This entry is part 106 of 134 in the series: Tough texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 1:27 – a hint of male headship?
- Genesis 2:23 – Does naming imply authority?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 3:16b – ‘Your desire shall be for your husband’
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 9:20-25 – the ‘Curse of Ham’
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 15:16 – ‘The sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its limit’
- Genesis 19 – What was the sin of Sodom?
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Leviticus 18:22; 20:13 – Homosexual acts prohibited?
- Leviticus 19:18 “Love your neighbour as yourself”
- Deuteronomy 23:6 – ‘Never be kind to a Moabite’?
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- Ruth 3:6-9 – Did Ruth seduce Boaz?
- 1 Samuel 16:14 – ‘An evil spirit from the Lord’
- 1 Samuel 28:7-14 – Did Samuel visit from the grave?
- 2 Samuel 1:26 – ‘More special than the love of women’
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Isaiah 14:12 – Is Satan a fallen angel?
- Daniel 7:13 – ‘Coming with the clouds of heaven’
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Mt 3:17/Mk 1:11/Lk 3:22 – What did the voice say?
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:22/Luke 9:60 – ‘Let the dead bury their dead’?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Mt 10:28/Lk 12:4f – Whom should we fear?
- Matthew 10:28 – ‘destroy’: annihilation or everlasting punishment?
- Matthew 10:34 – ‘Not peace, but a sword’?
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Mt 12:30/Mk 9:40/Lk 11:23 – For, or against?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Mt 16:28/Mk 9:1/Lk 9:27 – “Some standing here will see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom”
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Mt 24:34/Mk 13:30 – ‘This generation will not pass away’
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10 – The unpardonable sin
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2 – Was Joseph from Nazareth, or Bethlehem?
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 2:39 – No room for a flight into Egypt?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- Luke 14:26 – Hate your family?
- Luke 22:36 – ‘Sell your cloak and buy a sword’
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- Mt 1:24f/13:55/Jn 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- Mt 21/Mk 11/Lk 19/Jn 2 – When (and how many times) did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 7:40-44 – Did John know about Jesus’ birthplace?
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 10:8 – “All who came before me were thieves and robbers”
- John 10:34 – “You are gods”
- John 14:2 – “Many dwelling places”
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- Jn 20:22/Acts 2 – How many Pentecosts?
- John 21:11 – One hundred and fifty three fish
- Acts 1:6 – a misguided question?
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Acts 5:34-37 – a (minor) historical inaccuracy?
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Romans 1:26-27 – ‘Natural’ and ‘unnatural’ sexual relations
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 10:4 – ‘Christ is the end of the law’
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- Romans 16:7 – ‘Junia…well known to the apostles’
- 1 Corinthians 7:14 – Sanctified spouses, holy children
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:28 – ‘The Son himself will be subjected to [God]’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Philippians 2:10 – ‘The name that is above every name’
- 1 Cor 11:3/Eph 5:23 – ‘Kephale’: ‘head’? ‘source’? ‘foremost’?
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Thessalonians 4:17 – a pre-tribulation ‘rapture’?
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:11f – ‘I do not allow woman to teach or exercise authority over a man’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 1:4 – ‘Partakers of the divine nature’
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- 1 Jn 5:16f – The sin that does, and the sin that does not, lead to death
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 7:4 – The 144,000
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
Romans 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my compatriots and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.
Paul says four significant things about this couple:
- They are his ‘compatriots’. He has family affinity with them. Probably, he regards them as fellow-Jews; possibly, as fellow-Benjaminites.
- They are/have been his ‘fellow prisoners’. Some scholars suggest that this would have been in Caesarea, but cf. 2 Cor 11:23. The text does not make it clear whether they were prisoners at the same time as Paul or at a different time.
- They are ‘well known to (or among) the apostles. The exact meaning of this is debated.
