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Bible Commentaries
Romans 16

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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It has been observed as strange that of all the Epistles of St. Paul, this to the Romans and that to Colossians, contain the greatest number of personal salutations, though these were precisely the two churches that he had never seen up to the date of his writing. A few critics, headed by Baur, have used this as an argument against the genuineness of the portion of the Epistles in question. But reasoning like this may safely be dismissed, as these very portions are just those which it would be most senseless and aimless to forge, even if it were possible on other grounds to think of them as a forgery.
On the other hand, there is some truth in the suggestion that the Apostle might think it invidious to single out individuals for special mention in the churches where he was known, while he would have no hesitation in naming those with whom he happened to be personally acquainted in churches where he was not known.
Besides this, it should be remembered that the Christians at Rome had been recently in a state of dispersion. All Jews by birth had been expelled from Rome by Claudius. It was this fact which had brought Aquila and Priscilla to Corinth and Ephesus, where St. Paul fell in with them, and he would naturally meet with other members of the dispersed church in the same way.
We are apt to underrate the amount of rapid circulation which went on in these early Christian communities. We know from Pagan writers that there was a great tendency all along the shores of the Mediterranean to gravitate towards Rome, and the population thus formed would naturally be a shifting and changing one, loosely attached to their temporary dwelling-place, and with many ties elsewhere. It will be noticed how many of the persons mentioned in the list had some prior connection with St. Paul, quite apart from their relation to the church at Rome. Andronicus, Junias, and Herodion, are described as his “kinsmen.” Aquila and Priscilla, and we may add, almost with certainty, Epænetus, he had met in Asia. Of Amplias, Urban, Stachys, Persis, and Rufus, he speaks as if with personal knowledge. If the Received reading were correct (“us” for “you”), Mary would have to be added to this list, and possibly also Apelles.

Analysing these lists of names from another point of view, two further general conclusions appear to be borne out. (1) The church at Rome did not consist to any great extent of native Romans. The only strictly Latin names are Amplias (for Ampliatus), and Urbanus. Julia, in Romans 16:15, merely marks a dependant upon the court. Aquila and Priscilla, Andronicus and Junia (or Junias), Herodion, and probably Rufus, appear to be Jews. The name Apelles, though not confined to Jews, was proverbially common among them. Aristobulus may be the Herodian prince of that name; in which case his household would be likely to be in great part Jews. The rest of the names are Greek. And this would tally with the fact that from the first there seems to have been a large Greek element in the church at Rome, so much so, that out of the twelve first bishops, only three seem to have borne Roman names, while the literature of the church, until some way into the third century, was Greek. (2) The names seem to belong in the main to the middle and lower classes of society. Many are such as are usually assigned to slaves or freed-men. Some are especially frequent in inscriptions relating to the imperial household; and this, taken in connection with the mention of “Cæsar’s household” in Philippians 4:22, may lead to the inference that Christianity had at this early date established itself in the palace of the emperor, though only among the lower order of servants.

Verse 1

(1) Phebe.—As the Roman Church is especially exhorted to receive Phebe, it has been inferred that she was one of the party to which St. Paul entrusted his Epistle, if not the actual bearer of it herself.

Our sisteri.e., in a spiritual sense—a fellow-Christian.

Servant.—Rather, a deaconess, keeping the technical term. Deacons were originally appointed to attend to the wants of the poorer members of the Church. This is the first mention of women-deacons, in regard to whom instructions are given to Timothy (1 Timothy 3:11). The necessity for an order of deaconesses would gradually make itself felt where women were kept in a stricter seclusion, as in Greece and some parts of the East.

Cenchrea.—The port of Corinth, at the head of the Eastern or Saronic Gulf, about nine miles from the city.

Verse 2

(2) In the Lord.—With the consciousness that you are performing a Christian act, subject to all those serious obligations implied in the name.

As becometh saints.—As Christians ought to receive a fellow-Christian.

