Elder Joanna?

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.

Part 1

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.

Part 2

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.

Part 3

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.

Part 4

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.

Part 5

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.


  1. Julie M. Smith says:

    First off, may I say that Ben Witherington is my all-time favorite NT scholar? I’ve read most of the NT commentaries and they never disappoint.

    “Thus, Jesus had previously given these women private teachings about his coming death and resurrection.”

    I may quibble with “private” here. In Mark’s Gospel, it is most likely that these teachings happened at the Last Supper. Was that “private”? Depends on how you define it. It wasn’t the crowds or the multitudes, certainly, but it wasn’t Mary-at-the-feet-of-Jesus-until-Martha-started-carping private.

    I hope Ben W. cited Richard Bauckham; the idea that Joanna and Junia are the same person is straight out of Bauckham’s Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels.

    One thought: non-LDS generally think that offices are later developments that don’t originate with Jesus and therefore suspect; LDS generally think that offices are early developments.that originate with Jesus that were lost later. In this case, it would be the LDS approach that would be more likely to conclude that she was a big A apostle. As for me, I dunno. I think she could easily be in the same boat as Paul. You said it was certain that she wasn’t one of the 12, but why could she not be a later addition to it? We can’t know, but I’m not sure what the grounds would be for dismissing that possibility.

    This is an excellent presentation of a complicated issue; thank you for making this available to the bloggernacle.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Julie, his last note reads “I am indebted to the helpful study of my friend and colleague at St. Andrew’s, Richard J. Bauckham, whose book Gospel Women (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002) provided the inspiration for this brief essay. He comes to the same conclusion.”

    I of course was already familiar with the whole Junia thing, but this was the first time my attention had been drawn to the possible connection between Joanna and Junia. I thought that was way cool! Who says scholarship can’t be fun and exciting?

    OK, I’ll recant the statement about the 12. I tend to think the 12 didn’t last long as such, so I view the other apostles mentioned in the NT as at large apostles like Paul, but you’re right that that is just an impression and by no means a certainty.

  3. John Smith says:

    Much conjecture stemming from a few verses. I especially like the part about Jesus ignoring the ritual uncleanness associated with the menstrual cycle. Unless he thinks that Jesus’ contact with his female followers was exceptionally close (such as sleeping in their beds), following the Law would require no great inconvenience. That raises a big red flag of credibility with me–this Witherington character is willing to make these huge interpretive stretches just to try to reinforce his point. It’s no secret that Jesus was close with at least a few women–heck, the first person to see him resurrected was a woman. Why does he think he needs to make stuff up?

  4. Julie M. Smith says:

    John Smith,

    Ben Witherington is a careful and conservative scholar. You aren’t going to persuade anyone around here by treating him as if he were some rogue gospel doctrine teacher.

    Leviticus 15:20 contradicts your assertion about menstruating women: while we don’t know how carefully the laws were actually followed by any given Jew in Jesus’ day, a strict reading of that verse would mean that no one could sit in a chair that she had sat it. Not what I would want in a traveling companion!

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    I actually thought the bit about menstruating women was an astute point that I had never thought about before. A woman is ritually unclean for her period and eight days thereafter, or about two full weeks out of every month. (And if she’s traveling, she may not have ready access to a mikvah, and the impurity could last even longer.) The risk of ritual uncleanness during that time while traveling together would have been significant. It’s certainly not a question of sex; just accidentally bumping into each other or tunics brushing against each other would have sufficed to bring ritual impurity on an observant Jewish male.

  6. Excellent summary, Kevin.

    The Old Testament includes many female prophetesses. I don’t see any reason to worry about Joanna/Junia being either an apostle or an Apostle. The titles apostles and prophets in Ephesians aren’t capitalized like we use them today and easily could have been much more expansive and fluid in the early Church. Who knows, but I appreciate the information.

    John, if you haven’t read someone’s work, it is a good idea not withhold judgment based on a very brief summary. “This Witherington character” is an exceptionally intelligent and careful scholar.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    I should clarify that only parts 1 and 2 derive from the Witherington article. The rest I wrote based on a variety of other sources, such as Fitzmyer in the AB.

