Sunday School Notes: Romans 16:[24]-27

[24 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ [be] with all of you. Amen.] 25 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 kept secret for times eternal, 26 but now having been revealed and made known through [the] prophetic writings, according to the command of the eternal God unto the obedience of faith for all the nations; 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom [is] the glory forever. Amen.

We began our last Romans study with one specific question, and a couple of general questions with regard to the passage. First, why is verse 24 in some translations, and yet many others either bracket it off, or relegate it to the footnotes? We then asked whether Paul wrote this doxology, and if he did, does it belong at the end of chapter 16, or should it go elsewhere? Having addressed these issues, we examined the verses, especially in light of all that Paul has been teaching throughout this letter.

With regard to verse 24, the earliest and best manuscripts that contain Romans 16 do not have what we know as verse 24. Remember, the verse divisions were later additions. Paul (or, rather, Tertius at Paul’s dictation) just wrote one line after another with no thought of verses or chapters. Some later manuscripts, primarily those that formed the foundation of the KJV (and the NKJV) contained the verse, which is why those translations include it. However, as we shall see, there’s good reason to suspect this verse was a later addition.

Some have suggested that this concluding doxology couldn’t have been written by Paul, and it, too, was a later addition to the letter. Among the more significant arguments cited for this conclusion are:

  • The language of the doxology isn’t very Pauline. Phrases such as “kept secret for times eternal” and “prophetic writings” are more akin to what you would find in Ephesians or Colossians–and, the same people would doubt the Pauline authorship of those letters.
  • None of Paul’s other letters end with a doxology. You might find a doxology close to the end, but not as the concluding verses. Indeed, 16:24 is much more like the kind of ending we would expect from Paul.

Against these arguments, we would note:

  • There’s no good, historical reason to deny the Pauline authorship of Ephesians and Colossians, and if we accept those as Pauline, then the objection concerning language becomes irrelevant. But even if one insists that the language strays too far from what we expect from Paul, even in Romans, we should point out that this is the language of doxology. Paul was articulate enough that he could use different words, and these phrases may be borrowed from another source–who can know for sure?
  • As we will discover, the themes of the doxology resonate with themes we’ve seen throughout Romans, so there is a consistency. And there are similarities between the language of these verses, and what we’ve seen in, for example, Romans 1:1-17.
  • The overwhelming testimony of the manuscript tradition supports its inclusion. In other words, the vast majority of Greek manuscripts that contain Romans 14-16 include these verses. There may be disagreement about where the doxology should go, but there’s no dispute that it should be there.

So, to answer the second question, yes, we believe these words were written by Paul, and were intended by the Lord to be a part of Romans. The last question to address, therefore, is where this doxology goes–at the end of 16, or elsewhere? The Greek manuscripts are divided on this point. Some place the doxology where we have it, some put it after chapter 15, some after chapter 14. Those few that remove it altogether finish with verse 24, which might explain why that verse was added: to provide a more “Pauline” ending to the letter. Some manuscripts don’t have either 15 or 16, which may be due to the influence of the Gnostic heretic Marcion. Gnostics as a whole regarded the material world as inherently evil, so the God of the Old Testament can’t have been the same good God of the New, since He created the material world. Being a good Gnostic, Marcion’s Bible didn’t include the Old Testament, and he removed as many Old Testament references (and as many positive comments about the Jews) as possible from the New Testament. Romans 15 and 16 most likely suffered under his hand as a result. This is probably why we have some manuscripts that don’t contain these chapters.

As you can tell, there are a great many choices for where this doxology should go. One of the oldest manuscripts of Romans we have (known as p46–a papyrus manuscript from the mid-second century), has Romans 1:1 – 15:33, followed by the doxology, followed by 16:1-23. I tend to think this might have been the original arrangement. Not only does it fit the structure of the letter, but it also offers an explanation for why Romans 16 is so jam-packed with greetings, and commendations. It’s possible Romans 16 was actually intended as a cover letter. Since Paul had never been to the Roman church, such a cover letter would have served as an introduction to him, and a validation that this is truly from him. Hence, he greets as many people in the church as he knows, and he offers his commendation of Phoebe–perhaps the person carrying the letter to the church. The awkward ending of verse 23 (“and Quartus the brother”) wouldn’t matter because it’s just the cover letter, and the epistle for-real would begin over the page.

This is just a theory, and I could be wrong. What’s most important is the fact that Romans 16:25-27 is part of this letter, and part of what God inspired the Apostle to write. With that in mind, we then turned to studying the doxology.

