Romans 16v1-16 – Part 4

Continued from Part 3Part 1 here

Four other women are worthy of especial mention. Tryphaena, Tryphosa, Mary and Persis (vv. 6, 12) are described by Paul with the verb Kopiao (κοπιάω). This is a technical term describing the labours of a missionary, which implies strong exertion by those who ‘toil’. Paul is known to use this term for his own evangelistic and pastoral ministry,1 but here uses it four times to describe these women. It seems Paul intends for these women to be characterised as members of the community who “deserve respect and recognition for their tireless evangelising and community-building ministry.”2 It is significant that no such descriptions are found in this passage for men.

Lampe gives a detailed analysis of the names provided in Romans 16 in the light of the inscriptions available in Rome. He concludes that four names are definitely not those of slaves or freedmen; ten definitely are; and twelve cannot be determined.3 Whilst we cannot know if this pattern pertains to the church as a whole, if it did, then the composition of the church would broadly mirror wider Rome society.4 Many freedmen were rich businessmen who held a more secure economic position than many within Rome who were freeborn.5

Of the 26 names listed in these verses, only 15% are recognisably Jewish (Andronicus, Junia, and Herodia), pointing therefore to a largely Gentile church. How then can we account for the content of Paul’s letter assuming a fairly developed level of knowledge of both Jewish customs and culture? The most likely solution is that those within the Roman church were of Gentile origin but “had lived as sympathisers on the margins of the synagogues before they became Christian.”6

16:16: Greet one another with a holy kiss

While Watson may be correct in asserting “two Roman congregations”7 in the most general sense of two differing theological positions, Lampe argues from this passage that there could have been up to seven different house-churches in Rome.8 Paul’s purpose in addressing each house-church here seems to be hinted at in him asking them to greet each other with a holy kiss in v. 16. This would serve as a reminder to them that they belonged to the same family and a reminder of the unity Paul longed for, as expressed in chapters 14 and 15. Seen in this light, the verses that immediately follow, whilst seeming to be a “brief and unexplained tirade” (vv. 17–19),9 do make sense as a warning against any heresy that may put their fellowship as a collection of house-churches under threat.

Conclusion

Debate will continue on some aspects of this passage. Feminist commentators rightly caution that the perspectives and experiences of women in scripture have been funnelled through the perspectives of male authors and interpreters. This should heighten our awareness of our own hermeneutical presuppositions and lead us to take special care when interpretive decisions involving gender are required. In the absence of further information, it is often left to the theologian to make informed decisions on exactly how to interpret this list of names and one must be critically aware of ones own hermeneutical blind spots when making interpretative decisions which must always remain provisional.

It is important to recognise in an analysis of Romans 16:1–16 that a “group of 26 hardly allows any generalisation about the Roman church as a whole.”10 Whilst we cannot generalise these results for the Roman church, we also cannot trivialise the importance of what this data reveals. There is no evidence here that the ways in which women participated in the early church differed “in kind or in quantity”11 from the ways in which men worked. Indeed, it appears that Paul “singled out [a number of women for] their service to the Pauline mission.”12 What this data does not conclusively prove however, is that women joined the Pauline mission as an “an association of equals”;13 to make a judgement purely from this data is to go beyond what the text itself allows.

Bibliography

  • Burer, M., H., & Wallace, D., B., (2001) ‘Was Junia Really an Apostle? A Re-examination of Rom 16.7.’ in New Testament Studies 47.1. p. 76–91
  • Bray, G., (Ed.), (1998) Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Romans, (Illinois: Intervarsity Press)
  • Brunner, E., (1959) The Letter to the Romans: A Commentary, (London: Lutterworth Press)
  • Cohick, L., H., (2002) ‘Romans’, in Kroeger and Evans (Ed.), Women’s Bible Commentary, (Illinois: IVP)
  • Gaventa, B., R., (1992) ‘Romans’, in Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe (Ed.) The Women’s Bible Commentary, (London: SPCK)
  • Harrison, E., F., (1976) The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans, (Volume 10: Zondervan)
  • Lampe, P., ‘The Roman Christians of Romans 16’, in Donfried, K., P., (Ed.), (1991) The Romans Debate, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark)
  • Moo, D., (1996) The Epistle to the Romans, (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing)
  • Murray, J., (1965) The Epistle to the Romans: Volume 2, (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s Publishing)
  • Scholar, D., ‘The Place of Women in the Church’s Ministry’, in Levine, A., (2003) A Feminist Companion to the Deutero-Pauline Epistles, (London: T&T Clark)
  • Schüssler-Fiorenza, E., (1990) ‘Missionaries, Apostles, Co-workers: Romans 16 and the Reconstruction of Women’s Early Christian History’, in Loades, A., (Ed.), Feminist Theology: A Reader, (London: SPCK)
  • –––––– (1995) In Memory of Her, (Second Edition: London: SCM Press)
  • Wacker, M., (1998) ‘Feminist Exegetical Hermeneutics’, in Schottroff, L., Schroer, S., Wacker, M., Feminist Interpretation: The Bible in Women’s Persepctive, (MN: Fortress Press), pp. 36–62
  • Ziesler, J., (1989) Paul’s Letter to the Romans, (London: SCM Press)

  1. See Gal 4:11 and 1 Cor 15:10  ↩

  2. Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 68  ↩

  3. Moo (1996), p. 918 quoting Lampe  ↩

  4. Moo (1996), p. 918  ↩

  5. Lampe (1991), p. 229  ↩

  6. Lampe (1991), p. liii  ↩

  7. Watson argues that there are two separate congregations in Rome marked by “mutual hostility and suspicion over the question of the law.” Watson in Lampe (1991), p. 206  ↩

  8. Lampe (1991), p. liii. It’s worth noting that most commentators identify between three and five separate house churches (vv. 5, 14, 15, cf. also vv. 10, 11.) See, for example, Moo (1996), p. 918  ↩

  9. Ziesler (1989), p. 349  ↩

  10. Lampe (1991), p. 224  ↩

  11. Gaventa (1992), p. 320  ↩

  12. Scholar (2003), p. 121  ↩

  13. Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 70–71  ↩

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