Personal Greetings, 1-27
16:1 Now I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea, 16:2 so that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and provide her with whatever help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many, including me.
This list of greetings is unusually long. It seems that Paul, having neither founded nor visited the church in Rome, felt the need to underline his personal contacts with them.
Of the 27 individuals named, no less than 10 are women.
‘The names of those mentioned in Romans 16 suggest that many had been slaves. Andronicus and Urbanus were exclusively slave names in the literature and inscriptions of Paul’s day. Moreover, the references to the households of Aristobolus and Narcissus would almost certainly include slaves, probably in large numbers. They were both very wealthy men with powerful political connections.’ (DPL)
Stott sees ample evidence of both diversity and unity in this list of greetings. Regarding the latter, he writes: ‘It is of course a fact that people like to worship with their own kith and kin, and with their own kind, as experts in church growth remind us; and it may be necessary to acquiesce in different congregations according to language, which is the most formidable barrier of all. But heterogeneity is of the essence of the church, since it is the one and only community in the world in which Christ has broken down all dividing walls. The vision we have been given of the church triumphant is of a company drawn from ‘every nation, tribe, people and language’, who are all singing God’s praises in unison. So we must declare that a homogeneous church is a defective church, which must work penitently and perseveringly towards heterogeneity.’
Phoebe – Probably mentioned first because it is she who is to bring Paul’s letter to the Romans.
She is described as a servant of the church in Cenchrea. She was a ‘deacon’, a title which Paul applies to himself and Apollos (1 Cor 3:5), and also to Tychius, Epaphras, and Timothy (Eph 6:21; Col 4:7; 1:7; 1 Thess 3:2; 1 Tim 4:6). According to Kevin Giles, it is a title which marks a person (male or female) out as a ‘church leader’ (What the Bible Actually Teaches on Women).
Dunn says that ‘“servant” is inadequate. διάκονος together with οὖσα points more to a recognized ministry (“minister”—Maillot) or position of responsibility within the congregation…Phoebe is the first recorded “deacon” in the history of Christianity. At the same time it would be premature to speak of an established office of diaconate, as though a role of responsibility and authority, with properly appointed succession, had already been agreed upon in the Pauline churches…In this case, with Cenchreae a port city (the eastern port of Corinth—Strabo, 8.6.22; Philo, Flacc. 155), a ministry of hospitality would be very likely (see also 16:2—προστάτις). It is significant that one of the earliest of the diverse roles within the Christian churches (cf. 12:3–8) to begin to gain a more formal status was that of “servant.”’
She has been a great help to many, including me – Dunn insists that the word prostatis being it full weight: she was not merely a helper, but a patron.
Giles adds that, in addition, ‘Phoebe is designated a prostatis. This is the only time this noun is used in the New Testament. Literally the word means “to stand before.” It speaks of someone in a leadership position. Verbal forms of this word are frequently used by Paul to designate church leaders. Shortly before in Romans 12:28, he speaks of “those in leadership (ho proistamenous). The noun in extra-biblical literature is often used of presidents of associations. The word in this context, may, however, mean “patron.” A patron was someone of some social standing who aided others by providing such things as housing, financial support, and by representing their interests before local authorities. Patrons were prominent and well-to-do citizens, and they could be women. Many synagogues had patrons, a few women. The best conjecture is that Phoebe was a house-church leader and as such was seen as the patron of the Christians that met in her home.’
There has been some debate about whether or not Phoebe, in being described as ‘a deacon of the church’ occupied some sort of formal role.
Origen: ‘This passage teaches that there were women ordained in the church’s ministry by the apostle’s authority.… Not only that—they ought to be ordained into the ministry, because they helped in many ways and by their good services deserved the praise even of the apostle.’ (ACCS)
Pelagius: ‘Even today, women deaconesses in the East are known to minister to their own sex in baptism or even in the ministry of the Word, for we find that women taught privately, e.g., Priscilla, whose husband was called Aquila.’ (ACCS)
Dunn concludes: ‘Paul’s readers were unlikely to think of Phoebe as other than a figure of significance, whose wealth or influence had been put at the disposal of the church in Cenchreae.’
16:3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 16:4 who risked their own necks for my life. Not only I, but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. 16:5 Also greet the church in their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. 16:6 Greet Mary, who has worked very hard for you. 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my compatriots and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. 16:8 Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord. 16:9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my good friend Stachys. 16:10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. 16:11 Greet Herodion, my compatriot. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. 16:12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, laborers in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 16:13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother who was also a mother to me. 16:14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters with them. 16:15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the believers who are with them. 16:16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
‘In Paul’s following greetings, (Rom 16:3-16) he lists about twice as many men as women, but commends more than twice as many women as men. This may indicate his sensitivity to the opposition women undoubtedly faced for their ministry in some quarters.’ (DPL)
Prisca and Aquila – ‘What does Paul mean when he says that he does not permit a woman to teach? He means to prevent a woman from coming forward publicly and preaching in the pulpit; he does not stop them from teaching altogether. If this were the case … how would Priscilla have come to instruct Apollos?…’ (Chrysostom, ACCS)
Mary, who has worked very hard for you – Giles insists that the word translated ‘worked very hard’ (kopiaō, also applied to Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis in v16) is consistently used by Paul to refer to, or to imply faithful teaching and preaching (1 Cor 15:10; 1 Thess 5:12; 1 Tim 5:17). He concludes that was precisely the kind of work these good women were engaged in. He quotes Hermann Ridderbos as saying that this word ‘specifically denotes work in the Gospel and in the church.’
‘In direct opposition to what Paul’s terminology indicates, the Köstenbergers conclude these women were involved in “a variety of good works, which are the hallmark of committed, mature, pious women in the first century.” This “interpretation” of what Paul says about these three women has no basis in the text of Scripture and indeed it seems to run counter to what Paul actually says.’
It seems to me that, not for the first time, Giles has overstated his own case, and misrepresented the case of others.
On κοπιάω, Barrett comments:
‘The present verse suggests the meaning, ‘to take part in Christian work’, and this is confirmed by Paul’s usage in general, for example, 1 Cor. 15:10.’
If this esteemed scholar is correct, then Giles is quite wrong to pit his view against that of the Kostenbergers, and to pit their view against that of the apostle.
Dunn offers a nuanced explanation of the kind of ‘hard work’ Mary and the others were engaged with:
‘κοπιάω denotes hard work, “toil, strive, struggle” (BGD), without being more specific. Paul refers to his own apostolic labors in these terms (1 Cor 15:10; Gal 4:11; Phil 2:16; Col 1:29; see also 1 Tim 4:10; and cf. 1 Cor 4:12 and Eph 4:28). But he also uses the word as a special commendation of others, as here (16:12; 1 Cor 16:16; 1 Thess 5:12). In these cases it still does not denote specific tasks or tasks formally given, but rather tasks voluntarily undertaken at their own initiative—that is, denoting a sensitivity to needs within a new congregation and willingness to expend energy and time in meeting them (cf. the Roman inscription CIG 9592, cited by Deissmann, Light, 313). Thus it does not denote a leadership function as such (cf. 1 Thess 5:17).’
True, Dunn sees in their ‘hard work’ some significance for the ’emerging roles of leadership within the infant Christian communities’. But that is to look to the future, rather than to the meaning of the text as penned by Paul.
Osborne (IVPNTC) comments:
‘The term work does not indicate any specific task (some have tried to read it as a semitechnical term for apostolic ministry as in 1 Cor 15:10 and others) but means that she labored mightily on behalf of the Roman church. Still, she is the first to be noted by Paul in this way (see also v. 12), so she did play an important role in the life of the church there.’
In context, the quotation from the Kostenbergers certainly includes the kind of gospel work that Ridderbos mentions. They write:
‘Hard work may imply a variety of good works, which were a hallmark of committed, mature, pious women in the first century. Mary, Tryphaena and Tryphosa, and Persis all serve as examples of women who worked hard in the ministry. Sometimes we forget that ministry is hard work. Being involved in ministry may not always be convenient, but it may benefit those who need to hear the gospel or to have a critical need met.’
Certainly Ridderbos regards the ‘hard work’ of Mary and the other women as entirely compatible with a Pauline doctrine of male leadership. He writes:
‘On the one hand the woman shares fully in the salvation given in Christ, and there is complete equality between man and woman in that respect . . . on the other hand, fellowship in Christ does not remove the natural distinction between man and woman, and a man’s position of leadership with regard to woman.’ (Paul: An Outline of His Theology, p460)
Andronicus and Junia – There is uncertainty about the gender of the second-named.