- They were ‘in Christ’ before him. Longenecker (along with some others) thinks it likely that Christianity came to Rome prior to Paul’s Gentile mission, that it arrived through through believers from (the Roman province of) Judea, and that Andronicus and Junia were involved in this early phase of evangelism. If, as seems likely, Paul’s conversion took place within a couple of years of the crucifixion, this couple must be regarded as being among the earliest of believers. This, in turn, makes it like that they were originally Palestinian Jews (Morris).
Along with Prisca and Aquila, Epenetus, and Miriam, Andronicus and Junia would have quite recently returned to Rome after Claudius’ decree of banishment of Jews and Christians from that city had been reversed. It is not surprising, then, that Paul singles out these pioneering believers for special mention.
Belleville argues that:
‘Andronicus and Junia could have been among “all the apostles” (beyond the Twelve) or among the five hundred to whom Christ appeared (1 Cor 15:6–7). But the facts better fit their having been among the “visitors from Rome” who responded to Peter’s preaching at Pentecost (Acts 2). Both were Jewish, both had Greek (Hellenized) names, and both preceded Paul “in Christ” (Rom 16:7). This would place them most naturally during the early years of the church’s outreach in Jerusalem (Acts 2–7).’
Matthew Poole speaks for a number of commentators, old and recent, when he says that
‘some have thought these two, Andronicus and Junia, were of the number of the seventy disciples, who are mentioned Luke 10:1. Others, that they were of the one hundred and twenty, who are mentioned Acts 1:15; or of those that were converted by the first preaching of Peter, and the rest, Acts 2:41; 4:4.’
Edwards agrees that
‘they might have been among the Roman visitors to Jerusalem converted at Pentecost (Acts 2:10), who then returned to evangelize the capital.’
The main questions to be discussed here are
Was Junia male, or female?
Was s/he well known to the apostles, or (along with Andronicus) well known as an apostle?
If well known as an apostle, is this apostleship to be understood in a technical, semi-technical, or informal way?
1. Was Junia male, or female?
The male and female forms are distinguished only by different accents, thus:
Female accent – Ἰουνίαν (Iounían). In English: Junia.
Male accent – Ἰουνιᾶν (Iounián). In English: Junias.
But the original Greek text of the NT had no accents, leading to the conclusion of some that ‘it is unclear whether a masculine (Junias) or a feminine name (Junia) is intended (the masculine is not found elsewhere)’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary).
According to Moo, the view prior to the 13th century favoured a female identification. From the 13th to the mid-20th century scholars inclined to a male identification. Contemporary scholarship decisively favours the feminine form. In this case, the pair is presumably husband and wife.
‘The majority of English translations done from the 1940s to the early 1970s translate Iounian as the masculine name Junias. On the other hand, older translations (e.g., Wycliffe Bible, Tyndale New Testament, Geneva Bible, KJV, Weymouth), more recent revisions (NKJV, NRSV, NABr, REB, TNIV) and newer translations (e.g., God’s Word, NLT, Holman Christian Standard, NET, ESV) render Iounian as the feminine Junia.’
Belleville identifies as the key reason for this the fact that the male form of the name is not attested, whereas the female form occurs quite frequently, especially around Rome. (Discovering Biblical Equality)
‘Because she and Andronicus traveled together without scandal, and singleness was unusual, they were undoubtedly a husband-wife team; husband-wife teams were known in some professions, like doctors and lower-class merchants.’ (IVPBBCNT)
The same author:
‘“Junia” itself is clearly a feminine name, but writers inclined to doubt that Paul could have referred to a female apostle have proposed that this is a contraction for the masculine “Junianus.” But this contraction does not occur in our inscriptions from Rome and is by any count quite rare compared to the common feminine name; the proposal rests on the assumption that a woman could not be an apostle, rather than on any evidence inherent in the text itself.’ (DPL, art. ‘Man and Woman’)
‘I accept this feminine reading Ἰουνίαν, translated as “Junia,” and understand her as most likely the wife of Andronicus.’
