I’ve Been Reading History Again

I’ve been thinking lately about the fall of the Roman Empire.

Let the reader understand.

I am specific when I saw Roman Empire as opposed to “Fall of Rome” because one of my historical presuppositions is Rome, as an idea, never actually fell. The empire collapsed, but not the idea. In fact, collapse is probably not the best word for it. Disintegrate would be better. Governmental structures evaporated but people still continued to think of themselves as Roman and they passed these ideals along. They were so successful at maintaining the ideals that today we celebrate the American Senate, our civic architecture is decidedly Roman, garrisons man outposts in every corner of the empire, our legal code is rife with Latinisms, and the national symbol is an eagle.

I will not bore you with my analysis of the Roman Empire’s demise. Instead, I want to share an observation I found in one of my old history texts. As you know, the Empire in the west fell in 476 A.D. but the Empire in the east, Byzantium, continued on for centuries. The discussion in the history text was of the church — a specific interest of mine, for obvious reasons — and how it viewed itself in these two very different parts of the Roman experience. In the east, the church viewed itself as intertwined with the empire itself, like the priesthood in ancient Israel’s kingdom. Byzantine faith was comfortable blending and bending the decrees of emperors with the teachings of the church.

By contrast, the church in the west learned to view secular power with suspicion. It was not the Christian empire extending ecclesiastical power at will, but rather it was Noah’s Ark, seeking to save and rescue the faithful as the world drowned in a rising flood of chaos. To be sure, this is the snapshot of the church at the end of the Roman Empire in the west. Eventually, history teaches, the church would grab at secular power with both hands, clutching and clawing for as much control and wealth as possible.

But that was not the case at the end. At the end, it was the church that held order. It was bishops who negotiated with tribal chieftains to spare cities. It was the church that gathered up orphans and raised them. It was the church that held together legal systems. It was the church that brought organization — even borrowing the terms like diocese to describe things.

Allow me, please, to philosophize a moment from the historical situation about the present. These two views are powerful in today’s American ecclesiastical landscape. Some view the church as a partner with politics, both on the left and the right, to wield power. Others, both on the right and the left, think of the church as an instrument to rescue those who are perishing, those drowning in the chaos of change and the evaporation of civilization.

The current climate we are in, perhaps, is the most Roman we have ever experienced.


I wrote this three years ago. It seems even more timely to me now than then.

Pastor Greenbean

I’ve been thinking about this blog since I woke up this morning. I don’t know how it will turn out.

I love Thanksgiving because of all the holidays we celebrate, the only one with any true biblical commandment is Thanksgiving. We are never told in the Bible to celebrate Jesus’ birth or his resurrection with holy days. We are, however, told to give thanks many times. So, for me, this is a religious holiday, which might be why “Black Friday” and shopping the day after Thanksgiving is so distasteful and evil to me. But I digress.

The Thanksgiving Ideal

For me it is religious, but for the vast majority of people Thanksgiving is a secular affair with parades and shopping and football.  A new tradition has emerged though on the secular landscape. That tradition is the emergence of hand-wringing and guilty confessions of communal sin about the origins of…

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In the words of Jim Morrison, ‘This is the end.’  Not the end of everything, mind you.  Just the end of my translation of Romans.  It took me a little longer than I thought it would, because, you know, life.  Nevertheless, I have enjoyed each step, and feel that I know the book of Romans far better than I previously did, and that I know Paul better.  My continual prayer, however, whenever I study the scriptures is to learn more about the Lord, his ways, and how I can follow him as I interact with the world around me.  Study must be devotional or it is only a mind game.


The beginning “greet” in verse 5 is not in the actual text, but is instead borrowed. That fragment should rightly go with the previous verse.  I generally view each new “greet” as a new sentence.

In verse 10, “those from Aristobolus’ household” likely means those who are slaves belonging to a man named Aristobolus, and not a reference to his family.

Paul wants to say “Hi,” to Rufus’ mother in verse 13, but it is difficult to know what he means by “and me” at the end. He probably means “Greet Rufus’ mother, because she has been a mother to me as well,” but the language could also be “Greet Rufus’ mother, and my mother too” meaning that his mother was with Rufus’ mother. I left it literal, attempting to maintain the ambiguity.

