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Charles Hodge’s Commentary on Romans: Romans 16


In This Concluding Chapter, Paul First Commends To The Church At Rome The Deaconess Phebe, Vers. 1, 2. He Then Sends His Salutations To Many Members Of The Church, And Other Christians Who Were Then At Rome, Vers. 3-16. He Earnestly Exhorts His Brethren To Avoid Those Who Cause Contentions; And After Commending Their Obedience, He Prays For God's Blessing Upon Them, Vers. 17-21. Salutations From The Apostle's Companions, Vers. 22-24. The Concluding Doxology, Vers. 25-27.

Romans 16:1-27


VERSE 1. I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea. Phebe, from Phoebus (Apollo.) The early Christians retained their names, although they were derived from the names of false gods, because they had lost all religious significance and reference. In like manner we retain the use of the names of the days of the week, without ever thinking of their derivation. Corinth, being situated on a narrow isthmus, had two ports, one towards Europe, and the other towards Asia. The latter was called Cenchrea, where a church had been organized, of which Phebe was a servant (διάκονος) i.e. deaconess. It appears that in the apostolic church, elderly females were selected to attend upon the poor and sick of their own sex. Many ecclesiastical writers suppose there were two classes of these female officers; the one (πρεσβύτιδες, corresponding in some measure in their duties to the elders,) having the oversight of the conduct of the younger female Christians; and the other, whose duty was to attend to the sick and the poor. See Suicer's Thesaurus, under the word διάκονος; Bingham's Ecclesiastical Antiquities, 11, 12; Augusti's Denkwürdigkeiten der christl. Archäologie.

VERSE 2. That ye receive her in the Lord. The words in the Lord, may be connected either with receive, 'receive her in a religious manner, and from religious motives; or with the pronoun, her in the Lord, her as a Christian. The apostle presents two considerations to enforce this exhortation; first, regard for their Christian character; and, secondly, the service which Phebe had rendered to others. As becometh saints; this expression at once describes the manner in which they ought to receive her, and suggests the motive for so doing. The words ἀξίως τῶν ἁγίων may mean, 'as it becomes Christians to receive their brethren,' or, 'sicut sanctos excipi oportet, as saints ought to be received.' In the former case, ἁγὶων (saints) are those who received, and in the latter, those who are received.

And that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you. They were not only to receive her with courtesy and affection, but to aid her in any way in which she required their assistance. The words (ἐν ᾧ ἂν πράγματι) in whatsoever business, are to be taken very generally, in whatever matter, or in whatever respect.

For she hath been a succorer of many, and of myself also. The word (προστάτις) succorer, means a patroness, a benefactor; it is a highly honorable title. As she had so frequently aided others, it was but reasonable that she should be assisted.

VERSE 3. Salute Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus, i.e. my fellow laborers in the promotion of the gospel. Priscilla is the diminutive form of Prisca; compare Livia and Livilla, Drusa and Drusilla, Quinta and Quintilla, Secunda and Secundilla. Grotius. Aquila and Priscilla are mentioned in Acts 18:2, as having left Rome in consequence of the edict of Claudius. After remaining at Ephesus a long time, it seems that they had returned to Rome, and were there when Paul wrote this letter; Acts 18:18, 26; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19.

VERSE 4. Who have for my life laid down their own necks, i.e. they exposed themselves to imminent peril to save me. On what occasion this was done, is not recorded.

Unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches the Gentiles. Their courageous and disinterested conduct must have been generally known, and called forth the grateful acknowledgments of all the churches interested in the preservation of a life so precious as that of the apostle.

VERSE 5. The church that is in their house. These words (καὶ τὴν κατ· οἶκον αὐτῶν ἐκκλησίαν) are understood, by many of the Greek and modern commentators, to mean their Christian family; so Calvin, Flatt, Koppe, Tholuck, etc. The most common and natural interpretation is, 'the church which is accustomed to assemble in their house;' see 1 Corinthians 16:19, where this same expression occurs in reference to Aquila and Priscilla. It is probable that, from his occupation as tentmaker, he had better accommodations for the meetings of the church than most other Christians.

Salute my well beloved Epenetus, who is the first fruits of Achaia unto Christ. This passage is not irreconcilable with 1 Corinthians 16:15, "Ye know the household of Stephanas, that it is the first-fruits of Achaia;" for Epenetus may have belonged to this family. So many of the oldest MSS. and versions, however, read Asia, instead of Achaia, in this verse, that the great majority of editors have adopted that reading. This, of course, removes even the appearance of contradiction.

