NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER SIXTEEN (Lesson VII)
John Calvin takes up the subject of the holy kiss. To him, it is clear from many parts of Scripture that a kiss was a daily and common symbol of friendship among the Jews.1 It became a custom during apostolic times for Christians to kiss one another before partaking of the Lord’s Supper in testifying by that kiss their unity and friendship, and then giving their contribution to the following Agape meal.2 With all of this they confirmed their loyalty to God and each other with a holy kiss. Calvin points to one of Chrysostom’s homilies.3 However, Calvin does not endorse the way it was used in the Roman Catholic Church in Europe during his time. He didn’t like the way they kissed the paten4 during the Eucharist. However, Calvin does not see Paul endorsing the Holy Kiss as any part of a ceremony but only as a way of exhorting them to cherish brotherly and sisterly love. And by sending salutations from the churches, he was endeavoring, as much as possible, to bind all the members of Christ’s body by the mutual bond of God’s love.5
On the subject of how these early Christians greeted one another, John Bengel calls their salute with a Holy Kiss as the “flower of faith and love.”6 Bengel also notes that this sign of unity came after prayers were said. Paul mentions the Holy Kiss at the conclusion of his first epistle to the Thessalonians, in both his epistles to the Corinthians and here in Romans. It was known as the “kiss of peace.” Paul wrote these epistles in the early days of the Church period. It appears, however, that the purity of brotherly love went missing and so the practice was discarded because abuses arose. That may be the reason why in writing to the Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians while he was in prison, he gave no charge concerning this Holy Kiss.7
Adam Clarke also raises the point that there is no mention of the Apostle Peter in Paul’s greetings. So this begs the question: If Peter visited Rome or was present in Rome during this time, Paul certainly would not exclude him in his salutations at the beginning of this list of names? Also, the fact that Paul addressed the people to remedy their previous disagreements that became an issue, wouldn’t this request have been passed on to Peter as Paul’s personal message to him? So for Clarke, this was another nail in the coffin of the erroneous argument that Peter ever made it to Rome.8
On the subject of greeting one another with a holy kiss, Robert Haldane feels that Paul is telling the members in Rome to salute one another with a Holy Kiss as part of his salutation. In other words, it would be like writing someone a letter who was part of a larger group, and in order not to leave anyone out tell them that since you can’t be there, to hug one another in your stead. It is understood by most scholars that this Holy Kiss was an expression in the family of God much like it was, and is today, among members of the same family. Even though much ridicule was cast on this practice by some, it was encouraged by the Apostles. It is again and again repeated and was practiced by all the primitive churches. Peter calls it a kiss of love. Justin Martyr, in giving an account of the weekly assemblies of Christians of the second century says, “We mutually salute one another by a kiss, and then we bring forward the bread and the cup.” And the form is still maintained by the Church of Rome in what they call the osculum pacis9.10
16:17-18 Brothers and sisters, I want you to be very careful of those who cause arguments and hurt people’s faith by teaching things that are against what you learned. Stay away from them. People like that are not serving our Lord Christ. They are only pleasing themselves. They use fancy talk and say nice things to fool those who don’t know about evil.
There are two basic types of people who cause division and discord in the Body of Christ. One of which encourages you to do certain things you were taught by others not to do. The other which teaches that there are things which you now are doing that should not be done. The best way to discern the truth is to ask these simple questions of each one: Is what they’re saying calculated to bring you closer to Christ so that you grow up higher in Him and deeper in God’s Word. If the answer is “No,” then forget it; if the answer is “Yes,” then have them show you why, and have them show it to you in the Scriptures.
So while Paul is open and gracious in his recommendation of those who serve Christ with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength he also knows there are those who are saints in name only. Thus he warns the Roman believers about those who come around preaching a gospel that is different than the one they heard before and after their conversion. And if any such pretenders were in the congregation in Rome, Paul gives the same message to them he gave to the Thessalonians: “If anyone does not want to listen to what we say in this letter, remember who they are and stay away from them. In that way, they will be put to shame. Do not think of them as someone who hates you. But counsel them a fellow Christian.”11
As said before, such people seldom bring harmony to a congregation, instead they spark disharmony. Luke tells us about such teachers from Judea that tried to convince the church in Antioch to adopt their legalistic point of view. They taught: “Unless you go through the religious act of becoming a Jew as Moses taught, you cannot be saved from the punishment of sin.”12 Paul and Barnabas debated them and were thus chosen to go to Jerusalem to talk to the Apostolic Council to clear up this matter.
