Romans 16: 17-23

The first verses today, 17-18,Read to me like a different voice – after all the affirmations yesterday of 26 names and their friends and families, we’re writing a list of those causing dissension –  doesn’t the list-making do precisely that? 

How did we get to ‘doctrine’?  Paul was soft-pedaling his mutuality and consultation! He was building alliances, now he is telling people to avoid others –  those who serve themselves, are attractive, appealing, successful, well-fed… I prefer to read this as another writer –  but we all contradict ourselves, and the community kept these bits in Romans –  perhaps finding that affirmation alone is vulnerable… v.19 is a better bridge between earlier affirmations, and this adoption of a warning tone. ‘You’re known by the company you keep’, eh? 

V20 comes out of the blue – Paul has repeatedly referenced ‘the wrath’ to come, with a clear mythological frame we too often avoid –  but the specific apocalyptic plot of ‘crushing Satan’ does not fit. Where else does Paul talk about this Jesus v Satan MMA cage match? ‘Have a nice day’ is an awkward end to the verse! 

Timothy, Lucius, Jason, Sosipater are enumerated as those sending the letter with Paul –  that’s different than listing recipients of the letter, more a claim of endorsement and affiliation, in a sectarian partisan division of the movement, and I’d associate it with the preceding verses. 

Tertius, the writer of the letter, is beloved by any serious bible reader since the 1800’s –  we love imagining the amanuensis, scribe, copyist –  we identify with him, and use him to crack open the ‘word of God’ thing –  was the bible verbally inspired and dictated by God? Through whom? God may be infallible, or even Paul – but Tertius, or us? 

Gaius, Erastus, Quartus. The last three names are clearly Roman –  the first, the host of Paul (or Tertius?) The second, the city treasurer, the third, ‘the brother’ If it’s how Paul closes, it may be a claim of ‘friends in high places’  or at least distancing himself  from rebel anti-Romans in Judea. If it’s somebody else, later adding (and keeping) the last 3 names, the motive is the same. 

If today’s reading and notes help you, to make sense of changing tone in the end of Romans, and to revisit the issues of biblical inspiration, that’s worth 5 of your minutes, and 500 of my words. 

If it simply discredits the authority scripture for you, amplifying the arguments of privileged critics, from first-wave feminists angry that women were translated out, or of glib liberals who prefer to pick and choose verses, from a ‘loose-leaf, pliable biable’, I regret giving fuel to your fire. 

I find in today’s notes assurance that human nature is familiar –  the earliest movement included strong women leaders, gathered in primary affiliation groups or households, worked through people, personalities, characters, stories, not simply by dominating dogmatic dictation. 

17 I admonish you, brethren, to take note of those who cause  dissensions and difficulties contrary to the doctrine which you have learned. Avoid them.  

18 For such people do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ but their own bellies, and by dazzling and attractive words they deceive the hearts of the simple.

19 The report of your obedience has come to all. I can thus rejoice over you.  I want you to be wise as to what is good and to have no contact with what is evil. 

20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. 

21 Timothy, my fellow-worker, greets you and [so do] Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.

22 (I, Tertius, who have written the letter in the Lord, greet you.)   

23Gaius, my host and [the host] of the whole church, greets you.  Erastus, the city treasurer, and Quartus the brother greet you.

17 One final word of counsel, friends. Keep a sharp eye out for those who take bits and pieces of the teaching that you learned and then use them to make trouble. Give these people a wide berth. 

18 They have no intention of living for our Master Christ. They're only in this for what they can get out of it, and aren't above using pious sweet talk to dupe unsuspecting innocents. 

19 And so while there has never been any question about your honesty in these matters I couldn't be more proud of you! –  I want you also to be smart, making sure every "good" thing is the real thing. Don't be gullible in regard to smooth-talking evil.  Stay alert like this, 

20  and before you know it the God of peace will come down on Satan with both feet, stomping him into the dirt. Enjoy the best of Jesus! 

21 And here are some more greetings from our end. Timothy, my partner in this work, Lucius, and my cousins Jason and Sosipater all said to tell you hello. 

22 I, Tertius, who wrote this letter at Paul's dictation,  send you my personal greetings.

23 Gaius, who is host here to both me and the whole church, wants to be remembered to you.