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Bible Commentaries
Romans 16

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-27

XVI 1-2 A Note of introduction for Phoebe— About to finish his letter with greetings to his friends at Rome and from his friends in Greece ( Corinth or Cenchreae) Paul remembers first from among the latter a Christian lady named Phoebe. He gives her what may be called a note of introduction. Its purpose is to secure for her the welcome and the help of the Christians at Rome on her arrival. Phoebe too must, therefore, have been preparing for a journey to the capital. About the date and purpose of her journey Paul says nothing. But it is an ancient conjecture that he intended to use her journey as an opportunity for sending his letter by a personal carrier; cf. the subscription in many MSS, Tischendorf, NT II ( 1872) 457.

Phoebe is described by St Paul (a) as deaconess or helper in the church of Cenchreae; and (b) as patroness or benefactress of many Christians, Paul himself included. The exact meaning of both titles is disputed. On the one hand, it is certain that the corresponding masculine nouns are official titles—the first signifying the office of deacon in the church, cf.Acts 6:1-6; and the second signifying the office of a president, patron, or legal representative in Jewish as well as Greek and Roman religious organisations, cf. BGDW. On the other hand, the feminine use of these titles is found nowhere else in the NT. Further, the second remains unknown in the organization of the Christian Church during the following centuries. And as for deaconesses the four earliest references that can be quoted are: (a) Pliny the Younger, Epist. X96, 8, written c a.d. 112; (b) Didascalia, chh 9 and 16 ed. R. H. Connolly ( 1929) 88, 146-48 = Apost. Constitutions, ed. Funk II 26, III 12, written c 3rd cent.; Apost. Constitutions VIII 28, written c 4th cent.; (d) Ps-Ignatius, Letter to Antioch, 12:2, written c 4th cent. Under these circumstances the less technical interpretation of either description remains at least possible if not more probable, cf. Vg, DV, WV, KNT. Phobe is mentioned in the Roman Martyrology on Sept. 3rd and her praises are sung in a sermon of Chrysostom, opp. ed. Montfaucon XII ( 1735) 352.

3-16 Greetings— Having recommended Phoebe especially, St Paul sends greetings to no less than 26 individual Christians and two households at Rome. The following alphabetical list is meant to simplify the various discussions connected with this paragraph. (1) Ampliatus 8, (2) Andronicus 7, (3) Apelles 10, (4) Aquila 3, (5) Aristobulus (the household of) 10, (6) Asyncritus 14, (7) Epaenetus 5, (8) Hermas 14, (9) Hermes 14, (10) Herodion 11, (11) Julia. 15, (12) Junia (s) 7, (13) Mary. 6, (14) Narcissus (the household of) 11, (15) Nereus 15, (16) Olympias 15, (17) Patrobas 14, (18) Persis 12, (19) Philologus 15, (20) Phlegon 14, (21) Prisca 3, (22) Rufus 13, (23) Stachys 9, (24) Tryphena 12, (25) Tryphosa 12, (26) Urbanus 9, (27) Mother of Rufus 13, (28) Sister of Nereus 15.

Many of these names are well known from Greek literature: e.g. 2.3.5.7; others are Latin: 1.4.11.12 (13?) 21.22.26; the only Hebrew name is 10 and possibly 13. Names that are considered rare are 6.16.17.18. It is not necessary to think that Paul knew personally all those to whom he sends special greetings. The names and importance of some can have been known to him from hearsay: e.g. (1?) 3.5.6.8.9.10.14. 15.16.17.20 (23?) 24.25 (26?). The number of women in this list has often been commented on. They are eight or nine apart from those that may be included in the two households 5.14: viz. 11 (12?) 13.18.21. 24.25.27.28. Commentators differ as to the number of groups house-churches, that can be distinguished in this list. Some distinguish three: (1) the housechurch of Prisca and Aquila, 3-5a, with its members in 5b-13; (2) the house-church of Asyncritus, etc. 14; and (3) that of Philologus, etc. 15. Sickenberger distinguishes four groups: 3-5a, 5b-13, 14, 15. These house-churches are regarded as the beginning of the Christian parish-organization, cf.Acts 12:12; Colossians 4:15; Phm 2. The religious interest of this list does not lie in the identification of the persons on which most modern commentaries concentrate but in the indisputable evidence which they give of the personal and human side in St Paul’s missionary activity. The mention of so many names in a town which Paul had never visited proves an extraordinary interest in personal contacts. The later history of these names in Christian literature can be traced by means of dictionaries to the NT, dictionaries of Saints, indices to the NT apocrypha, and the Roman Martyrology. Cornely 775 gives as mentioned in the Roman Martyrology 1.5.6.8.10.14.17.19.20.22.23.24.25.26. In addition to these the Greek Menology commemorates 2.3.7.12.15.

The attempts of archaeologists to identify the names of 3-15 concentrate on the inscriptions of the Roman columbaria from the 1st cent. Nearly all have been found there. But the discovery of a name in a sepulchral inscription does not reveal the identity of the person. The Ampliatus whose name is inscribed over a cell in the Domitilla Catacomb need not be the Ampliatus of Romans 16:8. Whether there is a historical connexion between the house of Prisca, 3, and the Church of Sta Prisca on the Aventine, between Nereus, 15, and the Church SS Nereo ed Achille is disputed. The same uncertainty surrounds the conjectures of Lightfoot (on Philippians 4:22, ed. 1888, 171-8) concerning the identification of Aristobulus, 10, with the grandson of Herod the Great, the brother of Agrippa I; and the identification of Narcissus, 11, with the secretary of the emperor Claudius. Still archaeology has contributed to the study of this chapter by proving the occurrence of these names at Rome in that time.

