If you’ve ever experienced the “wallpaper” person phenomena, you know what it’s like to feel invisible. Wallpaper people are often overlooked. But not by Paul! He not only sees them—he honors them.
Take for example, Andronicus and Junia. When Paul sends his greetings to the church in Rome, he calls Andronicus and Junia “my kinsmen” (Rom 16:7). Whether this means his extended family or his tribe, Andronicus and Junia were somehow related to Paul.
Even more surprising is that these two “wallpaper” people came to faith in Christ before Paul did. “They were in Christ before me” Paul tells us (16:7). Why does Paul add this little detail? If Paul met the risen Christ on his way to Damascus, then Andronicus and Junia came to faith in Christ before AD 34.
Had Andronicus and Junia been disciples of Jesus? Origen of Alexandria thinks so (AD 185–254). He wrote that “they were perhaps of the seventy-two [sent by Jesus] who were themselves also called apostles” (Luke 10:1-24; cf. Origen’s commentary on Romans).
Unfortunately, English translations steer us in different directions. Compare “They are outstanding among the apostles” (NIV) to “They are well known to the apostles” (ESV). Notice how the ESV negates the possibility that Andronicus and Junia were apostles, but instead, concludes that they were only “well known to” the apostles.
What would it mean that Junia and Andronicus were apostles? The gospels place great emphasis on “the twelve,” yet Paul, Barnabas, and James, the Lord’s brother, are called “apostles” as well (Acts 14:4, 14; Gal 1:19). This does not mean that anyone could be an apostle. “Apostle,” by Paul’s definition, was one who had “seen the Lord” (1 Cor 9:1). When Paul says, “They were in Christ before me,” he was honoring their status as apostles.
I agree with Craig Keener: “It is unnatural to read the text as merely claiming that [Andronicus and Junia] had a high reputation with ‘the apostles’ … Those who favor the view that Junia was not an apostle do so because of their prior assumption that women could not be apostles, not because of any evidence in the text” (Paul, Women and Wives, emphasis mine).
John Chrysostom (AD 347–407), bishop of Constantinople, wrote a series of homilies that included high praise of Andronicus and Junia: “Greet Andronicus and Junia … who are outstanding among the apostles: To be an apostle is something great! But to be outstanding among the apostles—just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle!” (Homily 31 on Romans).
Andronicus and Junia were among those who saw the risen Lord when “he presented himself alive … after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). What a King! When he appears to “all the apostles,” he includes wallpaper people (1 Cor 15:7)!