Mysteries Of The Bible: How Was Junia Of Note Among The Apostles?

Sometimes mysteries return again and again for one to ponder over and wrestle with.  So it is with today’s mystery, an example of a situation where the place and role of a person mentioned only once in the scriptures becomes a matter of serious contention.  My first awareness of the importance of this mystery came when an acquaintance of mine wrote a doctrinal paper in which she advocated for a more notable role for women and cited the verse in question today to bolster her argument, having received a response that was not in agreement with her interpretation of the verse.  More recently, I have been asked to talk about the verse and its interpretation by a friend and loyal reader of this blog, and so let us discuss the meaning and contentious history of the following verse, Romans 16:7, which reads:  “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.”

At first glance, this would not seem to be a verse worth fighting over.  On its face, this verse would seem to indicate that Andronicus and Junia were likely husband and wife and had an apostolic ministry together, one that was notable among the apostles, and that they also became Christians earlier than Paul did.  And it is that meaning which is often ascribed to it by those who would want to consider Junia an apostle herself.  On the other hand, not everyone is quick to think of Junia as an apostle herself, and so they take this verse to mean that Junia was known by the apostles, which would still imply that her and Andronicus’ work was notable enough that the apostles would be familiar with it.  And with that we usually have an impasse, because while Andronicus (who is usually forgotten in this context) and Junia are known among the apostles, neither of them nor their deeds are known very well to us.

How do we resolve this problem?  One approach is to look at Romans 16:7 in the context of Romans 16 as a whole.  Romans 16, of course, contains a great many names (more than 30 of them) for a congregation that Paul had never visited but wanted to make a good impression on.  Andronicus and Junia are very early in this list of names.  Let us look at Romans 16:3-7:  “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.  Likewise greet the church that is in their house.  Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia to Christ.  Greet Mary, who labored much for us.  Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.”  All of the people named before them as well as they themselves have been given a great deal of introductory praise, and it is pretty clear that Paul considers these people to be of great importance.  Priscilla and Aquila (note that the wife is mentioned first, as she usually is, given that she was the higher status person in the marriage) had an apostolic ministry that is well-known to readers from the Bible from its frequent appearance in the book of Acts.  Epaenetus is listed as being a pioneer of the brethren of Greece.  Mary is said to have labored much for the brethren–but how?  And then, after these three names come Andronicus and Junia, who are listed as countrymen (and therefore Jews) as well as fellow prisoners, thus people who have suffered persecution as a result of their efforts, which likely came about because of their evangelism, which was by no means universally popular within the Roman Empire.  This context would seem to indicate that the couple (and we can assume that they were a couple) were longtime Christians (converted before Paul) and were people whose work on behalf of the Christian faith was notable enough to be the fourth and fifth of more than 30 names of notable Roman brethren, all of which would signify that they were indeed very notable people.  

Let us also see if we can discover anything about this verse by examining it in the original Greek as best as we can.  The Berean interlinear Bible for Romans 16:7 reads as follow:  “Ἀσπάσασθε (Greet) Ἀνδρόνικον (Andronicus) καὶ (and) Ἰουνίαν (Junias) [1], τοὺς (-) συγγενεῖς (kinsmen)μου (of me) καὶ (and) συναιχμαλώτους (fellow prisoners) μου (with me), οἵτινές (who) εἰσιν (are)ἐπίσημοι (of note) ἐν (among) τοῖς (the) ἀποστόλοις (apostles), οἳ (who) καὶ (also) πρὸ (before) ἐμοῦ (me)γέγοναν (were) ἐν (in) Χριστῷ (Christ).”  Here we note that the word ἐν is used to mean “in” Christ but “among” the apostles.  The word in general is used to discuss someone being at or within the particular place or group in question.  When we look at the grammar of Romans 16:7, we are led to the conclusion that Andronicus and Junias were within the group of the apostles.  This is not something we can be certain about, but it is something that grammar and context certainly leads us to see, if we are paying attention to such matters.

[1] Just as a note, the fact that this particular interlinear gives the wrong name for Junia is perhaps the strongest evidence I can think of that Junia is to be considered an apostle.  There would be no reason to put a mistaken name for a husband and wife team unless it was very obvious that the Greek indicates Junia was an apostle.

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12 Responses to Mysteries Of The Bible: How Was Junia Of Note Among The Apostles?

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    The name Junias insinuates the male gender. Paul refers to the two as “my fellow countrymen” as well as fellow prisoners. Two people listed together are usually husband and wife, but these individuals may be of the same household, perhaps brothers? Just a thought…

  2. Catharine Martin says:

    Errors are generally made through translation rather than in the Greek. The door is open to the possibility that the translators assumed the female gender of Junias because they were linked together like other couples. Paul’s reference to them as fellow countrymen, as well as the original name, indicates male gender and their being linked together suggests that the two were also relatives of the same household–and apostles. We read the Bible and automatically assume that the name Junia is female when the Greek rendering gives us reason to question it. The name may mean more than the position.

    • That’s quite possible; there are definitely many possibilities when it comes to such situations. Further down the list there is a paired set of sisters with similar names for example.

  3. Catharine Martin says:

    I analyzed this verse further and realized that this pairing is unlike most others in that they are linked together because of their shared relationship with Paul, not with each other. They all evidently hailed from Tarsus and the two were most probably Jews of the tribe of Benjamin. The three were also imprisoned because of their religious beliefs. They, as you stated, were “of note AMONG the apostles” which meant that they would have been counted as such. The issue that the two had in common separate from Paul was that they were converted before he was. The verse contains only these facts about them. Anything else is speculation.

    • There is plenty of speculation to be made here, but yes, what is of the utmost importance is that they are to be considered as apostles. This particular verse was used in a paper I read a few years ago by a deaconess in UCG (who we went to the feast in Turkey with) that sought to improve the position of women in the Church, and the response to the obvious reality that Andronikos and Junia were among the apostles was, to put it mildly, more than a bit disappointing. Given the fact that nothing else aside from this verse is known about either of the two people listed does mean that there is a lot of room for speculation, which this verse seems to attract aplenty.

  4. Catharine Martin says:

    The Bible is very clear regarding women in the ministry. Paul exhorted ALL brethren to prophesy in I Corinthians 14. Women were, most certainly, among the baptized membership there. There is nothing like reading the scriptures with a clear mind. Reading the Bible without personal bias is like seeing the words for the first time. How sad that, when shown the pure, unadulterated words as written–without outside interpretation–those entrenched in the former mindset dig in their heels. They sincerely believe that they are not, of themselves, interpreting this particular passage, but their starting point has a specific belief attached to it. This is, by definition, a personal, private interpretation, and no scripture is to be taken that way (II Peter 1:20).

    • There are at least two senses that prophesying in the Bible is taken. One of them is foretelling the future, if one has been given such divine insight, and the other is clearly telling forth from the Bible what it says–which is what is done in our writing articles and speaking sermonettes and sermons. The point could hardly be a plainer one.

  5. Catharine Martin says:

    Anna was a specific example of the former sense. UCG is progressing in the area of women authorship of “United News” articles, but we meet the glass ceiling at this point. I believe that a real fear exists that women will take over and that God’s services will descend into a Pentecostal-like “come-to-Jesus” experience. God can and does inspire ALL of His chosen ones and He uses us all as His vessels. He uses us according to HIS will. Man has no standing to hamper that. We have to trust that Christ, the Head of His Church, will make that plain in the time of His righteous choosing. His will won’t be hindered because we will ALL be ministers in the coming life. We will receive our training in this one.

    • I definitely agree that there is a fear about emotionalism when it comes to church services, and a high degree of caution when it comes to changes in tradition and liturgy and fears of powerseeking and ambition. Ultimately, though, believers will be kings and priests in the world to come, regardless of whether they are male or female in this one.

  6. Catharine Martin says:

    We are in total agreement. That is exactly what I wrote; this life is the training ground for the next.

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