July 22, 2015
We are finishing the Letter to Romans tonight, but I have still been thinking about “first fruits” since it appeared in our readings last week. The term appears again this week in identifying Epaenetus, one of the first Christian converts in Asia (Europe of today) in Romans 16:5. In looking up Epaenetus, I discovered another definition of first fruits — that it is a sense of “first of many,” or “first with the prospect of more to follow.” Having followers and starting churches is definitely what Paul demonstrated, and his listing of helpers in Romans 16 includes many women. In fact, there is a reference to our sister Phoebe, a church deacon, in Romans 16:1, and in the King James Version, there is a footnote at the end of Romans entrusting Phoebe with delivering this letter to Rome. If Jesus could trust the Samaritan woman at the well to tell her village that he was the Christ, then Paul, a follower of Jesus, could trust his communication to this Greek woman. No wonder scholars think that I Corinthians 14:34-35 (women should be silent in the churches) is a “later non-Pauline addition.” (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, page 2019).
You will find many sermons and commentaries on the names in Romans 16. Here’s a link to a pdf of one such list:
Here’s a lovely thought –
Could our first fruits also be Genesis One – Man in God’s image, male and female?
Romans 13 is about the “theology of the state” – that the civil authorities may punish, but the individual Christian may not.
Romans 14 is about tolerance for others’ beliefs and observance. There was a time4thinkers blog applying this chapter to vegetarianism (or even eating sweets in front of someone on a diet). There are also some thoughtful verses about reasons to abstain from social drinking.
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble.(Romans 14:20, 21)
Paul calls us “saints,” which the NRSV Glossary defines as “the term for all Christians or for what all Christians are called to be.” So, my fellow saints, enjoy the readings.