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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Romans 16

 

 

Verse 1

1. Phebe—Feminine of Phoebus, shining, a Greek epithet and proper name of the sun; and hence, in the feminine, signifying the moon.

Servant—Our translators have hardly done Phebe justice in translating διακονον, servant, and προστατις, succourer; for the former is the term for deaconess or ministra, and the latter is patroness, being radically the same word as is rendered he that ruleth in Romans 12:8. The ability and eminence of Phebe appears from the apostle’s earnest commendation, from these her titles, from her travel and business, and, as Renan in his flippant style expresses it, “she bore in the folds of her robe the whole future of the Christian theology—the writing which was to regulate the fate of the world.” When Phebe brought this great Epistle to the elders of Rome we are to conceive it as publicly read in the different congregations; and doubtless in due time copies were transcribed for deposit and regular public reading in each of them.

Cenchrea—See notes introductory to Acts 28, and Acts 18:18.


Verses 1-16

4. Commendation of Phebe and various Salutations, Romans 16:1-16.

These salutations appear at first glance like a dry catalogue of names. But they introduce us into “good society.” Very probably we read here the names of Christians who went out three years after to escort Paul from Appii Forum to Rome. Very probably the large share of them sealed their Christianity with martyrdom under the approaching persecution by Nero. (See note on Acts 28:15.)

Renan has a plausible theory that this passage of salutations was really written, not to the Church of Rome, but to the Church of Ephesus. He does not thereby question the genuine Pauline origin of the passage. He merely maintains that these salutations belong to that copy of the Epistle which was addressed and sent by Paul to Ephesus. (See note on Romans 14:23.) His reasons are, 1, The residence of Aquila and Priscilla at Ephesus; and, 2, The great prevalence of the Greek over the Roman names. The first reason we answer at Romans 16:4.

The proportion of names, (Renan argues,) as appears by ancient inscriptions at Rome, ought to give twice as many Latin as Greek names in the Roman Church; whereas in these salutations there are twice as many Greek as Roman. But, we reply, the question is not what is the proportion of Greek names to the Roman in the Church, but what would be the proportion among Paul’s friends and acquaintances in the Church. Now he had as yet preached mainly to Greeks, and to Jews having Greek names. He had never preached in Rome to Romans, or in the Roman (Latin) language; and this very Epistle to them addressed is entirely Greek. In this circle of Paul’s friends at Rome some would be from Asia, some from Macedonia, and a large share from Corinth itself. For after Corinth was demolished it was extensively repeopled with Romans who yet spoke Greek at Corinth, and so a special connexion existed between the two cities. All routes terminated at Rome. It cannot therefore be surprising either that Paul should have a body of friends and followers in Rome, or that they should be twice as many Greeks as Romans, at least in name.


Verse 2

2. As becometh saints—He puts them upon their Christian honour.

Business—Her private affairs at Rome, in which her benefactions to Christians entitled her to every assistance from Christians.

Succourer— Apparently she was a lady of wealth, a housekeeper, and probably a widow. Hence she was an entertainer and patroness of her fellow Christians.

That Phebe was not merely a servitor, doing menial work, but an official, appears from the patronizing character which Paul assigns her. Hence when, no later than A.D. 104, we find that Pliny writes that he selected two females “who were called (ministroe) ministresses” for torture to extract information against Christians, we see no reason to doubt that we have here the apostolic origin of a female deaconship. The separation of the sexes might in Greek and Roman sections require this office, not only in regard to temporalities, but in regard to more spiritual offices for the female part of the Church. The apostolic Church admitted a woman’s social prayer, with covered head, (1 Corinthians 11:4; 1 Corinthians 11:13;) it admitted prophetesses, (preacheresses,) (1 Corinthians 11:9,) and it admitted deaconesses. But it seems to show no eldresses and no bishopesses.


Verse 3

3. Priscilla and Aquila—(See note on Acts 18:2.) Rome appears to have been the home of this Christian couple; whence, driven by the decree of Claudius, they went first to Corinth and thence to Ephesus. We may suppose that the uproar which drove the apostle from Ephesus induced them to return to Rome. Yet they seem to have acquired, meantime, a homestead at Ephesus, since about three years afterward they are again at Ephesus, (2 Timothy 4:19.) Renan argues that the couple could not have passed from Ephesus to Rome so quickly as to be saluted there at the writing of this Epistle. But they, doubtless, took the short cut across the sea, the high road of travel, while Paul went slowly round by Macedonia. The couple may have had business establishments at both Ephesus and Rome; or may have, like Paul, made quick transits for missionary purposes.


