William Kelly Major Works Commentary
I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea:Romans Chapter 16
Apostolic salutations follow. Not that the apostle had been to Rome, still less had he wrought there, but this the more illustrates the principle. There are such links of labour, and a special tie with the saints to which one is blessed of God. But the divine bond of love is both deeper and larger than that which is ordinarily recognized by christian men. Love is of God and goes out to all who are of God, yea, beyond them, in the overflowing of divine grace that seeks to save the lost. Besides, the apostle fully realizes his relationship as to the letting out of his heart among Gentiles, and so, as writing to the Christians in this city, the metropolis of the world, the wisdom of God had taken care that, boastful as it was, and far more boastful as it was going to be when the church utterly sunk into the world's ways and desires and ignorance of God, they should not truly boast of an apostolic foundation. The message of grace in redemption was carried to Rome, but it would seem rather by indirect means than by the express visit of any among the more known labourers of the Lord, still less by an apostle. That it was founded or governed by Peter is a mere fable, resting on no evidence save of fathers, whose statement as to facts in those early days is egregiously unreliable, and openly at variance with the inspired record. Peter was apostle of the circumcision, whether in Palestine or out of it, and where we do hear of his work outside, it is with the believers from among the Jews, according to the arrangement agreed on (doubtless by the Spirit of God) with the apostle Paul who had the apostolate of the uncircumcision; and this very epistle gives unquestionable evidence that Paul had not as yet visited Rome, though he fully recognizes the saints already there. It is possible those who first carried the gospel thither may have been the Romans sojourning in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:10.) Certainly there were then dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, pious men, from every nation of those under heaven, and one cannot doubt that their visits or return or even communications to their own lands would help to spread the gospel far and wide.
However this may be, the apostle goes into remarkable detail in his salutations to those at Rome. "Now I commend to you Phoebe our sister, being minister* of the assembly that is in Cenchreae, that ye may receive her in [the] Lord, worthily of the saints, and assist her in whatever matter she hath need of you; for she also hath been a helper of many and of myself." (Ver. 1, 2.) We know from elsewhere that elderly females, especially widows, held a position official or quasi-official in which they rendered service to the assembly where they lived. A deaconess such as Phoebe was distinct from these widows; but the one illustrates the other: the value of this would be specially felt of old before Christianity had vindicated the place of women, and this too, particularly in the east as well as in dissolute Greece. Indeed at all times and in all places there are functions to be discharged from time to time more fittingly by a godly female rather than by any man, however pure-minded or elderly. Phoebe was one of these in the assembly of the port of Corinth - Cenchreae. As she had thus been honoured of the Lord and recognized by His chief servants in the ordinary circle of her christian duty, so the apostle now introduces her thus to the saints at Rome that they might receive her in a becoming sort, and this, not merely in spiritual things but in whatever business she might need their help, for she too, as be affectionately adds, had been a helper of many and of himself.
*It may be interesting to some to hear that Pliny, in his letter to the emperor Trajan, speaks of two maids who were ministers of the church, using the Latin term exactly corresponding to the Greek of the apostle.
"Salute Prisca* and Aquila my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus (which [οἵτινες†] for my life staked their own neck, to whom [οἷς†] not, I only give thanks, but also all the assemblies of the Gentiles), and the assembly at their house." (Ver. 3-5.) Here the apostle stamps them as his fellow-workers in Christ Jesus, the more carefully because Aquila and he had wrought in the same trade of tent-makers; but the natural occupation disappears, however rightly noticed in its own place. Grace acknowledges this converted godly Jew and his wife, not only as workers in Christ Jesus, but as fellow-workers with the apostle. Nor this alone: they had for his life risked their own neck, and thus earned the thankfulness not of himself only, but of all the assemblies of the Gentiles too. Further, he salutes the assembly also in their house. The trade of tent-maker, if pursued at Rome, would naturally furnish him with a large room, where not a few might assemble. We know that for a considerable time after this Christians were in the habit of so meeting, as is shown for example in the answer of Justin M. to the prefect Rusticus.
*Such seems the best reading here, 1 Corinthians 16:19, and in 2 Timothy 4:19. In Acts 18:2; Act 18:18; Act 18:26, it is rather Priscilla, the diminutive form, but the same name.
†The reader will notice, as has been often done, the difference of character and fact in verse 4, and also 7.
"Salute Epaenetus, my beloved, who is [the] firstfruits of Asia for Christ." Achaia in the received text is wrong. The household of Stephanus were the first-fruits there, as we know from 1 Corinthians 16:16. The apostle could not say that Epaenetus devoted himself in an orderly way to the service of the saints like the Achaian household; but at any rate he is not without honour in the Lord nor without the apostle's special affection.
"Salute Maria" (or Mary; the reading differs), "who laboured much for you." (Ver. 6.) It seems a question whether it be not us. Much as the apostle might value this, his loving heart delighted in her abundant labour for them.
"Salute Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and fellow captives which [οἵτινες] are of note among the apostles, who [οἵ] also were before me in Christ." (Ver. 7.) We see how the apostle delights in noticing every distinctive form of service, relation, or fellowship.
"Salute Amplias,* my beloved in [the] Lord. Salute Urban, our fellow-workman in Christ; and Stachys, my beloved." (Ver. 8, 9.) The reader will notice the shades of difference which love marks; for being unselfish it can see clearly, and promotes love and honour among the saints, being above the unworthy pettiness which disparages what we may not have ourselves or like not others to have.
*The Sinaitic, Alexandrian, Vatican and others read Ἀμπλιᾶτον. A similar remark applies to this probably as to Prisca and Priscilla.
"Salute Apelles,† the approved in Christ. Salute those that belong to Aristobulus. Salute Herodion my kinsman. Salute those belonging to Narcissus that are in [the] Lord." (Ver. 10, 11.) Still do we find love, but it is discriminating no less than unfeigned. He who had stood trial for Christ is mentioned with honour; but the kinsman of Paul is not forgotten. He would conciliate his brethren after the flesh by thus naming one who was a Christian. Nor are certain great names without witnesses for Christ, even if Narcissus be not the famous freedman of Claudius executed some few years before the epistle was written. (Suet. Claud. 28; Tac. Ann. xiii. l.)
† Origen suggests, without the smallest reason save the similarity of the name and the distinction attached to it, that this may have been Apollos! I think it right to name such facts that the reader may know the guesswork of these ecclesiastical writers even as early as the third century.
"Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, that laboured in [the] Lord, Salute Persis the beloved, which (ἥτις) laboured much in [the] Lord. Salute Rufus, the elect in [the] Lord, and his mother and mine." (Ver. 12, 13.) Those christian sisters are here graciously named, but with due meed, those as labouring, this as having laboured much in the Lord: the two former as at present in the work; the latter for her past and great service. Christ opens the heart and mouth in the fullest recognition of work for His name; but He purges our dim eyes also. Nor had He forgotten Simon the passing Cyrenian, who, as he came from the field, was compelled to carry the cross by the mob of soldiers and others as they led Jesus out to His crucifixion. The Lord repaid with interest the burden of that day. Compare Mark 15:21. Rufus is here before us "the elect in [the] Lord," and his mother who had been as such to the apostle. Salvation came to that house.
"Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brethren with them. Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints with them." (Ver. 14, 15.) The names of these Christians follow without specific notice, and among them one to whom many have attributed the allegory of the "Shepherd," read in the assemblies of the third and fourth centuries. But Origen and Eusebius err in their identification; for Hermas the author wrote about a century after the Epistle to the Romans was written, his brother Pius being then bishop of Rome.
"Salute one another with an holy kiss; all the assemblies of Christ greet you." (Ver. 16.) The Roman saints were enjoined to manifest mutual love in the Lord; and the apostle sends greeting from all* the assemblies of Christ. Who knew their minds and hearts better? He who wrought and wrote by Paul; He would keep the saints in the interchange of true and warm but holy affection in His grace.
*Copyists seem to have regarded the apostle's word as overstrong; and have tried to soften by omitting πᾶσαι "all." But he could speak from a large sphere without hesitation.
It is not all, however, the joy of love in these concluding messages of the apostle. The largeness of his heart had delighted to take note of whatsoever things were true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report; if there was any virtue, if there was any praise, he thought on these things in writing to the saints at Rome, and inscribed a memorial of Christ on each name which came before his spirit. But there were other things very different, men of a temper and state diverse from those and wholly opposed to Christ. It needed, however, the power of the Spirit to detect these in their beginnings, and to descry both the character and the end of all such ways. For I cannot accept the notion of Olshausen, that the persons, against whom the apostle warns the saints in Rome, had not yet made their appearance there. The circumstance that it is only at the end of the epistle that we find a short admonition against divisions couched in general language, so far from being decisive, is no evidence at all that the persons in question did not actually exist at Rome. Such is not the way of the Spirit of God. He may speak prophetically, but He starts from an actual ground-work of hostility to the Lord and of danger to the saints. Naturally the evil would develop itself worse and worse, but in the epistles especially, as in scripture generally, there was moral mischief before His eyes at that time, which awakened His care for the saints, as to which He gives them admonition.