Succourer.—Patroness or protectress, in the exercise of her office as deaconess.

Of myself also.—Perhaps in illness.

Verse 3

(3) Priscilla.—The correct reading here is Prisca, of which form Priscilla is the diminutive. It is rather remarkable that the wife should be mentioned first. Perhaps it may be inferred that she was the more active and conspicuous of the two.

Aquila was a Jew of Pontus, whom St. Paul had found with his wife at Corinth (Acts 18:1). They had there been converted by him, and afterwards appear in his company at Ephesus (Acts 18:18; Acts 18:26; 1 Corinthians 16:19). At the time when this Epistle was written they were at Rome, but later they seem to have returned to Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:19).

The Jew Aquila, who rather more than a century later made a translation of the Old Testament, critically compared with the LXX. in the Hexapla of Origen, also came from Pontus.

Verse 4

(4) Laid down their own necks.—Whether this expression is to be taken literally or figuratively we do not know, neither can we do more than guess at the event to which it refers. It may have something to do with the tumult at Ephesus, and with that “fighting with beasts” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:32.

Verse 5

(5) The church that is in their house.—A party of Christians seem to have been in the habit of meeting in the house of Aquila and Priscilla for purposes of worship at Rome, as previously at Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:19). Similar instances may be found in Acts 12:12; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2.

Salute.—The same word in the Greek is translated indifferently by “salute” and “greet,” an unnecessary caprice.

Firstfruits of Achaia.—For “Achaia” we ought certainly to read “Asia”—i.e., the Roman province of Asia, a broad strip of territory including the whole western end of the peninsula of Asia Minor, from the Propontis in the north, to Lycia in the south. Ephesus was the capital, and the seven “churches in Asia” to which St. John wrote in the Apocalypse—Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea—were the most central and important of its cities.

By “firstfruits of Asia” is meant one of the first converts won over to Christianity in Asia. (Comp. “firstfruits of Achaia,” in 1 Corinthians 16:15, through the parallelism of which the text of our own passage became corrupted.)

Verse 6

(6) On us.—The true reading seems to be, on you. The readers would know to what the Apostle referred. It is useless for us to attempt to conjecture.

Verse 7

(7) Junia.—Or, possibly, “Junias” (for Junianus), a man’s name.

My kinsmen.—From the number of persons (six in all, and those not only in Rome but also in Greece and Macedonia) to whom the title is given in this chapter, it would seem as if the word “kinsmen” was to be taken in a wider sense than that which it usually bears. It probably means members of the same nation—Jew like myself.

Fellow-prisoners.—It is not at all known to what this refers. The only imprisonment of St. Paul recorded in the Acts after this date would be that at Philippi, but allusions such as those in 2 Corinthians 6:5; 2 Corinthians 11:23, at once show the defectiveness of the narrative, and point to occasions when the persons mentioned might easily have shared imprisonment with him.

Of note among the apostles.—An ambiguous expression, which might mean, and, judging by the word alone, would perhaps more naturally be taken to mean, “distinguished as Apostles themselves.” This sense is not to be disregarded as absolutely impossible, for the title “Apostles” does not appear to have been limited to the Twelve. It is decidedly more probable that James, the Lord’s brother, who is called an Apostle in Galatians 1:19, and elsewhere, was not identical with James the son of Alphæus. And, however this may be, there can be no question about Barnabas, who is called an Apostle in Acts 14:14. St. Paul himself seems to draw a distinction between “the Twelve” and “all the Apostles,” in 1 Corinthians 15:7. Still, on the whole, it seems best to suppose that the phrase “of note among the Apostles” means, “highly esteemed by the apostolic circle.”

Were in Christ. . . .i.e., became Christians.

Verse 8

(8) Amplias.—The three oldest MSS. have “Ampliatus,” for which “Amplias” would be in any case a contracted form. The name is a common one, in several instances found in connection with the imperial household.

Verse 9

(9) Urbane.—Urbanus, or Urban; the final “e” should not be sounded. Like Ampliatus, a common name found among members of the household.

Our helper in Christ.—The “helper,” that is, both of St. Paul and of the Roman Church by her efforts in spreading the gospel.

Stachys.—A rarer name than the last two; it appears as that of a court physician in the inscriptions of about the date of this Epistle.

Verse 10

(10) Apelles.—This name is also found among the dependents of the emperor. Horace, in the well-known phrase, “Credat Judæas Apella” (Ephesians 1:0Ephesians 1:0, v. 100) takes it as a typical Jewish name.

Approved in Christ.—Whose fidelity to Christ has been tried, and has stood the test.

Aristobulus’ household.—Aristobulus, a grandson of Herod the Great, was educated and lived in a private station at Rome. From the friendly terms on which he stood with the Emperor Claudius, it seems not unlikely that, by a somewhat common custom, his household may have been transferred to the emperor at his death. In that case, his slaves would be designated by a term such as we find in the Greek.

Verse 11

(11) My kinsman.—See the Note on Romans 16:7.

Them that be of the household of Narcissus.—A phrase similar to that which is translated, “Them which are of Aristobulus’ household,” above. Narcissus, too, is an historical name. There had been a famous Narcissus, a freed-man and favourite of Claudius, who had been put to death three or four years before this Epistle was written. His household would naturally pass into the hands of the emperor, though still keeping his name. In the case of Aristobulus, the transference would be effected by bequest, in that of Narcissus by confiscation. Many instances of both methods occur in the history and records of the time.

The interpretation here given, and the identification of Aristobulus and Narcissus with the historical bearers of those names, is some way short of certain, but may be said to have some degree of probability.

Verse 12

(12) Tryphena and Tryphosa.—Probably sisters or near relatives. They, too, may have been attached to the court.

Verse 13

(13) Rufus.—Simon of Cyrene is described in St. Mark’s Gospel (Mark 15:21) as “the father of Alexander and Rufus,” and as there is a substantial tradition, favoured by some internal indications, that this Gospel was written at Rome, it is not unlikely that the same Rufus may be meant.

Chosen in the Lord.—An eminent Christian.

His mother and mine.—His mother, who has also been like a mother to me.

Verse 14

(14) Of the names in this and the next verse, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, Philologus, Julia, Nereus (with the corresponding female name Nereis) all occur with more or less frequency in inscriptions relating to the household. Hernias and Hermes are very common. The first is a contraction from several longer forms. Patrobas is contracted from Patrobius. We find that a freed-man of Nero’s who bore this name was put to death by Galba; but the person saluted by St. Paul is more likely to have been a dependent of his than the man himself.

Taking the list of names as a whole, and comparing them with the inscriptions, we may—without going so far as to identify individuals, which would be precarious ground—nevertheless, note the general coincidence with the mention of “Cæsar’s household” in Philippians 4:22.

Verse 16

(16) Salute one another.—As a mark of brotherly feeling among themselves, St. Paul desires those who are assembled at the reading of his Epistle to greet each other in a Christian way. It is to be their own act and not a salutation coming from him.

With an holy kiss.—A common Eastern and Jewish custom specially consecrated in Christianity. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14.)

The churches of Christ.—The word “all” should be inserted. As being the Apostle of the Gentiles, and knowing as he did the interest which all would take in the church of the great metropolis, St. Paul feels himself fully justified in speaking for all the churches of his foundation.

Verse 17

(17) Cause divisions and offences.—Set traps in the way of the unwary, so as to entice them into false doctrine and schismatical practices.

Verses 17-20

(17-20) Here the Epistle would naturally end, but an afterthought occurs to the Apostle, His experience of other churches, especially those at Corinth and in Galatia, suggests to him that he should warn his readers against false teachers, though such had not as yet obtained any great hold among them.

