List of people in Romans 16 prosopography

I’m terrible with numbers. I can’t keep them in my head, and I too easily lose track when counting. So for my sake, I’ve compiled this list of people who Paul mentions in Romans 16:1-16 so I don’t have to keep going back to the passage to check how many people there are.

I’ve numbered and named the people, along with the verse or phrase from Romans 16:1-16 where they are mentioned. And I’ve included a line or two about them. Perhaps this list will be useful to others too.

1. Phoebe Romans 16:1-2

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon [or, minister] of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well. NRSV

Phoebe was a minister in Cenchrea, a port town of Corinth, who had travelled to Rome where one of her tasks was to deliver Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul introduces her to the Romans in terms of her ministry.[1] More about Phoebe here.

After Phoebe, twenty-eight Roman Christians are listed. A woman, Prisca (also known as Priscilla), heads this list.

2. Prisca Romans 16:3-5a
3. Aquila Romans 16:3-5a

Say hello to Prisca and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life. I’m not the only one who thanks God for them, but all the churches of the Gentiles do the same. Also say hello to the church that meets in their house. CEB

Prisca and Aquila were a married couple. They were friends of Paul, and the three had lived, worked, travelled and ministered together. Prisca’s name is listed before her husband’s in four of the six times their names are mentioned in the New Testament. This may indicate that Prisca was more prominent in ministry than Aquila. The couple hosted and led a house church in Rome which is also greeted. More about Prisca and Aquila here.

4. Epaenetus Romans 16:5b

Say hello to Epaenetus, my dear friend, who was the first convert [literally “first-fruits] in Asia for Christ. CEB

This is the only Bible verse that mentions Epaenetus. He was a friend (literally, “beloved”) of Paul, but we know nothing about him apart from Paul’s claim that he was the first person in Asia Minor who became a Christian.

5. Mary Romans 16:6

Greet Mary, who laboured hard for you. (My own transl.)

Paul uses “labour/labourer” words for ministry and ministers in a few of his letters. More about Mary of Rome and Paul’s use of “labour” terminology here.

6. Andronicus Romans 16:7
7. Junia Romans 16:7

Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. NIV

Andronicus and Junia were a missionary couple who had been persecuted for their faith. They had been Christians longer than Paul, perhaps they had even been disciples when Jesus was alive. The couple is described in terms of their relationship with Paul (and other apostles) and their ministry. More about Junia here.

8. Ampliatus Romans 16:8

Say hello to Ampliatus, my dear friend in the Lord.

Ampliatus was a common male name, especially of slaves in the imperial household, but we know nothing about this man except that he was a friend (“beloved”) of Paul.

9. Urbanus Romans 16:9

Say hello to Urbanus, our coworker in Christ . . . CEB

Just like Prisca and Aquila, Urbanus, a man, is described using Paul’s favourite word for a fellow minister: coworker.

10. Stachys Romans 16:9

. . . and my dear friend Stachys. CEB

Stachys is the third person in this list who Paul describes as his friend (“beloved”).

11. Apelles Romans 16:10

Say hello to Apelles, who is tried and true in Christ. CEB

Apelles is a man whose faith in Christ had been tested in some way, and proven.

12. Aristobulus’s household Romans 16:10

Say hello to the members of the household of Aristobulus. CEB

Literally “those from/of Aristobulus” probably refers to the family and/or the slaves of a man named Aristobulus. It may also refer to a congregation (or, house church) hosted by Aristobulus, but it is a little odd that Aristobulus himself is not explicitly greeted.

13. Herodion Romans 16:11

Greet Herodion, my fellow Jew. NIV

Paul makes a point of highlighting the ethnicity of some of his fellow Jews (Rom. 16:7, 11, 16:21 NIV; cf. Rom. 9:3 NIV). This is significant as there were tensions between the Jews and Gentiles in the Roman Church at the time Paul wrote his letter.

14. Narcissus‘s household Romans 16:11

Say hello to the members of the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. CEB

Literally “those from/of Narcissus.” Narcissus is a male name, and like Aristobulus, he was probably the host of a house church.

15. Tryphaena Romans 16:12
16. Tryphosa Romans 16:12

Greet those labourers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. (My own transl.)

These women, most likely sisters, ministered “in the Lord.” Despite the senses of daintiness and of luxurious living that the etymology of their names conveys, these women were hard workers.

17. Persis Romans 16:12

Greet our dear friend Persis, who has laboured hard in the Lord. (My own transl.)

Like Epaenetus, Ampliatus and Stachys, Paul refers to Persis, a woman, as a dear friend (“beloved”). The apostle regarded these four people with warm affection. But in the greeting to Persis, Paul uses a definite article instead of the pronoun equivalent to “my” (cf. Rom. 16:5, 8, 9). Persis was not just loved by Paul, she was also loved by the church. Furthermore, Paul refers to the ministry of Persis, something he doesn’t do for the three men.

Seven women have been mentioned so far, including Phoebe, and Paul has said something about the ministries of each of these women.

