Who wrote the book of Romans Paul or Tertius

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A quick look at the closing verses of Paul’s letter to Rome makes it clear that Paul did not pen the epistle: “Timothy, my co-worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my relatives. I Tertius, the writer of this letter, greet you in the Lord” (NRSV). Of course, Romans 1:1 indicates that Paul was the author. So who was this “Tertius,” and what was his role in the producing this letter?

Word Processors

In Paul’s day most letters were written by a professional scribe called an amanuensis. Sometimes the sender was illiterate, but generally an amanuensis was used to guarantee letters would be grammatically sound and legible. Tertius was Paul’s scribe, and he inserted his own greeting at the close of the letter.

As a professional, Tertius collected the necessary materials for writing. This was not always easy since bulk paper production was unknown. Although vellum or parchment (processed polished animal skins) were available, they were expensive.

Papyrus from Egypt, however, worked best. The cut plant was pressed in layers and became as tough as today’s paper. It was produced in scrolls by gluing together sheets and rolling them end-to-end on a stick. One roll was called a volume (from the Latin volumen, “something rolled up”) and was generally 35 feet long.

Ancient authors wrote to fit volumes, and like Luke, sometimes produced two-volume works (the Gospel and Acts). Obviously, length was a problem. Callimachus, a famous cataloguer at the great library of Alexandria, liked to say “A big book is a big nuisance.”

When Tertius began working on Romans, he had in hand a fresh scroll and a pen with brown or black ink. Scribes wrote on the side of the papyrus where the fibers ran horizontally, the fiber lines serving as a guide. Tertius would then organize the roll into three-inch wide columns for text.

As he worked, he likely wrote entirely in capital letters, giving the text a splendid dignity. And, remarkably, he never left spaces between words, letting one word spill into the next. The final effect gave a block text with straight margins on both right and left sides.

Who Wrote That?

Trusted scribes were given great freedom to shape the form, style, and even the content of the author’s letter. This broad role for an amanuensis must be kept in mind when scholars compare the vocabulary and stylistic differences among Paul’s letters to determine questions of authorship. Sometimes a minor word choice belonged to Paul. Sometimes it may have belonged to someone like Tertius.

In any event, occasionally Paul liked to take the pen and close the letter in his own handwriting. For example, at the end of 1 Corinthians, he writes, “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.” He probably used his handwriting as a signature since forgeries of letters using Paul’s name were known. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul concludes, “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the mark in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.”

Gary Burge is associate professor of New Testament, Wheaton College (IL).

Copyright © 1995 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian History magazine.
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Who wrote the book of Romans Paul or 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.

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.

Did Tertius write Romans in the Bible?

According to the New Testament book of Romans, Tertius of Iconium (also Tertios) acted as an amanuensis for Paul the Apostle, writing down his Epistle to the Romans.

Who actually wrote the book of Romans?

The Apostle Paul is the author of the Epistle to the Romans (see Romans 1:1). In writing this epistle, Paul used the assistance of a scribe, Tertius, who wrote his own greeting to the Roman Saints near the conclusion of the epistle (see Romans 16:22).

Did Paul write the book of Romans?

When Was Romans Written? The Apostle Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans before the end of his third missionary journey (around A.D. 57–59; approximately twenty-five years after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ). He was in Corinth at the time and had not yet made his last trip to Jerusalem.