"But I beseech you, brethren, to consider those that make the* divisions and the* stumbling-blocks contrary to the doctrine which ye have learnt, and turn away from them; for such serve not our Lord Christ but their own belly, and by their plausibility and fair-speaking deceive the hearts of the guileless. For your obedience has reached unto all: as regards you therefore I rejoice, but I wish you to be wise unto the good and simple unto the evil. And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with you." (Ver. 17-20.)
*The actuality of the mischief at work in Rome would seem to be confirmed by the article in this place. Had it been merely characteristic tendency or a possible contingency not yet arrived, I think that the construction would have been anarthrous.
Insubjection of spirit is a dangerous thing among those who teach in public or in private, and quite as much in private only as in public. It is truth severed from Christ and that consciousness of divine authority and of dependence on grace which we all need to keep us right, most of all perhaps those who teach. Few men are in such danger of mental activity in divine things; and this not merely because of self-importance on their own part, but from the desire to satisfy the craving for what is new among the saints themselves. The excitement of novelty is apt to carry away the natural mind, especially among the weak, to the hurt of all, both teachers and taught. Divine revelation, not human thoughts about it, alone secures the glory of Christ and the well-being of souls. As the Holy Spirit wrote it to this end, so He alone can make it good in practice. Mental activity gathers round its own source and forms a school; truth wielded by the Spirit judges the flesh in its most specious form, nourishes the new man, and builds up the body of Christ to God's glory.
The brethren then are besought to beware of such as made these divisions and stumbling-blocks. What they had already learnt would serve as a test for these piquant statements which pampered nature under the show of utterly condemning it. Even asceticism is not the denial of self, still less is it Christ. The seemingly opposite snare of doing good in the world on a grand scale by the truth is yet more evidently apart from the cross and contrary to it. Whatever be the shape of contrariety to the doctrine we have been taught, the duty of saints is to turn away; for they that are such are slaves not to our Lord Christ, but to their own belly: so contemptuously does the Holy Spirit characterize their work, let it be ever so refined in appearance, let it ever so loudly boast of its own superior spirituality. But not he who commendeth himself, but whom the Lord commendeth. Still the hearts of the guileless are in danger of being deceived by the plausibility and fair-speaking of these makers of parties, and are warned accordingly. For the spirit of obedience which those teachers lacked exposed them with the taught if not accompanied with vigilance; I say not suspiciousness, for this is an unmitigated evil and the fruit of a corrupt heart, not the holy action of faith, jealous for the glory of the Lord and the good of saints.
If therefore those at Rome were conspicuous for their obedience, it was only a reason for the apostle not to weaken that which was truly of God, but to guard it by what is equally so. "As regards (or, over) you I rejoice; but I wish you to be wise as to the good and simple as to the evil." Such is the divine remedy, even as our Lord Himself put it figuratively in Matthew 10:16; combining the prudence of the serpent with the harmlessness (or simplicity, it is the same word) of the dove. Human wisdom seeks to guard itself by a thorough knowledge of the world and of all evil ways. This is not the wisdom that cometh down from above, but earthly, natural, devilish. The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, yielding, full of mercy and good fruits, uncontentious and unfeigned. It needs not to cultivate acquaintance with evil; it knows good in Christ, it is satisfied and adores. It hears and loves the shepherd's voice; a stranger's voice it knows not, and will not follow. And this, as it suits the simplest soul brought to the knowledge of God, it may be today, so it alone becomes the wisest, because it alone glorifies the Lord, as indeed it is the only path of safety for us, being such as we are and in such a world. For in it evil as yet has the upper hand, though the believer has the secret of victory over it, already vanquished in the cross of Christ. Still nothing as yet appears of that victory as a whole, whatever be the testimony of faith, at that time too not without external signs to unbelief; but in the midst of the conflict the heart is comforted and cheered, for the God of peace shall bruise Satan under our feet shortly. The first revelation of grace may to our impatience seem to linger, but faith can rest upon the word "shortly." Faithful is He who hath called us, and spoken it, who also will do it. This draws out afresh the prayer of the apostle, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you:" they needed it, and so do we.
The apostle then sends the salutations of others around him.
"There saluteth you Timothy my work-fellow, and Lucius and Jason and Sosipater my kinsmen." (Ver. 21.) Faith wrought at all times the first link with God for a soul outside of this fallen world, and this is brought into greater simplicity and strength than ever by the gospel. But the gospel produces a fellowship of heart, little if at all known before it. Hence the place and moment of these mutual salutations.
