Junia well known to the apostles Romans 16:7

“Among” or “to” the Apostles?

In Romans 16:7, Paul gives four pieces of information about a couple named Andronicus and Junia. Up until 2001, one of these pieces of information (ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις/episēmoi en tois apostolois in Greek) has been usually, but not always,[1] understood as meaning that Andronicus (a man) and Junia (a woman) were outstanding or notable among the apostles.

Native speakers of ancient Greek, such as Chrysostom, took it that way.

And indeed to be apostles at all is a great thing. But to be even among these of note, just consider what a great tribute this is! But they were of note owing to their works, to their achievements. Oh! How great is the wisdom of this woman, that she should be even counted worthy of the appellation of apostle! Chrysostom, Homily 31 on Romans.

But in 2001, the English Standard Version (ESV) was published and they translated the phrase that was formerly rendered in English as “outstanding among the apostles” (NASB, NIV), or “of note among the apostles” (KJV, RSV), as “well known to the apostles.” (Italics added.)

Also in 2001, Michael Burer and Daniel Wallace published a journal article, “Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Re-examination of Romans 16:7,” in New Testament Studies, CUP, 47.1 (January 2001), 76-91. In their conclusion, Burer and Wallace state,

It would be more accurate to say that phrase ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις almost certainly means “well known to the apostles.” Thus Junia, along with Andronicus, is recognized by Paul as well known to the apostles, not as an outstanding member of the apostolic band.[2]

Burer and Wallace’s Conclusion

I’ve read the 2001 paper (and Burer’s 2005 follow-up paper) and found that much of the actual information provided did not support or prove the paper’s conclusion.

Linda L. Belleville has said about the 2001 paper,

Burer and Wallace assume a conclusion not found in the evidence. Despite their assertions to the contrary, they fail to offer one clear biblical or extra-biblical Hellenistic example of an ‘exclusive’ sense[3] of ἐπίσημοι ἐν and a plural noun to mean ‘well known to.’ Burer and Wallace admit this early on, but then go on to conclude otherwise.[4]

David A. Shaw likewise states that Burer and Wallace “have not, however, been able to supply sufficient evidence to demonstrate their argument conclusively.”[5] Shaw goes on to say, “This is not to say Rom 16:7 cannot mean ‘well-known to.’ Burer and Wallace helpfully put what evidence there is on the table but it does not support their conclusion that the phrase ‘almost certainly means’ well known to the apostles.’’ What they have demonstrated is that both options are possible.”[6]

Other scholars who find fault with the 2001 paper and refute its conclusion include Richard Baulkham[7] and Eldon Jay Epp.[8] (I’m not aware of rebuttals to Burer’s 2005 paper.) Furthermore, there are scholars at the top of their field in New Testament studies who, despite the work of Burer and Wallace, state that Andronicus and Junia were notable among (Greek: ἐν) the apostles. As one example, Peter Lampe, a foremost scholar of early Christianity, succinctly states, “The ἐν has to be translated as ‘among’ (the apostles) like in 1 Corinthians 15:12 and James 5:13-14, 19.”[9]

Paul Makes it Personal

As well as understanding the grammar and vocabulary of ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις, we need to understand how this phrase fits with the other parts of Romans 16:7, and we need to understand Paul’s overall intent.

As a way of fostering unity, Paul wanted the Christians in Rome to greet Andronicus and Junia (as well as the other people listed in Romans 16:1-16), and he gives four phrases of praise and affirmation about the couple. Paul refers to Andronicus and Junia as (1) “my relatives” (i.e. fellow Jews), (2) “my fellow prisoners,” (3) “who are ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις,” and (4) “who were in Christ before me.” (Italics added.)

In three of the four phrases, Paul connects and compares Andronicus and Junia with himself and he uses Greek personal pronouns meaning “my/of me.” Paul is making the connection and the comparisons personal. If we take the third phrase to mean “of note among the apostles” then, here too, the couple is connected and comparable to Paul who is himself among the apostles. Andronicus and Junia are included.

On the other hand, “of note to the apostles” is less personal. It sounds as though the couple is known to a group of apostles or missionaries who are somewhat distant. The fact that no one in this group is identified increases the feeling of distance. According to the “to” translation, Andronicus and Junia are not included in this group.

Overall, the inclusive sense of “among the apostles” matches Paul’s tone in the other three phrases of Romans 16:7 better than the exclusive sense of “to the apostles.” 

Who are the Apostles in Romans 16:7?

