Rome was the capital of the empire. As Jerusalem was the center of Jewish life, Rome was the world’s political, religious, social, and economic center. There the major governmental decisions were made, and from there the gospel spread to the ends of the earth. The church in Rome was a dynamic mixture of Jews, Gentiles, slaves, free people, men, women, Roman citizens, and world travelers; therefore, it had potential for both great influence and great conflict.
The Romans had built a tremendous system of roads between the various major cities of its vast empire, so movement by people from place to place was not unusual. As Paul preached in the eastern part of the empire, he went first to the key cities—Jerusalem, Antioch in Syria, Philippi, Corinth, Athens, Ephesus. Along the way he met many believers who eventually ended up in Rome. The fact that Paul knew the whereabouts of so many of his friends and co-workers gives us a glimpse into the interest this great missionary had in the people to whom he ministered and who ministered to him. This final chapter reveals a treasury of friends Paul expected to see in Rome.
Paul had not yet been to Rome to meet all the Christians there, and, of course, he has not yet met us. We too live in a cosmopolitan setting with the entire world open to us. We also have the potential for both widespread influence and wrenching conflict. We should listen carefully to and apply Paul’s teaching about unity, service, and love.
16:1 I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church at Cenchrea.NKJV Phoebe was known as a servant or “deacon.” The Greek word used here is diakonon (masculine gender); literally she was a deacon, not a deaconess. However, this description could suggest her entire service, not just an office in the local church at Cenchrea. Apparently she was a wealthy person who helped support Paul’s ministry. Phoebe was highly regarded in the church (suggested by the phrase a servant of the church). Furthermore, because Paul specifically commends her to the Romans it is likely that she delivered this letter from Corinth to Rome. This provides evidence that women had important roles in the early church, as well as important roles in business. Paul mentions by name nine women among his friends in Rome, calling them all “fellow workers.” Phoebe was wealthy, and she apparently had some business in Rome to attend to. Paul, knowing that her itinerary would bring her to Rome before he could get there, asked her to personally carry this letter for him. The letter, then, served as an introduction for Phoebe to the church in Rome.
It’s amazing what could get done for God if no one worried who got the credit. Unknown.
Cenchrea. Cenchrea, the town where Phoebe lived, was the eastern port of Corinth, six miles from the city center (see Acts 18:18). The church here was probably a daughter church of the one in Corinth.
16:2 Receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints.NKJV Paul here asks that the believers welcome Phoebe and give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me.NIV Believers who traveled from one place to another could always be assured of a warm welcome and kind hospitality from other believers. How Phoebe helped Paul and others is unknown, but those she helped were obviously very grateful. Life within the body of Christ is a constant exchange of help. Those who are helped one day are given the privilege in Christ of being the helpers the next day. We need to make sure we are participating in both roles in the local church where we worship.
16:3 Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers.NKJV Priscilla and Aquila were a married couple who had become Paul’s close friends. They, along with all other Jews, had been expelled from Rome in a.d. 49 by Emperor Claudius (Acts 18:2-3) and had moved to Corinth. There they met Paul while he was. On his second missionary journey, and they invited him to live with them. Priscilla and Aquila were Christians before they met Paul, and probably told him much about the Roman church. Like Paul, Priscilla and Aquila were missionaries, and they all shared the same trade—tentmaking. They went with Paul when he left Corinth, and when they arrived in Ephesus, decided to stay and help the believers there (Acts 18:19). Priscilla and Aquila helped explain the full gospel to the powerful preacher, Apollos (Acts 18:26). Paul probably stayed with them when he visited Ephesus on his third missionary journey. At some point, they moved back to Rome when they were allowed to return (the Emperor Claudius died five years after issuing the edict expelling Jews from Rome, so it is possible that many returned then). Later, they went back to Ephesus (2 Timothy 4:19).
Priscilla and Aquila were a couple who accomplished effective ministry behind the scenes. Their tools were hospitality, friendship, and person-to-person teaching. They were not public speakers, but private evangelists. For at least some of the Romans, their home was used for church meetings (16:5). Priscilla and Aquila give us a challenging model of what a couple can do together in the service of Christ. How often do we see our families and homes as gifts through which God can accomplish his work? How does God want to use your home and family to serve him?
