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Were Andronicus and Iounian apostles?

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Archives / 2014 / May



Were Andronicus and Iounian apostles?

Richard A. Sabuin

Richard A. Sabuin, PhD, serves as dean of the School of Theology, Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, Silang, Cavite, Philippines.


Romans 16: 7 — “ Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me” (NKJV)1—has received much attention from scholars, not because of Andronicus, but because of Iounian. Iounian (Junia) has been considered a female name. For many New Testament (NT) scholars, this name serves as evidence that female apostles existed in the New Testament church.2

Articles or books focusing only on Iounian attempt to prove two things: Junia is an apostle, and that this is a female name.3 This article intends to reevaluate that claim by examining Romans 16:7 in its immediate and broader contexts. Though individuals place a great deal of emphasis on the question of whether Iounian is a male or female name (it could be either), this question does not do justice to Andronicus who receives mention together with Iounian. The question to ask is whether Andronicus is an apostle or not, because to conclude that Iounian is an apostle requires Andronicus to be an apostle too. If Andronicus is not an apostle, then the effort of proving Iounian in this case to be a female name is not significant.

What is the text clear and unclear about?

“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me” (Rom. 16:7). On the one hand, the text assures us that Andronicus and Junia were both well-known and respected members in the church of Rome and that Paul knew they were in Rome when he was writing to the church. We know that they shared a common Jewish ancestry with the apostle Paul. We can be certain that they were baptized and
became Christians before the conversion of the apostle Paul. Clearly, they spent time in prison with the apostle and are coupled together in the same verse because they shared something in common with one another. The text also informs us that the apostles know them very well.

On the other hand, the meaning of the phrase “of note among the apostles” is an open question. The expression could be interpreted as exclusive to the effect that Andronicus and Iounian were well-known by the apostles or it could be seen as inclusive to the effect that they were themselves well-known apostles. Why Paul linked Iounian and Andronicus in the same verse remains uncertain. Were they linked together because they were husband and wife, brother and sister, fellow prisoners, or compatriots of Paul? The answers to these questions are elusive.

Who are the apostles?

In the NT, Luke uses the term “the apostles” most frequently.Consistently, he uses this title to refer to the twelve apostles before Judas’s betrayal (Luke 9:10; 17:5; 22:14); the eleven apostles after the betrayal of Judas (Acts 1:2, 26; Luke 24:10; cf. Luke 24:10, 33); and the twelve apostles including Matthias, the replacement for Judas (Acts 1:26; 2:37, 43; 4:33, 36; 5:12, 18, 29, 34, 40; 6:6). Referring to the problem about serving tables in Acts 6, Luke still calls the apostles “the twelve” (v. 2). Later in his writing, the title “the apostles” seems to have become a specific title referring to those among the twelve apostles regardless of whether they were together in one place or not. At the time of the persecution by Saul of Tarsus, the Christians were scattered, and only “the apostles” remained in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). Luke calls them, “the apostles who were at Jerusalem” (v. 14), among whom are “Peter and John” (v. 14). This means not all the apostles remained in Jerusalem, even though the text says that all were scattered “except the apostles.” Up to this point, Luke has limited the title “the apostles” only to the twelve.

How about the seventy whom Jesus sent (Luke 10:1, 17)? Although they receive similar instructions from Jesus as the twelve did and are sent two by two as the twelve were (Luke 10:1–17; cf. Mark 6:7–13), they are never called apostles. If they were apostles, then there would not be a problem about the daily distribution to the widows (Acts 6:1–3). If the seventy were apostles, it may be hard to understand why the twelve were the only ones dedicated “continually to prayer and to the minis­try of the word” (v. 4).5 Moreover, when there was a need to replace Judas, Matthias had to be elected in order to be one of the twelve apostles (1:26) even if he might have been one of the seventy (Luke 10:1).6 He was elected not simply to complete the number twelve (a symbol of Israel)7 but to do ministry by being an apostle (Acts 1:26; cf. 6:4).

Later, Luke includes Paul and Barnabas as apostles. However, he calls them “the apostles” only after he depicts the setting aside of the two for the work God has called them to do (Acts 13:2; cf. 14:4, 14). After his conver­sion, Paul returned to Jerusalem.8 There, he was with the apostles “com­ing in and going out,” spreading the word of God (9:28, 29). After some time, because of the attempts to kill him, he was sent to Tarsus by the church in Jerusalem (v. 30). He was sent there not only for the safety of his life but for a mission. Luke hints at this idea by using exapostelld, “to send out,” or the cognate verb of the noun apostolos, “one who is sent.”9 In spite of this, Paul has not been called “apostle” yet.

