NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIXTEEN (Lesson IV)
16:6-7: Greetings also to Mary. She worked very hard for you. And greet Andronicus and Junia. They are my relatives, and they were in prison with me. They were followers of Christ before I was. And they are some of the most important of the ones Christ sent out to do his work.
In this set of greetings, we learn something about additional followers of Christ in Paul’s day. The mention of a worker named Mary here makes it difficult to assess her contribution unless more is said. One thing that scholars mention is that “Mary” is a Jewish name (Miriam). If this lady is a Gentile convert then she may have adopted this name much like sisters in Catholic convents do up upon being approved to become a nun.
Adam Clarke feels compelled to say something about the woman called Mary in these greetings. He laments that whoever this Mary was, or whatever great work she did for the Apostles, we don’t have any more information. But in any case, even though the great works that she did is concealed from us they are not hidden from God. That’s why her name is mentioned here with honor and is also recorded in the Book of Life.1
But the one thing that catches most readers attention is that the writer of this salutation claims that some of these are his relatives and were Christians before he was. If Paul is dictating this, it is the first time he mentioned such relatives. However, if this is from Tertius (see verse twenty-two), then it might fit better into the narrative as Tertius’ personal greeting to them. Of Andronicus and Junia there is very little else in church history to describe them except that Andronicus is a Greek name that means “warrior.” This certainly raises the possibility that he was a Gentile believer.
Origen, one of the earliest church scholars, supports Paul’s backing of women’s role in the church. This clearly shows, that for Paul women ought to have the right to work for the churches of God. For instance, they work when they teach children how to behave, when they love their husbands, when they feed their children, when they are modest and virtuous, when they keep a tidy house, when they are kind, when they are submissive to their husbands, when they exercise hospitality, when they wash the feet of visiting saints, and when they do all the other things which are allotted to women in the Bible.2
Chrysostom (349-407) also continues to champion the rights of women in the early church. For him, it is remarkable that here another woman is honored and proclaimed victorious by the Apostle Paul which should put the men in the church in his day to shame yet again. And not only put them to shame but for them to recognize that as men a special honor was conferred on them. And that honor is that they were privileged to have such women of character among them. This adds to the men’s disgrace in that by Chrysostom’s time women in the church were being left so far behind. Once the men realize why these women are so honorable they will quickly help in accepting them as peers.
Chrysostom also addresses the fact that Paul did say that he does not permit a woman to teach in the church?3 What did he mean by that? Chrysostom believes that Paul indicates that women are not used to preach publicly from the pulpit, but that does not stop them from teaching. We see that Jesus took many women supporters with Him on His ministry endeavors but never let them take His place in teaching. Yet, it did not prevent them from teaching their families, friends, and neighbors about Jesus the Christ. After all, didn’t Priscilla take the time needed to instruct Apollos?4 So it appears that the Mary mentioned here worked hard among them there in Rome, and along with teaching, she performed other ministerial duties besides. Chrysostom says this shows that women of those days were more spirited than lions, sharing with the Apostles their labors for the Gospel’s sake.5
Then the Bishop of Cyr sees another reason why these hardworking saints of the early church should be so admired. For one thing, they were companions of Paul’s in his sufferings and even shared imprisonment with him. Hence he says that they are men and women of note, not among the pupils but among the teachers, and not among the ordinary disciples but among the great Apostles. If we take these as Paul’s actual relatives, he even praises them for having been Christians before him. At the same time if they are relatives of Paul’s scribe Tertius,6 they would also fit the text since he no doubt knew them too.7
John Calvin makes some interesting points concerning Andronicus and Junia. In Paul’s other writings he scarcely if ever mentions his relatives, yet as the relationship which Junia and Andronicus developed with him caused him to refer to them in this light with a worthy commendation. Calvin notices though, in Paul’s second eulogy he calls them his fellow-prisoners.8 Among all the honors belonging to the warfare of Christ, prison bonds are not overlooked. Thirdly, Calvin notes that Paul calls them Apostles. This was almost always used for those who not only taught in Churches but also spent their time evangelizing.
Calvin further notes that Paul, in a general way, calls those in this place Apostles who planted Churches by carrying here and there the doctrine of salvation. It should be noted that elsewhere Paul confines this title of Apostle to the first disciples chosen by Christ at the beginning of His ministry. However, it would seem strange that this dignity should only be ascribed to them, but to a few others. After all, the term Apostle simply means a delegate, a messenger, one who is sent with orders. But seeing that they embraced the Gospel by faith before he himself did, he does not hesitate to refer to them this way.9
And Jewish scholar David Stern makes a valid point on those mentioned with Mary. He points out that “Junia,” appears to be a feminine name (the masculine-form of Junius), and perhaps she was the wife of Andronicus. The matter takes on more importance by Paul’s remark that they were well-known among the Apostles. This can either mean that they were well-known by the Apostles, or, that they themselves were well-known Apostles. If so, Junia would be the only female Apostle in the New Testament.10
16:8-12a Give my greetings to Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord, and to Urbanus. He worked together with me for Christ. Give greetings also to my dear friend Stachys and to Apelles, who proved himself to be a true follower of Christ. Give greetings to everyone in the family of Aristobulus and to Herodion, my relative. Greetings to all those in the family of Narcissus who belong to the Lord, and to Tryphaena and Tryphosa, women who work very hard for the Lord.
We are told that “Urbane” or “Urbanus,” was a common name among servants in Roman households, and they are often found in inscriptions of the imperial roster of servants. In fact, Dr. J. B. Lighfoot tells us that on one inscription dated from 115 AD, Urbanus is found on a list of imperial freedmen connected with the Roman mint.11
As far as Stachys is concerned, there is nothing else given in the Scriptures by which to identify him. However, in the list of Greek Ecumenical Patriarchs, we find that the Apostle Stachys was one of the Seventy Apostles of the Lord. In 38 AD the Apostle Andrew appointed him first bishop of the city of Byzantium, which three centuries later would be renamed as Constantinople. According to the Synaxarion,12 he built a church in which many Christians were gathering. There he taught and shepherded his flock. He lived sixteen years doing apostolic preaching, and then rested peacefully in the Lord. As a disciple of the Lord, he was called “an all-bright beacon of Christ,” “a pure vessel” full of Holy Spirit, and “a pillar of the Church.” He was named a saint of the Church and his memory is honored on October 31st, together with the holy Apostles Apellos, Amplias, Ourvanos, Aristovoulos, and Narkissos.
Apelles is a typical Jewish name and can be found among the dependents of the Emperors. It means “approved,” and in this case that of a disciple whose faithfulness to Christ was tried and stood the test. In Weymouth’s translation, he is called, “that veteran believer.”13 No doubt that is why Paul says here that Apelles proved himself to be a true follower of Christ. Not much else is known of this true warrior in our Lord’s army.
Early church scholar Ambrosiaster noticed that Paul does not greet Apelles as just a friend or fellow worker, but because he was tried during hard times and found to be faithful to Christ. In fact, the Greek adjective dokimos that Paul uses here can be understood as something “accepted,” such as if you saw a sign that read: “Foreign Currency Accepted Here.” But it is also used for something that was approved by passing a test.14 This latter use is what Thayer in his Greek Lexicon chose for this instance. So when we add this adjective to “in Christ,” it means whatever test or trial that Apelles when through it had to do with his commitment and loyalty to Christ.
And Chrysostom notes that there is no single word of praise for a commendation like this for Apelles because the phrase “approved in Christ” includes a whole list of virtues. And by listing praises particular to each one he chooses to send his sends greetings, Paul sets before us their individual virtues. He does not cause those whose names he only mentions to be envious of those to whom gives honor for their service. This way Paul does not open himself to cynicism by praising them all equally in the exact same way.15
1 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 293
2 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
3 1 Timothy 2:12
4 Acts of the Apostles 18:26
5 Chrysostom: Ibid
6 See 16:22
7 Theodoret of Cyr: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
8 It is not certain to what the Apostle refers; for we have no particular account of him hitherto as a prisoner, except for a short time at Philippi, Acts 16:23-40; and it is probable, that it was on that occasion that they had been his fellow-prisoners; for it appears from the narrative, that there were more prisoners than Paul and Silas, as it is said that the “prisoners” heard them singing, Acts 16:25; and Paul’s saying to the jailer, in Acts 16:28, “we are all here,” clearly implies that he had some with him besides Silas. Calvin: On Romans, loc. cit., footnote .
9 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.,
11Commentary on Philippians: Ch. 4.22, by J. B. Lightfoot, p. 189
12 The Synaxarion is a list of the Lives of the Saints of the Greek Orthodox Church.
13 The New Testament in Modern Speech: by Richard Francis Weymouth, James Clarke & Co., London, 1903, p. 385
14 See 1 Corinthians 11:19; 2 Corinthians 10:18; 13:7; 2 Timothy 2:15
15 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 31