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Tuesday, April 16th, 2024
the Third Week after Easter
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Bible Commentaries
Romans 16

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Verses 1-2

I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: That you receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.

I commend unto you Phebe, our sister: Since Phebe is traveling from Cenchrea to Rome on some business of her own and since Paul writes from Corinth, it seems almost certain that Phebe delivers this letter to the brethren at Rome. Cenchrea is the eastern port of Corinth (facing toward Asia). Such letters of commendation were common when a Christian was traveling from one community to another where he/she was unknown (Acts 18:27; 1 Corinthians 16:3; 2 Corinthians 3:1-2; Colossians 4:10; 3 John 1:8-10). This woman, who is not mentioned elsewhere in scripture, is someone in whom Paul has great confidence. He says, "I commend" her to you—she is a servant of the church.

Paul recommends that the brethren in Rome assist her with her personal business there. He says she is one who has helped many others, including Paul himself. All of these statements indicate the noble character of this saintly woman and the great trust Paul places in her Christian demeanor.

which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea: The fact that Phebe is described as a dia/konon (servant) of the church has led many, if not most commentators, to assert that the early church had an office for women deacons or deaconesses (cf. Pendleton, Lard, Hodge, Cranfield, Lenski, Nygren, Beet, Godet, Olshausen, Meyer, Macknight, Alford, Barnes, Sanday, Lange, Henry, Clarke, Robertson, Vincent, Bruce, Wuest, Nicoll, Jamieson, Fausset, Brown, Haldane, Dummelow, Johnson, Best, Kent, Hiebert, Hendricksen). Numerous modern translations also support this view (RSV, AMP, Phillips, Jerusalem Bible, American Bible Union, Williams, NRSV, Cassirer). The Revised English Bible is so irresponsible as to call Phebe "a minister," and the Contemporary English Bible even more wildly declares her "a leader" of the church at Cenchrea. Most of the argumentation supposedly sustaining this notion is based upon long-standing denominational practices that are departures from the word of God. Pliny in a letter to Trajan is the only ancient source quoted.

Scholars who have rejected the idea of including women in the deaconship and leadership of the churches are Whiteside, Lipscomb, Murray, Zerr, Bengel, and even one so liberal in theology as Newman and Nida. Most reliable translations render dia/konon simply as "servant" (KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASB, NIV, McCord). Even Kenneth Taylor (The Living Bible) says only that Phebe is one who has "worked hard" for the church at Cenchrea. Several passages in the scripture point to ministry deriving from dia/konos or its cognates as the function of all believers (Matthew 25:44; John 12:26; Ephesians 4:12; Hebrews 6:10; 1 Peter 4:10-11).

Newman and Nida say "it is doubtful that this had become a technical term for an office in the church at the time that Paul wrote and it is better to use a general term rather than the specific term ’deaconess’" (290). This rendering agrees with the fact that this word is almost always translated "minister," "ministry," "servant," "administration," "serve." In fact, it is rendered deacon(s) only three times (KJV), where it is clear an official function is under consideration (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8; 1 Timothy 3:12).

Bengel suggests Phebe is a servant of the church at Cenchrea because she is appointed to deliver this letter to the brethren at Rome (Vol. 2 159). This word is used generally in scripture to designate any type of ministry, and there is, therefore, no warrant to posit an office of deaconess. Lipscomb writes:

Some think she was a publicly recognized deaconess, but we find no record in the scriptures of any such class. Many women did, however, voluntarily devote themselves in a womanly way to teaching [privately to younger women, Titus 2:3-5—AWB], and helping those who preached, waiting on the sick, and doing whatever work presented itself for them to do. Phebe was one of this class. Paul commended her as a Christian to the brethren at Rome (271).

That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: Paul instructs the brethren to receive Phebe as one bound to them in the fellowship of Jesus Christ. To receive her "as becometh saints" could mean "as a fellow believer should be received." But it is more likely that it means "as it becomes saints to receive a believer." To receive Phebe "worthily" (a)ci/w$), then, places the emphasis on the Romans and action that is becoming to them rather than on what is owing to her.

for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also: There may be an indication here that Phebe is a woman of some means, though the kind of help she has rendered is not indicated per se. Murray suggests she may have "helped" many, including Paul, by acting as a patroness:

The kind of help rendered by Phoebe is not intimated. She may have been a woman of some wealth and social influence and so have acted a patroness. Her services may have been of another kind such as caring for the afflicted and needy. Under what circumstances she was a helper to Paul we do not know. But her help may well have been the kind afforded by Lydia at Philippi (Acts 16:15). In any case, Phoebe is one of the women memorialized in the New Testament by their devoted service to the gospel whose honor is not to be tarnished by elevation to positions and functions inconsistent with the station they occupy in the economy of human relationships (Vol. 2 227).