The same applies to Barnabas. Before being set apart for a mission (Acts 13:1, 2), he was involved in minis­try. When there was a need of ministry in Antioch, the church in Jerusalem “sent out” Barnabas to Antioch (11:22), exactly as they did Paul. Again, Luke uses the word exapostelld, the same verb describing the sending out of Paul. Nevertheless, Luke has not yet called Barnabas “apostle” either. After they are set apart, Luke calls them “the apostles,” even doing so twice (14:4, 14). Thus Luke considers only the twelve, Barnabas, and Paul as “the apostles.” Only those who are appointed as apostles are called “the apostles.”

Paul also gives hints about who are the ones he considers as the apostles. In 1 Corinthians 15:5–9, he gives a list of those to whom Jesus showed Himself after the Resurrection, and he connects this experience with apostleship. 10

Christ appeared

to Cephas

then to the twelve (v. 5)

Then he appeared

to James

then to all the apostles (v. 7)

Last of all he appeared

also to me

the least of the apostles (vv. 8, 9)   

The table above puts Peter (Cephas) as one of the twelve, James as one of all the apostles (cf. Gal. 1:19),11 and Paul being the least of the apostles. This means, in addi­tion to the twelve apostles, there are other apostles including James and Paul. Interestingly, the “five hundred” (1 Cor. 15:6) is neither linked to the twelve nor to all the apostles. Suffice it to say that these 500 brethren are not apostles. Paul also calls his travel companion, Barnabas, an apostle (1 Cor. 9:5, 6). It seems that, although many have been with Paul in his mis­sionary trips, he does not call all of them apostles. In the prologue of his epistles, only after calling himself an apostle does he mention other names. For example, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother” (Col. 1:1; cf. 2 Cor. 1:1). Thus, even Timothy is never called an apostle by Paul.

Also, simply being a coprisoner of Paul does not make a person an apostle. Paul calls some of his cowork­ers “fellow prisoners,” and they are all male workers: Aristrachus (Col. 4:10); Epaphras (Philem. 23); Silas also was Paul’s fellow prisoner (Acts 16:19–23); Onesiphorus visited Paul in prison (2 Tim. 1:16); Onesimus also was with Paul in the prison (Philem. 10); those who were once assisting Paul in the prisons are all males: Demas, Crescens, Titus, Tychicus, and Luke (2 Tim. 4:10, 11), and also Timothy (Phil. 2:19). Of these, he considers Silas, who was his coprisoner and companion during his second mission­ary trip, an apostle (1 Thess. 2:2–7),12 perhaps because Silas was also sent by the church in Jerusalem to accompany Paul and Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 15:22, 27). This list demonstrates that Paul always and only had male coprisoners. This makes the case of Iounian being a female coprisoner a weak argument.

There are some brethren whom he sent to Corinth as “apostles” of the churches (2 Cor. 8:22, 23) to collect aid for Jerusalem. This does not mean that they have been chosen for the ministry that the twelve and the other apostles were doing. When Paul refers to the twelve or the other apostles of Christ, he uses the word apostolos normally with a definite article (e.g., Rom. 16:7; 1 Cor. 4:9; 9:5; 15:7, 9; Gal. 1:17, 19; Eph. 2:20; 3:5; 4:11).13 The word apostoloi in this text does not have a definite article, indicating that the word is used differently. In this context, these are two messengers sent for a one-time specific task: the collection of the gift to help the believers in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:19; cf. 1 Cor. 16:3). One of them was chosen by the churches (2 Cor. 8:19), and the other one was sent directly by Paul himself (v. 22), and yet both of them are called apostoloi (v. 23). In this case, the title apostoloi is applied both to the one appointed and to the one sent personally by the apostle. Thus, this title is not used as to the twelve and the other apostles who are appointed either by Jesus Himself or by the church as the body of Christ.

The case is similar to that of Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25). He is also called apostolos but without a definite article, and he is also a messenger sent by the church in Philippi to minister to the needs of Paul in prison—not to preach the gospel to Paul. For Paul, Epaphroditus is a brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but14 to the Philippians he is a messenger (apostolos). Thus, he is called apos­tolos only because he was sent by the church to bring some help from the church to Paul. The words apostoloi and apostolos in these two texts do not have definite articles. Also, both are limited by words in the genitive case: the apostles of the churches (2 Cor. 8:23), and the apostle of you (Phil. 2:25). Paul makes this limitation only here. Thus, Paul distinguishes these “apostles” (messengers) from the apostles who are sent to bring the gospel and perform the ministry of the Word.

