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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Romans 16

 

 

Verse 1-2

Romans 16:1-2. I commend — Rather, recommend; unto you — That is, To your love and assistance; Phebe our sister — The bearer of this letter; a servant — Or deaconess, as the Greek word signifies; of the church at Cenchrea — Which seems to have been a church distant from that at Corinth. Indeed, this place, being situated on the Saronic gulf, was about seventy furlongs, near nine miles, distant from that city; therefore those Christians that lived there could not with convenience, at least generally, assemble with such as resided at Corinth. In the apostolic age, some grave and pious women were appointed deaconesses in every church; and it was their office, not to teach publicly, but to visit the sick, the women in particular, and to minister to them both in their temporal and spiritual necessities. The apostle calls Phebe his sister, because she was a true Christian, a genuine believer on the Lord Jesus, and consequently a child and heir of God, and joint heir with Christ. For the appellations of brother and sister, which the disciples gave to one another in the first age, were founded on their being all the children of God by faith, consequently the brethren and sisters of Christ, who acknowledged the relation by publicly declaring, Matthew 12:50, Whosoever shall do the will of my Father, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother. That ye receive her — Entertain her, and treat her with affection; in the Lord — For the Lord Christ’s sake, and in regard to her relation to him, our common Saviour; as becometh saints — According to the duty which Christians owe one toward another, and as it is proper they should act who profess to be saints, separated from the world to the honour of Christ’s name; and that ye assist her — With counsel, and every necessary aid; in whatsoever business she hath need of you — This implies, that she had come to Rome on business of importance; perhaps to seek the payment of a debt owing to her by some of the inhabitants of Rome, or to complain of undue exactions by some of the emperor’s officers in the province. For she hath been a succourer of many — Probably supplying their wants, if not also entertaining them at her house. The word προστατις properly signifies a patron, a name which the Romans gave to persons who assisted with their advice and interest those who were connected with them as clients. Therefore, as Phebe had this name given her, it is reasonable to believe that she was a person of considerable wealth and influence. Or, we may suppose the name was given her on account of the offices she performed to many as a deaconess. The apostle’s direction implies, that all the faithful ought to be particularly attentive in giving assistance and relief to those who have been remarkable for assisting and relieving others.


Verses 3-5

Romans 16:3-5. Greet — Or, salute, as ασπασασθε is generally rendered; Priscilla and Aquila — That is, declare to them my Christian love, and desires of their welfare. The apostle first became acquainted with this excellent couple at Corinth, to which city they had come from Rome in consequence of a decree of the Emperor Claudius commanding all Jews to depart thence. When Paul left Corinth the first time, they accompanied him to Ephesus, Acts 18:2; Acts 18:18-19 : and when he departed from that city to go to Jerusalem, they did not go with him, but remained at Ephesus till he returned, as appears from their sending their salutations to the Corinthians in the apostle’s first epistle to them, chap. Romans 16:19, written from Ephesus while he abode there, after his return from Jerusalem, mentioned Acts 19:1. But on the death of Claudius they appear, from this verse, to have gone back to Rome to follow their occupation, being there when this salutation was sent to them. My fellow-helpers — Namely, in propagating the gospel, being always ready to exert themselves to the utmost to aid its progress, as far as they had opportunity. They had been very active in spreading the gospel both at Corinth and Ephesus; and doubtless they were so now at Rome also. Who have for my life laid down their own necks — Hazarded their own lives to save mine; perhaps in the violent opposition which the Jews made to him, as mentioned Acts 18:6-7; or in the uproar at Corinth, recorded Acts 18:12; or in that at Ephesus, Acts 19:23. The expression, which is proverbial, and denotes their undergoing the greatest perils, is used in allusion to the custom of placing on blocks the necks of criminals, whose heads are to be cut off. Unto whom not only I, but all the churches of the Gentiles — Even that at Rome; give thanks — Because the preservation of his life redounded to the benefit of them all. Likewise greet — Salute; the church that is in their house — The Christian congregation, that was wont to assemble there for divine worship. Aquila, it seems, performed the same part at Rome which Gains did at Corinth, Romans 16:23; he opened his house to receive the gospel, and those that were desirous to attend the ministry of it, and to join in the worship of the true God. As yet, however, it seems the Christians at Rome had neither bishops nor deacons. So far were they from any shadow of papal power. Nay, there does not appear to have been then in the whole city any more than one of these domestic churches, otherwise there can be no doubt but Paul would have saluted them also. Salute my well-beloved Epenetus — Although the apostle had never been at Rome, yet he had many acquaintances there. It is justly observed by Theophylact, that it was a very great praise to any one to have been the beloved of Paul, because his love was not the effect of a blind partiality, but of a well-founded judgment concerning the person’s true character. Who is the first-fruits of Achaia — The Alexandrine and Clermont MSS., with the Arabic, Ethiopic, and Vulgate versions, and many Greek and Latin commentators, have της ασιας, of Asia, in this place; which some suppose to be the true reading, because, 1 Corinthians 16:15, the apostle calls the house of Stephanas, the first-fruits of Achaia. But if Epenetus was one of that house, or was converted at the same time with Stephanas, he also was a part of the first-fruits of Achaia, for there is no manner of necessity to understand by that expression the very first Christian convert.


Verse 6

Romans 16:6. Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us — Performed many good offices for the faithful, especially for the preachers of the gospel. The apostle is very affectionate in these salutations, giving almost every one some signal epithet, that he might both recommend them for their piety and virtue, and propose them as examples for the imitation of others; as also that he might show his gratitude to them, and the esteem he had for them. And concerning these salutations, and others in the apostolic epistles, it is proper to remark in general, “that they were of great benefit to the persons saluted. For, being sent to individuals in letters addressed to the churches of which they were members, such public testimonies of the apostle’s esteem not only gave the saluted much pleasure, but confirmed them in the faith, and encouraged them to bear with patience the sufferings attending the profession of the gospel. And to us, these salutations are an example of that love which we owe to the sincere disciples of Christ on account of their character. Further, the apostle, by naming so many persons in his epistles, hath not only transmitted to posterity an honourable character of them, but hath furnished an additional proof of the truth and authenticity of his own epistles. For all the persons named in them were appealed to as witnesses of the things which he had written.”


Verse 7-8

Romans 16:7-8. Salute Andronicus and Junia — Or, Junias rather, it being evidently the name of a man, as appears from the apostle’s terming them both his kinsmen — And saying, that they were of note among the apostles. My fellow-prisoners — That is, imprisoned for the gospel as I was. At the time when this epistle was written, Paul had been in prison often, 2 Corinthians 11:23. On some of these occasions, the persons here named had been imprisoned with him; but where or when that happened, is not known. Who also were in Christ before me — Converted to the faith of Christ before I was. From these two persons being Christians before Paul, joined with their being of note among the apostles, Origen infers that they were of the number of the seventy disciples: but that is quite uncertain. Their being called the apostle’s kinsmen, does not necessarily imply that they were his relations: he might term them so, as well as several others, mentioned in this chapter, merely because they were of the same nation with himself. The names, however, of many here saluted, show them to have been Greeks, or of Greek extraction. We may therefore conjecture, that they had formerly settled themselves at Rome, for the sake of commerce, or of exercising their particular trades; but, being afterward banished, by the Emperor Claudius, under the denomination of Jews, they had retired, some of them into Greece, others into the Lesser Asia, and others into Judea, where, it is supposed, they became known to the apostle in the course of his travels through these countries. These, with many others, returned to Rome in consequence of the death of Claudius, and re-established the church in its former lustre. See on chap. Romans 1:7-8.


Verses 9-11

Romans 16:9-11. Salute Urbane, or Urbanus rather, our helper συνεργον, our fellow-labourer — Mine and Timothy’s, Romans 16:21. Salute Apelles, τον δοκιμον, the approved in Christ — One who hath showed himself a sincere Christian and faithful servant of Christ, when tried by affliction and persecution for the gospel; a noble character this, and greatly to be respected. Salute those of the family of Aristobulus — Aristobulus himself is not saluted, either because he was not in Rome at that time, or because he was not yet converted, or perhaps because he was dead. He and Narcissus, mentioned in the next verse, seem each of them to have had a numerous family; some of whom only were converted, and are here saluted by the apostle, whom the fame of their virtues had reached: for probably some of them, at least, were not known to him by face, but only by character.


Verses 12-15

Romans 16:12-15. Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa — Probably two sisters; who labour in the Lord — In the service of the Lord, according to their stations: as did also Persis, who seems to be here termed beloved, because she was distinguished among many for her fidelity and diligence. Salute Rufus — Perhaps the same that is mentioned Mark 15:21. And his mother and mine — This expression may only denote the tender care which Rufus’s mother had taken of him. Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, &c. — He seems to join those together who were joined by kindred, nearness of habitation, or some other circumstance. It could not but encourage the poor especially to be saluted by name, who, perhaps, did not know that the apostle had ever heard of them. It is observable, that while the apostle forgets none who are worthy, yet he adjusts the nature of his salutation to the degrees of worth in those whom he salutes. Salute all the saints — Here all the believers at Rome, male and female, have the appellation of saints, or holy persons, given them; as being new creatures in Christ Jesus, having in them the mind that was in him, and walking as he walked. The Papists affirm, that at the time the apostle wrote this epistle, Peter was at Rome, exercising the office of bishop in the Christian Church there: but if so, Paul doubtless would have known it; and, in that case, he surely would not have omitted saluting him, and have mentioned so many others of inferior note; and yet if Peter were not there at this time, the whole Roman tradition, with regard to the succession of their bishops, fails in the most fundamental article.


