A Woman to Rally Behind
In Paul’s longest list of greetings at the end of his longest surviving letter, Romans, he includes many women of note to greet. Among the various Roman church endearments, he asks them to:
“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me” (Rom 16:7).
A new generation of scholars, anxious to scrub all gender asymmetry from the Scriptures, rally to poor Junia as something of a Savior, as the example to prove that women were given teaching roles in the early church:
“Undoubtedly Junia had an authoritative, teaching role.” (Lucy Peppiatt, Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women, 120).
Undoubtedly? Dr. Peppiatt’s confidence arrests us. There are three points, however, that introduce ambiguity to the Junia reference and make the word “undoubtedly” inappropriate:
By Any Other Name
- Is “Iouνιαν” really a woman’s name?
The secretary of the Apostle (Tertius) writes the accusative of the Greek form of a Latin name: Iounian. One grammatical possibility is Junia, a common woman’s name among Romans. But the original uncial manuscript of this letter did not contain accents, as they were not written at that time. This presents an ambiguity. If accented on the last syllable, it is the accusative of Junias, which would be a man’s name. It could also be a shortened more formal form of the male name, Junianus, like Silva for Silvanus, Prisca for Priscilla. But, we have no evidence of any man named Junias, so the evidence favors a woman’s name. As Bruce Metzger puts it, “…the female Latin name Junia occurs more than 250 times in Greek and Latin inscriptions found in Rome alone, whereas the male name Junias is unattested anywhere.” So John Chrysostom (archbishop of Constantinople, d. 407AD) reasonably takes it as the feminine “Iouνια” and when Greek manuscripts began to be accented, scribes wrote the feminine form also. Before the 1200s, commentators nearly all took it as feminine. (Epiphanius (4th century) and only possibly Origen see the name as male). From the 1200s to mid 1900s, there was a flip and it was taken as a male name. (Neither Calvin, 16th century, nor John Murray, 20th century, seem to realize that it even could be a woman’s name.) But after that, it was seen as feminine again. An interesting history plays on the ambiguity, but it is more likely that Junia was indeed a woman.
“Aνdroνikos,” by the way, is a Greek name, found among members of imperial household. Josephus (Ant. 13:75) mentions a Jew by that name. This suggests that possibly Andronicus and Junia are husband and wife, like Priscilla and Aquilla (vv3-5), only this time with the husband reference first.
Yet a second consideration should dowse our confidence in Junia as an authoritative teacher in the early church…
Outstanding in the Field
- The ambiguous meaning of “en” with the dative
Among patristic commentators, without exception it seems, the text is taken as naming Andronicus and Junia as apostles. But the phrase, “ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις,” could mean “well-known among the apostles” or “well-known to the apostles” (so ESV). As Dan Wallace puts it, “in conjunction with words of perception, en+dative personal pronouns (as is here) are [the object of the phrase are] often the recipients.” In other words, it is rather possible that the twelve apostles knew, or knew reports of, Andronicus and Junia and simply highly esteemed them. They were well-known “by” the apostles, that is, in the eyes of the apostles, while not being apostles themselves. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your bent, the Greek preposition’s ambiguity cannot seal the case that Junia was actually an apostle.
Let’s just say, though, that Andronicus and Junia were being called apostles here. Does this prove that women in the early church were invested with authority just as men were? A third feature of the verse helps us answer that question: the vocabulary.
Words of Import
- How “ἀπόστολοs“ is used.
A) The Foundational Twelve Men of the New Testament Witness
- Mat 16:18 –Jesus calls Peter, as representative of the apostles, the rock upon which He will build His church.
- Mat 10:1-5, Joh 15:27, Act 1:8, Act 1:22, Act 10:41 These twelve are those sent out with the authoritative witness. They had an obvious role of leading the movement.
- Paul acknowledges the twelve as the church’s foundation, and seems to include himself with them: 1Co 9:1, 1Co 15:7-9, “Last of all, me” Act 26:12-18.
