Many people treat the “greetings” sections of the New Testament letters a lot like the genaeologies of the Old Testament. Generally 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. 😛