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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
Romans 16

 

 

Verse 1

1.I commend to you, etc. The greater part of this chapter is taken up with salutations; and as they contain no difficulties, it would be useless to dwell long on them. I shall only touch on those things which require some light by an explanation.

He first commends to them Phoebe, to whom he gave this Epistle to be brought to them; and, in the first place, he commends her on account of her office, for she performed a most honorable and a most holy function in the Church; and then he adduces another reason why they ought to receive her and to show her every kindness, for she had always been a helper to all the godly. As then she was an assistant (469) of the Cenchrean Church, he bids that on that account she should be received in the Lord; and by adding as it is meet for saints, he intimates that it would be unbecoming the servants of Christ not to show her honor and kindness. And since it behooves us to embrace in love all the members of Christ, we ought surely to regard and especially to love and honor those who perform a public office in the Church. And besides, as she had always been full of kindness to all, so he bids that help and assistance should now be given to her in all her concerns; for it is what courtesy requires, that he who is naturally disposed to kindness should not be forsaken when in need of aid, and to incline their minds the more, he numbers himself among those whom she had assisted.

But this service, of which he speaks as to what it was, he teaches us in another place, in 1 Timothy 5:9, for as the poor were supported from the public treasury of the Church, so they were taken care of by those in public offices, and for this charge widows were chosen, who being free from domestic concerns, and cumbered by no children, wished to consecrate themselves wholly to God by religious duties, they were therefore received into this office as those who had wholly given up themselves, and became bound to their charge in a manner like him, who having hired out his own labors, ceases to be free and to be his own master. Hence the Apostle accuses them of having violated their faith, who renounced the office which they had once undertaken, and as it behooved them to live in widowhood, he forbade them to be chosen under sixty years of age, (1 Timothy 5:9,) because he foresaw that under that age the vow of perpetual celibacy was dangerous, yea, liable to prove ruinous. This most sacred function, and very useful to the Church, when the state of things had become worse, degenerated into the idle order of Nuns; which, though corrupt at its beginning, and contrary to the word of God, has yet so fallen away from what it was at its commencement, that there is no difference between some of the sanctuaries of chastity and a common brothel.


Verse 3

3.Salute Prisca (470) and Aquila The testimonies which he brings here in favor of some individuals, were partly intended for this end, that by honoring those who were faithful and worthy, faithfulness itself might be honored, and that they who could and would do more good than others, might have authority; and partly that they themselves might study to act in a manner corresponding to their past life, and not fail in their religious course, nor ever grow languid in their pious ardor.

It is a singular honor which he ascribes here to Prisca and Aquila, especially with regard to a woman. The modesty of the holy man does on this account more clearly shine forth; for he disdained not to have a woman as his associate in the work of the Lord; nor was he ashamed to confess this. She was the wife of Aquila, and Luke calls her Priscilla. (Acts 18:2.) (471)


Verse 4

4.To whom not only I, etc. As Prisca and Aquila had not spared their life for preserving the life of Paul, he testifies that he himself was individually thankful to them: he however adds, that thanks were given them by all the Churches of Christ; and he added this that he might, by such an example, influence the Romans. And deservedly dear and precious to all the Gentiles was the life of such a man, as it was an incomparable treasure: it was therefore no wonder that all the Churches of the Gentiles thought themselves to be under obligations to his preservers. (472)

What he adds respecting the Church in their house is worthy of being observed; for he could not have more splendidly adorned their household than by giving it the title of a Church. The word congregation, which [Erasmus ] has adopted, I do not approve; for it is plainly evident, that Paul, by way of honor, had used the sacred name of Church. (473)


Verse 5

5.Who is the first-fruit, etc. This is an allusion to the rites of the law; for as men are sanctified to God by faith, they who first offer themselves are fitly called the first-fruit. Whosoever then is called first in time to the faith, Paul allows him the prerogative of honor: yet he retains this eminence only when the end corresponds with the beginning. And doubtless it is no common honor when God chooses some for first-fruits: and there is in addition a greater and an ampler trial of faith, through a longer space of time, provided they who have first begun are not wearied in their course. (474)


Verse 6

6.He again testifies his gratitude, in recording the kindness of Mary to him. Nor is there any doubt but that he commemorates these praises, in order to recommend those whom he praised to the Romans. (475)


