Before coming to the greetings, Paul includes a substantial section about his own ministry and
travel plans. He is wanting to come to Rome on his way to Spain, but only after he has returned to Jerusalem. He has collected a financial offering from the Gentile believers for the poor believers in
Jerusalem. This is to bring practical help, but is also a practical demonstration of the unity between
Gentile and Jewish believers.
Travel plans - Jerusalem, Rome, Spain (15:14 - 33)
Gospel fully proclaimed from Jerusalem to Illyricum (15:14-21)
As the letter draws to a close, he encourages the Roman believers, saying that they are full of goodness and knowledge (v14). They were a people strongly established in their faith, and a testimony
to the world (1:8). However, in this letter, Paul has written rather boldly by way of reminder (v15). As
the apostle to the Gentiles, he has had to address some issues of disunity between the Jewish and Gentile
believers in Rome. He desires that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable (v16), both to God and
to the Jewish believers. The offering can be seen in both spiritual and physical terms, the offering of
Gentiles becoming part of the people of God, and the material collection for the saints in Jerusalem.
Even though boasting was excluded earlier (3:27), Paul does see that he can boast about his work
for God, his ministry to the Gentiles (11:13-14). His overriding desire is to see obedience from the
Gentiles (v18, 1:5, 16:26). By the power of the Spirit, he has proclaimed the Gospel from Jerusalem to
Illyricum (eastern Adriatic). There is no mention of Paul visiting Illyricum in the Book of Acts. This
shows us that Luke has been selective in what he included in Acts. It appears that Paul travelled even
more widely than Luke records, so his missionary journeys included more places than we normally see
on the maps. He must have visited Illyricum during either the second or third missionary journeys.
Strong churches had been established in all the major cities, such as those in Galatia, Ephesus,
Philippi, Thessalonica, Beroea, and Corinth. Paul now sees that his work in this region is finished, and
can leave it to these churches to bring the Gospel to their surrounding areas. His apostolic call is to preach the Gospel where it has not been proclaimed before (v20), so his planned visit to Rome would
merely be a stepping-stone to ministry in new areas in the western Mediterranean.
Desire to come to you and sent on to Spain (15:22-29)
He repeats several of the points he made in his original thanksgiving in chapter one (1:8-15). He
sees that his work for the Gospel in the eastern Mediterranean is completed, and now wants to fulfil his
long-term ambition to come to Rome. As stated before, he desires to enjoy their fellowship, and receive
their support for his planned ministry to Spain and the west. Although he does not say so explicitly, it is likely that he would like Rome to become the sending church for this new phase in his ministry, just as the church in Antioch was before (Acts 13:1). This could explain why he expounded the Gospel message
that he preaches in such detail to the church in Rome.
Before he can come to Rome, he needs to return to Jerusalem. During his third missionary journey he revisited many of the churches that he had established during his first two journeys. He had been making a financial collection for the poor believers in Jerusalem. This was aimed to bring them practical help (v26), but was also a statement of unity in the face of Jewish opposition to Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. Jesus came as the Messiah to the Jews, and now the Gentiles can also enjoy their blessing,
to share the rich root of the olive tree (11:17). Gentiles had received spiritual blessings from the Jews, so it was only right to the share their material blessings with the Jewish believers in Jerusalem
(v27). Paul also wrote about this collection in his two letters to the Corinthians (1 Cor 16:1-4, 2 Cor 8-9). It is most likely that he wrote the letter to the Romans while in Corinth (Acts 20:3). After Corinth, he travelled towards Jerusalem accompanied by representatives from the Gentile churches he had
established in Beroea, Thessalonica, Derbe, Lystra (Timothy), and Asia (probably Ephesus) (Acts 20:4-5).
The presence of this mixed group of Jewish and Gentile believers in Jerusalem would act as a strong
testimony to their unity in Christ. After delivering this collection to Jerusalem, he will be free to come to Rome at last (v28-29).
