Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Ending of Romans

If Romans 16 was sent to Ephesus, then the part sent to Rome might have originally ended at 15:33: “The God of peace be with you all. Amen.” Interestingly, the earliest copy of Paul’s letters, which dates to around AD200, has the doxology of Romans 16:25-27 exactly here, at the end of Romans 15. This location may indicate that some very early copies of Romans ended there. Early manuscripts of Romans are all over the map in how they end. Many early ones have this doxology right after Romans 16, as it is in our Bibles. Others have it both here and at the end of chapter 14! Some do not have it after chapter 16 but have it at the end of chapter 14. Then of course some do not have it at all.

The originality of the doxology itself faces serious questions. It does not sound like the rest of Romans in many respects (e.g., “the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God”). It does not appear in all manuscripts and widely differs in where it is placed in those that have it. To top off things, some manuscripts of Romans have 16:20b after verse 23 to become verse 24: “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” It is as if they are hinting that earlier copies of Romans ended here and did not have the doxology. Most experts accordingly do not believe this doxology was originally a part of Romans.

Here is what we wonder. The letter that Paul sent to Rome ended with Romans 15:33. Romans 16 was sent to Ephesus as a letter of recommendation for Phoebe and a greeting of the churches there. Meanwhile, the early Christian Origen (ca. AD200) implies that a man named Marcion (ca. AD150) had lopped off the last two chapters. Therefore, near the end of the 100s AD, we found three versions of Romans out there: one that ended after chapter 14, one that ended after chapter 15, and one that ended after chapter 16. All three of these seemed to lack a proper ending. In some manuscripts, Romans 16:20b was moved to the end of 16:23 to give a more appropriate ending. Meanwhile, someone created the doxology, and it found its way on to all the different versions of Romans.


Anonymous said...

As a layman, I am continually flabbergasted by just how little the average or even well-read congregant knows about the nature of the scripture in which he or she places faith. Some may recall that the end of Mark is iffy but I bet an infinitesimal minority are aware of the issues with Roman's that you highlight here.

My little heart experiences a tiny thrill when I am exposed to these nuggets of knowledge. Yet, I am also disappointed that seminary-trained ministers keep these details hidden from their flock. Perhaps knowledge will set us a little too free.

Ken Schenck said...


Richard Fellows said...


Rom 16 contains a long list of those greeted and a long list of greeters. This would be surprising of Paul was writing to Ephesus. It makes sense if he was writing to Rome. He was anticipating his first visit to Rome and therefore wanted to emphasize his close connection with the church there. To this end he greets all the people there whom he knew. Similarly he sends greetings from all those who were with him and were known to many of the believers in Rome, as I have argued here. All this, I think, explains why few nowadays think that Paul was writing to Ephesus.

Concerning the various manuscripts, I think the believers in Rome cut the ending off one or two of their copies to prevent the list of names falling into the hands of Nero's men. I have argued this in more detail here.

Jon said...

Ken, I'm relatively new to your blog here so I'm trying to get a read on you. Do you hold to the inerrancy of Scripture or not? Are you a post modernist? Is Jesus the only way to salvation?

Ken Schenck said...

As a Wesleyan I affirm the inerrancy of Scripture. However, my sense has been that the Wesleyan Church has never defined this word and, as one of our approved seminaries, Asbury, puts it, might say Scripture is inerrant in what it affirms.

In the end, my greatest priority is to let the original meaning of the Bible mean what it meant, and this is a matter for careful inductive Bible study, rather than forcing it to conform to ideas that were peculiarly worked out in Chicago in the mid-20th century. As a Wesleyan revivalist, I am also quite open to the fact that the NT often as not interpreted the OT in a pneumatic, spiritual sense that was not the literal meaning. So the Bible can affirm things on more than literal levels. The Spirit can teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness in supraliteral ways as it did for Paul and the other NT authors.

I am a critical realist, heavy on the critical. I believe absolute truth exists. I believe that reality exists independently of my construction of it. But my brain can at best have a partial knowledge of truth and most of the time a skewed one because of my finitude and perspectivized location.

Jesus is the only way to salvation by God's decision. However, salvation is a matter of God's action, not necessarily the state of my understanding. I am open to the possibility that there may be some who have never heard of Christ whose response to the light they have is sufficient for God to save them through Christ.

Always open to correction, but since I've worked these hunches out over decades, it may take some doing to show me the error of my ways. ;-)

Jon said...

It appears that you are dancing around my question a bit. Can the Bible be trusted in what it says about historical events, science, the arts, prophesy. If it is in error or incomplete, where exacltly is it lacking?

Ken Schenck said...

If I appear to be dancing, it is in part because I believe the question is in error. I do not think the Bible is lacking in any way. It "accomplishes whatever God desires to achieve." In my opinion, the error is in thinking that God intended to give precise history in these books or to talk about the world in scientific ways. I find nothing wrong whatsoever with the Bible.

I do believe, however, that the way inerrancy is applied to the Bible in many cases does great violence to it. In the name of a high idea of what the Bible can and cannot say, its actual text is ripped, raped, an plundered. Rather than let it say what it wants to say, our idea of what it must say or cannot say is shoved down its throat.

In practice, in my opinion, a rigid sense of inerrancy shows no real respect for the Bible at all, only a certain idea about the Bible that does great violence to it.

Charlie J. Ray said...

"As a Wesleyan I affirm the inerrancy of Scripture. However, my sense has been that the Wesleyan Church has never defined this word and, as one of our approved seminaries, Asbury, puts it, might say Scripture is inerrant in what it affirms." Nice little loophole there since what Scripture does not "affirm" is in error, is it not? Who gets to decide what "Scripture affirms" and what Scripture does not "affirm"? The plenary verbal view of inspiration and inerrancy says that every word of Scripture is fully inspired--even where it records the evil words of the enemies of God's people. Surely inerrancy then extends to everything the Bible records. Not one jot or title will pass away from God's "law" or "word". (Matthew 5:17-20).

I was a student in your summer Hebrew class in 1992 at Asbury, Ken. I'm no longer a Pentecostal, though. I've since become a Reformed/Calvinist Anglican, a rare breed indeed.

Charlie Ray