Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible
Romans 16:1-27. Conclusion, embracing sundry salutations and directions, and a closing prayer.
I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant — or “deaconess”
of the church which is at Cenchrea — The word is “Cenchreae,” the eastern part of Corinth (Acts 18:18). That in the earliest churches there were deaconesses, to attend to the wants of the female members, there is no good reason to doubt. So early at least as the reign of Trajan, we learn from Pliny‘s celebrated letter to that emperor - a.d. 110, or 111 - that they existed in the Eastern churches. Indeed, from the relation in which the sexes then stood to each other, something of this sort would seem to have been a necessity. Modern attempts, however, to revive this office have seldom found favor; either from the altered state of society, or the abuse of the office, or both.
Receive her in the Lord — that is, as a genuine disciple of the Lord Jesus.
as — “so as”
becometh saints — so as saints should receive saints.
assist her in whatsoever business she hath — “may have”
need of you — some private business of her own.
for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also — (See Psalm 41:1-3; 2 Timothy 1:16-18).
Salute Priscilla — The true reading here is “Prisca” (as in 2 Timothy 4:19), a contracted form of Priscilla, as “Silas” of “Silvanus.”
and Aquila my helpers — The wife is here named before the husband (as in Acts 18:18, and Romans 16:26, according to the true reading; also in 2 Timothy 4:19), probably as being the more prominent and helpful to the Church.
who have for my life laid down — “who did for my life lay down”
their own necks — that is, risked their lives; either at Corinth (Acts 18:6, Acts 18:9, Acts 18:10), or more probably at Ephesus (Acts 19:30, Acts 19:31; and compare 1 Corinthians 15:32). They must have returned from Ephesus (where we last find them in the history of the Acts) to Rome, whence the edict of Claudius had banished them (Acts 18:2); and doubtless, if not the principal members of that Christian community, they were at least the most endeared to our apostle.
unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles — whose special apostle this dear couple had rescued from imminent danger.
Likewise the church that is in their house — The Christian assembly that statedly met there for worship. “From his occupation as tent-maker, he had probably better accommodations for the meetings of the church than most other Christians” [Hodge]. Probably this devoted couple had written to the apostle such an account of the stated meetings at their house, as made him feel at home with them, and include them in this salutation, which doubtless would be read at their meetings with peculiar interest.
Salute my well beloved Epaenetus, who is the first-fruits — that is, the first convert
of Achaia unto Christ — The true reading here, as appears by the manuscripts, is, “the first-fruits of Asia unto Christ” - that is, Proconsular Asia (see Acts 16:6). In 1 Corinthians 16:15 it is said that “the household of Stephanas was the first-fruit of Achaia”; and though if Epaenetus was one of that family, the two statements might be reconciled according to the received text, there is no need to resort to this supposition, as that text is in this instance without authority. Epaenetus, as the first believer in that region called Proconsular Asia, was dear to the apostle. (See Hosea 9:10; Micah 7:1). None of the names mentioned from Romans 16:5-15 are otherwise known. One wonders at the number of them, considering that the writer had never been at Rome. But as Rome was then the center of the civilized world, to and from which journeys were continually taken to the remotest parts, there is no great difficulty in supposing that so active a travelling missionary as Paul would, in course of time, make the acquaintance of a considerable number of the Christians then residing at Rome.
Greet — or “salute”
Mary, who bestowed much labour on us — labor, no doubt, of a womanly kind.
Andronicus and Junia — or, as it might be, “Junias,” a contracted form of “Junianus”; in this case, it is a man‘s name. But if, as is more probable, the word be, as in our version, “Junia,” the person meant was no doubt either the wife or the sister of Andronicus.
my kinsmen — or, “relatives.”
and my fellow prisoners — on what occasion, it is impossible to say, as the apostle elsewhere tells us that he was “in prisons more frequent” (2 Corinthians 11:23).
which are of note among the apostles — Those who think the word “apostle” is used in a lax sense, in the Acts and Epistles, take this to mean “noted apostles” [Chrysostom, Luther, Calvin, Bengel, Olshausen, Tholuck, Alford, Jowett]; others, who are not clear that the word “apostle” is applied to any without the circle of the Twelve, save where the connection or some qualifying words show that the literal meaning of “one sent” is the thing intended, understand by the expression used here, “persons esteemed by the apostles” [Beza, Grotius, De Wette, Meyer, Fritzsche, Stuart, Philippi, Hodge]. And of course, if “Junia” is to be taken for a woman, this latter must be the meaning.
who also were in Christ before me — The apostle writes as if he envied them this priority in the faith. And, indeed, if to be “in Christ” be the most enviable human condition, the earlier the date of this blessed translation, the greater the grace of it. This latter statement about Andronicus and Junia seems to throw some light on the preceding one. Very possibly they may have been among the first-fruits of Peter‘s labors, gained to Christ either on the day of Pentecost or on some of the succeeding days. In that case they may have attracted the special esteem of those apostles who for some time resided chiefly at Jerusalem and its neighborhood; and our apostle, though he came late in contact with the other apostles, if he was aware of this fact, would have pleasure in alluding to it.