With these sentiments we strongly agree. All New Testament passages describe the leadership of congregations as exclusively male (Acts 6:1-6; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 4:6-16; 2 Timothy 4:1-5; Acts 20:28; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-11; et al.).

Those that preclude women from congregational leadership are 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Consequently, it seems unlikely that anyone interested in obeying God’s word would institute an office for female deacons without any biblical authority. It should be remembered that the first major departure from the truth came not in digressive worship practices but rather in changes to the God-ordained system of church government.

Verses 3-5

Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house.

Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: Priscilla and Aquila become fast friends with Paul when they first meet in Corinth (Acts 18:1-3). They have only recently arrived in Corinth from Rome. Claudius Caesar has banished all the Jews from Rome, and Aquila and Priscilla have moved to Corinth. There is some question as to whether Aquila and Priscilla are already Christians when Paul first joins them in business. The fact that their conversion to Christ is not recorded after their meeting lends considerable weight to the probability that they have already been baptized into Christ when Paul meets them. Furthermore, such a conclusion helps to explain why Aquila would so readily accept as a business partner this man who is hated by the vast majority of his fellow Jews.

When Paul leaves Corinth after tarrying there "a good while" (Acts 18:18), Priscilla and Aquila accompany him to Ephesus where he parts company with them, continuing his journey to Jerusalem. In Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla remain behind in order to develop and ground the church (Acts 18:21). During that time they encounter Apollos and convert him on the issue of baptism into Christ and then send him on to continue the work they and Paul have begun at Corinth. When Paul writes his first epistle to Corinth, Aquila and Priscilla are still working with him and with the church in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:19), for he sends greetings to the brethren at Corinth from them. By the time Paul writes this letter, they have returned to Rome. One last reference to them indicates they later move again to Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:19).

Hiebert pays this tribute to Aquila and Priscilla:

Aquila and Priscilla provide a beautiful example of an ideal Christian couple, together in work and faith alike. Their names are mentioned six times in the New Testament and always together. If in Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10) we have the tragic example of a couple united in the commission of sin, here we have the challenging example of a Christian couple wholeheartedly united in spirit, aim and deed. As McGiffert says, "They furnish the most beautiful example known to us in the apostolic age of the power for good that could be exerted by a husband and wife working in unison for the advancement of the gospel." Lees compares them to "a double star" among "the group of bright lights which cluster around Paul the Apostle" (23).

The fondness with which Paul thinks of these dear friends in Christ is evidenced by the fact that they are consistently listed first in his lists of greeting (1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19; Romans 16:3).

Who have for my life laid down their own necks: When this couple hazarded their own lives for Paul is not recorded in scripture. It may be that Paul uses the phrase "laid down their own necks" literally, but more probably he uses it figuratively to mean risked their lives. The fact that "neck" (tra/xhlon) is singular in the Greek supports the idea that the reference is figurative. Some believe this event may have occurred in the uproar in Ephesus over the goddess Diana (Acts 19:21-41). This may well be so, but we can speak with no certainty as the record gives no hint.

unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles: Whenever the event just mentioned occurs, it is apparently an act so notable that it has been reported widely among the Gentile churches. As a result there is great gratitude for this couple’s self-sacrifice. Obviously, both Paul and the team of Aquila and Priscilla are highly respected for their work’s sake among the churches.

Likewise greet the church that is in their house: It was not uncommon in apostolic times for brethren to assemble together for worship in the home of one of the members of the congregation (1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2). Hodge suggests "that it is probable from his occupation as a tent maker [that Aquila] had better accommodations for the meetings of the church than most other Christians" (345). Actually, the church at Rome appears to have been a collection of autonomous churches meeting in the homes of several different brethren (verses 10-11, 14-15). If this is the case, then each congregation (home church) is independent and autonomous of the others. Such being the case, the word "church" in the phrase "church at Rome" is used in a regional/universal sense.

Verses 5-15

Salute my wellbeloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ. Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us. Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord. Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus’ household. Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord. Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord. Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them. Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.