Join me in earnest prayer on my behalf (15:30-33)
He asks the Roman believers to pray earnestly for him because he knows his return to Jerusalem is contentious and potentially dangerous. His prayer request has three parts (v31-32): The first that God
would rescue him from unbelievers in Jerusalem. All through his ministry, Paul had faced often violent
opposition from Jews, who objected to his ministry to the Gentiles. The second part of the prayer is that
his ministry in Jerusalem would be acceptable to the saints. This could refer to the collection, that the
Jewish believers would accept his gift, as well as embracing its wider purpose of a demonstration of the
unity of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. The third part follows as a consequence of the first two: that he will be able to come to Rome and enjoy their fellowship.
We can ask whether his prayers were answered. They were, but not perhaps in the way he desired or expected. His life was preserved in Jerusalem, even though some Jews made oaths to kill Paul (Acts
23:12), and the chief priests arranged to ambush him (Acts 25:3). Romans soldiers had to arrest him for
his own safety (Acts 21:27-36), and he appealed to the emperor to avoid being tried in a Jewish court
(Acts 25:8-12). We have no idea whether the collection was accepted, as Luke makes no mention of it
in the Book of Acts. We do know he came to Rome, but as a prisoner (Acts 28). However, he was still
able to be effective in ministry for Jesus (Phil 1:12-14).
Whether Paul visited Spain is not certain. Clement, bishop of Rome, says this in his letter to Corinth (AD 96): "After he had been seven times in chains, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, and had preached in the East and in the West, he won the genuine glory for his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world and having reached the farthest limits of the West." (1 Clement 5:6-7). The farthest limits of the West is probably Spain (the Straits of Gibraltar?), but could possibly refer to Britain.
Greetings to Roman Christians (16:1-27)
A note has already been made about the status of chapter 16 in the Introduction to Romans. Paul greatly expands the normal greeting section of the letter to include a long list of people he greets in the church in Rome. He also includes a strong warning against people causing dissensions, greetings from
the people with him in Corinth, and a powerful doxology to conclude the letter.
I commend sister Phoebe, welcome her (16:1-2)
Paul writes a brief introduction to commend Phoebe. Such letters of commendation were common if someone was moving to a strange town; or in the Christian world, visiting a church in another town. Phoebe was a deaconess at the church of Cenchreae, the eastern seaport of Corinth, and was probably the
post-woman, who was carrying the letter to Rome. The Roman church was requested to help her. She is
spoken well of by Paul as a benefactor, or patroness.
Greetings to believers in Rome (16:3-16)
Paul greets twenty-six people by name in the churches in Rome, giving us a fascinating insight
into the composition of the church. The majority of the names are Gentile, but there also a number of
Jews. There was a mixture of slaves and free, as well as a number of people who probably have
connections with the imperial household. Thirteen of all the names mentioned also occur in inscriptions
or documents that have connections with the Emperor's palace in Rome. There is no easy way to
determine whether they are the same people as named here. We know that the church had certainly
penetrated Caesar's household (Phil 1:13, 4:22). He greets nine different women, four of whom are
commended for their labour in the Lord, Mary (v6), Tryphaena and Tryphosa (v12) and Persis (v12). It
is clear that women also had an important part to play in the Lord’s work.
1 & 2. Prisca & Aquila (v3) arrived in Corinth because of the edict by Claudius that Jews should leave Rome (Acts 18:2). Aquila was a Jew (Aquila is a Latin name meaning eagle, so he would also
have had a Jewish name), but it seems that his wife was not. Luke uses the diminutive familiar form Priscilla. When Paul arrived in Corinth, they established a friendship that would continue for many years. They, like Paul, were tent makers. When Paul left Corinth for Ephesus on the second missionary
journey, Priscilla and Aquila travelled with him. He left them there while he visited Jerusalem, during
which time they ministered to Apollos, "... teaching the way of God more accurately" (Acts 18:26).
Around AD 55, Priscilla and Aquila were still in Ephesus where they had a church in their house (1 Cor
16:19). From this passage, it is clear that they were back in Rome, where Paul's describes them as fellow
workers. He says they risked their necks for his life, but we do not know when this happened, the riot in
Ephesus is a possibility. Many Gentiles give thanks for them, and they have a church in their house. By the mid-sixties, they were once again back in Ephesus (2 Tim 4:19).
