Alastair Roberts has posted some things on his blog about Junia in Romans 16:7. This woman is mentioned along with (her husband?) Andronicus as “well-known among the apostles.” The vexed question in NT scholarship is whether this means that she is herself an apostle (one of the more well known ones), or whether it means that the apostles know her (but she is not one of them). Daniel Wallace and Michael Burer authored an article in which they used the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae to attempt to prove that the construction (ἐπίσημοι ἐν + dative) always means “well known to X”, not “well known among X.” It is a sloppy article, which pins its main force upon a single “close parallel” which upon further investigation turns out not to be a good parallel at all. Suzanne McCarthy, a commenter on Alastair’s blog, rightly faults Wallace and Burer for sloppy scholarship, but then tries to mount her own case for taking the phrase in Rom. 16:7 in a partitive or comparative sense, so that Junia is an apostle, and more eminent than other apostles.
Prompted by all this, I’ve done a little research.
First, I’ve done a TLG search on “episem-” and “en”. The vast, vast majority of citations bear no resemblance to Romans 16:7 at all. The vast majority are simply locative in force: ἐν is usually followed by a dative of the city or region where something or someone is ἐπίσημος. Logically, there is little difference between this construction and the “elative” construal that Wallace and Burer would like to find in Romans 16:7. For instance:
Aelius Herodianus et Pseudo-Herodianus Gramm., Rhet., Περὶ σολοικισμοῦ καὶ βαρβαρισμοῦ (0087: 044) “Lexicon Vindobonense”, Ed. Nauck, A. St. Petersburg: Eggers, 1867, Repr. 1965.
Page 308, line 7
καὶ παρὰ Θουκυδίδῃ κεῖται· εἰς τὸ Ἡραῖον ἐκαθέζοντο, καὶ παρὰ Μενάνδρῳ· καθιζάνει μὲν ἐνίοτ’ εἰς τὰ σήσαμα, καὶ ἐν Ψοφοδεεῖ ἐπίσημον.
“And in Thucydides we find: ‘they encamped in the temple of Hera”, and in Menander, “he resides sometimes in the sesame (market), and notably in Psophodeis.” (Aelius is commenting on Greek verbs for “sit” or “reside”.)
There are also many passages where the construction is best translated with a partitive or comparative construal, as Suzanne suggests. That is to be expected, since even in English, we can say “He is the tallest man in the city”. Is this strictly comparative, with no locative force? A moment’s thought reveals that it is both. (We cannot reify these grammatical categories and expect language to neatly pigeonhole itself into them.)
The TLG results did cough up a few instances that refute Suzanne’s ostensible rule that “ἐν + dative” will ordinarily be partitive or comparative. Especially helpful is Ephraem Syrus Theol., Ad imitationem proverbiorum (4138: 006)
(“Ὁσίου Ἐφραίμ τοῦ Σύρου ἔργα, vol. 1”, Ed. Phrantzoles, Konstantinos G. Thessalonica: Το περιβόλι της Παναγίας, 1988, Repr. 1995. Page 187, line 6)
Θέλω πρακτικὸς εἶναι καὶ ἐπίσημος ἐν τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς ἢ παραβαίνειν ἐντολὰς καὶ εἶναι
“I want to be ready for action, and ἐπίσημος among the brothers, rather than to transgress the commandments and be repugnant to them.”
What is nice about this example is that the parallel construction of the sentence makes clear that there is not a comparison being made, nor any partitive construction, but that ἐν τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς is parallel to αὐτοῖς in the second half, and that both indicate the subjective perceivers of the good qualities the author desires to have — precisely how Wallace and Burer think “among the apostles” should be taken in Romans 16:7.
In the course of the comment thread on Alastair’s blog, I remarked that it is a methodological mistake to think that the interpretation of Romans 16:7 will be determined by inductively concocted “rules” of Greek idiom. The idiom, rather, will be largely determined by context. As I put it in the comments: “The truth is that in Greek, as in English, it is context and common sense that determines whether Sweeney is a nightingale, or sheep are wolves, or the virgin Mary is a woman (“blessed art thou among…). It is not some special rule about ‘en + dative with verbs’ and ‘en + dative with adjectives.’ If Junia was an apostle, then we will take the construction in a partitive sense. If she was not, we will not.”
Accordingly, I suggested that if we want to know whether Junia was an apostle of Jesus Christ — and I specify “of Jesus Christ” because in NT Judaism, one could be an apostle of all sorts of things, not only Jesus — it would be good to look the Jewish background and see whether it was possible for Jesus to have appointed a female shaliach to represent him.
I have only done some rather cursory research concerning the Jewish halakah about agency. The relevant part of the Talmud Bavli is tractate Gittim (“Bills of Divorce”), where the Amoraim debate whether a husband may send his bill of divorce (“Get”) to his wife via a shaliach, and if so, whether that shaliach may be female, or must be male. Their interesting conclusion (Mas. Gittin 62b) is that the shaliach by whom the husband sends the bill must be male, but that the document may be received by a female shaliach appointed by the wife:
“It goes without saying that a man may be an agent for conveying the Get, seeing that a husband may himself convey a Get to his wife.12 A woman may [similarly] be an agent for receiving, seeing that a woman receives a Get from the hand of her husband. What of a man becoming agent for receiving and a woman agent for conveying? — Come and hear: IF A MAN SAYS, RECEIVE THIS GET ON BEHALF OF MY WIFE OR CONVEY THIS GET TO MY WIFE, IF HE DESIRES TO RETRACT HE MAY DO SO. IF A WOMAN SAYS, RECEIVE MY GET ON MY BEHALF, IF HE DESIRES TO RETRACT HE MAY NOT DO SO. (all caps = Mishnah) Does not this mean, where there is the same agent for both, which would show that the one who is qualified for conveying is also qualified for receiving? — No; we speak of two agents.” (Soncino translation, available in PDF online at http://www.halakah.com)
The rabbis continue, ultimately concluding that a wife may appoint a man as an agent to receive the bill of divorce, but a man may not appoint a woman as an agent to send or convey it. The reason is that the agent (shaliach) must himself be qualified to perform the mitzvot for which his principal is using him as a surrogate.
Whether this sort of consideration was operative in the time of Jesus and Paul, I have no way to know. The rabbis engaged in the debate are Amoraim, and thus of a later period. But there is also evidence that the Tannaim (the sages of the Mishnah) considered similar questions (Mas. Gittim 23b), ruling that Gentiles and slaves may not act as agents for Israelites because “Just as you are sons of the Covenant, so must your agents be sons of the Covenant.”
What, then, may we conclude about Junia? If we think that the Jewish institution of agency (apostleship) was already operative along Rabbinic lines, and that the Church and Jesus also followed such rules, then Junia cannot have been an apostle of Jesus. (Before saying that it is implausible that Jesus should have obeyed such rules, remember that the 12 apostles, as well as Paul and Matthias, were all men, not women; and all free men, not slaves; and all Jews, not Gentiles. It is a fact that egalitarians cannot easily dismiss.) If, on the other hand, the Mishnah’s and Talmud’s rules are only later developments, and especially if they were reactions against looser rules about apostleship among Christians, then our conclusion will be that nothing prevents Junia from having been an apostle of Jesus, just like Peter or John.