Verse 4

4. Laid down their necks—A strong figure, as if they had laid their necks upon the block to be beheaded in the apostle’s place; the meaning being that they had imminently risked their lives for his. It was probably in the fray at Ephesus.

All… Gentiles—For rescuing the apostle of the Gentiles. The fact of their self-devotion would of course be better known in the eastern Churches than at Rome.


Verse 5

5. Church… house—By some interpreted to mean that their home was a sanctuary and their family a Church. And this would be a beautiful meaning. But more probably it refers to the group or congregation that assembled to worship at their house, perhaps in their work-room, where tent fabric was manufactured. The time of Christian synagogues (James 2:2) had not come, far less of basilicas and cathedrals.

Firstfruits of Achaia—In 1 Corinthians 16:15, the household of Stephanas is called the firstfruits of Achaia. The true reading here is doubtless Asia, that is, proconsular Asia. (See note on Acts 7:9.) The remainder of the names to Romans 16:15 are otherwise unknown.


Verse 7

7. Junia—Is, doubtless, the name of a female, wife or sister of Andronicus. This appears from their names being coupled like Priscilla and Aquila, (Romans 16:3.) Tryphena and Tryphosa, (Romans 16:12,) perhaps, are sisters, or are coupled from the alliteration. There are four remarkable points regarding the couple of this verse. They were Paul’s kinsmen, they had been his fellow prisoners, they were converted to Christianity before him, and they were honoured by the apostles. It is clear that these facts are not given in their historical order. That they were his kinsmen points back to Jerusalem, where they must have early become Christians, and dear to the apostles when Paul was a persecutor. In Acts 23:16-21, we find that Paul’s sister’s son interposed to rescue him from imprisonment. Were this couple additional relatives of Paul who suffered unmentioned durance on account of Paul? But as there are no less than six persons who are called kinsmen, the term is probably an affectionate epithet like mother. It seems inadmissible to render apostles any otherwise than as designating the twelve, or to make it an appellation of the couple: first, because such a use of the word is rare; second, because Junia is probably female; and, third, because it is extremely improbable that these two comparatively obscure persons should have been eminent apostles.


Verses 8-10

8-10. The apostle, doubtless from a right impulse and genuine discernment of spirits, affixes the proper descriptive to each character. Beloved in the Lord denotes a more spiritual affection than the human beloved. Helper in Christ denotes the active, and approved denotes the tried Christian.


Verse 11

11. Household of Narcissus—The emperor had a noted freedman, by the name of Narcissus, who died two or three years before this epistle was written. Yet it may be his household, or rather those which are in the Lord belonging to his household, who are here greeted.


Verse 12

12. Persis—Signifying female Persian, but used here as a personal name.


Verse 13

13. Rufus—(See note on Mark 15:21.)

His mother—Naturally, and mine spiritually, or by maternal kindness.


Verse 14

14. Asyncritus—We have here probably the leading male names of a congregation at one house, and the body of the Church superadded as brethren with them.


Verse 15

15. We have here two couplets, probably of husband and wife and of brother and sister, heading another Church group.


Verse 16

16. A holy kiss—(Luke 7:45.) Paul mentions the holy kiss, (1 Thessalonians 5:26;) Peter the kiss of charity, (1 Peter 5:14.) Tertullian mentions the kiss of peace, and Justin Martyr tells us that the early Christians used the brotherly kiss after the close of prayer in their congregations. The custom is still continued in the Greek Church. The Romanists at mass perform what they call a “Pax, or kissing one another.” All the churches—The word all, omitted from our English version, is sustained by the amplest authority. It was doubtless omitted in some manuscripts because the copyists understood not how Paul could answer for all the Churches. Lange thinks that it was because the eastern Churches knew that Paul was about writing to Rome, and had received so many commissioned salutations that he spoke for all. We suppose, however, that he speaks only for the region whence he is writing, namely, Corinth and its adjacent circuit.

The Churches, many of them, were the groups or congregations worshipping in some room of a private house.


Verse 17

17. Mark—Closely scrutinize, set your steady eye upon them.

Divisions— The separating into parties doctrinal, ethical, or secular.

Offences— Occasions to sin.

DoctrineTeachings, both as to truth and as to conduct.

Learned—From their religious teachers thus far. It is plain that this Church is as yet truly Pauline in its views and feelings.


Verses 17-20

5. Interposed warning against dividers and offenders, Romans 16:17-20.

In the midst of greetings a warning! For in the midst of brethren is, or soon may be, the deceiver. St. Paul states not any particular heresy, but he warns against all characters that seek to divide them who are now truly united in the way of truth.


Verse 18

18. Their own belly—Their own maintenance and sensuality. (Compare Philippians 3:18-19.)

Good words and fair speeches—With rhyming terminations in the Greek, like apologies and eulogies; with the former commending themselves, with the latter flattering their victims.