VERSES 6, 7. Greet Mary, who bestowed much labor upon us. Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. Instead of εἰς ἡμᾶς, some of the older MSS. read εἰς ὑμᾶς, and others ἐν ὑμῖν. The common text is, however, retained in the latest editions, and is better suited to the context, as the assiduous service of Mary, rendered to the apostle, is a more natural reason of his salutation, than that she had been serviceable to the Roman Christians. It is very doubtful whether Junia be the name of a man or of a woman, as the form in which it occurs (᾿Ιουνίαν) admits of either explanation. If a man's name, it is Junias; if a woman's, it is Junia. It is commonly taken as a female name, and the person intended is supposed to have been the wife or sister of Andronicus.

My kinsmen, i.e. relatives, and not merely of the same nation; at least there seems no sufficient reason for taking the word in this latter general sense.

Fellow prisoners. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 11:23, when enumerating his labors, says, "In stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft," etc. He was often in bonds, (Clemens Romanus, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, sect. 5, says seven times,) he may, therefore, have had numerous fellow-prisoners.

Who are of note among the apostles; ἐπίσημοι ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις. This may mean either they were distinguished apostles, or they were highly respected by the apostles. The latter is most probably the correct interpretation; because the word apostle, unless connected with some other word, as in the phrase, "messengers (apostles) of the churches," is very rarely, if ever, applied in the New Testament to any other than the original messengers of Jesus Christ. It is never used in Paul's writings, except in its strict official sense. The word has a fixed meaning, from which we should not depart without special reason. Besides, the article (ἐν τοῖς ἀποστόλοις,) among the apostles, seems to point out the definite well known class of persons almost exclusively so called. The passage is so understood by Koppe (magna eorum fama est apud apostolos,) Flatt, Bloomfield, Meyer, Philippi, and the majority of commentators.

Who also were in Christ before me, i.e. who were Christians before me.

VERSES 8-15. My beloved in the Lord. The preposition in (ἐν), here, as frequently elsewhere, points out the relation or respect in which the word, to which it refers is to be understood; brother beloved, both in the flesh and in the Lord (Philemon 1:16,) both in reference to our external relations, and our relation to the Lord. And thus in the following, ver. 9, our helper in Christ, i.e. as it regards Christ; ver. 10, approved in Christ, i.e. in his relation to Christ; an approved or tried Christian; ver. 12, who labor in the Lord; and, which labored much in the Lord, i.e. who, as it regards the Lord, labored much; it was a Christian or religious service. The names, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis, all are feminine. The last is commonly supposed to indicate the native country of the person who bore it, as it was not unusual to name persons from the place of their origin, as Mysa, Syria, Lydia, Andria, etc.; such names, however, soon became common, and were given without any reference to the birthplace of those who received them.

Chosen in the Lord, i.e. not one chosen by the Lord; chosen, (i.e., approved, precious; see 1 Peter 2:4,) in his relation to the Lord, as a Christian. It is not merely elect in Christ, that is, chosen to eternal life, for this could be said of every Christian; but Rufus is here designated as a chosen man, as a distinguished Christian. It is worth noticing, that at Rome, as at Corinth, few of the great or learned seem to have been called. These salutations are all addressed to men not distinguished for their rank or official dignity. Mylius, as quoted by Calov, says:

"Notanda hic fidelium istorum conditio: nemo hic nominatur consul, nemo quaestor aut dictator insignitur, minime omnium episcopatuum et cardinalatuum dignitate hic personant: sed operarum, laborum, captivitate titulis plerique notantur. Ita verum etiam in Romana ecclesia fuit olim, quod apostouls scribit, non multi potentis, non multi nobiles, sed stuta mundi electa sunt a Deo. Papatus autem Caesarei, qualis adjuvante diabolo, in perniciem religionis, posteris saeculis Romae involuit, ne umbra quidem apostolorum aetate istic fuit: tantum abest, ut ille originem ab apostolis ipsis traxerit."

VERSE 16. Salute one another with a holy kiss. Reference to this custom is made also in 1 Corinthians 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14. It is supposed to have been of oriental origin, and continued for a long time in the early churches; after prayer, and especially before the celebration of the Lord's Supper, the brethren saluting in this way the brethren, and the sisters the sisters. This salutation was expressive of mutual affection and equality before God.

