Romans 16: A Beloved Spiritual Family

This final chapter of Romans includes the largest list of people greeted of any of Paul’s letters. It speaks to the family in Christ that Paul treasures and interacts with and Paul’s influence and memory on those that exhibited faith in Christ. His consideration and memory of others shows us how much he valued the relationships and the souls of his friends. The bonds felt through this communication suggest a connection stronger than mere blood relatives; this is a peek into the spiritual family that uplifts one another that we all can enjoy through Jesus Christ.

Following is a breakdown of the people listed, with some having more information than others. There is a total of twenty-six people mentioned, a third of whom are women.

  • Phoebe, benefactress

Phoebe was the traveler that delivered the letter. Her being referred to here as a sister, helper, and servant of the church implies that she was a patron of sorts.

  • Priscilla and Aquila, teachers and tentmakers

We know that Paul had a good and productive relationship with Priscilla and Aquila. Reading in Acts 18:1-3, we see that Paul worked with them as a tentmaker as he preached in the synagogue at Corinth. Priscilla and Aquila were converted Jews who by this time has established a church in their home. They were astute teachers that traveled with Paul and were able to correct and exhort properly with humility and grace: “Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” Acts 18:24-26. By the time of this letter, we may assume that Priscilla and Aquila were residing in Rome.

  • Rufus and his mother, Rufus “chosen in the Lord”

This Rufus was quite possibly the same man whose father Simon of Cyrene had helped Jesus carry the cross on the way to Golgotha: “Then they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear His cross. And they brought Him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull.” Mark 15: 21-22

  • Amplias, Urbanus, Stachys, and Apelles

These are all common slave names that have been found in lists of slaves that served in the imperial household. Given the context, it seems likely that  these slaves had been converted to Christianity apart from their masters’ permission or knowledge. Or perhaps their masters cared not about the spiritual beliefs of their slaves.

  • Aristobulus’ and Narcissus’ households

Seemingly along the same lines as the slaves, Aristobolus and Narcissus were masters whose slaves evidently had obeyed the gospel. These slaves must have worshipped with the church in Rome and Paul wanted to reach out to them, likely by way of encouragement. Some have theorized that this Aristobulus mentioned in Romans 16 was the grandson of Herod the Great and brother of Agrippa I, but this is not substantiated. Narcissus was a name taken from Greek mythology and others have theorized about this man as well, suggesting that he was the same Narcissus that was put to death by Agrippa after Nero came to power in Rome.

  • Herodion, Andronicus, Junia, countrymen

Herodion being mentioned as a countryman implies that was a Jew, like Paul. We could assume the same for Andronicus and Junia, with the distinction that they had served prison time with Paul. Did Paul convert Andronicus and Junia while he was imprisoned with them? Given Paul’s pedigree and reputation as a teacher and preacher, it seems likely.

  • Mary

There have been a couple of different ideas about the identity of this Mary. Some have thought over the years that she was Mary, the mother of John Mark, while still others have offered the idea that Paul is greeting Mary Magdalene, without adding the formal distinction “of Magdalene”. It is exciting to think that we will know the answer one day.

  • Epaenetus

Although not substantiated biblically, Epaenetus was the name of a man that was a saint in the Greek Orthodox Church and in the Roman Catholic Church. This man is thought of as being the first convert in the Asian province. This Epaenetus being the same as the Epaenetus mentioned in Romans 16 is a statement that we do not have enough information to confirm.  

  • Other assorted brethren: Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren who are with them. Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Tryphena, Tryphosa, fellow workers in the Lord, likely sisters, and Persis, who labored much in the Lord.

These last names in the first section are listed generally and there is not as much context to be found around these brethren. Whatever their exact identities, they held a place in Paul’s heart as valued parts of the kingdom of God in Jesus Christ.

In verses 17-20, Paul offers an important encouragement to the Romans to be on the lookout for those that would come into the church, seeking to divide the brethren. Paul implies that their obedience to Jesus may have made them targets of people who do not serve Jesus, but rather themselves. These people will deceive the hearts of the less learned “by smooth words and flattering speech.” When we are strong, resisting false truths and standing up for actual truth, Paul tells us that “The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.” Further encouragement can be found in the wisdom of seeking to know much about righteousness, goodness, and faith and to be ignorant of evil things. This is a good message for us anytime in life, but it is especially good for those new in the faith and for our children.

The letter closes with Paul sending greetings from the friends that were with him to the Christians in Rome, and with a prayer. Here is a breakdown of Paul’s friends listed in verses 21-24:

  • Timothy

A young man that worked with Paul, teaching and preaching. I and II Timothy in the New Testament are addressed to this same Timothy.

  • Lucius

This is Luke, apostle and author of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts of the apostles.

  • Jason and Sosipater

Jason is named in Acts 17:5-9 and was Paul’s host on his first journey to Thessalonica. Sosipater could possibly be the same individual mentioned in Acts 20:4: “And Sopater of Berea accompanied him to Asia…”

  • Tertius (scribe)

Tertius, as scribe, did not compose the letter as Paul was the author. Paul, as the author, dictated the letter to Tertius, who wrote it down word for word. As an example, see Jeremiah 36:4: “Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah; and Baruch wrote on a scroll of a book, at the instruction of Jeremiah, all the words of the Lord which He had spoken to him.” Accordingly, we are complimented in our faith by II Timothy 3:16-17 that the information in the Holy Bible originates from the source of our great God: “ All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

  • Gaius

Paul was lodging with Gaius at the time. I Corinthians 1:14 tells us that Paul baptized Gaius.

  • Erastus

Erastus is mentioned as the City Treasurer here. There was also an Erastus mentioned in Acts 19:22, that was sent by Paul to Macedonia. Again, this may or may not have been the same man.

  • Quartus, a brother in the faith

The concluding prayer of the book of Romans is a thing of beauty. In it, Paul ascribes glory to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But it is the way that he does it that makes it beautiful. In giving Christ glory, Paul lists out the how, when, why, and who is connected to the substantiation of why Christ deserves glory. One gets the sense that Paul is burdened with the holy desire to lay out the terms of Christ’s glory with exactness. Here are the terms under which Paul ascribes glory to our Holy Savior:

  • Jesus is able to establish you in a holy relationship with God
  • This act is the result of the revealed mystery, which was:
    • Prophesied
    • Known to all nations
    • Executed according to the commandment of Almighty God
  • Your establishment in a sound relationship with God is made for your obedience to the faith
    • Under which God alone is wise
  • Christ deserves this glory and honor forever

One can almost imagine Paul’s prayer echoing through the halls of heaven, meeting approval by God in that it so accurately, respectfully and honorably gives glory to the Son of God. Our Savior Jesus Christ is singular, holy, and mighty. May each of us put Him in the highest places of our hearts forever.

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