Feminist approaches can be handy you know

An interpretation of Romans 16:1–16

Over the next four posts I am going to be exploring one of those chapters that we are in danger of skipping over in our Bible reading, but which, with a bit of effort, can give us vital information on the life and practice of the early church. We’ll start with a bit of an overview today and move onto the text proper tomorrow. As the title suggests, I’ll be giving an interpretation that (hopefully) takes particular account of the perspectives offered by a range of feminist approaches to the passage…

Brunner describes this chapter as “one of the most instructive chapters of the New Testament”1 because it provides a window into the early church in Rome. It reveals Roman Christians to be diverse in race, social status and gender and is a “gold mine…” for those “interested in the socioeconomic composition of the early church.”2 However, as we shall see, there is significant disagreement amongst interpreters over the meaning of the greetings, especially to the women he mentions, as to their role and function within the early Christian church.


open quotes… one of the most instructive chapters of the New Testamentclose quotes

Through my interpretation of this passage I will be looking to demonstrate that these verses show the 50’s of the first century to have included the significant involvement of women in the pastoral and missionary work of the Roman church. However, by the end of the first century this influence had been reduced to a minimum, later surviving only in marginal Christian groups that soon were viewed as having “the taint of heresy.”3

There is considerable debate over whether chapter 16 was originally found in Paul’s letter to the Romans. It is surprisingly to read the longest list of greetings found in Pauline texts written to a church Paul had not yet visited, and has led some to question, from the list of names given, whether this actually constituted a shorter letter to the Ephesian church. However, it is worth noting that the letter with the second longest list of greetings is found in Colossians, a church Paul had also not, at the stage of writing, visited himself.

The manuscripts disagree over the accuracy of the order of the text as it now appears in Romans. For example, should the benediction in vv. 25–27 occur at the end of chapter fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, or be omitted altogether? Manuscript evidence can be given in support of each of these alternatives. However, textual criticism does teach us that “no Romans manuscript ever ends with chapter 15.”4 Lampe argues convincingly that Romans 16 is an original and integral part of Paul’s letter epigraphically, theologically and sociologically and this author finds no reason to disagree with his conclusion.5

16:1–16: Overview

In the passage Paul commends Phoebe to the Roman Christians (vv. 1–2), urges them to greet several of their number,6 (vv. 3–15) and to greet one another with a ‘holy kiss’ (v. 16). Seeking their support for his coming missionary work in Spain,7 Paul is aware that he is personally unknown to many in the church. Paul therefore first has to gain their confidence. Paul is indirectly displaying his authority by sending his greetings from ‘all churches’. This also makes sense of why Paul asks the Roman church to greet some of his personal friends rather than simply greeting them directly himself; highlighting that he is known by some within their communities and thereby gaining the trust of those he does not yet know.8

… Continue to Part 2…

  1. Brunner (1959), p. 126  ↩

  2. Moo (1996), p. 918  ↩

  3. Lampe (1991), p. 224  ↩

  4. Lampe (1991), p. 217  ↩

  5. Lampe (1991), p. 219  ↩

  6. “Verses 3–15 is really a connected whole; but perhaps a minor transition can be discerned at v. 8, where Paul moves away from greetings to people that he knows well (vv. 3–7) to greetings of people that he may know only casually or perhaps even only by reputation (vv. 8–15).”, Moo (1996), p. 918  ↩

  7. See Romans 15:24, 30  ↩

  8. Schüssler-Fiorenza (1990), p. 66  ↩

Imagining a new world

Shane Claiborne

…Jack’s mind returned to the wall. ‘I suppose Kingsbridge will now be a fortified town for eve more.’
‘Not for ever, but certainly until Jesus comes again.’
‘You never know,’ Jack said speculatively. ‘There may come a time when savages like William Hamleigh aren’t in power; when the laws protect the ordinary people instead of enslaving them; when the king makes peace instead of war. Think of that – a time when towns in England don’t need walls!’
Philip shook his head. ‘What an imagination,’ he said. ‘It won’t happen before Judgement Day.’

