Paul’s closing greetings reflect how correct doctrine plays out in the lives of Christians.
Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; 2 that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.
Because chapter 16 is mostly concerning greetings, there is not much more here we would like to add concerning Gospel-centered soteriology. However, because all Scripture is God-breathed we will pass a few quick comments.
Concerning the first few verses concerning Phoebe, some Protestant theological liberals have reinvented her into an early church leader, even preacher, with men at her behest. Of course, this would put Rom 16 in contradiction with 1 Cor 14, 1 Cor 11, 1 Tim 2.
What we can actually draw from these verses is that Phoebe was a servant who traveled around, so in some way she was a servant as a vocation (or she was wealthy and did it as an act of service). Because we do not know it is best not to speculate.
3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles;
Prisca must have been a notable character to be listed ahead of her husband, when both her and her husband were relatively famous co-laborers in the Church. Why this is we do not know, for Apollos was converted by both of their efforts and there is never an indication that they worked apart. Perhaps she was converted before her husband and given more visible and laudable gifts from the Holy Spirit than Aquila. From this we may conclude that “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34) and so gives greater gifts to some even though these gifts cannot be exploited for the use of leadership in light of 1 Tim 2. But leadership is not the only gift the Holy Spirit gives to the Church.
5 also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia.
Being that Prisca and Aquila come from Rome (Acts 18:2), it is possible that the city had several church buildings, one being their actual (former?) house. Epaenetus we know nothing about, but if he is the first convert to Christ from Asia, it is possible that he was instrumental in starting the Roman church, being that he obviously lives in Rome now and perhaps he brought the Gospel back with him to the city.
6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.
Mary who? Several people here are mentioned without other means of specifying who they are, so we have no reason to believe she is the Virgin Mary. Further, the Virgin Mary probably lived with the Apostle John (John 19:27). Paul commends this Mary for her hard work for the church. Work is a moral act, working little helps little. Working a lot is proportionately more helpful. We should work hard and give hard to the preaching of the Gospel.
7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
Andronicus and Junias are probably two men, both Jews or perhaps relatives of Paul, who were imprisoned and esteemed as being Apostles.
However, there are those who argue that Junias is a woman, based upon the name being generally considered feminine in the historical record. So, these liberals say, this means women were Apostles and can be church leaders.
There are about 36,000 verses in the Bible. Perhaps a few hundred mention anything about gender and gender roles, with 99% unequivocally from the traditionally viewpoint. Of those, maybe 1% (or 3 or 4 sections) pertain to matters invoked by liberal theologians such as Ruth being a judge, Phoebe being a servant, the gender of Junias, and etc.
I ask you, dear reader, what is more likely: when properly interpreted these verses throw the 99% into contradiction, or, with a consistent hermeneutic, these verses do not contradict a traditional view of gender roles? Obviously, if we believe the Scripture is the word of God, there cannot be a contradiction. Case in point, Ruth being a prophet does not mean she had authority over men, Junias may be both a man’s and woman’s name (i.e. Alexis or Corey in the present), Phoebe didn’t have an official office in the church, and other such interpretations we may easily take in order to maintain the consistency of Scripture without taking mental leaps of imagination.
These are not difficult interpretations and they make the preponderance of Scripture make sense. The egalitarian viewpoint, which isolates the one percent of supposedly questionable texts, makes a bunch of unsubstantiated conclusions based upon possible implications of these verses and then throws the 99 percent in complete contradiction. Hermeneutically, this is unacceptable.
Most importantly, when we look at the select verses in the Bible speaks that explicitly, instead of in passing, speak of gender roles, it is always traditional without equivocation. Hence, the evidence is undeniable for male headship. Look at the gender of Levitical priests, elders, deacons, the twelve disciples, the apostles and then try looking for the “exceptions.” One will find maybe two (the aforementioned issue of Junias’ gender in Rom 16:7 and Phoebe being called a “servant” Rom 16:1, probably because she delivered the letter personally).
What is the average reader of the Bible supposed to believe? That these two, not even clear as it pertains to gender roles in the Church, verses can ever possibly contradict 1 Cor 11:3, 1 Tim 3, Titus 1, Eph 5, Col 3, 1 Peter 3, and the mountain of circumstantial evidence that every single Apostle that wrote in the New Testament is a man and every explicit church office in the Bible was held by a man? This makes the Bible either incomprehensible or clearly self-contradictory.
8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord.9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.
Paul’s love for brothers, though far off, is commendable.
10 Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus.
Being that Apelles is approved in Christ, we may infer that he is sealed by the Spirit and His salvation is irrevocable. How can one be approved once by God, who can look down the corridors of time, and then me disapproved later?
11 Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord.
