Women and Leadership in Romans 16

Reimund Bieringer


The Leading Roles of Phoebe, Prisca, and Junia in Early Christianity

PART II

Remembering Junia’s future in the promise for tomorrow

4. Prisca, a Colleague of Paul?

After the recommendation of Phoebe in Rom 16:1-2, Paul continues with a greeting addressed to Prisca and Aquila in 16:3-5a. We are surprisingly well informed about Prisca and Aquila. While Phoebe is only mentioned once in the New Testament, namely, in Rom 16:1-2, we come across Prisca/Priscilla and Aquila in three other books in addition to Rom 16:3-5a—in Acts 18:1-19:24-28; 1 Cor 16:19 and 2 Tim 4:19.49 The name Prisca/Priscilla occurs six times in these four books, every time in conjunction with Aquila. According to Acts 18:2, Priscilla is the wife of Aquila. In Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 2 Timothy, there is no indication concerning the relationship between Prisca and Aquila, but it seems plausible that they are husband and wife. In four of the six instances where their names are mentioned, Prisca/Priscilla is listed first (Rom 16:3; 2 Tim 4:19; Acts 18:18-26).50 The corpus Paulinum names her “Prisca”; Luke uses the diminutive “Priscilla” exclusively.51 Judging from our sources, the couple must have moved three times between the years 49 and 55: from Rome to Corinth, from Corinth to Ephesus, and from Ephesus back to Rome.52

Prisca and Aquila according to Acts and Paul

In Acts 18:2, Luke tells us that Paul arrived in Corinth from Athens and met Aquila, “a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.” According to Luke, they had the same profession as Paul—they were tentmakers. Paul lived and worked with them. Paul stayed in Corinth for 18 months. According to Acts 18, Priscilla and Aquila are Paul’s colleagues as tentmakers, his host family, and his travel companions. Luke seems to create the impression that Priscilla and Aquila provide the material basis for the proclamation of the gospel, while Paul is the only one who preaches the gospel. In the Corinthian correspondence, Paul says nothing about Prisca and Aquila when he refers to his first visit to Corinth.

According to Acts 18:18-19, Paul leaves, “accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila,” to go to Ephesus, where he takes leave of them and travels on further to Antioch. Later, Paul comes back to Ephesus (19:1). During his absence, Apollos visited Ephesus (18:24-28) and was corrected theologically by Priscilla and Aquila after his appearance in the synagogue (18:26). After Paul comes back to Ephesus (19:1), Luke no longer makes mention of the couple. In the First Letter to the Corinthians (16:19), a letter written in Ephesus in the spring of 54, Paul extends greetings to the Corinthian community from them: “The churches of Asia send greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, greet you warmly in the Lord.” From this it appears that Prisca and Aquila were in Ephesus at this moment53 and that they are leaders of a house church. When Paul says in Rom 16:4 that they have risked their lives for him54 and that all the churches of the Gentiles owe them a debt of gratitude, he is probably alluding, at least partly, to events that took place during his three-year stay in Ephesus. In Rom 16:3, when Paul identifies them as those “who work with me (synergoi) in Christ Jesus,” it is evident that he is referring to the three years in Ephesus (Acts 20:31) and possibly also to the 18 months in Corinth (Acts 18:11).

Regarding Prisca and Aquila’s move from Ephesus back to Rome, the New Testament is not explicit. However, when Paul sends his greeting to them in his letter to the Romans, written in the winter of 55/56, it goes without saying that at that moment they have to be assumed to be back in Rome. In addition, the historical circumstances support this assumption. The death of Claudius in the year 54 opened up the possibility for their return to Rome. Acts is silent regarding their second stay in Rome. As Rom 16:5a reveals, they were once again leaders of a house church in Rome.55

The fact that Prisca and Aquila are mentioned in four books of the New Testament and that we encounter them in the Christian communities in Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome leads us to believe that they were prominent people who were held in high esteem in early Christianity. In what follows, we will concentrate on an important aspect of their significance for the early church.

Prisca and Aquila as Synergoi of Paul in Christ Jesus

In order to gain a better understanding of the place and role of Prisca and Aquila in early Christianity, we shall analyse what Paul has to say about them in Rom 16:3-5a:

16,3a Greet Prisca and Aquila,
16,3b who are 
synergoi with me in Christ Jesus
16,4a and who risked their necks for my life,
16,4b to whom not only I give thanks,
16,4c but also all the churches (ekklêsiai) of the Gentiles.
16,5a Greet also the church in their house.

(New Revised Standard Version, with editorial additions)

The word synergos (usually translated as “fellow-worker” or “co-worker”) is one of Paul’s favorite words. Eleven of the thirteen occurrences of this word in the New Testament are found in the authentic letters of Paul. In the immediate context of Romans 16, Paul also identifies Urbanus (v. 9) and Timothy (v. 21) as synergoi. In his other letters, Paul also calls Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25), Euodia, Syntyche, Clement and others (Phil 4:3), Philemon (Phlm 1), Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke (Phlm 24), as well as Titus (2 Cor 8:23), as “my/our synergoi.” Besides the many unnamed synergoi, Paul specifically mentions fourteen by name, three of whom are women: Euodia, Syntyche, and Prisca. In the context of Rom 16:3-5a, the important question is whether Paul understands synergoi as subordinate helpers or equal colleagues who work in the service of God just as he does.56