VERSE 17. Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them. While he urges them to the kind reception of all faithful ministers and Christians, he enjoins upon them to have nothing to do with those who cause divisions and offenses. There were probably two evils in the apostle's mind when he wrote this passage; the divisions occasioned by erroneous doctrines, and the offenses or scandals occasioned by the evil conduct of the false teachers. Almost all the forms of error which distracted the early church, were intimately connected with practical evils of a moral character. This was the case to a certain extent with the Judaizers; who not only disturbed the church by insisting on the observance of the Mosaic law, but also pressed some of their doctrines to an immoral extreme; see 1 Corinthians 5:1-5. It was still more obviously the case with those errorists, infected with a false philosophy, who are described in Colossians 2:10-23; 1 Timothy 4:1-8. These evils were equally opposed to the doctrines taught by the apostle. Those who caused these dissensions, Paul commands Christians, first, to mark (σκοπεῖν,) i.e. to notice carefully, and not allow them to pursue their corrupting course unheeded; and, secondly, to avoid, i.e. to break off connection with them.

VERSE 18. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. These men are to be avoided, because they are wicked and injurious. The description here given is applicable, in a great degree, to errorists in all ages. They are not actuated by zeal for the Lord Jesus; they are selfish, if not sensual; and they are plausible and deceitful. Compare Philippians 3:18, 19; 2 Timothy 3:5, 6. The words (χρηστολογία and εὐλογία, blandiloquentia et assentatio) rendered good words and fair speeches, do not in this connection materially differ. They express that plausible and flattering address by which false teachers are wont to secure an influence over the simple. The word (ἄκακος) simple, signifies not merely innocent, but unwary, he who is liable to deception. (Proverbs 14:15, ἄκακος πιστεύει παντὶ λόγῳ, the simple believes everything.)

VERSE 19. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men, etc. This clause admits of two interpretations: the word obedience may express either their obedience to the gospel, their faith, (see Romans 1:8,) or their obedient disposition, their readiness to follow the instructions of their religious teachers. If the former meaning be adopted, the sense of the passage is this, 'Ye ought to be on your guard against these false teachers, for since your character is so high, your faith being everywhere spoken of, it would be a great disgrace and evil to be led astray by them.' If the latter meaning be taken, the sense is, 'It is the more necessary that you should be on your guard against these false teachers, because your ready obedience to your divine teachers is so great and generally known. This, in itself, is commendable, but I would that you joined prudence with your docility.' This latter view is, on account of the concluding part of the verse, most probably the correct one; see 2 Corinthians 10:6; Philemon 1:21.

I am glad, therefore, on your behalf; but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil. That is, 'Simplicity (an unsuspecting docility) is indeed good; but I would have you not only simple, but prudent. You must not only avoid doing evil, but be careful that you do not suffer evil. Grotius' explanation is peculiarly happy, ita prudentes ut non fallamini; ita boni ut non fallatis; 'too good to deceive, too wise to be deceived.' The word (ἀκέραιος from α et κεράω) simple, means unmixed, pure, and then harmless. 'Wise as to (εἰς) good, but simple as to evil' or, 'wise so that good may result, and simple so that evil may not be done.' This latter is probably the meaning. Paul would have them wise to know how to take care of themselves; and yet harmless.

VERSE 20. And the God of Peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen. As the evils produced by the false teachers were divisions and scandals, the apostle, in giving them the assurance of the effectual aid of God, calls him the God of peace, i.e. God who is the author of peace in the comprehensive scriptural sense of that term.

Shall bruise is not a prayer, but a consolatory declaration that Satan should be trodden under foot. As Satan is constantly represented as "working in the children of disobedience," the evil done by them is sometimes referred to him as the instigator, and sometimes to the immediate agents who are his willing instruments.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. This is a prayer for the favor and aid of Christ, and of course is an act of worship, and a recognition of the Savior's divinity.

VERSES 21-24. These verses contain the salutations of the apostle's companions to the Roman Christians, and a repetition of the prayer just mentioned.

I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord. Tertius was Paul's amanuensis. The apostle seldom wrote his epistles with his own hand; hence he refers to the fact of having himself written the letter to the Galatians as something unusual; Galatians 6:11, "Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with my own hand." In order to authenticate his epistles, he generally wrote himself the salutation or benediction at the close; 1 Corinthians 16:21, "The salutation of me Paul, with mine own hand;" 2 Thessalonians 3:17, "The salutation of Paul with mine own hand; which is the token in every epistle: so I write."

Gaius mine host, and of the whole church, i.e. Gaius, who not only entertains me, but Christians generally; or, in whose house the congregation is accustomed to assemble.

Erastus the chamberlain of the city, (οἰκονόμος) the treasurer of the city, the quaestor.

VERSES 25, 27. These verses contain the concluding doxology. Now to him that is of power to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, etc. As the apostle interweaves with his doxology a description and eulogium of the gospel, he renders the sentence so long and complicated that the regular grammatical construction is broken. There is nothing to govern the words (τῷ δυναμένῳ) to him that is of power. The words, be glory for ever, (which are repeated at the end in connection with ᾧ) are, therefore, most probably to be supplied.

To him that is able to establish you, i.e. to render you firm and constant, to keep you from falling.

According to my gospel. The word (κατά) according to, may be variously explained. It may be rendered, 'establish you in my gospel;' but this the proper meaning of the words will hardly allow; or, agreeably to my gospel; in such a manner as the gospel requires; or, through, i.e. by means of my gospel. The second interpretation is perhaps the best.

And the preaching of Jesus Christ. This may mean either 'Christ's preaching,' or 'the preaching concerning Christ;' either interpretation gives a good sense, the gospel being, both a proclamation by Christ, and concerning Christ. The apostle dwells upon this idea, and is led into a description and commendation of the gospel.

According to the revelation of the mystery. These words may be considered as coordinate with the preceding clause; the sense then is, 'Who is able to establish you agreeably to (or through) my gospel, agreeably to (through) the revelation of the mystery, etc.' It is, however, more common to consider this clause as subordinate and descriptive. 'The gospel is a revelation of the mystery which had been hid for ages.' The word mystery, according to the common scriptural sense of the term, does not mean something obscure or incomprehensible, but simply something previously unknown and undiscoverable by human reason, and which, if known at all, must be known by a revelation from God. In this sense the gospel is called a mystery, or "the wisdom of God in a mystery, that is, a hidden wisdom," which the wise of this world could not discover, but which God has revealed by his Spirit, 1 Corinthians 2:7-10; 4:1; Ephesians 6:19; Colossians 1:25-27; 2:2, etc. In the same sense any particular doctrine, as the calling of the Gentiles, Ephesians 3:4-6; the restoration of the Jews, Romans 11:25; the change of the bodies of living believers at the last day, 1 Corinthians 15:51; is called a mystery, because a matter of divine revelation. According to this passage, Paul speaks of the gospel as something "which had been kept secret since the world began;" (χρόνοις αἰωνίοις,) i.e. hidden from eternity in the divine mind. It is not a system of human philosophy, or the result of human investigation, but it is a revelation of the purpose of God. Paul often presents the idea that the plan of redemption was formed from eternity, and is such as no eye could discover, and no heart conceive, 1 Corinthians 2:7-9; Colossians 1:26.

VERSE 26. But is now made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets; that is, 'this gospel or mystery, hidden from eternity, is now revealed; not now for the first time indeed, since there are so many intimations of it in the prophecies of the Old Testament.' It is evident that the apostle adds the words and by the Scriptures of the prophets, to avoid having it supposed that he overlooked the fact that the plan of redemption was taught in the Old Testament; compare Romans 1:2; 3:21.

According to the command of the everlasting God, that is, this gospel is now made manifest by command of God. Paul probably uses the expression, everlasting (αἰωνίου) God, because he had just before said that the gospel was hid from eternity. 'It is now revealed by that eternal Being in whose mind the wonderful plan was formed, and by whom alone it could be revealed.'

Made known to on nations for the obedience of the faith. 'Made known among (εἰς, see Mark 13:10; Luke 24:47) all nations.'

For the obedience of faith, i.e. that they should become obedient to the faith; see Romans 1:5. This gospel so long concealed, or but partially revealed in the ancient prophets, is now, by the command of God, to be made known among all nations.

VERSE 27. To the only wise God be glory through Jesus Christ for ever, Amen. There is an ambiguity in the original which is not retained in our version. 'To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever.' The construction adopted by our translators is perhaps the one most general]y approved. 'To him that is able to establish you, to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be glory.' In this case the relative, ᾡ, to whom, in verse 27, is pleonastic. Others explain the passage thus, 'To the only wise God, made known through Jesus Christ, to whom (i.e., Christ) be glory for ever.' The simplest construction is, 'To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to him, I say, be glory for ever. 'As Paul often calls the gospel the "wisdom of God," in contrast with the wisdom of men, he here, when speaking of the plan of redemption as the product of the divine mind, and intended for all nations, addresses his praises to its author as the Only Wise God, as that Being whose wisdom is so wonderfully displayed in the gospel and in all his other works, that he alone can be considered truly wise.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans


1. It is the duty of Christians to receive kindly their brethren, and to aid them in every way within their power, and to do this from religious motives and in a religious manner, as becometh saints, vers. 1, 2.

2. The social relations in which Christians stand to each other as relatives, countrymen, friends, should not be allowed to give character to their feelings and conduct to the exclusion of the more important relation which they bear to Christ. It is as friends, helpers, fellow-laborers in the Lord, that they are to be recognized; they are to be received in the Lord; our common connection with Christ is ever to be born in mind, and made to modify all our feelings and conduct, vers. 3-12.

