Sunday School Notes: Romans 16:19-23
19 For your obedience has become known to all, therefore I rejoice over you, and I wish for you to be wise unto the good, and innocent unto the evil. 20 And the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus [be] with you. 21 Timothy, my co-laborer, greets you, and Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. 22 I, Tertius, the one who wrote the letter, greet you in the Lord. 23 Gaius, my host, and [host of] the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, greets you, and Quartus, the brother.
In the midst of sending greetings to the Roman church, Paul launches into a brief warning against false teachers. Last time, we discussed how this was probably intended as a warning to watch those currently within the church causing dissension, not necessary to watch the gates for false teachers coming in from outside. Paul describes these false teachers as employing smooth talking and nice words. The Greek terms are of interest, since they speak of “sayings” or “messages” that are “good” or “lovely” (chrêstologia), and words that are a blessing, or flattering (eulogia). And with these words, they deceive the hearts of those that are akakos. That term literally means “without bad,” which we can take to mean “innocent” or “guileless.” However, I think the context demands a rendering more along the lines of “naive”–those who stick their heads in the sand and pretend evil isn’t there. Reading on in verse 19, I think this becomes clear, as he exhorts the Romans to be “wise unto the good, and innocent unto the evil.” What he wants of the Romans is not to assume the best of everyone, and act as if no-one has evil intent. Rather, he wants them to grow in wisdom with regard to that which is good, and protect themselves against evil. The Greek for evil there is kakos, so there’s a verbal connection with “naive.” They need to know and recognize what evil is, but not become a part of that evil. They should be innocent of evil, while perfectly aware of what it looks like, and be able to know it when they hear or see it.
It’s sad that in our day, many within the church are loathed to call any false teaching “evil,” and want to sugar coat and whitewash that which is contrary to Scripture. Paul calls us all here to stop pretending there’s no such thing as false doctrine, and no such thing as false teachers. Truth is not relative, and we all need to be so familiar with the truth, and so in love with the truth, that we will not tolerate that which is clearly a lie.
On the whole, it seems Paul has an optimistic view of the Roman church. He has never visited them, but their reputation for standing for the truth is widespread. He rejoices that they are obedient (presumably to the gospel, and to Christ), and this will serve them well as they follow Paul’s admonition to them.
We got into an interesting discussion on how we are to understand the classic differentiation between “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge.” In Christian circles, it’s not uncommon to hear someone talk of a nominal believer as one who has “head knowledge”–i.e., they know all the right things to say, but they lack “heart knowledge,” there’s no real conviction there. In other words, they’ve learned the right phrases, but they don’t know the Savior personally. There’s a danger with this, that we might get into thinking that truth resides in the heart. Only if you are convinced in your heart, and have an emotional response to something, is it real in your life. Against this, we have passages like Romans 16:18, and Romans 12:2, where clearly the heart is seen as easily led astray, and the exhortation to be transformed in the mind–not the heart. Christianity does not demand that we ignore our minds. Indeed, we are expected to be thinking people, studying God’s Word, and applying the truths we read and hear from the pulpit to our everyday lives. We are not simply to believe what “feels right.” Since the heart is so prone to corruption, and we are so easily caught up in our emotions, we need to allow our sanctified, Spirit-renewed minds to act as guardians of our hearts. When are hearts would have us wander, our minds remind us of God’s truth, and bring our hearts back into line. This isn’t to say we can’t be emotional. Indeed, the truth should elicit from us an emotional response. The beauty of the gospel, the truth of the Trinity, and the amazing revelation of God’s sovereign work in election and regeneration we see in Scripture should all cause us to love and adore our God and Savior all the more. These things should fill our hearts to overflowing, more than any hug or feel-good movie, or smooth, flattering words.