Verse 7

7.Salute Andronicus Though Paul is not wont to make much of kindred, and of other things belonging to the flesh, yet as the relationship which Junia and Andronicus bore to him, might avail somewhat to make them more fully known, he neglected not this commendation. There is more weight in the second eulogy, when he calls them his fellow-prisoners; (476) for among the honors belonging to the warfare of Christ, bonds are not to be counted the least. In the third place, he calls them Apostles: he uses not this word in its proper and common meaning, but extends it wider, even to all those who not only teach in one Church, but also spend their labor in promulgating the gospel everywhere. He then, in a general way, calls those in this place Apostles, who planted Churches by carrying here and there the doctrine of salvation; for elsewhere he confines this title to that first order which Christ at the beginning established, when he appointed the twelve disciples. It would have been otherwise strange, that this dignity should be only ascribed to them, and to a few others. But as they had embraced the gospel by faith before Paul, he hesitates not to set them on this account before himself. (477)


Verse 11

11.Who are of the family of Narcissus It would have been unbecoming to have passed by Peter in so long a catalogue, if he was then at Rome: yet he must have been there, if we believe the Romanists. But since in doubtful things nothing is better than to follow probable conjecture, no one, who judges impartially, will be persuaded that what they affirm is true; for he could not surely have been omitted by Paul.

It is further to be noticed, that we hear nothing here of splendid and magnificent titles, by which we might conclude that men high in rank were Christians; for all those whom Paul mentions were the obscure and the ignoble at Rome. Narcissus, whom he here names, was, I think, the freeman of Claudius, a man notorious for many crimes and vices. The more wonderful was the goodness of God, which penetrated into that impure house, abounding in all kinds of wickedness; not that Narcissus himself had been converted to Christ, but it was a great thing that a house, which was like hell, should be visited by the grace of Christ. And as they, who lived under a foul pander, the most voracious robber, and the most corrupt of men, worshipped Christ in purity, there is no reason that servants should wait for their masters, but every one ought to follow Christ for himself. Yea, the exception added by Paul shows that the family was divided, so that the faithful were only a few.


Verse 16

16.Salute one another with a holy kiss It is clear from many parts of Scripture, that a kiss was a usual and common symbol of friendship among the Jews; it was perhaps less used by the Romans, though not unfrequent, only it was not lawful to kiss women, except those only who were relatives. It became however a custom among the ancients for Christians to kiss one another before partaking of the Supper, to testify by that sign their friendship; and then they bestowed their alms, that they might in reality and by the effect confirm what they had represented by the kiss: all this appears evident from one of the homilies of [Chrysostom ] (478) Hence has arisen that practice among the Papists at this day, of kissing the paten, and of bestowing an offering: the former of which is nothing but superstition without any benefit, the other serves no other purpose but to satisfy the avariciousness of the priests, if indeed it can be satisfied.

Paul however seems not here positively to have enjoined a ceremony, but only exhorts them to cherish brotherly love; and he distinguishes it from the profane friendships of the world, which, for the most part, are either disguised or attained by vices, or retained by wicked arts, and never tend to any good. By sending salutations from the Churches, (479) he was endeavoring, as much as he could, to bind all the members of Christ by the mutual bond of love.


Verse 17

17.And I beseech you, etc. He now adds an exhortation, by which all Churches have often need of being stirred up; for the ministers of Satan are ever ready to take occasion to disturb the kingdom of Christ: and they attempt to make disturbances in two ways; for they either sow discord, by which the minds of men are drawn away from the unity of truth, or they occasion offenses, by which men are alienated from the love of the gospel. (480) The former evil is done when the truth of God is mixed with new dogmas devised by men; and the latter takes place, when by various arts it is made odious and contemptible. He therefore bids all, who did either of these two things, to be observed, lest they should deceive and catch the unwary; and also to be shunned, for they were injurious. Nor was it without reason that he required this attention from the faithful; for it often happens through our neglect or want of care, that such wicked men do great harm to the Church, before they are opposed; and they also creep in, with astonishing subtlety, for the purpose of doing mischief, except they be carefully watched.

But observe, that he speaks of those who had been taught the pure truth of God. It is indeed an impious and sacrilegious attempt to divide those who agree in the truth of Christ: but yet it is a shameful sophistry to defend, under the pretext of peace and unity, a union in lies and impious doctrines. There is therefore no ground for the Papists to seek countenance from this passage, in order to raise ill-will against us; for we do not impugn and tear asunder the gospel of Christ, but the falsehoods of the devil, by which it has been hitherto obscured: nay, Paul clearly shows, that he did not condemn all kinds of discords, but those which destroyed consent in the orthodox faith; for the force of the passage is in the words, which ye have learnt; for it was the duty of the Romans, before they were rightly taught, to depart from the habits of their fathers and the institutions of their ancestors.