18. Rufus Romans 16:13
19. Rufus’s mother Romans 16:13

Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; and greet his mother—a mother to me also. NRSV

Rufus may be a son of Simon of Cyrene, the man who was forced to carry Jesus’s cross. See Mark 15:21. Paul describes Rufus as “chosen,” or “elect.” (This is the same word used to describe the lady addressed in 2 John and her sister). Rufus’ mother is the eighth woman listed in Romans 16:1-16. Paul says nothing about her ministry except that she acted in a maternal way towards him. The fact that she is not named may be a mark of respect and perhaps indicates she is an older person. Was she Simon of Cyrene’s widow? (More about unnamed women in the Bible here.)

20. Asyncritus Romans 16:14
21. Phlegon Romans 16:14
22. Hermes Romans 16:14
23. Patrobas Romans 16:14
24. Hermas Romans 16:14

Say hello to Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters who are with them. CEB

Five names are given in verse 14. The first four are male names. It’s not totally clear if Herma(s) is a male name. These people probably all belong to the same house church in Rome.

25. Philologus Romans 16:15
26. Julia Romans 16:15
27. Nereus Romans 16:15
28. Nereus’s sister Romans 16:15
29. Olympas Romans 16:15

Say hello to Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. CEB

The Greek grammar shows that Philologus and Julia are a couple. Along with Nereus and his sister, as well as Olympas (which may be a contraction of the male name Olympiodorus—or is it the female name Olympa?) these five are probably all prominent members of a house church. Or perhaps they are the hosts and leaders of three different house churches in Rome.

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ send greetings. Romans 16:16 NIV

Twenty-nine people are mentioned in Romans 16:1-16, with twenty-eight based in Rome. But this passage is not a dry list of names. Rather, it gives insight into the church at Rome and it reveals Paul’s esteem and regard for some of the believers there. He comments on the faith of a few of these people, on his relationships with a few of these people, and on some of their ministries.

Moreover, as a way of displaying solidarity and of fostering unity among the believers in Rome, and between the different house churches, Paul wanted them and the various households to greet one another. Paul wanted to ease tensions among the Roman Christians, including ethnic tensions (cf. Gal. 3:28).

Of the twenty-nine people, ten are women. What is especially interesting, however, is that seven of the ten women are described in terms of their ministry (Phoebe, Prisca, Mary, Junia, Tryphena, Tryphosa, Persis).[2] By comparison, only three men are described in terms of their ministry (Aquila, Andronicus, Urbanus), and two of these men are ministering alongside a female partner (Aquila with Prisca, Andronicus with Junia). These are numbers worth remembering.

It is apparent that women were active in significant ministries in the church at Rome. It is also apparent that Paul has no problem with these women. Rather, he affirms them and their ministries. Did Paul make a point of affirming these women in an effort to ease tensions caused by some Roman Christians who had a problem with ministering women?


Footnotes

[1] Paul had not yet visited the church at Rome, but he was already acquainted with some of their ministers. He had met some of them when his and their journeys intersected (e.g., Priscilla and Aquila, Andronicus and Junia). Others he may have known by reputation. Some scholars believe, however, that the last chapter of Romans was not originally part of Paul’s letter to the Romans, but part of a letter the apostle wrote to the Christians in Ephesus. Paul was well acquainted with the Christians in the Ephesian church. Nevertheless, I believe that Romans 16 is part of a letter that Paul wrote to the Romans.

Several books and papers discuss whether Romans 16 was meant for Rome or for Ephesus. Here is a small sample of them:
Günther Bornkamn, Paul (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995) 80; Joan Cecelia Campbell, Phoebe: Patron and Emissary (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2009), 13-14; Robert Jewett, “Paul, Phoebe, and the Spanish Mission” in The Social World of Formative Christianity and Judaism: In Tribute to Howard Clark Kee (Philadelphia: FortressPress, 1988), 153-154; Susan Mathew, Women in the Greetings of Rom 16:1-16: A Study of Mutuality and Women’s Ministry in the Letter to the Romans  (Durham University: Durham E-Theses, 2010), 4-19.

[2] Paul’s comment that Rufus’s mother was “a mother to me” may be in reference to her ministry to Paul and not just their relationship.

Image

Joanne Whalley and John Lynch play Priscilla and Aquila in the 2018 movie Paul: Apostle of Christ. I enjoyed this movie a lot.


Further Reading

Who’s Who in Paul’s Greetings in Romans 16 by Bronwen Speedie.
Tryphaena and Tryphosa: Not too Dainty to Work Hard in the Lord by Dr Dominika Kurek-Chomycz

Related Articles

Partnering Together: Paul and Women
Paul’s Theology of Ministry
Nympha: A House Church Leader in the Lycus Valley (Col. 4:15)
Who was the Chosen Lady in 2 John?
Galatians 3:28: Our Identity in Christ and in the Church
Harnack’s Positive Descriptions of NT Women Ministers

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