By David Brown
CHAPTER XVI.—CONCLUSION, EMBRACING SUNDRY SALUTATIONS, CAUTIONS, AN ENCOURAGEMENT, A BENEDICTION, AND A CLOSING DOXOLOGY.
Recommendation of Phœbe to the Roman Church (i, 2). 1. I commend unto you Phœbe our sister, who is a servant—or, 'deaconess,' of the church that is at Cenchrea—the eastern port of Corinth (see on Acts xviii. 18). That in the earliest churches there were deaconesses, to attend to the wants of the female members, there is no good reason to doubt. So early at least as the reign of Trajan, we learn from Pliny's celebrated letter to that Emperor—A.D. 110 or 111—that they existed in the Eastern churches. Indeed, from the relation in which the sexes then stood to each other, something of this sort would seem to have been a necessity. Modern attempts, however, to revive this office have seldom found favour; either from the altered state of society or the abuse of the office, or both. Yet in Protestant Prussia, and in the Lutheran missions of the East, they seem to be a real success. 2. that ye receive her in the Lord—that is, as a genuine disciple of the Lord, so as becometh saints—as saints should receive saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever matter she may have need of you—some private business of her own: for she herself also hath been a succourer of many, and of mine own self (see Ps. xli. 1-3:2 Tim. i. 16-18).
Sundry salutations (3-16). 3. Salute Prisca—the true reading here beyond doubt, but this is only a contracted form of "Priscilla "(as in 2 Tim. iv. 19), as "Silas "of "Silvanus: "and Aquila. It will be observed that the wife is here named before the husband, as also in Acts xviii. 18 (and ver. 26, according to what we take to be the true reading). From this we may infer that she was the more energetic of the two, of superior mind, and more helpful to the Church. 4. who for my life laid down their own necks—that is, risked their own lives to save that of the apostle. The occasion referred to was either that of his first visit to Corinth (Acts xviii. 6, 9, 10), or more probably what took place at Ephesus (as recorded in Acts xix. 30, 31; and cf. 1 Cor. xv. 32). They must by this time have returned from Ephesus—where we last find them in the history of the Acts—to Rome, whence the edict of Claudius had banished them (Acts xviii. 2); and if they were not the leading members of that Christian community, they were at least the most endeared to our apostle, unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles—whose special apostle this dear couple had rescued so heroically from imminent danger. 5. and salute the church that is in their house—no doubt, the Christian assembly that statedly met there for worship. And it is natural to suppose, from his occupation as a tent-maker (Acts xviii. 3), that his premises would accommodate larger gatherings than those of most others. Probably this devoted couple had written to the apostle such an account of the stated meetings at their house as made him feel at home with them, and include them in this salutation, which doubtless would be read at their meeting with peculiar interest. Salute Epaenetus, who is the first-fruits (the first convert) of Asia unto Christ. The received text says "of Achaia;" but as this was not the fact, so neither is it what the apostle says. The true reading, beyond all question, is, 'the first-fruits of Asia unto Christ'—that is, Proconsular Asia. (See on Acts xvi. 6.) In 1 Cor. xvi. 15 it is expressly said that "the household of Stephanas was the first-fruits of Achaia." And though, if Epaenetus was a member of that family, the two statements might be reconciled, according to the received text, there is no need to resort to that supposition, as we have seen that the true reading is otherwise. This Epaenetus, as the first believer in Roman Asia, was dear to the apostle (see Hos. ix. 10; and Mic. vii. 1).
None of the names mentioned from vers. 5-15 are otherwise known. One wonders at the number of them, considering that the writer had never been at Rome. But as Rome was then the centre of the civilised world, to and from which journeys were continually taken to the remotest parts, there is no great difficulty in supposing that so active a travelling missionary as Paul would, in the course of time, make the acquaintance of a considerable number of the Christians then residing at the capital.
