Saturday, November 29, 2008
A glimpse of the early church
“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.” (Romans 16:3-4)
Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned six times in the New Testament (Acts 18:2, Acts 18:18, Acts 18:26, Romans 16:2, 1 Corinthians 16:19, 2 Timothy 4:19). Aquila was a Jew from Pontus who had settled in Rome, but was forced to leave the city, along with Priscilla, because Claudius expelled the Jews from there (Acts 18:2). Aquila was a tentmaker like Paul. In fact, this is likely how they came to know each other, when Paul had to work in Corinth to support himself during his missionary work. When Paul left Corinth to go to Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila went with him. However, when Paul moved on, they stayed at Ephesus, and that was where God used them to explain the gospel to Apollos (Acts 18:24-26).
“Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.” (Romans 16:5b)
Note that Epenetus was Paul’s “dear friend” and “was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia.” Since Paul had evangelized Asia, it is likely that Paul had led Epenetus to Christ. This would explain their close relationship.
“Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.” (Romans 16:6)
The ‘Mary’ mentioned here is likely a different Mary than the various other Marys mentioned in the New Testament. Since Paul tells the Romans that Mary “worked very hard for you,” Mary must have been from Rome. It could have very possibly been Priscilla and Aquila that told Paul about Mary when they came to Corinth about the time that Paul first arrived there.
“Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” (Romans 16:7)
Calling Andronicus and Junias his relatives could mean that they were members of his own extended family, but it probably only means that they were Jews. They became Christians before Paul did, so they must have been believers from the very earliest days of the church in Jerusalem.
“Greet Ampliatus, whom I love in the Lord.” (Romans 16:8)
Ampliatus was a common slave name. In Domatilla, the earliest of the Christian catacombs, there is an elaborate tomb with the word “Ampliatus” on it. Free men had more than one name, so this single name seems to imply that it was the tomb of a slave. However, since it is elaborate, it seems to be the tomb of an important person in the church, and in the Roman church, there were no distinctions based upon whether a person was a slave or free. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
“Salute Apelles approved in Christ. Salute them which are of Aristobulus' household. Salute Herodion my kinsman. Greet them that be of the household of Narcissus, which are in the Lord.” (Romans 16:10-11)
Paul speaks only of the households of Aristobulus and Narcissus, implying that he did not know them personally. In Rome, the word ‘household’ not only described a man’s immediate family, but also included his household domestics or slaves as well. In Rome, there had lived a man named Aristobulus, who had been the grandson of the Jewish king Herod the Great. When he died, his slaves would have fallen under the ownership of the Emperor and would have been known as “the household of Aristobulus.” So, Paul’s greeting may have been to those Jewish slaves who belonged to this household, but who had become Christians and were members of the Roman church. This is especially likely because the name Herodion derives from Herod, so Herodion may have been one of the leading slaves of this household. Narcissus might possibly be the same person as a wealthy freedman by the same name, who had been prominent under Claudius, but had been put to death by Nero when he took the throne.