Junia: The Female Apostle (Pt. 2)

In this short series, we are examining Paul’s reference to the woman called Junia in Romans 16:7. In the previous post, I considered the possibility that the name Ἰουνίαν might be a reference to a man named Junias, and I noted that the evidence we have suggests this is extremely unlikely. Nearly all of the evidence we have suggests that late-medieval scribes changed the name to a masculine form to avoid the possibility that a woman held such a prominent position in the early church. Robert Jewett puts the matter rather bluntly in his commentary on Romans: “Despite its impact on modern translations based on Nestle-Aland and the UBS, it appears that the name “Junias” is a figment of chauvinistic imagination.”¹ I further showed that the evidence in favor of translating Ἰουνίαν as the common Roman female name Junia is very strong. We thus have good reasons to say that Paul was writing about a woman who served in some ministerial capacity, probably for the Roman church.

Today, I want to begin exploring Paul’s language in this passage in a bit more detail by looking at what Paul says about Andronicus and Junia. In Rom 16:7, Paul says three things of this ministerial pair:

  1. They are his “kinsmen and fellow-prisoners” (τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου καὶ συναιχμαλώτους μου).
  2. They are “noteworthy among the apostles” (οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις).
  3. They were “in Christ” before Paul (οἳ καὶ πρὸ ἐμοῦ γέγοναν ἐν Χριστῷ).

All three of these statements, when taken together, leave the reader with the impression that Andronicus and Junia were astounding individuals. The reason Paul refers to them both together in this verse could be because they are a married ministry pair, similar to Priscilla and Aquila in 16:3. I want to spend the remainder of this post looking closely at (1) and (3) above, saving the controversial (2) for Part 3 of the series.

First, Paul calls Andronicus and Junia “kinsmen” (συγγενεῖς), a word he uses to describe a few other individuals in the same chapter (16:11, 21). Normally, this word would be used to refer to family members as it is elsewhere in the New Testament (Mark 6:4; Luke 1:36; 2:44). That could be the case here, but it is not likely. Interestingly, the only other place where Paul uses this word is in Romans 9:3 when he refers to the Jewish people (τῶν συγγενῶν μου κατὰ σάρκα – ‘my kinsmen according to the flesh’). Consequently, by this designation Paul at the very least means to acknowledge the fact that Andronicus and Junia are both Jews (more on this below). Paul also calls them “fellow-prisoners” (συναιχμαλώτους), indicating that Andronicus and Junia were either imprisoned with Paul or imprisoned like Paul at some point on account of their ministry. Thus, these two words indicate some commonalities between Paul on the one hand and Andronicus and Junia on the other: they are Jews and they have also been imprisoned for their ministry.

Second, Paul says of Andronicus and Junia, “they were in Christ before me.” This is almost certainly a reference to the fact that Andronicus and Junia began following Jesus as Messiah and proclaiming the good news to others before Paul. What is the significance of this? There are two prominent ways of interpreting Paul’s words here.

One possibility is that Andronicus and Junia, along with others mentioned in this final greeting such as Priscilla and Aquila, were missionaries from Jerusalem who were involved in establishing the Roman church. There are several reasons for thinking this might be the case. First, we know that Paul did not plant the church in Rome. In fact, part of the reason he writes the letter to the church in Rome is because he wishes to visit them (1:10). Nevertheless, Paul gives thanks in the introduction of the letter because the faith of the Roman church is “proclaimed throughout the world” (1:8). This indicates that the church in Rome had been around long enough for word to reach neighboring churches about their faith. Second, Luke writes in Acts 2:10 that there were “visitors from Rome” (οἱ ἐπιδημοῦντες Ῥωμαῖοι) present on the day of Pentecost when the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit. It is not unlikely that some of these visitors were among the people who welcomed Peter’s message and were baptized. Upon their return to Rome, it is not difficult to imagine those believers starting a church after the model of what they encountered in Jerusalem for Pentecost. Third, in Acts 18:2 we first meet Pricilla and Aquila because they are ordered by Claudius to leave Rome, so it is possible that they were among those Jewish “visitors from Rome” in Acts 2:10. It is also possible that they were among the first to be reached with the gospel once the “visitors from Rome” returned to proclaim the good news about the Messiah Jesus. In either case, it could be that Andronicus and Junia were, like Pricilla and Aquila, well-known leaders at the church in Rome. In the case of Andronicus and Junia, what we know is that Paul believes they were leaders in the church before he was.

A second, very interesting possibility is that Junia could be the Latin form of the Hebrew name Joanna, meaning that Paul may here be referencing Joanna, one of Jesus’ female disciples. The reason for using the Latin version of the name here instead of the Hebrew form is because Paul is writing to a Latin-speaking audience in Rome. This has been argued by prominent scholars such as Ben Witherington III and Richard Bauckham.² In the Gospel of Luke, Joanna is first mentioned in chapter 8 along with a few of the other female disciples who followed Jesus:

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. (Luke 8:1-3 NRSV)

The argument is that Joanna would likely have received a certificate of divorce from her husband Chuza as a result of her decision to follow Jesus, which is not too much of a stretch given the fact that her husband worked for Herod as the manager of his estate. In any case, this same Joanna traveled with Jesus and the twelve disciples to Jerusalem. She was present for Jesus’ crucifixion (Luke 23:49), she witnessed his burial (23:55), she was one of the women who discovered the empty tomb (24:1-3), she was one of the first people to hear the news that Jesus had been raised from the dead (24:4-7), and, finally, she was one of the first people to share that good news with others (24:8-10), no less the apostles themselves. This is quite an impressive résumé. If Junia is Joanna’s Latin name, then it should not be surprising that Paul mentions her as being well-known and even famous among the apostles, but this raises the question of what exactly Paul means when he says that Andronicus and Junia are ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις. We will look more closely at this in Part 3.

Works Cited

¹ Robert Jewett and Roy David Kotansky, Romans: A Commentary, ed. Eldon Jay Epp, Hermeneia (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2006), 961–962.

² Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2002), 109-202.

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