Verse 20 serves as a reminder that there is a spiritual context to the battle against false teachers. We are engaged in spiritual warfare, and ultimately, any victory we have against those who spread lies and dissension within the church is a victory of the God of peace over Satan. Paul reminds the Romans that God will crush Satan under their feet, and He’ll do it “soon.” Note that God will crush Satan under their feet, not His. In other words, they will be the instruments God will use in Satan’s downfall, lest they should be tempted to feel proud in themselves. This is an important attitude to have as we enter daily battle with the forces of the Enemy that are ranged against us. We fight the battle as servants of the living God, and it is only as He enables and empowers that we have the victory. There is no cause for boasting on our part; without God, we’re useless and completely vulnerable to Satan’s attack. But the situation isn’t hopeless, because God will have the victory. I think Paul’s words have both an immediate sense, God will make them victorious now, and a future, eschatological sense: a day is coming when Satan will be cast into the lake of fire, and there will be true peace between God and His people, and within the people of God. Paul’s reference to God as “the God of peace” is, I think, aimed at what Paul wants to see within the church at Rome: peace between Jew and Gentile believers. And, again, that peace can only come by the power of God. The benediction at the end of the verse reminds the Romans that the strength they need to discern the Enemy’s attacks and resist him comes only by the grace of the Lord
In verses 21-23, we return to the greetings Paul is delivering to the Roman church from various people. At the end of 16, he gave a general greeting from “all the churches of Christ.” He turns now to particular individuals that want to greet the church, starting with Timothy, “my co-laborer.” Timothy is actually quite a prominent figure in Paul’s life. We first encounter him in Acts 16, where Luke tells us he is the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father. He is well-regarded by the brethren in Lystra and Iconium, and becomes a frequent traveler alongside Paul. His name is often attached to Paul’s letters (see 2 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon), and he himself was the recipient of two canonical letters from Paul. With such credentials, one might wonder why Timothy is given such a brief, almost dismissive introduction. It’s possible that Timothy is so well-known to the Romans, that he needs no introduction beyond the fact that he’s Paul’s co-laborer. It would also be consistent with Christian humility to demand no more recognition that that. Indeed, what greater honor should a servant of the Lord need than to be known as a laborer in the gospel?
The next name on the list is Lucius, who, along with Jason and Sosipater, Paul regards as his “kinsman.” Some think Lucius is actually Luke, author of the Gospel and Acts, and traveling companion to Paul. The main problem with this is the fact that Luke was Greek, so he could hardly be Paul’s “kinsman.” There’s a Lucius of Cyrene in Acts 13:1 who might be a more likely candidate, but we can’t be sure. Sosipater is probably the Sosipater who left Greece with Paul in Acts 20:4. I’ve mentioned before how I would place the writing of this letter somewhere in amongst the events of Acts 20, which increases the likelihood that this is the same Sosipater. Indeed, he and Lucius may be the men Paul chose to go with him to Jerusalem to deliver the contribution to the saints.
As for Tertius, this is all we know about him: he was Paul’s amanuensis for this letter. It was not uncommon at that time for letters to be written at dictation. This would be especially useful if, for example, one’s penmanship was lacking, or one’s literacy was not what it could be. In Paul’s case, it’s possible the former might be the situation. Galatians 6:11 preserves for us an instance where Paul took the pen and wrote in his own hand. The proof he offered that this was his own handwriting was by the fact that the letters were so large. It’s possible Paul was nearsighted, which, in the days before corrective lenses, would have made writing difficult. If he had written Romans himself, imagine how much parchment he might have used for all 16 chapters! It’s not unreasonable, therefore, for Paul to have employed the services of amanuenses to write in neat, clear letters the things he wanted to say. Some have suggested that some portions of Paul’s letters were actually written not by Paul, but by his amanuensis, maybe even without Paul’s knowledge. There is, however, a consistency of style between the Pauline letters, even when he’s using different amanuenses, to suggest they were all faithful to Paul’s words. What we have in 16:22 is an exceptional instance, where Paul allowed Tertius to insert his own greeting. Perhaps Tertius was known to the Roman church, which is why Paul permitted this.
If Paul is writing from Corinth, as I suggested at the beginning of the study, then Gaius is probably Gaius of Corinth mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:14. We’ve already discussed how important hospitality is within the church (see the notes on Romans 12:13), and especially back then, when Christians were not the most well-regarded, and churches weren’t necessarily advertising themselves. A Christian coming into a new town looking for a place to stay would be particularly blessed to encounter someone from the local church. For people within the church to put themselves out to give a fellow believer a meal and perhaps a room for the night was considered a notable ministry, as it should be in our day, too. Gaius was clearly someone within the Roman church with this ministry, a ministry he not only extended to those within the church, but to those outside the church like Paul.
There’s an Erastus mentioned in Acts 19:21-22 whom Paul sent into Macendonia from Corinth. This could be the same Erastus who sends greetings to the church in Rome. However, an inscription found in Corinth mentions someone called Erastus who was an “aedile.” In ancient Rome, the aedile was a government official responsible for streets, buildings, and certain finances. Paul’s description of Erastus as an oikonomos of the city may be an equivalent term to the Roman aedile. If not, Erastus might have started out as an oikonomos, and advanced later to being an aedile. It’s possible that Erastus of Romans 16:23 could be this Erastus; or it’s as likely that the Erastus of 16:23, the Erastus of Acts 19, and the Erastus of the inscription are all the same person.
Quartus is not mentioned anywhere else, so all we know is that he is a believer with Paul, probably known to at least some in Rome. And with Quartus we end the greetings section of the letter.
It’s my intention that next time–our last meeting for the year–we will finish Romans. We’ll start with the “missing” verse 24, and then discuss the final doxology, the status of which has also been called into question in the past. If there’s time, we’ll also consider what we’ve learned from Romans, and look ahead to our next study.