Paul concludes his magisterial letter to the Romans with a list of commendations and greetings. He begins with the letter carrier, Phoebe. She's a deacon, an officer and patroness of the congregation in a small city near Corinth where Paul lives as he writes. She was with Paul when he wrote the letter and would be the expert interpreter of it if the Roman Christians had any questions.
Then come Priscilla and Aquila, who had labored with Paul in ministry, instructing the talented preacher Apollos, during their days together in Corinth. Paul and the churches founded and nurtured by him owed this woman and her husband a huge debt.
The list is striking because it includes a large number of women and a large number of people with what appear to be common slave names. It illustrates the fulfillment of the promise of Joel, quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost: "I will pour out my Spirit even upon my servants--men and women alike." Paul articulates it in his letter to the Galatians. No longer Jew or Gentiles, slave or free, male and female in Christ. All are true Sons of God's promise to Abraham, who have inherited the Holy Spirit.
Notice that where we might expect Paul to say "male or female" he says "male and female." He breaks the rhythm we might expect to make a reference to the Bible's first chapter: "God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them: male and female he created them." Rather than contrasting male or female, both Genesis and Paul group them, as bearing God's image. All were made to rule together, not some to rule over others.
Perhaps the most striking name in Romans 16 belongs to two Jews, a man and woman, named Andronicus and Junia, who were in prison with Paul. Paul says they became followers of Christ before him, and are highly respected among the apostles. Both in Ephesians and in 1 Corinthians, Paul lists "apostle" as first among the gifts. Paul's faith in Christ and call to apostleship came late, so it isn't surprising these two preceded him.
The Christian movement has often struggled with the apparent importance Paul places on the woman, Junia, in particular. Her place often challenges our cultural, traditional and theological expectations. But there she stands.
To avoid her several failed strategies have been employed: (1) Some went so far as to corrupt the biblical text, insisting she wasn't a woman (Junia), but a man (Junias). (2) Others argued that she wasn't an apostle at all, but only respected by the apostles. But the only reason people corrupted her name in the text was because, as John Chrysostom recognized in the 4th century, the text calls her an apostle. (3) A related move was to say she's only designated because Andronicus, perhaps her husband, was an apostle. Still she's called an apostle and shares her husband's work for Christ. (4) Another proposal is to downgrade "apostle" from its narrow meaning (Paul, and the Twelve) to something like "church founding missionary," a broader meaning. She's still an apostle, sent by Christ, highest in the lift of gifted church offices. In fact, Paul more or less says she was an awesome apostle.
I haven't been able to find refuge in any of the strategies. I can only conclude that the woman Junia was one, great apostle, a leading character in Paul's Roman hall of fame.
Pastor Jim Byrne
The faithful presence