Romans 16, Part 1
Jan 17, 2011
Having completed his doctrinal dissertations, Paul then spends considerable time greeting the saints in Rome. He knew many of them already, if not personally, then by reputation by talking with Aquila and Priscilla. The first one Paul commends to them is a woman named Phoebe.
(1) I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea; (2) that you may 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.
Cenchrea was the eastern port of Corinth, where Paul had ministered on his second missionary journey. (See chapter 12 of Lessons from Church History, Vol. 1.) When Paul left Corinth to go to Ephesus, he set sail from Cenchrea with Aquila and Priscilla. We also learn from Acts 18:18 that Paul had his hair cut at Cenchrea, "for he was keeping a vow."
Toward the end of Paul's third missionary journey, just before going to Jerusalem for Pentecost in 58 A.D., he wrote his epistle to the Romans. Phoebe was the "servant of the church" who took the letter to Rome. Hence, Paul commends her first. Her important job as mail carrier, along with her good character, is how her name was immortalized in Scripture.
Her name is the feminine form of Phoebus, otherwise known as Apollo, the sun-god, indicating that she was probably a Greek convert from paganism.
(3) Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, (4) who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the churches of the ethnos; (5) also greet the church that is in their house...
Immediately after commending Phoebe, Paul greets Priscilla (or Prisca for short) and her husband, Aquila. Paul had met them in Corinth on his second missionary journey in 52 A.D., for they had recently moved there from Rome "because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome" (Acts 18:1). According to the Roman historian, Suetonius, who wrote his volumes in 110 A.D.,
"Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome." (Lives of the Caesars,Claudius, XXV)
The historian was largely ignorant of Christianity, thinking that Christ was a man named Chrestus. Nonetheless, he confirms why Prisca and Aquila had left Rome in 52 A.D. Another Roman historian named Tacitus wrote of this as well, but spelled the name "Christus" (Annals, 15.44). This was the same year that Claudius had won a great victory in Britain, taking captive the entire royal family. They were brought to Rome, guarded by Rufus Pudens, who fell in love with Gladys, the princess.
Gladys father, Caradoc, was put on trial in Rome, and his speech was so impressive that Claudius spared his life. He was sentenced to remain in Rome for seven years (52-59) and never again take up arms against Rome. Meanwhile, he was also so impressed by young Gladys that he adopted her and gave her his family name, calling her Claudia. She and her brother Linus were greeted in a later epistle after Paul had gotten to know them (2 Tim. 4:21).
By the time Paul wrote his epistle to the saints in Rome, Prisca and Aquila had moved back to Rome, since the ban had been lifted by 58 A.D. Hence, Paul greets them in Rome and also greets the church that was meeting in their home (16:4). It is unclear if two churches in Rome existed at the time. In time, the "Palace of the Britons" (Palatium Brittanicum), where Caradoc's family resided, became a distinct church, but in 58 A.D. Paul greets both groups in one letter.
Some say that the church in the home of Prisca and Aquila was a more "Jewish" church, while the other was "gentile." Certainly, Paul would not have approved distinctions on those grounds. It is more likely that their homes were far apart and were distinct for more practical reasons.
No doubt Paul knew that Caradoc's exile in Rome would end in 59 A.D. Paul's desire was to personally meet Caradoc and his Christian family in Rome. However, this did not happen, for Paul was detained in Jerusalem until October of 60, and (because of the shipwreck) he did not arrive in Rome until the Spring of 61. By this time Caradoc had returned to Britain in the midst of the Boadicean War, where the British forces were led by Queen Boadicea and by Caradoc's cousin, Arviragus.
Paul then greets others who were in Rome:
(5) . . . Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia.
This is the only time Epaenetus is mentioned in Scripture. We do not know when he was converted, nor under whose ministry. Presumably, by the expression, "my beloved," Paul meant that he was the first one converted under his own ministry during his first missionary journey with Barnabas and Mark.
(6) Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.
Her name is Hebrew, transliterated into Greek as Mariam, but translated as Mary. She is remembered for all the hard work that she had done for the brethren. I cannot help but think of all the people over the years who have worked and served others in a support role for the work of the Kingdom. Most of their names have been forgotten by men, their names unrecorded in history, and yet God remembers them all by name, even as Paul commends Mary here. Though we know almost nothing about her, she maintains this testimony of service (ministry), even as Christ also came to minister to others as the Great Servant.
(7) Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners [sunaichmalotos, "war captives"], who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.
I believe that these "war captives" were none other than Caradoc and his wife Gladys (not to be confused with their daughter Gladys, who had been renamed Claudia). Andronicus is a Greek name that means "man of victory." He was a "war captive," yet a "man of victory." Who other than Caradoc would fit this description? He and his family had been converted very early under the ministry of Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus' great uncle. As the minister of mining for the Roman Empire, he spent much time overseeing the tin mines in England. Diodorus Siculus, a Roman who lived in the time of Augustus Caesar (under whom Jesus was born), wrote in Vol. 1, p. 311:
"This tin metal is transported out of Britain into Gaul, the merchants carrying it on horseback through the heart of Celtica to Marseilles and the city called Narbo" [Narbonne].
There is quite a lot of evidence that Joseph had also brought Jesus with him on many of his trips. Hence, it is likely that Caradoc actually knew Jesus before His ministry had even begun in Judea. Paul recognized him as being "outstanding among the apostles" and having been a follower of Christ "before me."
The name Junia is of Latin origin. Dr. Bullinger writes in his notes on this verse, "The acc. case may indicate either masc. Junias, or fem. Junia." We know little beyond this, other than this person is associated with Andronicus and is a fellow "war captive." Most likely, this is Gladys, wife of Caradoc, who was one of the war captives taken to Rome from Britain.
This is the first part of a series titled "Romans 16." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones