Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was (Romans 16:7, NIV).
I’ve spent a lot of time working through the research that describes the households of Rome as one of the basic building blocks of Roman society. How commerce in the city led to movements in and out of the city at the time Paul wrote the letter to the Romans, in the middle of the first century. How wealth and patronage, even as evidenced in the New Testament, naturally led to “leadership positions” that existed in the house churches in Rome, prior to the arrival of the Apostles.
Now I want to spend a bit of time culling other evidence from some of these historical and detail-oriented texts that describe church life in first century Rome.
Lampe notes that “the earliest Christianity spread along the routes that Judaism had already followed: the synagogues were the setting for the first Christian mission. (b) The Jewish as well as the Christian “axis” Puteoli-Rome has a particular economic-historical background. The stretch Puteoli-Rome was the main trade route between the East and the city of Rome in the first half of the first century.”
Robert Jewett, in his Romans commentary, describes Andronikos and Junia, and in doing so, gives another picture of the earliest Christians in Rome:
The names are revealing: Andronikos is a prestigious Greek name frequently given to slaves or freedmen during the Greco-Roman period. Junia is a Latin feminine name, ordinarily given to slaves or freedwoman of the Junia family, of which some 250 examples have been found in Roman evidence. The modern scholarly controversy over this name rests on the presumption that no woman could rank as an apostle, and thus that the accusative form must refer to a male by the name of Junias or Junianus. However, evidence in favor of the feminine name “Junia” is overwhelming. Not a single example of a masculine name “Junias” has been found. The patristic evidence investigated by Fabrega and Fitzmyer indicates that commentators down through the twelfth century refer to Junia as a woman, often commenting on the extraordinary gifts that ranked her among the apostles. The traditional feast of Saints Andronikos and Junia celebrates admirabilem feminam Juniam (“the admirable woman Junia”), which suggests that while some medieval copyists of Romans assumed a male name, the church as a whole had no difficulty on this point until later, particularly after Luther popularized the masculine option. Despite its impact on modern translations based on Nestle-Aland and the UBS [Greek texts], it appears that the name “Junias” is a figment of chauvinistic imagination (961-962).
Schreiner says a very similar thing, in a much more genteel way:
What is of prime interest to modern scholars is the identity of Junia(s). Is the person in question a man or a woman? If the Greek is accented as it is in UBS4/NA27 (Ἰουνίᾶν), then the name is masculine, stemming from the nominative Ἰουνίᾶς (so BAGD 380; RSV, NEB, NASB, NIV, NJB). In these circumstances the name is a contraction of Junianus. Such a contraction is certainly possible, since contractions were quite common generally, and the names Prisca, Patrobas, Hermas, and Olympas are contracted in this list. Some early evidence also supports Junias [the male name]. Most commentaries on Romans, however, favor the feminine Ἰουνίαν (Junia) since the contracted form of Junianus is nowhere found in Greek literature (see NRSV). Moreover, the majority opinion by far until at least the thirteenth century was that the person in question was a woman—Junia. Since the contracted masculine name is lacking in Greek literature and since early tradition identifies Junia as a woman, the likely conclusion is that Junia is a woman, though certainty is impossible. The judgment of many that Andronicus and Junia were husband and wife is also probable (795-796).
This touches on the question of how to reconcile the roles of women in Romans (Phoebe, Prisca, Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus’s mother, and Julia) with what Paul says in 1 Timothy 2, for example (“likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet”). Schreiner goes on to note:
It is clear from this list that women were actively involved in ministry. The verb “to labor” (κοπιᾶν, kopian) is used of four women: Mary (v. 6), Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis (v. 12). The word κοπιᾶν is used to describe Paul’s ministry (1 Cor 15:10; Gal 4:11; Phil. 2:16; Col 1:29; 1 Tim 4:10) and others who are involved in ministry (1 Cor 16:16; 1 Thess 5:12; 1 Tim 5:17). Here it probably denotes missionary work (cf. Cranfield 1979: 785; Kasemann 1980: 412; Wilckens 1982: 135; Dunn 1988b: 892; P. Lampe 1991: 223). What these women did specifically is not delineated, but we cannot doubt that they were vitally involved in ministry. Dunn (1988b: 894) rightly cautions, however, that κοπιᾶν is a general term and does not denote leadership per se.
As a female missionary Junia may have directed her energies especially to other women. As Kasemann (1980:413) remarks, “The wife can have access to the women’s areas, which would not be generally accessible to the husband.” One should scarcely conclude from the reference to Junia and the other women coworkers named here that women exercised authority over men contrary to the Pauline admonition in 1 Tim 2:12. We see evidence that women functioned as early Christian missionaries, and it may have been the case that they concentrated especially on other women, given the patriarchal nature of the Greco-Roman world. The Pauline pattern prescribed in 1 Tim 2:11-15 was the apostolic pattern in the early Christian mission, and the vibrant ministry of Christian women did not contradict the admonitions delivered in 1 Tim 2 (rightly Murray 1965:228; Moo 1996:927; Schreiner 793-4, 797).