Verse 16

Romans 16:16. Salute one another with a holy kiss — “The Jews considered the kiss as an expression of friendship. Thus Joab, pretending great friendship to Amasa, took him by the beard to kiss him, when he slew him, 2 Samuel 20:9. Our Lord says to Simon, Luke 7:45, Thou gavest me no kiss; meaning, that he had not expressed such affection to him as the woman had done who kissed his feet. Judas also kissed our Lord, pretending friendship to him, at the time he betrayed him. This manner of expressing friendship to each other the disciples of Christ adopted, and practised in their religious assemblies. So Justin Martyr informs us, in his account of the religious assemblies of the Christians, Apolog. Prayers being ended, we salute one another with a kiss, and then the bread and cup is brought to the president, &c. This was called the holy kiss, to distinguish it from the lustful kiss; and the kiss of charity, 1 Peter 5:14, to distinguish it from the treacherous kiss of Joab and Judas; being given as an expression of that sincere, chaste, and spiritual love, which Christians owed to one another. On the occasions mentioned by Justin, the men and women did not kiss each other promiscuously: the men saluted the men only, and the women kissed none but their own sex; as may be known from their manner of sitting in the public assemblies, described Apost. Constit., lib. 2. c. 57. On the other side let the laics sit, with all silence and good order; and the women, let them sit also separately, keeping silence. Then, after a long description of the worship, the author adds, Then let the men salute one another, and the women one another, giving the kiss in the Lord. Through length of time, and difference of manner, this method of sitting in public assemblies hath been changed. But that it was the ancient method cannot be doubted, being derived from the synagogue.” — Macknight.


Verse 17-18

Romans 16:17-18. Now I beseech παρακαλω, I exhort you, brethren, mark them — Observe and point them out for the caution of others. The word σκοπειν, rendered to mark, signifies, to observe attentively and diligently, as those do who are placed on a watch-tower to observe the motions of their enemies. Who cause divisions — Or, separations, as διχοστασιας signifies, namely, by their false doctrine; and offences τα σκανδαλα, stumbling-blocks, or occasions of falling, by their factious spirit and scandalous conduct. Dr. Hammond thinks the apostle refers to the Gnostics, to whom indeed the characters, given in the next verse, of those here meant, do well agree. It is more probable, however, as Theodoret says, that he intends, τους κακους του νομου συνηγορους, the wicked advocates of the law, namely, those who preached up circumcision, and the observation of the ceremonies of the law, as necessary to the salvation of the Gentiles: and Chrysostom, Œcumenius, and Theophylact, agree with Theodoret in this opinion. And it is certain that these men caused divisions and separations from others, as unclean and not fit to be conversed with, Acts 11:3; Acts 15:24; Galatians 2:12-13; Galatians 2:21 : and set up separate assemblies for the worship of God, (see 1:19,) on pretence of greater orthodoxy and sanctity than others, and who would admit none into their communion but such as joined them in their peculiarities, and who represented all others as erroneous and impious. Contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned — Of us, the apostles of Jesus Christ, or from me in this epistle. Many of the Roman brethren, probably, had heard the apostles and other inspired men in Judea and elsewhere, from whom they had learned the genuine doctrines of the gospel. Estius justly observes here, that the apostle intimates that even the common people, by the help of general principles, might discern the true doctrine, even that which was delivered by the apostles, from that which was false and not so delivered. But this could only then be done by comparing that which was declared by the apostles, and confirmed by their miracles, with that which was delivered as different from, or in opposition to it, and was not so confirmed. And this can only now be done by private Christians in general, by comparing all pretenders to the apostle’s doctrine, with those Scriptures which they wrote, under the influence of the Holy Ghost. And avoid them — Avoid all unnecessary intercourse with them. “It is worthy of notice,” says Macknight here, “that the apostle desires the faithful to mark them who caused divisions, not for the purpose of disputing with them, and far less for the purpose of apprehending and punishing them with fines, imprisonment, torture, and death; but that they might avoid their company, lest, by conversing familiarly with such, they should be infected with their errors and vices. For, as the apostle told Timothy, 2 Timothy 2:17, their word eats as doth a canker, or gangrene.” For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus; they have not his glory in view, whatever they may pretend: but their own belly — Their chief aim and design is to advance their secular interests, and gratify their carnal desires. And by good words χρηστολογιας, by speaking kindly, or by plausible discourse, and fair speeches ευλογιας, by blessings; by praying for, or pronouncing blessings upon their disciples, or by praising and flattering them; deceive the hearts of the simple των ακακων, of the harmless, who, doing no ill themselves, are not upon their guard against them that do. The word denotes persons free from guile, upright and unsuspicious; but who have not discernment or prudence sufficient to enable them to see and avoid the snares which the wicked lay in their way.


Verse 19-20

Romans 16:19-20. For, &c. — As if he had said, This exhortation I give you, to preserve you in the way in which hitherto you have walked, to the credit of the gospel: for your ready obedience and conformity to it, is come abroad unto all men — Is generally taken notice of by all who observe such things: see 1 Thessalonians 1:8. The Greek is, literally, your obedience hath come to all — That is, the fame of your obedience. For that such a number of the inhabitants of the metropolis of the Roman empire had forsaken the gods whom they and their forefathers had worshipped, and had believed in and now worshipped the God of the Jews, and relied for salvation, present and eternal, on a person who had been crucified as a malefactor in Judea, must have been much spoken of through all the provinces, even among the heathen, and must have been observed by the Christians with great joy and gratitude to God. I am glad, therefore, on your behalf — That you manifested such readiness in embracing the gospel, and that you have hitherto had your conversation according to it. But yet I would have you — Not only obedient, but discreet also; wise, with regard to that which is good — As well-informed and knowing in this as possible; and simple with regard to that which is evil — As little as possible acquainted with it, or perfectly free from all improper views and designs of every kind. “The apostle’s argument is this: Since ye have shown such prudence and discernment in receiving the gospel, ye should show like prudence and discernment in your behaviour under it, by doing every thing that is good, and by preserving yourselves unpolluted with evil.” And the God of peace — Who hath made peace for us through the blood of the cross; He, from whom we derive all our peace and happiness, who delights in seeing this peaceful temper prevail among his servants, and who is an enemy to those divisions, mentioned Romans 16:17, shall bruise Satan — Who, by his instruments, seeks to seduce and disturb you; under your feet shortly — Shall give you victory over him, and defeat all the artifices of that sower of tares. It is with great propriety that this epithet, the God of peace, is here used, because, unless peace had been made between God and us, Satan would have kept us in everlasting bondage and misery. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ — The unmerited favour of God, as the fountain of all good, and the influences of the Spirit, as streams flowing from thence, together with the increase thereof, as blessings purchased for us, and communicated to us by Christ, be with you, still more constantly and abundantly! Amen.


Verse 21

Romans 16:21. Timotheus my work-fellow — Or fellow labourer, and Lucius, &c., salute you — Desire that their sincere love and Christian friendship may be testified to you. As Timothy had never been at Rome, he is not named in the beginning of the epistle. Of Paul’s first acquaintance with Timothy, see on Acts 16:1-3. We find a person of the name of Lucius, spoken of Acts 13:1, as one of the prophets of the church at Antioch; but that Lucius, being nowhere mentioned as Paul’s companion in travel, Origen was of opinion that the Lucius here mentioned was Luke the evangelist, whom the apostle called Lucius after the Roman manner, as he called Silas, Silvanus. But we have no proof that Luke was with the apostle at Corinth when he wrote this epistle. Jason is probably the person so called, with whom Paul lodged at Thessalonica, Acts 17:7; and who, on that account, was accused to the magistrates of harbouring seditious persons. Sosipater is the person called Sopater of Berea, Acts 20:4 : he and Jason are probably called the apostle’s kinsmen, merely because they were Jews.