The end of this chapter is a textual mess.  There is no verse 24, and there is doubt that verses 25-27 are genuinely Pauline.  I am not a textual critic, but a simple reading does indeed indicate that the end of verse 20 is the logical conclusion for his greetings to Rome, and then a perfunctory return greeting from those who are with him, followed by the brief benediction at the end of verse 20 makes sense.  The last line, one would assume, should be the amanuensis named Tertius and a reference to his host Gaius and friend Quartus.  It makes little sense to put the glorious doxology (and it is indeed glorious, verse 25 alone is a real gem) after the signature line, thus I lean toward thinking that 25-27 are a later addition and not the hand of Paul.


Chapter 16 might be my favorite chapter in Romans because it is so personal.  For the love of all that is good and decent, do not just skip over the names here, because they matter.  Here are three highlights.

First, Phoebe is probably the person delivering the letter, and charged with the primary goal of fundraising for the upcoming trip to Spain.  Paul calls her a deacon, which may well mean generic “servant” or “minister” because offices were very fluid and not codified in the early church.  However, the tendency to translate the word “servant” here but “deacon” whenever it applies to a man is sexist and reflects poor hermeneutics.  In context, it is clear that she was a leader of some sort from her home church and Paul had sent her as a leader with leadership authority.  Indeed, note the first two people he greets are both women.

Second, Paul seems to know a lot of people in Rome, especially considering he’d never been there.  This reflects the transient nature of the first century, but also the missionary strategy of early church leaders–get into the cities–the major cities, and work from there as a base of operations.  My instinct tells me that it was the understood goal of all in Paul’s circle of co-workers that getting to Rome, the seat of empire, culture, economics, and religion was a high priority.

Third, I am obsessed with the mention of Rufus (v. 13).  Let me draw it out simply.  Paul calls him “Chosen” which means something specific, something unique to him.  What can that be.  Here is my hypothesis:  Paul’s ministry is closely linked with Luke, who wrote his own gospel and the book of Acts, and John Mark, who may have been the author of the Gospel of Mark.  Both Luke and Mark tell of the man Simon of Cyrene who carried the cross of Jesus at the crucifixion.  Mark tells us that Simon had two sons named Alexander and Rufus.  Paul’s shout out to Rufus’ mother, who had nourished him as well, could indicate that this family had been integral in Paul’s early spiritual formation in the faith.  Of course, I can’t prove any of this but it does fascinate me.

Chapter Sixteen
1. And I introduce to you our sister Phoebe. She is a deacon of the church in Cenchrea,
2. so welcome her in the Lord, in a way worthy of the saints. Help her with whatever issue might come up, for she is a protector of many, and was for me.
3. Greet Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers in Messiah Jesus,
4. for they risked their own necks for my life, and not for me only do I give thanks, but all the churches of the gentiles.
5. Greet their home church. Greet Epaenetus my beloved, who is first-fruit of Asia in Messiah.
6. Greet Mary, who worked hard among you.
7. Greet my relatives and fellow prisoners Andronicus and Junia. They are famous among the apostles and were in Messiah before me.
8. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord.
9. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Messiah and my beloved Stachys.
10. Greet Apelles, who is tried and true in Messiah. Greet those from Aristobolus’ household.
11. Greet Herodion, my relative. Greet the ones from Narcissus who are in the Lord.
12. Greet Tryphaena and Tryphosa who work in the Lord. Greek Persis, the beloved, who works so much in the Lord.
13. Greet Rufus, the one chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
14. Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers and sisters with them.
15. Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus, and his sister, Olympus, and all the saints with them.
16. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches in Messiah greet you.
17. Yet I encourage you, brothers and sisters, to watch for those who bring dissension and difficulties against the teaching you have learned; stay clear of them.
18. For such people are not serving our Lord Messiah, but their own belly, and by pretty words and flattering speech they deceive the heart of the simple.
19. For your obedience in all things reached us, therefore I rejoice over you. I wish you to be wise in good things, but innocent in the bad.
20. The God of peace will crush Satan under your feet quickly. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.
21. My co-worker Timothy, and my relatives Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater greet you.
22. I, Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.
23. My host Gaius greets you, as does the whole church. Erastus the city steward and brother Quartus greet you.
24. —
25. To the one being able to strengthen you by my gospel and the preaching about Messiah Jesus, according to the revelation of the eternal mysteries preserved in the silence of time,
26. but having been revealed now in the prophetic scriptures by the command of the eternal God, to make known the obedience of faith to all people,
27. to God who alone is wise, through Jesus the Messiah, to whom is glory in eternity. Amen.


