Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2)
Paul introduces to the Roman brethren the woman who likely delivered Paul’s letter. She is a member of the church at Cenchrea, which is a small town on the outskirts of Corinth. Corinth was actually in the middle of the isthmus with Cenchrea being the eastern sea port onto the Aegean Sea.
Phoebe is referred to as a servant of the church, that is that she was serving the church by handling several matters. This doesn’t mean she was in a leadership role since that would violate I Timothy 2:12.
She was probably asked to carry Paul’s letter because she was already traveling to Rome for other reasons. Paul asks that not only for the church to receive her in a worthy manner, but to make sure she has help in accomplishing her tasks in Rome. Paul desires this because she has been a benefit to many where she lives and she has helped Paul as well. (See Luke 8:1-3 as an example of women giving service.)
1. Some believe that older widows were given tasks to accomplish for the church (I Timothy 5:9-10) and that Phoebe might be among that number. Is this a reasonable assumption?
2. What service could women provide for the church?
Greetings to the saints in Rome (Romans 16:3-16)
Though Paul has not been to the church in Rome, it is interesting how many people there whom he knows and can send personal greetings.
Aquilla and Priscilla was a couple from Rome whom Paul had met in Corinth (Acts 18:1-3). They went with Paul to Ephesus (Acts 18:18) and after Paul continued on to Syria, they stayed behind where they taught Apollos (Acts 18:26). Apollos soon went to Corinth for a period to preach the Gospel there. The church in Ephesus started out meeting in their home (I Corinthians 16:19). Apparently they returned to Rome, probably when the decree banning Jews from Rome was lifted, though by the end of Paul’s life they once again were living in Ephesus (II Timothy 4:19). Paul considered them his co-workers in the Lord. They had risked their lives for Paul, which he appreciated. And all the Gentile churches appreciated them as well because their saving of Paul allowed Paul to spread the gospel further among the Gentiles. Now that they are in Rome, once again they host the assemblies of the church in their home.
Epaenetus is mentioned as being among the first converts to Christ in Achaia. The household of Stephanas are also mentioned as being first fruits in Achaia (I Corinthians 16:15), so Epaenetus may have been a member of Stephanas’ household.
Mary was a common name, so we don’t know more about this woman other than that she had performed work for Paul.
Andronicus and Junia are Jews now living in Rome. Since others in this list are also Jews, some conclude that Andronicus and Junia were relatives of Paul. Paul has been in prison frequently (II Corinthians 11:23) and at some point Paul spent time with these two in prison. Paul isn’t the only one acquainted with Andronicus and Junia. They were of note to the other apostles and had been converted to Christ before Paul.
Amplias and Stachys were particular friends of Paul. Urbanus has worked with Paul. Apelles had his faith in Christ tried and he has been found faithful.
Paul sends greetings to the household of Aristobulus, so it is likely that Aristobulus is not a Christian though there are several in his household who are.
Herodion is a fellow Jew and possibly related to Paul in some way. The household of Narcissus is similar to Aristobulus.
Tryphena and Tryphosa are women who have done work for the church. Persis, another woman, Paul said has done even more than Tryphena and Tryphosa and is well loved. What work these women were involved in is not stated.
Rufus and his mother are like family to Paul, but not to be taken as literal family. There is mention of a Rufus in Mark 15:21 who was the son of Simon of Cyrene. Whether is this is the same person is unknown, but Mark’s mention of him and his brother Alexander indicates that the two were known in the church.
In the list of names given in Romans 16:14, Hermas is noted because there was an early uninspired work called The Shepherd of Hermas. Whether it is the same person is impossible to determine. Both Hermas and Hermes were common slave names in this era. All the names in this list are Greek names. By saying “and the brethren who are with them” may be a reference to slaves in their households.
Philologus is a male Greek name. Julia is a female Latin name. It is possible they were married. Nereus and Olympas are male Greek names.
What should be noted is who is not named. Some have supposed that Peter was in Rome, but if he were here at this time Paul would have mentioned him to send his greetings to him. The fact that he is not mentioned means that he is not here.
An in depth look at greetings
In the same manner, the command "Greet one another with a holy kiss" (also in I Corinthians 16:20; II Corinthians 13:12; and I Thessalonians 5:26) is sometimes misunderstood because the emphasis is placed on the physical action, but the command given is emphasizing the holiness of the greeting. Greetings are mentioned throughout the Bible and it appears that a kiss was a common greeting between close acquaintances. When Judas betrayed Jesus, "Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed Him" (Matthew 26:49). In this particular case we would have no problem stating that Judas' greeting was not done with a holy kiss; he greeted Christ with impure motives. Similarly, the soldiers mocking Jesus greeted him on bended knees and saluting him (Matthew 27:29; Mark 15:18), but it wasn't sincere or holy. I point out these negative cases to show that greetings can be good or bad and were done in a variety of ways.
