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The first two verses here are an apostolic example of what is called today a "church letter," or letter of recommendation borne by a Christian transferring from one place to another. The length of Phoebe's projected stay in Rome was not given, being immaterial; because Christians, wherever they go, and for whatever length of time, should seek the faithful in Christ for worship and association. The fact that Phoebe might have required some assistance from the brethren on the business matters which occasioned her going to Rome was not the sole reason for this letter, other considerations of importance being evident in the status declared of her that she was "our sister" and "in the Lord," expressions meaning that she was a faithful member of the church. Also, she was presented as "a servant of the church and a helper of many," indicating the fullest extent of her faithfulness and devotion to the work of the Lord.
That Phoebe presented her credentials as a Christian in good standing with her home congregation is to be inferred from the delivery of the entire epistle which contained it; and thus it is plain that she "put in her membership" with the Christians in Rome for whatever period she remained there. The purpose in calling attention to this is to stimulate more business-like attention on the part of both congregations and individual Christians to the problem of itinerancy of Christians, many of whom are lost to the church through their failure to enlist as working members of another congregation, following a transfer of residence. Many no doubt feel that they are already members wherever they happen to be; and, although there is a sense in which this is true, this formal commendation of Phoebe to the Christians in Rome shows that something more was required than merely hanging her hat in a new place.
No one could have understood this problem any better than Paul; for there was a time when he himself came down to Jerusalem and "assayed to join himself to the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple" (Acts 9:26). Paul's purpose of "joining" the Jerusalem congregation was realized through the intervention of Barnabas, thus setting the great example which would require every child of God to make it his first order of business, upon a change of residence, to "join himself to the disciples" in the new location.
Why do Christians often neglect the duty indicated here? (1) They fear the new location is only temporary, or hope it is, and therefore hesitate to give full participation in the work and worship of a new congregation. (2) Some hesitate out of a sense of loyalty to the old congregation, not realizing that loyalty to the old one is best expressed and proved by ardent loyalty to the new one. (3) Others do not wish to be obligated in a new congregation and seize the chance to "float around" for a while without forming a stable relationship. (4) Still others are just weak Christians who do not have sufficient power to pursue the life of faith, apart from the encouragements of the old situation; and a change of residence for such weak disciples can be, and often is, the occasion of their permanent loss.
Denny, as quoted by Wuest, pointed out that:
"Commend" is the technical word for this kind of recommendation, which was equivalent to a certificate of church membership. F2
The word carries with it the meaning of "vouch for."
Christians retained their names, although they were derived from the names of false gods, because they had lost all religious significance and reference. In like manner, we retain the use of the names of the days of the week, without ever thinking of their derivation. F3
Wuest and others declare that Phoebe was certainly a widow, making the deduction:
On the ground that she could not, according to Greek manners, have been mentioned as acting in the independent manner described, either if her husband had been living, or if she had been unmarried. F4
Servant of the church ...
The term "servant" is translated deaconess in later versions of the New Testament, and is often alleged as proof that a separate order of female deacons existed in the early church. If that was true, why did Paul address the church at Philippi with a greeting of "the elders and deacons" without reference to deaconesses? . Perhaps Whiteside was correct in the conclusion that this word, as Paul here used it,
does not prove that she occupied an official position. ... We let our minds run to officialdom too much. F5
Lenski stated categorically that Phoebe
occupied an official position by appointment of the church. F6
This view is widely advocated among commentators, but is rejected here on the basis that Paul's entire body of writings fails to disclose anything resembling an order of female deacons in the church, and upon the further fact that the scriptures alleged as teaching this do not actually teach it.
Paul wrote to Timothy that:
Women in like manner must be grave, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things, etc. (1 Timothy 3:11).
and this is usually cited as outlining the qualifications of deaconesses; but, significantly, Paul said "women," not "deaconesses," with the overwhelming probability that the women in view were the wives of the deacons whose qualifications Paul had just enumerated, and who, unless they also met certain standards, would have disqualified their husbands from serving as deacons.
There were no instructions given in the New Testament for the appointment of women as deacons; and, since there are instructions for the appointment of both elders and deacons, this omission is conclusive. Those who appoint deaconesses must do so without a clear mandate and without a scriptural list of what their qualifications should be.
[Diakonos], the Greek word Paul here used, means "servant" and is usually so translated, being the same word used of policemen by Paul in Rom. 13:4, also being translated as "minister." In the New Testament, it is nothing unusual for sacred writers to employ a word in more than one sense. For example, the words "covenant" and "testament" are both translated from exactly the same word in Heb. 9:15-17; and the author of that epistle exploited both meanings in his argument there, showing that in some circumstances a true translation absolutely requires the rendition of different meanings for the same word; and so we believe it is here. "Deaconess" is not the proper rendition, which is "servant," as attested by the fact that the KJV and English Revised Version (1885) translators both so rendered it, taking account of the principle here stated which requires a different rendition from any that would imply such a thing as an order of female deaconesses.
Therefore, the proposition is rejected that would make Paul's reference here to Phoebe as a "servant of the church" as sufficient ground for the fantastic elaboration of this so-called office of deaconesses which abounds in some of the commentaries. There is just as much basis for alleging that there is a separate office of policemen in God's church, for such secular officers are clearly called "servants of God" by Paul in Rom. 13:4.
The church which is at Cenchrea ...
indicates how extensively the early evangelists had carried out their work. The town of Cenchrea was the eastern of two seaports, the other being Lecheum, which served the city of Corinth, situated on the isthmus of the same name. Cenchrea was about nine miles from Corinth. The existence of a church at one of these ports, and presumably in other similar places throughout the area, shows how widely the gospel had been preached. Temples of various pagan deities were located in this area, among them those of Isis, Venus, and Aesculapius.
Receive her in the Lord ...
means to receive her as a faithful Christian, or member of the body of Christ, and means far more than a mere perfunctory or courteous reception. She was commanded to be received in a religious manner and from religious motives and to be given whatever assistance she required, the expression "worth fly of the saints" applying to both the type of reception the church was to give and the quality of the reception Phoebe was entitled to receive. Reasons for such a warm and appropriate reception derived from her status as a Christian sister and from the record of her own helpfulness to others, a helpfulness which had extended to Paul himself, and which he mentioned here as further ground of Phoebe's legitimate claim upon the loving help of the church in Rome.
"Priscilla" is the diminutive form of the name Prisca and was probably the term used by her close friends and associates (Acts 18:2); but Paul, in such a formal letter as this to a congregation where he had never visited, would naturally have used her more formal name, Prisca.
Amazingly, she is mentioned first, even ahead of her husband, and first of all those whom Paul was about to name. From this it has been concluded that she was more active and successful in Christian work than her husband Aquila; for not merely here, but in Acts 18:18,26, and 2 Tim. 4:19, the same preeminence of Priscilla is indicated; however, in Acts 18:2 and 1 Cor. 16:19, Aquila is mentioned first.
There were doubtless very good reasons why this couple should have headed the list of all whom Paul desired to salute in Rome, and some have supposed that Prisca was of the Roman nobility; but we cannot believe that anything of that nature would have carried any weight whatever with Paul. There were qualities of character and service involved in the bestowal of such honor as was given this great Christian woman, an honor above even that of her husband; and it is natural to think of their laying "down their own necks" on Paul's behalf, an action in which Prisca might well have been the principal participant, encouraged and supported by her husband.
My fellow workers in Christ Jesus ...
This couple were citizens of Rome, where Aquila was engaged in tent-making; and its being written that they "were tentmakers" shows that Priscilla also had an active hand in the business. In 49 A.D., the emperor Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome; and thus it came about that Prisca and Aquila opened up a tent-making business in Corinth, where, in the providence of God, they became acquainted with Paul and were converted to Christ. What a glorious blessing, therefore, the cruel edict of the emperor proved to be for them; for if Claudius had not expelled the Jews, they might not ever have known the truth of the gospel. They aided Paul in the work of evangelism in Corinth; and, when Paul transferred his labors to Ephesus, they evidently followed him there (Acts 18:18) and were eyewitnesses of the turbulence and violence that resulted from his preaching there. Greathouse wrote that:
They may have been involved in the troubles described in Acts 19:23-40; and, in these, they may have laid down their own necks for Paul's life. F7
When the edict of Claudius was lifted, Prisca and Aquila returned to Rome, as proved by the salutation here; but, still later, as Sanday observed, "They seem to have returned to Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:19)." F8 As Dodd and others have pointed out, it would not have been necessary for Prisca and Aquila to have closed down their tent-making operation due to Claudius' edict; they could merely have appointed a manager and have continued to maintain both their home and business in the great world capital. Similarly, they could have operated the establishments in Corinth and Ephesus, thus owning a home and a business in each of those cities. If such as this did occur, it would account for the fact that no less than five terms of residence in those various cities are visible in the New Testament account; and this would also help explain the immense influence of this tremendous Christian couple.
Paul here declared that he actually owed his life to this couple and that this laid the whole brotherhood of Gentile churches under a debt of gratitude to Prisca and Aquila for having saved Paul's mission to the Gentiles. What a wonderful thing it would be to know just what happened. It was an event of the highest drama and significance, and known from one end of the pagan empire to the other; but now, alas, it is a deed buried under centuries of silence, with only this single finger of divine light having been left as a record of so brave and unselfish an act. Surely, the word of the Lord is not like the words of men. In view of what surely happened, all of the illustrious achievements of this great apostle must be credited to this noble couple who saved his life. No wonder the pen of inspiration wrote their names first.
Laid down their own necks ...
is perhaps the basis of the colloquial proverb regarding "sticking out one's neck." Many acts of craven cowardice have been justified by their perpetrators who said, either to themselves or others, "I'm not going to stick my neck out!" Here on the sacred page is the shining record of a Christian couple who did stick theirs out, and, in doing so, saved Paul's Gentile mission and stored up for themselves an eternal reward.
And salute the church that is in their house ...