Amplias — a contracted form of “Ampliatus.”
my beloved in the Lord — an expression of dear Christian affection.
Salute Apelles approved — “the approved”
in Christ — or, as we should say, “that tried Christian”; a noble commendation.
Salute them which are of Aristobulus‘ household - It would seem, from what is said of Narcissus in Romans 16:11, that this Aristobulus himself had not been a Christian; but that the Christians of his household simply were meant; very possibly some of his slaves.
Salute Herodion, my kinsman — (See on Romans 16:7).
Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord — which implies that others in his house, including probably himself, were not Christians.
Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord — two active women.
Salute the beloved Persis — another woman.
which laboured much in the Lord — referring probably, not to official services, such as would fall to the deaconesses, but to such higher Christian labors - yet within the sphere competent to woman - as Priscilla bestowed on Apollos and others (Acts 18:18).
Salute Rufus, chosen — “the chosen”
in the Lord — meaning, not “who is one of the elect,” as every believer is, but “the choice” or “precious one” in the Lord. (See 1 Peter 2:4; 2 John 1:13). We read in Mark 15:21 that Simon of Cyrene, who was compelled to bear our Lord‘s cross, was “the father of Alexander and Rufus.” From this we naturally conclude that when Mark wrote his Gospel, Alexander and Rufus must have been well known as Christians among those by whom he expected his Gospel to be first read; and, in all likelihood, this was that very “Rufus”; in which case our interest is deepened by what immediately follows about his mother.
and — salute.
his mother and mine — The apostle calls her “his own mother,” not so much as our Lord calls every elderly woman believer His mother (Matthew 12:49, Matthew 12:50), but in grateful acknowledgment of her motherly attentions to himself, bestowed no doubt for his Master‘s sake, and the love she bore to his honored servants. To us it seems altogether likely that the conversion of Simon the Cyrenian dated from that memorable day when “passing [casually] by, as he came from the country” (Mark 15:21), “they compelled him to bear the” Savior's cross. Sweet compulsion, if what he thus beheld issued in his voluntarily taking up his own cross! Through him it is natural to suppose that his wife would be brought in, and that this believing couple, now “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7), as they told their two sons, Alexander and Rufus, what honor had unwittingly been put upon their father at that hour of deepest and dearest moment to all Christians, might be blessed to the inbringing of both of them to Christ. In this case, supposing the elder of the two to have departed to be with Christ ere this letter was written, or to have been residing in some other place, and Rufus left alone with his mother, how instructive and beautiful is the testimony here borne to her!
Salute Asyncritus, etc. — These have been thought to be the names of ten less notable Christians than those already named. But this will hardly be supposed if it be observed that they are divided into two pairs of five each, and that after the first of these pairs it is added, “and the brethren which are with them,” while after the second pair we have the words, “and all the saints which are with them.” This perhaps hardly means that each of the five in both pairs had “a church at his house,” else probably this would have been more expressly said. But at least it would seem to indicate that they were each a center of some few Christians who met at his house - it may be for further instruction, for prayer, for missionary purposes, or for some other Christian objects. These little peeps into the rudimental forms which Christian fellowship first took in the great cities, though too indistinct for more than conjecture, are singularly interesting. Our apostle would seem to have been kept minutely informed as to the state of the church at Rome, both as to its membership and its varied activities, probably by Priscilla and Aquila.
Salute one another with an holy kiss — So 1 Corinthians 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14. The custom prevailed among the Jews, and doubtless came from the East, where it still obtains. Its adoption into the Christian churches, as the symbol of a higher fellowship than it had ever expressed before, was probably as immediate as it was natural. In this case the apostle‘s desire seems to be that on receipt of his epistle, with its salutations, they should in this manner expressly testify their Christian affection. It afterwards came to have a fixed place in the church service, immediately after the celebration of the Supper, and continued long in use. In such matters, however, the state of society and the peculiarities of different places require to be studied.