Verse 18

(18) Their own belly.—Compare the description in Philippians 3:18-19, where the Apostle is also denouncing certain persons who made “a god of their belly.” It is not, however, quite clear that the class of persons intended is precisely the same. There the Apostle is condemning Antinomian extravagances which professed to be based on his own teaching; here he would seem to have in view some more radical divergence of doctrine, “contrary to” that which they had learned. Selfish indulgence is unfortunately a common goal, to which many diverse ways of error will be found to lead.

By good words and fair speeches.—The difference, perhaps, is between “insinuating” or “specious” address, and “fine phrases” in a rhetorical sense.

Simple.—Literally, guileless. Those who have no evil intentions themselves, and do not readily suspect others of them.

Verse 19

(19) No harm has been done as yet. Still it is well to be upon your guard.

Simple concerning evil.—This is not at all the same word as that which is translated “simple” above. The first is that freedom from dishonest motives which makes a man an unsuspecting and easy prey for designing persons, and applies rather to natural bent and disposition. The second refers rather to the confirmed habit of one who has come in contact with evil, and is still uncontaminated by it; who has resisted all the plots and schemes that have been laid for him; and whose love for what is good and hatred of evil, has only been strengthened and disciplined. The word for “simple” here means “unmixed,” “uncontaminated,” “pure and clear.”

Verse 20

(20) The God of peace.—We can well understand how the Apostle, in the midst of “fightings without and fears within,” should look forward with joyous confidence to the time when both for him and his readers all this turmoil and conflict would give way to “peace.” The reference seems to be to his near expectation of the Messiah’s return, and with it the final victory of the faith. The Romans have not begun to feel the bitterness of divisions as yet; he foresees a time when they will do so. but beyond that he foresees a further time when all will be hushed and quelled, and the Great Adversary himself for ever overthrown.

Bruise.—With reference to Genesis 3:15.

The grace. . . .—The more correct reading of the benediction is simply. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you, the other words being omitted. The four principal Græco-Latin Codices omit the benediction here altogether and insert it in Romans 16:24, where it also appears in the Received text, though wanting in MSS. of the best type.

Verse 21

(21) Timotheus.—Timothy had been sent on in advance from Ephesus (Acts 20:22). He would seem to have gone on into Greece and to Corinth itself (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 16:10). He had thence rejoined St. Paul on his way through Macedonia (2 Corinthians 1:1), and he was now with him again in Greece.

In the other Epistles (2 Cor., Phil., Colossians , 1 and 2 Thess., and Philem.), when Timothy was present with St. Paul at the time of his writing, he is joined with him in the salutation at the outset. Why his name does not appear in the heading of the present letter we can hardly say. Perhaps he happened to be away at the time when it was begun; or, St. Paul may have thought it well that a church which was entirely strange to him, and to which Timothy too was a stranger, should be addressed in his own name alone.

Lucius.—This may, perhaps, be the Lucius of Cyrene mentioned in Acts 13:1; but the name is too common for anything to be asserted positively.

Jason.—A Jason is mentioned as having received St. Paul and his companions on their first visit to Thessalonica, and getting himself into trouble in consequence (Acts 17:5-9). It would be some slight argument for this identification if the word “kinsmen” were taken in its narrower sense; there would then be a reason why St. Paul should have found hospitality in the house of Jason.

Sosipater.—Possibly “Sopater, the son of Pyrrhus, of Berœa,” mentioned in Acts 20:4 (corrected reading).

Verses 21-23

(21-23) The companions of St. Paul add their own greetings to the Roman Church.

Verse 22

(22) Tertius.—The Apostle’s amanuensis. It was the custom of St. Paul to add a few words of parting benedictory encouragement or admonition in his own handwriting, partly as a mark of his own personal interest in his readers, and partly as a precaution against forgery. (See especially Galatians 6:11, and 2 Thessalonians 3:17.) We have observed in the course of this Commentary how frequently the involved and broken style is to be accounted for by this habit of dictation, and, as it would seem, not very punctilious revision. We have the thoughts and words of the Apostle as they came warm from his own mind.

