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Two of our most literal English translations render Romans 16:7 in remarkably different ways:

NASB:

Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

ESV:

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.

So one translation is that Junias (a man) is "outstanding among the apostles" and the other says that Junia (a woman) is "well known to the apostles". Other translations use other combinations. Looking over the NET Bible notes, it seems this is a tricky passage even in the Greek.

What's the best way to get the meaning of this greeting across in English?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It should be noted that several terms in the NT have broader and narrower meanings, such as diakonos, which can refer to Christ Himself (Rom 15:8), to an ordained role ("deacon"; see Phi 1:1; 1 Tim 3:8–12) or more generally to any servant of the church, even a "minister" (e.g. in Col 1:25, Paul refers to himself as a diakonos; cf also 1 Tim 4:6: Timothy was not a "deacon," but an evangelist who served as Paul's representative). Some references are simply ambiguous (e.g. in Col 1:7 & 4:7 [cf Eph 6:21] are Epaphras and Tychicus deacons, or is Paul simply referring to them as servants/ministers?) Paul even uses the term diakonos to refer to the civil powers (Rom 13:4). So likewise Phoebe, who may be a "deaconess" or simply a "servant" carrying out certain tasks for the church in Cenchrea (Rom 16:1).

The term apostolos is similar. Just as diakonos has a basic meaning of servant, and then gets taken over in some uses in a semi-technical sense of deacon, so too apostle has a general sense of messenger or representative, and then gets taken over in a more technical sense.

Here are some examples:

  • Christ Himself is the chief "Apostle" (Heb 3:1), which could refer to His role either as the representative of God or of men.
  • On the generally recognized "ecclesiological" level, there are "the Twelve," plus Paul as the "apostle to the Gentiles."
  • But besides them, there is Barnabas, whom Luke identifies as an "apostle" (Acts 14:14; cf 14:4), and even more broadly, Epaphroditus, whom Paul describes as an apostle of the Philippians (Phi 2:25), i.e. their messenger to serve Paul's needs, as well as men who helped with the Jerusalem collection, who in that role served as apostoloi of the churches (2 Cor 8:23).

So the question goes beyond the grammar (is this someone known to the "apostles," or someone numbered among the "apostles"?) to the broader question of what actually is meant by apostles here. Certainly Junia and Andronicus are not members of "the twelve," nor share the particular calling of Paul as a singular apostle to the Gentiles. In this regard, 1 Cor 15 seems to set these 13 apart as "apostles" as different from others. (I.e. in 1 Cor 15:9, surely when Paul writes that Christ then appeared "to all the apostles," he is referring to the Twelve.)

Some exegetes make the distinction thus: These men are the official representatives of Christ Himself, who have witnessed Him in His resurrected state, and in turn serve as authoritative messengers to the whole Church. To use a Heb term, an apostle in this sense is a shaliach of Christ. Other people, however are "apostles" of others, particularly of individual churches. Arguably, Timothy was an apostle of Paul (he is not of course identified by that title in Scripture; I'm just referring to how his role functions both in Acts and in the Pastorals).

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Implicit in the question is the assumption that we are trying to produce an English translation that best captures the nuance of the original Greek without importing any doctrine. In other words, we want a "literal" translation that's useful for interpretation. There are two translation issues here and we can easily separate them and look at them individually:

Junia or Junias?

If you look at the translation of this word in isolation, the obvious translation is "Junia". Here's the NET Bible translator's note:

The feminine name Junia, though common in Latin, is quite rare in Greek (apparently only three instances of it occur in Greek literature outside Rom 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). If it refers to a woman, it is possible (1) that she had the gift of apostleship (not the office), or (2) that she was not an apostle but along with Andronicus was esteemed by (or among) the apostles. As well, the term “prominent” probably means “well known,” suggesting that Andronicus and Junia(s) were well known to the apostles (see note on the phrase “well known” which follows).

Notice that the only reason given for preferring the masculine translation over the feminine one is that the rest of the verse might suggest a woman was called an apostle by Paul. The rather embarrassing explanations for how that could "work" are "(1) that she had the gift of apostleship (not the office), or (2) that she was not an apostle but along with Andronicus was esteemed by (or among) the apostles." Neither is a bad explanation if we presume that woman can't be apostles, but that's the a question for interpretation, not translation. Therefore: "Junia".

Among the apostles or known by them?

When it comes to Greek, I'm out of my depth and must lean on experts in the field. I've read the NET Bible note, a comment by Ben Witherington, and a book edited by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. My conclusion is that the Greek is not clear. Paul is paying the pair a high compliment, but whether he considers them Apostles or just known to the Apostles is highly debatable even among those who know best.

In this situation, the best translation preserves the ambiguity. The translation that seems to be open to either interpretation equally is "who are of note among the apostles", which is what the New King James uses. It could mean they are notable apostles or it could mean that the apostles have noted them. The phrase seems open to either reading equally.

Summary

The best doctrinally neutral translation is:

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my countrymen and my fellow prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.

New King James Version

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The question even could be taken one step further:

Was there a reason for the apostle who wrote this letter to leave (or put) this sort of indistinctness in his greeting? If it was felt as such by readers or listeners, Paul may have intended something: Indicating that one need not be overly concerned about the use of the term apostle as an exclusive one for the Twelve or himself only.

Ob the other hand, however, he mentions the two as come to be in Christ before himself and as relatives of his, which intimates for them a vicinity to Jerusalem, where Paul as we know had relatives. So their being known to (and knowing) the Twelve was important as it proved them witnesses of the earliest days of the Apostles. In this regard they in turn could themselves be viewed as partakers of the apostolic sending, ministering then to those in Rome.

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