Junia an Apostle?

Much heat and confusion is caused by Paul’s reference to his compatriots and fellow prisoners in Romans 16:7.

The NIV (2011) renders the verse as:

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

There are two questions that arise here.  Firstly, was it Junia (a female) or was it Junias (a male) that Paul is referring to here, and secondly, what does it mean for Andronicus and this person to be outstanding among the apostles. Does this mean they were outstanding Apostles themselves, or that the Apostles knew them well?

We can get some helpful understanding of the background to the first of these questions from an essay written by Edgar Battad Ebojo.  This appeared in Myths and Mistakes in New Testament Textual Criticism Edited by Elijah Hixson and Peter J. Gurry.  Ebojo’s essay is Chapter 15, titled Myths About Modern Translation.

In a section concerning accents, he says:

Full employment of accents in the manuscript tradition was a later development, although they are used sparingly in some of the earlier extant manuscripts.  They were intended primarily as optical aids to Scripture readers.  But some text-critical variations involving accents may also affect the translation of the New Testament, and some may even stir heated hermeneutical discussions on the gender question.  Romans 16:7 is one such case, dealing with the gender of a person identified in the manuscript tradition as Ἰουνιαν (Iounian).

The accusative ʼΙουνιαν can be translated either as feminine (“Junia”) or masculine (“Junias”), and the choice is largely dependent on how this rare Greek name is accented. The manuscript tradition is divided between the acute accent (Ἰουνίαν, (Iounian), “Junia”), the unaccented (which can then be read as Ἰουνιᾶν [Iounian, “Junias”; reflected by Tasker]), and the variant Ἰουλίαν (Ioulian, “Julia,” supported primarily by P46; see Rom 16:15).  Most Greek text editions prefer the first of these (Bengel, Westcott and Hort, UBS5-NA28, Homes, Hodges-Farstad, Robinson-Pierpont, etc.)

The NET Bible notes describe why they used the feminine form as follows:

The feminine name Junia , though common in Latin, is quite rare in Greek (apparently only three instances of it occur in Greek literature outside Ro 16:7, according to the data in the TLG [D. Moo, Romans [NICNT], 922]). The masculine Junias (as a contraction for Junianas), however, is rarer still: Only one instance of the masculine name is known in extant Greek literature (Epiphanius mentions Junias in his Index discipulorum 125). Further, since there are apparently other husband-wife teams mentioned in this salutation (Prisca and Aquila [v. 3], Philologus and Julia [v. 15]), it might be natural to think of Junia as a feminine name. (This ought not be pressed too far, however, for in v. 12 all three individuals are women [though the first two are linked together], and in vv. 9-11 all the individuals are men.) In Greek only a difference of accent distinguishes between Junias (male) and Junia (female).

So we can conclude from all this, that while there is some reason to favour the feminine version of this name, it is in no manner clear cut, and we should be careful in putting too much weight on that conclusion.

On the second point, this person’s apostleship, I will leave a more detailed investigation until later, but I did come across this interesting thought by Douglas Moo:

But many scholars on both sides of this issue are guilty of accepting too readily a key supposition in this line of reasoning: that “apostle” here refers to an authoritative leadership position such as that held by the “Twelve” and by Paul. In fact, Paul often uses the title “apostle” in a “looser” sense: sometimes simply to denote a “messenger” or “emissary” and sometimes to denote a “commissioned missionary.” When Paul uses the word in the former sense, he makes clear the source and purpose of the “emissary’s” commission. So “apostle” here probably means “traveling missionary.”

Moo, D. J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans (pp. 923–924). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

 

He references 2 Corinthians 8:23 and Philippians 2:25 as examples.  The latter verse is referring to Epaphroditus, the former verse, some unspecified “brothers”.  The NET and ESV translate the word “apostle(s)” here as “messenger(s)”, whereas the NIV translates it as “representatives” and “messenger” respectively.

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