Father Callan’s Commentary on Romans 16
Posted by Dim Bulb on August 6, 2016
A Summary of Romans 16:1-16
That Phoebe, a deaconess of the community at Cenchrae, was the bearer of this letter to the Eternal City has been commonly believed by both ancient and modern interpreters, and is attested to by the subscriptions of many codices, Greek, Latin, Syriac and Coptic. Entrusting her with the care of this momentous Epistle, St. Paul considers Phoebe worthy of commendation to the Roman faithful for two reasons: first, because she is their, as well as his “sister,” that is, a Christian; and secondly, because of her kindly offices and helpfulness to many, including himself. After this follow special greetings to a number of converts and close friends of the Apostle.
Rom 16:1. And I commend to you Phebe, our sister, who is in the ministry of the church, that is in Cenchrae:
I commend, i.e., I introduce to you Phebe, the bearer of this letter.
Who is in the ministry, etc. This is the only place in the New Testament where it is said that a woman exercised the office of διακονον (diakonon), deaconess; 1 Tim. 3:11 cannot be taken in the same sense (Lagrange). Another proof, however, of the existence of deaconesses in the primitive Church is found in Pliny the Younger (Ep. x. 96. 8): Necessarium credidi ex ducbus ancillis, quae ministrae dicebantur (“Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses.”), etc. The duties of deaconesses in the early Church were chiefly: (a) to assist at female Baptisms, which were by immersion; (b) to help in the care of the poor and the sick; (c) to instruct female catechumens in their homes. It is certain that these devout women took no part in preaching, or in the discharge of liturgical functions (1 Tim 2:12).
Cenchrae, a small town, a port of Corinth, on the Aegean Sea.
Rom 16:2. That you receive her in the Lord as becometh saints; and that you assist her in whatsoever business she shall have need of you. For she also hath assisted many, and myself also.
In the Lord, i.e., out of love for the Lord, as becometh the saints, i.e., in a manner worthy of Christians who are all members of the same body, whose head is Christ, and who are therefore bound by the same bonds of charity.
That you assist her, etc. This shows that Phoebe had much other business of her own to attend to in Rome. By applying the term προστατις (= prostatis) to Phoebe, St. Paul does not mean the word to be taken in its official and technical sense, as patron or representative; he wishes only to say that she was of great assistance to himself and to the faithful in looking after their needs. Some insist on seeing 1-2 as indicating that Phoebe held an ordained ministry. Context is important here. St Paul has just been speaking of his plans to travel to Jerusalem to fulfill his “serving” (diakonon) of the saints there (Rom 15:25). In Rom 15:31 he describes it as a “ministry” (diakonia) he hopes the Christians in Jerusalem will find “acceptable” (eusprodektos). Diakonia in the sense St Paul has just been using it (serving by giving financial aid) is also used in 2 Cor 8:4, 9:1; 12-13. It was a voluntary service any Christian could engage in, not an ordained ministry in the sense in which diakonon is used today (“deacon”), or as the word is used in passages such as 1 Tim 3:8, 12. It appears that Phoebe served as a “prostasis” by rendering financial or other aid to “many,” including St Paul, and so he asks that the Romans “assist her” (parastete = render assistance).
Rom 16:3. Salute Prisca and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus,
Rom 16:4. (Who have for my life laid down their own necks: to whom not I only give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles,)
Rom 16:5. And the church which is in their house. Salute Epenetus, my beloved: who is the firstfruits of Asia in Christ.
Prisca and Aquila. Prisca, the wife of Aquila, was most likely of Jewish origin ; she is the same person as Priscilla of Acts 18:2, 18. Aquila was by birth a Jew of Pontus; his Latin cognomen probably came from his own, or his ancestors’ association with a Roman family. Both Aquila and Prisca were perhaps converted to the faith in Rome by St. Peter. St. Paul first met them in Corinth on his first visit there. They had lately come from Rome, having been driven from the Eternal City with other Jews and Christians by the edict of Claudius. Accompanying the Apostle to Ephesus they remained in that city and established a church in their house, while St. Paul went on his way to Jerusalem. They were there still, or again, when the first letter to the Corinthians was written (1 Cor. 16:19); later, when this present letter was written, as we see, they were in Rome; and some years later still they were again at Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:19).
