Commentary on Romans 16:3-16

Notes (NET Translation)

Paul does not directly greet his friends, coworkers, and kinsmen (“compatriots”). The dominantly Gentile audience is to greet them for him. Many of those mentioned by name in this chapter may have been Jewish Christians who were exiled from Rome by Emperor Claudius and who have now returned to Rome. By having the Gentile Christians greet the Jewish Christians, Paul may be employing a rhetorical strategy to effect reconciliation or unity among the two groups.

The verb aspazomai (“greet”), used throughout this passage, does not refer to a perfunctory greeting. It literally means to embrace someone. The Roman Christians are to welcome the named like family members.

3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their own necks for my life. Not only I, but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. 5a Also greet the church in their house.

Paul does not call Christians in general coworkers (synergos, cf. Rom 16:9 [Urbanus], 21 [Timothy]; 1 Cor 3:9 [Apollos]; 2 Cor 8:23 [Titus]; 1 Thess 3:2 [Timothy]; Phil 2:25 [Epaphroditus]; 4:3 [Clement]; Col 4:11 [Jesus and Justus]; Phlm 1 [Philemon]; 24 [Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke]). In 1 Cor 16:16-18 he urges the congregation to be subject to his coworkers, indicating the term refers to a leadership position. Hence, Prisca and Aquila held a leadership position. We are not told when or how the couple risked their lives for Paul’s life. Perhaps they did so during the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:21-41; cf. 1 Cor 15:32; 2 Cor 1:8-11). We are also not told why all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. Is it because they saved Paul’s life and Paul went on to be a blessing to all the churches of the Gentiles? Is it because they opened their homes to churches in Corinth (Acts 18:2-3; 1 Cor 16:19-20), Ephesus (Acts 18:19; 2 Tim 4:19), and Rome (Rom 16:5)? Was it because of their own missionary activity?

5b Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.

The Greek text literally says Epenetus was the “firstfruits of Asia for Christ”. It means he was one of the first converts but not necessarily the first.

Whether Epenetus was one of Paul’s converts is not certain. Paul wanted to preach in the province of Asia at the beginning of his second missionary journey but was ‘kept by the Holy Spirit’ from doing so (Acts 16:6). On his way back to Antioch at the close of his second missionary journey he spent just a brief time in Ephesus, where he reasoned with Jews in the synagogue, but then departed, promising to return to Ephesus if it was God’s will (Acts 18:19-21). It was only on his third missionary journey that Paul spent an extended period of time in Ephesus, during which ‘all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord’ (Acts 19:10, 22). Whether Epenetus was one of these we do not know.1

6 Greet Mary, who has worked very hard for you.

This Mary (literally Maria) cannot be identified with any of the other Marys in the NT. We don’t know what kind of work Mary did. The verb kopiao (to work hard) is only used of women in this passage. Perhaps women in general had more time to devote to Christian service than men did. Regardless, it shows that women were prominent in the early Christian movement.

7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my compatriots and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.

Ancient Greek manuscripts were written in an uncial script (capital letters) without accents. The Greek name Iounian, when accented with an acute on the “i”, is a feminine form denoting a woman named “Junia” and, when accented with a circumflex on the “a”, is a masculine form denoting a man named “Junias” (possibly a shortened form of Junianus). The choice of accents was made much later than when Paul wrote. Was Paul referring to a man (Junias) or a woman (Junia) in this verse?

Those who believe Paul refers to a man named Junias think it is unlikely a woman would be among those called apostles. However, the arguments that Paul refers to a woman named Junia are decisive. First, the standard way Latin names were translated into Greek names makes it extremely unlikely a male Latin name is intended. Second, the “female Latin name Junia occurs more than 250 times in Greek and Latin inscriptions found in Rome alone, whereas the male name Junias is unattested anywhere”.2 Third, when Greek manuscripts began to be accented, scribes wrote the feminine Junia. Fourth, all extant commentators up to 13th century understood Junia to be a woman.