16:4 They risked their lives for me.NIV Paul was indebted to these dear friends, even explaining to the others that they risked their lives for him. What they did is no longer known, but Paul had faced plenty of danger and had heard many threats against himself. This was certainly true in Ephesus (see Acts 18:6-10; 19:28-31; 1 Corinthians 15:32). Somehow Priscilla and Aquila intervened at one time to save Paul.
Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.NIV Paul is grateful that they saved his life, and the Gentile churches would also be grateful that Paul’s life was spared.
16:5 Greet also the church that meets at their house.NIV A common characteristic of the early church was that the believers met in people’s homes. Priscilla and Aquila had also had a church in their home in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:19).
Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.NIV Whoever this man was, Paul calls him my dear friend (niv), and he hag the legacy of being the first convert in Asia! Paul was in Asia on his third missionary journey (Acts 19:10); he had wanted to travel there during his second missionary journey but had been prevented (Acts 16:6).
When we think of being first, we invariably think about athletic records. Paul thought of converts. He went to places in which there was not a single believer in Jesus. The people who first heard the gospel in those places were important to him. Recognizing firsts in our lives is a valuable exercise. Do we know who planted the church where we worship? Do we know who was the first believer in our family? Do we remember who first communicated the gospel to us? Do we remember who was the first one we told about our relationship with Christ? Have we taken time to thank God for each of those first people in our lives?
The personal greetings that follow went to people (twenty-six in all) who were Romans and Greeks, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, prisoners and prominent citizens. The church’s base was broad: it crossed cultural, social, intellectual, and economic lines. From this list we also learn that the Christian community was mobile. Though Paul had not yet been to Rome, he had met these people in other places on his journeys. Tradespeople, such as Priscilla and Aquila for example, were very mobile. What these believers had in common was a willingness to be taught and a willingness to serve fully as members of the body of Christ.
16:6 Mary, who has worked very hard among you.NRSV Paul would not know firsthand who had worked hard among the believers in Rome, so he is probably speaking from information given him by others, possibly Priscilla and Aquila.
16:7 Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me.NRSV These two may have been a husband and wife team. Junia (or even “Julia,” which is the reading in certain ancient manuscripts) was a widely used female name at the time. Paul’s references to them as relatives (see also 16:21) could mean that they were also Jews, possibly from the same tribe. When they were imprisoned with him is not known, because Paul had been imprisoned numerous times (see 2 Corinthians 11:23).
They are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.NRSV Andronicus and Junia distinguished themselves as apostles (“sent ones”) in their ministry. They belonged to that larger group of apostles who had seen the risen Christ (a credential of an apostle—see Acts 1:22; 1 Corinthians 15:5-8). Quite interestingly, this is the only mention of a female apostle (Junia) in the New Testament. If Andronicus and Junia were believers before Paul was, they would have been Christians for about 25 years.
16:8 Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord.NIV This was a common Roman name at this time period, and it often showed up in the imperial household. It is possible that this man was part of Caesar’s household because the gospel had reached even there. When Paul later wrote to the Philippian church from Rome, he said, “All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:22 niv).
16:9 Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ.NKJV Another common Roman name, Urbanus is greeted as a fellow worker—most likely another missionary for the early church.
Stachys. This name was not so common; some people in association with the imperial household were named Stachys.
16:10 Apelles, approved in Christ.NKJV This is a typical Jewish name, common among the Jews in Rome.
Those who are of the household of Aristobulus.NKJV This person may have been related to the Herods, perhaps a brother of Herod Agrippa I. He lived in Rome as a private citizen. To greet a “household” would mean greeting both the family and the servants.
16:11 Herodion, my relative.NIV This person was probably a Jew, and a relative by tribe, not family.
Those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.NIV Perhaps some in Narcissus’s household were not believers, because Paul specifies his greetings to those who are. This person has been identified as Tiberius Claudius Narcissus, a wealthy and powerful man during the reigns of emperors Tiberius and Claudius. But he was executed under Nero (sometime after a.d. 54). At that point, all his possessions, including slaves, would have been confiscated and become imperial property. So Paul sent his greetings to the believers among Narcissus’s household who are now the property of Rome.
