This closing chapter of Romans looks very different from the other chapters. It opens with a list of friends, fellow Christians, and co-workers in the gospel that Paul wants to greet and commend for welcome in the church of Rome. It’s all about relationships in the church. Many readers who have delved deeply into the life of the mind that Paul has unfolded in the previous chapters might just skip over this chapter as unimportant. But as an early church father, Chrysostom, said, “Many…hasten over this part of the epistle as superfluous, yet it is possible from even bare names to find a great treasure.” The chapter is organized with this treasury of names, then there is a brief section of warning and caution, and lastly, there is a final greeting from those who are with Paul (also very revealing) and a blessing and benediction.
Paul here describes the earliest church as being led by men and women, rich and poor, made up of Greek, Roman, and Jewish Christians, and he names married couples, siblings, single people, possibly a pair of twins, a mother and son, and whole households. He greets 26 people and 9 are women. He names a wealthy patroness and two prisoners. He describes one woman as a deacon serving a church in that office.
Now let’s look at a few of the jewels. Here at the end of his masterpiece letter to the Romans, Paul wants to commend and praise certain people either already present in Rome or on their way to Rome. First is a women named Phoebe, a Greek name, who is a wealthy Gentile Christian. She is coming to Rome probably with Paul’s letter for that church in hand. Paul describes her as his sister, someone he feels very strongly about, and as a servant of the church in Cenchreae, where she is a deacon. Paul asks them to welcome her in a way worthy of the saints, and to help her in any way they can. Paul describes her as a patron of many, including himself, indicating that she is a woman of financial means that she has used to benefit Paul and others. We can see from this that Paul and the earliest church had high regard for women in leadership in the churches.
Next is the married couple Prisca and Aquila, whom Paul describes as fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their lives to support and protect him. There is a good deal known about this couple, who are mentioned several times in the New Testament, and who are usually listed with Prisca or Priscilla first and Aquila second. They were tentmakers and evangelists at Paul’s side and took fellow Christians aside to correct their knowledge and theology. They originally lived in Rome before leaving when Jews and Christians were expelled from Rome and lived in Corinth and Ephesus for a time, helping to found churches. The fact that they are consistently mentioned with Prisca first indicates that she was a widely accepted evangelist and leader in the earliest church. Paul says that he would like all the people in the church that meets in their house to be greeted warmly. This gives us a window into the way the earliest church was built: in people’s homes.
Paul next commends to the church in Rome, the first convert to Christianity from Asia, Epaenetus. He commends Mary and three other women—Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis—as having labored hard, but we don’t know what it was they did for the church in Rome. Andronicus and Junia are mentioned; they were probably a married couple, they are Jewish Christians, they were converted before Paul, they are fellow prisoners and they are “well-known among the apostles.” This is a great accolade, and may mean that Andronicus and Junia were evangelists, preaching the gospel and founding churches (for which they have run afoul of the Roman authorities and been put in prison as Paul has.) Paul greets Ampliatus, his beloved in the Lord, and Urbanus, who is a fellow worker in Christ. Both of these are Latin names. Stachys and Apelles are Greek names, and they are described as beloved and approved in Christ. Herodion is spoken of as a kinsman, meaning perhaps that he was a fellow Jewish Christian, or perhaps simply a brother in Christ. The family of Narcissus are mentioned, Narcissus being a Greek name. Rufus, (a Latin name meaning red-haired) and his mother are greeted, and Paul says she’s been a mother to him as well. All five names in verse 14 are slave names, and all male; Paul greets them and “all the brothers who are with them” so there may have been a group of slaves in the church of Rome.
Next, Paul shares a warning: having celebrated in the first part of Chapter 16 the diversity and unity of the church, he urges the members of the church in Rome to avoid “those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine you have been taught.” These troublemakers do not serve the Lord, but their own appetites, he says. Paul wants them to be wise and discerning.
Paul begins to bind off this letter with greetings from those who are with him, most likely while in Corinth before ending the epistle with a blessing and benediction.