A congregation was meeting regularly in their home for the purpose of Christian worship; and, although the group was probably not very large, it is here called a church, that is, a local congregation. This great couple had also similarly housed the church in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:19). Similar instances of household congregations revealed in the New Testament are those of Mary (Acts 12:12), of Nymphas (Colossians 4:15), of Philemon (Philemon 1:2), and also, perhaps, the groups mentioned in Rom. 16:14-15, below. This was probably the usual manner in which the Christians of that era solved: the problems of a place to worship. Bishop Lightfoot (quoted by Wuest) wrote that:
There is no clear example of a separate building set apart for Christian worship within the limits of the Roman empire before the third century. The Christian congregations were therefore dependent upon the hospitality of prominent members of the church who furnished their homes for this purpose. F9
In view of this historical fact, and the inspired evidence of it before our eyes, one may only marvel at the divisions among brethren over the question of whether or not food may be served in a church house! From the facts, as evidenced in the example of Prisca and Aquila, it can safely be inferred that anything a Christian might do in his home could, under the proper circumstances, be done in a religious meeting house, the home in fact having been the original meeting house of the apostolic church.
Salute Epaenetus my beloved ...
Two facts regarding this person catch the attention: (1) that he was converted in Asia (probably at Ephesus) while Paul was there, and (2) that his name is here closely listed with those of Prisca and Aquila. This would give plausibility to the speculation of Lenski, thus:
It is likely that Epaenetus was converted by Prisca and Aquila, and that for this reason his name is mentioned here after their names. It is even surmised that he was a tentmaker, worked in Aquila's shop, and thus came to Rome with this couple. Paul would thus know him intimately, and "my beloved" would fit exactly. F10
Despite the fact that "on you" is preferred in the rendition here, upon what the translators considered strongly sufficient technical grounds, there is much to commend an alternate reading "on us," meaning "upon the apostle Paul," that being the translation preferred by Hodge on the grounds of its being better suited to the context. He wrote:
The assiduous service of Mary rendered to the apostle is a more natural reason of his salutation than that she had been serviceable to Roman Christians. F11
Wuest observed that:
The name in the Greek text is Marian, a Jewish name, the same as Miriam. F12
Nothing is known of this diligent Christian woman but what is said here; and even this is not absolutely clear, due to the question of who was the beneficiary of her labors; but whether it was upon Paul or upon the saints in Rome that her labors were expended, it is the degree and diligence of those labors which are brought to view here. The Greek word here translated "much labor" indicates work sufficiently heavy to produce weariness and fatigue.
a name like the English "Jean," is either masculine or feminine; but the coupling of both names here signifies that both were men. As Lenski said:
This is Junias, a man, not Junia (Julia), a woman, wife or sister of Andronicus. F13
as applied here to Andronicus and Junias, and others in this chapter, is frequently alleged to mean racial or Jewish kinsmen, rather than a family connection with Paul; but, if that view is correct, why was not this word applied to Prisca and Aquila who were also Jews This consideration alone is enough to justify understanding this as a reference to some of Paul's family, perhaps cousins or uncles. Lard agreed with this, thus:
They were Paul's real kin, according to the flesh, and not his kin merely in the loose sense of being of the same tribe or nation. F14
There is a problem in this view, that being the question of why Paul came to mention two of his kin in this verse, another in Rom. 16:11, and three more in Rom. 16:21, prompting the query by Lenski:
Did Paul have six relatives of the family in Rome; and did he scatter them throughout his list of greetings instead of greeting them together in a group? F15
A careful study of this chapter reveals excellent, even compelling, reasons for Paul's deployment of the names of his kinsfolk throughout this chapter and proves Lenski's questioning of it to be wrong. For example, Lenski's implication that Paul should have grouped them all together ignores the fact that three of the kinsfolk mentioned in Rom. 16:21, Lucian, Jason, and Sosipater, were not receiving Paul's greetings at all but were joined with Paul as sending greetings! Furthermore, the separation of the names of Andronicus and Junias here from that of Herodian in Rom. 16:11 resulted from the fact that Herodian, probably a slave, was more logically included with the other slaves of the household of Aristobulus. Paul's recognition of this enslaved kinsman by singling him out and stating his relationship is as tender and beautiful a thing as may be found in all Paul's letters, and was a most effective way for Paul to have identified himself with all the Christians who were slaves (as so many were). It was perfectly in line with this desire to be one with all the Christians that Paul referred to himself in the very beginning of this letter as a "bondslave" of Christ (Romans 1:1).
By his meaningful and sympathetic identification of himself with a kinsman who was bound to Aristobulus, Paul showed his utter disdain for those social distinctions so dear to the world. On the other hand, if Paul had pulled the name of Herodian out of the list of the other slaves and included it in this verse along with those of Andronicus and Junias, such an action could have been construed as due to shame on Paul's part to acknowledge the true status of his slave kinsman, Herodian.
Thus the problem of the separation of these names does not exist. It would have been impossible to have grouped them all together, due to some being senders and others recipients of greetings, and the further removal of Herodian to a separate listing was demanded by the circumstance of his slavery.
My fellow-prisoners ...
reveals a truth not otherwise recorded in the New Testament. When, where, and how were these kinsfolk fellow-prisoners with Paul? God knows. This does not necessarily mean that Andronicus and Junias were imprisoned at the same time and place with Paul, but that they were closely associated with him in such trials. Paul's sufferings and imprisonments were much more extensive than those detailed in the New Testament, as proved by his own summary of them (2 Corinthians 11:23f), indicating that there were indeed ample opportunities for these two kinsmen to have suffered with Paul through one, or some, of his imprisonments; and, regardless of the possibility of other meanings, the likelihood is that these kinsmen were actually in jail with Paul on some occasion, or occasions, when the great apostle suffered for the faith.
