by Gordon Franz (continued)
Greetings to Amplias – 16:8
This name was derived from the Latin name Ampliatus, a name which was common in the Roman imperial household. The name has been found at least eighty times on inscriptions in Rome. This cognomen was used by one of the branches of the gens Aurelia. One interesting inscription from this family was found in the Catacomb of Domitilla on the Via Ardeatina where the Jews and Christians from this family were buried. This inscription bears the name AMPLIAT and dates to the end of the 1st century AD. Is this the same person mentioned by Paul in this chapter? We have no way of knowing.
The normal burial practice in Rome was cremation. However, because of their concept of the resurrection of the body, the Jews and Christians buried their dead in catacombs.
Paul described Amplias as “my beloved in the Lord.” Paul apparently worked with Amplias somewhere in the East. Where? We are not told. His name indicates that he was a slave or a freedman and most likely of Jewish heritage. We are not told what brought him to Rome.
Greetings to Urbanus – 16:9a
The Latin name Urbanus means “belonging to the urbs, or city.” This seems to indicate that he was born and raised in Rome, thus a city slicker. Yet, Paul identified him as “our fellow worker in Christ.” How we are to understand the word “our” is a matter of debate. Some have taken the word in a figurative sense and suggested that Paul was already identifying with the believers in Rome and that Urbanus served the Lord in Rome while Paul served the Lord elsewhere. On the other hand, Urbanus could have labored for the Lord with Paul in the East in one of the Roman colonies, perhaps Corinth or Philippi. In this case, Urbanus would have been a Roman official, sent to one of the colonies as an administrator, and came to faith in the Lord Jesus and began working with Paul while in the city that he had been posted to. When he finished his “tour of duty” he returned to Rome. Now he was laboring among the believers in that city.
Greetings to Stachys – 16:9b
Stachys was another individual that Paul knew from his ministry in the Eastern Roman Empire because he identifies him as “my beloved.” His name means “ears (of grain).” Today his nickname might be Wheaties!
Most likely he immigrated to Rome for one reason or another. As Peter Lampe points out: “This … is confirmed by the inscriptions of the city of Rome; that only thirteen epigraphical matches of ‘Stachys’ exist shows that the Romans seldom used the name. Stachys was probably a gentile Christian. It has been proposed that Stachys was a (freed) slave, but the inscriptions do not reveal a significant occurrence of the name for slaves; only three out of eleven possible 1st century “Stachys” inscriptions refer to slaves of freedmen” (1992k: 6: 183).
Greetings to Apelles – 16:10a
The name Apelles was common among the Jewish people of Rome, so we can assume that he was a Jewish believer in the Lord Jesus. Paul characterizes him as “approved in Christ.” The word “approve” has the idea of tried by a test, or tests. The same word is used in James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” Apelles apparently has been “through the mill” in his service for the Lord Jesus. What he experienced, we are not told. Paul mentions it, in hopes that the gentiles in the church in Rome would greet him and ask about his life story.
Greetings to the household of Aristobulus – 16:10b
Paul admonishes the church to greet those of the household of Aristobulus. This seems to indicate that Aristobulus was not a believer in the Lord Jesus. There are only two inscriptions that have been excavated in Rome with the name Aristobulus.
There was a man living in Rome during the First Century AD, that some have conjectured is the Aristobulus of this household. He was the grandson of Herod the Great and the brother of Herod Agrippa I (Josephus, Wars 2:221, 222; LCL 2: 209-211). His parents’ names were Aristobulus and Berenice “the younger.” Aristobulus received a Roman education in the city along with his two brothers and a fellow who would become Emperor Claudius! When he came from the east, most likely he brought his slaves / servants with him (Lampe 2003: 165).
Unfortunately he did not get along with one of his brothers, Agrippa I. In fact, he accused his brother of taking bribes, which did not sit too well with the Roman proconsul of Syria, Flaccus.
Aristobulus was one of the Jewish leaders that led a protest against the decision of Emperor Gaius Caligula to place a statue of himself in the Temple in Jerusalem. Fortunately, Caligula would die before he could carry out this abomination (Josephus, Antiquities 18:273-276; LCL 9:161-163; Wars 2:10; Tacitus, Histories 5:9).
Aristobulus had a wife named Jotapa, a princess from Emessa. This union produced only one daughter and her name was Jotapa as well. His brother, Agrippa I, died in AD 44. Aristobulus died sometime after that.
There is a church tradition that he was “the brother of Barnabas, one of the 70 disciples, ordained a bishop, and was eventually a missionary in Britian” (Carroll 1992: I: 383). If that is the case, most likely he came to faith after Paul wrote this epistle to the Romans. Perhaps he saw the changed lives of the believers within his household and their testimony left an impact on him, causing him to trust the Lord Jesus as his Savior.
