This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren
To download the full commentary as a pdf, click here Shogren_Commentary on Romans
IX. Conclusion (16:1-27)
A. Greetings (16:1-16)
B. A Call to Spiritual Discernment (16:17-20)
C. Greetings and Doxology (16:21-26)
IX. Conclusion (16:1-27)
A. Greetings (16:1-16)
Phoebe carried this epistle, a scroll tucked into her luggage, on a sea trip of 2-3 weeks from Corinth to Rome (see Introduction). Perhaps she had other business to conduct in the capital, or perhaps she went specifically to deliver Paul’s letter. “Give her any help she may need” is the technical term meaning to furnish her with whatever help she needed to return to her home in Cenchrea, one of the two ports of Corinth. Phoebe was a leader of that church. Paul applies to Phoebe the term that he uses for male co-workers (Col 1:7; 1 Tim 4:6). If she had been a man, it is likely that all the English versions would denominate her a “deacon” (as in Phil 1:1) instead of a “deaconess” (NJB) or even more vaguely “servant” or “minister”.
It is a testimony to the high mobility of the Roman empire that Paul knew so many believers, some intimately, in a city he had never visited. He mentions about 26 men and women by name, which is unusual for him and for other letter writers of his generation. First is that ever-present couple, Priscilla and Aquila, who had worked with Paul in Corinth and Ephesus and had risked their lives for him. In the case of other names, we do not have much information about where or how Paul met them. We do know that there were Jewish Christians in Rome since the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:10). Later, Jewish Christians would have been forbidden to live Rome in the years 49-54, and so Paul met Aquila and Priscilla and others of these people on his missionary journeys.
Paul mentions as many as five house churches in Rome: one met in the “house” (better “home,” NLT, since it could have been an apartment or rented room rather than the houses of today) of Aquila and Priscilla (v. 5); earlier they had hosted a church in Ephesus (1 Cor 16:9; also Col 4:15; Philemon 2). There is another church mentioned in v. 14 and a third in v. 15. Early Christian meetings took place in dwellings ranging in size from a small apartment (as in the third floor one in Acts 20:7-12) or a crowed space in a tenement building, as have been excavated in Rome, to a larger dwelling with rooms on the ground floor off of a central courtyard, or an even finer “peristyle” house, which featured a columned inner courtyard. Each meeting might hold from 25-50; in large homes up to 100 people.
Students have long puzzled over Andronicus and “Junia” (v. 7). First, Paul notes that they were Jewish converts (“relatives”) who were “in Christ before I was.” Paul came to Christ not more than three years after the resurrection; this means that this couple were among the very earliest believers and perhaps eyewitnesses of the resurrected savior. While some revisionist scholars argue that the gospel had radically mutated since those early days, here we have Paul and this couple dedicated to the same message some 25 years further along.
For a long while it was thought that “Junias” (with the addition of a final “s”) was a man, but the evidence strongly favors the case that this is not a known man’s name and therefore that she, Junia, was a woman (so Cranfield, pp. 2.788-789; Wilckens, p. 482; and most other recent commentaries, but not Hendriksen, p. 504, for the flimsiest of reasons); in that case they are likely to be a married couple, like Priscilla and Aquila. They would have been like “the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas”, who traveled with their believing wives (1 Cor 9:5). “Outstanding among the apostles” might possibly indicate that the Twelve thought them an outstanding couple, but almost certainly it means that they were apostles in the broad sense of their being church-plantings missionaries (like Barnabas in Acts 14:4, 14; Silvanus in 1 Thess 2:7, and so most commentaries), “outstanding” in the quality of their pioneering work, but not members of the Twelve.
It is striking that two women, Priscilla and Junia, had suffered alongside the men: one risked her life, and the other was jailed with her husband and Paul. We know no details, but Satan had paid them a back-handed compliment – by threatening them physically, their persecutors showed that the women were not simply their husbands’ companions, but important forces in the Christian mission.
Paul greets all of these Christians, in the first place because it was normal courtesy to do so, and in the second place, because he could count on 26 individuals to testify that he preached the true gospel and could be entrusted to take that message westward to Spain with the backing of the Roman church.
Some of these have Semitic Jewish names, some Jewish people with Latin or Greek names (Aquila, Priscilla), others are clearly Jews (Herodion, Aquila, Priscilla Andronicus, Junia); some are Gentiles, some have names that were usually popular for slaves. The list of people Paul knows in Rome is conspicuous testimony that the gospel is for Greeks, Jews, barbarians, education, simple, slaves, free, men, women. And he asks this new blended family to greet each other with a “holy kiss”. In Roman society the kiss was reserved for close relatives and not given in public; yet here we have Christians greeting each other in their meetings as true brothers and sisters.
