Posted by: chuckbumgardner | April 27, 2008

Paul’s Opponents in Romans 16

Romans 16:17-18 (ESV) 
    I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.  [18] For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. 

Who are the divisionists in Romans 16?

(1) They are seen as Judaizers by Chrysostom and Theodoret (Gerald Bray, ed., Romans, ACCS 6 [Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1998], 376); William Sanday and Arthur C. Headlam, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 5th ed., ICC (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1902), 429; Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 928-29 (tentatively); Peter Stuhlmacher, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Commentary, trans. Scott J. Hafemann (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994), 252.

(2) Walter Schmithals (“The False Teachers of Romans 16:17-20,” in Paul and the Gnostics [Nashville: Abington, 1972], 219-38 ) identifies them as Gnostics.

(3) Others see a nonspecific reference; see James D. G. Dunn, Romans 9-16, WBC 38b (Dallas: Word, 1988), 904; Charles Hodge, A Commentary on Romans (1864; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1986), 450; John E. Toews, Romans, Believers Bible Church Commentaries (Scottsdale, Pa.: Herald, 2004), 361-62. 

(4) It seems most likely, however, that they are connected with the dispute between the strong and the weak in Rom 14-15. This may be indicated by at least three factors: (1) the term skavndalon is common to both passages (14:13; 16:17); (2) the reference to “serving their own bellies” may be a reference to indulgence in foods or wine which would provide such a skavndalon to a Christian brother (cf. 14:13-15); (3) it would seem more likely for Paul to make reference back to previous material in such a warning, rather than to introduce an entirely new topic at this point in the epistle.

Moo (Romans, 929; see also C. H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, MNTC [New York: Harper and Brothers, 1932], 242-43) objects that the tone of the warning is much stronger than the discussion of Rom 14-15 warrants, but this is debatable; Paul after all notes the potential of “ruining” (apovllumi) one’s brother (Rom 14:15). Dunn (Romans 9-16, 904) objects that Paul saw himself as one of the “strong” (Rom 15:1), and so the “strong” could not be in view in 16:17; this objection is easily circumvented by noting that if the “strong” in Rome are generally in view, Paul in 16:17 specifies only those who cause “divisions and offenses.” Similarly, Toews (Romans, 360) objects that Paul’s call to “accept” or “welcome” (proslambavnw) one another would contradict a call to avoid the “strong,” but only the “strong” who continue to be divisive need be avoided.

In support of this view, see Karl P. Donfried, “A Short Note on Romans 16,” JBL 89 (1970): 448-49; E. E. Kowalke, “Romans 16:17-18,” paper presented at the Pastoral Conference of the Minnesota District, Wisconsin Synod, April, 1956 [cited 15 April 2007] (Online:, 2-4.

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