Pastor David B. Curtis


The Family in Rome

Romans 16:1-16

Delivered 02/24/2013

We have finally reached the last chapter in our study in Romans. Some of you are old enough to remember when we started! We won’t finish today, we have a few more weeks. Kristen acted shocked last week that it was going to take me an hour to cover four verses, well what is truly shocking is that today I’m going to cover 16 verses in under an hour.

Chances are you’ve never studied this chapter, and you may not even remember reading it. All the names that we can’t pronounce cause us to skip over it. It’s not a chapter that you would choose to memorize. And it’s not a chapter that a preacher would choose to preach on unless, of course, he was teaching verse-by-verse.

We meet the church of Rome in this chapter. This chapter provides for us one of the clearest insights into the community of believing people in the early church and how that community functioned together. Romans 16 is far more than a list of names; I hope you see that by the time we finish.

Knowing all that Paul went through: the beatings, stonings, and imprisonments; it’s easy to view him as a tough guy. Well in this chapter we see him as a very loving “people person” who sent personal greetings to twenty-six individuals and five households in the city of Rome—a city, I might add, he had not yet visited. Paul’s familiarity with this church, and particular members of it, is so intimate that a number of scholars have suggested this chapter could not have been written to the unvisited church at Rome, but rather the familiar church of Ephesus. This view is highly improbable. I believe that chapter 16 belongs right where it is.

It is amazing though, how many names he knows in Rome when he has never been there. The Apostle Paul seems to be taking after Glenn. What we really see here is his love for this church. Four times he says it explicitly—Verse 5: “my beloved.” Verse 8: “my beloved.” Verse 9: “my beloved.” Verse 12: “the beloved.” Paul loves these people, and that is what this text expresses. The point of this text is: I love you people, and I want you to know how much I appreciate you and your involvement in the ministry.

Have you ever noticed the fact that the apostle neglected to mention the most important person in the church in Rome? He didn't mention the pastor. He didn't send any greetings to the pastor. That’s because the idea of a man as the head of a congregation as a kind of president of the corporation is unknown in the Bible. In the New Testament there is never one book, never one word addressed to one man as the pastor of the church. Yeshua is the Head of the Church, not a man.

There are three terms used in the New Testament to describe church leaders, and none of them are "reverend." They are: "bishop, elder, and pastor." Pastor is from the Greek word poimen. It is only found once in the New Testament in Ephesians 4:11. The normal meaning of the word is shepherd, which means: “to protect, feed, care for, and lead.” Pastors are not distinct from bishops or elders. The terms are simply different ways of identifying the same people. Textual evidence indicates that all three terms refer to the same office. The most widely used New Testament designation for local church leaders is elders.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; Romans 16:1 NASB

Phoebe means: "bright and radiant." She is not part of the church at Rome, she is from Cenchrea, which is one of the two ports of Corinth, the capital city of Southern Greece (the Roman province of Achaia).

In all likelihood, Phoebe was entrusted with the very letter to the Romans we’ve been studying the past few years. She is the one carrying the Roman Epistle to the church at Rome. Remember Paul is writing this letter from Corinth. Living in Cenchrea she had likely been under Paul’s teaching and influence for a portion of his eighteen months in that city. Now that she had business in Rome or intended to relocate to Rome—the text doesn’t specify—she came to a new city, met new people, and needed a letter of recommendation so that she might enter the circle of the Christian community. Paul esteemed her to such a degree that he did not hesitate to give a prominent commendation in his Epistle to the Romans.

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe”—Paul calls here “sister” and not just “my” sister, but “our” sister—yours and mine. No biological identity here, but rather this was the way that the church viewed one another. The early church saw their fellow members as family. He is telling them that she is part of their family, though they may have never met her.

Yeshua considered the family of God to eclipse even the natural family. Someone told Him that his mother and brothers were outside wanting to speak to Him:

But Yeshua answered the one who was telling Him and said, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?" And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, "Behold My mother and My brothers! "For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother." Matthew 12:48-50 NASB

Americans seem to be stuck on an individualistic understanding of salvation and the church. Yet the New Testament knows nothing of this kind of individualism. Those believing the Gospel of Christ were joined with a local body of believers, the family of God.

As family they laid down their lives for one another! They embraced one another, bore with difficulties, forgave each other, encouraged each other, admonished each other, shared their meals together, helped one another in need, suffered as Christians together, and all of this as one family in Christ. Phoebe’s biography as “our sister Phoebe” tells a big story for the church—we are family and must learn to love and care for one another as family.