6. Salute Mary, who bestowed much labour on us. External evidence is certainly in favour of "labour on you." But the whole strain of these salutations is in favour of the received text; and every student of the text of the New Testament knows that the first letter of these two pronouns—which were pronounced almost alike—is so constantly interchanged, that the context ought to be our chief directory as to which is right in each case. 7. Salute Andronicus and Junias, or Junia (if a female, but the male sense seems preferable), my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners—but on what occasion it is impossible to tell, for (as he tells us in 2 Cor. xi. 23) he was "in prisons more abundantly,"—who are of note among the apostles—not as some critics, 'noted apostles,' but as here (and so the R. V.)—who also have been in Christ before me. The apostle writes as if he envied them this priority in the faith. And, indeed, if to be "in Christ" be the most enviable human condition, the earlier the date of this blessed translation the greater the grace of it. This latter statement about Andronicus and Junias seems to throw some light on the preceding one. Very possibly they may have been among the first-fruits of Peter's labours, gained to Christ either on the day of Pentecost or on some of the succeeding days. In that case they may have attracted the special esteem of those apostles who for some time resided chiefly at Jerusalem and its neighbourhood; and our apostle, though he came late in contact with the other apostles, if he was aware of this fact, would have pleasure in alluding to it. 8. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord—an expression of dear Christian affection. 9. Salute Urbanus (it is a man's name), our fellow-worker in Christ. 10. Salute Apelles, the approved in Christ—or, as we should say, 'that tried Christian;' a noble commendation. Salute them that are of the household of Aristobulus. It would seem from what is said of Narcissus in the following verse, that this Aristobulus himself had not been a Christian, but that the Christians of his household simply were meant; very possibly some of his slaves. 11. Salute Herodion my kinsman—(see on ver. 7). Greet them of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord—which implies that others in his house, including probably himself, were not Christians. 12. Salute Tryphaena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord—two active females. Salute Persis the beloved (another female), which laboured much in the Lord—referring, probably, not to official services, such as would fall to the deaconesses, but to such higher Christian labours—yet within the sphere competent to woman—as Priscilla bestowed on Apollos and others (Acts xviii. 18). 13. Salute Rufus, the chosen in the Lord—meaning, not 'who is one of the elect,' as every believer is, but 'the choice,' or 'precious one,' in the Lord (see I Pet. ii. 4; 2 John 13). We read in Mark xv. 21 that Simon of Cyrene, whom they compelled to bear our Lord's cross, was "the father of Alexander and Rufus." From this we naturally conclude that when Mark wrote his Gospel, Alexander and Rufus must have been well known as Christians among those by whom he expected his Gospel to be first read; and, in all likelihood, this was that very "Rufus;" in which case our interest is deepened by what immediately follows about his mother, and (salute) his mother and mine. The apostle calls her 'his own mother,' not so much as our Lord calls every elderly female believer His mother (Matt, xii. 49, 50), but in grateful acknowledgment of her motherly attentions to himself, bestowed no doubt for his Master's sake, and the love she bore to His honoured servants. To us it seems altogether likely that the conversion of Simon the Cyrenian dated from that memorable day when "passing (casually) by, as he came from the country" (Mark xv. 21), "they compelled him to bear the" Saviour's cross. Sweet compulsion, if what he thus beheld issued in his voluntarily taking up his own cross! Through him it is natural to suppose that his wife would be brought in, and that this believing couple, now "heirs together of the grace of life "(1 Pet. iii. 7), as they told their two sons Alexander and Rufus what honour had unwittingly been put upon their father at that hour of deepest and dearest moment to all Christians, might be blessed to the inbringing of both of them to Christ. In this case, supposing the elder of the two to have departed to be with Christ ere this letter was written, or to have been residing in some other place, and Rufus left alone with his mother, how instructive and beautiful is the testimony here borne to her!
14. Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hennas. This is, beyond doubt, the right order of these names: and the brethren which are with them. 15. Salute Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them. These have been thought to be the names of ten less notable Christians than those already named. But this will hardly be supposed if it be observed that they are divided into two pairs of five each, and that after the first of these pairs it is added, "and the brethren which are with them," while after the second pair we have the words, "and all the saints which are with them." This, perhaps, hardly means that each of the five in both pairs had 'a church at his house,' else probably this would have been more expressly said. But at least it would seem to indicate that they were each a centre of some few Christians who met at his house—it may be for further instruction, for prayer, for missionary purposes, or for some other Christian objects. These little peeps into the rudimental forms which Christian fellowship first took in the great cities, though too indistinct for more than conjecture, are singularly interesting. Our apostle would seem to have been kept minutely informed as to the state of the Roman church, both as to its membership and its varied activities, probably by Priscilla and Aquila. 16. Salute one another with a holy kiss. (So 1 Cor. xvi. 20; 1 Thess. v. 26; 1 Pet. v. 14.) The custom prevailed among the Jews, and doubtless came from the East, where it still obtains. Its adoption into the Christian churches, as the symbol of a higher fellowship than it had ever expressed before, was probably as immediate as it was natural. In this case the apostle's desire seems to be that on receipt of his Epistle, with its greetings, they should in this manner expressly testify their Christian affection. It afterwards came to have a fixed place in the Church service, immediately after the celebration of the Supper, and continued long in use. In such matters, however, the state of society and the peculiarities of different places require to be studied. All the churches of Christ salute you. The word "all" gradually fell out, as seeming probably to express more than the apostle would venture to affirm. But no more seems meant than to assure the Romans in what affectionate esteem they were held by the churches generally; all that knew he was writing to Rome having expressly asked their own salutations to be sent to them. (See v. 19.)
Cautions (17-19). 17. Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which are causing divisions and occasions of stumblings contrary to the doctrine which ye learned, and avoid them. The fomenters of "divisions "who are here meant are probably those who were unfriendly to the truths taught in this Epistle; while those who caused "occasions of stumbling" were probably those referred to in chap. xiv. 15, as haughtily disregarding the prejudices of the weak. The direction as to both is, first, to "mark" such, lest the evil should be done ere it was fully discovered: and next, to "avoid" them (cf. 2 Thess. iii. 6, 14), so as neither to bear any responsibility for their procedure nor seem to give them the least countenance. 18. For they that are such serve not our Lord Christ (such appears clearly to be the true reading), but their own belly—not in the grosser sense, but in the sense of 'living for low ends of their own '(comp. Phil. iii. 19); and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent—the unwary, the unsuspecting (see Prov. xiv. 15). 19. For your obedience—your tractableness, or readiness to be led (as the close of the verse seems to shew is the meaning here), is come abroad unto all men. I rejoice therefore for you, but I would have you wise unto that which is good and simple—'harmless,' as in Matt. x. 16, from which the warning is taken, unto that which is evil: 'Your reputation among the churches for subjection to the teaching ye have received is to me sufficient ground of confidence in you; but ye need the serpent's wisdom to discriminate between transparent truth and plausible error, with that guileless simplicity which instinctively cleaves to the one and rejects the other.'
Encouragement and benediction (20). 20. And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The apostle encourages the Romans to persevere in resisting the wiles of the devil, with the assurance that, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, they are "shortly "to receive their discharge, and have the satisfaction of 'putting their feet upon the neck 'of that formidable Enemy—a symbol familiar, probably in all languages, to express not only the completeness of the defeat, but the abject humiliation of the conquered foe (see Josh. x. 24; 2 Sam. xxii. 41; Ezek. xxi. 29; Ps. xci. 13). Though the apostle here styles Him who is thus to bruise Satan, "the God of peace," with special reference to the "divisions" (ver. 17) by which the Roman Church was in danger of being disturbed, this sublime appellation of God has here a wider sense, pointing to the whole 'purpose for which the Son of God was manifested, to destroy the works of the devil' (1 John hi. 8); and indeed this assurance is but a reproduction of the first great promise, that the Seed of the woman would bruise the Serpent's head (Gen. iii. 15). The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. The "Amen "here has no authority. What comes after this, where one would have expected the Epistle to close, has its parallel in Phil. iv. 20, etc., and, being in fact common in epistolary writings, is simply a mark of genuineness.