The churches of Christ salute you — The true reading is, “All the churches”; the word “all” gradually falling out, as seeming probably to express more than the apostle would venture to affirm. But no more seems meant than to assure the Romans in what affectionate esteem they were held by the churches generally; all that knew he was writing to Rome having expressly asked their own salutations to be sent to them. (See Romans 16:19).
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned — “which ye learned.”
and avoid them — The fomentors of “divisions” here referred to are probably those who were unfriendly to the truths taught in this epistle, while those who caused “offenses” were probably those referred to in Romans 14:15 as haughtily disregarding the prejudices of the weak. The direction as to both is, first, to “mark” such, lest the evil should be done ere it was fully discovered; and next, to “avoid” them (compare 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 2 Thessalonians 3:14), so as neither to bear any responsibility for their procedure, nor seem to give them the least countenance.
For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ — “our Lord Christ” appears to be the true reading.
but their own belly — not in the grosset sense, but as “living for low ends of their own” (compare Philemon 3:19).
and by good words and fair speeches deceive the simple — the unwary, the unsuspecting. (See Proverbs 14:15).
For your obedience — that is, tractableness
is come abroad unto all. I am glad therefore on your behalf — “I rejoice therefore over you,” seems the true reading.
but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple — “harmless,” as in Matthew 10:16, from which the warning is taken.
concerning — “unto”
evil — “Your reputation among the churches for subjection to the teaching ye have received is to me sufficient ground of confidence in you; but ye need the serpent‘s wisdom to discriminate between transparent truth and plausible error, with that guileless simplicity which instinctively cleaves to the one and rejects the other.”
And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly — The apostle encourages the Romans to persevere in resisting the wiles of the devil with the assurance that, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, they are “shortly” to receive their discharge, and have the satisfaction of “putting their feet upon the neck” of that formidable enemy - symbol familiar, probably, in all languages to express not only the completeness of the defeat, but the abject humiliation of the conquered foe. (See Joshua 10:24; 2 Samuel 22:41; Ezekiel 21:29; Psalm 91:13). Though the apostle here styles Him who is thus to bruise Satan, the God of peace,” with special reference to the “divisions” (Romans 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 John 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 (Genesis 3:15).
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen — The “Amen” here has no manuscript authority. What comes after this, where one would have expected the epistle to close, has its parallel in Philemon 4:20, etc., and being in fact common in epistolary writings, is simply a mark of genuineness.
Timotheus, my work-fellow — “my fellow laborer”; see Acts 16:1-5. The apostle mentions him here rather than in the opening address to this church, as he had not been at Rome [Bengel].
and Lucius — not Luke, for the fuller form of “Lucas” is not “Lucius” but “Lucanus.” The person meant seems to be “Lucius of Cyrene,” who was among the “prophets and teachers” at Antioch with our apostle, before he was summoned into the missionary field (Acts 13:1).
and Jason — See Acts 17:5. He had probably accompanied or followed the apostle from Thessalonica to Corinth.
Sosipater — See Acts 20:4.
I, Tertius, who wrote this — “the”
epistle — as the apostle‘s amanuensis, or penman.
salute you in the Lord — So usually did the apostle dictate his epistles, that he calls the attention of the Galatians to the fact that to them he wrote with his own hand (Galatians 6:11). But this Tertius would have the Romans to know that, far from being a mere scribe, his heart went out to them in Christian affection; and the apostle, by giving his salutation a place here, would show what sort of assistants he employed.
Gaius mine host, and — the host
of the whole church — (See Acts 20:4). It would appear that he was one of only two persons whom Paul baptized with his own hand (compare 3 John 1:1). His Christian hospitality appears to have been something uncommon.
Erastus the chamberlain — “treasurer.”
of the city — doubtless of Corinth. (See Acts 19:22; 2 Timothy 4:20).
and Quartus a brother — rather, “the” or “our brother”; as Sosthenes and Timothy are called (1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1, Greek). Nothing more is known of this Quartus.
The grace, etc. — a repetition of the benediction precisely as in Romans 16:20, save that it is here invoked on them “all.”
Now to him that is of power — more simply, as in Judges 1:24, “to Him that is able.”
to stablish — confirm, or uphold
you, according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ — that is, in conformity with the truths of that Gospel which I preach, and not I only, but all to whom has been committed “the preaching of Jesus Christ.”
according to the revelation of the mystery — (See on Romans 11:25).
which was kept secret since the world began — literally, “which hath been kept in silence during eternal ages.”