Paul says, “I Commend to you”—this is a very common thing in the early church. Letters of commendation were written when a believer, for example, would be traveling to another city and would want to go and fellowship with that church. That believer could carry a commending letter from the church in their own home town which would ensure to that new congregation that this was indeed one of the children of God, a brother or sister to be loved and received with hospitality. The reason for that was the need for a place to stay. In those days inns were houses of immorality. They were places where there would be perhaps looting and stealing. They were not safe places. And as Christian people traveled around in the Roman world, the letters of commendation allowed them to be received with love into varying Christian communities and shown hospitality and care for whatever matters of business they needed to carry on. They didn’t have Google, so they counted on a commending letter.

We see this idea of a commending letter written for Apollos in:

And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, Acts 18:27 NASB

Here Apollos is commended in a letter so that the saints will know to receive him, demonstrate to him hospitality, and not be fearful but be responsible for his care. Paul talks about this letter of a commendation in:

Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? 2 Corinthians 3:1 NASB

Many such letters have been found by archaeologists, particularly in the Egyptian desert sands, that provide for us some insight into the character of those ancient letters of commendation.

Paul tells us, “Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea....” The word "servant" is the word diakonos from which we get our familiar word “deacon.” Now that word knows no gender. It is neither a masculine word nor is it a feminine one. It refers in very general terms to one who serves, be he male or she female. And its use in the New Testament is very broad and very general.

Bauer’s Lexicon translates it as: “deaconess.” A number of scholars concur, though others disagree. Since the verse identifies her as “a diakonon of the church which is at Cenchrea,” there seems to be some weight on this as an office in that particular church, otherwise he had no cause to be so specific.

I am introducing to you our sister Phoebe, shammash of the congregation at Cenchrea, Romans 16:1 CJB

Shammash (shem-ish) is a Hebrew word that means: “attendant, or caretaker or sexton in a Jewish synagogue whose duties now generally include secretarial work and assistance to the cantor, who directs the public service.” It is likely and very possible that Phoebe was one of those special servants who had been identified as such. That is to say there were women deacons, which we come to know as deaconesses.

I think that the reason so many have a problem with Phoebe being a deaconess is because in many churches’ understanding, a deacon is part of a “board” that governs or rules a local church. Many Baptist Churches, for instance, have deacon boards that rarely engage in service as the New Testament teaches, but serve as the governing body in the church. Putting Phoebe into that kind of framework presents a problem in that it would indicate that as a lady, she would be ruling over the men in the church—a practice that 1 Timothy 2:12 forbids:

But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 1 Timothy 2:12 NASB

No passage in the New Testament gives even a hint that ladies held the governing office of elder/pastor/overseer in the early church. The two passages identifying the necessary qualifications for this office clearly indicate that men alone are given this responsibility in the church (1 Tim 3; Titus 1).

There is no reason why women cannot be deacons. The elders are men and are charged with the governance and teaching of the church, but the deacon does not bear that same responsibility. The deacons are charged with the kind of ministries of mercy described, for example, in Matthew 25:44—feeding the hungry, taking in the refugee, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned.

Deacons don’t rule the church, they serve the saints. The most important point to see here is that Phoebe served the church! The great example of Yeshua Christ is that He came to serve:

just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Matthew 20:28 NASB

When we serve the church we bear striking resemblance to the Lord Yeshua, who even served His disciples by washing their feet (John 13).

As we look into the history of the early church, we find that the role of those women in the first few centuries was to care for the sick; to care for the poor; to minister to strangers; to show hospitality; and to serve martyrs in prison, taking them supplies and needs and providing for whatever might be desperately needed because of the hardships of imprisonment.

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. Romans 16:2 NASB

The church is told to receive her in a “manner worthy of saints.” Now what does that mean? Well, it means to accept her as one who belongs to the Lord Yeshua the Christ, accept her in the sense that you accept Him.

Saints were not a special type of Christian, but all of those sanctified by the Spirit, all of those called holy in the Lord. “Saints” means: “holy ones.” That’s what all Christians are titled!

Paul tells them to, “help her in whatever matter she may have need of you”

the word “matter” here is the Greek pragma, from which we get pragmatic, she was there for some pragmatic reason. She was apparently on her way to Rome for some business; if indeed she was a wealthy patron, it's obvious she was probably going with some special business in mind.