Verse 18

18.For they who are such, etc. He mentions an unvarying mark, by which false prophets are to be distinguished from the servants of Christ; for they have no care for the glory of Christ, but seek the benefit of their stomach. As, however, they deceitfully crept in, and by assuming another character, concealed their own wickedness, he at the same time pointed out, in order that no one might be deceived, the arts which they adopted — that they ingratiated themselves by a bland address. The preachers of the gospel have also their courtesy and their pleasing manner, but joined with honesty, so that they neither soothe men with vain praises, nor flatter their vices: but impostors allure men by flattery, and spare and indulge their vices, that they may keep them attached to themselves. He calls those simple who are not cautious enough to avoid deceptions.


Verse 19

19.Your obedience, (481) etc. This is said to anticipate an objection; for he shows that he did not warn them, as though he thought unfavorably of them, but because a fall in their case was such as might have easily happened; as if he had said, — “Your obedience is indeed commended everywhere, and for this reason I rejoice on your account: yet since it often happens, that a fall occurs through simplicity, I would have you to be harmless and simple as to the doing of evil; but in doing good, to be most prudent, whenever it may be necessary, so that you may preserve your integrity.”

We here see what that simplicity is which is commended in Christians; so that they have no reason to claim this distinction, who at this day count as a high virtue their stupid ignorance of the word of God. For though he approves in the Romans, that they were obedient and teachable, yet he would have them to exercise wisdom and judgment, lest their readiness to believe exposed them to impositions. So then he congratulates them, because they were free from a wicked disposition; he yet wished them to be wise, so as to exercise caution. (482)


Verse 20

20.What follows, God shall bruise Satan, etc., is a promise to confirm them, rather than a prayer. He indeed exhorts them to fight manfully against Satan, and promises that they should shortly be victorious. He was indeed once conquered by Christ, but not in such a way but that he renews the war continually. He then promises ultimate defeat, which does not appear in the midst of the contest. At the same time he does not speak only of the last day, when Satan shall be completely bruised; but as Satan was then confounding all things, raging, as it were, with loose or broken reins, he promises that the Lord would shortly subdue him, and cause him to be trodden, as it were, under foot. Immediately a prayer follows, — that the grace of Christ would be with them, that is, that they might enjoy all the blessings which had been procured for them by Christ.


Verse 21

21.Timothy, etc. The salutations which he records, served in part to foster union between those who were far asunder, and in part to make the Romans know that their brethren subscribed to the Epistle; not that Paul had need of the testimony of others, but because the consent of the godly is not of small importance.

The Epistle closes, as we see, with praise and thanksgiving to God. It indeed records the remarkable kindness of God in favoring the Gentiles with the light of the gospel, by which his infinite and unspeakable goodness has been made evident. The conclusion has, at the same time, this to recommend it, — that it serves to raise up and strengthen the confidence of the godly, so that with hearts lifted up to God they may fully expect all those things which are here ascribed to him, and may also confirm their hope as to what is to come by considering his former benefits. (483) But as he has made a long period, by collecting many things into one passage, the different clauses, implicated by being transposed, must be considered apart.

He ascribes first all the glory to God alone; and then, in order to show that it is rightly due to him, he by the way mentions some of his attributes; whence it appears that he alone is worthy of all praise. He says that he only is wise; which praise, being claimed for him alone, is taken away from all creatures. Paul, at the same time, after having spoken of the secret counsel of God, seems to have designedly annexed this eulogy, in order that he might draw all men to reverence and adore the wisdom of God: for we know how inclined men are to raise a clamor, when they can find out no reason for the works of God.

By adding, that God was able to confirm the Romans, he made them more certain of their final perseverance. And that they might acquiesce more fully in his power, he adds, that a testimony is borne to it in the gospel. Here you see, that the gospel not only promises to us present grace, but also brings to us an assurance of that grace which is to endure for ever; for God declares in it that he is our Father, not only at present,but that he will be so to the end: nay, his adoption extends beyond death, for it will conduct us to an eternal inheritance.

