In the last nine verses of Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome you can find the answer to the killer Bible trivia question of all time: who wrote the Epistle to the Romans? That guy Tertius must have just had better penmanship than the Apostle, perhaps due to multiple beatings, shipwrecks and time in dungeons. Or maybe after being on the road planting churches and fighting the good fight for thirty-some years Paul had acquired enough of a loyal following to have a secretary. After all, that’s when you know you’ve made it as a pastor, when you have someone to keep your calendar, screen your phone calls and write your letters. But I digress.
Paul’s style is apparent to me in these final lines of his letter. For example, it is characteristic of Paul to send greetings from others in his letters, often with a bit of praise and news for a church from the outside world. We see this in 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 2 Timothy and Titus.
Likewise, we see Paul mention or warn about Satan in verse 20, something common to almost all his letters. This strikes me as worthy of notice but I am not qualified to explain it. I have wondered whether Paul’s concerns of satanic influence might figure prominently in his theology due in part to his conversion experience where the charge of Jesus included a call to turn people from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God.
Yet, key thing I see in Paul’s parting words is that he sees fit to return again to what I have called the central purpose for his writing: a call for unity. At this, the end of his letter, he makes this call specific by warning the believers in Rome against those who would divide them. Although he doesn’t refer to it explicitly here, we know from other letters that one of his primary concerns stemmed from Jewish Christians who spoke of requiring circumcision and other Jewish customs and rituals of Gentile believers. But regardless of specific concerns, his warning only underscores a core desire of Paul, a desire that the infant church overcome the all-too-human tendency to splinter apart when challenges arose.
Paul, where are you when we need you?