Simple— Literally, the unevil and therefore suspecting no evil.


Verse 19

19. For—I warn you thus to stay right, for your present rightness is far famed.

All—The present Christian world.


Verse 20

20. And—Assuming that you thus do.

God of peace—Who is opposed to these producers of divisions and offences.

Bruise Satan—Allusion to Genesis 3:15. The great promise of God against Satan, given for all the world, shall soon find its accomplishment in your case.

Amen—Omitted by the best authorities. The words seem to be addressed to the little company of saluted brethren—the Church within the Church—as a sort of benedictory dismissal. And similarly, also, Romans 16:24 is a benedictory parting with both saluted and saluters.

Salutation from Paul’s Companions, 21-24.


Verse 21

21. Timotheus—That Timothy was with Paul at this time, and started upon the journey with him mentioned in Romans 15:25, is clear from Acts 20:4.

Lucius—(See note on Acts 13:1.)

Jason—Probably the Greek form of Joshua or Jesus, and perhaps the same as mentioned in Acts 17:5.


Verses 21-23

21-23. Thus far Paul’s own salutations mainly have been given; now we have a paragraph of the salutations of his companions, including his faithful Timothy and his amanuensis Tertius, who is allowed to give his in his own first person.


Verse 22

22. Tertius—A Roman name signifying third, as Quartus below signifies fourth.

Wrote—As amanuensis to Paul.


Verse 23

23. Of the whole church—Either by opening his house for a congregation of worshippers, or by his general hospitality to Christians.

Erastus—The chamberlain or treasurer of Corinth. He accompanied Timothy in bearing Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians from Ephesus, and resided at Corinth, (2 Timothy 4:20.)

A brother—The last and simplest title, perhaps meekly dictated by the owner.


Verse 25

25. To him—Reiterated in Romans 16:27, To God.

Of power—Literally, able.

Stablish you—Not merely in accordance with 18, 19, but in the faith of this entire epistle.

My gospel—As expounded in this book of Romans.

Preaching—Literally, heralding, proclaiming, whether by tongue or pen.

Mystery—Paul’s Gospel, as in this book unfolded, is no invention of his own; it was in past aeons or ages an unuttered mystery of God.

Since the world began—A loose paraphrase of χρονοις αιωνιοις, aeonic times, which signifies that God has cycles or ages or dispensations in his eternal providence, and that during the past cycles of time, that is, before the era of Christ, this Gospel was an unrevealed mystery.


Verses 25-27

THE DOXOLOGY, CLOSING THE EPISTLE, Romans 16:25-27.

The close of this great epistle, like its exordium, is elaborate and well rounded. If one will read Romans 16:25 to the word gospel inclusive, and then (omitting the intervening) read in continuation the last verse, he will find the main thought completely expressed.

In Romans 16:25 the and is best read even: my Gospel, even the preaching of Jesus, the latter phrase being explanatory of the former. The two accordings are coordinate, both being dependent upon establish you. Thus:

Establish you According to my Gospel, namely, the preaching of Jesus Christ, According to revelation of mystery, in age-enduring times unuttered, but now revealed.

But the according in Romans 16:26, by a strong inversion, depends upon made known, made known being coordinate with revealed, connecting with our translation of Romans 16:25, thus:

And through the prophetic Scriptures, made known according to the commandment of the God of ages, to all nations, for the obedience of faith.


Verse 26

26. Now… manifest—First by Christ, next by his apostles, and now by Paul in this epistle.

Scriptures of the prophets—A needlessly awkward rendering of γραφων προφητικων, prophetic Scriptures. Through the Scriptures as instrument of revelation and proof.

Made known—Referring to mystery. The eternal mystery is now disclosed by God’s command, namely, that all can be saved by faith in Christ.


Verse 27

27. Glory—Our translators smoothly glide over one Greek word, consisting, indeed, of a single letter, which is a thorn to all close commentators. Before be glory comes ω, to whom, giving us not only to God, through Jesus Christ, but also to whom be glory. No critical genius has ever furnished any better method than to consider to whom to be equivalent to to him, which is then pleonastic, but not ungraceful or unPauline. To God only wise… through Jesus Christ… to him be glory forever.

Very ingenious, in fact too purely ingenious, is Lange’s method. Let amen be a noun, (as in 2 Corinthians 1:20,) and then we have,

To God only wise—through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory—be an amen forever; the amen being, as it were, the response of an eternal liturgy from God’s Church into the only wise God. A sublime thought, expressing a most sublime reality! What heart does not respond with a prayer to be allowed its share in that eternal AMEN!

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Romans 16:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/romans-16.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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