Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Andronikos and Junia, Part 2

… and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, (Acts 2:10).

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. (Romans 16:7, NIV).

ἀσπάσασθε Ἀνδρόνικον καὶ Ἰουνίαν τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου καὶ συναιχμαλώτους μου, οἵτινές εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις, οἳ καὶ πρὸ ἐμοῦ γέγοναν ἐν Χριστῷ (Romans 16:7, NA27).

Jewett continues in his description of Andronikos and Junia:
Given the pairing with the male name first, it is likely that Andronikos and Junia are a married couple. Paul refers to them as τοὺς συγγενεῖς μου (“my kinsmen”) which probably indicates Jewish origins for both, as the parallel in Rom 9:3 suggests. That “kinsmen” in this instance refers to fellow Benjamites or “close companions,” swings from over to underinterpreting this straightforward reference, in order to explain the oddity of identifying some of the names in this chapter as Jewish. My audience theory explains such details as Paul’s effort to affirm the legitimacy of some of the Jewish Christians currently being discriminated against by the Gentile Christian majority in the Roman house and tenement churches. By placing himself in solidarity with Andronikos and Junia, Paul counters the prejudicial treatment about which he apparently was well informed.

Andronikos and Junia are not only compatriots, but also “my fellow prisoners,” probably indicating that they had shared a particular prison experience with Paul Since the possessive pronoun “my” along with the prefix συν- (“with, fellow”) indicate shared experience, and since the parallels to the use of συναιχμάλωτός (“fellow prisoner/prisoner of war”) in Phlm 23 and Col 4:10 refer to persons who were evidently sharing Paul’s imprisonments at the times of writing, it seems gratuitous to suggest … that Andronikos and Junia simply “had like him been imprisoned for Christ’s sake, but not necessarily at the same time. That “fellow prisoner” was merely a metaphor I reference to militant struggle … seems most unlikely because it would then remain unclear why all the other early Christian evangelists mentioned in this chapter were not also so designated.

Studies of the Roman prison system indicate that incarceration was ordinarily not used as punishment as in modern jurisprudence but was designed to secure arrested persons until they could be tried, to coerce confessions and other forms of cooperation with magistrates, or to confine condemned persons until they could be punished. Prisoners were typically kept together in confined spaces where the conditions of crowding, inadequate ventilation and sanitation, deprivation of nourishment and sleep, as well as violence among inmates were frequent causes of complaints. The use of iron chains and stocks typically added a significant measure of torturous punishment to Roman imprisonment. Since the prison system was administered largely by military authorities, it was natural for Paul to refer to himself and his colleagues as συναιχμαλώτοι (“fellow prisoners of war”), which was probably understood within the context of the conflict between Christ and the principalities and powers alluded to in Rom 8:38-39 and 2 Cor 10:3-5). Since most of the Jewish community had been brought to Rome as prisoners of war to be purchased as slaves, the choice of this expression would have had an evocative connotation for some of Paul’s audience.

The honorific expression ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις should be translated “outstanding among the apostles” rather than “remarkable in the judgment of the apostles, because the adjective ἐπίσημος lifts up a person or thing as distinguished or marked in comparison with other representatives of the same class, in this instance with other apostles.
Schreiner agrees with this assessment, with some qualification:
How should we understand the words ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις (episemoi en tois apostolois)? Murray (1965:230) is virtually alone among modern commentators in understanding it as “outstanding in the eyes of the apostles.” The consensus view is that the phrase means “distinguished among the apostles.” The latter is almost surely right, for this is a more natural way of understanding the prepositional phrase. In saying that they are apostles , however, Paul is certainly not placing them in the ranks of the Twelve. In 1 Cor 15 (vv. 5, 7) Paul distinguished between the Twelve and the apostles, and so it would be a mistake to think that the latter are coterminous with the former. Other members of the early church had apostolic authority in addition to the Twelve: Paul, Barnabas (Acts 14:1-4, 14), and James the brother of Jesus (Gal 1:19). It is improbable, however, that Andronicus and Junia had the same level of authority as Paul, Barnabas, and James. The term ἀποστόλος is not a technical term (cf. 2 Cor 8:23; Phil 2:25; see Ollrog 1979:9-84), and in the case of Andronicus and Junia the likely idea is that they were itinerant evangelists or missionaries. The term ἀποστόλος is used of itinerant evangelists in the Apostolic Fathers (cf. Did. 11.3-6; Herm. Vis 13.1; Sim 92.4; 93.5; 102.2). They did not exercise the same kind of authority as Paul, Barnabas, or James the brother of Jesus (Schreiner 796-797).
Jewett picks up other ancient uses of the phrase τὸ ἐπίσημον as “used to refer to the badge distinguishing one shield from another,” or “the flag or figurehead that identifies one ship in comparison with an otherwise identical class in the same class.” He cites Chrysostom about Junia: “Even to be an apostle is great, but also to be prominent among them—consider how wonderful a song of honor that is!”

A more debatable question is whether Andronikos and Junia functioned as evangelists or emissaries of a particular congregation, or as witnesses to the resurrection. Since Paul gives no evidence that they had been associated with a particular congregation, in contrast to Phoebe in [Romans 16:1-2], and since his usage of “apostle” is oriented to resurrection witness unless otherwise indicated, it seems likely that he ranked them among “all the apostles” who laid claim to being witnesses of the resurrection. With regard to the locations where Andronikos and Junia served as evangelists, all we can say with certainty is that they had functioned somewhere in the eastern mission during the time of shared imprisonment with Paul, and that they are now in Rome…. Lampe discovered some twenty-nine references to persons with the name of Andronikos in Rome, so there is no reason to suspect he was not a resident there. It seems quite likely that they had missionized in Rome prior to the banishment under Claudius [in 49 A.D.], and had returned to their earlier residence there after the lapse of the Edict. That they were καὶ πρὸ ἐμοῦ γέγοναν ἐν Χριστῷ (“also in Christ before me”) means that they were converted prior to 34 C.E., which correlates well with the earlier reference to their apostolic status, because Paul thought of himself as the last in the series of witnesses to the resurrection (1 Cor 15:8). This means that Andronikos and Junia could easily have been among the “visitors from Rome” identified in Acts 2:10 as part of the Pentecost crowd. They could well have been among the Hellenists in Jerusalem (Acts 6:1), who were later scattered to various locations outside of Jerusalem, according to Acts 11:19. The supposition that they were part of the Antioch church seems less plausible in view of their very early origin as Christian missionaries. All we can say with certainty is that this couple had function as Christian apostles for more than two decades before Paul wrote this letter to Rome requesting that they be greeted y other believers in Rome who evidently were not inclined to acknowledge their accomplishments and status (Jewett 964-965).


  1. Excellent work. Looking forward to more of this, John.

  2. Thanks EA. My intention is to summarize all of this in the near future, in such a way that it gives a good and readable summary of what the earliest churches in Rome were really like.