The authenticity of this present passage has been questioned on account of the frequent change of abode on the part of Aquila and Prisca. But the following considerations will clear away the difficulty: (a) It was common among the Jews of this time often to change their home; (b) it is clear from this passage, from 1 Cor. 16:19, and from Acts 28:26, that Aquila and Prisca were engaged in propagating the Gospel; (c) it was only natural that they should wish to return to Rome to prepare for the Apostle’s advent there (Acts 19:21), and after his release from prison they would wish again to visit the faithful of Asia. They probably died at Ephesus some time after the writing of the Second Epistle to Timothy.
Since Aquila and Prisca, when at Ephesus the first time, knew of the Apostle’s intended Roman visit (Acts 19:21), and in all probability returned there to arrange for his coming, it is most reasonable to suppose that they communicated with him from Rome, giving him such information about friends and conditions there as would explain the list of salutations that follows here, and which also perhaps influenced in some measure the whole character of the present Epistle.
Who have for my life, etc., i.e., to save my life, etc. What were the sufferings here alluded to we do not know. That Aquila and Prisca, however, exposed their own lives to danger in order to save the Apostle is clear from this verse. The reference is doubtless to some such events as are spoken of in Acts 18:12 ff.; 19:23 ff.; 1 Cor. 15:23; 2 Cor. 11:26.
But also all the churches of the Gentiles, etc., whose members had been so much assisted by Aquila and Prisca at Corinth, at Ephesus, and at Rome.
The church which is in their house. The Apostle sends his salutations to those Christians who were accustomed to assemble in the house of Aquila and Prisca in Rome. This phrase seems to indicate that St. Paul had heard from Aquila and Prisca after their return to Rome. The faithful, in the early days of the Church, not having special buildings for the celebration of the divine mysteries, were accustomed to assemble in private houses, and there assist at the Holy Sacrifice, receive Holy Communion, listen to sermons and instructions, etc. (Acts 12:12; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philem. 2). Doubtless there were many such houses of worship in Rome and in other large cities.
There should be no parentheses enclosing verse 4.
Epenetus, who was a Gentile Christian, was probably converted at Ephesus by Aquila and Prisca and went with them to Rome.
The firstfruits of Asia, i.e., the first person, or among the first persons converted in the Roman Province of Asia, which had Ephesus for its capital, just as Stephanas, baptized by St. Paul himself, was among the firstfruits of Achaia (1 Cor. 16:15).
Rom 16:6. Salute Mary, who hath laboured much among you.
Mary was doubtless a Christian of Jewish origin, if the reading μαριαμ (Mariam = Miriam) is correct; but if we read with Soden μαριαν (Marian), the name may be either Jewish or Roman.
Among you. This phrase is read εις ημας εν υμας, and εις υμας in various MSS.; but the last reading, found in the best MSS., is to be preferred. What were the great services rendered to the Church of Rome by this pious lady we do not know. Basically, εις ημας εν υμας would indicate that Mary has labored for the sake of St Paul and his missionaries; εις υμας indicates that she has labored for the sake of the the epistle’s recipients.
The in vobis of the Vulgate should be in vos.
Rom 16:7. Salute Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and fellow prisoners: who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
Andronicus, a Greek name often used by Jews.
Junias. The Greek ιουνιαν is probably the accusative of ιουνια, and thus, being feminine, would signify the wife or sister of Andronicus. It is also possible, however, that we have here an abbreviation of the masculine ιουνιανος, Junianus in Latin, which would mean a man.
My kinsmen, i.e., descendants from St. Paul’s own tribe of Benjamin. It is unlikely that “kinsmen” here means merely Jews, because this appellation is not applied to Aquila and Prisca, who were also Jews. We do not know when Andronicus and Junias were fellow prisoners with St. Paul.
Of note among the apostles, i.e., distinguished, esteemed among the Apostles, or by the Apostles (Cornely, Zahn), as having been converted to the faith before St. Paul, and consecrated to the work of the Apostles. They were not, however, Apostles in the strict sense of the term.
The Vulgate nobiles in apostolis=nobiles inter praedicatores, or
rather, apostolos (St. Thomas, Lagr.).
Rom 16:8. Salute Ampliatus, most beloved to me in the Lord.