Then Paul says, “for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well”—the word “helper” here is the Greek word prostatis. (pros-tat-is) This term in the Jewish community came to refer to a wealthy supporter. The word actually means: “a benefactor or patroness.” If you ever read any of ancient European history you understand the word patron. A patron was someone who financially supported someone else. Many artists had a patron. Apparently this woman had enough means to provide a patronage for not only the Apostle Paul but for others in the church.

God has always used women, and still does, and uses them mightily in the advancement of His Kingdom. And though He did not use a woman to write a book of the Bible, He used a woman to transport that book; that most important perhaps of all books in terms of its presentation of the Gospel.

Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, left us a short biography of Phoebe, surely setting her forth as an example of feminine influence in the early church. All we know of Phoebe is found in the first two verses of Romans 16.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Yeshua, Romans 16:3 NASB

Prisca was probably a diminutive of Priscilla. Sometimes in the New Testament her name is given as Priscilla, sometimes Prisca. Here Paul writes Prisca, but the English translators have generally given Priscilla as its translation. We learn a lot about these two from the book of Acts:

After these things he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. He came to them, and because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and they were working, for by trade they were tent-makers. Acts 18:1-3 NASB

So Aquila was from Pontus originally (Northern Turkey), and he and Prisca lived in Rome until they were driven out by the Emperor Claudius in A.D. 49, and then they met Paul in Corinth. They were Jewish tent makers and that was Paul's occupation. So when he arrived in Corinth he stayed with them. And they were with him in the ministry; then traveled to Ephesus where they settled and had a church in their house:

The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house. 1 Corinthians 16:19 NASB

Now they are back in Rome, according to Romans 16:3, and have a church in their house. But finally, in 2 Timothy 4:19, they will be back in Ephesus. And that’s the last we hear of them. So from the little that we know, they lived in Pontus, Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Rome, Ephesus. As Paul writes they are in Rome.

Paul calls them, “my fellow workers in Christ Yeshua”—“fellow workers” is the Greek, from which we get the word “ergo,” which has to do with work. It means:” my co-laborer.”

who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles; Romans 16:4 NASB

There must have been some specific incident, we don't know what it is, in which the life of Paul was on the line, and they stepped into the gap and were willing to die for his sake. This is love in the family of God:

"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13 NASB

This couple was willing to die for Paul.

Then Paul adds, “to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles”—Paul was thankful, but so were all the Gentile churches. Why are they thankful? Because they're all a product of Paul's ministry! And if Paul had been killed, they would not have heard his message of the Gospel.

also greet the church that is in their house. Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia. Romans 16:5 NASB

"Greet the church that's in their house"—now here they are in Rome, and their house is open to house the church. Oh, this is a Christ centered couple. On the one hand they have laid down their life for the Apostle Paul, on the other hand they have opened their home to the church. Seems like whatever the need they are there.

“Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia”—

The New American Standard Bible obscures the significance of this verse by translating aparche (ap-are-khay) as: “first convert.” The other seven uses of this word in the New Testament are translated: “firstfruits.” This is how the KJV puts it, “Epaenetus, who is the first fruits of Achaia unto Christ.”

Paul uses Paschal (Passover) imagery—the first fruits being brought from the fields three days after the sacrifice of the Passover lamb (Lev 23:11). It was not the harvest crop that Paul had in mind, but the Levitical priesthood which was given as a token that Yahweh claimed not only the firstborn but the whole nation. Epenetus was the first from that region who had become a priest of the New Covenant.

There's little doubt in my mind that there was something special about the first convert in Asia, don't you think? The first one that came to Christ, Epaenetus, had a special place of affection in the heart of Paul. Asia, in this case, is modern day Western Turkey, so probably he was in Ephesus when he came to faith under Paul’s ministry. We know nothing more about this man at all.

Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Romans 16:6 NASB

There are six women in the New Testament who have the name Mary, a very common name. We don't know who she is, but she worked hard for the Roman believers. The word Paul uses for work is kopiao, which is a strong word; it means: “to labor to the point of weariness, to work to sweat and exhaustion.”

Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. Romans 16:7 NASB

Andronicus is a male name; Junias could be male or female, we have no way to know. This could be a husband and wife team, or two brothers. It all depends on the name "Junias." If it is "Junias" with an "s," as we have it here, it is a male; if it is "Junia," as the King James Version has it, it is female.