Among other things, this pair are described by Paul as his ‘compatriots’ and as having been ‘in Christ’ before him. According to Robert M. Price (in agreement with Anthony J. Blasi) this makes them members of Paul’s own family. And ‘the fact that Paul came from a family that had produced Christian apostles before him tends rather drastically to undermine the story (occurring only in interpolations and pseudepigrapha anyway) of his miraculous conversion from being a Jewish persecutor of Christians.’ But ‘compatriots’ means that they were fellow-Jews with Paul, not that they and he were members of the same family. Hunter (ISBE, 2nd ed.) notes that ‘because Prisca and Aquila, a Jewess and Jew, are not designated as kinsfolk, W. J. Conybeare and J. S. Howson (Life and Epistles of St. Paul [rev ed 1856], p 535) suppose “the epithet to denote that the persons mentioned were of the tribe of Benjamin.”’
v9 See Acts 20:35 n
Rufus – A fairly common name. Nevertheless, many commentators (including Cranfield, Dunn and Moo) think that this may well be the Rufus who was one of the sons of Simon of Cyrene. Moo notes: ‘Mark identifies Simon as “the father of Alexander and Rufus” (Mark 15:21), perhaps to connect him with two well-known Christians in Rome, from where Mark is probably written.’
The churches of Christ – ‘The Churches of Christ (COC) sect takes its name from this verse, making the claim that the true church will also have the correct scriptural name. Christ said, “I will build My church” (Mt 16:18). The COC argues that since it is Christ’s church, it should be called the Church of Christ. Different verses, however, point to other likely names, such as “church of God” (1 Cor 10:32; Gal 1:13) and “assembly of the firstborn” (Heb 12:23). Nowhere does God’s Word prescribe that a church should have a specific name.’ (Apologetics Study Bible)
16:17 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them! 16:18 For these are the kind who do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By their smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of the naive. 16:19 Your obedience is known to all and thus I rejoice over you. But I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil. 16:20 The God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
Smooth talk – A chrestologos, to the Greeks, was ‘”a man who speaks well and who acts ill.” He is the kind of man who, behind a facade of pious words, is a bad influence, who leads astray, not by direct attack, but by subtlety, who pretends to serve Christ, but in reality is destroying the faith.’ (DSB)
The God of peace – ‘a God at peace with us, speaking peace to us, working peace in us, creating peace for us.’ (MHC)
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet – An allusion to Gen 3:15. See also Psa 91:13.
The expression means that God ‘will throw him under your feet, that you may trample upon him’ (Sanday & Headlam)
At the parousia… Many interpreters (including Hendriksen, Cranfield, Dunn, Moo) understand this is referring to the eschatological victory of Satan. Paul’s meaning here should, accordingly, be understood in the light of his ‘already/not yet’ theology. On the cross Christ has already won the decisive victory over Satan. But we still look forward to the final victory. ‘That this will happen ‘soon’ is not necessarily a time reference, but rather a statement that God has planned nothing to occupy the space between the ascension and the parousia. The parousia is the very next event on his calendar. Meanwhile, the Romans should expect regular interim victories over Satan, partial crushings of him under their feet.’ (Stott)
…or now…? Morris, however, says that ‘nothing in the context indicates that Paul is looking to the parousia, and it is better to see the promise of a victory over Satan in the here and now.’ Kruse, similarly, thinks that ‘Paul probably means that if the Roman believers watch out for and keep away from those who cause divisions (Rom 16:17), then God will crush Satan under their feet, that is, confound Satan’s designs to lead them astray.’
…or both now and at the parousia? Matthew Henry states that the promise of Gen 3:15 ‘is in the fulfilling every day, while the saints are enabled to resist and overcome the temptations of Satan, and will be perfectly fulfilled when, in spite of all the powers of darkness, all that belong to the election of grace shall be brought triumphantly to glory.’ And Stott thinks that although the final victory will take place at the parousia, ‘the Romans should expect regular interim victories over Satan, partial crushings of him under their feet.’
‘The peace of God is the peace of action and of victory. There is a kind of peace which can be had at the cost of evading all issues and refusing all decisions, a peace which comes of lethargic inactivity. The Christian must ever remember that the peace of God is not the peace which has submitted to the world, but the peace which has overcome the world.’ (DSB)
This promise has both a narrow and a wide application. ‘Though the apostle here styles Him who is thus to bruise Satan, the God of peace,” with special reference to the “divisions” (Ro 16:17) by which the church at Rome was in danger of being disturbed, this sublime appellation of God has here a wider sense, pointing to the whole “purpose for which the Son of God was manifested, to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn 3:8); and indeed this assurance is but a reproduction of the first great promise, that the Seed of the woman should bruise the Serpent’s head (Ge 3:15).’ (JFB)
How God trains us for victory. ‘To defeat his malignant efforts, God increases the strength of his people, and gives them a deeper insight into the devices of their enemy. He clothes them with divine armour, and teaches them how to use the sword of the Spirit, and the shield of faith [Eph 6:13-17.]. By exercise he renders them expert soldiers, and enables them to “war a good warfare.” Instead of exposing themselves needlessly to danger, they are now taught to “watch and be sober;” instead of indulging a vain conceit of their own purity and strength, they are led to suspect the treachery of their own hearts, and to depend more simply on the grace of Christ. Thus they learn to fight a good fight; and, though sometimes wounded by his fiery darts, they “resist their enemy till he flees from them [Jam 4:7.].”]’ (Charles Simeon)
Satan damages his own cause while furthering God’s. ‘Mark…how a mightier hand guides his blows to wound himself. Satan’s kingdom is made to totter under Satan’s assaults. He brought in sin, and so the door flew open for the Gospel. He persecutes the early converts; and the truth spreads rapidly abroad throughout the world. He casts Paul into the dungeon of Philippi: and the jailor believes with all his house. He sends him a prisoner to Rome, and epistles gain wings to teach and comfort all the ages of the Church.’ (Henry Law, The Gospel in Genesis, p45).
