Romans Bible Guide – Day 40
March 25, 2016
Previously, in Romans: Paul is wrapping up the letter to the Romans with closing greetings and blessings.
17I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them. 18For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded. 19For while your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, I want you to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil. 20The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
21Timothy, my co-worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my relatives.
22I Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord.
23Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.
25Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.
Points of Interest:
- ‘an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses’ – Avoiding dissensions and mutual offenses has certainly been a part of the theme of Romans. Perhaps Paul wants to urge them to watch out for this kind of thing one more time. And yet overall, the themes in this paragraph and its stridency of tone don’t really sound like the rest of the letter.
A second possibility, one we’re not used to thinking about, is that Paul didn’t write these words at all. As with pretty much every single ancient text, no one has the original, handwritten copies of any of the books of the Bible. Written nearly two thousand years ago on papyrus that didn’t always age well, they most likely are now composted pulp somewhere in a subterranean ruin. The text that is translated in our Bibles is based on an amalgam of all of the most ancient copies of these writings. For about 99% of the words, there is fairly unanimous agreement on what the originals were likely to have said. But now and then, there are variants, and scholars have to practice the discipline of textual criticism to determine what the original authors were likely to have meant.
So even very old Bible translations like the King James Version from over four hundred years ago are largely adequate fine, but they’re not only in an outdated form of the English language, but are a little less accurate due to advances in archaeology and scholarship. All this to say, you can be confident that something like 99.9% of your Bible is accurate where it counts. But here and there, there are small disputes over words and verses.
Romans 16:17-20 is one of two places in this chapter where this is the case. The tone and theme differs from the rest of Romans, and the vocabulary and argumentation don’t match Paul’s in Romans and in the other New Testament letters he wrote. It is possible that the unity expressed with the line “Greet one another with a holy kiss” was just too full of love and that leaders in later first century Roman churches added these words to censor those they didn’t agree with.
- ‘Timothy, my co-worker, greets you…’ – The savvy reader will notice that this flows as if it came right after vs. 16, where yesterday’s passage ended with a number of greetings. This is yet another reason that some scholars think the previous four verses weren’t part of the original letter.
- ‘vs. 24’ – Those of you looking at the passage will note that in this translation, it jumps from vs. 23 straight to vs. 25. That is because verse 24 would read like this: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. It’s a short benediction, a closing blessing. But then verses 25-27 have a longer closing blessing. Scholars are pretty sure that Paul wrote only one. So some translations have eliminated verse 24.
- One of today’s best scholars on Romans, Robert Jewett, who I’ve mentioned a couple of times, thinks the opposite is true. He thinks verses 25-27 are later additions to the text for similar reasons as the addition in verses 16-20. The tone and vocabulary and themes of these three verses don’t match, and they easily could have been tacked onto copies of the letters that circulated? Why? Nero persecuted the early Christians in Rome just after this letter was written, and then in the late 60s A.D., Rome’s armies invaded Palestine and besieged Jerusalem, crushing a Jewish rebellion there, destroying the city and its temple, and scattering Jews abroad. Afterwards, the Gentile churches increasingly distanced themselves from their Jewish roots, a tragic early chapter of anti-Semitism in the Christian story. Whereas all mentions of the Gentiles in Romans are alongside the Jews to whose story they are connected, here the new ending of Romans focuses on Gentiles alone. This isn’t what Paul intended at all.
Taking It Home:
For you – Thank God that questions about the accuracy of the Bible’s text are exceedingly rare. If Romans does end with a simple word that the grace of Jesus is with us all today, how is the presence of Jesus to both love and lead you an encouragement to you? Ask Jesus to be with you in all that you do today, inviting his grace and leadership in places where you particularly know you will need it.
For your 6 – Perhaps the many, many failings of churches over the years have given some of your 6 a negative view of Jesus. Pray that Jesus will find them anyway, to give them grace.