Learning to thrive in the new life Jesus offers us – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

Stephanas or Stephana: Man or Woman?

Stephanas or Stephana: Man or Woman?

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).[2] [N.B. The highlighted references on this site use the NASB 1995 which has the incorrect masculine “Junias” in Rom. 16:7.]

When the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament began to be accented Junia and Nympha were accented as feminine nouns.[2] But at some point, the genders of Junia and Nympha were made masculine by changing the accents. Furthermore, the personal pronoun in Colossians 4:15 was also changed from a feminine pronoun (corresponding to the English “her”) to a masculine pronoun (corresponding to “him”), or, in some cases a non-gendered plural pronoun.[3]

The alterations to the genders of these two women happened on two separate occasions, sometime in the middle ages. I suggest the scribes who were making copies of the Greek Scriptures looked at the names and presumed they were masculine names, and they changed the accents accordingly. It seems the feminine pronoun in Colossians 4:15 was also seen as a mistake that needed to be corrected. 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—can he?

These errors were then copied by other scribes, and these Greek copies were subsequently used as resources for some English translations. A few modern English translations retain these mistakes.[4]

[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 obscured 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 so the name is not in the nominative (subject) case but in the genitive (“possessive”) case.

In Greek there are four main cases.[5] Each different case has different case endings: different suffixes attached to the stem of the word. Many names in the New Testament have nominative, genitive, accusative and dative case endings, and sometimes a vocative case ending.

Stephanas is a man’s name and, if he had been the subject of the sentences in 1 Corinthians, the Greek would have read Stephanas (nominative, or subject case). But in each instance his name, Stephanas appears in the genitive, or “possessive” case, correctly, as Stephana.[6]

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 found in the New Testament also lose the final sigma (s) in the genitive case. [See endnote 7.]

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 called 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 (e.g. Acts 6:8). However, taking into account the Greek grammar, Stephana is a singular masculine noun in the genitive case, indicating that the person Paul speaks about in 1 Corinthians is a man named Stephanas. Furthermore, there are no variants of the name in different Greek manuscripts of 1 Corinthians. That is, there is no evidence that the gender has been altered in any of the various Greek manuscripts, as was the case for Nympha and Junia.[8]

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” in Novum Testamentum, Vol. 38, (January, 1996) 18.

[2] One reason we know that Junia is really a woman is that the masculinised name Junias simply doesn’t exist in any surviving ancient papyrus or inscription, whereas Junia appears numerous times. The reason we know Nympha is really a woman is because of the feminine pronoun in the older unaccented manuscripts of Colossians 4:15.

[3] The masculine and feminine forms for Junia(s) and the masculine and feminine forms for Nympha(s) are practically identical in the accusative case: it is only the accents which are different, the letters are the same. These names only appear in the accusative case in the New Testament. (See endnote 8.)

[4] The NASB 95 and the NIV 84 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 Colossians 4:15.

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. (See endnote 7 also.) Junia’s name is masculinised in the Majority Text and Wescott and Hort which has affected the translation of Junia into Junias in the NASB and NIV 84, etc. These mistakes (and others) also appear in some other Greek manuscripts, but they do not appear in the older, more ancient Greek manuscripts which are considered to be more faithful to Paul’s original letters.

[5] Some Greek scholars maintain there are eight cases.

[6] With a circumflex over the final alpha. (See endnote 8.)

[7] 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.)

[8] 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.  Hymenaeus is not an uncommon masculine name found in Greek mythology and elsewhere.  Philetus is less common and in Greek means “worthy of love”. Alexander is a very well known masculine name.


Related Articles

7 Lessons in Ministry from the Ministry of Stephanas
Junia in Romans 16:7
New Testament Women Church Leaders
Euodia and Syntyche: Women Church Leaders in Philippi
Paul and Women, in a Nutshell
Paul’s Qualifications for Church Leaders

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

Unkind, judgemental, bizarre, and off-topic comments will be deleted.

22 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. 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.

  4. ADRIENNE WATT says:

    What do you mean by this ? “but they do not appear in the older, more ancient Greek manuscripts which are considered to be more faithful to Paul’s original letters.” You mentioned the Textus Receptus and the Majority text but what could be more authentic than the textus receptus? I have been taught the textus receptus in the way to go.

    • Marg says:

      The textus receptus wasn’t created until the late middle ages, using Greek manuscripts that were not particularly ancient.

      There are numerous surviving manuscripts of various New Testament books and passages which date to much earlier than the manuscripts used for the textus receptus.

      One papyrus of fragments of the Gospel of Matthew (P. MAGD. GR. 17 = P64) is thought to date to around 200 AD.

      Papyrus 46, dates from around the same time, and is the earliest surviving manuscript containing many of Paul’s letters, plus the letter to the Hebrews.

      The textual differences between the textus receptus and the earlier manuscripts are mostly inconsequential. However, I do not know of any New Testament scholar who uses the textus receptus as their primary New Testament.

