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Bible Commentaries

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected Books

Romans 16

Verse 1

[This chapter is mostly taken up with salutations or greetings sent to individuals, groups of individuals, and to small bodies of people which met separately, yet composed jointly the church at Rome. Aquila and Priscilla are known to us. The rest are practically unknown, hence their names are passed by us without comment.] I commend unto you Phoebe [It is generally admitted that Phoebe alone was the bearer of this letter to the Romans. (Comp. Colossians 4:7; Ephesians 6:21) Had there been others with her, they would doubtless have been also commended] our sister [our fellow-Christian], who is a servant [Literally, a "deaconess." For deacons, see Acts 6:1-6; Philippians 1:1; etc. The word "deaconess" is found only here; but this single reference with commendation stamps the office with apostolic sanction and approval, though the attempt to revive the office in our modern churches has not as yet met with any marked success. Pliny, in his letter to Trajan (A. D. 107-111), mentions deaconesses, saying that he extorted information from "two old women who were called ministræ." The Latin minister (feminine, ministræ) is the equivalent of the Greek diakonos, or deacon] of the church that is at Cenchreæ [This city was the port of Corinth on the Saronic Gulf, opening out to the Ægean Sea. It was nine miles east of Corinth, and was important because of its harbor and the great fortress which commanded the isthmus uniting northern and southern Greece. From this port Paul sailed for Syria after his second missionary journey, and may have at that time paused long enough to sow the seed from which the church at that point sprang]:

Verse 2

that ye receive her in the Lord [i. e., as Christians should receive a Christian], worthily of the saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever matter she may have need of you [what Phoebe’s business was is unknown]: for she herself also hath been a helper of many, and of mine own self. [In the Greek there is a play upon words here: "Help her, for she is a helper." She probably helped the apostle during his stay in Cenchreæ-- Acts 18:18]

Verse 3

Salute Prisca [The diminutive of this name is Priscilla. Compare Jane and Jennie, Drusa and Drusilla] and Aquila [Paul met these two at Corinth in A. D. 53, and they sailed with him from thence to Syria (Acts 18:1-18; 1 Co. 16:19). Again, two years later they were with him at Ephesus--Acts 19] my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus [It is probable that as he sent two before him into Macedonia (Acts 19:22), so these two were now in Rome preparing the field for his coming (comp. Luke 10:1) and ready to aid him with information as to its condition and needs and in other ways when he accomplished his declared purpose to visit that metropolis (Acts 19:21). But Paul’s visit was delayed beyond expectation--more than two years (Acts 24:27). Confident of their unchanging loyalty, Paul salutes them first of all and as fellow-workers in the present tense, not as those who "labored" in the past--comp. Romans 16:12],

Verse 4

who for my life laid down their own necks [As Paul’s chief danger lay in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 15:32), it was evidently there that Aquila and Priscilla risked their lives for him, though no specific account is given us of any such service, or of other dangers than the great riot-- Acts 19:23-41]; unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles [being grateful to the pair for aiding in saving so precious a life as that of their apostle, their light in gospel truth, the bulwark guarding their liberties against Jewish aggression]:

Verse 5

and salute the church that is in their house. [That portion of the church that has its usual place of meeting in their house. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 16:19; Acts 12:12; Acts 18:7; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2) Church buildings did not then exist in Rome.] Salute Epænetus my beloved, who is the firstfruits of Asia unto Christ. [Of Epænetus and the rest of these Christians nothing is known. "But thus it is on earth," as Lard remarks. "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 slaughterhouse." By "Asia" Paul means proconsular Asia, that province in the southwest corner of Asia Minor of which Ephesus was the capital.]

Verse 6

Salute Mary, who bestowed much labor on you.

Verse 7

Salute Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen [my fellow-countrymen--Jews-- Romans 9:3], and my fellow-prisoners [When or where we do not know. Scripture tells of four imprisonments of Paul, but Clement of Rome enumerates seven. There may have been even more-- 2 Corinthians 11:23], who are of note among the apostles, who also have been in Christ before me. [Meaning that these were converted to Christ before he was--early enough to be well known to the apostles and to be honored by them before that body was scattered by persecution, it being slow to depart from Jerusalem-- Acts 8:1; Acts 12:1-3]

Verse 8

Salute Ampliatus my beloved in the Lord.

Verse 9

Salute Urbanus our fellow-worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.

Verse 10

Salute Apelles the approved in Christ. Salute them that are of the household of Aristobulus. [A Roman "household" included all in service from the noblest retainer to the meanest slave. This was probably the younger Aristobulus of the Herodian family. See Jos. Ant. 20:1, 2.]