The early Fathers of the church overwhelmingly taught that Junia was female. So did scholars of the Reformation era (Luther being a notable exception).
Matthew Henry inclines to the view that Junia was a woman, and probably the wife of Andronicus. He clearly thinks that they were eminent in the esteem of the apostles,
‘not so much perhaps because they were persons of estate and quality in the world as because they were eminent for knowledge, and gifts, and graces, which made them famous among the apostles, who were competent judges of those things, and were endued with a spirit of discerning not only the sincerity, but the eminency, of Christians’
‘Junia may probably be the name of a woman, the wife of Andronicus.’
‘It is very doubtful whether Junia be the name of a man or of a woman, as the form in which it occurs (Ἰουνίαν) admits of either explanation. If a man’s name, it is Junias; if a woman’s, it is Junia. It is commonly taken as a female name, and the person intended is supposed to have been the wife or sister of Andronicus.’
John Brown notes that the name may indicate either a man or a woman; but assumes the former.
‘Salute Andronicus and Junia – or, as it might be, ‘Junias,’ a contracted form of ‘Junianus:’ in this case, it is a man’s name. But if, as is more probable, the word be, as in our version, “Junia,” the person meant was no doubt either the wife or the sister of Andronicus.’
Ellicott allows for (but does not insist on) ‘”Junias” (for Junianus), a man’s name’.
It was not until be end of the 19th century that translations began more frequently to use the male name of ‘Junias’.
Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges:
‘Ἰουνίαν. Probably for Junias = Junianus a man’s name, though not a common one.’
From 1927-1993 the celebrated Nestle-Aland edition of the Greek New Testament gave the male version of the name. According to Belleville, this was due to the translators’ conviction that it would be unlikely to find a woman among the apostles. This version was followed by RSV, NEB, NIV, and NJB.
Perhaps the most telling factor is that the feminine ‘Junia’ was a common name, whereas the male ‘Junias’ is unknown.
‘The assumption that it must be male is a striking indictment of male presumption regarding the character and structure of earliest Christianity (see, e.g., Schlatter, Lietzmann, Althaus, Gaugler, Michel, Murray, Schlier).’
Dunn: ”We may firmly conclude…that one of the foundation apostles of Christianity was a woman and wife.’
I am happy to concur the ‘Junia’ was female, and that she was the wife of Andronicus. But that she should be regarded as ‘one of the foundation apostles of Christianity’ is another matter.
I think, then, that Beth Allison Barr (The Making of Biblical Womanhood) is correct in regarding Junia as a woman. However, she does not deal with any of the issues mentioned above, which indicate that there are some reasons (other than anti-female bias) for regarding this individual as a male. Moreover, Barr does not engage with either of the questions about to be explored in this note, viz.,
(a) was Junia well know to, or outstanding among, the apostles? (She merely assumes the latter, accusing the ESV translators of anti-female bias, and ignoring the fact that many other translations and commentators favour the former interpretation), and,
(b) what does ‘apostle’ mean in this context? (she simply does not mention that the word covers a range of meaning – from technical to semi-technical to non-technical – in New Testament usage).
2. Was Junia well known to, or outstanding among, the apostles?
NET: ‘well known to the apostles’
ESV: ‘well known to the apostles’
N.T. Wright (New Testament for Everyone): ‘well known among the apostles’
GNB: ‘well known among the apostles’
Living Bible: ‘respected by the apostles’
Lexham English Bible: ‘well known to the apostles’
RSV: ‘they are men of note among the apostles’
NIV84: ‘outstanding among the apostles’
TNIV: ‘outstanding among the apostles’
NASB95: ‘outstanding among the apostles’
NRSV: ‘prominent among the apostles’
AV: ‘of note among the apostles’
NKJV: ‘of note among the apostles’
(a) Junia was ‘well known to’ (or ‘outstanding in the eyes of’) the apostles
‘Not that they were apostles, as some interpreters strangely hold, but that they were highly esteemed among the apostles. It is a probable conjecture, though nothing more, that they may have been among the devout persons from Rome who were present at Jerusalem when the Pentecostal effusion of the Holy Ghost took place, who witnessed the wonders of that scene, and were converted, among so many more, by the preaching of Peter; and that by their means the knowledge of Christianity was first brought to Rome.’