Interestingly, "greet" is from the Greek word chairo. It literally means to rejoice or be glad. It is not uncommon for close friends who haven't seen each other to cry out in joy and give each other a hug and a peck on the check. Some cultures even formalize it with ceremonies include a peck on each check as a show of welcome or congratulations.
Greetings are most often expressed in words, "Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus" (Romans 16:3). But can also be accompanied by action as well. "Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you" (Romans 16:16). The word for "greet" in this verse is the Greek word aspazomai. The Complete Biblical Library defines it as "the customary greeting upon entering a house, meeting someone on the street, or saying farewells. The basic meaning seems to be 'to embrace.' Gestures probably included embracing, kissing, offering the hand, or even doing homage as to an overlord or king. By extension, the word came to mean 'to follow eagerly' and 'to be glad' about something."
Once again, we find variation in the types of greetings given, but we understand that Christians are to give greetings to fellow Christians in a sincere and pure way. Kissing is one option, but by no means an exclusive option. Some denominations formalize the practice and make it a part of their worship, but such rituals lose the joy that is supposed to be expressed. It also loses the reason of being a initial greeting or final farewell.
1. Should holy kisses be used to greet fellow Christians today?
2. Should holy kisses be the exclusive way for greeting Christians?
Warnings against troublemakers (Romans 16:17-20)
Though the letter to the Romans emphasized the unity between the Jews and Gentiles, unity is not maintained for unity’s sake. There are people who cannot be welcomed into the fellowship of faithful Christians. People who caused divisions or cause people to sin are to be noted and avoided (II Thessalonians 3:6, 14). “Divisions” means to divide into sects, parties, or factions (I Corinthians 3:3). Such people are actively hindering the unity of the church. “Offenses” is to cause scandals where people fall into sin. Since sin destroys our fellowship with God, and thus with brethren (I John 1:7). There can be no unity with people who destroy unity. What they are doing is contrary to the teachings of God (I Timothy 6:3-4; II John 10; Galatians 1:6-9). Thus unity is preserved by separating ourselves from those who destroy unity.
People who destroy unity may claim that they follow Christ, but their deeds show otherwise (Matthew 7:15-20). What they are truly serving are their own private interests (Philippians 3:18-19), and they promote those interests with smooth words and flattery (Colossians 2:4; II Peter 2:3). The unsuspecting or innocent are particularly susceptible to these tactics because they expect others to treat them as they treat others (Proverbs 14:15).
It isn’t that Paul thinks the Romans have been such among them at the moment. Their obedience to Christ is well known. But it is better to be forewarned and on their guard (I Corinthians 10:12). Paul’s desire is that they be wise in regard to what is good and unmixed or untainted by evil (Matthew 10:16; I Corinthians 14:20).
In an interesting contrast, Paul assures them that the God of peace will crush Satan under their feet (Genesis 3:15). The wording refers to defeating and humiliating a foe (Joshua 10:24; II Samuel 22:41; Ezekiel 21:29). We don’t often consider that peace comes the defeat of those who oppose peace (I John 3:8).
Paul wishes them well in their struggles, praying that the favor of the Lord Jesus be with them. It is the common way that Paul ends his letters (I Corinthians 16:23; II Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 4:23; I Thessalonians 5:28; II Thessalonians 3:18).
Greetings from those with Paul (Romans 16:21-24)
Timothy is closely associated with Paul and is frequently mentioned in Paul’s letters. Lucius is listed among the prophets and teachers in Antioch (Acts 13:1). Jason is mentioned as being in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-9). Sosipater is believed to be the longer form of the name Sopater, who was mentioned as being a companion of Paul from Berea (Acts 20:4). All are Jews like Paul.
Tertius, who served as Paul’s secretary in writing this letter, sent his personal greetings. Paul did usually pen his own letters (I Corinthians 16:21; Colossians 4:18; II Thessalonians 3:17), perhaps because his handwriting wasn’t the best (Galatians 6:11).
Paul is staying in the house of Gaius where the church in Corinth currently meets. He is one of the few people Paul personally baptized in Corinth (I Corinthians 1:14). John’s third letter is also addressed to him (III John 1-6) and praises him for his hospitality. Gaius, who was originally from Derbe, is mentioned as being one of Paul’s traveling companions (Acts 20:4).
Erastus was the treasurer in Corinth at this time. He too was among Paul’s companions (Acts 19:22; II Timothy 4:20). He has a unique distinction of having mention of him found in archaeology. An inscription has been found in Corinth that says, “Erastus, the commissioner of public works, laid this pavement at his own expense.”
Nothing more is known of Quartus than the fact that he is a fellow Christian.
Again Paul ends this list of greetings with a prayer for the Lord’s favor to be with them. It differs from the earlier one by adding the word “all” to it. Some feel that one was written by Paul and one by Tertius. More likely the repeat is to emphasize how important this prayer was to Paul.