In this lengthy set of greetings, Paul singles out for honorable mention twenty-five brothers and sisters in Christ. In addition, he greets those of two households (verses 10 and 11) and two indefinite groups of believers (verses 14b and 15b), together with the congregation that meets in the home of Aquila and Priscilla. Of each one he speaks some commendable word of encouragement and/or honorable recognition for their labors in and for Christ. Among these names there seems to be reference to at least five household congregations and probably more.

Obviously, there has always been a considerable amount of networking among believers. Even though travel was limited to the speed of walking and/or riding a beast of burden or of sailing a ship, brethren maintained close ties and communication with one another. Then, as now, members of the church constitute the family of God on earth, and they are interested in tracking one another. Also, it is evident that family blood relationships have been part and parcel of the church’s welfare from its beginning. No doubt Paul learns much of his information from Aquila and Priscilla as they work with him in Ephesus, but he himself is widely traveled and has a wonderful memory of fellow believers he has met in this place or that. In addition, it is likely that many of them are well traveled. Since, in most of these cases, all that is known is recorded here, we shall pass over them except for a few remarks. Lard summarizes this section:

How sincere the regret is, that we have not a fuller account than we have, of some of the excellent men named in this chapter. But thus it is on earth. Single, short sentences tell the story of those who have prepared its inhabitants for eternal life; while huge tomes are insufficient to record the exploits of those who have often turned it into a slaughter house (455).

Of Epaenetus we know nothing save that he is among the first converts in Asia. Of Mary it is recorded only that she has labored much for the brethren at Rome. At some unrecorded time, Andronicus and Junia share a prison cell with Paul. Scripture records four such imprisonments, and Clement of Rome lists seven (Pendleton 547). There may have been more (2 Corinthians 11:23). There is some doubt as to whether Junia is a man or a woman, for the Greek is obscure. If Junia is a woman, she is likely either the wife or sister of Andronicus. Inconclusive arguments are made for both possibilities. It seems likely that these two are somehow related to Paul (also Herodion—verse 11) rather than simply fellow Jews or Benjaminites because other Jews are mentioned in this list without the designation, "my kinsmen." The fact that this pair is of note among the apostles may mean they themselves are "apostles." If so, the word is being used in its more general sense of messenger a)po/stolo$)))) (2 Corinthians 8:23; Philippians 2:25). In such a sense, numerous men in the New Testament are called apostles: Barnabus (Acts 14:14); James, the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:19); Silvanus and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:6). Paul usually speaks in a more restricted sense of the apostles of Christ when he uses this word. It is more likely, then, that these two are early converts (before Paul) and are well known to the twelve apostles in Judea and Jerusalem. Undoubtedly, they are well known on account of their faith and service.

Amplias, Urbane, Stachys, and Appelles are all greeted warmly as beloved helpers, approved of God. When Paul mentions those of Aristobulus’ household and not Aristobulus himself, most commentators say that, though generally well-known, Aristobulus is not a Christian. Pendleton thinks he "was probably the younger Aristobulus of the Herodian family" based on a quotation in Josephus (547). This conclusion may be true, but there is no way of knowing with certainty. In any case, those of his house may be only his slaves and not his family. Some believe Aristobulus is either dead or an unbeliever, but Lard says one could argue just as well that Aristobulus is not in Rome and Paul knows it and so only greets his household (457). The point is that it is all pure conjecture. It does seem clear, however, that the reference is to a different household church than the one meeting in Aquila’s house.

In verse 11, Paul greets another relative, Herodion, as well as the household of Narcissus or the church meeting in the home of Narcissus. In verse 12, Tryphena and Tryphosa are believed to be sisters because of the similarity of their names (Murray Vol. 2 231). They, along with Persis, another sister in Christ, are hard workers for the church. In verse 13, Rufus is mentioned. He might be the son of Simon who carried Jesus’ cross (Mark 15:21); however, it is a common name. Apparently at some time Paul lives with Rufus; for his mother ministers to Paul as though he is her son.

In verse 14, Paul salutes a group he may know less about on a personal level, for he makes no specific commendations. This group may constitute the leaders or members of another congregation from the one meeting in Aquila’s home. In verse 15, a similar construction appears and may constitute yet another congregation. Paul addresses these as saints, which was a common designation applied to all Christians (1 Corinthians 1:2). All Christians are saints because all have been set aside as holy ones dedicated to God’s service (1 Peter 2:9).

Verse 16

Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.

Salute one another with an holy kiss: This command is voiced five times in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14). It should

also be noted, however, that there are numerous methods of greeting suggested in the New Testament:

1. Verbal greetings (Acts 18:22; KJV—"saluted")

2. Written greetings (1 Corinthians 16:21; 2 Thessalonians 3:17)

3. Embraces (Acts 20:1)

4. Kisses (Acts 20:37—the only express example of a kiss in salutation in the New Testament)

The following three arguments should be considered when weighing the necessity and/or the frequency to "greet one another with a holy kiss":

1. The first point is that the kiss of greeting, which was common during New Testament times, is not the only method used to greet people. Our common greeting of a handshake may be under consideration when James, Cephas, and John extended to Paul and Barnabas "the right hands of fellowship" (Galatians 2:9). The plural "hands" lends considerable weight to a literal understanding rather than a figurative one.

2. Second, it should be observed that the frequency of extending the holy kiss is not regulated by any of these passages. By comparison, how often should a Christian pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17; 1 Timothy 2:8; James 5:16)? How often in the light of 1 Peter 4:9 is one required to extend hospitality? Both prayer and hospitality are commanded, as is the holy kiss, but the frequency with which these commands are to be obeyed is not regulated.

3. Third, what is regulated in all five passages where the holy kiss is commanded is the nature of the kiss bestowed in greeting. It was mandatory that it be characterized by holiness. Neither Paul nor Peter originated this mode of greeting; but both sanctified it as acceptable, provided that it be observed with the morality and purity characteristic of the high calling espoused by all Christians.

The churches of Christ salute you: In addition to Paul’s own salutations, the churches (congregations) among whom he has been traveling send their own greetings to the brethren at Rome.

The plural use of the word churches indicates the local (not universal) or congregational use of the term. It also implies the autonomy of each church. Each congregation of Christians is to govern itself under the authority of Christ and His word.

The church of Christ is one of several appellations by which New Testament churches are called ("the church"—Acts 13:1; Acts 5:11; "the way"— 24:14; "the church of God"—1 Corinthians 1:2; "the church of the living God"—1 Timothy 3:15; "the church of the firstborn (ones)"—Hebrews 12:23). In and of itself, any of the names mentioned in these verses is acceptable for a congregation of God’s people. In order to be a true church of the Lord a congregation must maintain:

1. The right rule of discipline—the scriptures alone;

2. The right terms of entrance into the church—hearing, believing, repenting, confessing Christ, and being baptized for the remission of sins;

3. The correct New Testament pattern of worship—singing without instruments, praying and teaching conducted by one man at a time to one undivided assembly with the women remaining silent, communing with one loaf representing the body of Christ and one cup representing the New Covenant, containing the fruit of the vine (grape juice) representing the shed blood of Christ that ratified the covenant, and a free will offering;

4. The right pattern of government;

5. The right pattern of congregational work.

Any name not found in the New Testament is unscriptural.

Of the names that would be acceptable, the name "Church of Christ" is much to be preferred for several reasons. The church belongs to Christ (Matthew 16:18; Acts 20:28). Literally, Matthew 16:18 reads "the church of me" or the church of Christ. The church should wear Christ’s name not only because He purchased it with His own blood but also because the church is the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2).

Verse 17

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.

There is considerable uncertainty among commentators as to why this vehement outburst occurs here just as Paul appears to be drawing the epistle to a close. For example, Lard comments:

But why he should have introduced the subject of divisions just in this particular connection, is not easily seen. It has no perceptible connection with anything either immediately going before or immediately following (462).

The abruptness of Paul’s interjection, however, may be greatly exaggerated. Cranfield observes it is not true that the context gives no explanation of the introduction of these verses here:

For the injunction to greet one another with a holy kiss contains in itself an implicit warning against those things which are liable to destroy the church’s peace and against the unholy kisses of those who would attach themselves to the church’s fellowship while remaining all the time alien from it in doctrine or life (379).

Furthermore, when Paul mentions all the churches of Christ in verse 16, he would have thought of the many congregations where he has labored and of all the trouble he and they have faced from false teachers. Murray cites Hort as speculating that Paul may have received some notice of impending trouble at Rome just as he prepares to sign off this letter (Vol. 2 234). Whether false teachers have actually invaded the churches in Rome at this time is a moot question. Probably they have not, but we cannot speak with any certainty. If they have, it seems likely that Paul would have addressed them more directly and in more detail in the body of the letter. But whether they have or not, Paul is well aware of the existence of such heretics and the damage they could wreak on a congregation. There is good ground for him to fear they might and to warn the brethren strongly about the danger of embracing them.

Just what sort of troublemakers he has in mind is not clear. Some believe they are antinomian libertines—those who teach that all that is required to be saved is faith only with no adherence to moral law or to the commands of God. Others (Whiteside 296, Murray Vol. 2 235, Macknight Vol.1 505 among them) believe Paul’s eye is on the Judaizing zealots. Murray, however, wisely observes:

These two viewpoints (antinomian libertines and Judaizing teachers—AWB) though apparently antagonistic are in reality an ultimate effect closely related. The person jealous for what God has not commanded soon sets more store by his own ordinances than by those of God (Vol. 2 235).

If verse 18 refers not to these antinomian libertines but rather to their self-righteous character, they may well have been Judaizing teachers. Judaizers fit the bill of those who "cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned." At any rate, the brethren at Rome are to be on watchful guard against such deadly men. They are to mark (skopei=n) them, meaning:

To view attentively, watch, reconnoiter; to see, observe, take care, beware, Luke 11:35; Galatians 6:1; to regard, have respect to, 2 Corinthians 4:18; Philippians 2:4; to mark, note, Rom. l6:17; Philippians 3:17 (AGLP 372).

Macknight says it means to observe "as they do who are placed in a watch-tower to observe the motions of their enemies" (Vol. 1 505).

Hodge says, "There were probably two evils in the apostle’s mind when he wrote this passage; the divisions occasioned by erroneous doctrines, and the offences or scandals occasioned by the evil conduct of the false teachers" (347). The word translated "offences" (ska/ndala) is the same as that which occurs in Romans 14:13, and it is possible that Paul has in mind the divisions caused when the strong insist upon their rights (liberties) and override the consciences of those brethren who are unnecessarily scrupulous (weak). Such a connection, however, seems unlikely for at least these five discernible reasons:

1. In Romans 14:13, the strong believer causes the weak to stumble, but it is a breach of love (14:15). Here Paul attaches more weight to the sin than he does in Romans fourteen.

2. We have here the consideration of false teachers; whereas in Romans 14, 15, false teachers are not in view.

3. Here false doctrine causes the stumbling and is of such a nature as that condemned in Galatians (3:1; 5:1-12). These false teachers are to be marked out and avoided. The church is to withdraw fellowship from them. No such demands are made in chapters fourteen or fifteen.

4. These false teachers are skilled in the artful device of "smooth and fair speech," a common trait among those intent on corrupting the purity and simplicity of the gospel. In Romans fourteen and fifteen, however, there is no such deception.

5. Furthermore, deceptiveness is the stock in trade behavior of these false teachers. They are the sort to beguile the hearts of the innocent. In Romans fourteen and fifteen, the sin was in insisting on one’s rights to the injury of those with weak consciences.

Of course, if the "strong" brother is insistent enough upon his rights and seeks to build a faction around himself to support his view, he might fill these descriptions; but more likely Paul has in mind some false teacher whose doctrine and behavior corrupt the truth of the gospel and tears asunder the congregation.

It should be recognized that sometimes taking a stand for the truth causes division (Galatians 1:6-9; Matthew 10:34-36). When such is the case, the believer must stand on the side of truth and "let the chips fall where they may." Also, sometimes it is the truth itself that becomes a stumbling block when people refuse to accept it (Romans 9:32-33; Luke 7:23). But divisions and offenses "contrary to the doctrine" one has already learned (either through this epistle or from some other inspired writing or man) are not to be tolerated. The men who would cause such ruptures to the fellowship are not only to be marked by close observation but also they are to be avoided. The church is to turn away from such men. As Lard states:

This turning away amounted to a withdrawal of fellowship; and the withdrawal was to continue, so long as those withdrawn from, continued to produce divisions. It was a separation of true brethren from false; and without a reformation, it was final (463).

Verse 18

For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.

These false teachers are men who are not at all submissive to Christ, but rather they serve themselves. They are like the glutton who lives only to satisfy the lust of his own belly. They are the willing slaves of their own egotism. They are controlled by the desires of the flesh (James 3:15; Judges 1:19). Those condemned in Colossians 2:20-23, whose slogan was "touch not, taste not, handle not," come under the same indictment (Philippians 3:16-19).

These "enemies of Christ" (Philippians 3:18), however, must not be underestimated, for they are smooth talkers and their arguments are plausible. Macknight says "good words" signify "one who promises much, but performs nothing; one who professes to regard the interest of the person to whom he speaks more than his own" (Vol. 1 506). Such men, to gain the confidence of brethren, pronounce all manner of blessings upon them. Like Absalom, they will steal the hearts of the simple (2 Samuel 15:1-6).