      • .. says:

        Yes but you leave out the fact most old manuscripts were written via textus receptus and have been validated as being the most widely accepted in old times. Because of this they obviously wore out however the overwhelming majority (until current times) was based off those texts for a reason. It’s also interesting to note the Dead Sea scrolls which is where we find this feminine language used was buried in the earth.

        Why is it if those scrolls were so biblically sound did they get buried? God said his pure truth would remain for all times…..did he mean just parts of it? Apparently until the finding of the Dead Sea scrolls we have not had Gods complete truth?

        It has been scientifically proven that the Dead Sea scrolls have been rewritten over as many as 20 times in some places and logic should tell us someone long, long ago noticed this and had a dilemma. Should he destroy the scrolls which although were flawed, still had much truth to them or should he bury them with the attempt to conceal the many errors written therein and let God decide what comes of them.

        It would appear the later was his choice. During this time manuscripts were gold, few existed and everyone wanted to make a copy. It’s not logical to think people of this time took a pure copy of God’s word and stuffed it into a jar which was then promptly buried.

        • .. says:

          Oh and keep in mind I could care less on the role or value women played in the Bible any more then I care if it was a man….It’s the truth I’m after. It seems to me women care about this more than men as it is always women bringing these gender facts into play religion or otherwise.

          What I do care about is you overlooking the giant elephant in the room known as textus receptus in favor of much lesser used and older manuscripts….older is not necessarily better.

          P.S. If you really want to read more on great women in our faith then do some time reading up on Ellen G. White or some of her many books…..she is an incredible women of the Christian faith.

        • Marg says:

          Don’t you mean the textus receptus was written via old manuscripts? Though some give it a later date, the earliest possible date for the textus receptus is 1516 which is the date Erasmus published the first edition of his Greek New Testament. He used several manuscripts in writing his edition. However, we now have access to many more manuscripts that were a lot older than the ones Erasmus worked from.

          The Dead Sea Scrolls do not contain New Testament books and have nothing to do with Junia, Nympha or Stephanas.

          I think you need to find some better information. And I have no idea what this means: “During this time manuscripts were gold, few existed and everyone wanted to make a copy.” Which time are you referring to? The time of the Qumran community (2nd century BC to the 1st century AD)? Also, not everyone wanted a copy of whatever manuscript you’re referring to. They weren’t wanted by the many people who could not read. And they were too costly for most to afford.

  5. Bereenne says:

    Hi Marg,
    Do you know, Epistle to the Laodiceans?

    Probably for Nympha, a woman ! 😉

    Blessing

    Sandra

    Wikipedia:

    And when this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read before the church at Laodicea, and that you yourselves read the letter which will be forwarded from there.
    — Colossians 4:16 OEBFor centuries some Western Latin Bibles used to contain a small Epistle from Paul to the Laodiceans.[14] The oldest known Bible copy of this epistle is in a Fulda manuscript written for Victor of Capua in 546. It is mentioned by various writers from the fourth century onwards, notably by Pope Gregory the Great, to whose influence may ultimately be due the frequent occurrence of it in Bibles written in England; for it is commoner in English Bibles than in others. John Wycliffe included Paul’s letter to the Laodiceans in his Bible translation from the Latin to English. However this epistle is not without controversy because there is no evidence of a Greek text.[15] It contains almost no doctrine, teachings, or narrative not found elsewhere, and its exclusion from the Biblical canon has little effect.[citation needed]

    The text was almost unanimously considered pseudepigraphal when the Christian Biblical canon was decided upon, and does not appear in any Greek copies of the Bible at all, nor is it known in Syriac or other versions.[16] Jerome, who wrote the Latin Vulgate translation, wrote in the 4th century, “it is rejected by everyone….

    —————

    Century then womans was prohibited

    • Marg says:

      Hi Bereenne,

      The Epistle to the Laodiceans is an ancient apocryphal letter. No one thinks it is the letter Paul wrote to the Laodiceans. You can read the letter, with a little bit of good information as well, here.

      The letter is addressed to the Laodicean brothers (and sisters). It’s not addressed to Nympha.

      • Bereenne says:

        The Epistle to the Laodiceans was declared apocryphal letter. Why? Because no greque’s spripture, perhaps…

        Certainly, we will speak about in a couple of years.
        The first time, I heart speaking about Junia(s), a woman, I think it’s impossible! Probabely a feminist “joke”! A long time after, I’am sure it’s possible to change some caractere in the Bible…

        Blessing

        • Marg says:

          There are lots and lots of ancient Christian documents that have survived, other than those contained in the New Testament (and the Apostolic Fathers). The Epistle to the Laodiceans is just one of them.

          Some of these documents, including the apocryphal letters, are interesting and they give us insight into the thinking of some Christian groups in the second and third centuries.

          You can read English translations of many of these ancient documents on the Early Christian Writings website.

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