Monday, September 14, 2009

Andronicus and Junia prominent among "the apostles"

In my recent NT Pod 12, on Junia (Programme Notes), I mentioned briefly an element that I have not seen in the extensive discussions of this verse, Romans 16.7, though it is quite possible that I have missed it. Let us remind ourselves of the Greek:
ἀσπάσασθε Ἀνδρόνικον καὶ ᾿Ιουνίαν τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου καὶ συναιχμαλώτους μου, οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις, οἳ καὶ πρὸ ἐμοῦ γέγοναν ἐν Χριστῷ.
Attention has focused on two elements here, the identity of Junia, now universally taken to be a woman, and the translation "prominent among the apostles" (NRSV) vs. "well known to the apostles" (NET Bible). I am not persuaded by the latter translation for the reasons given by Eldon Jay Epp, Linda Belleville, and blogged in detail by Suzanne McCarthy (see Programme Notes), but there is a small element I would like to add to the discussion, Paul's use of the term "the apostles". I think it is one of those occasions where attention has been so focused on those other points of translation and interpretation that we may have missed something else in the passage.

The question I would like to pose is whether Paul is more likely to have used the term "the apostles" if he were saying "prominent among the apostles" (NRSV) or if he were saying "well known to the apostles" (NET). The former is, I think, far more likely. In that former translation (NRSV), "the apostles" works simply as a descriptor. It tells us about Andronicus and Junia's status as (prominent) apostles. It makes sense and is perfectly Pauline. In the NET translation, on the other hand, "the apostles" is used in a less obviously Pauline sense. Now he is appealing to the authority of an external group labelled as "the apostles". He does not say that Andronicus and Junia are esteemed by "us apostles" (cf. 1 Cor. 4.9) or by "all the apostles, including me", as we might have expected if this were the sense of the passage. He continually refers to himself in Romans 16, and three times in this verse, 16.7, "my relatives", "my fellow prisoners", "in Christ before me", yet on the NET translation, he appears to give authority to a group called "the apostles" that does not obviously include him.

It is difficult to imagine Paul using the term "the apostles" in the way necessitated by the NET translation, as a group external to Paul who confer their esteem. It's an Acts-style usage but not a Pauline one.


Judy Redman said...


I'm not sure that you're correct in stating that Junia is "now universally taken to be a woman". It's probably true amongst reputable biblical scholars, but I don't think it's reached all those in the pews yet. It's actually quite a difficult case to argue with people who have only ever learned English and aren't really all that sure about things like nouns and verbs, subjects and objects, let alone the more arcane aspects of grammar. Sadly, most of them don't care enough to follow you through the outline of how Greek works that is necessary to convince.

Thanks for posting this, though. Helpful.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your explanation. This verse has always puzzled. If Pau's true meaning was that Junia and Andronicus were apostles, why didn't he just say that they were "ἐπίσμοι ἀποστόλοι?"

Unknown said...


Mark Bonnington here, from Durham, UK version. Thanks for the Pod and Post on this.

I'm sypathetic to the case you make but I want to pick up the point about 'the apostles' as a group external to Paul as an un-pauline usage. It's helpful to bring this question to bear on the discussion, but isn't it hard to press in the light of the transition from 1 Corinthians 15.7 to 15.8 - 'all the apostles' to '..also to me'. Linguistically, the time sequence means that here Paul does describe the apostles as a complete group excluding him. Of course he dosn't believe this for a moment and, sure, he goes on to make clear that he is 'least of the apostles' in 15.9 but the move from 7 to 8 surely blunts the claim that Paul would always be careful in his use of language to include himself amongst the apostles.

All good wishes


Doug said...

I like that sort of detail, and I think its kind of the coping stone of a generally persuasive case

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Judy. It's useful to have the reminder about "the pews". This is what glorious (?!) academic isolation can do for you. I suppose that the "Junia" translation is only as influential as the translation one is using. In fact, there is a real irony in my having said that in a post where the Logos ref-tagger is automatically displaying NASB, which makes Junia into "Junias" the "kinsman"! I must see if I can change that default setting.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, sundaypage. Good question. I suppose that the way that Paul has structured it actually ends up placing emphasis on ἐπίσημοι. They are not just apostles, they are *outstanding* among the apostles. That's how I'd take it, I think.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Mark. Yes, I have wondered about 1 Cor. 15, but as you point out there is the time sequence element there, and the fact that Paul is clearly commenting on a tradition that he has received (1 Cor. 15.1-3). What is different in the proposed translation of Rom. 16.7 is the appeal to a group of "the apostles" as if an external group.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Doug. It is only a minor point, but the more I think about it, the more I reckon that the NET Bible style translation is problematic here.