NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIXTEEN (Lesson VI)
16:12b-14 Greetings to the beloved Persis. She also worked very hard for the Lord. Greetings also to Rufus, one of the Lord’s chosen people, and to his mother, who has been a mother to me too. Give my greetings to Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and all the brothers in Christ who are with them.
Now Paul sends greetings to a dear friend named Persis. Her name actually means, “that which divides.” Obviously, she was not a trouble-maker, but based on her faith and faithfulness she helped divide those who were unconditionally committed to Christ and the Gospel from those who were not. It is also notable that Paul uses “my beloved,” when referring to dear male friends, but here uses “the beloved,” when referring to a female servant of the Lord. Some scholars suggest that the name Persis is a camouflaged way of saying that she was Persian. But there is no evidence for this.
Ambrosiaster says about Persis, that she appears to be more honored than Rufus and his mother because she worked so hard for the Lord. Her ministry must have been one of encouragement and service to the saints for Christ’s sake when they were under pressure and in need because they fled their homes and were being attacked by unbelievers.1 Also, Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper suggests that Mary, who was mentioned above, and Persis here were evangelists employed in making the Gospel known in the same way as today’s Salvation Army uses women in their ministry. These godly women exerted their influence in every possible way to aid Paul in making Christ known. Whatever personal gifts or means they possessed were dedicated to the Lord whose saving grace they experienced. Paul thus commends them for their sacrificial and generous service.2
Next, Paul sends greetings to Rufus (which means “red”) and his mother, someone whom Paul thought of as a mother to him also. We are told that Rufus was the son of Simon the Cyrenian the man the Romans compelled to carry Christ’s cross on the way to Calvary.3 As such, Rufus became a follower of Christ and left the Jewish community in Cyrene on the north coast of Africa in eastern Libya with his mother and emigrated to Rome as a missionary to help establish the church there. According to the Greek Orthodox Church’s list of the Seventy Disciples Christ sent out, Rufus became the Bishop of Thebes in Greece. Other than this, there is little else known about Rufus or his brother Alexander.
That brings us to Asyncritus. His name means, “incomparable.” He is also in the list of the Seventy Disciples Christ sent out. Church history claims that he became the Bishop of Hyrcania in Asia. This area is south-east of the Caspian Sea in modern Iran. According to the Greek Orthodox Church, Asyncritus died a martyr for the cause of Christ. In the list of the Seventy Disciples Jesus sent out he is number thirty-four.
Now we come to Phlegon. His name means, “burning or zealous.” Since this was not an often used name in those days, some scholars believe it may be a pseudonym so as to keep his real identity a secret from the authorities in Rome and those outside Rome who might read this letter. However, according to the Greek Orthodox Church roster of the seventy disciples sent out by Jesus, Phlegon is listed as the Bishop of Marathon, Greece.
Then find Hermes as the next one to whom Paul sends greetings. We note that this was a common name for servants in the imperial households of Rome. According to the Greek Orthodox Church’s list of the seventy that Jesus sent out, Hermes is listed as number thirty-eight, the Bishop of Dalmatia. It is said that he also died as a martyr for the cause of Christ.
This leads us to Patrobas, which means, “one who walks in the steps of his father.” The Greek Orthodox Church lists him as the Bishop of Puteoli, also part of Naples, at number thirty-seven. Not much else is said of him in Church or secular history. And that brings us to Hermas. The Greek Orthodox Church lists him at number thirty-eight as the Bishop of Philippi. He is reported to be the author of a book called “Pastor,” (aka “The Shepherd of Hermas”), which was read publicly in some churches in Greece.4 But this is disputed by the authorities of the Roman Catholic Church who classify it as an apocalyptic (meaning “revelatory”) work which makes one last call to repentance for all believers before the final persecution during the tribulation takes place. However, it does not directly discuss the end of the current age. This is an essential aspect of a revelation without which a work may be revelatory but not a revelation.
When it comes to identifying Hermas, Origen mentions him as the author of “The Shepherd of Hermas,” which seemed to be a useful book to Origen and one inspired by God. It appears that the reason Paul does not praise him is that Hermas himself tells us in his book that he was converted only after many sins. Scripture tells us not to rush to honor someone who just repented from sin nor to give them praise as long as the angel of repentance is still hovering over them.5 However, Origen does not give the location of this scripture, nor can it be found in any Biblical text.
16:15-16 Give our greetings to Philologus and Julia, to Nereus and his sister, to Olympas, and to all of God’s people with them. Greet each other with a holy kiss. All the churches that belong to Christ send their greetings to you.
Paul continues with his list of greetings and now comes to Philologus. His name means, “A lover of words or of learning.” On the Greek Orthodox Church’s lists of the seventy Jesus sent out, he is number forty-one as the Bishop of Sinope, a city near the Black Sea. It is said in some documents that he was appointed Bishop by the Apostle Andrew. Paul lists him with Julia. Most believe that she was the wife of Philologus since their children are named next. Bible historians consider both of them as members of the imperial court – part of Caesar’s household.6 Her name means, “curly hair.” Nothing else is known of her in the Bible.
That brings us to Nereus. His name is a derivative of Neptune the god of the sea. It is thought that he was the son of Philologus since he is included with his sister. Even though it appears that Paul knew the names of all the family members, for some reason he did not mention the sister’s name. According to tradition, Nereus was beheaded at Terracina, a city about 50 miles SE of Rome, probably during the reign of Roman Emperor Marcus Cocceius Nerva between 96-98 AD.
They are followed by Olympas, which is a derivative of Olympus, whose name means, “heavenly.” The Greek Orthodox Church lists him as one of the seventy disciples sent out by Christ and was martyred for the name of Christ. However, he is mentioned as being a bishop. He no doubt was part of a larger group that either met in their home or where part of the church there in Rome because Paul extends his greeting to all of God’s people with Philologus and his household.
In response to Paul’s call for these brothers and sisters to greet each other with a “holy kiss,” early church scholar Clement says that if we are called into the kingdom of God, let us walk worthy of the kingdom by loving God and our neighbor. However, this Christian love is not proven by kissing one another. A friendly hug and shaking of the hand are sufficient. But in Clement’s lifetime, since greeting each other with a kiss was expected, he believes that there were some who took advantage of this and “made the church sanctuary reverberate with a kiss.” Those who did so had no love in their hearts for the person they kissed. It is for this very reason that Clement calls it a shameless use of a kiss which can only cause suspicion and lead to gossip. The Apostle calls it a holy kiss. This means that either the hand, cheek, or forehead were involved, not the lips.7
On this same subject, early church scholar Origen makes the point that from this and other statements it appears that it was the custom in the Apostolic Church to greet one another with a kiss after the prayers were said. The Apostle Paul also calls this a holy kiss. It caught Origen’s attention that Paul also included greetings to all the churches that belong to Christ. So he wonders how Paul could write that all the churches and send greetings when they were not all gathered together for the writing of this epistle. Origen believes this means that every church that Paul visited shared the same spirit of unity. Although there were separated by distance, they were still part of the same Body of Christ. So Paul felt free to speak on behalf of them all.8
Then Ambrosiaster opines that Paul asks that all those to whom he wrote and those he names be greeted with a holy kiss, that is, in the peace of Christ, not in the desire of the flesh because these kisses are spiritual, not physical. By saying “churches of Christ” Ambrosiaster feels that by Paul saying churches of Christ, he used it as an exclusionary term since there may have been churches in which Christ did not rule and reign as Lord. He reminds us that King David the Psalmist called the company of evildoers an assembly of the wicked9.10
Also, Chrysostom makes note of the fact that by this salutation Paul intended to show that there was no reason for anyone to have pride that they were somehow better than others. The great were not to despise the small, nor were the small to envy the great, but pride and envy were to be banished by the kiss which made everyone equal. Therefore, he not only asks them to greet each other in this way but he also sends them greetings from other churches who feel about him the way he wants them to feel about him.11
1 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Lockyer, Herbert; All the Women of the Bible Compilation, Zondervan, Kindle Edition.
3 Mark 15:21
4 Lives of Illustrious Men by St. Jerome
5 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 See Philippians 4:22
7 Clement of Alexandria: Christ the Educator 3:11
8 Origen: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 See Psalm 26:5
10 Ambrosiaster: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans, #31