Commentary on Romans 16:17-20

Notes (NET Translation)

17 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles contrary to the teaching that you learned. Avoid them!

It is not clear whether Paul had in mind specific individuals causing dissensions or whether he was giving a general warning about the kind of thing the Roman believers might encounter. Regardless, this is a warning against false teaching.

Commentators often observe that the teaching in view cannot be restricted to Paul’s gospel since he had not yet been in Rome. Strictly speaking such an observation is appropriate. But Paul has labored to demonstrate in this letter that his gospel is “the gospel,” for his teaching is simply a reminder of what they already know and treasure (Rom. 15:14-15). Thus a departure from the Pauline teaching is a departure from the very tradition vouchsafed to the Romans when they believed. Paul did not believe that he was introducing novel doctrines to the Roman community. His gospel was in accord with the teaching they received at the inception of their Christian experience.1

Avoiding dissenters does not violate Jesus’ teaching (Matt. 5:44) about loving one’s enemies or his call to desist from judging others (Matt. 7:1), as Stuhlmacher alleges. Paul warns the Romans about these adverse influences because he loves Roman believers! They need to avoid negative influences so that they will not be corrupted (cf. 1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9) and experience eschatological judgment. Moreover, we see elsewhere that Paul’s motivation in censuring others is that they will repent and be saved (cf. 1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim. 1:20). As Cranfield observes, one may keep away from the deleterious influence of a false teacher “without hardening one’s heart against him.” Jesus himself used strong words to denounce opponents while weeping over the obstinacy of Jerusalem (Matt. 23). Stern words of warning are not incompatible with a heart of love and compassion. Nor should Jesus’ words about not judging others (Matt. 7:1-6) be overinterpreted. Believers should not condemn others and think that they are superior, for they should always remember the log in their own eyes. Yet once they take the log out of their eye, they will see clearly enough to help others with their “specks,” and they will have enough discernment not to give what is holy to unbelievers.2

18 For these are the kind who do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By their smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of the naive.

The reference to Christ suggests the opponents Paul has in mind viewed themselves as Christians. Paul views them as interested in their own pleasure.

That such contentious persons who hurt others’ faith were “slaves not of Christ but of their own bellies” (16:18) recalls Paul’s earlier teaching about being slaves of God rather than sin (6:6, 16-22; 7:6; 12:11; 14:18) and comments on passions and desires (1:24, 26; 6:12; 7:5, 7-8; 13:14).3

It has been suggested that those Paul had in mind here in 16:17-18 were a few of the ‘strong’ who were causing trouble for the ‘weak’, but this is unlikely since what he says here is quite different from the way he handled that matter in 14:1-15:13. It is difficult if not impossible to identify those about whom Paul warns his audience here, and probably we should be content not to try to do so.4

19 Your obedience is known to all and thus I rejoice over you. But I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.

The Greek connects verse 19 to verse 18 by using the word “for”.

How it does so is not, however, immediately clear. But perhaps the clue lies in what seems to be an intentional play on the idea of “innocence.” Paul warns that the false teachers are adept at deceiving the “innocent” (v. 18b). And he issues this warning just because the Roman Christians have such a universal reputation for being “obedient,” that is, innocent.5

Again Paul affirms the Christian standing of the Romans (1:8; 15:14). Verse 19b echoes the teaching of Jesus about being wise yet innocent (Matt 10:16).

20 The God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.

The Greek says “the Satan” (ton satanan), that is the adversary (1 Cor 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Thess 2:18; 2 Thess 2:9). Satan being crushed underfoot recalls Gen 3:15, which promises victory over the serpent and his seed.

Putting one’s enemies under one’s feet is a military metaphor expressing a resounding victory over one’s foe (cf. Josh 10:22-26). The hope of Satan being crushed underfoot is found often in Jewish apocalyptic writings (Jub. 5:6; 10:7-11; 23:29; 1 Enoch 10:4; 13:1-2; 1QM 17:5-6; 18:1). Paul speaks of all things being put under Christ’s feet (1 Cor 15:24-28; Eph 1:20-22), alluding to Psalm 110:1, as do other NT writers (Matt 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:43; Acts 2:35; Heb 1:13; cf. Heb 2:8; 10:13), but it is only here in 16:20 in the NT that we read that God will soon crush Satan under the feet of believers. Paul probably means that if the Roman believers watch out for and keep away from those who cause divisions (16:17), then God will crush Satan under their feet, that is, confound Satan’s designs to lead them astray.6

The promise that victory will come “quickly” (ἐν τάχει, en tachei) may seem hollow two thousand years after the writing of the letter. We need to remember that Paul consistently teaches that Jesus could come at any time, but he does not know when he will return. Doubtless he expected him to return soon, but he never explicitly taught that he would come within a certain time frame. Thus the coming of Jesus is always “imminent,” and the church is always to be on the alert. The “God of peace” will bring in his shalom, the fulfillment of his saving promises that began with the promise given to Eve in Gen. 3:15.7

To stand in the grace of God is to be saved.

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.

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. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 15513-15518 
  2. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 15522-15531 
  3. Keener 2009, 189 
  4. Kruse 2014, 578 
  5. Moo 1996, 931–932 
  6. Kruse 2014, 581 
  7. Schreiner 1998, Kindle Locations 15571-15575 
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