Verse 11

Salute Herodion my kinsman. Salute them of the household of Narcissus, that are in the Lord. [This is probably Narcissus the rich freedman and favorite of Cæsar’s, whose household would therefore be compounded with Cæsar’s. (Comp. Philippians 4:22) He died A. D. 54, or some three years before Paul wrote this Epistle. For references as to Narcissus, see Tac. Ann. 11:29, seq.; 12:57; 13:1; Suet. Claud. 28. "Bishop Lightfoot argues very plausibly that most of those here greeted by Paul were Nero’s servants, once in Greece, especially Philippi, and now called to Rome, whence they later sent back greetings to Philippi (Philippians 4:22). An imperial burial-ground at Rome bears names like most of these, and the parties there buried lived in Paul’s day"--Moule.]

Verse 12

Salute Tryphæna and Tryphosa, who labor in the Lord. Salute Persis the beloved, who labored much in the Lord.

Verse 13

alute Rufus the chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine. [We know nothing certain of these. Paul had evidently spent time in the home of Rufus, and had received motherly care at that time, which he now gracefully acknowledges, reckoning that if the woman of the home was Rufus’ mother by nature, she was also is by service and affection (Matthew 19:29). Possibly this Rufus may have been Simon’s son (Mark 15:21), and Paul may have lived with them while a youthful student in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). The tradition that Mark wrote his Gospel while at Rome adds to the plausibility that both he and Paul refer to the same Rufus.]

Verse 14

Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brethren that are with them. ["With them" indicates another section of the church meeting in the homes of these men. Comp. Romans 16:5; Romans 16:15]

Verse 15

Salute Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints that are with them. [These apostolic salutations are addressed to twenty-five individuals. Not a large group for one as widely known as Paul in a city as large as Rome, yet when we consider the limited circulation of news and the meager means of communication afforded in that day, it shows the deep affection of the apostle that he knew the whereabouts of so many of his brethren. Note also the women workers named in this small group. It was evidently only to Corinth, and not to Rome, that Paul wrote, "Let your women keep silence"-- 1 Corinthians 14:34; comp Philippians 4:3]

Verse 16

Salute one another with a holy kiss. [Osculatory salutation has always been common in the East (2 Samuel 20:9; Luke 7:45; Matthew 26:49). It early became an established practice among the Jews, from whence it passed to the apostolic church (1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14). It is still retained in the Greek Church, in which the men thus salute men, and women, women. Paul is not teaching the Roman church a new custom, but is purifying an old one, insisting that the salutation be holy and void of all such dissimulation as characterized the kiss of Judas (Matthew 26:49). His precept still applies to all our salutations, no matter what their form.] All the churches of Christ salute you. [Having ended his own salutation, Paul adds those of the Gentile churches which he had just been visiting in collecting the offering (Romans 15:26). These salutations indicate that the apostle talked much about his letter before he wrote it. Possibly he was drafting it as he journeyed. And it also shows that the church at the great metropolis, the center of government and civilization, was an object of interest and esteem to all. Comp. Romans 1:8]

Verse 17

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions [in Corinth, Galatia, etc.] and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned [from the brethren to whom I have sent salutations and others of their fellowship]: and turn away from them. [In an unregenerate world the gospel produces division (Matthew 10:34-37), but these divisions are along the cleavage line between good and evil. We are not responsible for these divisions; nay, we would sin if we shrank from causing them. "But," says Lard, "where we, by our own errors of teaching or conduct, produce divisions among the children of God, we sin against Christ. Nor is it a less offense to countenance or defend divisions, than it is to cause them. They must be utterly disfavored by the Christian. He is not at liberty even to feel indifferent toward them. He must actively oppose them where they exist, and actively endeavor to prevent them where they do not exist." It is against division in the church, then, that Paul warns his readers. Having named and saluted those whose doctrine he sanctioned and approved, he warns the church at once to be on the lookout for any who might oppose them, and seek to divide the church now united under them. The opening to the Epistle to the Philippians (written four or five years later) shows what these heretics afterwards did at Rome (Philippians 1:15-18; Philippians 3:2-3; Philippians 3:17-19). Their appearance at Antioch, in Galatia and at Corinth made Paul sure that they would also invade Rome. Those whom Paul commended could, out of their own observation and experience, tell the Roman church what evil these pernicious Judaizers had done (Acts 15:1 seq.; Galatians 1:6 seq.; Galatians 3:1 seq.; Colossians 2:8-23; 2 Corinthians 11:13 seq.). At the time of Paul’s writing the orthodox leaders appear to have been able to keep the church in unity.]