Andronicus and Junia are Paul’s compatriots or kinspeople (i.e., Jews). It is not clear whether Andronicus and Junia were in prison with Paul or whether they were imprisoned for their faith on a separate occasion. It “is hardly likely that a woman would be incarcerated in Paul’s world without having made some significant public remark or action. Junia said or did something that led to a judicial action.”3

The couple was well known in the sense of being notable. It is debated whether the couple was well known “to the apostles” or “among the apostles”. If they were well known among the apostles then they were apostles themselves. Linda Belleville studied Greek and Latin databases and concludes there is no reasonable doubt that “well known among the apostles” is the correct interpretation. The Church Fathers understood the couple to be notable among the apostles. Per Schreiner, this is the consensus view of scholars today. The couple are apostles and noteworthy within the apostolic circle.

Paul uses the term “apostle” broadly (1 Cor 15:5-7; Gal 1:19; 1 Thess 2:7 [with 1:1]). While one might be called an “apostle” to a local church (2 Cor 8:23; Phil 2:25) that does not seem to be the use here. The couple were probably itinerant evangelists/missionaries (cf. Did. 11:3-6; Herm. Vis. 13.1; Sim. 92.4; 93.5; 102.2). It is likely that Junia evangelized other women because women’s areas could be inaccessible to men.

The couple was “in Christ” before Paul, meaning they were converted before Paul. The early date of their conversion suggests they are Jewish Christians.

8 Greet Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord.

The name Ampliatus was a slave name meaning “ample” during the Augustian period so this individual may have been a slave or freedman. He may be the Ampliatus referred to in a catacomb inscription.

9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my good friend Stachys.

Urbanus means “refined, cultivated, ingenious”. On the one hand, Jewett says Urbanus was usually a slave name. On the other hand, Witherington III says the name “Urbanus does not suggest a person who was a slave or a freedman.”4

10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus.

Apelles’s status as a Christian was in some way tested and approved. He manifested a strength of character that was notable and commendable. Since Aristobulus himself is not greeted he probably was not a Christian.

The name Aristobolus occurs only twice in all the many Roman inscriptions, which suggests that this Aristobolus was from the east. It has been conjectured he was a member of the Herodian family. We know of an Aristobolus who was the grandson of Herod the Great and brother of Herod Agrippa I. According to Josephus, Aristobolus went to Rome with Agrippa I in the forties when Agrippa was taken hostage, and then Aristobolus maintained a low profile in Rome, never holding public office (Antiquities 18.273-76; Wars 2.221). If this is the Aristobolus mentioned here (and the name is quite rare), he brought his slaves with him from the east, and probably he and his household were Jewish or affiliated with the synagogue before some of them became Christians. The juxtaposition of Aristobolus with Herodion (v. 11), who is said to be a kinsman of Paul, has set this train of thinking in motion.5

11 Greet Herodion, my compatriot. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.

Herodion was certainly a Jew, probably a freedman of the Herodian family, for freedmen took their owners’ names in some form. Narcissus may be another famous name. Again, the householder is not a Christian, but there are Christians in his home. A freedman named Narcissus came to prominence as a close aide of Claudius and had a household in Rome in the early fifties (Juvenal, Satirae 14.329-31). His household likely became absorbed into Nero’s once Claudius fell in A.D. 54, and he himself was a victim of Agrippina’s wrath (Tacitus, Annales 13.1).6

Some scholars think that the “household of Narcissus” (16:11) refers to those attached to the powerful and wealthy imperial freedman Narcissus. The period and location do fit, though in the vast city of Rome it is not surprising that there were other freedpersons and slaveholders with this name.7

12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, laborers in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord.

Tryphena and Tryphosa are two women (sisters?) with slave names meaning “dainty” and “delicate”, respectively. Persis is a popular female slave name for slaves originating in Persia. Since these three women had time to work for the Lord they may have been freedwomen.

13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother who was also a mother to me.

This Rufus may be the son of Simon of Cyrene mentioned in Mark 15:21 (“The soldiers forced a passerby to carry his cross, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country (he was the father of Alexander and Rufus)”). This is all the more probable if Mark was written in Rome. “Since Diaspora Jewish believers were scattered from Jerusalem, and many Cyrenian ones settled in Antioch (Acts 8:4; 11:20), Paul could have known the family there.”8 Was Rufus “chosen” for a special task, was he eminent among believers, or does Paul merely mean he was chosen for salvation (as all Christians are)? In what way Rufus’s mother was also a mother to Paul is not known but it probably involved some kind of hospitality or care for Paul.

14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters with them.

These five names are all male names. Asyncritus means “incomparable”. Hermas should not be confused with the author of the Shepherd of Hermas from the mid-second century.

15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the believers who are with them.

