Read the Passage: Romans 16
Roman Saints (16:1–16)
Sometimes believers are tempted to skip reading lists of names in the Bible, such as the lengthy genealogies and the greetings that Paul oftentimes includes at the end of his epistles. Yet, we must remember that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Indeed, these lists sometimes mention individuals who appear nowhere in Scripture and can provide information about the lives of ordinary people of God. Romans 16 is unique among the greetings that Paul appends to his epistles, as here Paul mentions more individuals than he cites in any of his other greetings. Note that Paul mentions 37 individuals by name in Romans 16, as well as referencing many others whom he does not specifically name. Given that Paul had never visited the Roman church before (cf. Rom. 1:13), this list of names is curious.
Of all the individuals mentioned in Romans 16, the first one—Phoebe—has likely received the most attention. This is because Paul describes her as a “servant” (Rom. 16:1), which can also be translated “deaconess.” This has attracted interest, for in 1 Tim. 3:10–11 Paul seems to indicate that deacons were to be male. This seeming contradiction can be resolved by noting that the term “deacon” simply means “servant,” which is why it is often translated that way, and both men and women are to be servants in the church. Among other possible duties (cf. Titus 2:3–5), it is likely that Phoebe assisted the church by serving as a courier of Paul’s epistle to Rome. In sum, then, in 1 Tim. 3:10–11 Paul is referring to the office of a deacon, while in Rom. 16:1–2 he is referring to the personal service and ministry of Phoebe. Said differently, within the church, all deacons are servants, yet not all servants are deacons, whether male or female.
After mentioning Phoebe in Rom. 16:1, Paul greets Pricilla and Aquila who appear elsewhere in Scripture (cf. Acts 18:2, 18, 26; 1 Cor. 16:19; 2 Tim. 4:19). Most of the other people that Paul greets in this section are only mentioned here in the Bible. These individuals are likely common members of the church in Rome with whom Paul was acquainted through their correspondence or travels. One name whom scholars have focused on is Rufus, who is mentioned in Rom. 16:13a. On account of Mark’s comment at Mark 15:21, many believe that this Rufus is the son of Simon of Cyrene who carried Jesus’ cross. If this association is correct, then Rufus’ mother, whom Paul greets in Rom. 16:13b, would be Simon’s wife. In Rom. 16:16 Paul exhorts the church to “greet one another with a holy kiss,” which was a common practice in the early church (cf. 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26; 1 Pet. 5:14).
Divisive Persons (16:17–20)
After extending his greetings to many in the church, and exhorting the believers toward unity, Paul wisely included an admonition in Rom. 16:17–20 to beware of those who cause divisions. Note John’s similar exhortation at 2 John 10 as he wrote, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house or greet him.” These warnings were necessary, as some in the early church, just as is the case today, may not have understood that Christian love is not uncritical in application. Sometimes the best way for believers to love their neighbors is by confronting their sin, not by tolerating it. Note that when love is reduced to mere sentimentality, it actually becomes more about the feelings of the one doing the “loving,” and less about person who is to be “loved.” Fundamentally speaking, love must be about others, not ourselves (cf. 1 Cor. 13:4–7).
Paul’s Colleagues (16:21–27)
Unlike most of the individuals mentioned in Rom. 16:1–16, almost all of the men whom Paul cites in Rom. 16:21–24 are mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. Perhaps this is to be expected, given that here Paul is passing on greetings from his ministerial colleagues to the church in Rome. Note that this passage is helpful, for several of the individuals whom Paul mentions indicates that he wrote this letter in close proximity to Corinth. In addition, from this list we can learn who was laboring with Paul at this time in his ministry. At Rom. 16:22 we find out that an otherwise unknown secretary named Tertius was the one who recorded Paul’s words in this letter. Observe that Rom. 16:25–27 is one of the most striking doxologies within Paul’s thirteen epistles, for in this passage Paul praises Jesus, notes several facets of the gospel, and mentions a number of aspects of his own ministry.
- What are some key differences between biblical epistles, such as the book of Romans, and modern-day letters, even those written between Christians?
- Given that Paul had never visited the city of Rome, how did he know so many people who were part of the Roman church?
- Within the church, which roles can be exclusively filled by women, and which roles can be uniquely assumed by men?
- Like the practice of the holy kiss in the early church, what practices and terminology are unique to Christians in the modern church?
- In the middle of his greeting to the Roman church, why does Paul find it necessary to include a warning about divisive individuals?