This ‘would imply that he had more frequent intercourse with the other Apostles, than we know that he had; and would besides be improbable on any supposition. The whole question seems to have sprung up in modern times from the idea that οἱ ἀπόστολοι must mean the Twelve only. If the wider sense found in Acts 14:4; Acts 14:14; 2 Corinthians 8:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:6 (compare Romans 1:1) be taken, there need be no doubt concerning the meaning.’
‘Those who think the word “apostle” is used in an extended sense in the Acts and Epistles take this to mean, ‘noted apostles,’ and of course read Junias, as a man’s name. (So Chrysostom-though he inconsistently reads ‘Junia,’ regarding it as a woman’s name – Luther, Calvin, Estius, Bengel, Olshausen, Tholuck, Alford, Jowett). Those, on the other hand, who are not clear that the word “apostle” is applied, in the strictly official sense, beyond the circle of the twelve, and others besides these, understand, by the expression here used, ‘persons esteemed among,’ or ‘by the apostles.’ (So Beza, Grotius, DeWette, Fritzsche, Meyer, Stuart, Philippi, Hodge, Lange.) Of course, if “Junia,” as a woman’s name, is what the apostle wrote, this latter must be the meaning; and the use of the article – “among the apostles” – which would probably have been omitted if the former sense was meant, seems to us to decide in favour of the latter.’
‘This does not mean that they were apostles, as has been sometimes supposed…All that the expression fairly implies is, that they were known to the other apostles; that they were regarded by them as worthy of their affection and confidence; that they had been known by them, as Paul immediately adds, before he was himself converted.’ Barnes adds that if they had been apostles, the expression would have been, ‘who were distinguished apostles’.
Kevin Giles comments on the view of John Calvin:
‘Interestingly, Calvin showed his usual independence of thought in his treatment of this verse. He conceded that here Paul commends a man and a woman, calling them both apostles, in the sense of missionaries and church planters.’ (What the Bible Actually Teaches on Women)
Well, actually, no. Calvin used the name ‘Junias’, indicating that he considered this person to be male. What he actually says is that ‘Paul calls them “apostles”‘, but not in ‘the proper and generally accepted sense’, but in the wider sense of evangelism and church planting.
Giles claims that
‘in the second century other women were called apostles. This is attested by the apocryphal, Acts of St. Paul and St. Thecla. This work is a popular story that had wide circulation in the post- apostolic period. It is first quoted in the second century AD. Here we meet Thecla, a woman apostle and companion of Paul who teaches, baptizes, and is eventually martyred for her faith in Christ. This story is certainly fiction, but it does suggest that second-century Christians saw no problem with a woman apostle.’
The text of the Acts of St. Paul and St. Thecla can be found here. I see no evidence in that (admittedly fictitious) story that Thecla was regarded as an ‘apostle’. Nor can it be rightly claimed that the existence of such a story suggests ‘that second-century Christians saw no problem with a woman apostle’. Certainly, M.R. James can write of ‘very great popularity of the cult of St. Thecla, which spread over East and West, and made her the most famous of virgin martyrs.’ But the fact that the very first reference to the story (by Tertullian) is dismissive of female claims to apostleship shows that Gile’s claim cannot be substantiated.
[See Léonie Hayne, ‘Thecla and the Church Fathers’, Vigiliae Christianae Vol. 48, No. 3 (Sep., 1994), pp. 209-218.]
‘They were well known to the apostles, and were in good esteem with them: not only the twelve, together with Paul and Barnabas, but other teachers are sometimes called apostles, or messengers; see 2 Corinthians 8:23 Philippians 2:25.’
‘Those persons, from their active cooperation with the Apostles, were well known to them and distinguished among them.’
In Gal 1:19 Paul uses the term ‘apostles’ to refer to the senior members of the Jerusalem church. Now, it would be odd if a husband and wife, who apparently lived in Rome, were counted among the ‘most distinguished’ leaders in Jerusalem. Better (Hunwicke again) to suppose that Paul, hoping to visit Rome in order to gain support for his evangelism of the West, wished to point out that Andronicus and Junia were well regarded by the Christian leaders in Jerusalem.
The alternative translation (‘well-known to the apostles’) is defended by Burer, who provides evidence that ‘Paul could readily have used episemos plus the genitive to show that Andronicus and Junia were “notable among the apostles”, and that numerous parallel texts provide further evidence that Paul intended his expression to mean that Andronicus and Junia were “well known to the apostles.”’
In Belleville’s view, to say that Junia was esteemed by the apostles
‘is to introduce a strange thought for Paul. In Paul’s writings there are “us apostles” (1 Cor 4:9), “Christ’s apostles” (1 Thess 2:6–7), “his [God’s] holy apostles” (Eph 3:5), “the other of the apostles” (1 Cor 9:5), those “who were already apostles” (Gal 1:17) and “other of the apostles” (Gal 1:19). There are also the “pillars” (Gal 2:9) and the “super-apostles” (2 Cor 12:11), but not “the apostles”.’
She regards Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 15:7 (‘…Christ appeared to all the apostles’) as part of the pre-Pauline kerygma, and not native to Paul’s own way of thinking or speaking.
Belleville adds that early Greek translations and commentaries regard Junia as prominent as an apostle. She also thinks (contra to Burer and Wallace) that Paul’s grammar itself supports her own view. But I am not competent to evaluate either the claim or the counter-claim.
I do think that Barr, in her dismissal of the ESV translation…
‘Most people who attend complementarian churches don’t realize that the ESV translation of Junia as “well known to the apostles” instead of “prominent among the apostles” was a deliberate move to keep women out of leadership (Romans 16:7).’
…is unduly confident of her own preferred reading of the text, and of her insight into the motives of the ESV translators.
(b) They were distinguished as apostles
‘It was the greatest of honors to be counted a fellow prisoner of Paul’s.… Think what great praise it was to be considered of note among the apostles. These two were of note because of their works and achievements. Think how great the devotion of this woman Junia must have been, that she should be worthy to be called an apostle! But even here Paul does not stop his praise, for they were Christians before he was.’ (ACCS)
According to Wallace and Burer, the ‘inclusive’ interpretation has been the dominant one since (and possible derived from) the publication the commentary on Galatians of J.B. Lightfoot. Even this esteemed scholar based his argument mainly on the testimony of the Greek fathers.
Cranfield thinks that it is very probable that the phrase means that Paul counted them among the apostles. He notes that this was the understanding of the patristic commentators. He adds
‘on this interpretation “the apostles” must be given a wider sense as denoting those itinerant missionaries who were recognised by the churches as constituting a distinct group among the participants in the work of spreading the gospel (compare, for example, Acts 14:4,14; 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11; 1 Thess 2:7). That Paul should not only include a woman among the apostles but actually describe her, together with Andronicus, as outstanding among them, is highly significant evidence (along with the importance he accords in this chapter to Phoebe, Prisca, Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis, the most of Rufus, Julia and the sister of Nereus) of the falsity of the widespread and stubbornly persistent notion that Paul had a law view of women and something to which the Church as a whole has so far failed to pay proper attention.’ (Shorter Commentary)
Barrett agrees, saying that this reading is ‘much more probable’. In this case, it is notable that a woman is included in this description.
‘The full phrase almost certainly means “prominent among the apostles,” rather than “outstanding in the eyes of the apostles”.’
