Romans Bible Guide – Day 39
March 24, 2016
Previously, in Romans: Paul has explained the most practical purpose of his letter – to visit the Roman churches and get their support as he travels to Spain. Even in this, his focus on the good news of Jesus to both Jews and Gentiles is readily apparent.
1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, 2so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.
3Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, 4and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. 5Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. 6Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. 7Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. 8Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11Greet my relative Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother—a mother to me also. 14Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who are with them. 15Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.
Points of Interest:
- ‘I commend to you our sister Phoebe’ – Cenchreae is the seaport nearest to Cortinth, in Greece, where Paul wrote this letter. Phoebe is a church leader in that community and apparently a woman of some means as well. In addition to being part of her church leadership team, Paul trusts her with the responsibility to hand-deliver this letter to Rome, likely at her own expense. Perhaps she’ll also stick around and organize the advance team for Paul’s intended visit and trip to Spain.
In other Pauline letters, there are comments that question his backing of women in church leadership, but in this chapter alone, three women are named as high-authority church leaders. Phoebe is the first. Whatever Paul says about how women lead, it has to be interpreted in light of his substantial and, in his context, pretty radical actual endorsement of their leadership.
- ‘Prisca and Aquila….’ – Prisca is the second female leader mentioned here and has her name placed before her husband’s, unusual for the first century. Best as we can reconstruct their story from elsewhere in the New Testament, they were Jews living in Rome who were evicted from the city after the Edict of Claudius exiled Jews from Rome. At some point, they began to follow Jesus and became significant friends and partners of Paul’s throughout the 50s A.D.
- ‘Greet also the church in their house’ – Prisca and Aquila are now back in Rome, leading a small church in their home. These are the kind of house churches we think of when we think of the first century Jesus community – several families and individuals that met several times a week for meals and worship in the living rooms of a relatively wealthy host. As we’ll see in a minute, though, there aren’t the only kinds of house churches.
- ‘Andronicus and Junia… they are prominent among the apostles…’ – Paul greets a number of people either known to him personally or by reputation or through friends. Paul cared a great deal about the relationships he picked up in his travels and in a time before email, phone, and postal service, did his best to remind them of his love and prayers. Two of the people he singles out are apostles, one of whom is Junia, this chapter’s third female leader. “Apostle” literally means sent one, and it usually referred to people who helped establish new work for Jesus, often people who personally knew Jesus during his lifetime.
- ‘greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus’ – Beyond house churches meeting in wealthy families’ living rooms, scholars detect other types of house communities in these greetings. Those who belong to the family or Aristobulus, and in the next verse, to Narcissus, would be slaves or laborers working in these households. Based on the names, the lists of people in verses 14 and 15 likely share leadership of communities that meet in slum tenements. There is no indication of singular leadership or wealthy patronage for these communities.
- ‘Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.’ – In many ways, this could be the true climax of the letter to the Romans. Their communities are all connected to the broader community of Jesus, who has welcomed them. And they are now told to extend greeting and love to one another. Jews and Gentiles, men and women, privileged and slaves – they are all in this life of Jesus together, and they are all invited to greet one another in love and friendship.
Taking It Home:
For you – Thank God today for all the people that lead and host and fund community groups and churches. Consider also sending your greetings and appreciation today to one of them, or to someone else significant in your life that you don’t get to see very often.
For your city/church – What would a “greeting with a holy kiss” look like today? How can followers of Jesus extend love and friendship across different within and beyond our churches? Brainstorm what this would look like with someone else this week, and see how you can make it so.