Ampliatus is a Latin name found in inscriptions of the imperial household. In a chamber in the cemetery of Domitilla, one of the first of the Christian catacombs in Rome, there are two inscriptions, one of which contains in bold letters Ampliati, the other Aurel. Ampliatus; the first goes back to the end of the first or the beginning of the second century, and the other belongs to the end of the second century. It seems very probable that this is the Ampliatus of whom St. Paul here speaks. That he should have been buried in a richly painted tomb in Domitilla seems to show that he was very prominent among the early Roman Christians and dear to St. Paul by reason of his many virtues and great services.
The Vulgate dilectissimum should be dilectum. The word most before beloved in English should be omitted.
Rom 16:9. Salute Urbanus, our helper in Christ Jesus, and Stachys, my beloved.
Urbanus. A Roman name, common among slaves and frequently found in Latin inscriptions. St. Paul speaks of him as our helper, showing that he was a helper of the Roman Christians, rather than a personal friend of his own.
Stachys, a Greek name, but found in inscriptions of the imperial household. According to tradition St. Andrew made Stachys first Bishop of Byzantium.
Jesus (Vulg., Jesu) is not in the Greek.
Rom 16:10. Salute Apelles, approved in Christ.
Apelles, a Greek name that passed into Latin under the form Apella, then Apelles. Cf. Horace, Sat. I. v. 100. It was also borne by Jews. Apelles was an approved Christian.
Rom 16:11. Salute them that are of Aristobulus’ household. Salute Herodian, my kinsman. Salute them that are of Narcissus’ household, who are in the Lord.
Them that are of Aristobulus’ household, i.e., the servants, or Christian slaves of Aristobulus. Perhaps Aristobulus was not himself a Christian, or was already dead. There is probably question here of Aristobulus, brother of Herod Agrippa I, who lived a long time in Rome and was a friend of the Emperor Claudius (Josephus, Bell. Jud. II. 11. 6; Antiq. xx. 1. 2).
Herodian, perhaps a slave pertaining to the household of Aristobulus,
and through the latter, connected in some way with the
Narcissus, a Greek name, probably the famous freedman of Claudius (Tacit., Ann xi. 29 ff.), put to death by order of Agrippina during the first year of Nero. His slaves became the property of the Emperor, but continued to be called Narcissiani, or of the household of Narcissus.
Who are in the Lord, i.e., who are Christians.
Rom 16:12. Salute Tryphsena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute Persis, the dearly beloved, who hath much laboured in the Lord.
Tryphaena and Tryphosa are Greek names, belonging perhaps to two sisters, or to a mother and daughter. They were probably deaconesses, who gave their lives to the service of the Church in Rome. These two names are found in Latin inscriptions.
Persis, a Greek slave name. St. Paul speaks of Persis as of a personal acquaintance; the use of the past tense, hath laboured, would indicate that his labors for the Church were over and that the faithful servant had gone to his reward.
Rom 16:13. Salute Rufus, elect in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
Rufus was probably the son of Simon the Cyrenian, and brother of Alexander (Mark 15:21). Rufus was therefore from the Orient, and his mother had long been known to St. Paul; perhaps she had been of some special helpfulness to the Apostle in his youth when studying in the school of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), and hence he speaks of her with affection and gratitude. St. Mark, who wrote his Gospel for the Romans, speaks of Alexander and Rufus as persons well known to the Christians there.
Rom 16:14. Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hennas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren that are with them.
The five persons here mentioned, together with their brethren not so well known, perhaps formed a distinct group among the Roman Christians. They all have slave names, some of which are found in inscriptions among the imperial household.
Hermas is not to be confounded with the author of the book called Pastor, written in the second century.
Rom 16: 15. Salute Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympias; and all the saints that are with them.
We have here another group of five persons bearing slave names, with the members of their domestic church, who doubtless constituted one more distinct Christian centre among the Romans.
Philologus was probably the husband of Julia, and Nereus and his sister were their children.
Rom 16:16. Salute one another with an holy kiss. All the churches of Christ salute you.
Having enumerated the various persons to whom he wished his personal greetings to be conveyed, St. Paul bids all the Christians at Rome to salute one another in his name with a holy kiss. The Christians, after the manner of the Jews before them (Matt. 26:48; Luke 7:45; 22:48), were accustomed to greet one another with a kiss as a sign of charity; this custom became with the Christians a liturgical ceremony expressive of the unity and charity that prevailed among them, and was practiced especially at their religious reunions after the celebration of the divine mysteries (St. Justin, Apol. i. 65; Tertull., De Orat. 18; Const. Apost. ii. 57; etc.).