What about Andronicus?

This question of Andronicus’s identity comes from the ambiguous interpretation of the phrase “of note among the apostles” (Rom. 16:7). Based on the preceding discussion, “the apostles” refers to the twelve apostles and all the apostles who are sent by Jesus Christ and His church for the ministry of the Word. If Matthias, supposedly being one of the seventy, was not an apostle before being chosen to be one of the twelve, then Andronicus was not an apostle simply by having been one of the seventy.15 In this context, Andronicus was neither one of “the apostles,” nor one of those in the category of Epaphroditus and the brethren from Macedonia. Moreover, the word apos­toloi in Romans 16:7 comes with a definite article.

The fact that he is a coprisoner of Paul does not automatically make him an apostle, for many of Paul’s copris­oners are not apostles. If Andronicus was a distinguished apostle, then Luke likely would have included him in the book of Acts. He mentions Barnabas as an apostle (Acts 14:4, 14), and Paul does too (1 Cor. 9:5, 6). Nothing has been mentioned about Andronicus, even after Luke made a thorough research for his volumes (Luke 1:1–4), including interviewing Paul when Luke was with him during the first Roman imprisonment (Philem. 24), and “only Luke” was with Paul during the second imprisonment (2 Tim. 4:11).

Paul describes Andronicus as “being in Christ before me” (Rom. 16:7). If Andronicus (as well as Iounian) was one of the apostles, Paul might say, “the apostles before me,” as he does when referring to James and Peter (Gal. 1:17). Being in Christ before Paul does not automatically mean being an apostle before Paul. The evidence points to the conclusion that Andronicus is not one of the apostles.

So, what is the meaning of the preposition en in the phrase episēmoi en tois apostolois: “of note among the apostles,” or “of note to the apostles”? This is not settled conclusively by looking in Paul’s writings for the con­struction of adjective + en + dative noun/pronoun. With this construction, Paul does not consistently denote an exclusive or inclusive meaning.16 Some examples of an inclusive mean­ing are “the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29), “not a wise man among you” (1 Cor. 6:5), and “sick among you” (1 Cor. 11:30). Some examples of an exclusive meaning are “lowly among you” (2 Cor. 10:1), in which Paul is considered lowly by the Corinthians; “admired among all those who believe” (2 Thess. 1:10), that is, to be admired by the believers; and “honorable among all” (Heb. 13:4), that is, honorable by all.

This inconsistency of the meaning of this construction is a weak founda­tion to decide what “of note among the apostles” (Rom. 16:7) means. In this situation, the immediate and wider contexts will help decide, and based on the preceding exposition, Andronicus is not one of the apostles. There is no need to change the English meaning of en from “among” into “by” or “to.” Andronicus, although not an apostle, could have a good name among the apostles.

In Matthew 27:16, the adjective episēmos directly modifies the noun desmios, “prisoner,” and thus means “notorious prisoner.” In Romans 16:7, the same adjective is there without directly modifying a noun. The phrase, therefore, cannot be understood automatically as “notable apostles.” Moreover, Paul never compares one apostle with the others. Instead, he compares himself with other apostles:

“For I am the least of the apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9). Interestingly, here Paul does not use the construction of adjective + en + dative noun, but simply adjective + genitive noun: ho elachistos tōn apostolōn—a parti­tive genitive.17 With the nominative adjective and genitive plural noun, the phrase cannot be translated as “the least apostle,” but it should be “the least of the apostles.” There is no ambiguity. For sure, Paul is one of the apostles—inclusive meaning.

The only other example of this construction in the Pauline epistles is tous ptōchous tōn hagiōn, “the poor of the saints” (Rom. 15:26)—obviously an inclusive meaning.18 If Paul had wanted to introduce Andronicus as one of the apostles, he would have clearly done it the same way that he has introduced himself, namely, without the preposition en. For this reason, Andronicus is not one of the apostles.

What about Iounian?

