympha’s case, the accent was also changed, plus the personal pronoun in Colossians 4:15 was changed from a feminine pronoun (corresponding to the English “her”) to a masculine pronoun (corresponding to “him”).

The alterations to the genders of these two women happened on two separate occasions, sometime in the middle ages.[2]

I suggest that scribes who were making copies of the Greek Scriptures looked at the feminine names and the feminine pronoun in the manuscripts that they were copying and thought that they were looking at mistakes.  After all, a woman can’t possibly be an apostle – can she? And Paul can’t possibly be implying that a woman was a house church leader in Colossae?

It seems that the scribes believed that it was impossible for women to be church leaders.  So, believing that they were correcting a previous mistake, they masculinised Junia and Nympha in their manuscripts.  These corrupted Greek manuscripts were then copied by other scribes.   These copies were subsequently used as resources for some English translations.  A few modern English translations retain these corruptions.[3]

[I have written more about Junia, including the alteration of her name here.  See, especially, the endnotes.]

Stephana?

Some people, aware that the feminine gender of Junia and Nympha has been obscurred in the past, speculate that Stephanas, mentioned three times in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, was also a woman whose gender has been obscured (1 Cor 1:16; 16:15,17).  The idea that Stephanas was a woman may seem plausible to people with a scant knowledge of Greek.  This is because each occurrence of the name Stephanas appears in the Greek as Stephana, which appears to be feminine.  However it is important to note that in all three occurrences, Stephanas is not the subject of the sentence; and the name is not in the nominative (subject) case but in the genitive (“possessive”) case.

In Greek there are five main cases.[4]  Each different case has different case endings – different suffixes attached to the stem of the word.  Many NT names have a nominative, genitive, accusative and dative case ending, and, more rarely, a vocative case ending.

Stephanas is a man’s name; and, if he had been the subject of these sentences in 1 Corinthians, the Greek would have read Stephanas (nominative case).  But in each instance his name, Stephanas appears in the genitive case – Stephana.[5]

By way of explanation:

  • In 1 Corinthians 1:16, Paul is the subject. He was the one who did the action of baptizing.
  • The household is the object (accusative case). The people in the household are the one’s who Paul “acted” upon with baptism.
  • The household belonged to Stephanas, so Stephanas is in the genitive (possessive) case and thus, according to the rules of Greek grammar, Stephanas loses the final sigma (s) and becomes – Stephana.  Other similar masculine names also lose the final sigma (s) in the genitive case. [See endnote 6.]

In English we usually add an ‘s to indicate possession.  As in: Mary‘s book.  Or we might use the word “of”.  As in: The house “of” Stephanas (1 Cor 1:16; 1 Cor 16:15), and the coming “of” Stephanas (1 Cor 16:17).

If the person in 1 Corinthians 1:16, 16:15, 17 actually had been a woman – Stephana, the name would have ended in a sigma (“s”) in the Greek of these verses, because feminine names typically end in a sigma in the genitive (“possessive”) case.

Admittedly Stephanas is an uncommon name.  The usual form is Stephanos, which is equivalent to Stephen (Acts 6:8, etc).  However, taking into account the Greek grammar, I firmly believe that Stephana is a singular masculine noun in the genitive case, and that the person Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians is a man named Stephanas.  Moreover there are no variants of the name in different Greek mansucripts.  That is, there is no evidence that the name has been altered in any of the various Greek manuscripts, as was the case for Nympha and Junia.[7]

So who was Stephanas?

Stephanas was a member of the church at Corinth, and his household were among the first Christian converts in Archaia (cf Acts 16:14-15).  Stephanas and his household had been baptised by Paul and they were devoted to Christian ministry.  Stephanas, along with two other men, went to visit Paul in Ephesus to help him in his mission.

Paul thought very highly of Stephanas and his household. This is what he wrote about Stephanas as he closed his first letter to the Corinthians:

You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you.  For they refreshed my spirit and yours also.  Such people deserve recognition. 1 Corinthians 16:15-18


Endnotes

[1] “The universal view of the early fathers was that the name was Junia, and that she was a woman, and the English Authorised Version of 1611 followed this reading ‘Junia’, clearly a woman’s name; and in fact ‘Junias’ became a man in English translations only in 1881 when the Revised Version was published. Luther, however, in his German translation of 1552 had already opted for [the masculine] “den Juniam”, and continental translations have since then mostly followed this masculine interpretation. (John Thorley,“Junia, a Woman Apostle” inNovum Testamentum, Vol. 38, January, 1996, pp. 18-29.)

[2] The masculine and feminine form for Junia(s) and the masculine and feminine form for Nympha(s) are practically identical in the accusative case.  (These names only appear in the accusative case in the New Testament.) [See endnote 6.]

From my observations (which are still sketchy), Nympha’s masculine name and pronoun occurs in the  Textus Receptus which has affected the KJV and NKJV translations of Nympha.  Junia’s name is masculinsed in the Majority Text and Wescott and Hort which has affected the translation of Junia into Junias in the NASB and NIV 94, etc.  These corruptions (and others) appear in other manuscripts, but they do not appear in the older Greek manuscripts which are considered to be more faithful to Paul’s original letters.

[3] The  NASB 95 and the NIV 94 have the masculine name “Junias”.  The NIV 2011, KJV, NKJV, ESV, NLT and many other English translations have “Junia”.  Some of these translations add a footnote suggesting the possibility of “Junias” as a translation.

The KJV and the NKJV have the masculine “Nymphas” with the masculine pronoun “his”. Most modern English translations have “Nympha” and “her” in Col 4:15.

