Romans 16:1-27


The last chapter of Romans seems at first glance to be anticlimactic.  Paul has taken us on a long journey through the study of the righteousness of God as it related to man’s sinfulness and God’s gracious provision of salvation.  Along that journey, we paused to examine the great doctrines of justification, sanctification, and election.  Then we were shown how that worked out practically and personally in the Christian life, culminating in Paul’s passion to spread the news of the gospel to the whole world.


This chapter consists largely of his personal greetings and farewells.  It seems so different from that which has preceded that some have suggested it to be a separate letter that was appended to our copy of the epistle.  Yet it appears in all of our copies of the epistle and I would suggest that it is an important and necessary part of that epistle.


For all of the grandeur and majesty of God, it must be remembered that we worship a God who is personal and who took on flesh to interact with us on a personal level.  We have not come to know Him and to love Him until it has become personal.





            I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea;  2 that you 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. (Romans 16:1‑2).


This is the first and only reference in the New Testament to Phoebe.  Paul describes her as a sister in the same way he speaks of the believers as brethren.  She is a sister in the faith.  Her name is a pagan name.  It is the feminine version of Phoibos, one of the names given to the pagan deity Apollo.


1.         Phoebe’s Commendation:  I commend to you our sister Phoebe (16:1).


The commendation of a Christian traveler seems to have been a regular practice within the church.  It was a way of giving validation to a Christian who was of good reputation.


My older brother, David Stevenson, has served as a missionary pastor in Germany for many years.  There have been times when I had a friend who was going to Munich and I would give him David’s phone number and then I would call or write David and tell him of the coming of my friend.  That would guarantee a warm reception on David’s part.  Paul does something similar here.


As Christians, we are a part of the family of God and we are called to act like family.  Paul takes this opportunity to vouch for Phoebe as being a member of that family and his injunction is that she be treated as such.


The fact that Phoebe was being commended to the church in Rome by this epistle suggests to us that Phoebe was carrying this epistle on her journey to Rome and that she was to deliver it to the church there.  Rome did not have to sort of public postal system to which we are accustomed.  Personal letters were carried by hand.  The postal system, such as existed in that day, was only for official correspondence of the empire.


2.         Phoebe’s Designation:  Phoebe, who is a servant of the church (16:1).


Paul describes her as a servant of the church.  The term used here for “servant” is taken from the same word that we normally translate “deacon.”  There has been some debate among scholars as to whether we are to understand that Phoebe was a deaconess in the technical sense of holding an office in the church.


The problem is that the term is regularly used in a non-technical sense.  Even here in the epistle to the Romans, we have already seen Paul use this term of the secular magistrate who unknowingly serves as “a minister of God” (Romans 13:4).  The term is also used of Christ who “as become a servant to the circumcision.”  Thus to arbitrarily assume that Phoebe held an officially elected position within the church based solely upon the use of the term in the verse is reading far too much into the text.


3.         Phoebe’s Congregation:  Phoebe, who is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea (16:1).


Cenchrea was the name of one of the seaports near Corinth.  The city of Corinth lay just south of a narrow Isthmus that separated the Aegean Sea on the east from the Corinthian Gulf which led westward to the Ionian Sea.  Today this Isthmus is intersected by a narrow canal that allows ships to pass without making the long detour around the southern part of Greece.  The canal was not there in Paul’s day and so ships would often stop and the seaport on the one side and unload their cargos which would be transported overland to the corresponding seaport on the other side to be loaded aboard a different ship for the rest of their journey.


Cenchrea was the eastern seaport.  It was from here that Paul had departed from Corinth when he was departing from Greece during his second missionary journey (Acts 18:18).  It is only now that we learn that a church had been planted in this small seaport town.


4.         Phoebe’s Remuneration:  That you 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 (16:2).


As Phoebe had been a minister to the church at Cenchrea, so now the church at Rome is to be a minister to her traveling needs.  This reception is to be in a manner worthy of the saints.  It is not merely that she is to be received as though she were a saint, but that their reception is to be the sort of reception that would be given by saints.  She is a believer and they are believers and they are to give the sort of reception that is appropriate for a believing family.


5.         Phoebe’s Ministration:  For she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well (16:2).


The believers at Rome are to help Phoebe because she herself has been a helper of others, including but not limited to the apostle Paul.  This tells me something about ministry.  It tells me that involvement in ministry is not limited to ministerial “superstars.”  Paul accomplished a lot in his ministry, but those accomplishments were not his alone.  They were also the accomplishments of those who helped behind the scenes.  They were the accomplishments of people like Phoebe.


