This letter is being sent to the greater Roman ecclesia, it wasn't read in a Roman mega church, it was passed about to the various house churches and messianic synagogue attendees of the city.
It seems strange to the modern reader to be reading greetings at the end of a letter. We’re used to making our greetings at the beginning of a letter and simply signing our names at the end after wishing the recipient well.
While it’s true to say that the current text exhibits the common practise among writers of the time, it’s also true to say that the rhythm created throughout Shaul’s writing is one of unity and perpetuity. Shaul brings a Hebrew cadence to a Greek form, he weaves the threads of beginning among the strands of ending, presenting eternity in a very literary and practical way.
Like the Torah cycle, the letter of Romans is a circle, without beginning or end; and yet, it has both a literal beginning and end.
This teaches us that in Messiah, of G-d, we understand, “completion,” rather than, “ending,” and, “inception,” rather than, “beginning.” Why? Because all is created by the Eternal One (Romans 16:26) and eternity has neither beginning nor end.
16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a diakonos (servant, teacher, pastor, leader, minister, deacon, ruler) of the ecclesia (church) which is at Cenchreae (Port of Corinth); 2 that you receive her in ha-Adon (the L-rd) in a manner worthy of the holy ones, believers, sacred ones, saints; and that you help her in whatever matter she may have need of you; for she herself has also been a helper of many, and of myself as well.
It seems likely that the reason for Shaul/Paul’s commendation of Phoebe is that she is carrying this very letter to the ecclesia of Rome. It’s clear from his choice of Greek words, that Shaul/Paul intends Phoebe to be recognised as a leader of the ecclesia in Cenchrea, a minister, pastor and yes, a servant (just as Messiah was a servant to us). The same Greek word, “diakonos,” has already been used by Shaul/Paul in this same letter in Romans 13:4, where it refers to world rulers: it’s also employed by the writer of Matthew’s gospel who quotes the words of Yeshua, “He who wants to become great among you must become the diakonos (servant, minister, and ruler) of all.” Math 10:43. Essentially, the text of Matthew presents a unity of opposites; an alternate reading might be, “He who wants to become a ruler among you must be both a servant and a ruler of all.”
The conclusion is this: it’s clear that women held positions of leadership in the Ecclesia of G-d and acted as trusted equals, in this case a trusted sister (in Messiah) of Shaul/Paul, an Apostle of Messiah Himself.
It’s interesting to note that Phoebe means, “bright, to shine and make manifest.”
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Messiah Yeshua, 4 who for my life risked their own necks, to whom not only do I give thanks, but also all the ecclesia of the nations;5 also greet the ecclesia that is in their house.
We are able to observe once again the natural rhythm of Shaul’s writing and the colloquial reality of equality that is presented by this great man of G-d. Here the woman is mentioned prior to the man, in the same way that it’s more natural in the English language to say, “Mum and dad.” Paul sees no need to emphasis male superiority because males, are understood to be the glory of G-d and women are the culmination and glory of creation; both find equal honour in Messiah. There is no need for either patriarchal or feminist arguments. We are echad (one).
It’s with intimate warmth that the writer acknowledges the ecclesia of Priscilla and Aquila’s home. This letter is being sent to the wider Roman ecclesia, it wasn’t read in a Roman mega church, it was passed about to the various house churches and messianic synagogue attendees of the city.
Note: Priscilla and Aquila are also mentioned in, Acts 18:2, 1 Corinthians 16:19, 2 Timothy 4:19.
Greet Epaenetus, my beloved, who is the first fruit of Messiah from Asia. 6 Greet Miryam, who has worked hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junias, my fellow Jews and my comrades in prison, who are outstanding among the apostles, who were also in Messiah before me. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in ha-Adon (the L-rd). 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Messiah, and Stachys my beloved.10 Greet Apelles, the approved in Messiah. Greet those who are of the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. Greet those of the household of Narcissus, who are in ha-Adon (the L-rd). 12 Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, workers in ha-Adon (the L-rd). Greet Persis the beloved, who has worked hard in ha-Adon (the L-rd). 13 Greet Rufus, a choice man in ha-Adon (the L-rd), also his mother and mine. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas and the brothers and sisters with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the holy ones, believers, sacred ones, saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the ecclesia of Messiah greet you.
Note the detail with which Shaul/Paul greets so many in Rome. Some of these he knew from meetings outside of Rome, some he specifically calls, “fellow Jews (brothers),” others he knows by name and reputation or through letters and messages sent back and forth. Many of these he has never met, for as yet he has not traveled to Rome.
The ecclesia of Rome was born of the return of messianic Jews after the outpouring of the Ruach ha-Kodesh during Shavuot, as recorded at the beginning of the book of Acts.
17 Now I urge you, fellow Jewish brothers and sisters, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions andh]" > hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Adon (L-rd) Messiah but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. 19 For the report of your obedience has reached to all; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil.
In a summation which has, up till this point, encompassed both Jew and Gentile, why does Shaul/Paul now turn again specifically to his fellow Jewish believers in Rome?
One answer may be found in his rebuke of those who are mutilators of the flesh (Philippians 3:2), Jews who demand the adult circumcision of Gentile converts to Messiah. Shaul/Paul as only recently alluded to the trouble he expects from non-believing Jews and some of the messianic believers in Jerusalem (Romans 14:30-31). I believe his intention here is to make the messianic Jews of Rome aware of the dangers of this movement among the messianic ecclesia.
He may also be warning of the many other heretical groups that had arisen, those teaching Gnostic ideas and those who were flaunting their so called, “freedom to sin, that chesed (grace) may abound.”
In addition there are the more obvious allusions to the stomach and its implications regarding food regulations as addressed in Romans 14:1-15:7.
There is also an illuminating comparison to be made between verses 17 to 20 and the serpent of Genesis 2 and 3.
20 The G-d of shalom (peace) will soon crush Satan under your feet. The chesed (grace, mercy) of our Adon (L-rd) Yeshua be with you.
Has Satan not already been defeated? It’s clear from what Shaul/Paul says here, that Messiah has defeated Satan outside of time and space and has made a way for that completed work to have access to time and space here on earth. This reality—from our perspective—has yet to be manifest, however we will see the defeat of Satan and the reality of his position beneath the feet of the ecclesia. How? Through the chesed of our Adon Yeshua.
21 Timothy my fellow worker greets you, and so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my other fellow Jews.
This is the same Timothy whom Shaul/Paul circumcised. Timothy was the son of a Jewish mother and a Gentile father (Acts 16:3). Hence, “my other fellow Jews,” meaning, in addition to Timothy, also a Jew.
22 I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in ha-Adon (the Lord). 23 Gaius, host to me and to the whole Ecclesia, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer greets you, and Quartus, a brother (singular, not Jewish but in Messiah).
Shaul/Paul makes room here for the greetings offered by his scribe Tertius.
24 The chesed (grace, mercy) of Adon Yeshua Mishiyachaynu be with you all. Amen.
This is the conclusion of Tertius’s blessing. We now receive a blessing from Shaul/Paul which reads like a Hebrew bracha (blessing), a formulated prayer that may well be an early messianic adaption of a traditional bracha recited in the synagogues of Shaul’s time.
25 Now to ha-Echad (The One) Who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Yeshua ha-Mashiyach, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret from ages past, 26 but now is revealed, and by the Scriptures of the Nevi’im (prophets), according to the Torah (Instruction) of the eternal G-d, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience through emunah (trust, faith); 27 to the only wise G-d, through Yeshua ha-Mashiyach, be the glory forever. Amen.
Why does Shaul say, “The One”? Because the Shema proclaims G-d as a unity in opposition to the many gods of the nations.
Note that the secret from ages past has now been revealed, that secret being the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah, G-d with us. This is a strong rebuke against Gnostic lies that pretend to hold so called, “deeper secrets,” for the select few. Shaul’s gospel is for everyone, not just a select few special initiates into a Gnostic superstition. Hence, “has been made known to all the nations.”
Shaul then reminds the reader again of the written foundations of this revelation, the Tanakh, Torah and Nevi’im (ketvi – written word).
In conclusion, he affirms the goal of the Torah Who is found in emunah (trust, faith), Yeshua the Messiah, Who in turn gives all glory back to HaShem, The One.
“Berisheet bara Elohim…”
“When G-d began to create (out of nothing that which now exits)…”
And so, we begin again…
© Alastair Brown 2014