The last chapter in Romans can be very easy to skim over. In the short 25 verses there is a total of 37 names! Many of these names are only mentioned once in the whole Bible, so it seems as if they may not be significant characters. I was sure that Paul wouldn’t reference random people in such an important letter, so I couldn’t help but to wonder “Who are these people? Why are they so special?”
While researching these names, I found out that quite a few of these are women. By favorites are Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Tryphaena and Tryphosa, Persis. I am going to focus these 6 gals today.
In the opening of Romans 12, Paul “commends our sister Phoebe.” He claims she is a servant of the Church at Cenchreae, a seaport city of Corinth where Paul shaved his head before sailing for Syria in Acts 18:18, as well as a “patron of many and of myself as well.” On the surface, it seems that Phoebe is of the servant status as well as a patron, or benefactor, of many people (a rich slave?) which doesn’t make sense. Peter Richardson suggest that Phoebe and the Corinthians would have been familiar with some Proto-Lukan material which would provide the audience with examples of how to imitate Christ, the professional servant-benefactor. Richardson believes that since Phoebe had been exposed to this idea of the servant-benefactor, it became her mission to be as much like Christ as she could. She was most likely wealthy, which helped her sponsor Paul as well as many others. By taking on this role, Paul trusted her enough to deliver this letter to the Church in Rome. Although only mentioned here, Phoebe is a great example of how women could have leadership in the Church and community.
Priscilla is the woman mentioned in 16:3 along with her husband Aquila. Remember them from Acts 18? The couple was expelled from Rome and had moved to Corinth a short time before Paul got there. They were the Jews that invited Paul to stay with them in Corinth, as they were of the same trade: tent making. Paul took them to Ephesus and left them there promising to “return [to them] if God wills.” Paul thanks them personally for risking their live on behalf of himself and all the Gentile churches. 16:5 states they also held church in their home. Priscilla was obviously a strong woman as she was an essential part of the worldwide spread of Christianity along with her husband. They were some serious evangelists.
Mary is mentioned next, as someone “who has worked hard for you.” Although there are several Marys mentioned in the New Testament there is no evidence of this Mary being one of them. Her name was used very commonly among Jews as well as Gentiles, so it is almost impossible to know for certain who she is. Since she is an unknown person, I looked at what she did for Paul and the church in Rome. It says she worked hard for them, but that doesn’t seem worthy enough to be mentioned. In her book, Susan Matthews states that Paul used the word labor which is a technical meaning for missionary and congregational work. Dunn, mentioned in her book as well, states that the word hard, or much in earlier translations, was used to emphasize a long term service to the church. Mary may have been one of the earliest church members which would allow her to have great influence in Rome and help the church grow. After learning this, I think she is more than worthy to be mentioned here.
Peris, mentioned in 16:12, is also mentioned has working hard like Mary, Paul used the same word for labor here. However, there is an added phrase: “the beloved.” This probably indicates a close relationship between her and Paul as well as the Roman believers. Like Mary, she was most likely a very important influence on the church.
The other “hard workers” (laborers) for the church mentioned in Romans 16 are Tryphaena and Tryphosa. There names mean “delicate” and “dainty.” Paul uses these women to show that even the most fragile women were helpful in spreading the Good News.
As we have talked about in class, Paul had to have known that his letter to Rome would be circulated for years. The list of “greetings” he provides mentions Greeks and Romans, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, prisoners and prominent citizens. The base of the church was broad along culture, social, and economic areas of life. This list shows how mobile the Christian community was and how much they sacrificed to spread the Good News. He used this list of greetings to show that no matter where you come from, your background, or your gender Christ is the only way to salvation. It was vital for all people to hear this message of equality.