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Studies on the Women of the Bible
by Davis W. Huckabee
WOMEN OF PAUL'S ACQUAINTANCE
We have already had occasion to refer to three of these, Lydia, Priscilla and Phebe, but in Romans 16 Paul makes reference to two of these, plus at least seven more women that had been blessings to him in his ministry. Most of these he only mentions in a verse or two here, and yet it will be instructive to us to note what is said of each of these as Paul commends them.
"Greet Mary, who bestowed much labor on us." Romans 16:6.
Here was another of the several "Mary's" mentioned in the Bible, the first of which was Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, for these two names are the same. And it is not uncommon for what we read as "Mary" in our English Version of the New Testament to actually be "Miriam" in the inspired Greek. In any case, the names are the same. We have studied the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus in the New Testament. And there was also Mary the mother of James and Joses, Mary the wife of Cleopas, Mary the sister of Barnabas and mother of John Mark, and now we come to this Mary about whom we know very little.
This name is Jewish, and so, many believe that she was Jewish, but that does not necessarily follow. Some ancient copies read "who bestowed much labor on you," so that she may have been a member of the Roman church, but known and admired by the apostle. At the same time, some believe that she had lived at Antioch, Corinth, or elsewhere and had there bestowed much labor on Paul and his missionary companions.
Some epistles of the early "Church Father" named Ignatius were addressed to a "Mary" in which the description and praise sounds somewhat like this Mary, and some think that he wrote to the same woman that Paul here commends. However, these epistles are suspect as to their authenticity, and so, no reliance can be placed upon them It is sufficient to know from Paul's commendation what an admirable woman this Mary was. She set an example for other women to follow.
TRYPHENA AND TRYPHOSA
"Salute Tryphena and Tryphosa, who labor in the Lord," Romans 16:12.
Nothing more is known about these two women beyond this mention here. The names are feminine in gender so that we know that they were women. From the similarity of their names some have thought that they were twins, which is a possibility but not a certainty, for we sometimes find variations in spelling of the same name so that two women with similar names would not be unheard of.
These two were women, and are said to be noble women of Iconium, whom the apostle converted there, and afterwards went to Rome. The names are Greek, though they might be Jewish women, since Tryphon, is the name of a man among the Jews. Trypho, the famous Jew, with whom Justin Martyr had his dialogue, is well known, and perhaps is the same with It Tarphon, or Tryphon, so often mentioned in the Misnic and Talmudic writings.—John Gill, Commentary On the Whole Bible, Vol. VI, p. 144.
In any case Paul commends these for their labor in the Lord which can only be understood of labor in some physical or material aspect, since Paul himself was moved by the inspiring Spirit to condemn women having any authoritative position over men, (1 Cor. 14:34-35; 1 Tim. 2:11-12). Most preachers, missionaries and others of the Lord's spokesmen would be greatly hindered but for the diligent labors of such women as these that we have found to often have ministered to them of their substance.
"Salute the beloved Persis, which labored much in the Lord," Romans 16:12.
This woman is called "Beloved" by Paul, and is said to have labored "much" in the Lord. Gill thinks that she might be of Persic origin and to have her name from her country. He also mentions that the Syriac scholiast declared her to be the wife of Rufus that is mentioned in the next verse. However, this was only a tradition, most of which are notoriously unreliable, and generally spring more from unsanctified human imagination than from any historical facts.
Paul was ministered to by many and varied Christian women, and he greatly appreciated every one of these, but for him to call this woman "beloved" and to say that she "labored much in the Lord" is a high commendation, and suggests that she was no ordinary Christian servant. Preachers generally try to not show partiality to those that help them on a regular basis, but sometimes it is hard not feel a special Christian love for some that are especially diligent in helping them for the Lord's sake.
"Salute Rufus chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine," Romans 16:13.
This woman is mentioned only here, and yet her association with her son Rufus who was renowned as one of God's elect, sets the stage for us to learn some other things, for he is here spoken of as one that was well known among the Roman saints. Going back some twenty-five years or more we find another reference to this man Rufus. "And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross," (Mark 15:21. See also Matt. 27:32; Luke 23:26).
Mark is thought to be one of the earliest of the Gospel writers, yet when he wrote his account of the Gospel a number of years after the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, both Alexander and Rufus were well-known saints among the believers. Probably the reason for this is explained by subsequent events that took place as recorded in Acts 11:19-21. "Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen travelled as far as Phenice, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to none but unto the Jews only. And some of them were men of Cyprus and Cyrene, which, when they were come to Antioch, spake unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord." Here was the beginning of the church at Antioch, and the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas to organize them into a church, and he sought out Paul to help him establish this new church.
But can anyone doubt that one of the men that did this initial work was Simon from Cyrene in North Africa? This is further suggested by what we read in Acts 13:1: "Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul." Here were two of the "men of Cyrene" that were responsible for the beginning of the Antioch church. It seems certain that Simeon was also of Cyrene for "Niger" mean black, suggesting that he was from North Africa. Thus distinguishing him from the numerous other "Simons," this one was called "Simon the Black."
Now remembering that both Mark 15:21 and Romans 16:13 speak of Rufus as being well-known among First Century saints, can we doubt that this all came about as follows? Simon the Cyrenian, a black man from North Africa, probably already a proselyte to the Jewish religion, was coming up to worship at the Passover. But is moved to inquire Who is this One whose cross he is compelled to bear, and whom many say is the Messiah. His inquiries convince him that Jesus is "The Coming One," and so, he is converted and joins the Jerusalem church, and later on with fellow Cyrenians zealously preaches the Gospel, finally being led to preach to other Gentiles at Antioch.
In the process of his residency at Jerusalem it is likely that he married a Jewish woman, by whom he had two sons, Alexander, possibly the same man as in Acts 19:33, and Rufus, whose name means red. Now it is common for children born of black and white parents to have reddish hair, so that this would explain all of the Scripture facts.
Granted, all of these things do not prove that Rufus' mother was the widow of Simon the Cyrenian (He is not henceforth mentioned after Acts 13, and so, may have passed away by this time). But all of these Scriptures do present us with an interesting possibility about this woman known only as Rufus' mother. And what is even more intriguing is Paul's final statement concerning her: "and mine." This godly woman had been so solicitous of Paul's welfare that he considered her as a second mother. How many of us ministers whose own mothers have been long since gone to be with the Lord, have been objects of the solicitous care of godly women that have to all intents and purposes adopted us as their own offspring. Most churches are blessed with such blessed women and we thank God for them.
"Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them." Romans 16:15
Nothing is known about this woman, but her name is Roman, and John Gill thinks that she might have been the wife of the former man, Philologus. His name means a lover of learning, and some traditions reckon him to have been among the seventy that Jesus sent out, Luke 10:1, and later the bishop of Sinope. However, there are no dependable proofs of any of this.
"Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them," Romans 16:15.
Again, there are no known facts concerning any of these mentioned in this verse beyond the fact that they apparently constituted a family unit, either by kinship, or in a church capacity. This may have been another "household church." Olympas is thought to have also been of the seventy disciples in Luke 10:1, and to have died as a martyr.
These as well as the other men and women mentioned in this chapter were people personally known and admired by the apostle to the Gentiles, and he sends his greetings to them by the carrier of this epistle, most likely Phebe. A most intriguing truth is suggested by a glaring omission among the mention of all these names
It deserves some notice, that among all the persons here mentioned by name, known by the apostle to be at Rome, that he takes no notice of Peter, which surely he would have done, had he been, as the Papists say, Bishop of Rome, and resided there.—John Gill, Commentary On The Bible, Vol. VI, p. 145.
As before observed, nothing is more blessed, and more to be admired than a saint that is in his or her Divinely ordained place of service and doing the will of God there. But at the same time, nothing is more detrimental to the glory of God and to the individual's own welfare than to be out of the will of God, for that will always be utterly unprofitable for that person. What is God's will for you?
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