3. Epaenetus (v5) is otherwise unknown. The fact that he was Paul's first convert in Asia,
probably in Ephesus on the third missionary journey, made him special to Paul.
4. Mary (v6) was a common Jewish name and there is no evidence to relate this to any other Mary in the New Testament. Paul describes her as a hard-working lady, indicating that she had been a believer for
5 & 6. Andronicus and Junia (v7) were probably a husband and wife team, who are both referred to as apostles. They would have been saved soon after (if not at) Pentecost. "My relatives" means
they were Jews. During their ministry they had shared one of Paul's many imprisonments. They had an
outstanding ministry and were well known among those who were called apostles, perhaps being commended by the apostles in Jerusalem. There is a debate over the name Junia. Traditionally it has been translated Junias, a male name, which is otherwise unknown in the Roman world. If it is Junia, then a woman is described by Paul as being prominent among the apostles.
7. Ampliatus (v8) is unknown, other than that he was beloved by Paul. Ampliatus was a common slave name, and often used in the imperial household. In the earliest of the Christian catacombs, there is a decorated tomb with a single name Ampliatus. The single name implies that he was a slave, while the fact that his tomb was decorated shows he was of high rank in the church.
8. Urbanus (v9) is unknown fellow-worker in the church. His name means that he belongs to
the urbs or city, meaning that he is a citizen of Rome.
9. Stachys (v9) An otherwise unknown woman, beloved by Paul. Stachys was an unusual woman’s name, but others of this name have been found in association with the imperial household.
10. Apelles (v10) is a very common Jewish name, meaning approved or tested in Christ. He is otherwise unknown.
11. Those who belong to the family of Aristobulus (v10). Aristobulus may have been one of
the seventy disciples sent out by Jesus. He later preached in Britain and become a bishop, and by tradition is buried in Wales. The family of Aristobulus would either mean his household or a church meeting in his house. There was a grandson of Herod the Great called Aristobulus, brother of Herod Agrippa I. He was a quiet man and did not inherit any of Herod's land, but there is no way of telling whether this was the same individual.
12. Herodian (v11). A Jewish believer in Rome, no more known about him. Described as a
relative of Paul, either meaning a fellow-Jew, or actually a physical relative. His name might indicate
some link with the family of King Herod.
13. The family of Narcissus (v11). It is not known whether this refers to a family or to a
church. It is interesting to note that Paul says to greet those "in the Lord". Perhaps not all of the family of Narcissus were Christians. Narcissus was a common Gentile name. There was a Tiberius Claudius Narcissus who was a secretary to Claudius. He amassed almost £4 million because letters to Claudius passed by him. Nero compelled Narcissus to commit suicide to get his wealth. Paul may be referring to the slaves and servants of this man. If so, then Christianity was well established in Caesar's household.
14 & 15. Tryphaena & Tryphosa (v12) These are both women in Rome who were 'workers'. Their
names mean 'Dainty' and 'Delicate', so they were probably sisters, or even twins, as their names have
the same root. These names have also been found in the imperial household.
16. Persis (v12) was another Gentile woman in Rome who is beloved and worked hard. Her name means 'Persian woman'.
17. Rufus (v13) is a very common name meaning 'Red or red haired'. Simon of Cyrene, who carried
Jesus’ cross, is described as the father of Alexander and Rufus (Mark 15:21). Mark wrote his gospel for
the Roman Christians and mentioned these three people by name perhaps because they were known to
them. His Mother (v13) is otherwise unknown. Paul refers to her as 'his mother', indicating that he must have known her personally some time in the past. Paul had not yet been to Rome but there was a Simeon called Niger (black) in the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1). If this was Simon of Cyrene, then
Paul could well have known the family there and Rufus' mother may have cared for him. They could then
have moved to Rome, and as Simon is not mentioned, it seems that Simon was not alive when Romans were
written, or was elsewhere.
18 & 19. Asyncritus and Phlegon (v14) are also unknown Gentiles.