Most of us are not gifted in such a manner that we can be another apostle Paul.  But we can play the part of Phoebe by supporting a missionary in his ministry, either through prayer or financial support or even by encouragement and rendering assistance and hospitality.





            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 Gentiles;  5 also greet the church that is in their house.  Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia.  6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.  7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.  8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord.  9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.  10 Greet Apelles, the approved in Christ. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus.  11 Greet Herodion, my kinsman. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in the Lord.  12 Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in the Lord. Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in the Lord.  13 Greet Rufus, a choice man in the Lord, also his mother and mine.  14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them.  15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.  16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. (Romans 16:3‑16).


Paul passes on a great number of greetings in this section.  These greetings are directed toward Christians in Rome with whom Paul was already acquainted.  Though he had not been to Rome himself, he had many friends who were in Rome.


1.         Prisca and Aquila:  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 Gentiles (16:3-4).


Paul uses the abbreviated form of Prisca, but this is the same Priscilla and Aquila of whom we read in the book of Acts.  They had met Paul in Corinth where they worked in the tent-making trade and they had become disciples of Christ and co-workers in ministry with Paul.  When Paul left Corinth, they traveled with him to Ephesus and were involved in ministry there.  After Paul left Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila were instrumental in training up Apollos, a young preacher who became a Christian leader within the church.


The decree of Claudius banning all Jews from Rome would have lapsed with his death in A.D. 54.

Paul says that they risked their own necks for Paul’s sake.  We do not know what was involved in this risk, but we do know that they had initially come to Corinth as a result of an imperial edict banning all Jews from Rome.  They had been with Paul in Ephesus when there was a civil uprising against Christianity.  Now they are back in Rome, the very place from which they had originally been banished.


Their testimony tells us something about Christianity.  It tells us that Christianity is not meant to be safe.  There are risks to being a Christian.  You are not meant to live your life within a “comfort zone.”  God calls us to leave our comfort zone and to enter His service zone.  Sometimes that puts us a risk.


2.         Epaenetus:  Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first convert to Christ from Asia (16:5).


Epaenetus has the distinction of having been the first Christian convert from Asia.  When Paul speaks of Asia, he is likely speaking of the Roman province of Asia located in western Turkey.


We are not told that Epaenetus became a believer during the first missionary journey of Paul, but since Paul was the first recorded missionary to Asia, it seems possible and even likely that Paul had introduced Epaenetus to the gospel.


3.         Andronicus and Junias:  Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen, and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me (16:7).


The interesting thing about Andronicus and Junias is that the latter seems to be a feminine name and the two are said to be outstanding among the apostles.  This does not necessarily mean that these two were apostles, but only that they had a high reputation among the apostles.  The New English Translation captures this idea when it renders this phrase: “They are well known to the apostles.”


Paul adds that these two were in Christ before me — their conversion to the Christian faith took place prior to Paul’s conversion.  They had been believers for a very long time and they had come to have a good reputation within the leadership of the church.


4.         Ampliatus:    Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord (16:8).


Boice points out that Ampliatus was a common slave name and that in the Christian catacombs of the early church, “there is an elaborate tomb with the single word Ampliatus on it” (1995:1923).  Roman freedmen always had both their first and last names on their tombs, so the fact that this tomb only has a single name suggests that it was the tomb of a slave.  On the other hand, the fact that the tomb is ornate tells us that the person buried here was considered to be of some importance to the church.


The inclusion of this name tells us something about the early church.  It reminds us that the church was made up of people from all different social strata.  That is especially significant because social class was everything in ancient Rome.  The power of the gospel was that it transcended all sorts of social class distinctions.


5.         The Various House Churches.


There are a number of different house churches mentioned in this passage.  These were churches that met in different homes.


           Paul spoke of the church that was in the house of Prisca and Aquila (16:3).

           Paul will speak in verse 22 of Gaius who is host to both Paul and to the whole church in Corinth.

           Paul speaks in verse 14 of Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brethren with them.  This suggests a separate group and perhaps still another local church within the area of Rome.

           In the same way, verse 15 speaks of Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them, indicating still another local church.


This does not mean that the local church is required to meet in private homes, but only that they was a regular practice among many of the churches.  It was not until the church grew and was established for a number of years that local churches eventually gained the funds to obtain meeting places that were set aside for this specific purpose.





            17 Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.  18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.  19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil.  20 And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. (Romans 16:17‑20).


Up to this point, chapter 16 has been full of commendations and greetings.  But now there is a change.  Now we are given a warning.  This warning seems out of place until we look at the layout of the entire chapter.  This warning occupies a central position in the chapter.  It is pivotal.







Phoebe commended

Miscellaneous greetings

Warnings against dissensions

Greetings & Grace

Closing benediction








The point will be seen that the fellowship implied by these commendations and greetings is fragile.  It can be upset and destroyed by those who cause dissension.


1.         The Danger of Dissent and Hindrances:  Keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned (16:17).


Dissension is dangerous.  It can act like a poison to bring disharmony and death into a church.  Yet dissent is not described here as some faceless force.  Dissent is brought about by people who are guilty of causing dissent.  Paul’s instructions are that we are to be on the alert for such people.


Paul describes such people as slaves.  They are dissenting and they are causing hindrances because they are enslaved to something.  There is a lesson here.  You are always a slave of something.  Paul has already spoke of how there was a time when we were slaves of sin (Romans 6:20).


Paul says in verse 18 that such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites.  This sounds very much like what Paul says in Philippians 3:18‑19 where he speaks of those who are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.


There is nothing wrong with having an appetite, either for food or for other sorts of pleasures.  The problem is when you become enslaved to your appetites.  The problem is when you make a god of your appetites.  It is at such a time that your appetites lead you to idolatry.


2.         A Call for Wisdom and Innocence:   I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil (16:19).


Wisdom and innocence are normally thought to be opposites.  But there is a sense in which they are to be seen as partners.


Be Wise...

In the good

Be Innocent...

In the evil


It is entirely possible for one to be both wise as well as innocent.  Jesus said that believers ought to be street smart.  He said that we should be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16).


3.         An Assured Victory:   And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet (16:20).

We are reminded in Romans 5:10 that if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.


God is described as both the “God of hope” in Romans 15:13 and the “God of peace” here in Romans 16:20.  This is a striking designation, especially since Paul began the letter by revealing the “God of wrath.”  Paul has come full circle.  One of the big themes in Romans is the fact that we have been at war with God and that He has become our peace.


This verse points out that just because God is a God of peace does not mean that a battle does not still rage. Satan is still the enemy. But the good news is that Jesus WINS!  And if we are on His side, then we win, too.  Of course, the bruising of Satan goes all the way back to a promise that was given in Genesis 3:15 where God promised that there would be a history of spiritual conflict.


Paul says that Satan will be crushed and that he will be crushed soon.  When will this take place?  I want to suggest that there is a sense in which this takes place every time a person comes to Christ. But it a complete sense, it will be fulfilled at the second coming of Christ.  At such a time, Satan will be crushed.


Notice that the crushing of Satan will be under our feet.  In the ancient world, when an enemy was defeated, the custom was for the victor to place his foot on the neck of the defeated enemy.  That is represented in Joshua 10:24 where Joshua called for all the men of Israel, and said to the chiefs of the men of war who had gone with him, "Come near, put your feet on the necks of these kings." So they came near and put their feet on their necks.  There is going to come a time when God will do it again, not merely with a pagan king, but with the master of all paganism, Satan himself.





            21 Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.  22 I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord.  23 Gaius, host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, the brother.  24 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen. (Romans 16:21-24).


Throughout the earlier part of this chapter, Paul was giving his greetings to individuals and to groups who were in Rome.  Now he sends the greetings of those who are with him in Corinth.  The interesting thing about these names is that they span the full spectrum of the social order.


On one side was Gaius who was wealthy enough to be host to the entire church at Corinth.  Along with him was Erastus, the city treasurer.  These two men reflected the higher end of social strata in Corinth.


At the other end of the spectrum were Tertius and Quartus.  These two names literally mean “third” and “fourth.”  They were typical slave names.  They were names given to men who had no names of their own and who were simply assigned a number.  Tertius would be the number three slave and Quartus would be the number four slave.  Yet they are mentioned here alongside the leaders and nobility of the city.





            25 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past,  26 but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith;  27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen. (Romans 16:25-27).


Paul has given several benedictions throughout this epistle.  This is the last of his benedictions.  It is both a benediction and a summarization of the message of the entire epistle.  Paul refers to that message in several ways:


           My gospel.

           The preaching of Jesus Christ.

           The mystery which is now manifested.


The gospel was a mystery in the Old Testament, not because it was completely hidden, but because it was not fully revealed or realized.  But that gospel is no longer a mystery and Paul says that it has been made known to all the nations.  The reason that the gospel has been made known to all the nations is because of the commandment of the eternal God.  This is a reference to the great commission—the call to go and make disciples of the nations.  We have been commanded to make this message known.


This entire epistle is dedicated to Him who is able to establish you.  The extent of this establishing has been seen throughout the course of the epistle.  It has been an epistle about the righteousness of God and specifically how we are to be established by that righteousness by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Have you been established by Him?


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