All the churches of Christ, etc. St. Paul is speaking in the name of all the Churches, perhaps because there were present with him as he wrote representatives of many, if not all, of the other Christian communities, and also because the Church of Rome was an object of special veneration to all the rest.
A Summary of Romans 16:17-20
This section causes a somewhat serious difficulty. It is indeed surprising to find placed between St. Paul’s personal greetings and those of his companions a section warning against the sowers of discord, the Judaizers. The interruption appears unnatural and strange. It will not do to say that the passage is out of place, since it is uniformly found here in all MSS. Certain critics, like Lipsius and Kuhl, have regarded this warning against agitators as contrary to the tone of the whole Epistle, which everywhere else supposes unusual unity and concord, and they have therefore regarded the passage as unauthentic. The following may be said in reply: (a) St. Paul is not warning against an actual existing situation among the Roman Christians, but is putting them on their guard against a possible future peril. Having just spoken of the greetings of “all the churches” he suddenly recalled to mind the trouble he had encountered almost everywhere with disturbing Judaizers, and he at once inserted this section of warning to the Romans (Cornely, Zahn, etc.); or (b) St. Paul had knowledge that the Judaizers were already beginning their evil work in Rome, although the Christian community as such was not yet seriously troubled by them, or even aware of the danger among them. While he feels that the Romans will not allow themselves to be deceived, he does not hesitate to lay bare the peril with all his usual vigor. The Apostle has outlined his teaching to the Romans, and now at the end of his Letter, otherwise calm and speculative, he wisely cautions against adversaries who are already seeking to gain the confidence of his readers (Lagrange). (c) This abrupt change of tone and subject here is not more strange than that of 1 Cor. 16:21 ff. (Julicher), and is quite in keeping with the Apostle’s vigorous and impulsive spirit.
Rom 16:17. Now I beseech you, brethren, to mark them who make dissensions and offences contrary to the doctrine which you have learned, and avoid them.
Now, etc. It is only natural and in keeping with his practice elsewhere (Phil 3:17 ff.), that St. Paul, after directing who should be greeted in his name, should now point to those against whom the Christians of Rome ought ever to be on their guard, namely, the Judaizers (Gal. 1:6; 5:20; 2 Cor. 10:7 ff.; 11:12 ff., etc.).
To mark, etc., i.e., carefully to watch those Judaizers who had before caused so much trouble, and who were always and everywhere opposing the Gospel preached by St. Paul. From these facts and from the words, the doctrine which you have learned, it is plain that the Gospel of Paul was also that of the Romans.
Rom 16:18. For they that are such, serve not Christ our Lord, but their own belly; and by pleasing speeches and good words, seduce the hearts of the innocent.
Those Judaizers who try to undo the work of St. Paul are naturally not serving Christ, but themselves and their own selfish aims. They prefer the Law to Christ; and while pretending to shoulder all the burdens of the Law, they are guilty of gluttony and self-indulgence (2 Cor. 11:20; Tit. 1:10; Phil 3:2), and make use of pleasing words only to deceive the simple and the guileless.
Rom 16:19. For your obedience is published in every place. I rejoice therefore in you. But I would have you to be wise in good, and simple in evil.
Your obedience, i.e., the docility with which you embraced the faith is everywhere known. This shows that the community in Rome was as yet undisturbed.
I rejoice therefore, etc., assures the Romans that St. Paul has no doubt of the integrity of their faith ; but he would have them be as wise as serpents and as simple as doves (Matt. 10:16) in dealing with the treacherous Judaizers.
Wise in good, i.e., not deceived by false appearances and led to doctrines contrary to those already learned.
Simple in evil, i.e., not knowing or taking part in evil (1 Cor. 14:20).
The Vulgate in bono, in malo should be in bonum, in malum, to agree with the Greek.
Rom 16:20. And the God of peace crush Satan under your feet speedily. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
St. Paul assures the Romans that God, the author of peace and happiness, will crush (συντριψει = syntripsei) under their feet Satan, the author of discord, whose emissaries the Judaizers are. The allusion here is to Gen. 3:15, where the crushing of the serpent’s head was announced.