In the Bible translations of synergoi, we distinguish three groups. In the first, the focus is on the aspect of “help”;57 in the second, “collaboration”;58 and in the third, “being colleagues in the same service.”59 According to the Greek-English dictionary of Liddell and Scott, synergos carries the meanings of “helper” and “person of the same trade as another, fellow-workman, colleague.”60 According to the most recent English edition of the Bauer dictionary,synergos means “helper” and “fellow-worker.”61 The lexical meaning of synergos embraces both helper and colleague. A decision which one of the two is to be preferred in Rom 16:3 concerning Prisca and Aquila needs to look for further evidence. If we understand Prisca and Aquila in the letters of Paul in the way Luke presents them in Acts, then it is abundantly clear that synergos should be interpreted as “helper.”62 In Paul’s own letters, though, there is little that points to this direction. If Paul is indebted to Prisca and Aquila, it is not because they are his helpers, but because they have risked their lives for him (see 16:4). As people to whom the churches of the Gentiles owe thanks and given that they are leaders of house churches in their own right, it might probably be more correct to assume that Paul himself considered them as his colleagues.

In Rom 16:3, Paul calls Prisca and Aquila “my synergoi in Christ Jesus.” The only parallel to this is 16:9, where Urbanus is introduced as “our synergos in Christ.” In Rom 16:3, the expression “in Christ Jesus,” which qualifies “mysynergoi” (cf. “in the Lord” in 16:2) makes clear that Paul does not introduce Prisca and Aquila as fellow-tentmakers. With the expression “in Christ Jesus,” Paul makes an explicit link with Christian ministry and community, more specifically, the participation in the proclamation of the gospel and the building up of Christian communities.63According to Fitzmyer, synergoi are those who share in Paul’s mission of preaching the gospel.64 In light of 1 Thess 3:2 and 1 Cor 3:9, even this interpretation still seems too much concentrated on Paul. Reading both verses in each other’s light, what Paul means by synergos can be paraphrased as follows: “We all stand in the service of God and we are colleagues in the gospel of Christ.”65 It is nevertheless correct that some of the people whom Paul calls synergoiappear in the letters as helpers of Paul rather than his colleagues. Here we are thinking especially of Timothy and Titus whom Paul sends to the communities as his emissaries and as such are in Paul’s service, and of Epaphroditus who remained by Paul’s side while he was in prison (see Phil 2:25-30). However, even in these cases Paul will surely not forget that there is only one Lord, and that Timothy, Titus, and Epaphroditus serve the one Lord just as he himself does. Furthermore, concerning Prisca and Aquila (as well as the other people described as synergoi), Paul never says explicitly that they work for him.

By way of conclusion, we shall now offer an overview of a number of observations with respect to Prisca in the New Testament:

  1. Prisca/Priscilla and Aquila are always mentioned together. According to Acts 18:2, Priscilla is the wife of Aquila.
  2. Prisca’s name is usually listed first (some later copyists have switched the order).
  3. Acts uses the diminutive Priscilla (some later manuscripts also use this form in Paul’s letters). According to our sources, in the Greek language the use of diminutives was rather uncommon in antiquity. The purpose of the diminutive as applied to women’s names was generally belittlement. What meaning precisely the diminutive held for Luke is nevertheless very difficult to retrieve and needs further study.
  4. Papyrus 46, our oldest extant textual witness of the Pauline letters, gives the masculine name Preiskas66 in the nominative in 1 Cor 16:19. The accusative Preiskan in Rom 16:3 probably also represents masculine form.
  5. Concerning their involvement in ministry, Paul makes no distinction between Prisca and Aquila. They are both hissynergoi in Christ Jesus and there is a church in their houses in Ephesus and in Rome. In Acts 18:2, Aquila occupies a central place and Priscilla is introduced from his perspective as “his wife.”
  6. In the letters of Paul, the couple’s participation in the work of Christ Jesus is central. In Acts, the focus is on Paul having the same trade as Pricilla and Aquila. Their participation in the work of Christ Jesus is limited to more accurately explaining the “way” of God to Apollos (see Acts 18:26).67 According to Luke, Paul and Prisca and Aquila are fellow-workers, each other’s colleagues as missionaries.68

We conclude that there are good reasons to believe that Prisca and Aquila were Paul’s colleagues in preaching the gospel in the early church and that Paul accepted them as such. When we consider the way later Christian tradition presented Prisca and Aquila, we need to take into account the fact that we know them, not through their own writings, but only through the letter of Paul and Acts. Even though Paul presents them fairly, it therefore takes a conscious effort for later readers to acknowledge their real significance in the unfolding of early Christianity. Already in Acts they have become secondary actors in a drama in which Paul is given the lead role.

It seems exegetically sound to read the words of Paul in Rom 16:4bc (“to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles”) as a witness to the leading role of Prisca and Aquila in the preaching of the gospel. In Acts, where the proclamation of the Christian faith in the earliest church is told from the perspective of Peter and Paul, the literary strategy does not allow the author to give Prisca and Aquila a significant role. Colleagues in missionary activity are reduced to colleague tentmakers. They are presented as people who lent material support to Paul’s missionary work. The diminutive Priscilla, the switching of the order of the names so that Aquila’s name comes first, the changing of the feminine name Prisca to the masculine name Preiskas, and the translation of synergos as “helper” through the course of history have contributed in more or less unconscious ways to reduce or completely ignore the leadership role of Prisca in the early Church.