But is now made manifest — The reference here is to that peculiar feature of the Gospel economy which Paul himself was specially employed to carry into practical effect and to unfold by his teaching - the introduction of the Gentile believers to an equality with their Jewish brethren, and the new, and, to the Jews, quite unexpected form which this gave to the whole Kingdom of God (compare Ephesians 3:1-10, etc.). This the apostle calls here a mystery hitherto undisclosed, in what sense Romans 16:27 will show, but now fully unfolded; and his prayer for the Roman Christians, in the form of a doxology to Him who was able to do what he asked, is that they might be established in the truth of the Gospel, not only in its essential character, but specially in that feature of it which gave themselves, as Gentile believers, their whole standing among the people of God.
and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for — in order to
the obedience of faith — Lest they should think, from what he had just said, that God had brought in upon his people so vast a change on their condition without giving them any previous notice, the apostle here adds that, on the contrary, “the Scriptures of the prophets” contain all that he and other preachers of the Gospel had to declare on these topics, and indeed that the same “everlasting God,” who “from eternal ages” had kept these things hid, had given “commandment” that they should now, according to the tenor of those prophetic Scriptures, be imparted to every nation for their believing acceptance.
To God, etc. — “To the only wise God through Jesus Christ, be” - literally, “to whom be”; that is, “to Him, I say, be the glory for ever. Amen.” At its outset, this is an ascription of glory to the power that could do all this; at its close it ascribes glory to the wisdom that planned and that presides over the gathering of a redeemed people out of all nations. The apostle adds his devout “Amen,” which the reader - if he has followed him with the astonishment and delight of him who pens these words - will fervently echo.
On this concluding section of the Epistle, Note,
(1) In the minute and delicate manifestations of Christian feeling, and lively interest in the smallest movements of Christian life, love, and zeal, which are here exemplified, combined with the grasp of thought and elevation of soul which this whole Epistle displays, as indeed all the writings of our apostle, we have the secret of much of that grandeur of character which has made the name of Paul stand on an elevation of its own in the estimation of enlightened Christendom in every age, and of that influence which under God, beyond all the other apostles, he has already exercised, and is yet destined to exert, over the religious thinking and feeling of men. Nor can any approach him in these peculiarities without exercising corresponding influence on all with whom they come in contact (Romans 16:1-16).
(2) “The wisdom of the serpent and the harmlessness of the dove” - in enjoining which our apostle here only echoes the teaching of his Lord (Matthew 10:16) - is a combination of properties the rarity of which among Christians is only equaled by its vast importance. In every age of the Church there have been real Christians whose excessive study of the serpent‘s wisdom has so sadly trenched upon their guileless simplicity, as at times to excite the distressing apprehension that they were no better than wolves in sheep‘s clothing. Nor is it to be denied, on the other hand, that, either from inaptitude or indisposition to judge with manly discrimination of character and of measures, many eminently simple, spiritual, devoted Christians, have throughout life exercised little or no influence on any section of society around them. Let the apostle‘s counsel on this head (Romans 16:19) be taken as a study, especially by young Christians, whose character has yet to be formed, and whose permanent sphere in life is but partially fixed; and let them prayerfully set themselves to the combined exercise of both those qualities. So will their Christian character acquire solidity and elevation, and their influence for good be proportionably extended.
(3) Christians should cheer their own and each other‘s hearts, amidst the toils and trials of their protracted warfare, with the assurance that it will have a speedy and glorious end; they should accustom themselves to regard all opposition to the progress and prosperity of Christ‘s cause - whether in their own souls, in the churches with which they are connected, or in the world at large - as just “Satan” in conflict, as ever, with Christ their Lord; and they should never allow themselves to doubt that “the God of peace” will “shortly” give them the neck of their Enemy, and make them to bruise the Serpent‘s head (Romans 16:20).
(4) As Christians are held up and carried through solely by divine power, working through the glorious Gospel, so to that power, and to the wisdom that brought that Gospel nigh to them, they should ascribe all the glory of their stability now, as they certainly will of their victory at last (Romans 16:25-27).
(5) “Has the everlasting God commanded” that the Gospel “mystery,” so long kept hid but now fully disclosed, shall be “made known to all nations for the obedience of faith” (Romans 16:26)? Then, what “necessity is laid upon” all the churches and every Christian, to send the Gospel “to every creature!” And we may rest well assured that the prosperity or decline of churches, and of individual Christians, will have not a little to do with their faithfulness or indifference to this imperative duty.
The ancient subscription at the end of this epistle - though of course of no authority - appears to be in this case quite correct.
Friday, December 9th, 2016
the Second Week of Advent
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