The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Romans 16

Rom 16:1

Rom 16: "This last chapter is very letter-like in its spontaneous arrangement of material. Paul evidently related matters as they occurred to him. He named 35 persons in this chapter. Nine of these people were with Paul, and the rest were in Rome. He identified 17 men and seven women. In addition he referred to at least two households (vv 10,11) and three house churches (vv 5,14,15) plus some other unnamed brethren (v 14) and two other women (vv 13,15). Most of the names are Gentile, reflecting the mainly Gentile population of the church in Rome, and most are those of slaves and freedmen and freedwomen. (There is, in fact, almost a complete lack of Semitic names -- Mary in v 6 is an exception. However, there is more than a little evidence from papyri and inscriptions which indicates that both in the diaspora as well as in Palestine, the changing of personal names was a common practice. The Jews acquired not only Greek, but Latin and Egyptian names as well. Paul's relatives (vv 7,11) were of course Jews, but do not bear Jewish names.)

"This sixteenth chapter is neglected by many to their own loss. It is by far the most extensive, intimate and particular of all the words of loving greeting in Paul's marvelous letters. No one can afford to miss this wonderful outpouring of the heart of our apostle toward the saints whom he so loved -- which means all the real Church of God!" (Const).

Vv 1,2: "Phoebe" means "bright" or "radiant", a well-known epithet of the Greek god Apollo. Phoebe was evidently the woman who carried this letter from Corinth to Rome. She was a "servant" (Gr "diakonon") of the church in her hometown, Cenchrea, the port of Corinth (Acts 18:18; 2Co 1:1). It is unclear whether Phoebe held "office" as a deaconess or whether she was simply an informal servant of the church. Paul stressed her service, not her office. She was his sister in the Lord as seems clear from his referring to her as "our" sister. Letters of commendation were common in Paul's day (cp 2Co 3:1).

Notice that the ministry of women in the Roman church is quite evident in this chapter. Paul referred to nine prominent women: Phoebe, Prisca, Mary, Tryphena, Thyphosa, Persis, Rufus' mother, Julia, and Nereus' sister.

PHOEBE: "This implies a prominent, active position on the part of the sister in question. He further distinguishes her by making her the bearer of the epistle to the Romans of which, for a time, she was the sole custodian. He entreats the whole Roman ecclesia on her behalf, saying of her that 'she hath been a succourer of many, and of me also' (v 2)" (RR).

Rom 16:2

SHE HAS BEEN A GREAT HELP TO MANY PEOPLE: As Paul advocated, and exemplified: Rom 12:8,13; Heb 13:2.

INCLUDING ME: Women so helped Jesus also: Luk 8:2,3.

Rom 16:3

PRISCILLA AND AQUILA: Paul met Prisca (Priscilla) and her husband Aquila in Corinth (Acts 18:2). When he left for Ephesus, he took them with him (Acts 18:18). He left them in Ephesus when he moved on to Jerusalem (Acts 18:19). In Ephesus they helped Apollos (Acts 18:24-28). Later they returned to Rome where they had lived previously (Acts 18:2). Later still they returned to Ephesus (2Ti 4:19).

Rom 16:4

THEY RISKED THEIR LIVES FOR ME: Probably during the dangerous riot that broke out in Ephesus, endangering the apostle's life (Acts 19:28-31; cf 1Co 16:9, 2Co 1:8-10). Their presence with him at Ephesus just prior to this incident is confirmed by 1Co 16:19).

Rom 16:5

THE CHURCH THAT MEETS AT THEIR HOUSE: Churches normally met in houses at this time (cp v 23; 1Co 16:19); Col 4:15; Phm 1:2).

EPENETUS: Sig "praiseworthy". It is understandable that Paul should speak of him as "my dear friend" (literally, "my beloved"), since this man was the first convert to Christ in connection with the mission to the province of Asia, of which Ephesus was the leading city. Actually Paul calls him the firstfruits of that area, which hints that many more were expected to follow as the full harvest, and this indeed came to pass. This individual, however, naturally held a special place in the heart of the missionary.

THE PROVINCE OF ASIA: "Asia" was the Roman province of Asia -- or "Asia Minor" -- of which Ephesus was the capital.

Rom 16:6

MARY: Mary (Miriam) is a Semitic name borne by several women in the NT. Paul indicates his precise knowledge of her, testifying to her hard work for the saints, but without any hint as to the nature of the work. Emphasis falls rather on her willingness to grow weary in serving them.