Julia is the only female name in this verse. Presumably she was the wife of Philologus (or possibly his sister). Nereus was a Greek name normally given to slaves so he was probably a slave or freedman with an origin outside Rome.

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

In antiquity kissing was employed for greeting relatives or close friends. The “holy kiss” was a regular greeting among early Christians (1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Thess 5:26; 1 Pet 5:14; Justin, Apology 165).

Paul concludes this section by sending greetings from “all the churches of Christ” (αἱ ἐκκλησίαι πᾶσαι τοῦ Χριστοῦ, hai ekklēsiai pasai tou Christou). The reference is likely to all the churches over which Paul had jurisdiction. By sending greetings from all these churches Paul conveys to the Romans the universality of his gospel. His gospel has taken root over the whole world, and he invites the Romans to be part of his mission. Moreover, the greetings indicate that Paul’s gospel “has the official backing of all the churches in Achaia, Macedonia, Asia, Galatia, Syria, and elsewhere in the eastern part of the empire”.9

Comment

Note that nine of the twenty-six people greeted in vv. 3-15 are women (and don’t forget Phoebe from vv. 1-2). Moreover, more of them are commended for their labor in the Lord than men (6 or 7 women vs. 3 or 5 men). They clearly shared with men in Christian ministry.

We have created many problems for ourselves by confining “ministry” to what certain full-time Christian workers do. But it is important that we not overinterpret this evidence either. For nothing Paul says in this passage (even in v. 7) conflicts with limitations on some kinds of women’s ministry with respect to men such as I think are suggested by 1 Tim. 2:8-15 and other texts.10

This chapter also indicates that Paul had many coworkers helping him in his ministry. He was not a lone ranger.

By greeting so many in Rome Paul has cited many prominent believers who are supporters of the gospel he has explicated in chapters 1-15. The Pauline gospel cannot be individualistically confined to Paul. It has preceded him to Rome through the witnesses named in this chapter. It is because of the people named here that Paul is confident (see 15:14-15) that the Romans already understand his gospel, are able to instruct one another in its contents, and only need reminders to stimulate them. By sending his greetings to well-known and respected members of the Roman churches Paul is also indirectly commending his gospel, for the persons named are in harmony with his teaching.11

The rhetorical effect of this list is severalfold: (1) These are not persons the Gentile majority in Rome can afford to ignore, dismiss, minimize, or treat in a condescending fashion. They are important Christians in Rome and are to be fully welcomed, supported, and bonded with in fellowship and mission. (2) This list establishes that Paul himself already has quite a social network established in Rome among these people. Thus Paul himself and his special emissary Phoebe must be received. Paul’s authority and teaching cannot be ignored or dismissed. (3) The rhetorical function of many of the special descriptions appended to the names of some sixteen of these persons is to make clear that these are devout hardworking Christians, in whose debt the Roman Christians are, whether they know it or not. (4) It is no accident that only here in Romans do we have the global greeting from “all the assemblies of Christ” in the east (v. 16). Paul is finished with his work there, and the effect of this remark is that the eyes and thoughts of these churches are now all turning toward Rome as Paul plans to go there. The Roman church is part of a much larger entity, and its members have certain responsibilities toward the churches in the east. This is why Paul enlists the Roman Christians to pray as he goes to Jerusalem with the collection. This chapter comports with the larger rhetorical agendas of this letter and brings them to a remarkable and practical conclusion.12

Bibliography

Keener, Craig S. Romans. New Covenant Commentary 6. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2009.

Kruse, Colin G. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.

Metzger, Bruce M., ed. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Second Edition. Hendrickson Pub, 2005.

Moo, Douglas J. The Epistle to the Romans. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Myers Jr., Charles D. “Epistle to the Romans.” Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992. 5.828-829.

Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans. Kindle Edition. Baker Academic, 1998.

Witherington III, Ben, and Darlene Hyatt. Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Kindle Edition. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004.


  1. Kruse 2014, 561 
  2. Metzger 2005, 475 
  3. Witherington III, 390 
  4. Witherington III 2004, 393 
  5. Witherington III 2004, 393-394 
  6. Witherington III 2004, 394 
  7. Keener 2009, 188 
  8. Keener 2009, 188 
  9. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 15429-15435 
  10. Moo 1996, 927 
  11. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 15318-15324 
  12. Witherington III 2004, 381-382 
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