"I Tertius, who wrote the epistle, salute you in [the] Lord." (Ver. 22.) The epistle to the Romans was not, like that to the Galatians, written by the apostle's own hand, but dictated to an amanuensis, as indeed was the ordinary practice of Paul. (Cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:17.) Love however gave him who wrote it down a place for christian greeting.
"There saluteth you Gaius, the host of me and the whole church. There saluteth you Erastus the steward of the city, and Quartus the brother. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with you all. Amen." In Gaius we see how Christ becomes the spring of large and holy hospitality. Erastus is the witness that conscience is not forced or hurried; not only was he the steward of the city, but he is expressly so described in scripture. Such a position in heathen times especially would expose him who held it to difficulties and dangers. But christian conduct should ever flow from the intelligent sense of our relationship to God and of the claims of His truth and grace. In order to this, room must be left for growth and the exercise of right and godly feeling. Quartus has his place in scripture as "the brother," traditionally, of course, one of the seventy, as most of the unknown names here are fabled to have been, and afterwards bishop of Berytus. These salutations too the apostle seals with the same benediction and, if possible, more fervently, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."
Even so he cannot close this most comprehensive epistle without a burst of adoration, which serves the important purpose of linking on this unfolding of the gospel in its simplest elements, its practical results, its connection with the dispensations of God, and the duties consequent upon its reception, with the revelation of the mystery given in some of his later epistles, especially to the Ephesians and Colossians.
"Now to him that is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ according to [the] revelation of [the] mystery kept in silence in times of the ages but now manifested and by prophetic scriptures according to commandment of the everlasting God made known for obedience of faith unto all the Gentiles, to God only wise, through Jesus Christ, to whom [be] the glory unto the ages of the ages (or, for ever), Amen." (Ver. 25-27.)
To the Roman saints the apostle does not develop the mystery. The gospel of the glory of Christ he proclaims to others. (2 Cor. 4.) Each aspect has its appropriate application. The heavenly side is not for all the most wholesome. Here they had a more primary and fundamental need, and this he has here supplied by unfolding to their souls the bearing of Christ's death and resurrection on their wants, first as sinners, then as saints. But the heavenly privileges of the Church are only alluded to, not set out. There is a season for everything, and the highest truth is not always the most important for the exigencies of souls. To the Ephesians he could disclose all the heavenly privileges of the body of Christ. To the Colossians, just because they were in danger of turning aside for philosophy and earthly ordinances of a religious character (for both snares were laid for their feet), he could and did bring out the glory of Christ as the head of the church, and indeed His divine fulness in all respects, but it was meat in due season to feed the Roman saints rather on Christ dead and risen. However, here at the close, he alludes to a mystery as to which silence had been kept in the course of ages, but now manifested and by means of prophetic scriptures made known unto all the Gentiles in order to obedience of faith. Carefully remark that the true word and thought is "prophetic scriptures," that is, not "the scriptures of the prophets" or Old Testament, but those of the New Testament, for we are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Paul's writings, for instance, are prophetic scriptures, and in some of these the mystery of Christ and the church is fully made known, not merely touched on as in Romans 12:5. This is according to commandment of the everlasting God; for the mystery, if the last in revelation, is first in purpose. Between them lay the times of the ages during which creature responsibility was fully tested and proved wanting; then, grounded upon the cross of Christ, exalted to heaven, is revealed the mystery, and this is during the days, not of the law given by Moses, but of gospel mission to all the Gentiles for obedience of faith, wherein God proves Himself alone wise, no less than good, through Christ Jesus, to whom be the glory for ever. Amen.
The temporal ways of God were bound up with Israel and the earth. The mystery attaches to heaven and eternity, though the message of it is sent out to all the nations.
That ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you: for she hath been a succourer of many, and of myself also.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus:
Who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.
Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my wellbeloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.
Greet Mary, who bestowed much labour on us.
Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellowprisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
Greet Amplias my beloved in the Lord.
Salute Urbane, our helper in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.
Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus' household.
Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord.
Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labour in the Lord. Salute the beloved Persis, which laboured much in the Lord.
Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them.
Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.
Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.
And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
Timotheus my workfellow, and Lucius, and Jason, and Sosipater, my kinsmen, salute you.
I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord.
Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, saluteth you. Erastus the chamberlain of the city saluteth you, and Quartus a brother.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began,
But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith:
To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen.