Each of us has a story. We’re not just a name. Not just a face in the church congregation. Each of us has a story. So it is with the people Paul names and greets at his letter’s closing. . .
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert in Asia for Christ. Greet Mary, who has worked very hard among you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. Greet my relative Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother — a mother to me also. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who are with them. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:1-16).
Phoebe serves as deacon at the Cencheae church, about 5 miles southeast of Corinth, from where Paul is writing. That he commends Phoebe to the Roman church suggests she carried Paul’s letter to them. Why a woman? Would she be less suspect by Roman authorities than a man? And why her? In what ways has she “been a benefactor of many” and of Paul?
The remainder of the people named are Rome church members. We know how Paul knew Priscilla and Aquila (see below). But how did he know all the others well enough to send personal greetings? (Remember, he had not visited Rome.)
Paul met Prisca (Priscilla) and Aquila in Corinth. The couple had come there when Caesar Claudius banned Jews from Rome in 49 A.D. Paul calls them his fellow-workers. Like him, they were leather workers. But more importantly, they spread the gospel. How had they “risked their necks” for Paul’s life? Was it during the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19) or elsewhere? What exactly happened? They hosted a house church. Did they lead it? How had it started? How many people came?
Epaenetus was “beloved” by Paul. Why? How was Epaenetus converted to Christ? Through Paul? If not, through whom? What circumstances drew him to hear the gospel?
The Greek (kopiao) means Mary labored hard among the church against many obstacles. What kind of hard labor did Mary do? What were the obstacles?
How were Andronicus and Junia (or Junias) related to Paul? Why and when were the three arrested and imprisoned? “Junias” (the Greek is unclear) may be feminine, thus suggesting these were husband and wife. Why were they prominent “among the apostles”? Was Junias a female apostle? In any case, they both had been “sent out”. By whom? Where did they preach the gospel?
Why was Ampliatus “beloved” in the Lord by Paul? Ampliatus, Urbanas and Stachys were slave names. Does Paul greet them because they are slaves? What does this indicate about the Rome congregation?
Paul calls Apelles “ . . . approved (dokimos) in Christ”. The word implies he faithfully withstood testing of his faith. How was he tested? How did he prevail?
Why did Paul greet the family of Aristobulus? Had he died and his family fall into Nero’s possession, as some historians claim? If so, there were Christians in the emperor’s household? how? Who made up that surviving family? Was Aristobulus the grandson of Herod the Great, as some believe?
How were Paul and Herodian related?
Where was Narcissus? Why greet his family and not him? Had he died, and did his family fall into Nero’s possession as some historians claim? Does that mean Emperor Nero had Christians in his household?
Tryphaena and Tryphosa and Persis, like Mary, labored hard in the Lord’s work. What exactly did they do?
According to Mark 15:21, Rufus, was the son of Simon of Syrene, who was grabbed by Roman soldiers to carry Jesus’ cross when he fell under its weight. Did Simon become a believer? Did he tell his story to his sons Rufus and Alexander? Is that how they became believers? Why did Paul call him “chosen/elected in the Lord”? Who was Rufus’ mother? Why did Paul call her his mother too?
Who were Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas? Who were “the brothers and sisters who are with them”? Why did Paul say nothing about them?
Same with Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. Did they, and the five previous, lead house churches, hence the references to those who are with them? Who were these people? How did they come to faith in Christ? What were their lives like before?
Paul ends his greetings urging the Roman church to greet one another, including greetings to them from all the churches of Christ.
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Why write a blog of questions? Because they hopefully help us realize so much more was happening with the spread of the gospel than the Bible records. And because, in this case of Paul’s greetings, these questions hopefully help us wonder about their stories.
As I said at the start, each of us has a story. Each story is unique. What’s yours? Pretty ordinary, you say? Not worth remembering and telling, you think?
Listen! Every story is outstanding. Yours. Mine.
Because each of us who believe are part of His story. And the story of Christ Jesus is the story that eclipses all others.