The salutations of the apostle's friends at Corinth (21-23). 21. Timothy my fellow-worker (see Acts xvi. 1-5). The apostle (as Bengel says) mentions him here rather than in the opening address to this church, as he had not been at Rome, and Lucius—not Luke; for the fuller form of 'Lucas' is not "Lucius," but 'Lucanus.' The person meant seems to be 'Lucius of Cyrene,' who was among the "prophets and teachers "at Antioch with our apostle before he was summoned into the missionary field (Acts xiii. 1). and Jason (see Acts xvii. 5). He had probably accompanied or followed the apostle from Thessalonica to Corinth; and Sosipater (see Acts xx. 4), my kinsmen, salute you. 22. I Tertius, who wrote the epistle—as the apostle's amanuensis or penman, salute you in the Lord. So usual was it with the apostle to dictate instead of writing his Epistles, that he calls the attention of the Galatians to the fact that to them he wrote with his own hand (Gal. vi. 11). But this Tertius would have the Romans to know that, far from being a mere scribe, his heart went out to them in Christian affection; and the apostle, by giving his salutation a place here, would shew what sort of assistants he employed. 23. Gaius my host, and (the host) of the whole church, saluteth you (see Acts xx. 4). It would appear that this Gaius was one of only two persons whom Paul baptized with his own hand (see 3 John 1). His Christian hospitality appears to have been something uncommon. Erastus, the treasurer of the city—doubtless the city of Corinth (see Acts xix. 22; 2 Tim. iv. 20), saluteth you, and Quartus the brother—or 'our brother,' as Sosthenes and Timothy are called, 1 Cor. i. 1; 2 Cor. i. 1 (Gr.). Nothing more is known of this Quartus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. This repetition of the benediction of ver. 20, though supported by respectable evidence, seems clearly the result of a confusion, arising from causes not easily explained to the mere English reader. While the evidence against it is decidedly the strongest, even those authorities that support it vary amongst themselves.
Concluding doxology (25-27). The genuineness of this whole doxology has been questioned on next to no ground. It is wanting in no MS. but one which, when alone, is of no value; and even in it there is a blank space, implying that something is wanting. A number of mss. place it at the end of chap, xiv., where it is quite unsuitable. 25. Now to him that is able to stablish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ—in conformity with the truths of that Gospel which I preach, according to the revelation of the mystery (see on chap. xi. 25) which hath been kept silent (undisclosed) through times eternal (during all past time), 26. but now is manifested. The reference here is to that peculiar feature of the Gospel economy which Paul himself was specially employed to carry into practical effect, and to unfold by his teaching—the introduction of the Gentile believers to an equality with their Jewish brethren, and the new, and, to the Jews, quite unexpected form which this gave to the whole Kingdom of God (cf. Eph. iii. 1-10, etc.). This the apostle calls here a mystery hitherto undisclosed, but now fully unfolded; and his prayer for the Roman Christians, in the form of a doxology to Him who was able to do what he asked, is that they might be established in the truth of the Gospel, not only in its essential character, but specially in that feature of it which gave themselves, as Gentile believers, their whole standing among the people of God. and by the scriptures of the prophets, according' to the commandment of the eternal God, is made known unto all the nations for (in order to) the obedience of faith. Lest they should think, from what he had just said, that God had brought in upon His people so vast a change on their condition, without giving them any previous notice, the apostle here adds that, on the contrary, "the Scriptures of the prophets" contain all that he and other preachers of the Gospel had to declare on these topics, and indeed that the same "eternal God," who "from eternal times" had kept these things hid, had given "commandment" that they should now, according to the tenor of those prophetic Scriptures, be imparted to every nation for their believing acceptance. 27. To the only wise God through Jesus Christ, to whom [be]—'To Him, I say, be the glory' for ever. Amen. At the outset of this doxology, it will be observed that it is an ascription of glory to the power that could do all this. At its close it ascribes glory to the wisdom that planned and that presides over the gathering of a redeemed people out of all nations. The apostle adds his devout "Amen," which the reader may well fervently echo.