Who are of note among the apostles ...
is a reference to the reputation of Andronicus and Junias who were known and respected within the circle of the twelve apostles themselves. This meaning is required by the facts: (1) of there at this time never having been an apostle in Rome, and (2) of Paul's exclusive use of "apostle" in its primary meaning of himself, or the twelve apostles. Hodge stated that the word "apostle"
is never used in Paul's writing except in strict official sense. F16
The reasons for these kinsmen of Paul's being so favorably known among the twelve apostles probably were lodged in the sufferings they had undergone, as mentioned here, and in the fact of their having been such a long while faithful members of the church, having preceded Paul in their acceptance of Christianity.
Who also have been in Christ before me ...
Lard thought that:
These very two men, Andronicus and Junias, were not improbably among those strangers in Rome (Acts 2:10); and at that same Pentecost they might have become Christians, and there have formed the acquaintance with the apostles. This would account for their being "of note" with the apostles, and also for their having been "in Christ" before Paul. Besides, their case may throw no little light on the question, By whom was the gospel first preached in Rome? In them, we may have a clue to the answer. F17
In Christ ...
is used here as the equivalent of being a Christian and shows that none were ever considered Christians by an apostle unless they had been baptized into Christ, that being the manner he himself had stated to be the way of entering Christ (Romans 6:1-4).
Regarding the brevity of this salutation, Godet noted that:
Paul, having no distinction to mention as belonging to this person, contents himself with pointing him out to the respect of the church by the expression of his affection. F18
Nothing could possibly give a keener insight into Paul's noble and affectionate nature than the epithets applied to various persons in this list. What a noble loving heart it was that took the trouble to remember Ampliatus with this warm expression of love, and that in the face of the fact that there was apparently nothing very distinguished about his Christian service! Paul loved him because he was "in the Lord," therefore beloved of the Saviour; and is that not enough? If, after all of life's trials and tribulations, we may find ourselves loved of the Lords - that alone is everything!
It is manifest here that Urbanus was not Paul's fellow worker, but "ours," that is, of the whole Christian brotherhood, particularly that of Rome; but Paul claimed him in the sense of being a part of the brotherhood Urbanus served. Stachys, on the other hand, was personally known to Paul and honored in the same manner as Ampliatus, above. Godet gave the meaning of these two names as "Urbanus, meaning citizen, and Stachys, meaning ear of corn. F19 Our word "urban" is similar to Urbanus. Both of these names, which seem to be of the character of nicknames, might be roughly translated as City Boy and Ear of Corn, and may therefore be viewed possibly as the names of persons who were then, or had been, slaves.
No one can say what test or trial was endured by Apelles that he should have won so favorable an accolade as that here bestowed by an apostle; but, whatever it was, it must have gained wide publicity among the Christians of that age, for it appears here that Paul had heard of Apelles but was not personally acquainted with him. Paul's act of singling him out for such a salutation shows that his faith had distinguished him in Rome.
Of the household of Aristobulus ...
Macknight noted that in this verse Aristobulus is definitely not greeted, but only certain of his household, the same being true of Narcissus, mentioned next. He wrote:
He and Narcissus seem to have had, each of them, a numerous family of slaves and others, some of whom were Christians, and the fame of whose virtues had reached the apostle. F20
Sanday had this word regarding these persons:
Aristobulus, a grandson of Herod the Great, was educated and lived in a private station in Rome. From the friendly terms on which he stood with the Emperor Claudius, it seems not unlikely that, by a somewhat common custom, his household may have been transferred to the emperor upon his death. In that case his slaves would (continue to) be designated by such a term as we find in the Greek (that is, of the household of Aristobulus). F21
If such opinions of the scholars should be allowed, as it appears they should be, this and the following case of Narcissus go far to identify the Christians said to have been "of Caesar's household" (Philippians 4:22). Moule also accepted this view, saying that:
Aristobulus ... was a grandson of Herod the Great, and the brother of Agrippa of Judaea; a prince who lived and died at Rome. At his death, it would be no improbable thing that his "household" should pass by legacy to the Emperor, while they would still, as a sort of clan, keep their old master's name, Aristobulus' servants, probably many of them Jews (Herodian, St. Paul's kinsman, may have been a retainer of this Herod), would thus now be a part of the "household of Caesar"; and the Christians among them would be thought of by Paul as among the "household saints." F22
See under Rom. 16:7 for notes regarding Herodian. The household of Narcissus is here to be understood as only that portion of them who were Christians, that is, "in the Lord," with the necessary inference that "household" as used in these verses has reference to a much larger group than would have been the case if it had referred only to the Christians. This fact strongly supports the view that the "households" in view here and in Rom. 16:10 were the historical establishment households of the prince Aristobulus, and the emperor's favorite, Narcissus. Of the latter, Conybeare and Howson noted that:
There were two eminent persons by the name of Narcissus about this time; one being the well-known favorite of Claudius, who was put to death by Nero in 54 A.D. (four years before this letter was written). ... The other was a favorite of Nero, and is probably the person here named. Some of his slaves or freedmen had become Christians. This Narcissus was put to death by Galba. F23
We need not necessarily accept Conybeare and Howson's choice of which Narcissus was mentioned by Paul here, especially in view of the custom of the slaves' keeping their master's name, as a kind of family, even after his death and their transfer to others. Thus, Paul might still have addressed those persons as "the household of Narcissus," despite their being then the property of the emperor. Lightfoot, as quoted by Murray, thought it was the other Narcissus (favorite of Claudius) who was mentioned here. He justified this by adding:
Though deceased, his household would still go under his name as likewise the case of Aristobulus. F24
The sandwiching of the name of Herodian, Paul's kinsman, in between these two households made up principally, if not totally, of slaves, is further evidence that Herodian was a bondservant.