3. From the beginning females have taken an active and important part in the promotion of the gospel. They seem, more than others, to have contributed to Christ of their substance. They were his most faithful attendants, "last at the cross, and first at the sepulchre." Phebe was a servant of the church, a succorer of Paul, and of many others; Tryphena, Typhosa, and Persis, labored much in the Lord vers. 1, 2, 3, 6, 12.

4. It does not follow, because a custom prevailed in the early churches, and received the sanction of the apostles, that we are obliged to follow it. These customs often arose out of local circumstances and previous habits, or were merely conventional modes of expressing certain feelings, and were never intended to be made universally obligatory. As it was common in the East, (and is so, to a great extent, at present, not only there, but on the continent of Europe,) to express affection by 'the kiss of peace,' Paul exhorts the Roman Christians to salute one another with a holy kiss; i.e., to manifest their Christian love to each other, according to the mode to which they were accustomed. The exercise and manifestation of the feeling but not the mode of its expression, are obligatory on us. This is but one example; there are many other things connected with the manner of conducting public worship, and with the administration of baptism and the Lord's Supper, common in the apostolic churches, which have gone out of use. Christianity is a living principle, and was never intended to be confined to one unvarying set of forms, ver. 16.

5. It is the duty of Christians to be constantly watchful over the peace and purity of the church, and not to allow those who cause divisions and scandals, by departing from the true doctrines, to pursue their course unnoticed. With all such we should break off every connection which either sanctions their opinions and conduct, or gives them facilities for effecting evil, ver. 17.

6. False teachers have ever abounded in the church. All the apostles were called upon earnestly to oppose them. Witness the epistles of Paul, John, Peter, and James. No one of the apostolical epistles is silent on this subject. Good men may indeed hold erroneous doctrines; but the false teachers, the promoters of heresy and divisions, as a class, are characterized by Paul as not influenced by a desire to serve Christ, but as selfish in their aims, and plausible, flattering, and deceitful in their conduct, ver. 18.

7. Christians should unite the harmlessness of the dove with the wisdom of the serpent. They should be careful neither to cause divisions or scandals themselves, nor allow others to deceive and beguile them into evil, ver. 19.

8. However much the church may be distracted and troubled, error, and its advocates cannot finally prevail. Satan is a conquered enemy with a lengthened chain; God will ultimately bruise him under the feet of his people, ver. 20.

9. The stability which the church and every Christian should maintain, is a steadfastness, not in forms or matters of human authority, but in the gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ. God alone is able thus to make his people stand; and, therefore, we should look to him, and depend upon him for our own preservation and the preservation of the church; and ascribe to him, and not to ourselves, all glory and thanks, vers. 25, 27.

10. The gospel is a mystery, i.e. a system of truth beyond the power of the human mind to discover, which God has revealed for our faith and obedience. It was formed from eternity in the divine mind, revealed by the prophets and apostles, and the preaching of Jesus Christ; and is, by the command of God, to be made known to all nations, vers. 25, 26.

11. God alone is wise. He charges his angels with folly; and the wisdom of men is foolishness with him. To God, therefore, the profoundest reverence and the most implicit submission are due. Men should not presume to call in question what he has revealed, or consider themselves competent to sit in judgment on the truth of his declarations or the wisdom of his plans. To God Only Wise, Be Glory, Through Jesus Christ, For Ever. Amen.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans


The subscriptions to this and the other epistles were not added by the sacred writers, but appended by some later and unknown persons. This is evident,

1. Because it cannot be supposed that the apostles would thus formally state (as in this case) what those to whom their letters were addressed must have already known. The Romans had no need to be in formed that this epistle was sent by Phebe, if she actually delivered it to them.

2. They are frequently incorrect, and at times contradict the statements made in the epistles to which they are appended. Thus the subscription to the first Epistle to the Corinthians, states that it was written from Philippi, whereas Paul, Romans 16:8, speaks of himself as being in Ephesus when he was writing.

3. They are either left out entirely by the oldest and best manuscripts and versions, or appear in very different forms. In the present case many MSS. have no subscription at all; others simply, "To the Romans;" others, "To the Romans, written from Corinth;" others, "Written to the Romans from Corinth, by Phebe," etc.

These subscriptions, therefore, are of no other authority than as evidence of the opinion which prevailed to a certain extent, at an early date, as to the origin of the epistles to which they were attached. Unless confirmed from other sources, they cannot be relied upon.

—Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans