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Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Romans 16:7-10

Greet Andronicus and Junia,[a] my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles,[b] and they were in Christ before me. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus.


Continuing from last week, we are part way through a list of people that Paul commends to the Christians in Rome.

JB Lightfoot, an Anglican priest from the Victorian era and  William Barclay, a 20th century Church of Scotland minister did a lot of research in finding out who these early Christians were.

I found it interesting that in Matthew Henry’s era (late 17th and early 18th centuries), not much was known. Henry’s commentary has to skip verses here and there for that reason.

Scholars say that Andronicus and Junia (Junius) were truly Paul’s relatives (verse 7). Matthew Henry says they were cousins of Paul’s. John MacArthur opts for a looser relationship but still thinks they were related.

The more puzzling question is whether Junia was a man or a woman. No one knows for certain. As the name appears as Junias in certain translations, the person could have been a man.

Henry says (emphases mine):

Some take them for a man and his wife, and the original will well enough bear it; and, considering the name of the latter, this is more probable than that they should be two men, as others think, and brethren.

MacArthur says:

Andronicus is a male name. Junias could be male or female. We have no way to know. So either this is two men or it is a couple, and there’s no way to know which

And so we know a little bit about these wonderful people as well…be they husband and wife, or perhaps a more likely thought, two men related to Paul, perhaps they are brothers.

Looking at the greater picture, Paul tells us that they were his fellow prisoners, they are well known to the apostles and they converted to Christianity before Paul did.

If they were relations of Paul, then it is safe to assume that they were Jews.

MacArthur elaborates:

That must have been a wonderful thing for him to have, right? Coming out of a Jewish family, being of the tribe of Benjamin, being a Hebrew of the Hebrews, to know that some in his family had embraced the same Christ that he had embraced as well. And so we get a little feel that his family may well have been involved in the extension of his ministry.

Henry points out:

In time they had the start of Paul, though he was converted the next year after Christ’s ascension. How ready was Paul to acknowledge in others any kind of precedency!

As for their being imprisoned together, both Henry and MacArthur point to 2 Corinthians 11:23.

Henry says:

We do not find in the story of the Acts any imprisonment of Paul before the writing of this epistle, but that at Philippi, Acts 16:23. But Paul was in prisons more frequent (2 Corinthians 11:23), in some of which, it seems, he met with his friends Andronicus and Junia, yoke-fellows, as in other things, so in suffering for Christ and bearing his yoke.

MacArthur shares the same opinion:

Somewhere along the line, and we don’t know where, Paul spent a lot of his time in prison. Read 2 Corinthians 11:23, he says “in prisons often.” We don’t know where it was but in one of his imprisonments or another they were there also. They had paid the price of imprisonment too for their faith in Christ, for their love of the Lord Jesus. And so he greets them who had shared prison with him. And I want you to know, my dear friends, that it wouldn’t take much imagination to come to the realization of the fact that if you in that day and age had spent time in prison with someone, you would get to know them very well, very intimately. And no doubt that had happened. And so there was a deep bond with Andronicus and Junias and the apostle Paul. They were relatives and they were fellow prisoners.

Now we come to the ‘apostles’ to whom Paul referred.

MacArthur explains:

Now this could mean that they are apostles with a small “a,” not like the twelve and Paul who saw the resurrected Christ. It could mean that they are messengers. There is the statement, “apostles of the churches” as opposed to “apostles of Christ.” The apostles that we know were the apostles of Christ but the churches also had apostles. The word apostoloi, translated “sent ones,” it could be that they were missionaries or messengers or sent with the gospel from the church, of lesser stature than Paul and the twelve. But the better idea here is that what he is saying about them is they were of note among the apostles of the Lord. In other words, they were highly esteemed for their spiritual life and service among the apostles. What makes you believe that? The last commendation, “who were also in Christ before me.”

Henry’s commentary says much the same. They were Pauline in character and devotion:

They were of note among the apostles, not so much perhaps because they were persons of estate and quality in the world as because they were eminent for knowledge, and gifts, and graces, which made them famous among the apostles, who were competent judges of those things, and were endued with a spirit of discerning not only the sincerity, but the eminency, of Christians.

Then we come to Ampliatus, to whom Paul pays a high and affectionate compliment: ‘my beloved in the Lord’ (verse 8).

Henry has nothing on Ampliatus, therefore, no one had been able to research enough at that time.

MacArthur, who has the advantage of relatively modern research, tells us that he was most probably a slave:

He mentions Ampliatus, “my beloved in the Lord.” And again we see this word beloved for the second time. This is a loving man, as I’ve been saying, and he demonstrates his love and there’s no fear of saying that. You know, some people find it hard to say “I love you,” or to call someone a “beloved friend,” not Paul. He had no problem with that and he greets Ampliatus in this way.

Now let me say a little about Ampliatus. We don’t know who he is. But let me just give you some fascinating things to think about. We do know this, that Ampliatus is a slave name because in history we can find it among the slaves and slaves did not bear the name of free men or noble men. So it is a slave name. In fact it is a very common name in the imperial household of Rome; that is in the household of the Caesar. And there is a cemetery at Domatia, the earliest of the Christian catacombs. One of the most fascinating things I’ve ever done is to wander through the catacombs of Rome. They were the burial place of Christians in the first century. And the oldest of those, the earliest of the catacombs is at Domatia. And in that early catacomb there is a very decorated tomb and on that decorated tomb is this large name Ampliatus, which is quite interesting, because single names were unique. A Roman nobleman or a Roman free man would have three names, but a slave would only have one name. And Ampliatus was a slave. The fact that at his burial, if it be the same Ampliatus, he is given a large and rather decorated tomb and his name is placed there for all to see, indicates in comparison with the other burial places in the catacomb that he was set apart as high ranking in the church, which is a wonderful insight because what it tells us is that while the world may have ranked people according to their economic status, the church didn’t do that. And a slave could rise in the church of Jesus Christ to a place of recognized prominence to be given unique honor in his burial. It may well have been that in the church in many cases and in many places slaves were actually the elders teaching their own owners the Word of God. And so we see in the early church that even a slave could reach the place of prominence and social strata was not a barrier or even an issue in the church. Certainly this brings to heart the word of Paul in the Galatian letter chapter 3 verse 28 that in Christ there’s neither male nor female, Jew nor Gentile, bond nor free, but all are one in Christ. We don’t know if it’s the same Ampliatus, but likely a slave, perhaps this one, perhaps another one. And then he calls him “my beloved in the Lord,” great personal affection.

In verse 9, Paul mentions Urbanus and Stachys. Urbanus worked hard for the Church and Paul refers to Stachys affectionately as ‘my beloved’.

Henry did not know about these men, so we look to MacArthur to tell us more:

Now Urbanus is a very common Roman name. It suggests that he was a native Roman, probably a Gentile. He calls him “our helper,” that is to say he helped me and he helped the Roman church. I don’t know how or where but Paul knew and he had been in assistance to Paul as well as the Roman church and he says greet him. Say hello for me, give him my love, tell him I’m concerned. I mean, this is… This is marvelously intimate. And then he mentions Stachys. That is a very unusual Greek name, it means ear of corn. It would be like naming your son Cob, basically. It’s a very strange name, even in that culture. He says, “Greet Cob, my beloved,” and again he doesn’t have any compunction about expressing his deep love to this believer in the Roman church. I don’t know where he met him or how he knew him, but he did, he did.

In verse 10, we come to Apelles and to the members of Aristobulus’s family. Note that there is no greeting to Aristobulus, so he was probably not a believer or he had already died. We do not know.

Of Apelles, Henry says that Paul pays him the highest compliment of being ‘approved in Christ’:

Concerning Apelles, who is here said to be approved in Christ (Romans 16:10), a high character! He was one of known integrity and sincerity in his religion, one that had been tried; his friends and enemies had tried him, and he was as gold. He was of approved knowledge and judgment, approved courage and constancy; a man that one might trust and repose a confidence in.

MacArthur shares the same assessment:

… he says, “Greet Apelles,” and I love this, “dokimos in Christ.” Tried and proven true, tested and proven trustworthy, a tried and tested and proven brother faithful and dependable, Apelles, “approved in Christ.” Oh what a commendation that is. To have that said about you, wouldn’t that be wonderful? Tried and proven true, trustworthy, worthy of confidence. We don’t know anything about him. That’s all we know but, boy, that’s enough.

It appears that Apelles might have been a Jew with a Gentile-styled name:

Apelles being a Greek name similar to the name Abel. And Lightfoot suggests that a Jew named Abel wanting to identify with Roman culture would simply say his name was Apelles, which would be the equivalent. And so very possibly this would be a Jew taking on that name.

MacArthur shares insights about Aristobulus and those who belong to his family:

Greet, he says, and this is very interesting, “greet them who are of the household of Aristobulus,” or literally in the text, “greet those who are of Aristobulus.” Now he doesn’t greet Aristobulus. We assume that Aristobulus is not a Christian, not a believer, not in the church. But some of his household, and the King James translators and the Authorized Version did right putting in, “the household of” because it’s implied. Greet those who are of Aristobulus, those who belong to his household. If he was a Christian he would have greeted him, too, but he’s not a Christian. And so here we have the fact that the gospel has divided a family, it’s divided a household. It may have been his wife or his children or part of his servants or all of the above. Aristobulus not being a believer but in his household there were believers, and we learn something else about the early church, that it was divisive, that Jesus said, “I come to bring a sword to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother and to divide a family, I came to do that.”

Lightfoot, the classical Greek commentator, suggests something interesting about this man. In studying history around this time we find that it’s likely that this man may have been the brother of Herod Agrippa I and the grandson of Herod the Great. So that Aristobulus was in the family of the Herods. He would therefore have been an intimate ally with Emperor ClaudiusWhen Aristobulus died, Lightfoot says, his household, that is his wife and family and slaves and possessions, would become the property of the emperor and they would all be absorbed within the emperor’s imperial household. So in the imperial household you would have those of Aristobulus. It would be known as the household of Aristobulus.

This is fascinating. I am so grateful to the scholars through the ages who have been able to research the lives of Paul’s friends.

More to come next week.

Next time — Romans 16:11-13


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