Ken Follett, ‘The Pillars of the Earth’

What the world needs is people who believe so much in another world that they cannot help but begin enacting it now.

Shane Claiborne, ‘The Irresistible Revolution’

10 Ways to Avoid Building Community Within Church

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Regrettably, I think at different times I’ve been guilty of every single item on this list. Are you holding back community?

  1. Keep Conversations Short
  2. Always sit in your “assigned” seat
  3. Avoid New People
  4. Come in Late
  5. Leave immediately after the service (or early)
  6. Be physically present but mentally absent
  7. Don’t share a meal
  8. Stay very, very busy
  9. Make your default response “everything is great”
  10. Don’t show up

See Adam’s commentary and explanation of these at 10 Ways to Avoid Building Community Within the Church.

Maybe the vicar above could learn a lesson or two about building koinonia 😉

Be like Jesus

In honour of John Smulo’s 100,000th hit on his most popular post, Be like Jesus, I’m reproducing it here:


1. Get baptized by the craziest guy in town.

2. Say and do things that are guaranteed to make religious people want to kill you. Repeat again, and again, and again, and again, and again and don’t stop unless forced.

3. Do amazing things for people and ask them to not tell anyone.

4. Hang out with the most despised, marginalized, looked down upon, and shunned people you can find.

5. When possible, forgive and restore people, even if they betrayed you.

6. Live in a way that provokes gossip.

7. Win the most grace competition.

8. Keep the party going. 

9. Serve people (note: nose plugs may be required).

10. If you’re sad cry.

11. Empower people to do the extraordinary.

12. Act like a rock star in a hoteltemple.

13. Radically simplify theology.

14.Break human-made religious laws. Repeat consistently.

15.Prioritize the most important over the important.

16. Let women with questionable backgrounds pay your bills.

The God I don’t understand

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Over at

koinonia they’re starting a series looking at Christopher Wright’s ‘The God I Don’t Understand’.
Chapter 1 looks very promising!

I want to highlight a comment on their blog by ‘Jesse’: “My favorite part of chapter 1 comes near the end where Chris says that we do not just stop and say “evil is mystery,” and end there. No, we grieve, we weep, we lament, we protest, etc. We may not understand evil’s origins, but there are actions we can take…and there are actions God has taken.”

Pride goes before a fall…


A vision of God secures humility. Seeing God for who He is enables us to see ourselves for what we are. This makes us bold, for we see clearly what great good and evil are at issue, and we see that it is not up to us to accomplish it, but up to God–who is more than able. We are delivered from pretending, from being presumptuous about ourselves, and from pushing as if the outcome depended on us. We persist without frustration, and we practice calm and joyful noncompliance with evil of every kind.

Dallas Willard

Success, popularity and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of a much larger temptation of self-rejection. We have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions … Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved’. Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.

Henri Nouwen

In all of creation, identity is a challenge only for humans. A tulip knows exactly what it is. It is never tempted by false ways of being. Nor does it face complicated decisions in the process of becoming. So it is with dogs, rocks, trees, stars, amoebas, electrons, and all other things. All give glory to God by being exactly what they are. For in being what God means them to be, they are obeying him. Humans, however, encounter a more challenging existence…With a little reflection, most of us can become aware of masks we first adopted as strategies to avoid feelings of vulnerability but that have become parts of our social self. Tragically, we settle easily for pretence, and a truly authentic self often seems illusory. There is, however, a way of being for each of us that is as natural and deeply congruent as the life of the tulip…. Our true self-in-Christ is the only self that will support authenticity.

David Benner

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”

Col 3:12

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

Phil 2:3-4

True humility, by example, teaches others to value things rightly, and in so doing, to value each other properly.

The Real Journey

Any other good ones you’d like to add?