Tertius (Pronounced: tur-TSEE-us) is mentioned in Romans 16:22 as being the scribe or professional writer of the letter from Paul to the Romans.
Tertius’s name appears, briefly, at the end of Romans to greet the community and note who was physically writing this letter. The practice of speaking a letter out loud to someone else who was trained in the mechanics of writing (a scribe) was common—Paul did it all the time (see 1 Cor 16:21; Gal 6:11). Yet no other scribe has an explicit voice except here. But, we can deduce a lot about Tertius from this closing. The name Tertius, meaning “third,” was usually given to enslaved people, so Tertius was likely enslaved or formerly enslaved. Who owned Tertius? Earlier in chapter 16 we hear about a deacon named Phoebe (16:1-2) who most scholars think traveled with Paul’s letter and delivered it to the Roman churches. It is probable that Tertius was on loan to Paul for this letter. Tertius not only spent months with Paul creating this letter, but also travelled with Phoebe to Rome where she read the letter out loud to the churches there. Knowing the marginalized position of Tertius, the talent that she possessed, and comparing Paul’s other letters with Romans, it is very possible that Paul’s opinions are not the only ones expressed in this letter. Ultimately, what we know now as Romans is what was heard spoken by Tertius.
Facts you need to know:
- It was common in antiquity that if a woman owned an enslaved scribe, that scribe would also be a woman. Even though “Tertius” is a masculine name, pen names are common both in antiquity and today (think: Dr. Seuss or George Eliot). It is very probable that Tertius was a woman.
- No “original copy” of this letter exists. Through copies, authors or scribes would make notes in the margins of letters or other documents. When letters were re-copied, sometimes years later, these notes would be incorporated into the main text of the new copy.
- It is not common for the scribe’s name to be included in aletter unless the letter sender was illiterate or ill. We know that Paul was neither. The closing of Romans was not typical for Paul
Tertius, enslaved by Phoebe, working with Paul, became a significant influence on the letter of Romans. Listen to the means, motive, and opportunity for Tertius’s influence.
Questions for Reflection:
- Imagine you were in Tertius’s situation, how might you use your position?
- Throughout Romans, including Romans 16:17-20, there is a large focus on obedience. How do you interpret this through Paul’s view? What about Tertius? Phoebe?
- What roles do you have that you can have influence? How might your skills and talents be used for a more Christian community?
Resources for Further Study:
About the Author
Ellen Snow is a Masters of Divinity Candidate with a concentration in Food, Health, and Ecology (’22) at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2015. In her free time she enjoys spending time outside, celebrating joy, and finding humor in anything possible.