Paul calls them, “My kinsmen”—this is the Greek word suggenes, which means: “a relative by blood, a countryman.” Does this mean that they are Jews, or that they were actual relatives of Paul? If you look at how the term is used in the rest of the New Testament. Its plural form is used in Mark 6:4; Luke 1:58, 61; 2:44; 14:12; 21:16 and Acts 10:24, and most translators use “relatives.” When Paul uses the plural form of the term in his letter to the Romans, however, the translation “kinsmen” is favored, except for the NIV.

The singular form of the term is found in Luke 1:36 and John 18:26. In most cases, it is translated “relative.” However, when it appears in Rom 16:11, the same Greek word is translated “kinsman” or “countryman” (except NIV). Translators appear to be reluctant to say that these are Paul’s relatives. Not sure why.

This may be a possible explanation for Paul’s knowledge of the congregation, his parents lived in Rome before moving to Tarsus, leaving behind family in the city. If this is what happened, Paul’s wider family would be a source of information about the church in Rome.

Paul also calls them, "my fellow prisoners"—Somewhere along the line, and we don't know where, Paul spent a lot of his time in prison, but in one of his imprisonments or another they were there also. They had paid the price of imprisonment too for their faith in Christ, for their love of Yeshua


“Who are outstanding among the apostles”—the word apostles could mean that they were missionaries or messengers or sent with the Gospel from the church of lesser stature than Paul and the Twelve. But the better idea here is that what he is saying about them is they were of note among the apostles of the Lord.

When the term apostle is used in the informal sense as a messenger from a church to another church, the article is not used, but the article is found here with apostles. He means the technical apostles, The Twelve. So they were of note, Andronicus and Junias, in the estimation of the apostles.

“Who also were in Christ before me”—they must have become Christians through the ministry of the church in Jerusalem. Therefore, they would have been known by the early apostles and probably of note among those apostles as those marked out for unusual spiritual character.

Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Romans 16:8 NASB

Ampliatus is a slave name because in history we can find it among the slaves ,and slaves did not bear the name of free men or noble men. It was a very common name in the Imperial household of Rome, that is in the household of the Caesar.

In the cemetery at Domitilla, found among the catacombs in Rome, there is a highly decorated tomb with the single name "Ampliatus," written on it. A single name like this implies that the man was a slave, but as the tomb is rather ornate, it indicates that he was a Christian, and highly respected by the leaders in Rome. It must have been a great encouragement to slaves in the early church to know they were valued by their Christian brothers and sisters. Paul calls him “my beloved.” We see this word “beloved” for the second time. This is a loving man, and he has no fear of showing his love.

Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved. Romans 16:9 NASB

Urbanus is another member of the Roman congregation with a slave name. The status of being a fellow-worker in Christ must have given dignity and self-respect to one who Virgil referred to as, “nothing other than a talking tool.” It would seem that Urbanus worked alongside Paul in his missionary endeavors.

Stachys—that is a very unusual Greek name, it means: “ear of corn.” We know nothing of Stachys other than that Paul regarded him with affection. Indeed, Paul describes him as “beloved.”

Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. Romans 16:10 NASB

"Greet Apelles," and I love this, "dokimos in Christ." The term “approved” means: “after being tested or tried the individual is found approved.” It was the same term used for determining the genuineness of gold. If, after testing the metal, it proved to be the real thing, it was stamped with a “Delta” for dokimos or approved. So this brother encountered some kind of trial and came through with a clear testimony of dependence upon the Lord.

Now notice that he doesn't greet Aristobulus, we assume that Aristobulus is not a Christian, not a believer, not in the church. But some of his household was. Aristobulus was the name of Herod the Great’s grandson, the brother of Agrippa and Herod, and friend of Emperor Claudius. Commonly, when someone died and left his servants to another, particularly to the emperor, they would have been known by their original owner’s name. So in this case, the household of Aristobulus would have been the slaves that belonged to Aristobulus, but left to Claudius upon his death. So in the Imperial household you would have those of Aristobulus.

Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord. Romans 16:11 NASB

Here is a Jewish relative of Paul who definitely has some relationship to the family of Herod. Not all of them in Narcissis’ household are in the Lord; greet the ones in the household who are in the Lord. Narcissus again is not identified as a believer, but there were believers in his household.

