Vol. 7, No. 7
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The Book of Romans was primarily written to the Christians in the city of Rome (Romans 1:7) with the intentions of its disbursement to the saints in surrounding cities (Barnes'). This book "is a letter of instruction touching upon those main truths of the Gospel that Paul felt were needed by those in Rome" (Wycliffe). The purpose of verses seventeen and eighteen of the sixteenth chapter is to instruct the brethren regarding Judaizing teachers. Paul writes, "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17-18).
The apostle Paul begins this portion of the letter by beseeching the brethren. Paul uses the word "beseech" at least twenty-three times in his epistles. This term comes from the Greek word parakaleo, which means, "to call near, i.e. invite, invoke...imploration" (Biblesoft's). The general meaning is that of exhortation and begging. Following this, Paul calls them "brethren." Both of these words show the degree of love and concern the apostle has towards the Christians there in Rome, especially for their souls. Matthew Henry writes, "How earnest, how endearing, are Paul's exhortations!"
After imploring the brethren, Paul gives the exhortation to "mark." The Greek word for "mark" is skopeo, which carries the meaning "to take aim at (spy)" (Biblesoft's). Paul exhorts the Roman Christians to seek out particular individuals, recognizing who they are. Barnes' said Paul was sending a message to "be on your guard against them." The next phrase tells us who was to be marked, "them which cause divisions and offences." The people to mark are those who make divisions and offences. According to Barnes', divisions are "dissensions; parties; factions." The apostle Paul also speaks against this type of person in 1 Corinthians 3:3 where he calls them "carnal." Further, in Galatians 5:20, seditions or divisions are listed among the works of the flesh. The apostle also warns against those who cause offences (Barnes'). This term references those that cause scandals and who cause others to fall to sin (Barnes'). In reference to Paul making a distinction between the divisions and offences, Barnes' writes:
These two things are different. The first means parties; the other denotes such a course of life as would lead others into sin. The "Jew" would form parties, on the pretence of superior holiness; the Gentiles, or some hold Gentile convert might deride the scrupulous feelings of the Jew, and might thus lead him into "sin" in regard to what his conscience really forbade; see Romans 14:15. These persons on both sides were to be avoided, and they were to refuse to follow them, and to cultivate the spirit of unity and peace.
Many hold these that cause divisions and offences to be Judaizing teachers. The Judaizers attempted to bind the Old Testament Law on Christians. Obviously, these Judaizing teachers taught things "contrary to the doctrine." The doctrine is the very thing taught by Paul and the other apostles both by the written and spoken word. The doctrine is the Gospel of Christ. The text, in verse seventeen, indicates the Romans had already received this way of teaching because they had already learned it.
The Roman Christians are then exhorted to "avoid them" (Romans 16:17). "Them" directly refers to the Judaizing teachers spoken about above. The Greek word used for "avoid" literally means, "to shun away" (Biblesoft's). Why are they to be shunned? From above we see that these persons are dangerous; they are dangerous to the soul. They cause divisions, which can destroy a congregation and the souls therein, as well as causing individuals to spiritually fall in other ways.
Furthermore, these persons are to be avoided because "they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly" (Romans 16:18). These people do not serve; they do not obey Christ. The authors of parties and divisions seek after their own lusts, their own private interests in order to gain support (Barnes'). Everything these "problem causers" do is to fulfill, indulge and gratify themselves. Those that cause divisions and offences claim to be followers of Christ, but inwardly, they follow nothing but their own desires.
Not only do they seek their own innate desires, but also they do so by means of trickery. The apostle Paul warns they seek their own desires by "good words and fair speeches" (Romans 16:18). "Good words" gives implication of "mild, fair, plausible speeches; with an appearance of great sincerity, and regard for the truth" (Barnes'). The Greek word actually means "fair speech" (Barnes'). Matthew Henry writes, "their words and speeches have a show of holiness and zeal... and show of kindness and love to those into whom they instill their corrupt doctrines." Slightly different from "good words" is "fair speeches." The Greek word used here for "fair speeches" is eulogia, which means an "elegance of language" (Biblesoft's). Barnes' calls this eloquent language flattery and classifies it as "one of the most powerful means of forming parties in the church." Matthew Henry observed the following: "They corrupt their heads by deceiving their hearts, pervert their judgments by slyly insinuating themselves into their affections. We have a great need therefore to keep our hearts with all diligence, especially when seducing spirits are abroad."
The purpose of sly words and trickery is to "deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:18). The compound word exapatao is used for "deceive" (Biblesoft's). This word means, "to seduce wholly" (Biblesoft's). The deceived are those who are unsuspecting of the dangers that lurk within the brotherhood. "The apostle means to designate those who are simple-hearted, without any disposition to deceive others themselves, and of course without any suspicions of the 'designs' of others" (Barnes'). Most often, the simple are those who are new converts to the faith of Christianity. New converts and other unsuspecting persons make easy targets for flattery and those that appear to be sincere. By confusing and toying with the souls of these individuals, the Judaizers gain a following by causing divisions.
The Book of Romans was originally written to the Christians in Rome. Paul used this passage (Romans 16:17-18) to warn the brethren of the Judaizing teachers among them. The Roman letter is believed to have been a circulating letter, thus applicable to all Christians. With this in mind, we too must be aware of such persons that use the trickery of sly words and flattery to gain for themselves. Paul warned the Corinthian brethren with these words, "...Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened..." (1 Corinthians 5:6-7). The sins of one can destroy many as that sin spreads to others. Jesus himself warned his disciples and foretold of such divisions and offences. In Matthew 18:7, Christ pronounced a "woe" to these types of persons. Jesus warns in Matthew 7:15 that false teachers will come disguised as brethren. We too must mark and avoid those that cause divisions and offences. They seek only their own desires and are a burden to the Lord's church; they are a burden to the condition of our souls.
Barnes' Notes. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 1997.
Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, 1994.
Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Modern Edition. CD-ROM. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1991.
Wycliffe Bible Commentary, The. CD-ROM. Chicago: Moody, 1962.