Verse 18

For they that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly ["Belly" is meant to express all the appetites of the carnal life. The heretics here referred to, being mediocre and insufficient teachers in the true faith, resorted to the artifice of stirring up factions for the purpose of obtaining therefrom physical and pecuniary support. (Comp. Philippians 3:19) Their breed is not extinct. There are many who shine as heretics who would pass their lives in obscurity if they were orthodox, and there are also many who amass fortunes preaching lies who would live at a poor, starving rate if they preached the truth. But nothing better can be expected of the devotees of the belly]; and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent. [They succeeded, not by the inherent power of what they taught, but by the insidious manner in which they taught it. "Truth," says Trapp, "persuadeth by teaching, it doth not teach by persuading." It has always been a characteristic of truth that it comes to us in plain and simple garb, rugged, unadorned (Matthew 11:20; Acts 4:13; 1 Corinthians 1:21-31; 1 Corinthians 2:1-16; 2 Corinthians 3:12-13; 2 Corinthians 10:10; 2 Corinthians 11:6; James 3:17), and its rival, error, sits in the seat of the mighty, speaks with all subtilty and charms with rhetoric and oratorical display-- Acts 8:9; Acts 13:10; Acts 12:21-23; 1 Corinthians 8:1-2; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 3:7-8]

Verse 19

For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I rejoice therefore over you: but I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple unto that which is evil. [I warn you, for your obedience and docility, being so notorious, will sooner or later draw them to seek you as an enticing spoil. The apostle rejoiced in their simplicity, yet urges them to be careful in whom they placed their trust. (Comp. Matthew 10:16; John 16:4-5; 1 Corinthians 14:20; 2 Corinthians 11:3) If the church could only attain the paradoxical state of being simple toward Christ, and wise toward those who pervert his word, sectarianism, with its divisions, would be at an end.]

Verse 20

And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. [Bruise is equivalent to "crush." (See Genesis 3:15; 2 Corinthians 11:12-15) 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.] The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. [The apostle ends the personal section of his salutations with a blessing, after which he presents in another division the salutations of other friends.]

Verse 21

Timothy [Acts 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 1:1, and Epistles to Timothy] my fellow-worker saluteth you; and Lucius [Acts 13:1 (?)] and Jason [Acts 17:5; Acts 17:6-7; Acts 17:9 (?)] and Sosipater [Acts 20:4 (?)], my kinsmen. [If Paul’s colaborers were known personally to churches to which he addressed Epistles, he evidently inserted their names with his own at the beginning of the Epistle (see 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians); but where they were only known by reputation, he appears to have merely subjoined their salutations as he has done here.]

Verse 22

I Tertius, who write the epistle, salute you in the Lord. [Paul habitually used amanuenses (Galatians 6:11; Colossians 4:18; 2 Thessalonians 3:7). Tertius, the penman of this Epistle, and known to us only here, shows to us by his salutation that he was no mere hireling in this service.]

Verse 23

Gaius my host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. [Very likely the Gaius of 1 Corinthians 1:14 . The name is found elsewhere (Acts 19:29; Acts 20:4; 3 John 1:1). This Gaius evidently entertained Paul at the time the Epistle was written, and at least occasionally, probably to hear Paul preach, the many sections of the entire Corinthian church met at his house. It must have been a capacious home-- Acts 18:8-11] Erastus [possibly the person mentioned at Acts 19:22 and 2 Timothy 4:20] the treasurer of the city saluteth you, and Quartus the brother. [Here end the salutations, and there follows the most condensed yet most comprehensive benediction ever penned.]

Verse 25

Now to him that is able to establish you [i. e., to the one who has given you an eternal foundation for your life (Matthew 7:24-27) and is able to build you as enduring material thereon (1 Corinthians 3:10-17). Comp. Romans 1:11] according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ [Establish you according to, or in conformity with, the terms, conditions, means, grace and power found in that gospel which was revealed to me personally (Romans 2:16; Galatians 1:11-17), even the heavenly truth contained in the preaching of Jesus Christ, who is the core and heart of that gospel. (Comp. Romans 1:3; Romans 2:16; Romans 10:8-12; Galatians 1:6-8) Paul’s gospel did not differ from that committed to the twelve, but he calls it specifically "my gospel" because it was delivered to him in lessons where he was the sole pupil (Galatians 1:12), and because his spiritual discernment, coupled with his special commission as apostle to the Gentiles, enabled him to see clearly two things in the gospel which were but faintly comprehended by the others; viz., that gospel salvation is wholly gratuitous and is not partly gratuitous and partly a matter of purchase by obedience to the Mosaic law (Galatians 5:1-12); that it is universal to all who are obedient unto the faith, and is in no sense confined to the Jews or their proselytes-- Galatians 3:26-29], according to the revelation of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal [Establish you by the gospel and preaching which accords with or is true to the revelation or unveiling of the great mystery or secret; i. e., the divine purpose of God to save the world by the sacrifice of his Son--a secret of times eternal (2 Timothy 1:9; Titus 1:2), known only to the Father, and therefore capable of no revelation till his voice broke silence as to it. Comp. Matthew 24:36; Mark 13:32; 1 Peter 1:12; Acts 1:7],