5. Junia, an Apostle

In Rom 16:7, Paul writes, as translated in the Revised Standard Version of 1946 (italics added):

16:7a Greet Andronicus and Junias,
16:7b 
my relatives who were in prison with me;
16:7c these men are prominent among the apostles (apostoloi),
16,7d 
and they were in Christ before I was.
Thus, Paul gives greetings in the letter to two men, Andronicus and Junias. In the New Revised Standard Version of 1989, a fundamental change occurs in the translation (italics added):
16,7a Greet Andronicus and Junia,
16,7b 
my relatives who were in prison with me;
16,7c they are prominent among the apostles (apostoloi),
16,7d 
they were in Christ before I was.

In the most recent revision, the masculine name “Junias” is changed to the feminine name “Junia.”69 This change is of particular significance because in Rom 16:7, Paul speaks about two people as being prominent among the apostles. If the second name in 16:7 indeed refers to a woman, this might provide evidence that there was at least one woman apostle in earliest Christianity. The number of scientific studies endeavouring to elucidate the exegetical problems connected with Rom 16:7 has increased exponentially in the past years.70 But before people will ever be able to give an answer to the question of whether or not a female apostle named Junia existed in the early church, three rather complicated exegetical questions must be solved. We shall discuss them point by point.

Junia Instead of Junias

The literal translation of Rom 16:7 reads as follows:

16,7a Greet Andronicus and Junia,
6,7b 
my syngeneis and my fellow-prisoners;
16,7c they are prominent among the apostoloi,
16,7d 
they were in Christ before me.

(New Revised Standard Version, with editorial changes)

We shall first concentrate on the question of the name. In the oldest and most reliable Greek manuscripts of Rom 16:7, the name Iounian has no accent. The reason for this is that the New Testament manuscripts of the first seven centuries have no diacritical marks, i.e., no accents, no breathings, no punctuation. Without accent, the Greek word Iounian can theoretically denote two possible names:

  1. Iounían, accusative singular of Iounía,-as, feminine (in English “Junia,” a woman);
  2. Iouniân, accusative singular of Iouniâs, -â, masculine (“Junias,” a man).

Thus, the issue here is strictly speaking not a text-critical problem, for there are no variant readings in the early manuscripts. Variants only begin to appear when copyists begin to add accents.

As the word Iounian itself is ambiguous, one needs to rely on the immediate context for a solution. The word “men” in the Revised Standard Version in 16:7c seems to give the answer. However, “men” does not appear in the Greek text. The RSV translation here is based on the masculine plural form of the adjective episêmoi. However, the Greek language also uses a masculine form when the subject consists of a man and a woman. Therefore, the masculine form episêmoi provides no answer concerning the gender of the companion of Andronicus. For the same reason, the masculine form syngeneis (“compatriot”) and synaichmalôtoi (“fellow-prisoner”) also provide no decisive answers. Ifsynaichmalôtos is meant literally, the question arises whether men and women were jailed together in antiquity. In Phlm 23, Paul speaks about Epaphras as a fellow-prisoner and in Col 4:10, Aristarchus is named a fellow-prisoner. Together with Rom 16:7, these are the only places in the New Testament where synaichmalôtos is used. We see that in none of places outside Rom 16:7 are women described as synaichmalôtos. According to historical studies, until the fourth century, separate prisons for men and women did not exist.71 We conclude that there are no grammatical, contextual, or historical reasons that necessitate that the companion of Andronicus be a man.

According to Eldon J. Epp, the most obvious interpretation of Iounían in Rom 16:7 is as a woman. He bases his conviction on a list of seven arguments.72

  1. Junia was a widespread Roman name of members of the gens Junia, for nobility as well as for freed slaves.
  2. Early Christian writers understood Iounian without exception as feminine. For example, Chrysostom writes: Greet Andronicus and Junia … they are prominent among the apostles: It is already something great to be under the apostles. But to be prominent among them, just think what a miraculous blessing that is! They were prominent because of their works and righteous deeds. Indeed, how great must the wisdom have been of this woman that she herself was found worthy of the title apostle!”73
  3. The feminine form Iounían with an acute accent on the penultimate syllable was the reading given in nearly every critical edition of the Greek New Testament from Erasmus in 1516 until the 13th edition of Nestle in 1927. Variant readings were almost never given.
  4. Well-known earlier translations of the Bible interpret the name as a female name.
  5. The English translations from Tyndale (1526/1534) until the last quarter of the 19th century use the feminine form nearly without exception.
  6. The postulated masculine form Iouniâs is not found in any Greek texts.
  7. The interpretation of the masculine form Iouniâs as a shortening of Iounianós faces serious problems. This is because, according to the rules of Greek grammar, the shortening of Iounianós would have to result in Iounâs and not in Iouniâs. Following the same rule, Lukianos is shortened in the New Testament to become the familiar nameLukas (Luke).

Three additional arguments can yet be appended to the ones found in Epp’s text:

  1. At the point at which people in the seventh century began to add accents to some of the old manuscripts, they added an acute accent on the penultimate syllable of Iounian, thereby revealing that they understood the name as female.
  2. The undeniably masculine form Iouniân is not attested in one single manuscript.
  3. Instead of Iounian, in Papyrus 46, we find Ioulian in the earliest textual witness of Rom 16:7This form is without doubt feminine. However, its origin is probably in Rom 16:15 (where we come across Ioulian). Epp concludes: “The presence of a second feminine variant at this point in Rom 16:7, regardless of its origin, may well be a confirmatory of a feminine (rather than a masculine) name in the textual tradition of v. 7.”74

The following overview offers a recapitulation of the external attestations of the name of the companion of Andronicus in the first seven centuries:

ca. 200 P46 Ioulian woman
3rd/4th century Itala Iuliam woman
4th century Sin, B Iounian ambiguous
6th century D Iounian ambiguous
7th century B2, D2 Iounían woman

Thus, on no occasion can the form of the name be identified with certainty as being masculine in any of the ancient manuscripts.

Coming to know this situation, people ask questions about the source of the masculine interpretation of Iounian. The earliest representative of this interpretation is usually identified as being Aegidius of Rome (1245-1316),75 but even with him the case is anything but straightforward. He mentions the two variant readings Juniam and Iuliam and gives preference to Iuliam. However, he then surprisingly interprets this form incorrectly as being masculine.

In the past 10-15 years, a consensus has developed, reflected in the revisions of existing translations, that the formIounian in Rom 16:7 is female. However, this does not mean that we now know for sure that Junia was a female apostle. Two obstacles still stand in the way of such a pronouncement.

Junia, a Prominent Apostolos?

We learn a number of interesting details about Andronicus and Junia from Rom 16:7:

  1. They are his syngeneis (relatives, kinsfolk, fellow-countrypeople), which is usually taken to mean that they come from Tarsus or Cilicia, the province of which Tarsus is the capital.
  2. At a certain moment they were in jail together with Paul.
  3. They are people prominent among the apostles.
  4. They were “in Christ” before Paul.
  5. They were in Rome while Paul was writing the letter to the Romans (in the winter of 55/56).

It was above all the third item that has drawn a great deal of attention. The text, however, is ambiguous. It is not clear whether Andronicus and Junia were actually prominent apostles themselves, or whether they were prominent people “in the eyes of the apostles.” Now that a consensus has been reached with regard to Junia being female, this question has quickly become the key issue of Rom 16:7 because the answer to this question decides whether Junia was a female apostle or not.

The problem is the ambiguity of the Greek expression episêmoi en tois apostolois (Rom 16:7c). This expression can have an inclusive and an exclusive meaning:

inclusive: “prominent in the group of the apostles,” i.e., they were apostles;76

exclusive: “prominent in the eyes of the apostles,” i.e., they were not apostles.77 Few translations succeed in imitating the ambiguity of the original Greek expression.78

When people assumed that Iounian in Rom 16:7 was a masculine name, people presupposed without discussion that the expression episêmoi en tois apostolois was intended to be inclusive. In 2001, however, after the appearance of a number of studies had appeared that furnished convincing arguments that Iounian was a female name,79 Michael Burer and Daniel Wallace published the first study that subjected the meaning of episêmoi en tois apostolois to a microscopic study. They accepted Iounian as feminine. But on the basis of the use of episêmos in Greek literature, they tried to prove that the expression as it appears in Rom 16:7 is intended to be exclusive.80

While it is beyond the scope of this article to treat the philological issues in detail, we need to state that the arguments of Burer and Wallace were put under severe criticism by Linda Belleville.81 She refutes the evidence for an exclusive understanding of episêmos in extra-Biblical Greek literature. She also points out that “all patristic commentators attest to an inclusive understanding.”82

What Paul meant in Rom 16:7 cannot be determined without taking into consideration the immediate context. In Rom 16:1-16, Paul repeatedly speaks about the leadership roles of people, particularly of women. Phoebe is adiakonos; Prisca and Aquila are synergoi; Mary, Persis, Tryphena, and Tryphosa worked hard (in the Lord). In this context it would be surprising if Paul were not speaking directly about the leadership role of Andronicus and Junia, but would only report what others have to say about them (cf. “prominent in the judgment of the apostles”). In fact, nowhere else in Rom 16:1-16 does Paul report the judgment of others about the people he mentions.83

All these arguments make an inclusive understanding of episêmoi en tois apostolois and the translation “prominent among the apostles” seem more probable. After coming to the conclusion that Andronicus’ partner in Rom 16:7 is a woman called Junia and not a man, we now established it as probable that Paul calls Andronicus and Junia prominent apostles. Thus we arrive at the last question that is decisive for our investigation: In which sense does Paul use the word “apostle” here?

The Meaning of Apostolos

There are a couple of possible meanings to weigh against one another. Firstly, the Greek word apostolos carries the meanings of “messenger,” “envoy,” and “emissary.” This is the meaning of the word in John 13:16: “Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers (apostolosgreater than the one who sent them.” In the letters of Paul we also find this original meaning of the word, namely, in 2 Cor 8:23: “they are messengers (apostoloi) of the churches” and in Phil 2:25, Epaphroditus, “your messenger (apostolos).”

Secondly, apostolos has a titular meaning in the New Testament and then it is translated into English as “apostle.” The word apostolos refers then to a group of believers in the first generation of Christians that had a particular commission and a particular task to fulfil. Tradition has taught us to identify the apostles with the Twelve.84 The expression “the twelve apostles” has become common currency. However, strangely enough the same tradition has coined the expression “the Apostle” to refer to a man whose name does not appear in the lists of the Twelve, namely, Paul.

The identification of the apostles with the Twelve is a theological claim that Luke makes in his gospel and in Acts. He projects the apostolic office of the earliest phase of the post-Easter church back into the time of the earthly Jesus. During his earthly life, Jesus gave the Twelve a mission which was limited in time and space. When Jesus died, not one of the Twelve had a mission from Jesus or an office. During the resurrection appearances, Jesus gave the Twelve—and, according to Paul, not only the Twelve—a mission which for some of its receivers was universal in scope. On the basis of Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:30, it seems that the post-Easter mission of the Twelve was limited to Jerusalem.85 This may also explain why the early Christians’ interest in the Twelve quickly waned when the church spread to the non-Jewish world.86

According to Paul, an apostle is someone who has seen the risen Christ and has received a commission from him. Paul makes a distinction between the Twelve and the apostles, as evinced in 1 Cor 15:5-7: “and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve … Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.” Paul himself neither belonged to the circle of (twelve) disciples that followed the earthly Jesus nor to the group of people that had encountered the risen Jesus in the time immediately following the crucifixion. Nonetheless, Paul claims to be an apostle in the full sense of the word, in the same way that those before him are apostles. In 1 Cor 9:1-2, he says: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? ... If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you.”

Finally, Paul uses the noun apostolos also in a list of three positions of service within the church. In 1 Cor 12:28 we read: “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers.”87 It is difficult to know whether Paul uses apostolos in the strict sense, referring to first-generation believers sent by the risen Christ, or whether he intends to invoke the wider meaning that would also embrace missionaries of the second generation.88

On the basis of these considerations we now turn to the meaning of the word hoi apostoloi in Rom 16:7. The meaning of “messenger“ seems less probable here, because Paul is without doubt speaking about a post-Easter context and because he refers to hoi apostoloi as a well-known group, as can be seen in the use of the definite article. Therefore, apostolos must be used in the titular meaning in Rom 16:7. It is obvious that Andronicus and Junia do not belong to the Twelve.89 However, as Paul rightly points out, not only the Twelve were present during the time of the resurrection, but also a larger group of apostles. It may very well be possible that Andronicus and Junia belonged to this wider group. To this end, we want to point out primarily that Paul speaks about hoi apostoloi as a pre-established, generally known Christian group, which he feels no need to explain in his Letter to the Romans. This makes it less probable that Paul intended hoi apostoloi to refer to missionaries of the second generation, as it does in 1 Cor 12:28. That Paul is using hoi apostoloi in the strict sense in Rom 16:7 is also confirmed by his remark in 16:7d: “they were in Christ before I was.” If Andronicus and Junia were in Christ before Paul, and thus before the year 32, hardly two years after the death of Jesus, then it is not inconceivable that they were among those present at the time of the resurrection appearances.90

We conclude our discussion on Rom 16:7 by once again stressing the exegetical intricacies of the text. The question of whether Paul is referring in this verse to a woman in a leadership role depends on three exegetical issues. Presently there is a growing consensus regarding the first issue, the question as to the sex of Iounian. Paul is speaking here of a woman called Junia. Regarding the second issue, namely, whether there are strong reasons to defend an inclusive understanding ofepisêmoi en tois apostolois, Paul characterizes Andronicus and Junia as “prominent among the apostles.” They themselves are apostles, and they are eminent ones. Finally, it seems fairly certain that Paul uses the word hoi apostoloi in the titular sense. This implies that it is possible, even probable that Paul is speaking about a female apostle in the full sense of the word in Rom 16:7.

Concluding Remarks

In our exegetical analysis that was intended to determine the way Paul describes the roles and functions of women, we repeatedly encountered the fact that the linguistic evidence had two meanings, one that favored a more subordinate role of women and one that supported a role that was more equal with men. The lexical meanings of diakonosprostatis, andsynergos include the dimension of helping and assisting. But each also carries the meaning of leadership. This gives the interpreter a great responsibility and the challenge not to allow their own pre-understandings and biases to push the evidence.

Aside from the philological ambiguities, with regard to Phoebe, Prisca, and Junia, we see also how their images have been shaped, adapted, and changed in the process of transmission and interpretation. People have made women’s names into men’s names. This is the case for the name Prisca which was changed to Pr(e)iscas; for the name Junia that was made into Junias; and for Nympha, whose name appears sometimes as Nymphas. People also changed the order of names: “Aquila and Prisca” instead of “Prisca and Aquila.” Moreover, the name of Prisca was changed into the diminutive Priscilla.

These changes happened partially on the levels of the composition of the texts, the textual transmission, the translation, and the interpretation of the text. In spite of the exegetical ambiguities which we encountered, the following is incontestable: different texts (Paul or Acts), different textual traditions, translations, and interpretations represent the roles of Phoebe, Prisca, and Junia in very divergent ways. The tradition has for the most part mitigated, relativized, or neutralized their actual leadership roles. This is due in large part to the widely held perception that Paul legitimates the subordination of women. Since, as we demonstrated briefly at the beginning of this study, this portrait of Paul has been re-adjusted in recent research, it has now become possible and necessary to study the material describing Phoebe, Prisca, and Junia, the three most prominent women in the letters of Paul, with fresh lenses. Even though we know that there will always be a certain amount of ambiguity and uncertainty in describing their roles in the early Christian communities, we hope it has nevertheless become apparent that Phoebe, Prisca, and Junia played a much more important role than what is generally known. Their names should be known by every Christian, just as the names of Paul, Silvanus, Timothy, and Titus.