Practical Thought: All Scripture is written for our instruction, even this list of names. Among other practical applications for us today:
- Diversity in the church. Paul had said that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). This was no mere ideal – the collective churches of Rome reflected precisely the varied categories of sex, class, race in the body of Christ (see Stott, p. 397). Many of the people whom Paul greets have distinguished themselves as fellow workers in the gospel, that is to say, a low proportion of believers simply attended the weekly meeting; a high proportion were active in the gospel work.
- Proper names. There are Latin names (Priscilla, Aquila; Junias; Urbanus; Julia, etc.; and of course “Paulus”) and Greek; many of the Jews have Greek or Latin names, and that accords with what archaeologists know about Jewish names in first century Rome. Very few – perhaps Maria – have Hebrew names. There are believers today who believe that they must adopt a Hebrew name and reject their Gentile or “Roman” one. It might come as a surprise that, for example, Silvanus, Phoebe, and Narcissus kept their old names, even though they were derived from pagan idolatry; they did not believe it was a compromise to do so.
- Working class and slaves. At least some leaders of the church (Aquila and Priscilla) came from the artisan class; and traditionally one of the presbyters of the Roman church in the 90s was “Clement,” which in the Latin often refers to a “freed” slave. He is thought to be the author of the early document, 1st Clement. Many of the names in this list were commonly applied to slaves.
- The fact that Paul refers to female believers as “sisters”. Jewish males referred to each other as “brothers” (see Acts 2:29, 37, 3:17, 7:2 etc.), but it seems to have been Christians who started began the practice of calling female members “sisters” (see 1 Cor 7:15; 9:5; Philemon 2).
- Women in leadership positions (especially Phoebe, Priscilla, Junia). When a church today becomes more and more a corporate institution and less a group of gifted believers, there is a tendency to remove women from positions of authority in favor of male Christians. Would your church be comfortable having Phoebe as a deacon or Junia as a church-planting missionary?
Leadership and professionalization. Today’s American church has become professionalized, and only a handful are allowed anywhere near the microphone. By contrast, the early believers did not meet as a megachurch, but as a network of house churches of fewer than 100 people. When Paul describes a meeting, he envisions a worship service where everyone had the chance to participate, not just by singing and giving money, but by teaching, leading a song, or giving a supernatural message (1 Cor 14:26). Think of your church: can you imagine yourself at some point standing up to say, “I will lead you in a song this morning”?
B. A Call to Spiritual Discernment (16:17-20)
False teachers are ever present; as in Galatians 6:11-18, Paul concludes his letter with one final warning. He does not state directly who these troublemakers are. Probably they are Jews or Judaizers, given what he has said in Romans 2-3; or perhaps it is no group in particular, but only the general sort of teacher that the Christian should recoil from (Cranfield, p. 2.797-798). These people “cause divisions and put obstacles in your way” and teach false doctrine. Not only that, but they are highly persuasive people, agents of that ancient deceiver Satan (see v. 20). Paul seems to be reworking the saying of Jesus, “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16).
Paul has already invested much space in 14:1-15:13 to prove that Christians must stay together in harmony and not be divided because of race or individual choices. That means that Paul is not dealing here with fellow Christians who happen to be exasperating (2 Thess 3:6-15; Phil 1:15-18; and see Rom 14). The people here are not true servants of Christ at all; they live by their lusts, and they belong outside of the fellowship of believers. No holy kiss for them! Don’t call them brother and sister! Stay clear of them!
Paul can in the same section tell the church to sever false teachers from their fellowship and at the same time talk about the “God of peace” (16:20). This is because God’s peace does not consist of smooth talk or shallow companionship but is the authentic peace that comes only through the true gospel, and brings peace with God (1:7, 5:1) and with other people (12:18).
In v. 20b Paul blesses them in the name of Jesus. He never peppers his letters with vain words in order to make them look religious. Every word of his letter has to do with its message to his disciples; thus, when he asks that the grace of Jesus be with them, it is a pray that he intervene and bless their lives.
C. Greetings and Doxology (16:21-27)
Paul passes along greetings from co-workers who were with him; this is technically called “secondary salutations.” The most interesting of them is the scribe Tertius who, like the apostle Paulus, had a Latin name. He greets them “in the Lord”: he is a fellow-Christian in Corinth. Paul usually dictated his letters, and this gives them a lively style; he would then pen the final greeting himself (1 Cor 16:21; Gal 6:11; Col 4:18; 2 Thess 3:17). He would have dictated in the one language that he, Tertius and the Roman Christians would have had in common – the koine dialect of Greek. That is why the epistle almost always uses a form of the Scriptures known as the Septuagint. This was a Jewish version of the Bible in koine Greek. In some places it differs from the Hebrew text, and when there is a difference, Paul clearly follows the Greek version rather than the Hebrew.
16:24 is another prayer for Christ to be gracious to all of them; it is found in the KJV and NKJV but missing from the NIV and other versions that are based on the better Greek manuscripts; this is remarked upon in a footnote (see the NIV).
At the very conclusion (vv. 25-26). Paul gives praise to God through Jesus Christ. As in v. 23, this is no mere “signing-off” so that Paul may finish dictating the letter and send it to Rome. Every blessing and prayer in every epistle is designed to fit precisely into its theme. In this case especially, Paul recounts briefly how the gospel is a new revelation, but also one which God had planned all along and predicted in the prophetic Old Testament (for example in Hab 2:4, Gen 15:6, Psalm 32:1-2, and the quotations found in Rom 15:8-12). What the inspired prophets could see only dimly, even the simplest Christian can now understand in detail. Meanwhile, the children of Israel who reject the gospel are at fault, since it was predicted in their very own Scriptures.
And of course, part of Paul’s message throughout the epistle is that the gospel must go out from Jerusalem (15:19) to “all nations”, in this epistle to Italy and Spain and to the “barbarians” north of the empire’s frontiers. And so, he concludes his letter with an echo of 1:16 and God’s powerful gospel for the salvation “first to the Jew, then to the Gentile”; in 16:25-26 the gospel is found in the prophetic books of Israel and sent forth to save the Gentile nations. This thought provides the “bookends” to the letter, what the ancients called an inclusio.
We have already visited the garden of Eden in Paul’s description of humanity’s fall (Rom 5), and now we hear how God will fulfill his promise, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15). How extraordinary then that Satan will be crushed “under your feet”, that is, of the believers in Rome. This is because they form part of the new human race, and if Christ has crushed Satan through the cross, so we too can see Satan defeated. In the Jewish theology of the day it was thought that Israel would one day crush demons underfoot, but only after the coming of the final kingdom; 16:20 goes even further and places Satan’s defeat “swiftly”. The only question is, how and when will that happen in Rome? The best explanation is that the church will crush Satan in the short term, fulfilling verses such as Psalm 91:13 – “You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.” When the Romans rejected the words of Satan, represented by false teachers, they dealt a blow to his plans. They did not have to chant or dance or shout or take out their credit cards to find victory. Nor did they need to buy a special anointing oil filled with exotic and costly ingredients; they only had to hold on to true teaching and reject the false.
To echo Paul in v. 27 – “to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.”
Practical Thought: We must love others, but not be tolerant of “other gospels,” which have a corrosive effect on God’s beloved. But simply put, many churches in the Americas lack this kind of discernment. People write to me and say, “Well, last week our pastor heard this new idea from somebody, somewhere, and he said it sounded okay to him, so we’re following it. Of course, last year there was some other teaching, and the year before that yet another.” And, one surmises, there will be a new poison for the next year, and the next. In many corners it seems as if there is no sense that false teaching exists even as a possibility. If someone comes to town and gives a prophecy, few put that word to the test, because the teacher implies that we would be questioning God’s authority or “touching the Lord’s anointed.” And just like Adam and Eve we are easily persuaded to believe that Jesus is not God’s Son, or that the Spirit is a force like electricity, or that some man is God’s spokesman on earth. If a preacher looks confident and speaks “by smooth talk and flattery” (16:19), it is the responsibility of all Christians, especially leaders, to filter out what is poison and to allow in only good nutrition.
Christian differs from Christian with regard to, let’s say, details about the Second Coming, the spiritual gifts, what sort of music is appropriate for worship, and other matters. But Paul is speaking about the ability to detect error in the very fundamentals: who is Christ, how is one saved, what is the Bible, who is Jesus Christ and so on. It is for that reason Paul wrote to the Romans.
Paul’s conclusion is a reminder that the gospel doesn’t belong to one group, one race, one denomination. All of God’s people are part of the ancient olive tree, they must resist pride, and they must ever live with the duty of taking the gospel to the world. A gospel that is kept locked up or kept as a pet or argued over is no gospel at all. It must ever travel from those who love it to those who haven’t yet heard.
“Romans Commentary, Romans 16 and Conclusion,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica