A 2018 talk by author Andy Crouch is going viral after a snippet was shared on Twitter. The entire message, titled “Overcoming Our Greatest Affliction,” addresses topics such as cultural revolutions, knowledge, personhood, power, and status.
In the two-minute clip shared this week, Crouch, former executive editor of Christianity Today, looks at Romans 16—calling it the “most sociologically stunning chapter in the whole Bible.” The list of personal greetings that close out Paul’s epistle comprise “the least-preached-upon chapter of the most-preached-upon book in the New Testament,” says Crouch.
In the ancient world, those born into slavery lacked legal personhood and were often given impersonal names based on birth order. For example:
• Tertius (“Third”)
• Quartus (“Fourth”)
• Quintus (“Fifth”)
Andy Crouch on the subversive beauty of an obscure verse. pic.twitter.com/VYqW5e4PEX
— Matt Smethurst (@MattSmethurst) November 30, 2022
Andy Crouch on the Importance of Romans 16
The significance of Romans 16, Crouch notes, is the jumbled arrangement of all those names—Romans, Greeks, men, women, and those of high and low status. Even though Paul has never been to Rome, he wants to “personally connect” with each individual.
The “most astonishing verse,” Crouch continues, is Romans 16:22. In the NIV, that reads: “I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.” As the scribe who is taking dictation from Paul, Tertius may have once been a slave, says Crouch, and he was certainly of low status.
We know that because in the Roman Empire, “those born into slavery lacked legal personhood and were often given impersonal names based on birth order,” tweets Virginia pastor Matt Smethurst, who shared the clip of Crouch’s talk. For example, the impersonal name Tertius meant he was third-born. And Quartus, who is mentioned in verse 23, is likely his fourth-born brother.
Crouch describes how Tertius must have realized that Paul stopped dictating at some point and was looking at him to add his own greeting. The implication? “You’re a brother” too, Crouch says. In response to a question about proof for that conversation, Crouch tweets: “It’s supposition…based on the rarity of scribal greetings in the body of [Greek and Roman] letters. Surely Tertius would not have interjected in this way without Paul inviting him to do so.”
A Revolutionary Act for the Early Church
To explain the importance of Romans 16, Andy Crouch describes how we’re each born “looking for a face…because until another sees us, we don’t know who we are.” Tertius, the lowly scribe, realized that Paul wasn’t only looking at him but also seeing him.
“This was the revolutionary act of the early church,” says Crouch. “In an impersonal world, to recognize persons of every possible status, to see them all and know them all by name, and name them all as brother and sisters. Is it any wonder that the early church grew?”