Bible kevinroosecomThe 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 16:11-13

11 Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well.


Last week’s reading delved into the identities of Andronicus, Junia (Junias), Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles and those who belonged to the household of Aristobulus.

Paul commended them to the Christians in Rome.

His list continues this week.

One of the interesting things is the way Paul uses certain phrases in his commendations: ‘in the Lord’, ‘worker in Christ’ and, the highest compliment, ‘approved in Christ’.

While a good deal of information was available through the centuries, 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 more about who these early Christians were.

Andronicus and Junia were kinsmen of Paul’s, most probably his cousins. So was Herodion (verse 11).

John MacArthur says that the unusual name implies some relationship with Herod’s family (emphases mine):

Here is a Jewish relative of Paul who definitely has some relationship to the family of Herod … And so we can perhaps speculate, we can’t be certain, that there was within the very imperial household a growing congregation of those who loved the Savior. What a wonderful thought, what a wonderful thought.

Paul asked that the Romans greet those ‘in the Lord’ from the household of Narcissus (verse 11), implying that not everyone in that household was a believer.

Biblical research indicates that Narcissus was probably dead by then and that he was an unbeliever.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

some think this Narcissus was the same with one of that name who is frequently mentioned in the life of Claudius, as a very rich man that had a great family, but was very wicked and mischievous. It seems, then, there were some good servants, or other retainers, even in the family of a wicked man, a common case … The poor servant is called, and chosen, and faithful, while the rich master is passed by, and left to perish in unbelief. Even so, Father, because it seemed good unto thee.

MacArthur tells us more about Narcissus:

Now who is Narcissus? Well William Barclay has done a little bit of looking into this and he suggests and agrees with Lightfoot, who holds the same view, that the household of Narcissus can be defined in this way. Narcissus is a common name but the most famous Narcissus was a free man who was secretary to the Emperor Claudius. And he exercised a tremendous influence over the emperor. In fact he is said to have amassed a private fortune of inestimable wealth, in Barclay’s terminology, four million pounds. But he had a tremendous amount of wealth. His power had lain in the fact that all correspondence addressed to the emperor had to pass through his hands and never reached the emperor until he allowed it to do so. So he made his fortune from the fact that people paid him large bribes to make sure their petitions and requests reached the emperor. Not a bad business.

When Claudius was murdered and Nero came to the throne, Narcissus survived for a little while. In the end he was compelled to commit suicide and all of his fortune and all of his household of slaves passed into the possession of Nero. It may well be his one-time slaves which are here referred to. It may have been those who once belonged to Narcissus who now have been redeemed. And Barclay says, if Aristobulus really is the Aristobulus who is the grandson of Herod, and if Narcissus really is the Narcissus who is Claudius’ secretary, then this means that many of the slaves at the imperial court were already Christians and the leaven of Christianity had reached the highest circles of the empire. Wonderful to think aboutin Paul’s letter to the Philippians at the end he says the believers in Caesar’s household greet you.

That is amazing.

The names in verse 12 are all female. Note how Paul worded his sentence. Tryphaena and Tryphosa were ‘workers in the Lord’, but Persis ‘worked hard in the Lord’. We saw that in verse 6, where Paul mentioned a lady named Mary.

MacArthur explained the Greek verb associated with Mary as well as Persis:

The word is a strong word, it means to labor to the point of weariness, it’s that very familiar verb kopia. It means to work to sweat and exhaustion. And he says greet her who bestowed much labor on you.

He says the same verb is also used to describe Tryphaena and Tryphosa, whose names mean ‘delicate’ and ‘dainty’, respectively. Yet, we get the impression that Persis worked harder:

… what he is using there is a strong word for labor, again it’s that kopia word. And what he is saying is maybe a little play on word, you may be dainty and delicate but you sure work hard for the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. We don’t know anything about them except that they labored in the Lord and that’s enough, I suppose.

And then he mentions Persis, another female name. In fact, it literally means a Persian woman. In the church at Rome there was a Persian woman who loved Christ. We don’t know how he met her but she labored much in the Lord. Now you say, “Was she better than Tryphaena and Tryphosa?” I don’t know. God keeps the records and I’m sure there are some saints who will commended for laboring and some who will be commended for laboring much. Would you agree to that? It may well be that she was older. It is interesting that Tryphaena and Tryphosa, present tense, who are laboring in the Lord, and the beloved Persis who labored in the Lord, again an indication that Tryphaena and Tryphosa may have been young and Persis much older, so that it is the volume of labor on the basis of years rather than the quality of it. She labored much, perhaps because she was older.

Now we come to the big reveal of the day: Rufus, ‘chosen in the Lord’ (verse 13). Those who know their Scripture will already be aware that there were only two degrees of separation between Rufus and our Lord Jesus. His father was Simon of Cyrene, who carried the Cross because Jesus was too weak and wounded by then.

In his Gospel, Mark describes Simon of Cyrene as being the father of Alexander and Rufus.

Matthew Henry did not have that detail, but MacArthur does:

You want to know about Rufus? Look at Mark 15:21 and I…you’ll never believe who Rufus is. Mark 15:21, Jesus is on the way to the cross and his cross is becoming very heavy. And in Mark 15:21 the soldiers compelled a man by the name of what? Simon of Cyrene, North Africa, who was…who happened to be passing by. Here’s a guy who comes out of North Africa, comes to visit the city of Jerusalem for the Passover, he happens to be walking along the street and the next thing he knows he’s immortalized as the one who carried the cross of Christ. And just… It says here in Mark, he is the father of Alexander and who? And Rufus. You know who Rufus was now? He’s the son of the man who carried the cross. It may well have been that his brother wasn’t a Christian and that’s why Rufus is called “chosen in the Lord,” to set him apart from Alexander who was not. We don’t know that.

Alternatively, perhaps, for some reason, Paul never met Alexander or perhaps he was working away from the family home. There could have been other reasons why Paul did not mention Alexander.

MacArthur goes on to explain how Simon’s sons names appear in Mark:

But how fascinating it is that Mark wrote his gospel very likely from Rome. Alright? And Mark wrote his gospel with the Romans in mind. Now if Mark was writing from Rome and had in view a Roman audience to read that gospel, then how wonderful for him to make a connection between the Roman church and the man who carried the cross. And so to make that connection, as he writes about Simon of Cyrene, he simply says, “By the way, he’s the father of Rufus in your own fellowship, in your own fellowship.” And we remember, don’t we, that the book of Mark, the gospel of Mark, was written after the epistle to the Romans, and so Mark, no doubt, identifies this Rufus who is the same Rufus here greeted by Paul who is famous. And can you imagine how he was asked to repeat the story of how it was when his father carried Jesus’ cross? These are real people, real people.

Paul also mentions Simon of Cyrene’s wife, who must have been a holy woman and generous with her time, because Paul says that she acted as a mother towards him:

And his dear mother, who obviously came to faith in Christ through this passing incident and a whole family, perhaps even Alexander, we don’t know, all have come to know Christ through God’s grace in asking their father to carry the cross.

I like what Henry’s says about Rufus’s mother:

This good woman, upon some occasion or other, had been as a mother to Paul, in caring for him, and comforting him; and Paul here gratefully owns it, and calls her mother.

What a lovely sentiment on which to end.

Paul has more names of people to commend to the Roman Christians. I’ll finish the list in next week’s post.

Next time — Romans 16:14-16