J. W. McGarvey was impressed with the writings of Lightfoot and others on this subject, making the following comment:
Lightfoot argues very plausibly that most of those here greeted by Paul were Nero's servants, once in Greece, especially Philippi, and now called in Rome, whence they later sent back greetings to Philippi (Philippians 4:22). An imperial burial ground at Rome bears names like most of these, and the parties there buried lived in Paul's day. F25
See more on this under Rom. 16:15.
Batey observed that the first two names are of twin sisters, described as
"Those workers in the Lord ..." Paul may wish by this description to point out that although their names were "Dainty" and "Delicate" - for this is what their Greek names mean they were like "iron butterflies" in their labors for Christ. F26
Batey's contrast of the strong work done by those ladies with the fragile names is similar to saying, "Look what a strong job old Weakly is doing!" Of course, nothing whatever is actually known of these three Christian ladies singled out for special greetings from Paul, since this is the only place they are mentioned in the New Testament.
Persis the beloved ...
All three names in this verse are feminine, but there are marked differences in the way Paul presented them, the present tense being used for the labor of the twins, and the past tense for the work of Persis. "The beloved" designates only Persis, not the twins; but the reason for such significant variations is not discernible. Murray thought that the past tense with reference to Persis might have meant that
age or infirmity had overtaken Persis and she was no longer active as she had been. F27
Who labor in the Lord ...
was translated by Barrett thus:
"Who labor in the Lord ..." means "who toil in the Lord," meaning to work as a Christian but not necessarily to do "Christian (that is, "church") work." F28
The distinction thus noted by Barrett is of the utmost importance; and the proper attention to it will prevent thinking of the various Christian ladies mentioned here as deaconesses, or, in any manner, formal official church employees. "Toiling in the Lord" is here used of persons who, in all probability, were slaves in the establishment of Nero; and their duties must be understood as having been arduous and nearly ceaseless, but their performance of every duty was in the spirit of being "unto the Lord"; and so their work was sanctified by their membership in the body of Christ. So it is with every person whose work, of whatever nature, is done in a spirit of loving submission to the will of God. Paul taught that all honorable employment engaged in by Christians was actually work being done "unto the Lord," a thought somewhat differently expressed by him, thus:
And whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:17).
Conybeare and Howson did not hesitate to identify this Rufus as the son of Simon of Cyrene who bore the Saviour's cross (Mark 15:21), and many agree with this; but Batey dismissed such an identification as "mere conjecture." F29 The probability persists, however, that this Rufus is the one mentioned by Mark; for, as Barrett noted,
He (Rufus) plays no part in Mark's story and must have been named only for identification. This means that he must have been known in the church (probably Rome) for which the second gospel was written. F30
Conybeare and Howson's comment is to the same effect, thus:
Mark (Mark 15:21) mentions Simon of Cyrene as "the father of Alexander and Rufus"; the latter, therefore, was a Christian well known to those for whom St. Mark wrote, and probably is the same here mentioned. It is gratifying to think that she whom St. Paul mentions here with such respectful affection, was the wife of that Simon who bore the Saviour's cross. F31
Chosen in the Lord ...
is not a reference to anything such as the doctrine of election, but simply means "one of God's choice men." Adam Clarke called attention to biblical expressions such as "choice gifts" (Deuteronomy 12:11) and "choice men" (Judges 22:16), and noted that:
By the same use of the word, the companions of Paul and Barnabas are termed "chosen men," persons in whom the church of God could confide. F32
His mother and mine ...
was very probably intended by Paul as a warm, personal, and respectful recognition of a gracious Christian woman who had treated him as a son and had aided and encouraged his marvelous work; but there is another possibility that cannot be omitted from consideration. When Paul became a Christian, it is possible that his own parents rejected him, and that he was adopted by the mother of Alexander and Rufus. The total absence from Paul's writings of any mention of his parents, and the known custom of the Jews of holding a funeral for apostates from Judaism (funerals of the living dead, in their view), and withal, Paul's plaintive cry:
For whom I have suffered the loss of all things ... that I might gain Christ (Philippians 3:8).
- all these things suggest a family crisis when Paul was converted to Christ. Then, there is also the problem of Paul's wife. The fact that he was married may be inferred from his apparent membership in the Sanhedrin; and, although no absolute certainty exists with reference to such considerations as these, there certainly exists the possibility that when Paul became a Christian, he was cast out by all of his immediate family, though not by all the kin (as evidenced in this chapter); and, in view of such possibility, there could well be more implied by this tender reference to Rufus' mother than merely a warm personal compliment.
These persons, all people, along with other Christians who were doubtless associated with them, formed some kind of a Christian community in Rome, perhaps another household congregation rotating their meeting places in the homes of those singled out for salutation, or a grouping in some geographical area of the great city, or other. One can only be amazed at the knowledge Paul had concerning the progress of Christianity in the Roman capital.