When such divisions occur in a church, it usually ends up with people taking sides. Paul warned the Corinthians about this: “Do not be divided into little groups. Think and act as if you all had the same mind.”13 When you do this, said Paul, you act as though you’ve never been saved. He tells them: “When you are jealous and fight with each other, you are still living in sin and acting like sinful men in the world.”14 Paul pointed out to the Galatians that much of this discord starts with people trying to change the Gospel message.15 The Apostle writes the Philippians and tells them that there were those trying to add new things to God’s Word, claiming that one must do this or say that in order to be a true believer.16 And to the Colossians Paul said this: “Be careful that no one changes your mind and faith by much learning and big sounding ideas. Those things are what men dream up.”17
The main objection that Paul reserves for these self-styled evangelists and teachers is that they try to serve more than one master. One is God, and the other is the two-headed monster named fame and fortune. But our Lord made it clear that such an attempt at dual loyalty doesn’t work.18 Some accused Paul of this, but as he told the Galatians: “Do you think I am trying to get the favor of men, or of God? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant owned by Christ.”19 In fact, at one time Paul wanted to send someone to the believers in Philippi but only young Timothy proved loyal because everyone else was only interest in what they wanted from Jesus instead of what Jesus wanted from them.20
Paul talks about such ministers being “motivated by their appetite.”21 The LORD God gave the prophet Micah as a warning about such individuals: “Here is what Adonai says in regard to the prophets who cause my people to go astray, who cry, ‘Peace’ as soon as they are given food to eat, but prepare for war against anyone who fails to put something in their mouth.22”23 And to the people of Israel God said this about those who just stand by and watch it happen: “Why doesn’t even one of you shut the doors and thus stop this useless lighting of fires on my altar? I take no pleasure in you,” says Adonai-Tzva’ot [The Lord of Hosts], “and I will not receive an offering from you.”24 Paul wanted to inform young Timothy to watch out for such people: “Men who are not able to use their minds in the right way because of sin argue all the time. They do not have the truth. They think religion is a way to get much for themselves.”25
In fact, things got so bad in Israel, that they no longer wanted to hear the straight word from the Lord. So God told Isaiah: “Go and write this down in front of them. And write on a tablet, that it may be seen for all years to come. For these people will not obey. They are not true sons. They will not listen to the teaching of the Lord. They say to the men who can tell what will happen in the future, ‘Don’t see look at what you see in your special dreams.’ They say to those who speak for God, ‘You must not tell to us what is right. Speak pleasing things to us, tell us what we like to hear. Get out of our way. Get off the path you’re on. We do not want to hear any more about the Holy One of Israel.”26 How is it possible that something that happened 2,700 years ago sounds as if it is happening again today?
1 See 1 Corinthians 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14
2 An agape meal is also known as a “Lovefeast,” a communal meal following Communion to commemorate all the meals that Jesus shared with His disciples during His ministry as a sign of community sharing in fellowship. In Greek, it is called koinonia.
3 Chrysostom: Homilies on 2 Corinthians 13:12, #30
4 The eucharistic vessel known as the paten is a small shallow plate or disc of precious metal upon which the element of bread is offered to God at the Offertory of the Mass, and upon which the consecrated Host is again placed after the Fraction. Catholic Encyclopedia
5 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 See 1 Peter 5:14
7 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p.366
8 Adam Clarke: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 296
9 Latin for, “Kiss of Peace,” See Psalm 85:10
10 Robert Haldane: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit. p. 641
11 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15
12 Acts of the Apostles 15:1
13 1 Corinthians 1:10; 11:18
14 Ibid. 3:3
15 Galatians 1:7
16 Philippians 3:2-3
17 Colossians 2:8 – New Life Version
18 Matthew 6:24
19 Galatians 1:10
20 Philippians 2:19-21
21 Cf. Philippians 3:19
22 Micah 3:5 – Complete Jewish Bible
23 In the days of the prophets, people had no money to give them for their expenses, but feeding and housing them was their way of saying,”Thank You.” Today the blessing is doubled by providing both lodging and food, and a love offering.
24 Malachi 1:10 – Complete Jewish Bible
25 1 Timothy 6:5
26 Isaiah 30:8-11