Mounce (NAC, in a footnote):
‘ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις means outstanding “among the apostles” rather than “in the eyes of the apostles.” Barrett translates “who are notable in the ranks of the apostles”. There is little question that Andronicus and his wife Junia were influential “apostles” (in the wider sense of the word; note that τοῖς ἀποστόλοις in 1 Cor 15:7 is distinguished from τοῖς δώδεκα two verses earlier).’
Leon Morris agrees that the meaning is probably
‘that they were apostles, and notable apostles at that.’
Keener (New Covenant Commentary):
‘It is grammatically possible to read “of note among the apostles” as being honored by other apostles, but Paul nowhere else appeals to the opinion of “the apostles” as a group, so most scholars prefer the other possible grammatical reading, namely, that Paul calls them “noteworthy apostles.”
Dennis Preato notes that
‘virtually all English translations have rendered episēmoi en tois apostolois as “among the apostles,” meaning they were apostles.’
But his conclusion is debatable. In order to be sure, we would need (as John Hunwicke points out) some further external information. As it is, we are in a similar situation as if someone had written: ‘Winston Churchill is well known among the historians’:- it is impossible to tell, from that statement alone, whether the writer is well known to the historians, or whether he as well known as a historian.
‘St. Paul has carefully associated Andronicus and Junia with himself as fellow Jews (suggeneis) and fellow captives (sunaikhmalotous; he is very fond of compounds with sun); if they were apostles, it would be natural for him to go on to describe them as fellow apostles (sunapostolous), or (cf. Romans 1:5) as sugkoinonous tes autes kharitos kai apostoles hes kago, but he does not.’
Zahn finds it remarkable that if Andronicus and Junia were highly-regarded apostles, the rest of the NT is silent about them. This argument is not strong, however, not only because it is an argument from silence, but also because it ignores the fact that NT usage of the word apostolos is quite flexible, and could embrace any number of worthy believers whose names are not even mentioned in the pages of Scripture.
Belleville’s solution is to suppose that Paul is saying that Andronicus and Junia are ‘most distinguished’ among the apostles. Hunwicke expresses some incredulity at this suggestion:
‘This couple who, on the most favorable estimate, occur once in the middle of a list and have left in history and tradition no other evidence of their existence, still less of their apostleship, and least of all of their leading role in the apostolic group?’ Furthermore: ‘we may wonder why St. Paul, instead of merely saying that they became Christians before he did, does not say that these “most distinguished” apostles had attained apostleship before himself (cf. Galatians 1:17).’
3. What does the term ‘apostle’ mean in this context?
‘At least sixteen persons are called “apostles” in the NT: the Twelve plus Barnabas and Paul (Acts 14:4, 14), unnamed persons (1 Cor 9:5; 12:28; 2 Cor 8:23; 11:13; Eph 4:11), as well as possibly Andronicus and Junia here.’
‘Many scholars on both sides of this issue are guilty of accepting too readily a key supposition in this line of reasoning: that “apostle” here refers to an authoritative leadership position such as that held by the “Twelve” and by Paul. In fact, Paul often uses the title “apostle” in a “looser” sense: sometimes simply to denote a “messenger” or “emissary” and sometimes to denote a “commissioned missionary.” When Paul uses the word in the former sense, he makes clear the source and purpose of the “emissary’s” commission. So “apostle” here probably means “traveling missionary”’ (Moo, who cites Calvin; Lightfoot; Godet; Michel; Käsemann; Cranfield; Wilkens; Dunn; Fitzmyer; Schlier and others in support of this view).
Heiser (I Dare You Not To Bore Me With The Bible, p160):
‘New Testament apostles…are not all described on equal terms. The original 12 disciples, along with Paul, were a special group. They were firsthand pupils of Christ, some of whom God endowed with supernatural spiritual gifts (Acts 5:12) and divine revelation in the form of the New Testament.
