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Sarah Hinlicky Wilson

Lower Criticism

A female apostle? Impossible!

The Bible on your shelf doesn't actually exist. No exact original of it is to be found in Greek, Syriac, or any other ancient language. It is, instead, the product of hundreds of compiled parchments and papyri, containing big blocks of text or little bits of it, some ancient, some more recent, some ancient but recently discovered. Along the way they got copied into uncials and minuscules, dubbed with names to inspire novels (Codex Sinaiticus; Philoxeniana), and now are signified in the clearinghouse Nestle-Aland Novum Testamentum Graece as or .

It would seem to be a straightforward work of science to sort, date, and judge each of the texts, and in many ways it is. There are rules for comparing scraps of majuscules and scraped palimpsests. The scriptural scholars of bygone eras help contemporary ones through their own questions scrawled in the margins of their Bibles. And it's not too hard to recognize and correct the ever-so-slightly incorrect transcriptions of some sleepy monk in a tomb-cold scriptorium. But the letter is not copied alone; so is the spirit and the meaning. Text critics are inevitably exegetes, and aspiring exegetes must also be text critics. This is Eldon Jay Epp's basic principle for biblical studies.

Which brings us to Romans 16:7, embedded in the oft-overlooked collection of greetings to various Christian luminaries at Rome. Here Paul hails his "relatives who were in prison" with him, "prominent among the apostles" and "in Christ before" he was. This impressive pair is Andronicus and his coworker. The latter is sometimes called Junia—thus the KJV, every other English translation up till the 1830s, and nowadays the NRSV. The lion's share of recent English Bibles, though, give the name Junias, with the –s on the end. The RSV specifies Andronicus and Junias as "my kinsmen" and "men of note among the apostles"; the Good News generously adds a footnote after Junias suggesting the name "June"; the NIV—most widely read of all contemporary versions—offers ...

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