NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIXTEEN (Lesson V)
On Paul’s salute to Apelles, Robert Haldane also takes note that Apelles is here distinguished as a tried and tested disciple. It is mentioned to his honor, therefore, he was approved as reliable in Christ. The Lord’s people have various and widely diversified characteristics as Christians. The Apostle selects that peculiar trait in the characters of those of whom he writes for which they are individually distinguished. Some of them are tried with specific afflictions, and their obedience to their Lord is put to the severest test. When they withstand these fiery trials, it is the most distinguished honor, and their testing in the service of Christ ought to be held up to notice. This is due to them from their brethren, and it is a great encouragement to others who are similarly tried. All the Lord’s people are not exposed to trials of equal severity, and when the Lord calls any of them to glorify His name by suffering peculiar trials for His sake, we ought to treat them with a particular honor.
Then comes the family of Aristobulus. The grammar here suggests that Aristobulus is no longer alive. We find him mentioned by Paul as “my fellow prisoner.”1 Tradition says he was one of the original seventy-two disciples who were appointed by Jesus as evangelists,2 and that he evangelized as far away as Britain. His name means, “a good counselor.” According to some scholars, Aristobulus was the grandson of King Herod the Great and apparently lived in Rome as a private citizen. Since Paul is only greeting his spiritual family, Aristobulus may or may not have died as a believer. But it is doubtful that Paul would include a nonbeliever in such an important greeting. There is also the possibility that in the word “household,” all their servants would be included.
Chrysostom also mentions that what is said of Aristobulus’ household is to be understood as having allowed believers in Christ to assemble for worship in his house. Paul approves of this so much that he regards those who gathered together there, worthy of a greeting as well.3 However, most scholars take it that these were the servants of Aristobulus who converted to Christianity.
Adam Clarke takes a look at Aristobulus‘ household and is also doubtful that Narcissus himself became a Christian. That’s why Paul does not salute him personally, only his household. He appears to be a Roman of considerable distinction, who, though not converted himself, tolerated Christians among his servants and his slaves. But, whatever he was, it is likely that he was dead at this time, and, therefore, those of his household only are referred to by the Apostle.4
Then we come to Herodion. This is also a Jewish name. It is at this point that we read “my relative.” Others suggest that the name may also imply that he was a freedman of the Herod’s. Again the question arises of how this individual could be a relative of Paul? We know that Paul’s Roman scribe named Tertius takes credit for taking dictation from Paul for this Epistle (see verse twenty-two). He was also numbered among the Seventy disciples whom Jesus sent out.5 Church history tells us that he became the Bishop of Tarsus, Paul’s home town, and died a martyr.
This is followed by Narcissus. However, again the greeting is not sent to him but to his household. It is suggested by some scholars that he was formerly a servant who served as the private secretary of Claudius the Emperor of Rome but became a freedman. It is also noted that there were two men with this name mentioned in Roman histories at the time. One, who was executed three or four years before Paul wrote this Epistle and identified as Emperor Claudius’ favorite, and the other, a servant of Emperor Nero who succeeded Claudius.6 It is most likely that the one mentioned here is the one that served Claudius, not Nero.
Ambrosiaster also offers a few things about Herodion and Narcissus that Paul sends greetings to. He notices that calls Herodion his relative and nothing more. Ambrosiaster takes this to mean that Herodion was faithful in enjoying his new birth experience, but he does not mention his perseverance as a tried warrior for Christ. He also notes that Narcissus is said to have been a presbyter at that time, and we find the same mention in other manuscripts.7 This presbyter, Narcissus, went about encouraging believers by his preaching. And since Paul did not know all the details of those who were affected by his Narcissus’ preaching, he asks the Romans to greet those of his household who put their trust in the Lord and who were, therefore, worthy of his greeting.8
John Calvin makes two points here. First, he says that if the Apostle Peter was already in Rome, as some in the Catholic Church claim, how in the world could Paul leave him out of such a long line of those to whom he sent his greetings? Calvin then asks, who was in the family of Narcissus? Why are they included in this splendid rank of outstanding believers in Rome? Calvin thinks that Narcissus was a freeman of the emperor Claudius – a man notorious for many crimes and vices. This then, makes the goodness of God even more wonderful since it was able to find its way into a family, abounding with all kinds of wickedness.
This doesn’t mean that Narcissus himself converted to Christ, but it was a great thing that a house, which was like hell, should be visited by the grace of Christ. Can you imagine that those who lived and worked under such a foul wrongdoer, the most voracious robber of his day, and the most corrupt of men, now worshiping Christ in purity! This proves that no servants should wait for their masters to be converted, but everyone ought to follow Christ for themselves. When the Spirit of God goes out to convict and draw sinners to Christ, He may visit a group where He chooses many or just one out of many.9
Then two women are greeted: Tryphæna and Tryphosa. In Hebert Lockyer’s research, he notes that since Paul links these two Christian ladies together we should think of them together. This implies they may have been twin sisters in the flesh, as well as in Christ, or very near relatives, and belonged to the same noble Roman family. They must have been conspicuous in their service to the church at Rome as the deaconess dynamic duo – otherwise, Paul would not have mentioned them together in his expression of gratitude for their devoted labor in the Lord. Their names, which are Greek, have no bearing on their significance to the church. If they were in fact twins, even identical twins, they were given names having a like meaning. Tryphæna means “delicate,” and Tryphosa means “dainty.” They both stand out as early examples of consistent and backbreaking labor in the service of the church.
So these two ladies with gentle and refined manners carved a niche for themselves as portraits in Paul’s gallery of saints. Early Christian inscriptions in cemeteries used chiefly for the servants of the emperor contain both of these female names, and so can be identified as being among “the saints of Caesar’s household”10 How we thank God for the record of those early honorable women which were Greeks,11 but who became humble followers of the Lamb!12
Clarke also focuses on “Tryphæna and Tryphosa, two holy women, who it seems were assistants to the Apostle in his work, probably by exhorting, visiting the sick, and so on. We learn from this that Christian women, as well as men, labored in the ministry of the Word. During those days of simplicity in the church, all persons, whether men or women, who received the knowledge of the truth believed it to be their duty to propagate it to the uttermost of their power. Many commentators spend much useless labor in endeavoring to prove that these women did not preach; that there were few female preachers, along with many male preachers in the Christian Church.13 We know that a woman might pray or prophesy, provided her head is covered, and that whoever preached is for the purpose of edification, exhortation, and encouragement.14 Clarke says that we must acknowledge that no preacher should do any less because to edify, exhort, and encourage are the prime ends of the Gospel ministry. If women were allowed to prophesy, then women were allowed to preach.15
Robert Haldane says unfounded and unscriptural then are the views of those who speak against complimenting one another for their dedication and commitment to the cause of Christ. They are afraid it will encourage a proud spirit, They go from being so-called open-minded to being completely closed-minded on the same subject. In other words, whatever they say need not be defended simply because they said it. But they are confounding things that are entirely distinct from one another. The praise which a worldly spirit is accustomed to seeking or to give is quite different from that which the Apostle Paul confers on those he loves in the Lord. Paul’s intention is to encourage greater devotion, not to puff up someone’s self-esteem. This is part of Jesus’ teaching when He said: “How can you be a believer if you accept glory from one another, yet do not seek the glory that comes from the Only True God?”16 Such persons love the praises of mankind more than the praise of God. But the honor which is given by the Lord’s servants, following Paul’s example, is to the honor and glory of the Lord in those servants and for the success of His cause for which they strive and labor so hard.17
1 Colossians 4:10
2 Luke 10:1
3 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
4 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 294
5 See Pseudo-Hippolytus’ On the Seventy Apostles of Christ: Listed as Number 31
6 American Tract Society Bible Dictionary
7 The other manuscripts that Ambrosiaster mentions may have included The Acts of Peter, found in the Apocryphal New Testament. There is says: “And a great multitude of women were kneeling and praying and beseeching Paul, and they kissed his feet and accompanied him unto the harbor. But Dionysius and Balbus, of Asia, knights of Rome, and illustrious men, and a senator by name Demetrius abode by Paul on his right hand and said: Paul, I would desire to leave the city if I were not a magistrate, that I might not depart from thee. Also from Caesar’s house Cleobius and Iphitus and Lysimachus and Aristaeus and two matrons Berenice and Philostrate, with Narcissus the presbyter [after they had] accompanied him to the harbor: but whereas a storm of the sea came on, he (Narcissus?) sent the brethren back to Rome, that if any would, he might come down and hear Paul until he set sail: and hearing that, the brethren went up unto the city.”
8 Ambrosiaster: Ibid.
9 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
10 Philippians 4:22
11 Acts of the Apostles 17:12
12 Lockyer, Herbert. All the Women of the Bible Compilation, Zondervan, Kindle Edition.
13 Acts of the Apostles 21:9
14 1 Corinthians 14:3
15 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 295
16 John 5:44
17 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 638