7 March 2014

Romans 16:1-16

“Greet one another with a holy kiss” (v. 16)


In 16 verses, the word "greet" occurs 17 times. Today's passage is a remarkable list, a sort of first century extension of 'love to…' that might conclude a letter (or telephone call or email) today. This is a list of names that has fascinated those who read the letter and offers some tantalizing glimpses into the life of the early Church.

First, Paul asks the Romans to welcome the deacon, Phoebe (verses 1-2). These verses have carried a great deal of debate over the centuries as it clearly indicates that women were appointed to positions of leadership in the Church in Paul's time. (We might also note the implication of verse 7 that Junia is considered one of the apostles.) Phoebe would have been the bearer of the epistle.

The list of people to whom Paul sends greetings includes some familiar names, although we might want to be cautious with identifications. Prisca and Aquila (verse 3) are certainly the couple Paul met in Corinth (Acts 18); he shared with them a trade (tent-making) and their home, and they were to share in his journeys. Other conclusions about individuals mentioned here are more speculative: Rufus (verse 13) might be the son of Simon of Cyrene (mentioned in Mark 15:21); Aristobolus (verse 10) might be a brother of Herod Agrippa. Given the close association between the family of Herod and that of the Caesars, this suggests that Christians were close to the most powerful people in the empire (though it is Aristobulus' household, not the man himself, who are listed).

What is clear is that the early Church included some well-travelled individuals and that somehow in a vast city those who came from a distance were able to find the small groups of fellow-believers whose meetings would have been at least semi-secret. When they did find each other, they were to be greeted with a holy kiss. This is probably not a reference to a formal greeting in the Eucharist (if that were part of worship at that time), but a sign that Christians viewed each other with the trust that is to be found in a family.

To Ponder

  • This passage gives us a picture of a cosmopolitan church. How good is your church at welcoming those who come from other parts of the world? To what extent are they seen as leaders and people of importance?
  • The implication is that the Roman Christians knew each other. But are there people in your church whose names you don't know? How do you greet them?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

Having been a Methodist circuit minister and a theological college tutor, Jonathan is now Ministerial Coordinator for Oversight of Ordained Ministries in the Connexional Team..