What good are the “greetings” sections of the New Testament letters?

Many people treat the “greetings” sections of the New Testament letters a lot like the genaeologies of the Old Testament. In general they just skip right over them. But there are wonderful insights to be gained in these areas of writing, particularly if your study of the NT includes a view to history and story as well as theology and doctrine.

Take Romans 16, for example. Here you have a whole chapter of greetings, the most intimate and detailed you will find in all of Paul’s letters. When reading this chapter it quickly becomes evident that Paul personally knows the people he is writing to, and most of them he knows very well.

What’s so significant about that? Nothing much, unless you consider the fact that at the time Paul wrote this letter he had never yet been to Rome.

He had never been to Rome, yet he knew many of the saints there personally. How is this possible? Logic would say that he knew these people from other places. In fact, a careful reading of Romans 16 will reveal that Paul was writing to people he knew from all over the empire. Priscilla and Aquila, for instance. He met them first in Corinth, then in Ephesus where they travelled with him, and now in A.D. 57 we find them in Rome. In all likelihood the couple returned to their home in Rome after the death of Claudius Caesar (who had expelled all Jews from Rome) for the same reason they moved to Ephesus in 52: to host and help build the church. 

That’s just one example. What about the other saints mentioned in Romans 16? Evidently Paul knew them from other places, and now here they are all together in Rome? Could it be that this is no coincidence? Could it be that someone at some point came up with the crazy idea of a big group of believers from various churches across the empire moving together to the eternal city? Might it be that the church in Rome initially began as a transplant?

If so, isn’t that intriguing? Wouldn’t you like to know the story behind such a venture?

These are the kinds of things you can get out of the greetings sections of Paul’s letters. So from now on, pay attention. 😛

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About Joshua

Writer, husband, father, friend. View all posts by Joshua

4 responses to “What good are the “greetings” sections of the New Testament letters?

  • j kreider

    i like to think paul’s peeps were gathered in Rome because there was a huge inventory closeout sale on papyrus.
    But that aside, that’s super interesting – thanks for sharing!
    I often consider the greetings to be important because each province/people group had their specific set of problems and struggles. I imagine if he were to write some letters today, he’d write one to the E-Free churches, the mennonites, the baptists, and the unitarian universalists… and i’m sure he’d have made close acquaintances and disciples out of all those walks.
    nice post, unless you’re studying history, that’s a tough (and fun) little tidbit to find 🙂

  • lawdawg23

    A huge inventory sale on papyrus-nice! Must’ve been buyin up all they could get for future copies of Paul’s letters. 😉

  • Church transplanting: What I learned « Called to Rebuild

    […] On the day of Stephen’s execution in Jerusalem a great persecution broke out against the followers of the Way. The ekklesia disappeared virtually overnight as nearly all the saints were scattered to the surrounding towns and villages of the Judean countryside. Unintended as it was (by man if not by God), this is first example we see in the New Testament of a church transplant. Then about twenty years later we see believers from all different parts of the Empire moving together to the city of Rome, another example (for more on this theory concerning the origin of the church at Rome, see here).  […]

  • Church transplanting 101 « Called to Rebuild

    […] On the day of Stephen’s execution in Jerusalem a great persecution broke out against the followers of the Way. The ekklesia disappeared virtually overnight as nearly all the saints were scattered to the surrounding towns and villages of the Judean countryside. Unintended as it was (by man if not by God), this is first example we see in the New Testament of a church transplant. Then about twenty years later we see believers from all different parts of the Empire moving together to the city of Rome, another example (for more on this theory concerning the origin of the church at Rome, see here).  […]

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