My subscriptions to Bible Review and Biblical Archaeology Review have been piling up on my “to read” shelf. I had some time this afternoon, so I tried to pare the pile down. In the course of this, I read Ben Witherington III, “Joanna: Apostle of the Lord–or Jailbait?” Bible Review (Spring 2003): 12-14, 46. I thought this was a fascinating, if speculative, argument, so I wanted to share it with you. I am going to do this in five parts. Parts 3-5 is material many of you will already be familiar with regarding Junia; I share it here for the benefit of those who may not already know about it. Parts 1 and 2 is the stuff that was new to me.
All four Gospels recount that Jesus had women among his traveling companions. Luke 8:3 recounts that he was accompanied by the Twelve as well as by “some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.”
The article focuses on Joanna, the wife of Herod Antipas’s estate agent. Herod Antipas was a son of Herod the Great, and ruled over Galilee and Perea. As the wife of Herod’s steward, Joanna was no peasant; she would have been considered of middle to even high class. Like a number of other women, Joanna traveled with Jesus and helped to support him and his followers with her husband’s money (a woman in her position had no money of her own).
This no doubt was a touchy situation. For one thing, her husband worked for the man who beheaded John the Baptist, and whom Jesus spoke of disparagingly as “that fox.” For another thing, it is difficult for us to appreciate how radical Jesus was to include women in his entourage. Women simply didn’t travel with men to whom they were not related (think of modern conservative Muslim culture). Jesus ignored the ritual impurity of a woman’s menstruation, which normally would have been an impediment to this kind of frequent contact.
Joanna was among the women who went to the empty tomb on Easter morning (Luke 24:11). Note that two angels tell the women “remember how he told you, while he was yet in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be curucified, and on the third day rise again.” And then they remembered his words. Thus, Jesus had previously given these women private teachings about his coming death and resurrection.
Joanna’s story seems to end here.
What I found fascinating is the suggestion of a link between this Joanna and the (in)famous Junia of Romans 16:7: “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen who were in prison with me; they are notable among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.”
In Paul’s day, Galilee and Judea were territories within the Roman Empire. In order to survive, many Jews, especially elites, adopted Roman customs, conventions and names. Given the elite circles Chuza would have moved in, it is quite possible that his wife would have adopted a Latin name. The suggestion is that the woman Luke calls Joanna (a Hebrew name) is none other than the woman Paul calls Junia (the Latin name a Jewish woman named Joanna would have adopted).
At first blush this seems unlikely, because Junia appears to be married to a man named Andronicus, a Greek name which would be unlikely for a man with the Hebrew name Chuza to adopt. But there are several clues in the key verse that suggest that this is indeed possible. First, Paul tells us Junia is not Roman, but Jewish, as she is one of his people. Second, Paul knows this couple intimately; indeed, they had done time in prison together. It would have been unusual to imprison a woman (who normally would be subjected to house arrest), so, like Paul, she would appear to have been one of the ringleaders of the Christian cult. Third, Paul notes that Junia and Andronicus were in Christ before him. Paul was converted only two or three years after Jesus died, which would mean that Junia numbered among Jesus’ earliest followers.
So what happened to Chuza? He probably divorced Junia, and she remarried a Christian named Andronicus and they started a life of missionary work together. Remember, this was a woman who was using his money to chase after a radical prophet who had deeply insulted his boss. In an honor culture such as the one they lived in, divorce would be almost a certainty under those conditions.
So, was this woman an apostle, as the Romans 16:7 passage seems to say? There are three hurdles we have to jump to reach that conclusion. First is whether the text speaks of a woman, Junia, or of a man, Junias. Paul writes Iounian, which could be the accusative singular of either name. The only way to tell for sure (since the context gives us no help) would be by the accent (acute over the i for a woman, circumflex over the a for a man), but the earliest Greek mss. were written without accents. (A few mss. read Ioulian “Julia,” possibly influenced by Romans 16:15; this is clearly a mistake.) The ancient commentaters and Church Fathers up to the 12th century generally understood it to be a woman, Junia, the wife of Andronicus. (There are 17 different citations to that effect.) Typical is Hatto, In ep. ad Romanos 16 [in Patrilogiae Latinae 134:282]; “Virum et uxorem intellegere debemus” (“We ought to understand a husband and wife.”) So also John Chrysostom: “How great the wisdom of this woman that she was even deemed worthy of the apostles’ title” In ep. ad Romanos 31:2 (in Patrilogiae Graece 60:669-670].
Starting in the ninth century, when accents began to be incorporated in Greek miniscule mss., they accented the name as a masculine name, Junias. This led to a long trend of seeing Junias as a man. A significant problem with this position is that, while the name Junia is attested outside the NT, the name Junias is simply unattested anywhere (although it may exist as a nickname for the Roman name Junianus). The tide turned, apparently due largely to the miniscule accenting (which is very poor evidence), and so the modern critical editions (UBS and NA27) accent the name as a masculine, which was influential on such modern translations as the RSV, NEB, JIV and NJB. But the argument for a masculine name here is really very weak, and the tide has since turned back the other way, with the NABRNT, REB, NRSV, NET and AB all reading Junia, a woman’s name. (Here’s an unusual place where the KJV actually gets it right.)
I personally don’t think there is really any serious argument against this being the name of a woman.
The second hurdle we must jump has to do with the Greek construction: were Andronicus and Junia notable among the apostles or notable to the apostles? Daniel Wallace, a conservative scholar at the Dallas Theological Seminary, concedes that Junia is a woman, but argues that she is not to be included among the apostles. Personally, though, I think the preposition en + dative most naturally means among the apostles.
The third hurdle we must clear is what to make of the designation of Junia as an “apostle.” That is, how much technical force should we give the word? Many such designations for what we recognize today as terms of art for priesthood offices originated from a more generic meaning. The Greek apostolos derives from the passive participle apostolmenos, “one who is sent, an emisarry.” Our word “missionary” means the same thing, being derived from Latin rather than Greek. So, was Junia an apostle with a small a, basically a missionary, or was she an apostle with a capital A?
I realize this is a controversial question for us, since we don’t countenance the possibility of women being apostles in the modern Church. There was much more openness about this in the early church, however; consider the case of the second century woman Thecla, who was designated isapostolos, “like or equal to an apostle.” Part of the problem is that even the more technical usage of Apostle in the NT probably did not quite yet bear all of the weight that we put on that usage today. Certainly Junia was not one of the Twelve, but neither was Paul, and he greatly valued the title apostolos, which appears to have been the highest title in the early Christian church (even more significant than prophet in that context).
FWIW, Witherington concludes that Junia (Joanna) was an Apostle with a capital A.