It all comes back to love and how you treat your neighbor.  At least, that is what Paul is teaching us in Romans 13.  What Paul does that is different than Jesus in Matthew 22:36-40 (but not contrary to Jesus, just an extrapolation of it) is he pushes it out to the logical assumptions about political and social behavior.

Translation Notes

The most fitful translation choice for me was in verse 7.  There is a remarkable brevity in the way Paul frames these words–literally something like “taxes the taxes, toll the toll, fear the fear, honor the honor.”  I’ve added the verbs “due” and “pay” at the beginning and end of the verse for clarity, but those are not present in this part of the sentence.  They are borrowed from earlier.

In verse 6 Paul uses the word “leitourgoi” which is connected to the root for our word ‘liturgy’, and it is sometimes used to describe Christian worship or service.  Here, however, it is used to denote the secular, civil servant whom Paul also calls a servant of God.  It is fascinating that in 12:1, when he talks about worship, he uses another word, “latreo.”  Even though there are two different words, I wonder how connected in Paul’s mind is the work of Christian service and civil service?

One more translation issue.  Most English renderings add the word “first” in verse 11, when we “first believed.”  That is a giant liberty, for the word just is not there.  I don’t like it, because it implies a second (or third, or fourth etc…) moment of belief.  Paul is chronological here, recalling that time when we believed in Jesus, but the modifier “first” is unnecessary and confusing.

Theological Notes

I feel like these verses need a fresh reading in our current cultural context here in the United States.  Paul lived in a time when the Roman Empire governed everything, and Rome was anything but moral.  Rome was an empire built of power, lust, and greed.  Whatever evil someone thinks might be going on in our government today, it pales in comparison to the evil in Rome–all throughout the empire.  Yet, Paul can say that the imperium (lictor, likely) is chosen by God for the task.  It can only mean that in the larger society (not within the church, mind you, c/f 1 Cor. 5) order, peace, submission, and the public good trumps personal morality.  That is a hard pill for many, me included, to swallow but that seems to be the teaching.

Chapter Thirteen
1. Every soul must be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and they have been assigned to it by God.
2. So, those opposing authority resist the command of God, and those who resist authority will receive judgement.
3. For those governing are not to be feared by those doing good work, but those doing evil. If you do not want to fear the authorities, do good and you will have praise for it.
4. For he is a servant of God for your good. But if you do evil, you will fear, for it is not for nothing that he carries a sword as a servant of God—an executor of wrath—to those practicing evil.
5. Therefore, it is necessary to be subject, not only because of wrath, but also because of the conscience.
6. This is why you pay taxes, for those are servants of God, constantly attending to the order of things.
7. Pay everyone what is due. If taxes are due, then taxes, if a toll, then a toll, if fear, then fear, if honor is due, then pay honor.
8. Owe no one anything except to love one another, for the one who loves others has fulfilled the law.
9. For, “Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not lust,” and whatever other commandments, are summarized in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
10. Love for the neighbors does no evil, therefore it is a fulfillment of the law of love.
11. Especially knowing the time, because the hour is now already here to wake from sleep, for our salvation is nearer than when we believed.
12. The night advances, but daytime is at hand, therefore take off the works of darkness. Put on the weapons of light.
13. Let us walk properly as in the daylight—not in orgies, drunkenness, in bed, in debauchery, rivalries or jealousy.
14. Put on the Lord Jesus, Messiah. Do not satisfy your desires.