Because it has been demon­strated above that Andronicus is not an apostle, then Iounian is not an apostle, either. Much discussion has taken place and may continue about whether Iounian is a male or a female name, and I will not add to that discus­sion. Whether Iounian is a female or a male name, whether it is Junia or Junias, that person, together with men and women Paul mentions in the list, has worked for the Lord. However, Iounian is not an apostle.


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1 Unless otherwise stated, all scriptural references are from the New King James Version.

2 As far as I know, there has been only one extensive article in this last decade discussing Andronicus: David K. Huttar, “Did Paul Call Andronicus an Apostle in Romans 16:7?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 52, no. 4 (Dec. 2009): 747, 778. In his conclusion, he states that the lexical-grammatical evidence, the evidence from the context, and the historical evidence suggests that Andronicus is not an apostle.” Ibid., 748.

3 Recently, see, e.g., Eldon Jay Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005); Rena Pederson, The Lost Apostle: Searching for the Truth of Junia (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006); John Thorley, “Junia: The First Woman Apostle,” Novum Testamentum 38, no. 1 (Jan. 1996): 18–29; Paul Foster, “Junia—Woman and an Apostle,” Expository Times 117, no. 9 (June 2006): 371, 372; Nancy Vyhmeister, “Junia the Apostle,” Ministry, July 2013, 6–9.

4 Luke 9:10; 11:49; 17:5; 22:14; 24:10; Acts 1:2, 26; 2:37, 43; 4:33, 36; 5:12, 18, 29, 34, 40; 6:6; 8:1, 14; 9:27; 11:1; 14:4, 14; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23, 33; 16:4. Only the plural hoi apostoloi (with definite article) in any case is counted.

5 Obviously, the antecedent of the first person plural pronouns hēmas (v. 2) and hēmeis (v. 4) is “the twelve” (v. 2). Luke seems to emphasize the uniqueness of the twelve by adding the personal pronoun hēmeis, although even without this pronoun, the sentence remains complete with the first person plural verb proskarterēsomen (v. 4).

Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, Oration in Praise of Constantine, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, eds. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, 2nd ser., vol. 1 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997), 102.

7 As suggested, e.g., by Thomas W. Martin, “Matthias,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, vol. 4 (New York: Doubleday, 1996), 644.

8 Following Paul’s own testimony, after his conversion he went to Arabia for three years and then returned to Damascus and went to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:17–19). See also John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, F. R. Fay, et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Romans (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2008), 6.

9 See the connection between apostellō and apostolos in J. A. Bühner, “Apostellō,” in Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. by Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 142.

10 The table is adapted from Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 46.

11 This James must not be James, son of Zebedee, or James, son of Alphaeus, because these two are part of the twelve to whom Jesus has showed Himself earlier. Thus, most probably, this is James, the Lord’s brother (Gal. 1:19). Thus, with this sequence, James had been an apostle before Paul was (v. 17).

12 By mentioning the threat in Philippi (1 Thess. 2:2), Paul might have referred to his imprisonment with Silas in Philippi (Acts 16). This context may help define who the “we” is in reference to the “apostles” mentioned (1 Thess. 2:6, 7).

13 There are two exceptions. In 2 Corinthians 11:13, the word apostoloi is anarthrous, used in comparison to the false apostles, and thus does not refer specifically to the twelve or the other apostles of Christ. In 1 Thessalonians 2:6, the word is also anarthrous, but the context clearly suggests that it refers to Paul and Silas (1:1). Timothy is not included in the “we” and “us” of the epistle (see 1 Thess. 3:2–6).

14 The conjunction de, “but, on the contrary” separates what Epaphroditus is for Paul and what he is for the church.

15 As inferred by Vyhmeister, 9, following Origen.

16 Ibid., 8. Unfortunately, Vyhmeister just follows examples given by scholars who, instead of using Paul’s writing to compare with Romans 16:7, use Matthew 2:6 and even extrabiblical writings as parallels. Exegetically, this should not be the first option. Moreover, Matthew 2:6 should suggest exclusive meaning, because Bethlehem is not a ruler among the rulers of Judah. In fact, it is from Bethlehem a ruler will come out.

17 For more discussion on the syntactical construction of person/ things + episēmos/other adjectives + preposition en, see Huttar, 748–755.

18 Had Paul wanted to say clearly that Andronicus and Junia were prominent among the apostles, he could also have used the kind of partitive genitive construction used in 3 Macc. 6:1: Eleazaros de tis anēr episēmos tō apo tēs chōras hiereōn, “Then Eleazar, a prominent man among the priests from the country.”

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