Bible openThe 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 16:14-16

14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers[a] who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

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Last week’s post discussed the identities of those in Paul’s church family, including one of his relatives, Herodion.

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.

This is the end of the list. Unfortunately, there isn’t much about most of the people in today’s verses. Matthew Henry has nothing, but John MacArthur has a bit of information.

The five men mentioned in verse 14 had a home church, MacArthur says (emphases mine):

… what this says is here were five men who had a church in a home. And he says say hi to those guys out there, those five who are leaders of an assembly within the whole Roman church. He’s probably pointing out some leaders, some elders who are pastoring or shepherding one group of the Christians in Rome. As I said, they met in many places.

The list ends in verse 15. MacArthur tells us those people led smaller groups:

They were little branch fellowships. And he says greet all the rest of these folks, men and women, greet them all.

However, there is information about Nereus, likely to have been a slave:

Who is Nereus? William Barclay … says, “In A.D. 95 there happened an event which shocked Rome. Two of the most distinguished people in Rome were condemned for being Christians. They were husband and wife. The husband was Flavius Clemens, he was the consul of Rome, the wife was Dom[i]tia and she was of royal blood. She was the granddaughter of Vespasian, a former emperor and the niece of Domitian, the reigning emperor in 95 A.D. In fact, the two sons of Flavius Clemens and Dom[i]tia had been designated Domitian’s successors in the imperial power. Flavius was executed and Domitia…Dom[i]tia was banished to the island of Pontia … where she drew out a long martyrdom for the Christian name.”

And now the point. “The name of the treasurer of Flavius and Dom[i]tia was Nereus. Is it possible,” says Barclay, “that Nereus the slave had something to do with the making into Christians of Flavius Clemens, the ex-consul, and Dom[i]tia, the princess of the royal blood? Perhaps, perhaps. “Greet Nereus and his sister and Olympus and all the saints who are with them.”

So we see from not only Nereus but others in Paul’s list that a number of slaves were Christians. Some converted their heads of households and/or their children. What a powerful message, especially today, when so many people wilfully fall away from the church or refuse to hear the Good News.

And, on the other end of the social scale, what about those of noble blood, such as Domitia, a widow martyred in exile?

These are amazing stories of real people who lived and died in the first decades of the early Church. Whether bondservant or nobility, they were all one in Christian faith, as Paul wrote (Galatians 3:28):

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[a] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Paul concludes his list of Christians in Rome by encouraging them to greet each other with a holy kiss (verse 16), signifying agape, a unified brotherly love in faith.

Paul also included the greetings from the churches he planted, a moving final sentence reinforcing Christian unity.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

“The churches of Christ salute you; that is, the churches which I am with, and which I am accustomed to visit personally, as knit together in the bonds of the common Christianity, desire me to testify their affection to you and good wishes for you.” This is one way of maintaining the communion of saints.

MacArthur makes this observation:

… may I suggest to you that you’re probably feeling in your heart what I felt that all of a sudden that early church has come to life and it lives and breathes just like our church does. And we’re not so far away, are we? We could as well describe ourselves here. Some of us who are laboring in the Lord, others labored much in the Lord, those who have endured hardship, those who are willing to give their lives, those who are beloved and well beloved, those who have been used by God to reach others for Christ, these are just people and Paul knows them and he loves them and if he could he would kiss them. I mean, we’ve all gotten letters from mom through the years with X’s and O’s on the bottom. We’ve gotten letters that say kiss everybody in your family for me. This is Paul, this is family. This is intimacy. This man knew what it was to stand for the truth but he also knew what it was to love his people. And that’s the mark of the uniqueness of his wonderful character.

Paul then gives the Romans a sombre caution about imposters causing division. That will be the subject of next week’s post.

Next time — Romans 16:17-20