Verse 26

but now is manifested, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, is made known unto all the nations unto obedience of faith [Comp. Colossians 1:26; Colossians 4:4; Galatians 1:12; Galatians 1:16; 1 Corinthians 2:10 . "Manifested. . . made known." These two words express the two phases of revelation. Christ himself was the manifestation (Luke 2:30-32; John 1:14-18; John 2:11; Hebrews 1:3), the Light of the world (John 1:4-9; John 8:12); but this manifestation is introduced, interpreted, explained, "made known" by the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament writers or prophets, the former with their types, shadows and forecasts (Luke 24:25-27; Galatians 4:21-31; Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 9:9; Hebrews 10:1-9), the latter with their gospel sermons and doctrinal epistles (1 Corinthians 15:1; Galatians 1:11; 1 John 1:1-3). And these Scriptures were written for that purpose, not at the motion, option or choice of the writers, but by order and command of God himself (Deuteronomy 5:22; Jeremiah 36:27-28; 2 Peter 1:20-21; 1 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16), that men might know, and, knowing, might believe and obey, the gospel in its conditions and be saved thereby. Thus the apostle assures us that the Father, who gave us the Christ, gave us also correct biographies as to his incarnation, miracles, life, death, resurrection and coronation; that the God who gave us a gospel also insured to us the preservation of it in an efficient and effective form in the record which he commanded; that the Lord who gave us a church has also provided for the perpetual safeguarding of its plans, specifications and model as designed in his holy mountain (Hebrews 8:5), preserving them forever in those Chronicles of his kingdom which we call the Bible. Common sense should tell us this, even if Paul had kept silence. How could we attribute infinite wisdom to a God who sacrificed his Son to make a gospel and then neglected to preserve that gospel that it might be used for the purposes for which it was prepared at so much cost? Moreover, this passage shows that God himself, back of the human penman, wrote the Bible; for he, and not they--no, not even the angels (1 Peter 1:10; 1 Peter 10:12)--knew the secret which these Scriptures were revealing. Yea, he wrote it for the universal instruction of the unborn church in matters which no human wisdom could discover for itself. Therefore, whoso strikes at the Old Testament would destroy the foundation of the New, would annul what God has commanded, obliterate what God has revealed, and rob the dying world of the gospel, the salvation and the Christ which God has given. The one who attempts to do this thing (God be praised, he can not succeed save for a brief season-- Revelation 11:3-12) would destroy God’s means of life, and would leave the world, "all nations," with their teeming but helpless millions to perish without hope, setting his wisdom against that of "the only Wise." Such an one rivals the devil, both in unfeeling heartlessness and in supreme presumption]:

Verse 27

to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever. Amen. [Owing to difference in Greek and English construction, the long sentence beginning with Romans 16:25 is grammatically incomplete as rendered in English. If, however, the "to whom" of the last phrase be changed to read "to him," the sense is complete and plain. "To him that is able. . . to him be the glory." The whole passage, then, is an ascription of praise, with reasons for it injected in the form of a parenthesis. It is an implied prayer for the safety of the Roman church expressed in the form of a burst of confident praise to him in whom that safety lay. Of this benediction Gifford thus writes: "Comparing it with the introduction in chapter 1, we find in both the same fundamental thoughts of the Epistle: ’the power of God unto salvation’ (Romans 1:16), the gospel entrusted to Paul for the Gentiles (Romans 1:5), the testimony of the prophets (Romans 1:2), the ’obedience of the faith’ (Romans 1:5), the acceptance of all nations (Romans 1:5; Romans 1:14-16)--all these thoughts are here gathered up into one harmonious burst of ’wonder, love and praise.’" Thus the conclusion of the Epistle swings back to the beginning, so that the whole instruction assumes the form of the circle, symbol of its divine perfection, its unending authority.]

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
First published online at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on Romans 16". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/oca/romans-16.html. Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.