[4] Some Greek scholars maintain that there are eight cases.

[5] With a circumflex over the final alpha.

[6] The names Stephanas, Thomas, Judas, Kephas (Cephas) and Akulas (Aquila), etc, are all first declension masculine nouns. (They are declined differently to the more common second declension masculine nouns.)

[7] There are a few variants involving the accents of Nympha’s name in various Greek manuscripts.

If the name Nympha is accented with a circumflex on the ultima (Νυμφᾶν, Numfan), then it refers to a man; if it receives an acute accent on the penult (Νύμφαν), the reference is to a woman. Scribes that considered Nympha to be a man’s name had the corresponding masculine pronoun αὐτοῦ here (autou, “his”; so D [F G] Ψ Ï), while those who saw Nympha as a woman read the feminine αὐτῆς here (auth”, “her”; B 0278 6 1739[*] 1881 sa). Several mss (א A C P 075 33 81 104 326 1175 2464 bo) have αὐτῶν (autwn, “their”), perhaps because of indecisiveness on the gender of Nympha, perhaps because they included ἀδελφούς (adelfou”, here translated “brothers and sisters”) as part of the referent. (Perhaps because accents were not part of the original text, scribes were particularly confused here.) The harder reading is certainly αὐτῆς, and thus Nympha should be considered a woman.  Note from the NET Bible here.

There are also a few variants of Junia’s name involving accents.  A few sources even have the name (equivalent to) Julia instead of Junia.  The variants of Junia’s name are given in the apparatus of good Greek New Testaments.  [The NET Bible does not give a rundown of the variants of Junia which I can simply copy and paste, like they do for "Nympha".]

© 20th of November, 2011; Margaret Mowczko

Postscript (16.01.12): There has been some discussion recently about whether any of names of false teachers mentioned in the letters to Timothy are feminine names.  The short answer is ‘no’.  The names Hymenaeus and Philetus end with the typical nominative masculine ending of “os” in the Greek of 2 Timothy 2:17, as does Hymenaeus and Alexander in 1 Timothy 1:20.  Also, these verses contain grammatically masculine pronouns and participles, etc, which is an indication that these people were most probably men.  Hymenaeus is not an uncommon masculine name found in Greek mythology and elsewhere.  Philetus is less common and in Greek means “worthy of love”.


Related Articles

Lessons in Ministry from the Ministry of Stephanas
Junia and the ESV
New Testament Women Church Leaders
Interpretations and Applications of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Euodia and Syntyche: Women Church Leaders in Philippi
Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders

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Posted November 20th, 2011 . Categories/Tags: Equality and Gender Issues, Women in Ministry, , , , , , ,

11 comments on “Stephanas or Stephana: Man or Woman?

  1. Becky says:

    Hi Marg, your research is impressive. Thank you for writing this!

  2. Marg says:

    Thanks Becky. <3

  3. [...] Stephanas or Stephana: Man or Woman? [...]

  4. [...] Question – why would it be a big deal in the first place for a woman to be an apostle in the New Testament when a woman was a national Judge in the Old Testament, when God Himself by His own testimony explicitly sent a woman as a national leader of the children of Israel, where the word Apostle means “sent” (by God)?  No-one in our days might use the word “Apostle” for Miriam, but that might be what she was, or the status that she had, by God’s own testimony, along with being a prophet.  More on Nympha and Junia in this article. [...]

  5. [...] Paul fondly mentions many women in his letters: Apphia (Phm 1:2), Claudia (2 Tim 4:21), Chloe (1 Cor 1:11), Euodia (Php 4:2), Julia (Rom 16:15), Junia (Rom 16:7), Lois and Eunice (2 Tim 1:5), Mary (Rom 16:6), Nereus’ sister (Rom 16:15), Nympha (Col 4:15), Persis (Rom 16:12), Phoebe (Rom 16:1-2), Priscilla (Rom 6:3-5); 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19), Rufus’ mother (Rom 16:13), Syntyche (Php 4:2), Tryphena and Tryphosa (Rom 16:12). These women were actively involved in significant ministry, some as leaders. [...]

  6. […] [13] Some English translations have the masculine name “Nymphas” and the masculine pronoun “his” but the best Greek texts have the feminine name and pronoun.   [See my article Stephanas or Stephana: Man or Woman? for more on this, here.] […]

  7. […] Stephanas or Stephana: Man or Woman? […]

  8. Robin Cohn says:

    I’ve already posted one of your posts to my Facebook account but I’ll have to pace myself before posting more from your blog. I wouldn’t want my readers to think that you are the center of my universe. Good stuff here. Thanks for your work.

  9. […] When a single proof text (or even a couple) is used to formulate and argue beliefs, there is a danger of ignoring other Bible verses which may seem to say something different or even contradict the desired premise.  The significance of other passages might be down played, or their meaning distorted or obscured.  This has happened in the Women in Ministry debate.  Many New Testament verses which reveal that women did function as ministers and leaders have been simply overlooked and ignored, or even altered. […]

  10. […] “Paul valued Priscilla, Euodia and Syntyche as his co-workers in the Gospel ministry. He refers to Junia as outstanding among the apostles. He commends Phoebe as a sister, patroness and minister. He acknowledges the ministry labours of Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis. He took seriously a report from Chloe of Corinth. He passed on greetings from Claudia of Rome, and sent greetings to Apphia of Colossae. He warmly mentions no less than ten women in Roman 16. He recognised the house church of Nympha in Laodicea. He accepted the hospitality of Lydia in Philippi. He respected the faith of Lois and Eunice. Paul valued the ministry of women and even compared his own ministry to that of a breastfeeding woman.” […]

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