Rom 16:7

ANDRONICUS AND JUNIAS: Latin and Greek names respectively. Junias (or Junia) was probably the wife of Andronicus (cf vv 3,15).

MY RELATIVES: The term "kinsmen" or "relatives" (cp vv 11,21) seems to refer to blood relatives of Paul who were probably fellow Jews (cp Phi 3:7) -- although this cannot be certain: all Jews might speak of themselves as "relatives", or again all members of the same tribe, as Benjamites, might so describe themselves.

WHO HAVE BEEN IN PRISON WITH ME: See Lesson, Paul in prison.

The aspects of fellowship: fellow-heirs (Eph 3:6); fellow-soldiers (Phi 2:25); fellow-helpers (3Jo 1:8); fellow-workers (Col 4:11); fellow-servants (Rev 6:11); fellow-prisoners (Rom 16:7); fellow-laborers (Phi 4:3); fellow-citizens (Eph 2:19).

AMONG THE APOSTLES: Here, this term must have the general sense of representatives (traveling missionaries) rather than being a technical reference to one of the 13 apostles (cf Acts 14:4,14; 2Co 8:23; 1Th 2:7; Phi 2:25).

Another possibility: "among" is Gr "en"; this might mean: they were notable in ("en") THE ESTIMATION OF the apostles.

Rom 16:8

AMPLIATUS, WHOM I LOVE IN THE LORD: A Latin name, sig "enlarged". Again, as in the mention of Epaenetus (v 5), Paul confesses to a very warm personal attachment, demonstrating the reality and depth of Christian friendship that developed between him and others who remain rather obscure to us. Paul was a man who gave himself to the people among whom he served and to those who worked alongside him.

Rom 16:9

URBANUS, OUR FELLOW WORKER: Another Latin name, meaning "refined", or "elegant." Paul seems to indicate that this man helped him at some time in the past and that he assisted others also in the work of the Lord.

STACHYS: Which sig "ear of grain": was he a farmer?

Rom 16:10

APELLES: Sig "separate".

TESTED AND APPROVED: As metal is tested in the smelting fire, and purified! Had he come through some severe persecution with faith intact?

THOSE WHO BELONG TO THE HOUSEHOLD OF ARISTOBULUS: "Aristobulus" sig "great counselor" -- which sounds like a government official. Those of his household were probably his slaves. Since Paul did not greet Aristobulus himself, this man may have been an unbeliever, or may have died by this time.

"Lightfoot identified Aristobulus as the grandson of Herod the Great, who lived in Rome and apparently died there. If this is correct, Aristobulus was either not a believer or had died before Paul wrote, since he is not personally greeted. Those addressed would then be his slaves and employees who had become Christians. On the other hand, if this identification is incorrect, we must think of an otherwise unknown figure whose family is mentioned here. The former alternative is somewhat favored by the fact that the next person to be greeted (v 11) is Herodion, a name suggestive of association with, or admiration for, the family of Herod. Even though no actual relationship may have existed, the placing of the two names with Herodian association so close together may support Lightfoot's thesis" (EBC).

Rom 16:11

HERODION, MY RELATIVE: Here "relative" may simply mean "a Jew", or perhaps "a Benjamite".

THE HOUSEHOLD OF NARCISSUS: "Here, as in the case of Aristobulus, the expression seems to point to some famous person of the name. And the powerful freedman Narcissus, whose wealth was proverbial... whose influence with Claudius was unbounded, and who bore a chief part in the intrigues of this reign, alone satisfies this condition... As was usual in such cases, his household would most probably pass into the hands of the emperor, still however retaining the name of Narcissus" (Lightfoot, cited in EBC).

WHO ARE IN THE LORD: Modifying the previous phrase, this indicates a divided household: some giving allegiance to Christ and others not doing so.

Rom 16:12

TRYPHENA AND TRYPHOSA, THOSE WOMEN WHO WORK HARD IN THE LORD: Similar in name, these two were likely sisters. It was not uncommon then, as now, to give daughters names with a certain resemblance (eg, Jean and Joan). Possibly they belonged to an aristocratic family, since "dainty" and "delicate" (or "luxuriating"), as their names mean, would seem to fit this category. If so, their Christian convictions led them to put aside any tendency to live a life of ease. They are given an accolade for being hard workers in the Lord's cause.

PERSIS: Her name simply means "a Persian lady".

Rom 16:13

RUFUS: Possibly the son of Simon the Cyrenian (Mar 15:21). "Clement of Alexandria, who lived about the end of the second century, declares, that Mark wrote this Gospel on Peter's authority at Rome. Jerome, who lived in the fourth century, says, that Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, being requested by his brethren at Rome, wrote a short Gospel.

"Now this circumstance may account for his designating Simon as the father of Rufus at least; for we find that a disciple of that name, and of considerable note, was resident at Rome, when Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans. 'Salute Rufus,' says he, 'chosen in the Lord' [Rom 16:13]. Thus, by mentioning a man living upon the spot where he was writing, and amongst the people whom he addressed, Mark was giving a reference for the truth of his narrative, which must have been accessible and satisfactory to all; since Rufus could not have failed knowing the particulars of the Crucifixion (the great event to which the Christians looked), when his father had been so intimately concerned in it as to have been the reluctant bearer of the cross.

"Of course, the force of this argument depends on the identity of the Rufus of Mark and the Rufus of Paul, which I have no means of proving; but admitting it to be probable that they were the same persons (which, I think, may be admitted, for Paul, we see, expressly speaks of a distinguished disciple of the name of Rufus at Rome, and Mark, writing for the Romans, mentions Rufus, the son of Simon, as well known to them) -- admitting this, the coincidence is striking, and serves to account for what otherwise seems a piece of purely gratuitous and needless information offered by Mark to his readers, namely, that Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus; a fact omitted by the other Evangelists, and apparently turned to no advantage by himself" (USC 4:19).

WHO HAS BEEN A MOTHER TO ME, TOO: Paul had "mothers" in the Truth! (Mat 12:49,50; Mar 3:35; 1Ti 5:12). Perhaps this special woman perceived his unique loss upon becoming a follower of Christ (Phi 3:8), and attempted to minister to him in what he was now lacking: a warm and loving family.

Let Christian mothers find here a great field for that wonderful heart of instinctive loving care given by God to mothers -- that they extend their maternal care beyond their own family circle, to all believers, and especially to all laborers for Christ. The Lord will remember it at His coming!

Rom 16:14

Vv 14,15: Here two groups of believers are mentioned without accompanying descriptions or commendations. Apparently Paul's ties with them were less strong than his ties with those previously mentioned.

In connection with both groups, a greeting is extended to the believers associated with them. This appears to indicate a ecclesia in the house in both cases. Rome was a large place, making it probable that there were circles of believers in several sections of the city. They would certainly maintain communication and, when necessity dictated, could arrange to meet together.

Rom 16:16

HOLY KISS: Intended in this case to seal the fellowship of the saints when the letter has been read to them (1Co 16:20; 2Co 13:12; 1Th 5:26). The reminder that it is a "holy" kiss guards it against erotic associations. It was a token of the love of Christ mutually shared and of the peace and harmony he had brought into their lives.

"Paul is concluding a letter in which he expressly mentions a large number of brethren and sisters, and therefore it is clear that the kisses were to be as impartially bestowed as is handshaking today; but our experience is that those who in our day would introduce kissing have a partiality for the opposite sex, which fact arouses suspicion that the desire is connected with the flesh and not with the spirit, although the would-be kissers may not be conscious of the fact... Paul was simply enjoining that the custom should be performed in a 'holy' manner, and not issuing a command that kissing must be performed... Brethren who show a proneness to kiss simply on the plea of being brethren should be given a wide berth by the sisters" (FGJ).

Rom 16:17

Vv 17-20: Paul concludes his letter to the Roman ecclesia by warning the brethren against the danger of false teachers. Almost every phrase in this section is an obvious allusion to the Genesis record of the serpent and the woman's seed: The serpent subtly cast doubt on God's Word and taught contrary to it. The false teachers of Paul's day (probably Judaizing Christians) were the serpent's "seed" (cp Mat 3:7; 12:34; 23:33). After the example of their "father" they professed a superior knowledge and thus were able to lead away the simple (2Co 11:13-15).

The influence of this particular "Satan" was drastically reduced by the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD. But the final bruising of "Satan" in all his aspects must of course be the work of the glorified Christ at his second coming.

"There are divisions that are uncalled for, and therefore sinful. Paul refers to such (here). He was referring, no doubt, to the factions arising out of personal preferences, but the warning applies to all divisions that ought not be made... It is possible to go too far in our demands upon fellow-believers. How far we ought to go and where to stop, is at one time or other a perplexing problem to most earnest minds" (RR, Xd 35:182).

The first thing we learn from this passage is that "divisions" are not always good! Perhaps this is a point not worth laboring for most, but it is a sad fact that some brethren look upon divisions as desirable courses of action in almost every circumstance. Their cries of 'first pure, then peaceable' are heard far and wide as they proceed, time after time, to tear apart the flock of God. Division and subdivision reaches its ultimate in families meeting in homes, or even fragments of families in separate rooms of the same house.