  8. I can’t add too much to a NT discussion, though I very much appreciated this interesting post; but, there are some interesting parallels in restoration history. The Quorum of the 12 were organized in 1835, but Joseph organized apostles (in the small “a” sense) years before that. They weren’t even high priests, necessarily. Also, the year after the Twelve and Seventy were finally organized, Joseph referred to the seventy as “Apostles.” In Brigham’s lifetime, there were easily more apostles outside of the Twelve than in it. I don’t recall ever seeing the title referring to a woman, though.

  9. Great post, Kevin, and important point Stapley.

  10. Kevin & Julie, would there be any other links by Witherington where I could read him defending Junia with a capital A?

    I wouldn’t be surprised, especially with how highly he values the writings of some others, like for instance, Amy-Jill Levine.

    Though I don’t see Junia with a capital A, I definitely had to share Chrysostom’s quote with my church family when we explored Romans 16.

    Romans 16 is a fabulous chapter for the acknowledgment of women in their ministry for the Lord. In fact, Romans 16 shatters a lot of traditional American ways of doing church. I am highly thankful for this powerful closing chapter by Paul in the epistle.

  11. Julie M. Smith says:

    Todd, I’d recommend that you go to Bauckman’s book, since it was his idea in the first place.

    I’d also suggest that you find a new hobby besides “heart issues for LDS,” but maybe that’s just because the phrase “heart issues” makes my skin crawl.

  12. velikye kniaz says:

    Could it be that the term ‘apostle’ became an honorific term given by early Saints to those faithful disciples who actually were first (prima facae) witnesses to His ministry? It would stand to reason that any disciple who was granted the privilege of seeing, and perhaps touching and conversing with the risen Saviour during his forty day ministry would be held in especial awe by the early Saints and most particularly by the recent converts of that era. If this same disciple had contact with the Saviour during His earthly ministry and heard His teachings in His own voice that would only further emphasize their stature as a ‘special witness’ of the Saviour. Just a possible explanation.

  13. Fascinating post–thanks for sharing!

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    Here is a brief summary of Bauckman’s argument from the Corpus Paulinum list.

    The position of Bauckman and Witherington is mentioned in this Wikipedia article without further elaboration.

    Witherington has a blog, which you can find here.

    Otherwise, your best bet is to follow Julie’s suggestion. If you want to read the actual Witherington article, you’ll have to contact the Biblical Archaeology Society to either purchase a back issue or to purchase electronic rights.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    velikye, the witness of Joanna to Jesus in mortality and the empty tomb is certainly a very important part of it.

    Apparently, Bauckman sees Joanna as the center of a chiasm at Luke 24:10, indicative of her perceived importance to the narrative. I haven’t seen Bauckman so I don’t know what his scheme is, but I can indeed see a chiastic structure there:

    A his words

    B to the eleven

    C all the rest

    D Mary Magdalene

    E Joanna

    D’ Mary mother of James

    C’ other women

    B’ to the apostles

    A’ these words

  16. Kevin: It is demonstrable that Jews of all stripes travelled long distances with women in their company (though sometimes they travelled well behind their male counterparts). Moroever, it seems to me that an apostolos is merely one sent to give a message, as you note, rather like a missionary. I cannot see any basis for concluding that Joanna, male or female, was anything other than a believer who taught about Jesus.

  17. The chiastic structure is a bit tighter in Bauckham’s book. Following L. Dussaut, he presents an ABCDC’B’A’ structure (he combines your A and B lines and your A’ and B’ lines).

  18. Kevin and Julie, thanks for the tips. I will explore this further. It seems I need to read Bauckman. Is it Bauckham or Bauckman?

    Julie, email me sometime (elonwood@juno.com) on explaining your adversion to the phrase, “heart issues”. And I will explain to you a Hebraic take on “heart” and also my adversion to the emphasis on external religion.


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