The "simple" are not those who are ignorant or weak-minded. Rather they are unsuspecting. Macknight says:

The word denotes persons entirely free of guile; persons upright and unsuspicious, but who have not the prudence sufficient to enable them to discern and avoid the snares which the wicked lay in their way (Vol. 1 506).

Whiteside wryly notes:

People seem never to learn that smooth and fair speech is the "stock in trade" of a deceiver. If he were to announce that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing and that he had come to destroy…, he would not deceive even the simple (297).

Consider these passages also: 2 Corinthians 11:14-15; Colossians 2:4; 2 Peter 2:3.

Verse 19

For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.

For your obedience is come abroad unto all men: This phrase admits of two interpretations. Paul may have in mind the Roman brethren’s obedience to the gospel, in which case, the sense would be: You ought to be on your guard against these false teachers because your succumbing to their false teaching would be a disgrace, not only to you but also those who know of your obedient character. If you should be led astray, others might fall.

On the other hand, Paul may rather have in mind the obedient disposition of these brethren at Rome—that is, their readiness to follow the instructions of their religious teachers. If this is his meaning, the sense would be: It is even more essential that you be on your guard against these false teachers because they know of your ready obedience. If you are not on guard, you will become an easy mark for them. Your obedience in itself is a commendable quality, but you must be prudent enough to weigh the truth of what you are being taught before you "buy into it."

This second view seems to be more in keeping with the context. Paul is worried that the brethren might be so ready to be obedient that they might be gullible to the smooth words and fair speeches of false teachers. Paul rejoices in their simplicity, but also he wants them to be careful in whom they place their trust (Matthew 10:16; John 10:4-5; 1 Corinthians 14:20; 2 Corinthians 11:3). Pendleton observes that "if the church could only attain the paradoxical state of being simple toward Christ, and wise toward those who pervert his word, sectarianism with all its divisions would be at an end" (550-551) (Hebrews 5:14 and Isaiah 5:20-21).

Verse 20

And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.

And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly: God is not the God of sects and divisions. He is the God of peace. Those guilty of dividing the church are the enemies of God, who made peace available to sinful men through the sacrifice of His Son and through the gospel. If the brethren will

mark and avoid the false teachers—if they will be simple in their devotion to Christ and wise in their rejection of false teachers— then the God who gave them peace will soon crush Satan under their feet. There is an obvious allusion here to the events that occurred in Eden (Genesis 3:15). Just as Satan was the instigator of Eve’s sin, he is also the instigator of the false teaching that plagues the church (2 Corinthians 11:12-15; 1 Timothy 4:1-2). Just as God crushed Satan when he bruised the heel of Jesus by crucifying Him (1 Corinthians 2:7-8), God will crush Satan (that is, the false teachers through whom he deceives) again if the church will abide faithful to the truth and wisely withdraw from these wicked troublemakers. Pendleton comments:

If the Roman Christians hearkened to the apostle as to these open, material, visible enemies, they would quickly gain a victory over the supreme spiritual and invisible leader who inspired them. Thus the God of peace (not of division) would triumph over the prince of all strife. Life’s battle is brief, and the Christian soldier who is steadfast soon gains the victory and is honorably discharged (551).

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen: This benedictory prayer is Paul’s autograph authentication of this letter. It is a fitting prayer for the brethren facing the battle of which he has been warning. They will need the favor of their Lord who is Jesus Christ. If the favor of Jesus prevails and if the brethren remain constant in their battle against the false teachers, God will crush Satan and divisions will cease. Paul expresses his heartfelt confidence in these brethren at Rome here and in verse 24 and assures them of his warmest affection and his deep love for them.

Verses 21-24

Timotheus my workfellow, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you.I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord. 23 Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. Erastus the chamberlain of the city saluteth you, and Quartus a brother. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

Timotheus needs no introduction, and he has by now earned the commendation of being Paul’s workfellow. He is mentioned in a host of passages (Acts 16:1-3; Acts 17:14; Acts 18:5; Acts 19:22; Acts 20:4; 1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 16:10; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:19; Philippians 1:1; Philippians 2:19-23; Colossians 1 :l; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; Philemon 1:1; and, of course, the two epistles addressed to him). Timothy serves Paul faithfully as his own son in the gospel from the time they meet until the death of Paul. It is to Timothy that Paul passes his mantle of leadership—at least in Ephesus (2 Timothy 1:1-14).

Lucius is identified by some as Luke because Lucius is the Latin equivalent of the Greek name Luke, but there is no method for establishing this as a fact. There is a Lucius mentioned in Acts 13:1, but it seems unlikely the same man is mentioned here. In point of fact, it is speculative to correlate many of these men with those of the same name mentioned somewhere else in scripture. For example, how many Americans do you know who are named Bill?

Jason is thought by some to be Jason of Acts 17:5-7; Acts 17:9. Maybe he is. Sosipater is sometimes identified with Sopater of Berea (Acts 20:4). But these connections are all matters of conjecture. Paul does refer to Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater as his kinsmen. Maybe he means only they are fellow Jews, but if so, how do we explain that other Jews are named who are not given the title of kinsmen? It is possible that they were men of Paul’s tribe, Benjaminites, which would make them related, however distantly. Probably it is better to take Paul at his word and recognize these men as his relatives. We know Paul trained numerous young preachers and church leaders, thus following Jesus’ example and establishing a New Testament pattern that we should also observe. The brotherhood would be spared much hurt if churches would send out prospective young preachers under the tutelage of older preachers and if churches would insist on a young man being trained before they employ him.

In verse 22, Tertius apparently appends his own greeting. He is Paul’s secretary (amanuensis) and has written this letter at Paul’s dictation (1 Corinthians 16:21; Galatians 6:11; Colossians 4:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:17). Macknight thinks that because his name is Latin, Tertius is well known to the brethren at Rome and may have even lived there (Vol. 1 508). This possibility might explain why his greeting is inserted in the midst of Paul’s remarks.

Paul refers to Gaius as his host. No doubt he is living in Gaius’ house. There is reason to connect this man to the Gaius whom Paul baptized (1 Corinthians 1:14). Some believe, however, he may be the same as Titus Justus mentioned in Acts 18:6. That Gaius is host not only to Paul but also to the whole church may mean the congregation at Corinth assembles in his home. If so, he must have had a large home, for the congregation at Corinth seems to have been quite large. On the other hand, the text may simply refer to his generous hospitality in opening his home to all the brethren at Corinth and those visiting from abroad as well. There are not sufficient reasons to identify this Gaius with others who are called by the same name (Acts 19:29; Acts 20:4; 3 John 1:1).

Erastus is the treasurer of the city of Corinth. His conversion, as well as those of Gaius and Crispus (Acts 18:8), reveals there are several members at Corinth of high standing in society. There is no reason to connect this man with the Erastus mentioned elsewhere (Acts 19:22; 2 Timothy 4:20).

Finally, a brother named Quartus, who was likely unknown to the Romans, sends his greeting also. Since no commendation or explanation is attached to his name, it seems probable that he is unknown to the Christians at Rome.

Verse 24 repeats the benediction of verse 20b. Lard says, "The Apostle’s fervent love for his brethren, together with his deep solicitude for their peace and prosperity in the divine life, prompts him to bestow on them, a second time, his benediction (466).

Verse 25

Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,

Now to him that is of power to stablish you: It is likely these closing verses are written by Paul’s own hand, for it is customary for him to attach with his own hand an autograph on his letters (Colossians 4:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 16:21; Galatians 6:11). He closes with this his third grand doxology of the book (8:35-39; 11:33-36) in which as Macknight says, "he offers a solemn thanksgiving to God, for the calling of the Gentiles, by the apostle’s preaching of Christ to them, according to the revelation of that mystery made to him, and according to God’s express commandment in the prophetic writings of the Jews" (Vol. 1 509).

In verses 17-20, Paul warns Christians against the seduction of deceivers and the paramount need that believers be so established that they would not become victims of Satan’s evil schemes. They must learn to place their trust and dependence upon God. Paul’s prayer is they will be rendered firm and constant so that they will not fall. He wants them to be grounded and settled in the faith, relying on God so that the trials they suffer at Satan’s hands will not overthrow their salvation. This settled establishment comes from their firm belief of the gospel Paul preaches.

according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ: It is not Paul’s gospel in the sense that it is distinct from that preached by the other apostles. Rather it is his as distinct from that preached by the Judaizing teachers and all other false teachers. Murray says, "when he says ’my gospel’ (cf. 2:16; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:8) he means the gospel that was entrusted to him and which he preached (cf. 1 Corinthians 15 :l; Galatians 1:11; Galatians 2:2; Galatians 2:7; Ephesians 3:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Timothy 1:11)" (Vol. 2 241). Paul wants them to be firmly grounded in the essential doctrines he has taught in this epistle; namely, the gracious justification of both Jews and Gentiles alike on the basis of their faith in Christ without works of merit. He means the justification of Gentiles without subjecting them to the law of Moses. Lest he be misunderstood, Paul immediately identifies his gospel with the preaching that is about Jesus Christ who is the subject of all gospel preaching.

In Romans 15:19, Paul says he wants to move to Rome and use it as a new base of operation for his apostolic office. In presenting his job resume to the Romans, he mentions "my gospel" to clarify to the brethren what he preaches. His gospel is the same as the gospel of Christ. There is no distinction.

according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began: Jesus is "the lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8; 1 Peter 1:18-20). But this great fact was kept secret. It was a mystery not even understood by the prophets or the angels (1 Peter 1:10-12). Each piece of the Messianic puzzle was revealed in prophecy only on a need-to-know basis, and then the revelation was unclear. God’s purpose was to defeat Satan by allowing him to crucify Jesus and bruise his heel only to have his own head crushed in turn (Genesis 3:15). If Satan and his fellows had known that in crucifying the Lord of Glory they were actually accomplishing God’s eternal plan, they would not have crucified Jesus (1 Corinthians 2:6-8). To effect His gospel plan perfectly, it was kept secret until it came to fruition. Only in the Christian Age is the mystery revealed. It is no longer a secret, but rather an open testimony able to be understood and obeyed by all who will believe it.

Verse 26

But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:

But now is made manifest: The mystery is now revealed—made evident to all. Paul tells the Ephesians he has received the mystery from God and has written it down so that when they read it they may understand the mystery also (Ephesians 3:1-8).

and by the scriptures of the prophets: Peter tells the people gathered in the Temple at the gate called Beautiful that the prophets had spoken of the Christian Age and the Messiah: "Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days" (Acts 3:24). All that the apostles revealed was in accord with the prophecies given in the Old Testament.

according to the commandment of the everlasting God: The secret has been revealed at the direction of God Himself. The Holy Spirit inspired the men of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and directed them in their preaching and writing (2 Peter 1:20-21) so that the mystery is evident to all who hear it. Probably Paul refers to God as everlasting to correspond with what he has just said about the gospel having been hid in eternity.

made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: The gospel has been made known to all men in order to produce the obedience that comes from faith. The notion that Paul ever teaches salvation by faith alone without the works of faith is absurd. Paul begins this letter by establishing clearly that the faith he preaches and by which men are saved is an obedient faith (Romans 1:5). In chapter four, he explains at length that the faith by which a man is justified is a faith like Abraham’s—an obedient faith. The same is stated again here at the close of Romans. There is no excuse for men not to realize the faith that saves requires the works of faith—obedience to the revealed will of God, which is the New Testament:

1. Romans 6:16; Romans 15:18

2. 2 Corinthians 2:9; 2 Corinthians 10:5

3. Galatians 3:1; Galatians 5:7

4. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10

5. Hebrews 5:8-9

Paul always teaches that our salvation cannot be earned by works of merit since we are all sinners and that it must be received by God’s grace through faith. Nevertheless, he also teaches that those hearing the gospel must believe and obey it to be saved. Furthermore, those obedient to the gospel of grace (having been saved at the point of their baptism) must continue to produce the obedient works of faith (Romans 6).

Verse 27

To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.

To God only wise, be glory: Paul concludes his doxology where he began it. The only wise God is He who is able to "stablish you." At the beginning, Paul emphasizes the power of God because by His strength He is able to ground believers. But here at the end the wisdom of God is in focus (11:33; Ephesians 3:10). Murray suggests:

The reason for this appears to be that the mystery with which verses 25b, 26 are concerned draws attention to and elicits the adoration of God’s wisdom (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:6 - l3)…The appropriate designation is therefore "the only wise God". He is the only God and to Him alone can be ascribed the wisdom exhibited in the unfolding of the mystery of his will (Vol. 2 243).

through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen: Jesus is the person through whom the Christian ascribes glory to God. He is also the person through whom God’s glory is made known and extolled. In his final words to the brethren at Rome, Paul addresses his praises to the only wise God as that Being whose wisdom is so wonderfully displayed in the gospel, and in all His other works, that He, alone and above all, can be considered truly wise.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Romans 16". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/romans-16.html. 1993-2022.
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