Sunday, April 6, 2014

Romans 16 - Its Not Just a List!

So, I’m continuing with my Romans reading in preparation for teaching this marvelous epistle. I finally made it to the end, chapter 16, and I am fascinated by the litany of names with which Paul concludes the book; 26 in all (17 men and 9 women).

Now, many folks might see this as anti-climactic in the letter, almost as a boring conclusion; like the genealogy of Matthew 1. I mean, come on, it’s only a list. What is so special or what in the world is spiritual about a list of names? I mean, isn’t the core of the Roman argument found in 1:16-15:33. Romans 1-11 is often viewed as a theological argument for the righteousness of God and then chapters 12-15 are the ethical application of Paul’s teaching. Thus, Romans 16 is nothing other than an epilogue to the main argument. It’s just a list. 
Can I make just a few observations about this so-called list:
  • There are 26 names in the list; 16 of the 26 are singled out in some special way, either as deacons, co-workers, apostles, or a relative of some sort, either literal or figurative (i.e., Christian brother). 
  • Of the 16 individuals commended for specific tasks, almost half (7) are women. 
  • There are several married couples singled out and what appears to be four separate Christian communities; two of which seem to be house churches, Prisca and Aquila (16:3-5) and Aristobulos (16:10). 
  • Finally, in the list, there appear to be both Jewish and Gentile names.

What are the implications of these observations? Allow me to simply focus on the last one; there are both Jewish and Gentile names in Paul’s Roman 16 list. Now, that observation may not be as clear-cut as it seems. First, many Jewish people adopted Greco-Roman names as they functioned in the Roman marketplace outside of Palestine. Second, since Paul has yet to visit Rome, how did he meet all these Christian servants who are now living in Rome? The meetings must have been in other places in at earlier times. Remember, that in 49AD emperor Claudius evicted all the Jews from Rome (Acts 18:2). They were dispersed throughout the empire. Many in the list, such as Pricilla and Aquila were among the expelled Jews who met Paul in Corinth. Andronicus and Junia are said to have been in prison with Paul (16:7) and from the same “nation.” They also are most certainly Jewish. Others on the list are referred to as Paul’s relatives (16:7, 11, 13). If all this is true, maybe this so-called list is much more Jewish than it appears at first look.

If this list is of Jewish Christians, then let’s take seriously that this list is in the form of a recommendation (beginning with Phoebe) not the typical greeting found at the end of other of Paul’s letters (e.g., 1 Cor 16). Paul is not greeting these people but rather is asking the gentile church in Rome to greet them and “receive them in a manner worthy of the saints.” Listen to the opening in 16:1-2:
commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; that you receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the saints, and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.

Simply, the Gentile church in Rome is to receive the Jewish co-workers of Paul. My point is that Rom 16 is NOT JUST A LIST…I would call it the theological high water mark of practical spirituality in the Book of Romans. It might even be called the climax of the book. It’s the church living out practical righteousness before the world. Paul does not care for the Roman church to merely comprehend his theology (Rom 1-11) or to merely wrestle with its theoretical application (12-15). Paul is arguing that a life “dead to sin” (Rom 6) and “alive to the Spirit” (Rom 8) should play itself out with the reconciliation of the most difficult of all relationships; life-long adversaries (Jews and Gentiles) should live together as brothers.
I will leave the application of this principle into your hands, as directed by the very Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.

Lord Jesus;
May we never take Your Word lightly.
May we always seek the depth of its practicality to our lives.
Grant us eyes to see,
Give us ears to hear,
And empower us with Your Spirit to live on earth,
As it is in Heaven.

Now, Go with God.

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