16:12 Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord.NIV These probably were sisters, maybe even twins because of the close relation of the names.
Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.NIV This name has appeared both among slaves and wealthy people, but never in connection with the imperial household.
16:13 Rufus, chosen in the Lord. This is an extremely common name. But it is possible that this is the same Rufus as mentioned in Mark 15:21. If so, then this is a son of Simon of Cyrene, and thus a North African.
His mother, who has been a mother to me, too.NIV If Rufus is the same as the one mentioned in Mark’s gospel, Paul may have met his mother in Antioch of Syria. Rufus’s father, Simon, has been identified as the Simeon who was a teacher in the church there (Acts 13:1). Paul was brought to Antioch of Syria by Barnabas, where they spent a year (Acts 11:25-26). Perhaps Paul lived with them, and Rufus’s mother had special concern and love for Paul—seeming like a mother to him.
16:14 Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers with them.NIV Perhaps these men were leaders of other house churches. The names are common names, especially among slaves.
16:15 Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.NKJV Philologus and Julia may have been married. Olympas may have been another leader in a house church.
All the churches of Christ greet you.NRSV The churches Paul is referring to would most likely be those who were joining together in delivering the offering to Jerusalem (see 15:25-27).
Taken together, the list above represents a cross-section of Roman culture, from slaves to those of high social status. The church to whom Paul was writing had all the potential for unity in Christ in spite of every possible barrier. Even this list serves as another example of the theme of Paul’s letter: God’s plan includes the entire world. Justification by faith is the greatest proof of the truth of the theme, but the repeated theme of this letter is the great news that the Good News is for everyone!
16:17 Watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.NIV Jesus had told the disciples that false teachers would come (Matthew 24:11; Mark 13:22-23). Just as false prophets had contradicted the true prophets in Old Testament times (for example, see Jeremiah 23:16-40; 28:1-17), telling people only what they wanted to hear, so false teachers were twisting Christ’s teachings and the words of his apostles. These teachers were belittling the significance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Some claimed that Jesus couldn’t be God; others claimed that he couldn’t have been a real man. These teachers allowed and even encouraged all kinds of wrong and immoral acts, especially sexual sin.
Avoid them.NKJV Paul had not yet been to Rome, but he certainly realized that the ubiquitous false teachers would make their way there. He urges believers to be careful about the doctrines they listen to and to check all teachers’ words against the Scriptures. And then they were to keep’ away from those trying to cause divisions. The severe problem of false teaching in some of the other churches Paul visited caused him to include this in the closing lines of his letter, for he knew it could certainly become a problem.
The false teachers were motivated by their own interests rather than Christ’s. They embroiled the church in endless and irrelevant questions and controversies, taking precious time away from the study of the truth. Today we could also enter into worthless and irrelevant discussions, but such disputes quickly crowd out the life-changing message of Christ. We must stay away from religious speculation and pointless theological arguments. Such exercises may seem harmless at first, but they have a way of sidetracking us from the central message of the gospel—the person and work of Jesus Christ. And they expend time we should use to share the gospel with others. We should avoid anything that keeps us from doing God’s work.
16:18 Such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites.NRSV Teachers should be paid by the people they teach, but false teachers were attempting to make more money by distorting the truth and saying what people wanted to hear. They were more interested in making money than in teaching truth, motivated by a desire to gain power and prestige. In contrast, genuine Christian teachers are motivated by sincere faith and a desire to do what is right. Both Paul and Peter condemned greedy, lying teachers (see 1 Timothy 6:5).
By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.NIV Paul warns the Roman believers that when they listen to teachers, they should check the content of what is said and not be fooled by smooth style or flattery, Many cult leaders have led Christians astray by teaching things that sound like truth but are actually falsehoods. Christians who study God’s Word will not be fooled, even though superficial listeners may easily be taken in. For an example of those who carefully checked God’s Word, see Acts 17:10-12.
