By Martin Goldsmith Writer, Speaker, Missiologist & CMJ UK Vice President.
If you would like to read more of Martin Goldsmith's work, please check out his website.
Personal Greetings (Romans 16.1-16)
Some scholars have assumed that the benediction of Romans 15.33 with its final “Amen” forms the original conclusion to the Epistle. But normally Paul ends his letters with wording which includes prayer for God’s grace (cf. 16.20). Some have felt that chapters 1-15 were dictated by Paul and written down by Tertius (16.22), while chapter 16 was added by Paul himself without a scribe. However, this is denied by Tertius’ words in 16.22.
It would seem that chapter 16 forms a vital part of the whole letter. In his desire that the Roman Christians would act as a launching-pad for his mission to Spain, Paul’s close personal relations with so many Christians in Rome is vital. Although Paul had never visited Rome, he already knew a lot of the Christians there. A few years previously, the Emperor had thrown all Jews out of the city. Jewish Christians too had to run from Rome, so Paul had met them in Corinth and other cities. But now they had been allowed to return to Rome, so Paul could greet many old friends when he wrote this letter to the church in Rome.
Because of a wrong understanding of some of Paul’s teaching concerning the role of women in the church, Paul has often been accused of being rather misogynistic. Romans 16 gives the lie to this. In his greetings Paul starts immediately with Phoebe, a woman. Nine of the people greeted are women and they evidently play a leading role in the Roman church. Phoebe herself was a deacon (16.1) and Junia was an ‘outstanding apostle’ (16.7). As the Roman Catholic commentator J. Fitzmyer notes, it was common until the 12th century to assume that Paul was referring to a woman (the feminine ‘Junia’, not the masculine ‘Junias’). But opposition to women in church leadership caused some later scholars to prefer ‘Junias’.
When Paul moves on to greeting his fellow tent-makers, Priscilla and Aquila, he assumes the prominence of Priscilla by naming her before her husband (16.3). Once this couple have been first introduced in Acts 18.2, Luke too consistently writes of them with the wife’s name first (Acts 18.18/19, 26). With Priscilla in the forefront, this couple worked closely with Paul in his missionary work among Gentiles. The resulting Gentile churches are duly grateful for their sacrificial ministry. In this work they joined Paul in ‘risking their lives’ (16.4). What a great couple! And what a model we have in Priscilla! May God raise up many Priscillas (and Aquilas!) from our churches today! Actually, however, are some of our modern churches in danger of lacking men in leadership and thus failing to attract men?
With his apostolic calling to the Gentiles and his consequent immersion in Gentile life and relationships, Paul probably felt an inner longing for more fellowship with other Jewish Christians. He therefore makes a point of saying that Andronicus and Junia (16.7) and Herodion (16.11) were fellow-Jews. Paul uses a word which could perhaps be translated as ‘relatives’ (as in NIV in 16.7 and 11), but normally relates to ethnicity. Interestingly, NIV in 9.3 translates it as “of my own race”.
When living and working in a different country or in a different ethnic community, most of us will sometimes particularly crave and enjoy mixing with people of our own background. For example, I live in a totally Gentile society, belong to a Gentile church and relate with Gentiles all the time. So, the occasional outing into a truly Jewish context with Jewish issues being discussed with a Jewish pattern of communication comes to me as a special treat. Birds of a feather benefit from flocking together from time to time. No wonder Paul specially observes that Andronicus, Junia and Herodion were Jewish too!
Epenetus was “the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia” (16.5), so doubtless now a mature believer. Andronicus and Junia had been in prison with Paul and had become Christians even before Paul (16.7), so they too must have been mature believers. Mary, Persis, Tryphena and Tryphosa are commended as those who labour for the Lord, while Priscilla and Aquila led a church in their own home. On the other hand, various others are warmly greeted, but have no particular commendation attached to their names.
Priscilla and Aquila must have owned their own home which was large enough to host a house-church, while others were probably slaves or ex-slaves who “belong to the household of Aristobulus” (16.10) or of Narcissus (16.11). Although Aristobulus may very likely have been the grandson of Herod the Great and brother of Agrippa 1, his slaves were probably very ordinary people. J. Dunn points out that the name Narcissus was “common among slaves and freedmen”. The Roman church included rich and poor, people of very varied backgrounds. The good news of Jesus breaks down such social barriers. May it be so in our churches too!
Romans 16 reminds us again of the vital importance of warm personal relationships. Paul clearly rejoices in the reality of loving fellowship with Christians in Rome who had “risked their lives” for him (16.3), who had been in prison with him (16.7), who were his “dear friend” (16.9, 12), who had “been a mother” to him (16.13).
The New Testament constantly underlines God’s call to love, unity, friendship and fellowship as the visible fruit of the Christian faith. This emphasis has surfaced again and again in our blogs. Let us never let it slip into the background of our life and prayer! Forgiving one another where necessary, let us deepen our relationship as individuals with other Christian believers; and as churches let us foster our oneness with other churches in our own country and overseas! A “holy kiss” (16.16) may not appeal to most British Christians (!), but it beautifully symbolises the depth of love we should aim for. As we all draw closer to Christ and through him to the Father, the Holy Spirit will also draw us closer to each other. And such loving fellowship will attract people to Jesus as the source of our love together.