Verses 22-24

Romans 16:22-24. I Tertius, who wrote this epistle — While the apostle dictated it to me; or he might mean that he transcribed it from the apostle’s autograph: salute you in the Lord — The Lord Christ, our common Master. This sentence Tertius inserted by the apostle’s advice, or at least, permission. Gaius, mine host, by whom I am entertained here at Corinth; see 1 Corinthians 1:14 : and of the whole church — To all the members of which he shows great hospitality. Or the meaning may be, that the members of the church at Corinth met for some time in his house. Erastus the chamberlain of the city — Namely, of Corinth, saluteth you — The original expression, οικονομος της πολεως, is, literally, the steward of the city; but in the Vulgate version it is translated, arcarius civitatis, treasurer of the city. And Quartus a brother — That is, a Christian brother; or, as some think the expression implies, a Christian minister: doubtless he was a person of some note among the first Christians, otherwise his name would not have been inserted here. The grace of our Lord, &c., be with you all — This apostolical benediction, (which the apostle here repeats to testify still further his great affection for them, and his earnest desire of their welfare,) he always wrote with his own hand, to distinguish his genuine epistles from those that were forged in his name, 2 Thessalonians 3:17; and he commonly ended his letters with it. But on this occasion he added also, (it seems in his own hand-writing,) that grand doxology contained in the three following verses; in which he offers a solemn thanksgiving to God for the calling of the Gentiles by the apostle’s preaching 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. And as he had explained these subjects in the foregoing epistle, this doxology was placed at the conclusion of it with great propriety, and could not but be very acceptable to all the Gentiles.


Verses 25-27

Romans 16:25-27. Now to him that is of power, τω δυναμενω, that is able, to establish you according to my gospel — That is, in your belief of the great and important doctrines contained in it, particularly those that respect the gratuitous justification of Jews and Gentiles by faith. “These doctrines he calls his gospel, or good news, not in contradistinction to the good news of the other apostles, as Locke fancies, to the great discredit of the rest, whose doctrine was the same with Paul’s, so far as it went: but in opposition to the doctrines taught by the Judaizers, and other false teachers, who added the law to the gospel, on pretence that the gospel was defective in rites of atonement.” This is not all: he doubtless desired also that they should be established in the possession of all Christian graces, particularly in the faith whereby the just live and walk; in that hope of life eternal which is as an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast; and in that love to God, his people, and all mankind, in which whosoever abideth, dwelleth in God, and God in him; and in all other graces comprehended in, or flowing from these. He wished them to be established also in the steady, persevering performance of every Christian duty, whether toward God or man: or, in seeking glory, honour, and immortality; by a patient continuance in well-doing — By being steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord: according to the revelation of the mystery — Of the admission of the Gentiles into the church of God, without subjecting them to the law of Moses; which, as plainly as it was foretold in the prophets, was still hid from many even of the believing Jews, and is therefore called a mystery, (in allusion to the mysteries of the heathen, which used to be concealed from all but the initiated,) kept secret since the world began — Or, as χρονοις αιωνιοις σεσιγημενου, may be rendered, kept in silence from eternal ages; or in all former ages from the beginning of the world. But now is made manifest — By the preaching of the gospel; and by, or according to, the scriptures of the prophets, the meaning whereof is now set forth and elucidated by the revelation of the Spirit; not by chance, but according to the commandment (which is the chief foundation of the apostolical office) of the everlasting God — A more proper epithet could not be used. A new dispensation infers no change in God. Known unto him are all his works, and every variation of them, from eternity. Made known to all nations — To the Gentile nations as well as the people of Israel; for the obedience of the faith — That they might not only know the blessings of the gospel, but enjoy them also, by believing in Christ, and in the truths and promises of his gospel, as they are commanded to do. To God only wise — Whose manifold wisdom is known in the church through the gospel, and who has so prudently contrived, and so effectually executed, this grand scheme. Dr. Macknight renders the clause, To the wise God alone, thinking that is the true translation, both here and in 1 Timothy 1:17; 1:25; because, “if the translation were to be, To the only wise God, it would imply that there are some gods who are not wise. Or if we render the clause, To God only wise, the reader might be apt to think that God hath no perfection but wisdom.” Whereas “the apostle’s meaning is, that glory ought to be ascribed to God alone in the highest degree: or that God alone is entitled thereto, in and of himself;” all other beings, to whom any glory is due, deriving their title to it from the perfection which God has communicated to them, or the authority which he has bestowed on them: be glory in all the churches on earth, and in the general assembly and church of the firstborn in heaven; through Jesus Christ for ever — Through his mediation and grace, through which alone guilty and sinful creatures can give glory to God in an acceptable manner; and let every believer say, Amen!

“Thus endeth Paul’s Epistle to the Romans; a writing which, for sublimity and truth of sentiment, for brevity and strength of expression, for regularity in its structure, but above all, for the unspeakable importance of the discoveries which it contains, stands unrivalled by any human composition; and as far exceeds the most celebrated productions of the learned Greeks and Romans, as the shining of the sun exceedeth the twinkling of the stars.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 16:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/romans-16.html. 1857.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
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