Here again, five more people are mentioned, although Nereus' sister's name is not given. Both men and women are included. Julia was usually a feminine name, and the bearer of it might well have been the wife of Philologus, though not likely his sister, in view of Paul's use of that word a moment later. This was another group of Christians in Rome; and the impression is received that here was another household congregation. Not many of the Christians of that day would have owned a house large enough to accommodate such a congregation regularly; and, therefore, it would have been quite logical for them to have taken turns, Sunday by Sunday, worshiping in the homes of various members with houses large enough or convenient enough to supply the need. Such a possibility is certainly suggested by the lack that there are only four or five Sundays per month, corresponding exactly with the four or five persons mentioned in each of these groups. Of course, Prisca and Aquila were able to provide a place in their home as a regular meeting place for all the services of their group, being obviously more able than most others to do such a thing (see under 16:3).
This roll of names, so sacred to the Christian religion, is here completed; and it is no mere list of dry syllables, for these are among God's redeemed ones from this earth. We do not know them, nor the distant world in which they lived; but it is our priceless privilege to know him in whom they lived and in whose service they lived and died. As Moule said:
The roll of names is over, with its music, that subtle characteristic of such recitations of human personalities, and with its moving charm for the heart due almost equally to our glimpses of information about one here and there and to our total ignorance about the others. F33
There is only one other place on earth, apart from the New Testament, where one finds a record of such names as these. It was described by Moule, thus:
A place of burial on the Appian way, devoted to the ashes of Imperial freemen and slaves, and other receptacles, all to be dated with practical certainty about the middle of the first century, yield the following names: AMPLIAS, URBANUS, STACHYS, APELLES, TRYPHAENA, TRYPHOSA, RUFUS, HERMAS, PHILOLOGUS, JULIUS, NEREIS (this last a name which might have denoted the sister of a man named NEREUS. F34
It is asking too much of the imagination to separate these names on the ashes of the dead from identity with the persons named by Paul in this astonishing chapter.
The salutation here is not that of Paul, as if he had said, "Kiss everyone for me," but the salutation of the members themselves for one another with a sacred kiss of Christian love. Such a kiss, upon the brow, or cheek, sometimes on both cheeks, or upon the hands, as in the Greek orthodox church until this day, was a common form of salutation in ancient times. It was brought over into Christianity by apostolic commandment and continued for many centuries, prevailing as custom in many places yet. The sacred kiss as an affectionate greeting conveyed an evidence of mutual love, respect, honor, and equality, and was evidently used by Christ and the apostles themselves, hence the odium that attached to Judas' use of such a greeting to betray the Son of God.
All the churches of Christ ...
refers to Christians wherever in that period of time, and especially to the congregations founded by the apostle Paul. Each community of believers was separately designated as a church of Christ, and all of them together were called collectively the churches of Christ.
This, and through Rom. 16:20, form an apostolic warning against false and divisive teachers whom Paul expected to trouble the unity and harmony of the church in Rome. Paul had evidently received remarkably full and accurate reports on what was happening in Rome, and there were many things for which he was no doubt thankful; but his experience had taught him that the crooked zeal of false teachers would eventually reach Rome, hence this powerful warning.
I beseech you ...
is like the plea in Rom. 12:1, and means "I beg of you, please."
Mark them ...
means "identify them," "watch out for them," and "be on your guard against them." Whiteside commented thus:
Do not shut your eyes to what they are doing, nor make excuses for them, nor for any others who cause divisions and occasions of stumbling contrary to the gospel, but turn away from them. This means that the brethren should have no fellowship with them. F35
Apparently, at the time Paul wrote, the leadership of the congregations in Rome had been able to preserve unity; and Paul's admonition here was given to strengthen their hands and warn them against heretical teachers already operating among the churches and sure to reach Rome in time.
The contrast here is between what the false teachers are and do on the one hand and what they pretend to be and claim on the other hand. Pretending to serve Christ, they serve themselves alone, "belly" as used here being a reference to all of the carnal and fleshly desires. They were able speakers, with a ready flow of eloquent words; and impressive rhetoric and oratory were their stock in trade. Their deceitfulness and wickedness were masked and guarded with every possible camouflage of pretended piety and devotion. Intent upon causing division as a means of drawing away disciples after themselves, these false teachers are Satan's attack forces (the shift to present tense is to focus on the problem as it still exists), not merely for the times and places known to Paul, but for all times and places, including the present now and here.
The innocent ...
is Paul's reference to the naive, unsophisticated Christian, who is inclined to receive any "good speech" as the gospel truth, no matter what sacred truth may be denied by it, and never pauses to question anything, especially if the speech is a good one, and who thus unconsciously falls into the net of the false teacher.
The threat of evil teachers and their seductive operations was pointed out by Christ himself (Matthew 7:15-23), and the Saviour's description of such persons is still the fountain source of the true knowledge concerning them. They are wolves in sheep's clothing, being recognizable principally by their fruits. The minister, or other teacher, who scatters the flock is a wolf, regardless of his pretensions. His sheepskin garb and pretended piety cannot disguise his true status as an enemy. Paul, of course, rejoiced that until the time then present, the Roman leadership had preserved harmony and unity among the Christians; but, by Paul's warning here, he prophetically alerted them to certain danger ahead. Paul was careful, in giving such an alert, not to insinuate that the false teachers had already arrived there, hence the first clause of this verse; but it would have been folly not to warn them.
