There is no doubt now, starting the last chapter of Romans – Paul’s changing gears.
Who else among us remembers when each annual conference meeting in our church had a small committee called the ‘courtesies’ committee? They had a watching brief, throughout 3 days of meetings, to take a God’s-eye view of the proceedings – at the end, before adjournment, they would deliver a long and entertaining motion, thanking every person and group for their contributions, remembering on our behalf who and what had mattered. I miss those motions.
Try to read these slowly, the way we read the ‘begatitudes’ in Torah – imagining who bore these names, and why these 26 names were chosen for repetition. When you mention members of your family, or highlight examples of your congregation, who do you name first, to what hearers?
Phoebe. A woman. A minister. From a Corinthian port town. Linger longer, and savour Paul prioritizing this woman, deferring to her as his patroness and protectress, apparently planning to visit Rome, and deserving of help and deference!
Prisca and Aquila. Two names – a couple? What gender? Perhaps Priscilla and Aquila? (old manuscripts differ on this) Gaston says they ‘risked their necks’ to help Paul – and were good to Gentiles, and run a house church, presumably in Rome (unless this is an ’open letter’ and P&A are just good role models)
Epaenetus, ‘first fruit of Asia’ or first convert, that’s a Greek name – reaching beyond the ethnic Jewish diaspora, the name means ‘praised’ – as we wondered about ‘Theophilus’, ‘god-loved’ in Luke/Acts, is this a real person, or standing for something?
Mary. She worked hard (for you?) Where is she, doing what work? Is there always a Mary in these lists?
Andronicus and Junia. Again, two – a couple? What gender? Old manuscripts differ – The principle of translation: it’s likelier a scribe suppressed women’s names are they Jews, relatives of Paul or just ‘in Christ’ Greek or Roman names?
Disciples – and apostles - before Paul was!
Ampliatus, (a name common in Caesar’s household records)
Urbanus, (a common slave name)
Stachys (‘spike’ or ‘ear of corn’, uncommon Greek name)
Apelles, (named after a famous painter of Alexander the Great time)
There’s a suggestion, to me, of a range of class and ethnicity
Those of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. Narcissus is a familiar Greek myth – Having a ‘household’ is higher socio-economic status. Some of the household are ‘in the Lord’
Other examples, like Lydia, the boss woman converts, and she makes the whole household join the movement!
Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Female names alluding to luxury – found in records of Caesar’s household perhaps referenced in Philippians
Rufus (and his mother) . Simon of Cyrene in Mark 15 is father of a ‘Rufus’ – does Paul just feel warmly toward Rufus’ mother, just as if she were his too?
Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas .Greek and Roman names, likely male… Are these grouped as a separate house church in Rome?
Philologus and Julia, (two, a couple?)
Nereus and his sister (not a couple)
Olympas, (and those with them) are these too, grouped as a separate house church?
1 I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is also minister of the church in Cenchreae,
2 that ye may welcome her in the Lord, in a manner worthy of the saints, and that ye may stand by her in any matter in which she may have need of you; For she also has been a protectress of many, including myself.
3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow-workers in Christ Jesus,
4 who risked their necks [to save] my life, to whom not only I am grateful but all the churches of the Gentiles.
5 And [greet] the church in their house. Greet Epaenetus my beloved, who is the first-fruit of Asia unto Christ.
6 Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.
7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsfolk and fellow-prisoners, who are prominent among the Apostles and who were in Christ before me.
8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord
9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow-worker in Christ, and Stachys my beloved.
10 Greet Apelles, who is [tested and] approved in Christ.
11 Greet those of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord.
12 Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa, who work hard in the Lord.
13 Greet Rufus, the elect in the Lord, and his mother – and mine.
14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers-and-sisters who are with them.
15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.
16 Greet one another with a holy kiss.
1 Be sure to welcome our friend Phoebe in the way of the Master, with all the generous hospitality we Christians are famous for. I heartily endorse both her and her work. She's a key representative of the church at Cenchrea.
2 Help her out in whatever she asks. She deserves anything you can do for her. She's helped many a person, including me.
3 Say hello to Priscilla and Aquila, who have worked hand in hand with me in serving Jesus.
4 They once put their lives on the line for me. And I'm not the only one grateful to them. All the non-Jewish gatherings of believers also owe them plenty,
5 to say nothing of the church that meets in their house. Hello to my dear friend Epenetus. He was the very first Christian in the province of Asia.
6 Hello to Mary. What a worker she has turned out to be!
7 Hello to my cousins Andronicus and Junias. We once shared a jail cell. They were believers in Christ before I was. Both of them are outstanding leaders.
8 Hello to Ampliatus, my good friend in the family of God.
9 Hello to Urbanus, our companion in Christ's work, and my good friend Stachys.
10 Hello to Apelles, a tried-and-true veteran in following Christ. Hello to the family of Aristobulus.
11 Hello to my cousin Herodion. Hello to those Christians from the family of Narcissus.
12 Hello to Tryphena and Tryphosa – such diligent women in serving the Master. Hello to Persis, a dear friend and hard worker in Christ.
13 Hello to Rufus - a good choice by the Master! – and his mother. She has also been a dear mother to me.
14 Hello to Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and also to all of their families.
15 Hello to Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas - and all the Christians who live with them.
16 Holy embraces all around!
All the churches of Christ send their warmest greetings!