Barclay says if Aristobulus really is the Aristobulus who is the grandson of Herod, and if Narcissus really is the Narcissus who is Claudius' secretary, then this means that many of the slaves at the Imperial court were already Christians and the leaven of Christianity had reached the highest circles of the Empire.

So already, in the heart of the Roman Empire, a Christian witness had been established, and Paul sends greetings to the slaves and servants in the house of Nero.

Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord. Romans 16:12 NASB

Their names are suggestive that they were probably aristocrats, women who were born to a high class. And yet, even though they did not have to work for a livelihood they worked hard in the service of the Lord. Workers is kopiao, which again means: “ to labor to the point of weariness.” What Paul is saying here may be a little play on words, their names mean: “dainty and delicate,” but they sure work hard for the Lord.

Persis is another female name. In fact, it literally means: “a Persian woman.” In the church at Rome there was a Persian woman who loved Christ.

Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine. Romans 16:13 NASB

Anybody know who Rufus is? Look with me at Mark and I’ll show you:

They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross. Mark 15:21 NASB

Yeshua is on the way to Galgatha, and His cross is becoming very heavy. So the soldiers compelled a man by the name of Simon of Cyrene, North Africa, who was passing by. Here's a guy who comes out of North Africa, comes to visit the city of Jerusalem for the Passover, he happens to be walking along the street, and the next thing he knows he's immortalized as the one who carried the cross of Christ. And Mark tells us that his son is Rufus. He's the son of the man who carried the cross.

Several weeks later at Pentecost, we read there were some Libyans there, men of Cyrene, and there he heard the Apostle Peter preach the Old Testament, and when Peter said, reaching his climax, "God hath made this same Yeshua, both Lord and Christ." And evidently Simon was among them. He had a wife, and had two children. Mark says he was the father of Rufus and Alexander, and it appears that they all became Christians.

Mark's Gospel, orthodox scholarship has believed, was written for Romans. And here we read of a Rufus in the church at Rome. Alexander by tradition was martyred for the sake of Christ. Paul calls Rufus’ mother, his own mother.

Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them. Romans 16:14 NASB

These are five men that we don't know anything about. Paul says, "and the brethren who are with them." This seems to imply that these men had a church in a home.

Phlegon was a name that was often given to dogs in Paul's day. You can see that these are just ordinary people.

Both Origen and Eusebius link Hermes with the early Christian writing, The Shepherd. This identification has been contested by modern scholarship.

Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Romans 16:15 NASB

Philologus means: "a lover of the word," and this was probably a nickname given to him, just as Barnabas was called, "the son of consolation," even though that was not his name. What a great nickname. “And all the saints who are with them”—this must have been another house church. Paul says, “Greet all the rest of these folks, men and women, greet them all.”

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. Romans 16:16 NASB

This was the custom. It's still the custom in the East, in fact it became part of the liturgy of the Eastern church, to greet one another with a holy kiss at a certain point in the celebration of the Lord's Supper.

It is a “holy kiss,” one that is pure in motive, pure in desire, and for the glory of God. In such settings, it is likely that the men kissed one another, and the women kissed one another, lest there be any improper insinuations.

It was a widespread custom outside the church to kiss friends and guests. When Yeshua was invited to dinner by Simon the Pharisee, Simon didn’t kiss Him, but a woman anointed his feet and kissed Him. Yeshua said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet” (Luke 7:45). It was a gracious custom. That’s why it wasn’t strange when Judas greeted Yeshua with a kiss (Luke 22:48). It was a common greeting.

We see from this text that Paul, contrary to what is supposed today, greatly valued women and the significance of their ministry. Within those named in chapter 16, probably seven were women. A special word of commendation was given concerning Phoebe. The mother of Rufus was claimed by Paul as though his own mother (verse 13). Priscilla was highly regarded with her husband. Paul viewed the ministry of women as that which should be greatly appreciated and commended.

Throughout the history of the church, women have maintained a critical place in its growth, development, and ministry. Anna, the prophetess, announced in the temple the advent of the Messiah. The Gospels identify a number of women who faithfully followed Yeshua, supported His earthly ministry, and even attended to Him at His death on the cross.

If Paul were writing a letter to BBC, what would he say about you? Would he call you a servant of the church? Would he call you a helper of many? Would he call you a fellow worker? Would he call you a hard worker of the church? Would he call you approved? If Paul was writing to us, would he have something good to say about your service for Christ?

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