- 2Pe 3:2: This is why they are linked with the Old Testament prophets: “that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.” Eph 2:20 “…but you are…built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…” (Eph 4:11, 1Co 12:28).
- Rev 21:14 John notes how, in heaven, this apostolate is quite literally foundational: “And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
If Junia is an apostle, she is not one of the twelve, of course, signaling to us that the word must be used differently than it is often used above. There is a second way it is used:
B) A broader circle, including Titus, Barnabas, James and Silas:
- 2Co 8:22-23 –“And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker in your service; and as for our brethren, they are apostles of the churches, the glory of Christ.
- Act 14:3-4 “So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles.” Paul and company there included Barnabas: Act 14:14–“But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments…”
- Gal 1:19 –“But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother.”
- Act 17:1-4, 10 Silas accompanied Paul throughout in the ministry in Thessalonica. 1Th 2:6–“though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.” Paul seems here to be including Silas.
These uses should loosen us up when we encounter the word, as it must mean other things beside the authoritative kind of apostle. And in fact, all the guys above were more like missionaries, commissioned by the church for a gospel purpose. This leads to the third, even broader use of “apostle,” as:
C) A Messenger for some designated purpose
The Greek word is also used more broadly to mean “messenger” of some type:
- Joh 13:16 –“Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is an apostle greater than the one who sent him.”
More germane, Paul uses the word when speaking about letter-passing and gift-sending among the churches:
- 2Co 8:22-23 –“And as for our brothers, they are apostles of the churches, the glory of Christ.”
- Phi 2:25 –“I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your apostle and minister to my need.”
No translators translate the Greek word as apostle in these verses, but it is the same word. Even the Didache, an early church document dating from the turn of the century, employs this usage:
- Didache 11:3-6 Itinerant “apostles” and prophets should stay in one place no more than two days. These guys didn’t exercise anywhere near the kind of authority as a Paul or James.
How The Spirit Works
In light of this semantic range, if Junia is a woman’s name as is likely, and if “apostle” here is being applied to Andronicus and Junias which is possible although not definite, then the term probably means “traveling missionary couple.” As they had been maturing in the Lord for some time (v7-they were in Christ before Paul!), quite likely this was a husband and wife team, serving as itinerant evangelists or church-workers. The reason this makes sense to me is how I see godly couples powerfully operate in this way, with the husband focusing on men and the wife focusing on women. This powerful combination sometimes transforms a community as people experience the word working in each gender. They also were in prison at some point, possibly during one of Paul’s frequent (2Co 6:5, 2Co 11:23) imprisonments, likely if they were missionaries. This is something the Spirit often does in mature, mission-focused, married relationships. They could have been apostles in this sense, sent on mission to spread the gospel.
Thus, “undoubtedly” is inappropriate to apply to Junia’s alleged “authoritative teaching role.” It is neither necessary nor right to use this one verse to contradict Paul’s own prohibitions against women taking authoritative teaching roles in the church, e.g., 1Timothy 2:12-13. Of course, you don’t have to reckon with those other places if you simply dismiss them as non-Pauline, which many modern scholars, often handicapped by their unbelief, are prone to do. I am not convinced that Junia herself would welcome this burden being laid on her, the use of her verse to erase the asymmetries of relationship the Bible instructs us to cultivate.
But it would also be a shame if this argument should distract us from one of the most salient points of Romans 16. Paul greets nine or ten women in this chapter, several of them as coworkers and laborers in the Lord. In other words, women were critical to the operation! Women were all the way through the ministry of the early church, just as they should be today. Are we seeing women as the divine empowerers of the mission that God has gifted them to be?
Indeed, it was (and is) through these daughters of Eve that, as Paul then promises in Romans 16, in reference to Eve, “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (v20, Genesis 3:15).
Yeah! Serpent-stomping. Now that is girl power!