Simple unto that which is evil ...
seems a little ambiguous as applied to Paul's argument here and has been explained in various ways; but its manifest reference to a desired reaction against the wiles of false teachers gives a clue to the false teacher's modus operandi, which was invariably grounded in a pretended superiority of knowledge and intelligence. Their views were always "advanced," allegedly, and were represented to be very learned and complicated, and thus contrasting dramatically with the great simplicities of the true religion of Christ. As Paul wrote:
But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and purity that is toward Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3).
The boldness of the false teacher is always evident in his blunt rejection of valid truth coupled with an arrogant charge of simple-mindedness against those who hold and believe it. Very well, Paul seemed to say in this place, I want you to stay simple with reference to the so-called erudition of the false teacher!
The following verse, with its reference to bruising Satan under their feet, dramatically recalls that scene in Eden where God foretold such a bruising, a thing also clearly in Paul's mind in the verse just cited, above, and in which primeval event there existed the same element of the false wisdom still being promised by Satan and his workers. Satan promised Eve that she should be "as God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5); but the unfortunate mother of all living would have been wiser to have remained simple to the wisdom Satan offered. This is the thrust of Paul's word here.
Those commentators who view this eschatologically and allege that Paul expected the end of the world shortly, miss the plain point of this verse. Murray was absolutely correct when he saw this as an allusion to Gen. 3:15. As he said:
"God of peace" in this place clearly has reference to God's maintaining peace in the church, because of its particular relevance to the bruising of Satan. The previous verses have in view the division caused by Satan's instruments. It is God who bruises Satan and establishes peace in contrast with conflict, discord, and division. He is therefore the God of peace. The assurance given in this verse is the encouragement to heed the admonitions. Each element is significant. God will crush Satan; he will crush him under the feet of the faithful; and he will do it speedily. The promise of a victorious issue undergirds the fight of faith. F36
Likewise, Hodge commented:
The apostle, in giving them the assurance of the effectual aid of God, calls him the God of peace. F37
Thus, the bruising of Satan is not something here promised for the remote future, but is a triumph over him to be won immediately and speedily by the Roman Christians who would have the effectual aid of God in maintaining the unity and peace of the Christians when they would be attacked by the false teachers. The entire thrust of this whole passage is not forward to the eternal judgment, but retrospective to Gen. 3:15.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you ...
is another of the numerous doxologies in Romans.
This and the next two verses contain the greetings sent by Paul's kinsfolk, his other fellow-workers, their host, and Paul's amanuensis, there being no less than eight of these. Timothy, of course, was usually with the apostle when circumstances permitted it, and a great affection existed between them. Two of Paul's epistles were addressed to him, and his name must be hailed as among the most illustrious in the Bible.
The last three names in this verse are those of Paul's kin, of whom practically nothing is known. Regarding these three, Greathouse thought:
Lucius may be the one mentioned in Acts 13:1. Jason was once Paul's host (Acts 17:5-9) in Thessalonica. "Sosipater" may be the longer form of "Sopater" mentioned in Acts 20:4. F38
The objection of some commentators to Paul's not mentioning all of his kinsfolk in the same sentence is nullified by the fact that these three were not in Rome, but in Corinth with Paul, and were joined with Paul in sending greetings to others, including three more of the kinsfolk, who were in Rome. If this elaboration of this point seems somewhat overdone, it is to refute the insinuations which fail to take this into account. For more on this, see under Rom. 16:7 and Rom. 16:11.
means "third", many Roman names having been formed from the ordinal numbers, such as Primus, Segundus, Tertius, Quartus, Quintus, Sextus, Septimus, Octavius, etc. This Tertius was Paul's amanuensis the person who transcribed Paul's dictation, that usually having been the manner of Paul's writing. He customarily wrote a few lines at the end of his epistles with his own hand as a kind of signature. However, Galatians was written entirely by himself as he said:
Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with my own hand (Galatians 6:11).
We are indebted to Hodge for this:
In order to authenticate his epistles, he generally wrote himself the salutation or benediction at the close; 1 Cor. 16:21, "The salutation of me, Paul, with mine own hand"; 2 Thess. 3:17, "The salutation of Paul with mine own hand; which is the token in every epistle: so I write." F39
Tertius was a Christian, and Paul honored him by asking that he write his own salutation to the brethren in Rome, which he did in these few words. Some have wondered at Tertius' greeting coming so far from the end of the letter; but such may be easily explained, either upon the probability that Paul wrote the rest of the: epistle himself with his own hand, or that there was a pause, or break, in the dictation at this point where the personal greetings were being included, before Paul proceeded to dictate the magnificent final doxology. Tertius' greeting belongs here where it was placed; and the custom of modern secretaries who type their initials at the very bottom of business letters does not reflect at all against the logic and appropriateness of the placement of Tertius' salutation.
This Gaius is doubtless that Gaius whom Paul baptized with his own hands (1 Corinthians 1:14), and in whose house he was a guest when Romans was written. Gaius appears here as a man of considerable means and great hospitality, being called a "host of the whole church." This could be understood to mean that his doors were continually open to Christians from many places, or that the congregation actually met in his house, as the church met in the house of Prisca and Aquila; and it could quite easily mean both these things. Gaius quite evidently requested Paul to include his greetings to the Roman Christians, some of whom, perhaps, had been partakers of his hospitality.