20. Hermes (v14) was a common slave name, named after Hermes, the god of good luck.
21. Patrobas (v14), an abbreviation of Patrobius, a name of a wealthy freedman of Nero.
22. Hermas (v14) was a very common name. Jerome identifies him as the same Hermas who later wrote The Shepherd of Hermas, a popular Christian allegory: "Hermas whom the apostle Paul mentions in writing to the Romans "Salute Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren that are with them" is reputed to be the author of the book which is called Pastor and which is also read publicly in some churches of Greece. It is in fact a useful book and many of the ancient writers quote from it as authority, but among the Latins it is almost unknown." (Lives of Illustrious Men 10). All five names in v14 are Greek. The brethren with them could be the elders of one of the Gentile fellowships in Rome.
23 & 24. Philologus and Julia (v15) are otherwise unknown, and are probably a married couple.
25. Nereus (v15). Nothing else is known about him. However, In AD 95 two of the most distinguished people in the city were condemned for being Christians, Flavus Clemens and his wife Domatilla. Nereus was the name of the chamberlain, who was probably a slave, who perhaps had led them to
Christ. The father of Flavius Clemens was Flavius Sabinus, who was Nero's executioner. Nothing else is
known about his unnamed sister (v15).
26. Olympas (v15) nothing else known about him. Philologus, Julia, Nereus, his sister, and Olympus were probably members of the same family: father, mother, two sons and a daughter, or otherwise leaders of the church. The saints with them (v15) would be a church that met in their house or under their leadership.
Warning about those causing dissensions (16:17-20)
Between all the greetings comes a strong warning against those who are causing dissensions. Paul
urges the believers to be vigilant, to protect the Gospel from falsehood and the community of believers
from disunity. He describes the false teachers as greedy (as Phil 3:19), flatterers and deceivers. It is often possible to identify false teachers by their attitude towards physical possessions. He calls the
believers to discernment: to be wise in what is good, and guileless in what is evil.
Greetings from Paul’s friends (16:21-23)
These are the people with Paul in Corinth, who are sending greetings to the believers in Rome.
The first four are all Jews (v21), the others are Gentiles.
1. Timothy (v21), Paul’s loyal co-worker, was also with Paul in Corinth when he wrote
2. Lucius (v21). A man named Lucius was one of those praying with Paul and Barnabas when
they were set apart for the first missionary journey (Acts 13:1). This may be the same man. If so he is
from Cyrene in Libya, North Africa.
3. Jason (v21) is unknown, unless he is the same Jason who was host to Paul in Thessalonica
(Acts 15:5-9). He house was attacked and he was dragged before city authorities. He could well have
been with Paul in Corinth.
4. Sosipater (v21) may be the Sopater of Beroea (Acts 20:4), who was with Paul on his return
to Jerusalem at the end of the third missionary journey.
5. Tertius (v22) was Paul's scribe in Corinth, and wrote his greeting himself.
6. Gaius (v23) is a name mentioned in several places in the New Testament (Acts 19:29, 20:4,
3 John 1), but these are unlikely all to be the same person. Paul baptized a man named Gaius in Corinth (1 Cor 1:14), one of the few people who was baptized by Paul, who is likely to be the same man. He was Paul's host in Corinth when this letter was written. He was also host to the whole church, meaning
either that Gaius was leader, or that it met at his house.
7. Erastus (v23) was the City Treasurer of Corinth, a prominent civic position. A Latin inscription on a paving block was found in Corinth in 1929, saying, "Erastus, in return for his aedileship (appointment as commissioner for public works) laid this pavement at his own expense".
8. Quartus (v23) is an otherwise unknown believer in Corinth. Quartus (meaning fourth) may
have been the younger brother of the writer of the letter, Tertius (meaning third) (v22), indicating that
these were both born as slaves. How dehumanising to name your children first, second, third and fourth!
Doxology: To God who can strengthen you (16:25-27)
Some manuscripts have an extra verse (v24) here: "The grace or our Lord Jesus Christ be with
you. Amen". The book finishes with a powerful doxology, which is missing in some manuscripts. In his
praise for God, Paul restates much of which is declared in the introduction (1:1-6). Again he mentions the revelation of the mystery which was hidden in ancient times, but is now made known through the Gospel, particularly to the Gentiles, the aim of which is to bring about, "the obedience of faith"(as 1:5, 15:18).