Narcissus’ household apparently was not all Christian, unlike the several household conversions we see in Acts. This probably shows that the conversion of households is a rare event, usually marking special events when the Gospel is unveiled in a new land among a new people (i.e. a whole household being converted usually coincides with the Gospel entering a new people group such as Samaritans or land, such as Asia and then Greece). Therefore, we should not view household conversions, when they all speak in tongues, as normative for the time. Further, being that not all are in the Lord, it is possible to infer that there are unbaptized children.
12 Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
Paul sends several greetings to people we do not know much of. He commends hard work and there is a genuine, familial feeling. The “holy kiss” was obviously an appropriate social convention still common among many cultures in the Mediterranean today. Being that Paul asks these people to greet another with a holy kiss, and not us, this is not an admonishment that is specifically applicable today. For this reason, the importance for us to draw is that we should have a genuine love and affection for one another.
17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.
It is unclear who exactly these men were. In the Pastoral Epistles, as in all his other letters, they always appear to be a sect called by the moderns “Judaizers,” though in 1 Tim 4 they start preaching false ascetic practices which we may conflate with proto-gnosticism. Yet, unlike true ascetics who give up worldly things for the sake of others and seek not have worldly distractions, these men are self-serving and cause rifts to enrich themselves. They were peddlers of false philosophies and needed patrons. Paul warned them to watch out for these men. From the church of Ephesus some false teachers arose from the Bishops themselves (Acts 20:30).
Perhaps one thing we may infer about those who cause dissension is that they are selfish (“slaves…of their own appetites). If the supposed dissent is not selfish, it adds credibility that his concerns may be valid. This is not a hard and fast rule, however. Marcion made many friends by selling all of his property to the Roman church, only to then propagate heretical doctrine and cause a rift in the Church.
19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.
Christians are to be sheepish in following God, but not stupid like sheep. So, learning the Scripture, seeking wisdom from God, and living sober lives is of importance.
20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
Another reference to peace allows us to infer that Paul had a profound concern over dissension in the Roman church. However, he also had a confidence in God.
In referencing the proto-evangelium (Gen 3:15) he looks forward to when Christ defeats Satan for good and throws him into the lake of fire, with all liars, thieves, murderers, effeminate, cowardly–all people just like us with the exception that they have not placed their faith in Christ. Therefore, they cannot receive full pardon for their sins and by His Spirit have Christ’s righteousness accounted to them so that they may escape the judgment of works. Indeed, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is paramount.
21 Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. 22 I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord.
Paul references his several traveling companions who not only helped him with his needs and preaching, but perhaps offered protection for his offering. Tertius is the actual author of Romans, though Paul dictated it.
This is a common ancient practice, which really throws a wrench in the speculations of liberal theologians when they debate this or that letter really is not “Pauline.” We already know that 1 Peter was written by Silvanus (1 Peter 5:12) and Romans through Tertius. So, in reality, we really do not know what the actual author’s vocabulary might have sounded like. Further, our vocabulary and slang adapts over time. Even the tone of this very commentary might have changed from beginning to end. Literary criticism is not history; it is fantasy and does not belong in the university.
In fact, Paul in several letters makes reference to his own handwriting, which shows he probably wrote none of his letters, but merely signed the end. In Gal 6:11 he writes, “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.” In 2 Thes 3:17 Paul makes note of his handwriting: “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter; this is the way I write.”
Paul himself probably had very bad handwriting. We do not know why (bad vision, not taught proper Greek penmanship though otherwise literate in the language, etcetera). He simply could have had dysgraphia. However, Tertius’ mention at least brings out what is otherwise often unspoken: Paul used scribes.
23 Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother. 24 [The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.]
Paul had already made some notable converts that can fit a church in his house and another that runs a city’s finances. This was the calm before the storm of major persecution which may have dissuaded such men from joining the Church. Otherwise, persecution was localized in Rome and in Jerusalem.
25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past,
God can establish believers because “it has been granted for Christ’s sake…to believe in Him” (Phil 1:29). Indeed, it is God who “is at work in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). The means what God uses preaching to establish us (Rom 10:14). Preaching is not of our own minds and ideas, but according to His revelation in His Scripture, which was under a veil and shrouded in mystery until the resurrection of the Lord.
26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith;
Why? According to Paul speaking of the Jews:
But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away (2 Cor 3:14-16).
Only by faith in Christ can we truly understand what the Scripture teaches. So, faith in Christ opens to us the Scriptures and leads to the obedience of faith. This faith is greater than nominal faith and it is manifested in works that are obedient to God’s will as revealed in those same Scriptures.
27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen.
For our whole salvation in the end would be meaningless if it did not bring glory to God.
For why does God justify us in Christ? Why does He predestine us? Why does he harden the others so that they won’t believe the same Scriptures though they think they follow them so carefully?
It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight” (Ezek 36:22-24).
Come Lord quickly, may your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. May your holy name be glorified. There are no words we can choose to ascribe You glory as we ought, but we are grateful that You understand our weakness. We ask for wisdom in putting into practice what we learned here, give us wisdom, allow us to spiritually discern matters of the Spirit. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.