Erastus was the treasurer of the city of Corinth, being therefore a man of consequence and power in that metropolis. Not many of his station in life accepted and obeyed the gospel; but it is refreshing to know that Erastus was an exception. A person, or persons, bearing this name were mentioned in Acts 19:22 and 2 Tim. 4:20; but there is no certainty, either that those references are to the same person, or that either of them refers to the treasurer of Corinth.
Quartus the brother ...
is here mentioned alongside the treasurer of the city, and with the same dignity and tenderness. The community of love in Christ was actually operating under a whole new set of value judgments which counted all people, rich and poor, weak and powerful, wise and foolish, learned or unlearned, bond or free, Jews or Gentile - all people one in Jesus Christ.
Rom. 16:24 is the same as Rom. 16:20b. Its inclusion in both places in some manuscripts is thought by scholars to have been accidental. In any case, there is no reason to suppose that it actually belongs in both places, nor can it be a matter of great consequence which place is the best one for it.
My gospel ...
must not be understood as anything different from the gospel taught by the other apostles of Christ, with special reference to the great body of truth upon which Christianity is founded; nevertheless, as John Locke noted:
St. Paul cannot be supposed to have used such an expression as this, unless he knew that what he preached had something in it that distinguished it from what was preached by others; which was plainly the MYSTERY, as he everywhere calls it, of God's purpose of taking in the Gentiles to be his people, under the Messiah, and that without subjecting them to circumcision or the law of Moses. F40
in the scriptural frame of reference means a great truth, hidden and unknown for a long while, and at last revealed. Locke's identification of the mystery with God's calling the Gentiles and their acceptance without such things as law and circumcision is correct, but too limited in scope. The great mystery comprehends many lesser ones such as the calling of Gentiles, the hardening of Israel, the incarnation, the mystery of Christ and his church, and many others. The translation of those who remain alive at the second coming of Christ is part of the mystery. A work such as this does not permit the full exploration of the Great Mystery, which in its totality embraces the whole purpose of God in the scheme of human redemption. That the mystery was hidden before times eternal, as stated here, shows that all of the details of God's great plan were clearly defined in God's eternal purpose before the world itself was created. To sum it up in Paul's own precise word:
Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16)!
Through times eternal ...
cannot mean merely "through history" or "through the ages"; as Wuest declared:
The expression refers to the eternal ages before creation. F41
But is now manifested ...
means that the mystery has been revealed, at least to a far more comprehensive degree than formerly; but it would doubtless be a mistake to conclude that the revelation of it is total, even now. Paul himself said of this mystery that it
in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles, etc. (Ephesians 3:5).
Paul's statement there merely affirms that present knowledge far surpasses former knowledge, the words "as it hath now been revealed" meaning "to the extent that it has now been revealed," and being in no sense a declaration that "all" is known about it, even now. Supporting this are the words of the apostle John:
In the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, then is finished the mystery of God, according to the good tidings which he declared to his servants the prophets (Revelation 10:7).
These thoughts are not presented as any disparagement of God's great revelation already received, but are merely to point out that the mystery witl be finished at a time future.
By the scriptures of the prophets ...
shows that the mystery was embryonically revealed in the prophetic messages of the Old Testament (as, for example, in the matter of the calling of the Gentiles); but the complete understanding of those oracles did not arrive until the Saviour appeared upon earth. Paul, it seems, was the very first to realize and comprehend fully the totally new nature of the church and the abrogation that fell automatically upon the entire old institution; and yet that truth was surely there, embedded in the Old Testament through long centuries, despite the fact that the Jews seemed never to have had the slightest suspicion of it.
The commandment of the eternal God ...
is Paul's appeal to the authority of God himself, as the complete justification of his opening the doors of salvation to the entire Gentile world.
Unto all the nations ...
refers especially to Gentile nations, but also means "all" in the total sense of that word, no exclusion of any kind of Jews or of anyone else, being in it. Of the greatest significance is the placement of these words in the text in such a manner as to serve as Paul's own definition of what the mystery is. These words show that the mystery included preeminently the preaching of salvation to all nations.
Unto obedience of faith ...
The mystery was definitely not a brand new way to be saved by faith only, as some think; but, by Paul's definition here, it included the preaching "unto obedience of faith." This expression, "the obedience of faith," standing here at the close of the epistle, is the same as that with which Paul opened this magnificent treatise (Romans 1:5). Together, these two dramatically placed enunciations, like great arches at opposite ends of a boulevard, make it impossible to misunderstand Paul's many references to salvation "by faith." It is invariably and always of an obedient faith that he spoke. Without a single exception, in all of the great passages where the apostle spoke of "faith apart from works," or "faith without the works of the law of Moses," or "faith without circumcision," etc., the purpose of his words was not to question if obedience was required, but to determine what obedience was required. Paul made this principle:
THE OBEDIENCE OF FAITH
to be an underlying foundation of everything taught in this epistle; and Paul did so by the double placement of these words, like the two mighty pillars, the Jachin and Boaz, in the porch of the temple of Solomon, so that all who enter the study of Romans might more readily discern what is taught.
"To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.