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  • An Early Christian Apostless July 20, 2010

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient , trackback





    Summer’s here, the sun’s out and Mrs B and little Miss B are trying not to have arguments with the in-laws on a distant strand of Mediterranean. Beachcombing, instead, took a far more sensible line and stayed at home with a collection of books and is subsisting on a diet of lemonade, pistachio nuts and recent Korean murder-mystery flicks. This unusual domestic state also means that Beachcombing feels up to straying into some dangerous areas that he could only do while his wife has no access to the internet: the scandal, for example, of the apostle Junia.

    For today’s sermon we quote from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.

    Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives (or fellow-countrymen?) who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Romans 16, 17

    The revolutionary connotations of this passage are all in the name Junia (in the accusative in the Greek here ιουνιαν). Junia should, by rights, be a female name: as is Sara, as is Susana, as is Valentina etc etc. But most Christians have been taught, often with reference to the gathering of the disciples, that apostles cannot be women – Beachcombing remembers a teacher at his excellent CofE Junior school making just this point to a horrified, mostly female, class.


    Well, of course, male-female names exist. Johnny Cash called one of his sons Sue (at least in a song). Beachcombing has come across some male Beverlys in Wales and a man called Fiore in Milan. But this seems like special pleading. While attempts to explain the name as a borrowing from Hebrew or a diminutive of a Greek name don’t really stand up.

    There has even been some desperate scrabbling around the early manuscripts to see if this might not be a badly-copied name. But nothing doing. Indeed, in the most interesting look at Junia, John Thorley (1996), pointed out that there was a hint that Junia might be distorted, but if so its original spelling was the even more feminine Julia: talk about jumping from the barbie pram into the wendy house.

    Finally, there has been an attempt at word play claiming that, yes, Junia was a woman but the sense here is not that Adronicus and Junia were ‘outstanding apostles’, but rather that they were ‘outstanding in the eyes of the Apostles’.

    Yet John Chrysostom, the fourth-century Greek Church Father, read things differently: ‘Goodness, what a great love of learning [Junia] had! Great enough for her to be worth including among the Apostles’. Does that ‘love of learning’, quite inexplicable from Paul’s single sentence, mean that there was a separate now forgotten tradition about Junia?

    But why all this desperate resistance to a female apostle? Well, ‘apostle’ is applied in the New Testament only to the disciples, Barnabus, Silvanus, Paul and Andronicus and Junia – all, with the exception of Junia, clearly male.

    Junia must join the list then of ‘awkward’ New Testament women including Phoebe (Romans 16, 1) who are shown doing things which might cause some consternation to  the modern Catholic church and, indeed, many Protestants.

    Beachcombing offers the Greek and prays that his wife will never read this…

    ασπασασθε  ανδρονικον και ιουνιαν τους συγγενεις μου και συναιχμαλωτους μου, οιτινες εισιν επισημοι εν τοις αποστολοις, οι και προ εμου γεγονασιν εν χριστω

    Any comments on Junia/Julia (especially a possible Hebrew derivation from a male name) would be of great interest! Thanks, Beachcombing [drbeachcombingATyahooDOT]


    1st Sep 2010: Daniel S sent in a fascinating email on the German reception of the apostless (?) Junia/Julia – Beachcombing was particularly interested in that old reprobate Luther, who apparently upped the male ante over the course of his lifetime. ‘I found this story very interesting. I immediately had a look at the German translations, namely (1) Luther B. 1912, (2) Schlachter B.1951, (3) Elberfelder B.1905 and (4) Luther’s last hand 1545. In those I found the various possibilities, you already mentioned. Where (1) and (4) refer to the both as apostles, (2) and (3) state that they were ‘outstanding in the eyes of the apostles’. Interesting is the gender question. Grüßet (greet) (1) den Junias, (2) Junias, (3) Junias, (4) den Junian. (1) and (4) clearly refer to a man by the used male accusative article, whereas (2) and (3) don’t use an article at all. Luther seemed convinced (or frightened) enough to make a clear reference to the article of the apostle (and in the last hand, even adjusted the ending).’ Thanks to Daniel!