The grace of our Lord, etc. This is the formula by which St. Paul, with some slight variations of detail, is accustomed to terminate his letters (1 Cor. 16:23; 2 Cor. 13:13; Gal. 6:8; Eph. 6:24; Phil 4:23; Col. 4:18; 1 Thess. 5:28; 2 Thess.3:18; Heb. 13:25, etc.). It seems, therefore, somewhat singular to find this formula placed here before the greetings of the Apostle’s companions. But since the best MSS. and versions leave no doubt as to its genuineness before verses 21-23, we must conclude that those texts which have omitted it here and placed it at verse 24, or after verse 27, have not the traditional and correct reading; while those texts, like the Vulgate and our English version, that have it both in the present verse and in verse 24 have combined the two readings (Cornely, Lagrange, etc.).
The conterat of the Vulgate here ought to be conteret, in conformity with the Greek.
A Summary of Romans 16:21-24
This section is a postscript to the letter. Most probably St. Paul had intended to add the doxology immediately after his prayer for grace of verse 20, and thus terminate the Epistle. But remembering that he had not included the greetings of his companions, as was often his custom (1 Cor 16:19 ff. ; Phil 4:21; Col. 4:10 ff.; 2 Tim. 4:21; Tit. 3:15; Philem. 23), he preferred to insert them between his prayer and the doxology rather than omit them altogether (Comely). Perhaps this addition of greetings caused the Apostle to repeat in verse 24 the prayer of verse 20, as some critics hold, so that the doxology might immediately follow the prayer, as he had first intended.
Rom 16:21. Timothy, my fellow labourer, saluteth you, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen.
Timothy was also associated with Paul in the writing of several other Epistles (2 Cor. 1:1; Phil 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; Philem. 1). It is uncertain whether Timothy was with Paul all during the composition of this Epistle, or whether he joined the Apostle only at the end.
Lucius, although Roman in name, was probably Lucius of Cyrene spoken of in Acts 13:1 among the Christians of Jewish origin.
Sosipater is the same name as Sopater, and doubtless the same person as Sopater of Beraea (Acts 20:4). Lucius, Jason and Sosipater were relatives of St. Paul. The last two, with Timothy (2 Cor. 1:1), had come from Macedonia to Corinth, perhaps to bring their collections for the poor in Jerusalem and to accompany the Apostle on his way thither. Very likely the others here mentioned had come for the same purpose. Their arrival just as the Epistle to the Romans was being terminated would explain this postscript of greetings.
Rom 16:22. I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord.
I Tertius. St. Paul made use of a certain Tertius as secretary in writing the present Epistle. It was usual with the Apostle to dictate his letters (2 Thess. 3:17; Gal. 6:11; 1 Cor. 16:21; Col. 4:18; Philem. 19), but it was not customary for the secretary to include his personal greetings as here. Perhaps Tertius was known to the Romans, and so was told by St. Paul to add his own salutation.
Rom 16:23. Caius, my host, and the whole church, saluteth you. Erastus, the treasurer of the city, saluteth you, and Quartus, a brother.
Caius, also written Gaus. This is very likely the person spoken of in 1 Cor. 1:14, a wealthy Corinthian, baptized by St. Paul during the latter’s first visit to Corinth. St. Paul doubtless enjoyed the hospitality of Caius throughout his stay at Corinth.
And the whole church. Better, “And the host of the whole church,” i.e., all the faithful of Corinth that were accustomed to assemble in the house of Caius for divine service (Origen, Lipsius, Julicher, etc.); or all the faithful that were freely permitted to come to Caius’ house while St. Paul was there (Kuhl); or all those Christians who were wont to seek the hospitality of Caius when passing through Corinth (St. Chrysostom, Cornely, Lagrange, etc.).
The treasurer, i.e., the officer in charge of finances in the city of Corinth.
Quartus, as his name would indicate, was perhaps a Roman
Christian, and therefore known to the Romans.
A brother, i.e., a Christian.
The Vulgate universa ecclesia ought to be in the genitive, unvversae ecclesiae, as in the Greek.
Rom 16:24. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
This verse is usually regarded as a mere repetition, due to copyists, of verse 20b. It is wanting in the most ancient MSS. and in many versions.
A Summary of Romans 16:25-27