Andronicus & Junia

(A tip of the hat to the great Marg Mowczko, who reminded me of the holiday today.)

Today (17 May), the Orthodox Church celebrates Andronicus and Junia (hereafter A&J).  This couple, probably husband and wife, are mentioned in Romans 16.7.

There is debate over their role in the earliest church: Paul seems to refer to A&J as “apostles,” which causes concern for those who argue that women didn’t have leadership roles in the apostolic church.

I’ll get into the text and debate below.  First, let me point you to two excellent posts from the abovementioned Marg Mowczko.  In these, she outlines what scholarship and church history tell us about A&J.  These are excellent, very readable articles.

Here is the Greek text of Romans 16.7 and my translation of it; compare the NIV.

  • Rom 16.7a: ἀσπάσασθε Ἀνδρόνικον καὶ Ἰουνίαν τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου καὶ συναιχμαλώτους μου,
  • Greet Andronicus and Junia, those relatives [or coworkers] of mine, who were also imprisoned with me.
  • Rom 16.7b: οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις, οἳ καὶ πρὸ ἐμοῦ [h]γέγοναν ἐν Χριστῷ.
  • They are outstanding among the apostles, and were in Christ before me.

The debate is over how to translate the prepositional phrase, “ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις” (“among the apostles”). It can be read two ways.

FIRST, if read inclusively, the phrase includes A&J among the apostles and says that they are outstanding examples of this group.  This construction is a dative of association. This is the most natural reading of the preposition ἐν, and would be translated as I translate it above.

By this reading, ἐν refers to the group to which A&J belong.  By this reading, A&J were apostles, which presents a problem for those who argue that women should not hold office or leadership positions in the church.

SECOND, if read exclusively, the phrase says that A&J are held in high regard by a group (“the apostles”) that they themselves are not part of.  This construction is an instrumental dative, and would be translated, “they are highly thought of by the apostles.”

The second option is not a straightforward reading of the text.  It assumes an extended (but possible) meaning for ἐπίσημοι (BDAG “of exceptional quality”), as well as a more difficult (but again, possible) meaning for the preposition ἐν.

The burden of proof rests on advocates of the second option, and their case is far from proven.

In 2001, Burer & Wallace made the best argument I know of for the second reading, that the phrase εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις means “well-known” or “well-thought-of by the apostles.”

Eldon Epp, in his book Junia: The First Woman Apostle (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), strongly counters Burer & Wallace.  I know of no one who has refuted Epp.

As I said, the burden of proof falls on those who want to read the phrase to exclude Junia from the ranks of the apostles.  Their case is unproven.  Junia was an apostle.

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