‘Not all apostles had such gifts, however. Aside from the 12 disciples and Paul, it is not clear that the term “apostle” spoke of high authority or even expectations of the role. The Greek word apostolos simply means “messenger” or “sent one”—someone sent out for a specific task, akin to our concept of a missionary. Although the apostle Barnabas did preach and teach (Acts 15:35), Epaphroditus is not described in such terms. “Apostles” were also sent out to represent churches, but we are not told in what capacity (2 Cor 8:23). Paul did not appoint apostles for local church leadership. As a result, the precise relationship of “apostle” to modern church leadership ministry is evasive.’
The word apostolos has a technical, semi-technical, and a non-technical usage in the NT.
(a) Technical. In this more restricted sense, it refers to those who had been with Jesus, had been witnesses of his resurrection, and had been specially commissioned by him to be founders of the church. Thus, the church could be said to have been built on the foundation of the twelve apostles (Eph 2:20; Rev 21:14). Paul had been added to this number, and commissioned to be ‘the apostle to the Gentiles’ (cf. Acts 9:6, 15f; 22:21; Rom 11:13; 15:15f; 1 Cor 9:1; 15:8; Eph 3:7-9).
(b) Semi-technical. In its broader sense, an apostolos is one who has been ‘sent’ on a special mission, as in Mt 10:5. This would apply to all who are engaged in missionary work, and, indeed, to all believers as they take their part in fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission.
(c) Non-technical. Even more broadly, the word is sometimes used to describe a person who has been delegated a particular task or entrusted with a particular message (cf. 2 Cor 8:23; Phil 2:25).
Giles’ contention is that the ‘overwhelming evidence’ indicates that Junia is an apostle, and that ‘all arguments that Paul excluded women from church leadership and teaching on the basis of theological principle are demolished’ as a result of this. But Giles is much too quick to dismiss (or ignore) the arguments of those who suggest that Junia was an apostle in the non-technical sense.
Moo remarks that the word ‘apostle’ does not always imply an authoritative leadership position: it can sometimes simply mean ‘messenger’ (2 Cor 8:23; Phil 2:25), or similar. Giles summarily dismisses Moo’s opinion on this matter as ‘arbitrary’, but he himself offers no explanation of why Paul’s use of the word might not be non-technical, as defined above.
Giles is even more dismissive of the suggestion of the Kostenbergers, which is that Andronicus and Junia were simply ‘an outstanding missionary couple’. Giles (always suspicious of what he regards as bias in the work of those with whom he disagrees) regards this as ‘just a play on words; a smoke screen.’ To call this couple ‘missionaries’, rather than ‘apostles’ is, for Giles, merely to use Latin instead of Greek for the same idea. But Giles, in making this criticism, is conceding the very point that he thinks he is dismissing (without admitting it), that Andronicus and Junia may well have been apostles in the non-technical sense.
In very many discussions, the role of Andronicus is scarcely mentioned. But supposing he and his wife were a highly-esteemed missionary couple? This perfectly reasonable supposition then places a rather weighty burden of proof on those who seem happy to forget about Andronicus and treat Junia as if she had independent authority.
‘Thus Paul would be sending greetings to a male and a female apostle, to some of those who probably carried the Christian message to Rome before him. They could be considered paired messengers of the gospel, even if husband and wife, and not necessarily two male emissaries (see J. Jeremias, “Paarweise Sendung”); compare Aquila and Prisca. They would then have been Jewish Christian “apostles,” probably from among the Jerusalem Hellenists, as their names suggest, who would have been heralds of the gospel before Paul, “without being able to lay claim to an appearance of the risen Lord” [quoting Schnackenburg].’
‘Since they are referred to as “outstanding among the apostles,” the gender of Junia[s] is often discussed in connection with the issue of women and church leadership. However, since the term “apostles” here should be understood in the wider sense of those who served as missionaries and evangelists, the passage really contributes little to the debate.’
Dunn argues that the early date of this couple’s conversion to Christian faith (i.e. pre-dating that of Paul) makes it likely that they were among those who had seen, and had been appointed by, the risen Christ (1 Cor 15:7). Dunn thinks it likely that they were among the Hellenists of Acts 6-8 (see Acts 6:1 esp.)