Verse 23

(23) Gaius.—Three persons of this name are mentioned, Gains of Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:14), Gains, a Macedonian (Acts 19:29), and Gaius of Derbe in Lycaonia (Acts 20:4). The Gaius of the Epistle would probably be identical with the first of these. The name was a common one.

Mine host, and of the whole church.—St. Paul was now lodging in the house of Gaius, as on his previous visit, first in that of Aquila and then in that of Justus (Acts 18:2; Acts 18:7). It would seem that Gaius lent his house for the meetings of the Church, or it is possible that St. Paul may be alluding, with graceful hyperbole, to the hospitality which he was always ready to exercise.

Erastus.—It is not quite easy to identify this Erastus with the one mentioned in Acts 19:22, 2 Timothy 4:20, who there appears as a travelling companion of the Apostle. The office of “treasurer” to an important city like Corinth would naturally, we should suppose, involve a fixed residence.

Chamberlain.—A better word would seem to be treasurer. The officer hi question had charge of the revenues of the city. The title appears upon inscriptions.

A brother.—Rather, the brother. No special predicate seems to be needed, and therefore St. Paul (or Tertius) simply describes him as the Christian of that name.

Verse 24

(24) The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.—This verse is wanting in the oldest group of MSS., and is found chiefly in Græco-Latin Codices and in Antiochene authorities of the fourth and fifth centuries, whose leaning is towards the later text.

If the theory stated in the introduction to chapter 15 is correct, the doxology which follows was added by the Apostle to complete the shorter edition of the Epistle, but soon came to be taken as a fitting close to the whole.

Allusion has been made to the resemblance which it presents to the Pastoral Epistles and the Epistle to the Ephesians. This will readily be seen when the parallel expressions are placed side by side.

Romans 16:25-27.—“To Him that is of power.”

Ephesians 3:20.—“Unto Him that is able” (precisely the same words in the Greek).

“According to my gospel.”

2 Timothy 2:8.—“According to my gospel” (the same phrase is, however, found in Romans 2:16).

“The preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, 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.”

Ephesians 3:3; Ephesians 3:5-6.—“By revelation He made known unto us the mystery. . . . which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles should be,” &c.

Ephesians 3:9-10.—“The mystery which from the beginning of the world hath been hid. . . . to the intent that now. . . . might be known.”

Titus 1:2-3.—“Which God. . . . before the world began” (peculiar and identical phrase); “but hath in due times manifested His word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment” (same word) “of God our Saviour.”

2 Timothy 1:9-10.—“Which was given us. . . . before the world began, but is now made manifest,” &c.

“To God only wise, be glory, through Jesus Christ for ever” (Greek, “for ever and ever”). “Amen.”

1 Timothy 1:17.—“Now unto the King eternal” (similar to “everlasting God” above), “the only wise God” (but “wise” is a doubtful reading), “be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

(25) Stablishi.e., to confirm and strengthen in all the elements of a Christian character.

According to my gospel.—By those means of grace which the gospel that I preach indicates and enjoins you to use.

My gospel.—The gospel preached by me; the gospel preached as I preach it.

And the preaching of Jesus Christ.—And in accordance with that preaching, the subject matter of which is Christ. The establishment of the Roman Christians was to take place through those appointed ways and means that are laid down in the gospel, and form the main topic of Christian preaching. All means of grace centre in Christ, and it is only in accordance with the due proclamation of Him that the Christian can hope to become confirmed and strengthened.

According to the revelation.—An involved and difficult sentence. The two clauses which began with “according to” are co-ordinate together, and are both dependent upon the word “stablish” above. “May God establish and confirm you in all those ways that the gospel of Christ lays down; that gospel the introduction of which it has been reserved for these latter days to see; a secret long hidden, but now revealed, and corroborated as it is by the prophetic writings, and preached by the Apostles at God’s express command; the great instrument of bringing over the Gentiles to the faith.”