The other things are mentioned to commend the power and dignity of the gospel. He calls the gospel the preaching of Jesus Christ; inasmuch as the whole sum and substance of it is no doubt included in the knowledge of Christ. Its doctrine is the revelation of the mystery; and this its character ought not only to make us more attentive to hear it, but also to impress on our minds the highest veneration for it: and he intimates how sublime a secret it is, by adding that it was hid for many ages, from the beginning of the world. (484)

It does not indeed contain a turgid and proud wisdom, such as the children of this world seek; and by whom it is held on this account in contempt: but it unfolds the ineffable treasures of celestial wisdom, much higher than all human learning; and since the very angels regard them with wonder, surely none of us can sufficiently admire them. But this wisdom ought not to be less esteemed, because it is conveyed in an humble, plain, and simple style; for thus it has pleased the Lord to bring down the arrogance of the flesh.

And as it might have created some doubt how this mystery, concealed for so many ages, could have so suddenly emerged, he teaches us, that this has not happened through the hasty doings of men, or through chance, but through the eternal ordination of God. Here, also, he closes up the door against all those curious questions which the waywardness of the human mind is wont to raise; for whatever happens suddenly and unexpectedly, they think, happens at random; and hence they absurdly conclude, that the works of God are unreasonable; or at least they entangle themselves in many perplexing doubts. Paul therefore reminds us, that what appeared then suddenly had been decreed by God before the foundation of the world.

But that no one might raise a dispute on the subject, and charge the gospel with being a new thing, and thus defame it, he refers to the prophetic Scriptures, in which we now see, that what is fulfilled had been foretold; for all the Prophets have rendered to the gospel so clear a testimony, that it can in no other way be so fully confirmed. And God thus duly prepared the minds of his people, lest the novelty of what they were not accustomed to should too much astonish them. (485)

If any one objects and says, that there is an inconsistency in the words of Paul, because he says that the mystery, of which God had testified by his Prophets, was hid throughout all the ages; — the solution of this knot is plainly given by Peter, — that the Prophets, when they sedulously inquired of the salvation made known to us, ministered, not to themselves, but to us. (1 Peter 1:12.) God then was at that time silent, though he spoke; for he held in suspense the revelation of those things concerning which he designed that his servants should prophesy.

Though it is not agreed among the learned in what sense he calls the gospel a hidden mystery in this place, and in Ephesians 3:9, and in Colossians 1:26; yet their opinion has most in its favor, who apply it to the calling of the Gentiles, to which Paul himself expressly refers in his Epistle to the Colossians. Now, though I allow this to be one reason, I yet cannot be brought to believe that it is the only reason. It seems to me more probable that Paul had also a regard to some other differences between the Old and the New Testament. For though the Prophets formerly taught all those things which have been explained by Christ and his Apostles, yet they taught them with so much obscurity, that in comparison with the clear brightness of gospel light, it is no wonder that those things are said to have been hidden which are now made manifest. Nor was it indeed to no purpose that Malachi declared that the Sun of righteousness would arise, (Malachi 4:2;) or that Isaiah had beforehand so highly eulogized the embassy of the Messiah. And lastly, it is not without reason that the gospel is called the kingdom of God: but we may conclude from the event itself, that then only were opened the treasures of celestial wisdom, when God appeared to his ancient people through his only-begotten Son, as it were face to face, all shadows having been done away. He again refers to the end, mentioned at the beginning of the first chapter, for which the gospel is to be preached, — that God may lead all nations to the obedience of faith

PRAISE FOR EVER TO

THE ONLY WISE GOD:

AMEN.

But it is more consistent with the tenor of the latter part of this epistle, and with the other passages, such as Ephesians 3:4, and Colossians 1:26, where he mentions the same mystery, to consider the reference here to be exclusively to the union of Jews and Gentiles, and not generally to the gospel, as [Calvin ] and others have thought.

There is a grammatical difficulty in the last verse: the relative is found before “glory.” [Beza ] and others considered it redundant. The verse is literally as follows,—

27.To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever. Amen.

It is omitted in a few copies; several copies have αὐτῷ, which would read better: but its genuineness is rejected by [Griesbach ] and others. The ascription of praise is evidently given to God, as one who has contrived and arranged his dispensation of grace and mercy: and his wisdom here refers to the same thing, as in Romans 11:33. However mysterious may his dispensation appear to us with regard to the Jews and Gentiles, in leaving the latter for so long a time in ignorance, in favoring the former only in the first instance with a revelation of himself, and then in showing favor to the Gentiles, and in rejecting the Jews for a time, and afterwards restoring them — however mysterious all these things may appear, the Apostle assures us that they are the arrangements of the only wise God. — Ed.

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Romans 16:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/romans-16.html. 1840-57.

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Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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