WATCH OUT FOR THOSE WHO CAUSE DIVISIONS: "Divisions" = Gr "dichostasia", and may sig dissensions and party spirits, without official excommunication. Paul advises the brethren to "mark out" and "avoid" those who cause divisions (1Jo 2:19), not those who would follow them. The reason for taking special notice of the causers is that they may deceive the "naive" or "simple" (v 18). This is a distinction comparable to that between the wolves and the sheep in Christ's parable of Joh 10. The wolves must be marked out, branded for what they are, for their own possible reclamation if for no other reason. They are the ones to be wary of! The simple sheep must be protected, not lumped together with the wolves and all alike avoided. To avoid the sheep because they might be guilty, and because we might be guilty by association with them, is to go further than the apostle ever intended.

OBSTACLES: "Obstacles" (Gr "skandala", plural) is too general a term to yield anything specific for our knowledge of the propagandists. Whatever they did, their activity could affect the whole church; therefore they should not be identified with those in Rom 14:13, where the singular "obstacle" ("skandalon") occurs, seeing that these were a problem to only one segment of the congregation.

THE TEACHING YOU HAVE LEARNED: The whole of the gospel, as in Rom 6:17.

KEEP AWAY FROM THEM: Gr "ekklino": avoid, stay away from. Sw 1Pe 3:11: "turn from evil".

Rom 16:18

NOT SERVING OUR LORD CHRIST, BUT THEIR OWN APPETITES: "But their own belly" (AV). By which is meant, of course, appetites or desires (cp Phi 3:18,19: "stomach... earthly things"; 1Ti 6:3-5: "financial gain").

SMOOTH TALK AND FLATTERY: Ever the tools of unscrupulous "salesmen" and "promoters".

The allusion to belly or stomach would seem only to make sense if the serpent in the garden (cp v 20) of Eden ate the fruit of the tree itself. Consider:

  1. Eve SAW that the fruit of the tree was good for food (Gen 3:6);
  2. the serpent was more subtle than any other creature;
  3. perhaps the fruit itself endowed the serpent with the power of speech -- ie, to be like the "Elohim";
  4. "You shall not surely die!" -- look at me!... and
  5. the subsequent curse of the serpent was to go upon its belly, and to eat... dust!

Rom 16:19

Paul was confident that his readers could handle this threat because they had a reputation for following the apostles' instructions. The innocent among God's people tend to accept false teachers, and the wise normally reject them. Paul wanted his readers to be wise (like the "serpent"!) concerning all good and innocent only regarding evil (Mat 10:16).

Rom 16:20

THE GOD OF PEACE: From Rom 15:33.

WILL SOON CRUSH SATAN UNDER YOUR FEET: A plain allusion to Gen 3:15: "And I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." Here, undoubtedly, the serpent, or "satan" (the adversary), means human beings: for in context it describes those who "by smooth talk and flattery" "deceive the minds of naive people". Particularly, this may mean the Judaizers, who sought to draw other believers -- esp Gentile believers -- away from their freedom in Christ into an enforced bondage to the Law of Moses.

THE GRACE OF OUR LORD JESUS BE WITH YOU: Paul's final blessings magnifies God's grace as does this whole epistle. Usually such a benediction signals the end of a Pauline letter (eg, 2Co 13:14; Gal 6:18; Phi 4:23; 1Th 5:28; 2Th 3:18; 2Ti 4:22; Phm 1:25), but the apostle has more to communicate in this instance.

Rom 16:21

Vv 21,22: "The men whom Paul mentioned in v 21 all seem to have been his fellow missionaries who were working with him in Corinth when he wrote this epistle. Lucius may have been Luke, the writer of Luke and Acts. Jason may have been Paul's host in Thessalonica (cf Acts 17:5-9). Sosipater was probably Sopater of Berea, who accompanied Paul when he left Greece toward the end of his third missionary journey (Acts 20:4)" (Const).

Rom 16:22

At this point Tertius, Paul's amanuensis, or secretary, asks for the privilege of adding his personal greeting. We may suppose that by this time he had become thoroughly wrapped up in the message and had developed a feeling of rapport with the Roman Christians

Rom 16:23

The men in v 23 are all, evidently, Corinthian brethren.

GAIUS, WHOSE HOSPITALITY I AND THE WHOLE CHURCH HERE ENJOY: This was the brother with whom he had been staying while he wintered at Corinth. Evidently his man had a comfortable and roomy house that he made available for the meetings of the congregation. He seems to have been one of the early converts in Paul's mission to the city (1Co 1:14), and the very fact that Paul made an exception in his case by personally baptizing him suggests that his conversion was a notable event due to his prominence. Because of Paul's remark that the whole ecclesia enjoyed Gaius' hospitality, it is tempting to suppose that he is the man (Titius Justus) who invited believers into his home after the break with the synagogue (Acts 18:7). This involves the supposition that Paul is giving only a part of his name and that Luke provides the rest (Romans had three names).

At any rate, the mention of Gaius as Paul's host is strong evidence that the apostle was writing from Corinth rather than from Cenchrea or from some point in Macedonia.

ERASTUS, WHO IS THE CITY'S DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC WORKS: Oscar Broneer, who has done considerable excavating at the site of ancient Corinth, reports in "The Biblical Archaeologist" (XIV, 94): "[In Rome] a reused paving block preserves an inscription, stating that the pavement was laid at the expense of Erastus, who was 'aedile' (Commissioner of Public Works). He was probably the same Erastus who became a co-worker of Paul (Act 19:22: Rom 16:23, where he is called 'oikonomos', 'chamberlain' of the city), a notable exception to the Apostle's characterization of the early Christians: 'Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called' (1Co 1:26)" (EBC).

QUARTUS: "Our brother" may simply be "a brother". Nothing else is known of this man. Quite possibly he is the "fourth" son of a prominent family, of which others are Secundus (the "second"!) (Acts 20:4) and Tertius (the third"!) (v 22). If so, who is the "first"? Since there is no reference to a "Primus", then perhaps the older brother of the family is Erastus himself.

Rom 16:25

Vv 25-27: The concluding doxology (praise to God): similar to the previous doxologies in Rom 8:31-39; 11:33-36.

NOW TO HIM WHO IS ABLE TO ESTABLISH YOU BY MY GOSPEL AND THE PROCLAMATION OF JESUS CHRIST, ACCORDING TO THE REVELATION OF THE MYSTERY HIDDEN FROM LONG AGES PAST: The apostle was confident that God could do for his readers what they needed (cp Rom 1:11; Eph 3:20; Phi 4:13). The gospel is God's chief tool to that end. "My gospel" identifies the one that Paul had preached widely and had expounded in this epistle. The "preaching of Jesus Christ" is another name for the gospel that stresses its subject, Jesus Christ. Proclamation follows revelation. The gospel had been hidden in eternity past until God revealed it first in the OT and then fully in the NT.

THE MYSTERY: Elsewhere, the mystery plainly has to do with the gospel proclaimed to and believed by the Gentiles as well as the Jews: Rom 11:25; Eph 3:3,4,8,9; Col 1:26,27; 1Ti 3:16.

Rom 16:26

BUT NOW REVEALED AND MADE KNOWN THROUGH THE PROPHETIC WRITINGS: Even though the OT prophets revealed the gospel they did not always grasp all of its implications (1Pe 1:10-12; cf Rom 1:2).

BY THE COMMAND OF THE ETERNAL GOD: The Great Commission, which includes all the nations as embraced in the divine purpose (Mat 28:19). This emphasis recalls the language Paul used in speaking of his own commission (Rom 1:1,5; cf Tit 1:3). Col 1:25-27 is in the same vein. Paul had a special concern to reach the Gentiles (Rom 11:13).

SO THAT ALL NATIONS MIGHT BELIEVE AND OBEY HIM: Stating plainly that the "mystery" of v 25 has to do with the gospel proclaimed to the Gentiles.

Rom 16:27

TO THE ONLY WISE GOD BE GLORY FOREVER THROUGH JESUS CHRIST: God is described under two terms: (1) "Only" (cp 1Ti 1:17) may well be intended to recall the line of thought in Rom 3:29,30. He is God of both Jew and Gentile, with a provision for both groups in the gospel of his Son. (2) "Wise" invites the reader to recall the outburst of praise to God in His wisdom (Rom 11:33) that brings to a close the long review of his dealings with Israel in relation to his purpose for the Gentiles. Wisdom is also allied to the hidden/revealed tension noted in v 25, as we gather also from 1Co 2:6,7.

So the God whose eternal purpose has been described as hidden and then manifested in the gospel of his Son, draws to Himself through His Son the praise that will engross the saints through all the ages to come. The silence that for so long held the divine mystery has given way to vocal and unending praise.
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