This is the third article in our series on women in the scriptures where we meet Junia.
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Rm16:7
This one verse is all the information we have about Andronicus and Junia. Most scholars assume that they were a married couple, although Paul does not say so.
One thing that we know is that Andronicus and Junia were living in Rome at the time Paul wrote his letter. Perhaps they were not native to Rome as Paul says they were Christ-followers before he was. This means they must have become Christians very early in the Christian movement.
What is more certain is that they were Jewish Christians since Paul calls them his relatives or “kin.” This could mean that they part of his family or it could mean that they were Jews. Either way, they were Jewish believers. And they were believers who had already suffered for their faith, having been in prison at some time in the past.
What does Paul mean by calling them apostles? The literal meaning of the word “apostle” is sent as a messenger or envoy.
For Paul an apostle is someone with a calling from God to preach the good news where it has never been preached before. He also associates apostleship with those who had witnessed one of the appearances of the risen Jesus.
Since Paul calls Andronicus and Junia “apostles”, they were likely Jewish believers who saw the risen Jesus and that they had brought the good news to a new community, perhaps Rome itself.
Romans 16:7 is the only place in the New Testament in which a woman is called an apostle. Some later interpreters found this so surprising that they changed the text to the masculine. Junia spent about a century with a made-up man’s name before most editions of the Greek New Testament changed her name back to the feminine form in 1998.
Junia’s story is an important one to consider for two reasons.
First, it is significant that Paul called her an apostle. This highlights what was possible for women in the early church and reveals the significant ways that women contributed to the leadership and growth of the early church.
Second, her tale is also a cautionary one for all who read and interpret the Bible. Otherwise capable and intelligent male scholars in the early 20th century made errors because of their own cultural biases. Let all of us who reflect on the Word of God, do so with open hearts.
Written by Andrea Dean on behalf of the Women’s Taskforce, Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn