A Woman Apostle?

AT ROMANS 16: 7, Paul refers to a woman Apostle, Junia. And she is ‘prominent among the Apostles’. (NRSV)

Or does he? And is she? In fact the gender is uncertain. I don’t mean that she is deliciously androgynous, but that the actual Greek word Junian could be the accusative case of the man’s name Junias or of the woman’s name Junia (RSV translates ‘…Andronicus and Junias…they are men of note among the Apostles’) By the majority of the commentators, both patristic and modern, believe that Junia, feminine, is right.

Naturally, this has been brought into the ordination of women debates. It is a useful piece of ammunition for the ‘feminists’. Of course, their case does no depend on this detail, any more than the opposing case deepens on proving, by hook or by crook, that Junia both an -s on the end of her name and a membrum virile. On each side, the theological arguments are considerably broader. Nevertheless ‘Woman Apostle’ is a piece of evidence.

But not according to the latest number of NewTestament Studies (Vol 47 Number 1 January 2001 pp 76-91) M.H.Brurer and O.B. Wallace, who hail from the Lone Star State, argue the Junia was probably a female, but not an Apostle. This is how it goes. Romans 16.7 calls Andronicus and Junia ‘episemoi en tios apostolois – notable in/among the apostles.

Does this mean:
(a) notable members of the group of the apostles; or
(b) not apostles themselves but well known among (i.e. to) the apostles?

(a) is much the more fashionable translation at the moment. Of course , is has its problems. If Andronicus and Junia were ‘prominent’ members of the apostolic band it is odd that we hear nothing else about them; and odd that Paul, who is probably listing for the Roman Christians people who could put in a good word for him, didn’t give them a more prominent billing on the list. So ‘Apostles’ would have to mean a different, lesser category then the Twelve.

But this is not what Burer and Wallace discuss. They examine what in extant Greek literature (60,000,000 words) the usage episemos en… means And their conclusion is that (b) is right: in other words, Andronicus and Junia were not apostles but were a couple whom the Apostles (i.e. the leaders of the Jerusalem community) knew and – Paul implies – approved of. If Paul had wanted to say ‘notable members of the group of the Apostles’ he would have used a different construction: episemos with the genitive case: ‘episemoi ton apostolon’ – well-know of the apostles.

So, oops-a-daisy, there wasn’t a woman apostle after all! And – oops-a-daisy – the NRSV is an iffy translation. Stick with the RSV.

And I bet you’re wondering why you haven’t read all this exciting stuff in the papers. If some new bit of evidence, however dodgy, has just emerged for women apostles, headlines like NEW EVIDENCE FOR WOMAN APOSTLE would have screamed at you from the media. Now that a woman apostles has just smiled the demurest of smiles and gracefully tiptoed out of history, we hear not a word.

Funny isn’t it?

John Hunwicke is Head of Theology at Lancing College.