Who was Tertius? – Romans 16:22


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.

How much freedom would Tertius have had in the composition of the letter?

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. 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.

24 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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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. .

    • 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.

  7. It was ironic to me that the book of Roman which I supposed Paul as the author ended with an expression of Tertius who claimed to be the writer of the book in chapter 16 verse 22 I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord”. When encountering a verse like this, it is critical to read from the beginning to the end and examine its historical contexts and background. I was shocked when I first encountered it, thinking to myself, so the whole time it was Terticus expression, after all, which made me doubt the book itself at that point. However, if Tertius is just merely a slave, scribe, and administrator who work under Paul’s supervision could be taking dictation from his supervisor Paul himself. The name means ‘third’ which is a salve name, also sort of implying that he can’t be the first superior individual to compose the book. From the very beginning, Paul made an authentic distinctive statement indicating he as the main author of the book, in Roaman 1 “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.” If Tertius was indeed the writer of the book, he would have excluded that statement. The reason why we had Paul’s statement of authorship in verse 1 was Paul was indeed the primary author whereas Tertius was the final editor of the book itself under Paul’s supervision. Tertius’ role was the amanuensis who did the actual writing under the consent of the main author.

  8. I think if Paul i seen to write it by the experts there is no reason to have doubt that he did and that he was lead by God to write all these letters in order to churches and cultures that were struggling could of Tertius helped out in the chapter 16 very well so. but Paul was clearly the author and it stands that he truly is. we can argue and complain about this but our energy should be applying the scriptures’ to our lives and witnessing.

  9. I think that it is so important to learn more about scribes and how they were viewed in that culture and just their work in general. It provides such a background for how the certain parts of the bible were written and created. It is so interesting to learn the who, what, when, where, and why for the bible in every aspect. It provides so much more context and purpose to each word that is written. If you read through Romans with no understanding of the difference between Jew and the Gentiles backgrounds of food laws and Sabbath, Romans 14 would be very confusing. Even learning more about Tertius is so interesting because of the connections throughout Romans. Like how he was a slave or a former slave and the connection of the unity that Romans touches on. “… the church in Rome seems to have been diverse ethnically and socially” (Moo, 195). I feel like this was a perfect example of how the body of the church showed no need for status, we are all connected through the one thing that we need, Jesus.

  10. The Lexham Bible Dictionary describes Tertius as Paul’s secretary although scribe is a better word. The historical context that the use of scribes was a common practice is something that should be acknowledged. Today when we read Romans it is easy to just assume Paul wrote every one of his letters personally. This was an interesting read and definitely requires more study on my part to better understand how and when scribes were used when the letters were written.

  11. As you pointed out, it is not surprising that Romans was likely written by a scribe. You make the point that in order for a letter to be more formal or “professional,” someone might’ve hired a scribe to help them write a more compelling piece. In Paul’s case, Tertius was likely a slave or a former slave, who had a gift for writing. Of course Paul likely assisted Tertius and helped guide him in the writings. It is unliklely that Tertius didn’t conspire with Paul while writing Romans. Tertius could have taken Paul’s thoughts and wrote them in his own words, but it is more likely that Paul was often physically there telling him what to write.
    Some Christians today have a warped view on how the bible was probably written, likely believing that scripture was written in some mystical fashion like you mentioned. But if we study exactly how things were written back then and compare them to Paul’s letters, then we should conclude that his portion of scripture was written in concordance with the normal writing/scribe practices of their day,

  12. This long letter should have taken at least 10 days to write. Paul was having problem with eyes sight and Tertius was not a slave. Slaves do not include their names as “I wrote this letter y’all”

  13. Paul may have had a number of problems that would have prevented him from physically writing the letter. The same way that today we may have problems with eyesight, carpal tunnel, tremors, etc. we then may need help writing. Tertius may have simply written down what Paul said and that is perfectly okay. He may have edited some of it but this too is fine. Any edits or changes he made would have probably been approved by Paul. Today an author may work with several other people like proofreaders and editors to polish their work and this does not change the authorship. Timothy, Silas, and others may also have helped in this way- see introductions to other Epistles.

    And could God not also us Tertius?

    • Most views of the inspiration of Scripture allow for the use of an amanuensis, so certainly God would have used Tertius (or any scribe). I don’t think there is anything in the original post that implies Paul as author / Tertius as scribe is someone “less inspired.” Sorry if I gave you that impression.

  14. Many modern-day Christians believe that Paul was the sole author or writer of the book of Romans, however, this is not an accurate depiction of how the Greco-Roman world composed documents. This is shown in Romans 16:22, where Tertius greets the reader and notes that he is the one “who wrote this letter”. This use of a scribe might surprise modern readers, however, in the Greco-Roman world, this was the normal method of writing a long document. As Long notes, the author of the document would often dictate the contents of the document to the scribe, who would compile and edit the document into its final form. For letters that were shorter in nature, an individual might give details and information to the scribe who would write the letter according to common writing formulas.
    Once this understanding of how the book of Romans was composed, one might begin to question how much freedom Tertius was given in writing Paul’s letter. Three possibilities are often proposed when considering the composition of this letter: Firstly, is that Tertius wrote this letter down in longhand, which would be unlikely since this was not a common practice of the Greco-Roman world. Secondly, the letter could have been produced through shorthand writing methods, which would have been compiled through notes from Paul’s lectures and the final draft would have been approved by Paul himself. Thirdly, the letter could have been produced by Tertius independently composing this letter and using notes to complete the document. However, regardless of whichever method was used, we can have confidence that Paul contributed greatly to the composition and approved of the final document which was sent to the believers in Rome.

  15. I’m still a little puzzle so Paul did write the book of romance

    • Yes, Paul is the author. if Tertius was his secretary and did the writing for Paul, you would still say “Paul wrote the book of Romans”

  16. I’ve chosen to take some literary license with the play I’ve written, “I, Tertius”. The Roman custom was for a man’s daughters to be named after him, A Julius, for example, with three daughters, would have referred to them at home as Julia Major, Julia Minor and Julia Tertia. Even though that custom didn’t apply to sons, Tertius might nonetheless be a childhood nickname for a third son, and in a small enough community, the name may have stuck. I picture the youngest son of an obscure bureaucrat, who’s become a scribe out of his love and aptitude for clear writing. “I cannot think great thoughts, but I can make them readable to others.”

    Maybe it’s a stretch, but it’s plausible. And it provides a good background for the gist of the play.

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