Look to the Cross. ‘[Satan] may terrify you with roarings, as of a lion; shew him the wounds of the Lamb, and he is gone. He may stand as your accuser at the judgement seat; but if you are washed in the blood of Jesus, he can find no mark in you, by which to claim you as his own.’ (Law, The Gospel in Genesis, p45).
16:21 Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my compatriots. 16:22 I, Tertius, who am writing this letter, greet you in the Lord. 16:23 Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus the city treasurer and our brother Quartus greet you.
I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter – ‘Independent evidence attests how common it was for writers to use ‘amanuenses’, trained scribes who did the actual writing at their dictation. Doubtless many amanuenses were slaves hired to help a scarcely literate master in business and correspondence; others worked as free agents for their wages. Rom 16:22 shows how Tertius was the amanuensis who ‘wrote down’ what Paul dictated in that letter. It was common for those doing the dictation to attest the authenticity of the finished product by adding final greetings in their own hand; certainly that was Paul’s practice. (Gal 6:11; 2 Thess 3:17) The inference is that he dictated all his letters, and perhaps other NT writers did the same.’ (NBC)
Erastus – ‘During the excavations of Corinth in 1929, a pavement was found inscribed: “Erastus, curator of public buildings, laid this pavement at his own expense.” According to Bruce, the pavement quite likely existed in the first century AD and the donor and the man Paul mentions are probably one and the same.’ (McDowell, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, 72)
This verse (’The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you’, a repetition from v20) is not printed in English editions, as it is regarded as a later addition to the text of the letter.
16:25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that had been kept secret for long ages, 16:26 but now is disclosed, and through the prophetic scriptures has been made known to all the nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith—16:27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be glory forever! Amen.
‘Most modern commentators regard the doxology in vs 25-27 as a later addition to the letter. But there is nothing unPauline in its vocabulary and ideas, it has solid external support in the early manuscripts and its varied placement (at the end of ch. 14 or ch. 15) could have arisen from the movement of the original Pauline conclusion when the letter was shortened.’ (NBC)
The proclamation of Jesus Christ – Could be taken as a subjective genitive (‘the proclamation made by Jesus Christ’). If this latter is the correct meaning, we have here an allusion to the historical Jesus. But it is usually understood as an objective genitive (‘the proclamation about Jesus Christ’). So Morris, Osborne, Dunn, Moo, and many others.
‘The gospel is a mystery, i.e., a system of truth beyond the power of the human mind to discover, which God has revealed for our faith and obedience. It was formed from eternity in the divine mind, revealed by the prophets and apostles, and the preaching of Jesus Christ; and is, by the command of God, to be made known to all nations, Rom 16:25,26…God alone is wise. He charges his angels with folly; and the wisdom of men is foolishness with him. To God, therefore, the profoundest reverence and the most implicit submission are due. Men should not presume to call in question what he has revealed, or consider themselves competent to sit in judgment on the truth of his declarations or the wisdom of his plans. To God only wise, be glory, through Jesus Christ, forever. Amen.’ Charles Hodge
Long ages past translates ‘aioniois chronois‘.
Believe and obey – lit. ‘obedience of faith’, cf. Rom 1:5. Faith is an ‘obediential grace’. ‘Faith melts our will into God’s. It runs at God’s call. If God commands duty (though cross to flesh and blood) faith obeys. ‘By faith Abraham obeyed.’ Heb 11:8. Faith is not an idle grace; as it has an eye to see Christ, so it has a hand to work for him. It not only believes God’s promise, but obeys his command. It is not having knowledge that will evidence you to be believers; the devil has knowledge, but wants obedience, and that makes him a devil. The true obedience of faith is a cheerful obedience. God’s commands do not seem grievous. Have you obedience, and obey cheerfully? Do you look upon God’s command as your burden, or privilege; as an iron fetter about your leg, or as a gold chain about your neck.’ (Thomas Watson)