Some assume the group of apostles referred to Romans 16:7 are Jesus’ twelve disciples. However, Paul was not one to put great store in the approval of the Twelve (cf. Gal. 2:6ff).[10] Furthermore, by the time Paul wrote his letter to the Romans in the winter of 56/57 or 57/58 AD, many of the Twelve may have been scattered and their number depleted (cf. Acts 12:1-2). So I suggest it is unlikely Paul is referring to the Twelve (or to a remnant of the Twelve), but to missionaries closely associated with himself.

Somewhat along these lines, Craig S. Keener writes,

Since [Andronicus and Junia] were imprisoned with him, Paul knows them well enough to recommend them without appealing to the other apostles, whose judgement he never cites on such matters . . . [Furthermore,] Paul nowhere limits the apostolic company to the Twelve plus himself, as some have assumed (see especially 1 Cor. 15:5-11).[11]

However, if Junia was well-known to the remnant of the Twelve, this itself is a remarkable commendation of her ministry. Even with this understanding, Junia and her partner were, most likely, successful and well-known missionaries who, like some other missionaries, had been imprisoned because of their gospel ministry. Nevertheless, “among” fits better with Paul’s inclusive tone in Romans 16:7.

My Conclusion

Translating precisely from Greek into English can be difficult, and translating Romans 16:7 is no exception. Still, in all honesty, I can only see one reason to say that Andronicus and Junia (a woman) were not among the apostles or missionaries, and it has little to do with the Greek grammar.

I agree with Craig Keener:

It is unnatural to read the text as merely claiming that [Andronicus and Junia] had a high reputation with “the apostles.” . . . Those who favor the view that Junia was not an apostle do so because of their prior assumption that women could not be apostles, not because of any evidence in the text.[12] (Italics added.)

The more obvious reading is that Andronicus and Junia, as well as being fellow Jews and fellow prisoners of Paul, were also fellow apostles or missionaries. The couple may even have known Jesus personally, as they had become Christians early on, even before Paul’s conversion.

Here’s my translation of Romans 16:7:

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding (or, notable) among the apostles, and who were in Christ before me”


Footnotes

[1] For example, in the early nineteenth century, the Canon of Chester, Rev. James Slade, wrote that the phrase in question “may either mean that they were highly esteemed by the Apostles, or that they were themselves eminent teachers.” Annotations on the Epistles, Vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1816), 161. (Google Books)

[2] Burer and Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle?” 90. (A pdf of the paper is here.)

[3] Burer and Wallace have labelled the two views regarding Junia’s apostolic status as “inclusive” and “exclusive.” They explain,

The approach that regards Andronicus and Junia as in some sense apostles we will call the inclusive view; the interpretation that regards them as non-apostles we will call the exclusive view. The inclusive view is thus represented in the translation ‘outstanding among the apostles’ while the exclusive view is seen in the translation ‘well known to the apostles.’
Burer and Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle?” 79.

They acknowledge, “The vast bulk of commentators follow the inclusive view …” (p. 79)

[4] Belleville, “Ἰουνιαν … ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις: A Re-examination of Romans 16.7 in Light of Primary Source Materials,” in New Testament Studies 51 (2005): 231-49, 244-245.

[5] Shaw, “Is Junia also among the Apostles?: Romans 16:7 and Recent Debates,” in Churchman 127.2 (2013): 105-118, 111. (A pdf of this paper is here.)

[6] Shaw, “Is Junia also among the Apostles?” 112-113.

[7] Bauckham notes that “their evidence does not actually support [their] conclusion.” He further notes that the paper has “serious defects” and its conclusion is “highly tendentious, even misleading.
Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 172-9, 174.

[8] Epp states that “even a cursory examination of [the evidence] presented raised significant doubts about the authors’ stated thesis . . .”
Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 73.
See also, Epp in “Text-Critical, Exegetical, and Socio-Cultural Factors Affecting the Junia/Junias Variation in Romans 16,7,” in NT Textual Criticism and Exegesis: Festschrift J. Delobel (ed. A. Denaux; BETL 161; Leuven: Leuven University/Peeters, 2002), 227–91.

[9] Lampe, “The Roman Christians of Romans 16,” in The Writings of St. Paul, Wayne A. Meeks and John T. Fitzgerald (eds) (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007), 665.

[10] James B. Hurley writes that “it is unlike Paul to make something like acquaintance with the apostles a matter of praise.” Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective: A Study in Role Relationships and Authority (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1981), 121. (Google Books)

[11] Keener, Paul, Women & Wives (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1992, 2009), 242.

[12] Keener, Paul, Women and Wives, 242.

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