 

NOTES

49. For studies on Prisca, see R. Schumacher, Aquila und Priscilla, in Theologie und Glaube 12 (1920) 86-99; Florence M. Gillman,Women Who Knew Paul (Collegeville MN: Liturgical Press, 1992), pp. 49-57; Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Prisca and Aquila: Travelling Tentmakers and Church Builders, in Biblical Review 8/6 (1992) 40-51 and Dominika Kurek-Chomycz, Is There an “Anti-Priscan” Tendency in the Manuscripts? Some Textual Problems with Prisca and Aquila, in Journal of Biblical Literature 125 (2006) 107-128.

50. For Acts 18:26, less reliable manuscripts mention Aquila first. Nestle-Aland27 (hereinafter, N27) does not list any witnesses which change the sequence “Aquila and Prisca” in 1 Cor 16:19. It is striking that only in 1 Cor 16:19 does Paul mention Aquila first, namely, in the letter in which he tries to argue at least partially for a subordinate place of women.

51. Some manuscripts also read the diminutive in 1 Cor 16:19. The diminutive is also attested to in Rom 16:3. None of the manuscript evidence presented in N27 uses “Prisca” in place of “Priscilla” in Acts. Thus, it is a scribal tendency to assimilate the form of the name in the letters of Paul to Acts and not vice versa.

52. This statement is based on a historical reconstruction which accepts the information from Acts to complete the picture gained from the letters of Paul, as long as Acts does not contradict the letters of Paul. The reconstruction also assumes, as was said earlier, that Rom 16:1-16 is addressed to the Roman Christians, not to the Ephesians, for in the latter case there would be no evidence for a move of Prisca and Aquila to Rome.

53. In 2 Tim 4:19 (“Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus”), it is also assumed that Prisca and Aquila are in Ephesus. 2 Timothy gives the impression of having been written by Paul from his imprisonment in Rome (1:16-17 and 2:9). The letter presupposes that Timothy is staying at Ephesus (cf. 1:16.18; 4:9.11-12).

54. It is possible that here Paul is referring to a threat to his life which he describes in 2 Cor 1:8-10 and which happened in Asia (1:8), the Roman province of which Ephesus is the capital.

55. In addition to the house churches of Prisca and Aquila, Paul also mentions the house church of Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus in Phlm 2. Cf. also the house church of Nympha in Col 4:15. A part of the textual tradition changed the feminine “Nympha” into the masculine “Nymphas.” For studies on the early Christian house churches, see Robert J. Banks, Paul’s Idea of Community: The Early House Churches in their Historical Setting (Grand Rapids mi/Exeter: Eerdmans/Paternoster, 1980; Peabody ma: Hendrickson, 21994); V.P. Branick, The House Church in the Writings of Paul (Wilmington de: Glazier, 1987); Hans-Josef Klauck, Hausgemeinde und Hauskirche im frühen Christentum (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1981); Hans-Josef Klauck, Gemeinde zwischen Haus und Stadt. Kirche bei Paulus (Freiburg/Basel/Wien: Herder, 1992).

56. Paul also uses the expression synergoi tou theouIn 1 Thess 3:2, he says that Timothy is “a co-worker for God in proclaiming the gospel of Christ” (New Revised Standard Version; cf. also the translation “God's fellow-worker in spreading the gospel of Christ”). In 1 Cor 3:9, Paul depicts Apollos and himself in the following way: “we are God’s synergoi” (translated as “we are God’s fellow-workers” in the Revised Standard Version, “we are God’s servants” in the New Revised Standard Version or “we are God’s co-workers” in the New American Bible).

57. See Vulgate: “adiutores”; Luther: “Gehilfen”; King James Version: “helpers.”

58. New American Bible: “co-workers”; Traduction Oecuménique de la Bible: “mes collaborateurs”; New Revised Standard Version: “who work with me.”

59. Revised Standard Version and New Jerusalem Bible: “fellow-workers.”

60. Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 91940), repr. 1968, s.v.

61. W. Bauer, F. W. Danker, W. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), s.v. The fact that “colleague” is not mentioned in this dictionary which covers, not the entire Greek literature but only the New Testament and other early Christian literature, reflects the preferences of Frederick W. Danker and is subject to critical evaluation.

62. See above.

63. Even in Acts where, as we have already seen, the participation of Priscilla and Aquila in the proclamation of the gospel is replaced by their becoming the support staff for the Christian mission, there is still a faint echo of their involvement in the proclamation of the gospel. When Paul left them behind in Ephesus and traveled to Syria, Priscilla and Aquila corrected the theology of Apollos: “but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately” (Acts 18:26, New Revised Standard Version). Sometimes the role of Priscilla and Aquila is reduced by inaccurate translations. See, for instance, the New Jerusalem Bible: “gave him more detailed instructions.” In the Greek text the problem with Apollos’ teaching, namely, his lack of knowledge of the Holy Spirit, is a matter of accuracy, not detail.

64. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1993), p.735: “those who shared in the Pauline mission of evangelization.” Cf. W.-H. Ollrog, Paulus und seine Mitarbeiter. Untersuchungen zu Theorie und Praxis der paulinischen Mission (Neukirchen/Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1979), p. 67: synergos“ist, wer mit Paulus zusammen als Beauftragter Gottes am gemeinsamen ‚Werk’ der Missionsverkündigung arbeitet.“

65. See also Phil 4:3, where Paul says about the synergoi: “they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel.”

