BibleTexts.com Commentary on Individual Verses
Textual Commentary on Romans, Chapter 16
edited by Robert Nguyen Cramer, BibleTexts.com
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Was Romans 16 written to the Romans or
to the Ephesians, as a letter of recommendation for Phoebe?
Helmut Koester's view: The entire 16th chapter of Romans is very possibly a letter that Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and is not part of his letter to the church in Rome. According to some scholars, Paul's letter to the Romans is contained in its entirety in what is now Romans chapter 1 through chapter 15. Dr. Helmut Koester said :
...I'll say a few things about the Epistle to the Romans. First of all, I think there are two letters. Romans 16 was not sent to Rome. Romans 16 has a long list of several dozen names of people that Paul knows. He didn't know several dozen people in Rome. Moreover we know that these people are connected with Ephesus.
Prisca and Aquila were in Corinth, and they came over to Ephesus when Paul started his mission there as his assistants. That Prisca and Aquila had meanwhile moved to Rome is not quite believable, because they were apparently still in Ephesus a few months earlier, when Paul left there. So were many others…
Romans 16 is a letter of recommendation, the earliest letter of recommendation for a Christian minister, and it's written for a woman, Phoebe, who is, in the beginning of the chapter, said to have been a deacon, not a deaconess -- but a deacon in the sense of a preacher, a minister, because Paul uses the same word for himself. He calls himself, in a number of instances, a deacon of the new covenant in 2 Corinthians.
It's the male form not even the female form that is used in Greek here. The other word that is used for Phoebe is a Greek word "prostatis." Now if you go into the general dictionary of Greek, it will say "prostatis" has two meanings: "1. president, and 2. patron." Now an Old and New Testament dictionary which is no longer in print said "prostatis" means "1. president, 2. patron, 3. helper," in parenthesis, "(only in Romans 16:1)." And that's the translation that has existed for a long time. I think it has now disappeared from The New Revised Standard Version.
So, Paul writes this as a recommendation for Phoebe who is probably the president of the Christian community in Cenchreae and a deacon that is a preacher -- not a helper and a deaconess. (That's the old translation.)
And this letter has one other very interesting information about women, namely it contains greetings to Junia and Andronicus, who both have been "well-respected apostles before me." Now Junia is a woman. I showed you the inscription for Junia for the woman.1 And there's an old debate that this should read, "Junias," which is a male name, with an "s" at the end, and that's because it was unthinkable that a woman was an apostle.
Now early in this century a very famous German scholar, Hans Lietzmann, who was a superb philologian, made an investigation into all surviving names of antiquity and came to the conclusion that the name Junias did not exist -- that the name Junianus existed and that the name Junias is possible as a short form for the name Junianus, but there was no evidence that it was ever used. So he says philologically you cannot bring evidence that this was a man Junias rather than a woman Junia, but he says that since it's not thinkable that a woman was an apostle, we have to read the male name Junias. And later commentaries say we have to read the male name Junias, because Hans Lietzmann has brought the philological evidence. Well,... he has done the evidence. He has done the opposite! So, no question -- scholars agree today that indeed Romans 16 contains reference to a female apostle named Junia, whom Paul recognized as an apostle before him.
The other two dozen names are not girlfriends and boyfriends of Paul, but they are, of course, collaborators, and Paul writes this letter to Ephesus as a sort of final greeting to the Ephesian community, with also greetings among others from Erastus, the city treasurer, of which I showed you the slide of the pavement that he made.  That is Romans 16. Romans 1 through 15 is also a letter of recommendation, but a letter of recommendation for himself, because he now goes to the community that does not know him…
 The above quote includes excerpts from Dr. Helmut Koester's September 13, 1997 address entitled, "St. Paul: His Mission to the Greek Cities & His Competitors," which he delivered at The Foundation for Biblical Research, Charlestown, NH, USA. This excerpt was transcribed by Robert Nguyen Cramer from an audio recording and used here by permission of The Foundation for Biblical Research, by whom all rights and copyrights are reserved. For the complete excerpt, browse http://www.bibletexts.com/terms/women01.htm.)
 Erastus, the city treasurer, is one of the very few Christians mentioned in the New Testament of whom there is verifiable archeological evidence of their place and time. Dr. Koester showed a slide of a Erastus' pavement, which described him as the city treasurer. At that time and place, engraved pavements were used for the same purpose that signs on the window, the door, the awning, or elsewhere on the front of today's stores and buisinesses. This is literally concrete proof that Romans 16 was written to the Christians in Ephesus.
T.W. Manson's view: In Peake's Commentary on the Bible (edited by Matthew Black and H.H. Rowley, New York: Nelson, 1962, page 952), T.W. Manson titled chapter 16 of Romans simply as "The Note to Ephesus." Manson went on to say, "This chapter was added by Paul to a copy of Rom. which he sent to Ephesus."
F.F Bruce's view: Elsewhere in Peake's Commentary, even the usually very conservative biblical scholar F.F. Bruce comments:
There is some textual evidence that Rom. circulated in two shorter recensions than that which we know... The existence of a recension which omitted ch. 16 points in the same direction. Whether the greetings of ch. 16 were sent to Rome or Ephesus, they would have been sent originally to one church only. In either case the words 'All the churches of Christ greet you' (16:16) would be especially appropriate at the time when Paul was about to sail for Judaea, and had been joined by the delegates who were to carry their churches' gifts to Jerusalem.
C.K Barrett's's view: A contrary view was articulated by C.K. Barrett (The Epistle to the Romans, New York: Harper & Row, 1957, pages 281-283). Barrett wrote:
The view has often been maintained (on grounds partly textual) that xvi. 1-23 was not addressed to the church of Rome. It is said (a) that Paul is unlikely to have known so many members of the Roman church, which he had never visited; and (b) that some of the names mentioned point rather to Ephesus (which Paul knew well) than to Rome. Neither these nor the textual arguments are convincing. (a) In writing to a strange church Paul might very naturally include as many personal greetings as he could in order to establish as close contact as possible. (b) The possibility of movement on the part of members of the Pauline churches must be reckoned with. See below on Prisca and Aquilla; for the migration from Asia Monor to Tusculum of a household of 500 persons (including slaves), who form a 'house-church' of initiates of Dionsus, see Lietzmann pp. 120 f. (c) Arguments based upon names are worth little in view of the fact that men of all races met in Rome. Literary and other evidence for the occurence of the names in this chapter will be found in LIetzmann and Michel....
[Prisca and Acquilla] had been expelled from Rome..., made their way to Corinth, and thence to Ephesus. There is no reason why they should not have returned to Rome, especially if Romans was written after the death of Claudius (13 October 54). That 'all the churches' had reason to be grateful to them confirms that they had numerous contacts over a wide area. How, or on what occasion, they risked their lives on Paul's account, is completely unknown to us.
Robert Nguyen Cramer comment: Barrett's commentary regarding Romans 16 was written prior to the discovery in Ephesus of ancient pavement that describes Erastus as the city treasurer, just as Paul had noted in his letter (Romans 16:23). Helmut Koester references that discovery in his comments above.
Edited for BibleTexts.com by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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