Greetings to Herodion – 16:11a
Herodion might have been a prominent freedman in the household of Aristobulus. Usually when a slave is set free, the individual would take the name of his master, or the family name. It is quite possible that Herodion was somehow connected with the Herodian dynasty. Paul identifies him as “my countryman,” indicating that he was a relative of Paul and of Jewish heritage.
Greetings to the household of Narcissus – 16:11b
This is the second household Paul instructs the Gentile believers to greet. Narcissus, apparently was not a Christian, but there were believers in the household. We know of at least one individual in Rome, about this time, with the name Narcissus. His full name was Tiberius Claudius Narcissus (Lightfoot 1976: 175). He was a wealthy freedman of Emperor Tiberius (Juvenal, Satire 14:329-331; LCL 289), who came to prominence and was very influential during the reign of Claudius (Suetonius, Claudius 28: LCL 2: 59). Unfortunately for Nacissus, he crossed paths with Nero’s mother, Agrippina, who had him executed in AD 54 (Tacitus, Annals 12:57,65; LCL 4:399, 411; Annals 13:1; LCL 5:3; Dio Cassius, History 60:14-16,19; LCL 7:403-407, 415; CIL 15: 7500). “It was customary in such cases for the household to become the property of the Emperor while it retains the name of its old master” (Allworthy 1918: 2: 76). When this letter was written, three years had gone by since the household reverted to the property of Nero. Perhaps these are some of the believers that Paul is referring to when he wrote to the church at Philippi a few years later, “All the saints greet you, but especially those who are of Caesar’s household” (4:22).
The fact that there were different religions in Rome at the time and that sometimes masters and slaves did not worship the same God or gods, is reflected in an interesting statement by Cassius in AD 61. “But now that our households comprise nations – with customs the reverse of our own, with foreign cults or with none, you will never coerce such a medley of humanity except by terror” (Tacitus, Annals 14:44; LCL 5: 179).
Paul instructs the slaves to “obey in all things your masters according to the flesh, not with eye service, as men pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God. And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality” (Col. 3:22-25). He also gives similar instructions to the church at Ephesus (6: 5-8). Cf also I Peter 2:18-21.
There is another example of a household coming to faith. Cf. Acts 16:30-32. The Philippian jailer trusted the Lord Jesus as his Savior and each person of his household trusted Christ on an individual basis.
Greetings to Tryphena and Tryphosa – 16:12a
The next two individuals that Paul instructs the church in Rome to greet, are apparently two sisters who might even be twins. The first is Tryphena, whose name means dainty. The mother of Polemon II, king of Pontus and Cilicia, had this name as well. The second is Tryphosa, whose name means delicate. Both names are found on Roman inscriptions that are connected with imperial households (Lampe 1992l: 6:669). Like Mary and Persis, they “labored in the Lord” (cf. 16:6). The fact that they had time to work for the Lord in the church at Rome seems to indicate that they were freedwomen and, if they were married, had very supportive husbands.
Greetings to Persis – 16:12b
The next person Paul instructs the church to greet is a woman named Persis. Her name means “Persian woman.” The name is used of a slave or free born person, but not the imperial household. Like the two woman before, she labored (much) for the Lord.
Greetings to Rufus – 16:13
If the Rufus Paul instructs the church in Rome to greet is the same Rufus mentioned in Mark 15:21, then he was of Jewish heritage. He would have been the son of Simon of Cyrene, from the Jewish colony in Cyrene, North Africa. Rufus’ brother’s name was Alexander. Simon was the person that carried the cross of the Lord Jesus to a hill called Golgotha where He was crucified. John Mark wrote the gospel that bears his name from Rome about AD 43. He would have mentioned Rufus because, most likely, he and his mother had moved to Rome and they were in fellowship with the saints in the city at the time.
Some have objected to Rufus being the son of Simon because Simon is not greeted in this passage, or his brother Alexander. Perhaps one, or both, had already died in the intervening 28 years. In 1941, during a systematic survey of burial caves in the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem, an intact burial cave was discovered containing eleven ossuaries, or bone boxes. One of them, ossuary no. 9, had the name “Alexander (son of) Simon” on it twice. On the lid, it had a bilingual inscription with the name Alexander written in Greek and Hebrew. The Hebrew inscription added the word QRNYT, which has been taken by some to mean “from Cyrene” (Avigad 1962: 9-11). The epigrapher who published these ossuaries mused: “The perplexing similarity of these names with those on our ossuary may of course be a sheer coincidence, but it led Milik … to consider the possibility, without pressing the matter ‘that the tomb in question belongs to the family of him who helped Jesus to carry the cross’” (Avigad 1962: 12). The date of his death, unfortunately, was not recorded on the ossuary.
Paul also instructs the church to greet Rufus’ mother as well. He identifies her as “Rufus’ mother and mine.” More than likely Paul is speaking of her as his mother in a figurative sense. Most likely she cared for the physical needs of Paul when he was visiting Jerusalem on various occasions before she and Rufus moved to Rome.