66. The representation of the vowel “i” as “ei” in ‘Preiskas’ is a common variation in Koine Greek.

67. It is precisely here that the D-text mentions the name of Aquila first. cf. 1 Tim 2:12.

68. Cf. Jacob Jervell, The Unknown Paul: Essays on Luke-Acts and Early Christian History (Minneapolis mn: Augsburg, 1984), pp. 155-156: “What Paul says of the two is known also to Luke, but is lessened somewhat. We cannot infer from Acts that they cooperated with Paul in apostolic activity. ... It appears as if Luke is concerned to play down the role of women in the work of Paul.”

69. We note, however, that in the New Revised Standard Version, the masculine form “Junias” is mentioned in a footnote.

70. Bernadette Brooten, “Junia: Outstanding Among the Apostles (Romans 16:7),” in Leonard Swidler and Arlene Swidler, eds., Women Priests: A Catholic Commentary on the Vatican Declaration (New York: Paulist, 1977), pp. 141-144; Valentin Fabrega, “War Junia(s), der hervorragende Apostel (Rom. 16,7), eine Frau?” in Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 27/28 (1984/85) 48-64; Peter Lampe, “Iunia/Iunias: Sklavenherkunft im Kreise vorpaulinischer Apostel (Rom 16,7),” inZeitschrift fur die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der Älteren Kirche 76 (1985) 132-134; Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, “Missionaries, Apostles, Coworkers: Romans 16 and the Reconstruction of Women's Early Christian History,” inWord and World 6 (1986) 420-433; Florence M. Gillman, Women Who Knew Paul, Zacchaeus Studies: NT (Collegeville mn: Liturgical Press, 1992), about Junia: pp. 66-70; Peter Arzt, “Iunia oder Iunias? Zum textkritischen Hintergrund von Röm 16,7,” in Friedrich V. Reiterer and Petrus Eder, eds., Liebe zum Wort: Beiträge zur klassischen und biblischen Philologie: FS Ludger Bernhard (Salzburg: Müller, 1993), pp. 83-102; Richard S. Cervin, “A Note Regarding the Name ‘Junia(s)’ in Romans 16.7,” in New Testament Studies 40 (1994) 464-470; Ray R. Schulz, “Romans 16:7: Junia or Junias?” in The Expository Times 98 (1987) 108-110; J. Thorley, “Junia, Woman Apostle,” in Novum Testamentum 38 (1996) 18-29; Margaret Y. MacDonald, “Reading Real Women Through the Undisputed Letters of Paul,” in Ross Shepard Kraemer and Mary Rose D’Angelo, eds., Women and Christian Origins (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), pp. 199-220; Michael H. Burer and Daniel B. Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Re-examination of Romans 16.7,” in New Testament Studies47 (2001) 76-91; Richard Bauckham, Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels (Grand Rapids mi: Eerdmans-T&T Clark, 2002), about Junia: pp. 109-202; Eldon Jay Epp, “Text-Critical, Exegetical, and Socio-Cultural Factors Affecting the Junia/Junias Variation in Romans 16,7,” in Adelbert Denaux, ed., New Testament Textual Criticism and Exegesis, Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium 161 (Leuven: Leuven University Press & Peeters, 2002), 227-291; Linda Belleville, “Iounian ... episemoi en tois apostolois: A Re-examination of Romans 16.7 in Light of Primary Source Material,” in New Testament Studies 51 (2005) 231-249; Eldon Jay Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle(Minneapolis MN: Fortress, 2005); Ben Witherington III, “Joanna—Apostle of the Lord or Jailbait?” in Bible Review 21 (2005) 12-14, 46-47; Rena Pederson, The Lost Apostle: Searching for the Truth About Junia (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass A Wiley Imprint, 2006).

71. For questions related to women in prisons in the Roman Empire, see Jens-Uwe Krause, Gefängnisse im Römischen Reich(Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1996), Chapter 9, esp. p. 178: “Frauen und Männer wurden im Kerker in aller Regel in denselben Räumlichkeiten untergebracht ... Zum ersten Mal wurde eine Trennung der Häftlinge nach Geschlechtern in einem Gesetz aus dem Jahr 340 ins Auge gefaßt.“

72. Epp, Factors, pp. 243-244.

73. Joh. Chrysostomos, In ep. ad Romanos 31.2, PG 60.669-670.

74. Epp, Factors, p. 265.

75. For a detailed discussion see Pederson, The Lost Apostle, 127-152.

76. See “who are of note among the apostles” (King James Version, New King James Version); “they are men of note among the apostles” (Revised Standard Version); “who are eminent among the apostles” (Revised English Bible); “they are prominent among the apostles” (New American Bible, New Revised Standard Version); “those outstanding apostles” (New Jerusalem Bible); “sie sind angesehene Apostel” (Einheitsübersetzung); “ce sont des apôtres éminents” (Traduction Oecuménique de la Bible). We should, however, be aware that a number of these translations assumes that the apostles who are referred to here are two men, Andronicus and Junias. This is why the inclusive translation is less of an issue for them. Epp, Factors, p. 284, is convinced that there is “overwhelming agreement among recent exegetes” concerning the inclusive interpretation.

77. Among the translations into English, French, German, and Dutch, the exclusive interpretation is rather infrequent. We found it in the translation of the Nederlandsch Bijbelgenootschapmannen onder de apostelen in aanzien.”

78. See, e.g., „die berühmt sind unter den Aposteln“ (Luther).

79. See Cervin, Note (1994) and Thorley, Junia (1996). See also the evidence in Linda Belleville, “Iounian ... episemoi en tois apostolois; A Re-examination of Romans 16.7 in Light of Primary Source Material,” in New Testament Studies 51 (2005) 231-249, pp. 234-242.

80. Michael H. Burer and Daniel B. Wallace, “Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Re-examination of Rom 16.7,” in New Testament Studies 47 (2001) 76-91.

81. Belleville, Iounian, pp. 242-248. See Epp, Factors, p. 289: “these grammatical examples and statistics do not provide a clear-cut solution to the puzzling Pauline phrase in Rom 16,7.” See also the detailed critique of Burer and Wallace’s position by Bauckham, Gospel Women, pp. 172-179.

82. Ibid., p. 248.

83. In Rom 16:7d, Paul says about Andronicus and Junia: “they were in Christ before me.” One might consider this information unnecessary if Paul states in 16:7c that they were apostles; for Paul considers himself to be the last apostle (see 1 Cor 15:8: “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me”). One might be inclined to conclude from this that in 16:7c Paul is not saying that Andronicus and Junia are not apostles. Another possibility might be that they were not apostles in the strict sense of the word (see below). A third possibility was suggested by Bauckham, Gospel Women, p. 180: “It is true that they could not have been apostles in Paul’s eyes unless they had been Christians before him, and so the latter information might seem redundant after they have been called apostles, but probably Paul wishes to underscore the special status of these two.”

84. But see Reimund Bieringer, “Het schriftargument in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,” in Bijdragen 62 (2001) 129-142, pp. 130-136: “Het verschil tussen de Twaalf en de apostelen” (The difference between the Twelve and the apostles).

85. Cf. R. E. Brown, “The Twelve and the Apostolate,” in New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1990), 1377-1381, p. 1381: “The Twelve functioned as apostles or those sent’ by Jesus ... by proclaiming him in Jerusalem. ... Whether the Twelve did undertake a travelling apostolate is not clear from the NT, although after the first two decades (ca. AD 50) some probably did scatter from Jerusalem. Only Peter is specifically pictured as ministering outside Palestine.”

86. Vgl. J. Gnilka, Das Matthäusevangelium (HTK), vol. 1 (Freiburg/Basel/Wien: Herder, 1986), p. 356: “Offenkundig geraten einzelne Mitglieder des Zwölferkreises bald in Vergessenheit.“ The four lists of the Twelve (Mt 10:2-4; Mk 3:16-19; Lk 6:14-16 and Acts 1:13) differ concerning the identity of one of the Twelve. Brown, The Twelve and the Apostolate, p. 1379, remarks in this context: “By the time the Gospels were written the historical memory of who among the disciples of Jesus belonged to the Twelve was already hazy.” Brown continues: “Whether through death or missionary travels afar, most of the individual members of the Twelve had faded from the known Christian scene by AD 60 and were seemingly but names in lists. Only the memories of Peter and John drew attention in the NT works of the last third of the century” (p. 1381).

87. Cf. also Eph 2:20; 3:5 and 4:11-12.

88. Cf. Christian Wolff, Der erste Brief des Paulus an die Korinther (Berlin: EVA, 1996), p. 306, note 341: “Inwieweit Paulus einen breiteren Apostelbegriff—Apostel als pneumatisch-charismatische Missionare (vgl. Apg. 13,1-3 ...)—anwendet, ist nicht auszumachen.“

89. Some exegetes are still assuming the traditional view that the apostles were twelve men and conclude from this thatIounian cannot be the name of a woman. Cf. Walter Bauer, Griechisch-deutsches Wörterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der frühchristlichen Literatur, 6, völlig neu bearbeitete Auflage, eds. Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1988), s.v.: “Die lexikal. Möglichkeit, daß es sich um den Frauennamen Iounia handle ... ist durch den Zusammenhang wohl ausgeschlossen,“ with a reference to Hans Lietzmann, An die Römer (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1971), ad locHowever, the name Andronicus cannot be found in the list of the Twelve either. If one accepts that the group of those sent by the risen Christ was larger than twelve, there is no reason why it cannot have included women.

90. See also Lohfink, Weibliche Diakone, p. 330: “Für apostolos (Apostel) in Röm 16, 7 kommt nur eine Aussendung durch den Auferstandenen selbst in Frage. Denn wären Andronikus und Junia nur die temporären Gesandten einer Gemeinde gewesen, so würde die Wendung ‚sie ragen hervor unter den Aposteln’ kaum passen. Offensichtlich gehörten beide zu jener größeren Gruppe von Aposteln, die 1 Kor 15,7 zufolge eine Erscheinung des Auferstandenen hatte. Paulus hebt diese Gruppe in 1 Kor 15,7 sorgfältig vom Zwölferkreis ab ... Die Wendung ‚sie ragen hervor unter den Aposteln’ setzt voraus, daß der beschriebene Personenkreis der von Christus ausgesandten Auferstehungszeugen für die älteste Kirche eine relativ feste Größe war.“ Recently Bauckham, Gospel Women, pp. 165-186, suggested that Junia was the same person as Joanna of Lk 8:3 and 24:10. According to Luke, Joanna was one of the women who had seen the empty tomb. According to Bauckham, “Junia” was the Latinized form of “Joanna” which she used when she began to minister in the Roman context. Despite the effort to give a detailed argumentation for this position, it necessarily remains speculative.

 Part I was published in the immediate previous issue, East Asian Pastoral Review 44 (2007) 3: 221-237.