Like the “begats” or genealogies in the gospels, the list of persons whom Paul greets at the end of his letters does not make for the most exciting reading. We tend to skim this quickly and move on to the next thing. But there are some lessons to be learned here and as all Scripture is God-breathed we should pay attention (2 Timothy 3:16). (Much of what I write here is taken from Moo, NICNT, 928-43.)
We first note that this list of greetings is long, even for Paul. Indeed, none of his other letters have greetings which match this length. We note that Paul had never visited the church in Rome and as he wanted to have their support for his mission to Spain, he may have wanted to show that he had friends and acquaintances there among them who would vouch for him. We should not think that the apostolic band was a magisterial council that ruled the churches with an iron fist; even Paul, especially Paul, had to show his bona fides, and both the contents of this letter and his references in these greetings would aid in that endeavor. Second, we note a number of women in Paul’s list. Phoebe is especially commended and may have been the carrier of the letter. Hospitality was important in the ancient world and Paul wants that to be especially afforded her. Depending on translation, she may have been a deaconess in the church, a ministry serving the poor and in her case, especially women. And though official ministries are accorded only to men in the New Testament, still the ministry of women is highly valued.
Third, we note that Paul mentions as many as five “house churches” among the Roman community (vss. 5, 10, 11, 14, 15). As churches had no buildings at this early time, and as a house could only hold so many, worship in several houses throughout a city was necessary. I have wondered myself, given the level of hostility towards the Church in America and the suggestion by some that churches (and certainly church-related institutions) should lose tax exempt status if they refuse to adopt our nation’s pagan understanding of human sexuality and family—I wonder if house churches are the future in America. If so, viva the New Testament Church! Fourth, Paul was no “lone ranger” but a man who worked with others in the ministry of the Church. There is no such thing as a church of one; we are members of one another and any suggestion otherwise is unbiblical and gross arrogance. Finally, the list includes both Jews and Gentiles; moreover, scholars indicate that it includes slaves, those freed from slavery, and perhaps a few wealthier folk, fulfilling the promise of Genesis 12:3, that ALL the nations would be blessed.