by Gordon Franz (continued)
Greetings to Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobus, Hermes, and the brethren – 16:14
This group of five names seems to be greetings to the leadership in one of the local assemblies within the city of Rome. Paul addresses these individuals as well as those that meet with them as “brethren”. Interestingly, the next group of names in verse 15 is called “saints.”
The first name is Asyncritus which means “incomparable” (Jewett 1993: 29). This name appears only two times in the corpus of inscriptions from Rome. As Lampe observed, “Since the name was not common there, it probably indicates that Asyncritus immigrated to Rome from the East of the Roman Empire” (1992a: 1: 508). According to Jewett, the name points to slave status (Jewett 1993: 29).
The second person to be greeted is Phlegon. In classical literature this is a Greek name for a dog! (Jewett 1993: 29). I want to know what parent would give his or her child a dog’s name and why. (But parents have done stranger things. One rock star named his kid Jezebel!) It would be like having somebody in the church with the name Bowser or Fido! I guess the closest one comes to that name today would be Mutt like in the Mutt and Jeff cartoon strip. I am tempted to go off on a sermonette about nicknames and making fun of people’s names, but I will refrain. In the corpus of inscriptions from Rome, this name occurs only nine times which probably indicates he immigrated from the East as well (Lampe 1992j: 5: 347). The name is used of both slaves and freedman, so his social status can not be determined with certainty.
The third individual Paul instructs the church to greet is Hermas. The name Hermas is probably the shortened form of the name Hermagoras, Hermodorus, or Hermogenes.This name appears only six times in the corpus of Roman inscriptions and may indicate that this individual immigrated from the Eastern Roman Empire as well. Lampe suggests that Hermas was a Gentile believer in the Lord Jesus (1992c: 3: 147).
The fourth person to be greeted is Patrobus. This is the Greek form of the Latin name Patrobius. The Greek form of the name has never been discovered in any inscriptions (Lampe 1992h: 5:186). However, the Latin name has appeared eight times. Of the eight times, three are of prominent freedmen connected with the imperial administration, one which was in Nero’s court (Suetonius, Galba 20).
The final person Paul instructs them to greet is Hermes. This name is the same as the Greek god of good luck, whom Paul was identified with at Lystra on his first missionary journey (Acts 14:12). In Rome, this was a name given to slaves. Perhaps the owner was hoping that this slave would bring them good fortune (Lampe 1992d: 3:156).
Jewett has observed that “the names of the participants in this group indicate immigrant status and ethos, with a mix of slaves, freedmen, and Greek-speaking immigrants evident. … Persons with Greek names in Rome reflect a social background that was almost exclusively slave or former slave. Since all five names are Greek, it is likely that this church consisted entirely of persons with a low social status associated with slavery. This status gives it a high likelihood of being located in one of the tenements of Trastevere or Porta Capena. Since none of the five names appears to be playing the role of patron for the group, the social structure probably differed from what we have assumed was a normal house church. The selection of the title ‘brothers’ for this group may indicate an egalitarian ethos, which would be appropriate for a group without a patron” (Jewett 1993: 30).
Paul instructs the believers in Rome to greet this meeting of believers made up mostly of slaves. This act would demonstrate the truth that Paul wrote about in Galatians 3.
Greetings to Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them – 16:15
This next group of Greek names appears to be the leaders or prominent people of another assembly in Rome. Philologus and Julia are mentioned together which may indicate that they are husband and wife. The name Philologus appears on 23 inscriptions in Rome. Eighteen of these names are from the 1st century AD. “Half of the references are explicitly to slaves or freedmen. Several persons with this name are mentioned as lower officials in the Roman bureaucracy” (Jewett 1993:30). The name was not common in Rome which may indicate that he was an immigrant (Lampe 1992i: 5:345).
His wife, Julia, on the other hand, has the most frequently used name of any of the individuals listed in Romans 16. This Latin name appears over 1,400 times in the corpus of names found in Rome. This was a name given to slaves, especially of the Julian household, whether Jewish or Gentile.
The third name, Nereus, was “coined for slaves, [and] named after the Roman god of the ocean” (Jewett 1993: 31; Lampe 1992f: 4:1074). There is a 4th century AD tradition that Nereus and his sister were associated with Flavia Domitilla, and could have been buried in her catacomb. This raises the possibility that they were related to Amplias (16:8). Paul does not give the name of Nereus’s sister, but she must have had a good reputation and been very active in the church for her to be mentioned.
The final person to be greeted is Olympas. This might be a shortened form of the name Olympiodorus, Olympianus, or Olympicus (Lampe 1992g: 5:15). Most likely he was of slave origin like the others in this group because the name only appears twice in the corpus of inscriptions in Rome and none from the 1st century AD. He may also have been an immigrant from the East.
The picture that seems to immerge from this greeting is another church gathering in a tenement building of people with slave origins. Yet Paul calls them “saints” which seems to indicate a Jewish origin for this meeting.
Paul’s Missionary Strategy
Was there a strategy by Paul that these people would meet him in Rome after he left Corinth for Jerusalem? We don’t know. This was the “ideal” time for Paul and his co-workers to go to Rome because it was the “Golden Age.” They would also be available as Paul makes preparation to push on to Spain.
He is also trying to bring about the “Oneness of Christ.” John 17, so the world will believe. You can have a garbage man, excuse me, a sanitation engineer, as an elder in a meeting and he should be shown the respect and honor due that position.
The Holy Kiss
Paul’s final admonition to the believers in Rome was to “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (16:16a). Paul had admonished other churches to do the same thing (I Cor. 16:20; II Cor. 13:12; I Thess. 5:26, cf. I Pet. 5:14). Justin Martyr (died ca. AD 165) wrote in his First Apology 65, “When we have ceased from our prayers, we greet one another with a kiss” (1994: 1:185). This apparently was a common practice in the early church.
How should this be practiced today? What is the cultural equivalent? There was an elderly gentleman in a class I taught at the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem. He claimed to have had an “anointed kiss.” He said that if he kissed you, the Lord would bless you. Needless to say all the young ladies in the class were afraid of him!
I was talking with a Bible teacher who described the assembly that I attend as the “most kissingest assembly in NJ.” What a reputation to have! This created a problem at one time. A man who was not “playing with a full deck upstairs” visited the meeting for several Sundays because he saw all the kissing. He was thinking to himself, “Hey, I want to get in on the action!”
Perhaps the solution should be what a friend of mine, Bob Inot, once said, “Let’s greet one another with a holy handshake!”
The churches of Christ greet you – 16:16b
A number of people that Paul instructs the church in Rome to greet were originally from Greece or Asia Minor and had immigrated to the Eternal City (cf. Acts 20:4). The churches where they were originally from, in the east, sent their greetings as well. The churches in Christ in the east were concerned about those who had fellowshipped with them at one time and how they were treated by the believers in Rome. Paul is saying, “We are sending our greeting to you, and this is what we want you to do to each other in Rome. Please, do not show partiality among those believers who are different from you. Embrace one another!”
Peter in Rome?
It is interesting to note that there is no mention of Peter in this chapter. He was absent from Rome at this point in time. One would think if he was the first pope or even the bishop of Rome he would be mentioned. At an early point in Peter’s ministry (AD 42) he calls himself a “fellow elder” (I Peter 5:1). Peter and his wife were, most likely, off ministering somewhere else.