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) , 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.
 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.