‘The commonest New Testament application of the word is to ‘the apostles of Christ’, meaning the Twelve (Matthias having replaced Judas), together with Paul and James, a very small group whom Christ had personally appointed and equipped to be the teachers of the church.’
‘The much less frequent use of the term designates ‘the apostles of the churches’. This must have been a considerably larger group, who were sent out by churches as what we would call ‘missionaries’, like Epaphroditus who was an ‘apostle’ of the Philippian church, (Phil 2:25) or like Barnabas and Saul who had been sent out by the church of Antioch. If then by ‘apostles’ in Romans 16:7 Paul is referring to the apostles of Christ, we must translate that they were ‘outstanding in the eyes of the apostles’ or ‘highly esteemed by the apostles’, for it is impossible to suppose that an otherwise unknown couple have taken their place alongside the apostles Peter, Paul, John and James. Since this translation slightly strains the Greek, however, it is probably better to understand ‘apostles’ as meaning ‘apostles of the churches’, and to conclude that Andronicus and Junia were indeed outstanding missionaries.’
E.E. Ellis writes:
‘They have sometimes been identified as “apostles of Christ,” but that meaning is precluded by the descriptions: (1) This otherwise unknown couple could hardly be described, in comparison with Peter, James or even Paul himself, as “outstanding among the apostles of Christ.” (2) Also, if they were “apostles of Christ,” the phrase “who were in Christ before me” would be a meaningless redundancy (cf. 1 Cor 15:8). They are, in fact, identified as commissioned missionaries.’ (DPL. art. ‘Coworkers, Paul and his’)
‘They were probably two of the group of apostles named in 1 Corinthians 15:5 and 7 (Jesus appeared “to the Twelve” and then later “to all the apostles”). It is hard to know what use of apostle is meant in 1 Corinthians 5:7 and here. There are the Twelve and a few others like Paul and Barnabas, but there is also a use of the term apostolos for wandering missionaries, a use it had in the second-century Didache (11:3–6). This could well be the use in Acts 14:4 and 14, where Paul and Barnabas were doing missionary work as “apostles” (cf. 2 Cor 8:23; Phil 2:25, where it is translated “representative” and “messenger,” respectively), and that may be the meaning here (so Godet 1969; Cranfield 1979; Fitzmyer 1993b; Moo 1996). Still, this would have been an office in the church, and Junia with her husband is an outstanding example of such a leader.’
Keener (New Covenant):
‘Given the culture, we also cannot be certain as to the sphere of ministry; perhaps Andronicus and Junia each focused on ministry to their own gender (but cf. Acts 16:13–15; 18:26).’
In addition to the commentaries and works of reference, see
Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Eerdmans, 2002) 166–86
Linda A. Belleville, “Women Leaders in the Bible,” in Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy, ed. Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, Gordon D. Fee, 2nd ed.
Bernadette Brooten, ‘Junia . . . Outstanding among the Apostles’ (Romans 16:7).
Michael H. Burer and Daniel B. Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Re-examination of Rom 16.7,” NTS 47 (2001): 76–91. Also available here.
Richard S. Cervin, “A Note Regarding the Name ‘Junia(s)’ in Romans 16:7,” NTS 40 (1994) 464–70.
Eldon J. Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle
Andrea Hartmann, “Junia—A Woman Lost in Translation: The Name IOYNIAN in Romans 16:7 and its History of Interpretation,” Open Theology 6/1 (2020) 646–60.
Yii-Jan Lin, “Junia: An Apostle Before Paul,” JBL 139/1 (2020) 191–209
Dianne D. McDonnell, “Junia, A Woman Apostle,” https://godswordtowomen.org/juniamcdonnell.htm (Feb 24, 2018).
Dennis J. Preato, “Junia, A Female Apostle: An Examination of the Historical Record,” Priscilla Papers 33/2 (2019) 8–15