I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.NIV Believers are to be wise in their understanding of what is good, that is, in what God wants them to do. On the reverse, they are to be innocent about evil. The Greek word for innocent is akeraious, meaning simple or pure. The word was used to describe wine that was undiluted. Believers are to be innocent; “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world” (12:2).
16:20 The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.KJV This language echoes Genesis 3:15, wherein God declares that the serpent’s head would be crushed by the seed of the woman. These false teachers, servants of Satan, would try to sow discord in the churches, but God is the God of peace, The false teachers will be destroyed when Christ establishes his peace upon his return (see Revelation 20:1-6).
16:21 Timothy, my fellow worker, sends his greetings to you.NIV Timothy was a key person in the growth of the early church, traveling with Paul on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:1-3). Later Paul wrote two letters to him (1 and 2 Timothy) as Timothy worked to strengthen the churches in Ephesus. Paul wrote of him, “Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel” (Philippians 2:22 niv). Acts 20:4 places Timothy with Paul prior to Paul’s departure to Jerusalem.
16:22 I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.NIV This was Paul’s secretary, who wrote the letter as Paul dictated it.
16:23 Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings.NIV This is most likely not the same Gaius who was from Macedonia (Acts 19:29), nor the one from Derbe (Acts 20:4), nor the one addressed in 3 John. It is probably the Gaius whom Paul baptized in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:14).
Erastus, the treasurer of the city.NKJV Erastus would have been a powerful and influential man. A civic official of this name is mentioned on the inscription on a marble paving-block in Corinth. The name was common enough that he need not be identified with the Erastus mentioned in other places (Acts 19:22 and 2 Timothy 4:20).
The great thing is to be found at one’s post as a child of God, living each day as though it were our last, but planning as though our world might last a hundred years. C. S. Lewis
16:25 Now to him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.NKJV Paul had explained his gospel at length in this letter to the Romans (see 2:16). Paul’s gospel was the proclamation of Jesus Christ. Paul knew that the gospel and Christ himself would establish (strengthen and stabilize) them in the faith.
According to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past.NIV Parts of that gospel were a mystery for many ages, hidden in the Old Testament (see also Ephesians 3:8-11; Colossians 1:25-27).
16:26 Now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God.NIV The prophets who wrote various books of the Old Testament were not fully aware of the meaning of their own words; but they wrote, at God’s command, much about the fulfillment of the mystery—the coming of the Messiah, the salvation of the Gentiles, and the return of the Jews (see 11:25). Now, after the coming of Christ and the growth of the church, what they wrote is being understood (1:2). (See also Luke 24:44-45; 1 Peter 1:10-12.)
So that all nations might believe and obey him.NIV This was the ultimate goal, all part of God’s plan from the beginning (see 1:5). Paul exclaims that it is wonderful to be alive when the mystery, God’s secret—his way of saving the Gentiles—is becoming known throughout the world! All the Old Testament prophecies are coming true, and God is using Paul as his instrument to tell this Good News.
16:27 To the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.NIV God’s glory is displayed through Jesus Christ. William Tyndale reflected on what might be the appropriate application of the entire letter to the Romans when he wrote, “Now go to, reader, and according to the order of Paul’s writing, even so do thou. First behold thyself diligently in the law of God, and see there thy just damnation. Secondarily turn thine eyes to Christ, and see there the exceeding mercy of thy most kind and loving Father. Thirdly remember that Christ made not this atonement that thou shouldest anger God again: neither cleansed he thee, that thou shouldest return (as a swine) unto thine old puddle again: but that thou shouldest be a new creature and live a new life after the will of God and not of the flesh. And be diligent lest through thine own negligence and unthankfulness thou lose this favour and mercy again.”
Paul had not yet been to Rome to meet all the Christians there, and, of course, he has not yet met us. We can easily count ourselves among the strangers to whom he was writing. We too live in a cosmopolitan setting with the entire world open to us. We also have the potential for both widespread influence and wrenching conflict. We, too, belong to churches that exhibit an all-too-embarrassing tendency towards disunity and ineffectiveness. There is plenty of work to be done if we will listen carefully to and apply Paul’s teaching about unity, service, and love. Any effort in that direction is bound to bring glory to God!