Of the mystery.—The word “mystery” is used elsewhere in the New Testament precisely in the sense which is so clearly defined in this passage of something which up to the time of the Apostles had remained secret, but had then been made known by divine intervention. The “mystery” thus revealed is the same as that described in the two preceding clauses—in one word, Christianity. All through the Old Testament dispensation, the Christian scheme, which was then future, had remained hidden; now, with Christ’s coming, the veil has been taken away.

Since the world began.—The English phrase here is paraphrastic. Literally, the Greek is in eternal timesi.e., from this present moment, stretching backwards throughout eternity—an emphatic way of saying, “never before.” “The Old Testament is the hand of a clock, proceeding silently round the dial—the New Testament is the striking of the hour” (Bengel).

Verse 26

(26) But now is made manifest.—The first clause of this verse goes with the last clause of the preceding “mystery,” which before was kept secret, but now has been “made manifest.” The rest of the verse all hangs together: “this mystery, through the help of the corroboration which it derives from the prophets of the Old Testament, has, by God’s command to us, the Apostles, been made known.”

By the scriptures of the prophets.—Through the help of that appeal to prophecy which we are enabled to make.

According to the commandment.—That which had taken place according to the command of God was the making known of the gospel to the Gentiles, as, e.g., when Paul and Barnabas were specially “separated” for the work by the Holy Ghost.

Made known to all nations.—The word “to” has a little more stress laid upon it than would appear from the English, “made known so as to reach all nations.”

For the obedience of faith.—An exact repetition of the phrase in Romans 1:5, “to win over the Gentiles unto the allegiance demanded of them by faith in Christ.”

Verse 27

(27) To God.—Our English translation has evaded the difficulty of this verse by leaving out two words. The Greek stands literally thus, “To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever.” “To whom,” if it refers to God, as it is decidedly more probable that it was intended to refer, is ungrammatical. If it is inserted, the words “To him that is able . . . to God, the only wise,” are left without government. This might, indeed, under ordinary circumstances be got over, as such broken constructions are frequent with St. Paul, but it is somewhat different in the last solemn words of an Epistle, and would be especially so if this doxology were composed by itself separately from the rest of the Epistle. There would not then be the usual excuse of haste; and for so short a passage it may be doubted whether the Apostle would even employ an amanuensis. The difficulty is heightened when we ask what is meant by the phrase, “through Jesus Christ.” Separated, as it would then be, from the ascription of glory, and joined to “the only wise God,” it would seem to be impossible to get any really satisfactory sense out of it. “To God, who through Christ has shown Himself as the alone wise,” is maintained, but is surely very forced. Our conclusion then, prior to the evidence, would be that there was a mistake in the reading, and that the words “to whom” had slipped in without warrant. And now we find that a single uncial MS., but that precisely the oldest and best of all the uncials, the Codex Vaticanus, with two cursives, omits these words. The suspicion would indeed naturally arise that they had been left out specially on account of their difficulty. But this is a suspicion from which on the whole, the Vatican MS. is peculiarly free. And, on the other hand, it is just as natural to assume that another common cause of corruption has been at work. Doxologies so frequently begin with the relative, “To whom be glory,” &c., that the copyist would be liable to fall into the phrase, even in places where it was not originally written. The probabilities of corruption may therefore be taken to balance each other, and it will seem, perhaps, on the whole, the most probable solution that the relative has really slipped in at a very early date, and that the English version as it stands is substantially right. There are some exceptions to the rule that “the more difficult reading is to be preferred,” and this is perhaps one.

The subscription in its present form hardly dates back beyond the ninth century. The earliest form of subscription up to the sixth century was simply “To the Romans.”

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Romans 16". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/romans-16.html. 1905.
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