The first thing we observed is that the doxology is, in fact, one continuous incomplete sentence. Once again, Paul is so consumed with his topic that he completely loses track of grammar. In the class, I translated the passage directly from the Greek to give everyone a sense of the structure (or lack thereof–the translation above tries to do the same). This reminds us that we don’t believe inspiration to be like “automatic handwriting,” where Paul fell into a trance and God just moved his hand to write. Rather, God used Paul, his background, his voice, and his frailty, to write exactly what He wanted to say. What we see in Paul’s exuberant disregard of sentence structure is a man passionate for the glory of God. How often do we lose ourselves in this way when contemplating the glory and majesty of the Lord?

In the opening line, Paul acknowledges that God is the one who establishes the church. He is the one who strengthens them. In 1:11, Paul expressed a desire to see the brethren there, that he might impart to them a “spiritual gift” to “establish” or “strengthen” them. Here, Paul makes it clear that any strengthening that happens is totally from God. Paul might be used by God as an instrument to bring this about, but God is the one who does the work.

Also, in 1:15, Paul said he wanted to preach the gospel to the Roman church, and here he identifies that gospel as the very thing that can (by God’s power) strengthen them. The gospel and “the preaching of Jesus Christ” are, essentially, the same thing. Paul’s gospel is all about Christ, and what he has done to secure our salvation. As we have seen throughout this epistle (particularly in the latter chapters), for Paul, Christ is our sole motivation for everything we do. Our unity, our service, our love for one another–it’s all for the glory of God and magnification of Christ before a lost and dying world.

We’ve discussed previously the biblical meaning of “mystery.” A mystery, in the Scriptural sense, is not a puzzle we need to figure out. Rather, it’s something that is beyond our comprehension that, outside the revelation of God, we cannot hope to understand. Two examples of biblical mystery:

  • The Trinity: There is a level of understanding we can have with regard the Trinity. God has revealed to us that He is a triune being: one being with three persons. However, there is no way we can comprehend what it means to be triune, because we are not. In fact, there is no other triune being in the universe–this is one of the ways God is unique. Any analogy to the Trinity breaks down, because there is no other Trinity to which we can compare God. So there is a level of understanding, but also a level of mystery that we just need to accept.
  • The Gospel: We know the gospel message, and we believe and rejoice in the tremendous act of grace and mercy on God’s part to send Christ to pay the penalty for our sin. But why didn’t God just punish us all? Why didn’t he just treat us all according to his justice? Why did God choose to provide a means of salvation for His people? He certainly didn’t have to. This is the mystery of the gospel.

Paul has already drawn attention to Old Testament passages that support, and even foretell the coming of Christ and the essence of the gospel message. However, the world didn’t understand (and still doesn’t), and even God’s people, the Jews, didn’t get it. Isaiah 53 opens with a lament on the fact that the message hasn’t been received. We must remember, though, that this was part of God’s intention. There was a right time to reveal the full meaning of these prophecies and promises, and that time is “now”–with the coming of Christ and the proclamation of the Apostles. This veiling and revelation happened “according to the command of the eternal God.” Paul recognizes that God is truly sovereign, both over salvation (see chapter 9), and over the working out of history. God has been at work throughout history, orchestrating the finest details of his plan for humanity, and particularly for His people. This plan is secret to us–it something we couldn’t comprehend anyway. But we can be assured that everything happens, both good and bad, to fulfill that plan. Indeed, as Paul says, the revelation of the gospel was commanded by God for “the obedience of faith for all nations”–that is, to bring to faith not only the Jews, but people of every ethnicity.

In 11:33, Paul extols the wisdom of God, its riches and depth, especially in relation to the gospel and His plan of salvation for both Jew and Gentile. Now, at the conclusion of the doxology, having acknowledged God’s sovereignty, he once again reminds us that God is the only-wise, the one whose eternal decrees are beyond our finite minds. He alone knows how He can reconcile God and man to Himself without violating His justice. I noted that there is no other faith or philosophy I know of that satisfies this conundrum: how can a good and holy God justly save anyone? God could consign us all to eternal punishment, and that’s what justice demands. But what of mercy and grace? God could choose to save some or all of us, but what then of His justice? Only in the gospel do we have God satisfying His justice by sending His Son to pay the penalty for sin on behalf of those He wants to save. Only in the gospel are God’s justice and mercy satisfied.

And it’s to God that all glory is ascribed, glory that is made known to us through Christ, and it is His for eternity. Amen! And so Paul concludes his letter to the church in Rome.

I have really enjoyed preparing and leading this study, and my enjoyment has only been enhanced by the wonderful, thoughtful people that have been a part of it for the past three years. Everyone reading these notes, including me, has been enriched by their comments, objections, and wisdom. May these pages serve to draw God’s people closer to Him, wherever they may be.

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