Is Romans 16:3-15 part of a letter to Ephesus? The theory that it was so originally is based mainly on the following argument. Paul lived at Ephesus for more than two years, Acts 19:8-10. Writing to Ephesus, therefore, one may well expect thim to remember a great number of Christians personally, whilst it is difficult to imagine how he could know so many at Rome where he had never been. Cf. B. Gut 380 ff.; Lagrange 370 ff.; N.P. Williams 447 f.; Boylan XVIII-XXII. 17-20 Warning against Heresies— This is a digression which may have been caused by the reference to all the churches’ in, 16. If so, this mere reference to all the churches’ was enough to call to Paul’s mind the persistent attempts to distort the true doctrine of the Gospel which he had everywhere to fight, cf.2 Tim 3.

What heretics the Apostle had in mind the text does not say. The charges are quite general. Paul accuses them (1) of battening on doctrinal novelties, 17, (2) of material self-interest, 18a, and (3) of deceitful oratory, 18b. Commentators think of Judaism as in Galatians 3:1 or of Antinomianism as in Romans 3:8; Romans 6:1; Philippians 2:17-21. Whether these false teachers were already at work in Rome or are here considered merely as a possible future danger is another question on which commentators differ, cf. SH and Lagrange. On the whole it does not seem likely that Paul would leave the treatment of an immediate danger to a parenthesis in the conclusion of his letter, cf. 16:19. 21-24 Greetings from Corinth— These greetings from Paul’s companions continue the greetings from ’all the churches’ in 16. These companions listed in alphabetical order are: (1) Erastus 23, (2) Gaius 23, (3) Jason 21, (4) Lucius 21, (5) Quartus 23, (6) Sosipater 21, (7) Tertius 22, (8) Timothy 21.

All these names with the exception of 5 and 7 occur in Ac or elsewhere in the Pauline epistles. Two or possible three, 2 (6?) 8, are mentioned in Acts 20:4 as Paul’s companions on his collection journey from Corinth to Troas via Macedonia. But the same name need not mean identity of person. The only exception is Timothy 21. All are agreed that he is the Timothy whose history we can follow from his joining St Paul at Lystra, c a.d. 50 (Acts 16:1) to his episcopacy at Ephesus, c a.d. 65 (1 Timothy 1:3; 2 Timothy 4:21).

25-27 Concluding Sentence— Paul finishes not as is his custom with good wishes but with a doxology similar to 11:33-36; Galatians 1:5; Ephesians 3:21; Philippians 4:20; 1 Timothy 1:17; cf. also Hebrews 13:20 f.; Jude 24 f.; Clem. Rom., Cor 65:2; Maryrdom of Polycarp 22:3. Of all these doxologies, however, 25-27 is the most elaborate. Nearly all the main points of the whole letter seem to be gathered here in one powerful finale: the power of God unto salvation; the revelation of God’s plan of salvation in the Gospel; salvation by faith in Jesus Christ; the Christian salvation offered to all; the Apostle’s divine mission; the continuity with the OT. As the Greek text stands in the modern critical editions (with ?+? in 27) the whole epistle ends in an untranslatable anacoluthon. The effect in the Greek text, however, is a threefold doxology: (a) to God the Almighty, 25 f.; (b) to God the All-Wise, 27a; (c) to Jesus Christ, 27b. Differently WV.

The following analysis may be helpful in tracing the somewhat complicated sequence of thought.

Glory be to God I. Who is able to strengthen you [so as to persevere] 25: 1. in accordance with my Gospel 2. which is the same as the preaching of Christ, 3. which in turn is the same as the revelation of a (divine) mystery.

II. This mystery is [God’s plan of man’s salvation] 4. which was veiled in silence for eternal ages 25, 5. which however has now become manifest [through the Incarnation] 26, 6. and which has [already] been promulgated by the Apostles 26.

III. This promulgation means 26 7. that it has been preached to the Gentiles 8. for the purpose of making them obedient to the faith = Gospel 9. in accordance with a command from God the Eternal, 10. with the help of [the evidence from] the prophetical writings [of the OT].

The order of (7)-(10) is slightly different from that in the text, 26. Points (1)-(3) can be taken as synonymous, each explained by that which follows; (4)-(6)mark the three main stages in the history of salvation; (7)-(10) stress four major features in the last and present state of that history, i.e. the promulgation of God’s salvation. These four features are: (7) its universality, (8) salvation by faith in Jesus Christ, (9) the Apostle’s mission from God, (10) its connexion with the OT. Vg = DV create two unnecessary difficulties (i) by putting 26 in brackets, and (ii) by obscuring the coordination of the three relative clauses in 25 f., (4)-(6): the mystery (a) which was kept secret, (b) but which has now been made manifest, (c) and which has been made known.

The genuineness and textual history of 25-27 have been the subject of much dispute. The difficulty arises from the differences in the MSS. A few omit the passage completely: D* (Claromontanus) Fgr (Augiensis), G (Boernerianus). A number of MSS have the passage after 14:23: c 200 minuscules, mainly von Soden’s K = Antiochian recension of Lucianus. The oldest MSS as well as our modern critical editions place it after 16:23: ? (Sinaiticus) B (Vaticanus) C (Ephraemi rescriptus), etc. A few have it twice, after 14:23 and after 16:23: A (Alexandrinus) P (Porphyrianus), etc. The confusion is nowadays generally traced back to the influence of Marcion who according to Origen-Rufinus X 43 interfered with the text of Rom 15-16 as early as the ond cent.; cf. Lagrange 380-6; Boylan 256-61 Lietzmann 131; § 844m.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Romans 16". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/romans-16.html. 1951.
 
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