Who was Tertius? – Romans 16:22

tertius

The Scribal Process: From God, to an author, to a scribe, to the page

In Romans 16:22 Tertius “who wrote this letter” greets the readers. Paul is the author of the letter, but Tertius is the scribe or amanuensis who did the actual writing. The name means “third” in Latin and was a common name for slaves (Jewett, 978). This fact alone does not tell us anything about his social status since some slaves were trained as scribes. Jewett suggests Phoebe provided Paul with Tertius’s services as a scribe as part of her patronage toward Paul and her support for a Spanish mission.

Since Tertius greets the readers of Romans, it is at least possible he was known to Christians in Rome. It is at least possible he was one of the Jews expelled from Rome who found their way to Corinth, like Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:1-4). Jewett builds too much from the mention of Phoebe in Romans 16:1-2, but at the very least we can say Tertius was a skilled scribe, a slave or perhaps former slave and (probably) a Christian.

For Paul to use a scribe to write Romans reflects the normal method for writing a long document, or even a personal letter. An author could dictate to a scribe who would write out the dictation and work with the author to create the final form of the document. For a shorter letter, the author might just provide his personal details and a scribe could create the letter according to the typical letter writing formulas. For example, a younger son writing home to his father asking for more money might pay an amanuensis to create a proper sounding letter in order to gain his fathers favor.

Perhaps it is surprising to learn a book of the Bible was created using typical Greco-Roman methods like this. Christians tend to think biblical books were written in a more mystical fashion. The real problem is this: How much freedom would Tertius have had in the composition of the letter?  Cranfield (Romans, 1:2-5) offers three possibilities (see this post for a collection of views on Tertius):

  1. Tertius took down the letter in longhand from Paul’s dictation. This is least likely, since it is not the common practice in the Roman world, but it also preserves the words as Paul’s alone.
  2. Tertius wrote in shorthand as Paul dictated. The second century writer Origin used this method, according to Eusebius (HE 6.23.2). As Origin lectured, a scribe took down notes and a final copy was made with Origin’s approval.
  3. He more independently composed the letter following directions from Paul or perhaps using notes from Paul. This would be analogous to a ghostwriter used by modern authors.

In most English translations, Tertius greets the Roman believers in 16:22 “in the Lord,” the standard greeting among members of the early church. The phrase may modify the greeting, although it does not immediately follow the greeting.  The Greek phrase follows the word “letter” and the word “Lord” can mean either God or master. If he means master, then it is possible the line should read: “I Tertius, the writer of the master’s letter, greet you.” The master would be Paul. If this is the case, he might not even be a Christian scribe, although my inclination is that he was a Christian and possibly part of Paul’s ministry team. I am intrigued by Jewett’s suggestion he was Phoebe’s slave, but it is hard to see that as anything more than a suggestion.

Regardless of the method he used to create the original document, there is little doubt that Paul wrote the letter to the Romans.

10 thoughts on “Who was Tertius? – Romans 16:22

  1. It is important to notice the historical context for when a book of the Bible was written to better understand the context and the vocabulary used. As I look over Romans 16:22, I understand from the culture of the time period Romans was written I do believe Tertius was a scribe for Paul the main author. In Romans 1:1 states “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle…” this indicates Paul is taking up the message the Lord has given him to share with Romans. I believe this makes him the source of information Terticus received to write the letter. I do not believe it is as important to know who physically wrote down Romans, but as long as the letter did not contradict the word of God and the message was written for the appropriate audience.

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  2. When debating who actually wrote the letter to the Romans, either Paul or Tertius, I think it is important to look at where the important content of the letter came from. Christians understand that the Bible is the inspired word of God and whatever is written down is what God wants us to know. So, originally the important content of the letter to the Romans came from God. Romans 1:1 says “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.” Even if Tertius was the scribe for Paul, God was giving Paul the important content of the letter to the Romans because God called Paul to be His apostle. If Paul had not been there to tell Tertius what to write down, the letter to the Romans would have never been written in the first place because God had called Paul to be His apostle, not Tertius.

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  3. I’m not sure this is to surprising this book was written the way it was. As pointed out above, Paul was sent from God and he knew how to craft well. In 1 cor 9:22 we see Paul became all things things to all people. Paul being a man who grew up a Jew under Jewish tradition yet surrounded by other cultures with full Roman citizenship Paul really had a the ability to be a jack of all trades. I maybe wrong about this but i feel if Tertius was a long time major player we would have heard more about him then what is recorded, signs point to Paul as the author. That being said God allowed this book to continue and be part of what we call cannon, and it really wasn’t all that important if Paul wrote it or Tertius because its God’s word at the end of the day.

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  4. In our society, especially within college culture, we are so focused on avoiding plagiarism that it can be hard to correctly understand the role of the scribe/amanuensis. Our modern notion of a ghost writer can make us feel like the author is cheating (or at the very least, a touch less than totally honest) and, I think, Christians do not want to think that a book as central to the faith as Romans could ever be composed in a way that might be fishy. Yet, the original audience wouldn’t have batted an eyelash at receiving a scribe-written letter any more than someone today would be suspicious of a message shared via borrowed cell phone. Whatever degree of freedom Tertius had with the book, it was divinely appointed to be a part of our Bible today.
    Also, I was intrigued by the possibility that Tertius might not have been a believer. The idea had never come close to entering my mind before.

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  5. I think that if Paul had thought that using a scribe would cause a problem, then he would not have used Tertius. He is communicating important information to the church of Rome and as the article states, this is a normal practice for the Roman culture. Paul being a Roman citizen possibly could have been exercising this method because it was something that the Roman church would recognize. Paul is known for using whatever method would be most effective in communicating to his desired recipients as seen in Acts 17 when he is preaching in Athens. Therefore, using a well-known means of communication sound perfectly plausible in this case.

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  6. When reading this topic, I was intrigued to investigate it further. I do believe that Tertius was a scribe, who wrote what the apostle Paul had told him too. I also believe with all of my heart that the books of the Bible are God breathed and divine, and that God uses people like Paul to put the words on paper. With that being said, there are plenty of people that think otherwise. While further researching the role of scribes, I stumbled across this article on CNN written by John Blake titled, “Half of New Testament forged, Bible Scholar Says.” In this article, Blake quotes Bart D. Ehram often, because Ehram has published a book titled “Forged.” Ehram’s largest belief is that “…At least 11 of the 27 New Testament books are forgeries.” Why would he make such a claim like this? He believes that many of the men that are given credit for the writings were illiterate. On top of that, Ehram believed that there are many inconsistencies in the writings. For the books written by Paul, Ehram states they are forgeries because of “…Inconsistencies in the language and choice of words…” I am in no way supporting Ehram, because I believe that all scripture is God breathed, and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16), but it made me think. God could not physically put the words on the paper, so He relied on those he called to minister- people like Paul and Peter. Could the inconsistencies that Ehram claims be because of a scribe? Going back to Tertius and the three possibilities Cranfield offers, there may have been times where Tertius took down the letter longhand, and times where he wrote in shorthand. The differences that Ehram brings up is what makes the Bible so enjoyable to read, because everything has a different style, flow, and language to it.

    Blake, John. Half of New Testament Forged, Bible Scholar Says. CNN, 13 May 2011. Web. 15 Sept. 2016. .

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    • Bart Ehrman (spelled correctly) is an interesting scholar (fundamentalist turned agnostic, but also a very good scholar). I usually discuss him more in a Gospels course, but the idea of who “wrote” the books comes up in several of his books. With respect to Romans, I do not think he would disagree with what I say here. His use of forgery is a bit dramatic, better for the pastorals and 2 Peter than Romans.

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