Book Excerpt- New Testament Snapshots- “Rufus”
This week, my new book, New Testament Snapshots goes live on Amazon. Here is a sample chapter for you to enjoy. If you like this preview, grab a copy of the book! It is out just in time for Christmas and I know that everybody on your list will enjoy it!
The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans is usually considered the most important and influential of all of his writings. Many scholars would argue that Romans is the most important letter in the New Testament. This may very well be true. Paul explains the Christian faith in Romans like he does nowhere else. Romans is the high-point of Paul’s theological thought. So much of our theology is derived from Romans, it is hard to imagine Christianity without this letter. The letter to the Romans also influenced the salvation of Augustine, Martin Luther, and John Wesley, among others.
In most of Paul’s letters, he included greetings to various individuals in the church that he was writing to. The last chapter of Romans, the sixteenth, provides an extended list of Paul’s “shout outs.” He gave his greetings to around thirty people in the city of Rome and also mentioned five different house churches there. Even though he had not yet visited Rome, Paul was very familiar with the church there and had many friends in that city. We will highlight two of Paul’s closest friends, Priscilla and Aquila, in a later chapter. He mentioned their house church here in Romans chapter sixteen.
One of the most interesting shout outs that Paul gave in this chapter is in verse thirteen: “Greet Rufus, whom the Lord picked out to be his very own; and also his dear mother who has been a mother to me.” So many of the people that Paul speaks of are not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament. We are very fortunate, however, to find out a little more about Rufus in Mark’s Gospel. “A passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the countryside just then, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.)” (Mark 15:21)
Both Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of the crucifixion also mention Simon being forced to carry the cross for Jesus. It is only Mark’s Gospel, however, that identifies Simon’s sons, Alexander and Rufus. As we mentioned in the last chapter on John Mark, it is commonly understood that Mark wrote his Gospel for the Christians in the city of Rome.
We also discussed in the last chapter on John Mark, that he likely wrote his Gospel while he was working with the Apostle Peter in Rome. Clearly, Mark’s mention of Simon of Cyrene’s sons would have meant something for the hearer or the reader of this letter in the Christian community in Rome. The original reader would have immediately recognized these names.
With Paul’s mention of Rufus and his mother, two facts seem to emerge. First of all, at least one of Simon of Cyrene’s sons and his wife were prominent members of the Roman church. The second fact is that Paul seems to know them well. Paul said that the Lord had picked (Greek “elected”) Rufus “to be his very own.” It is likely that Rufus was well known in the church and based on the context of the chapter it is probable that he was one of the leaders in the Christian community in Rome.
Paul also has some very kind words for Rufus’ mother. He says, that she “has been a mother to me.” These comments from the apostle seem to indicate that he had spent some time with Rufus and his mother. We are not given any information about where they might have connected. As the Gospel of Mark makes clear, Simon of Cyrene had been in Palestine. He could have lived there for some time with his family before relocating to Rome. This may have been where Paul got to know them. The Apostle Paul had not yet visited Rome at the time he wrote this letter to them. Most scholars understand that the Letter to the Romans is written partially as an introduction of himself from Paul to the Roman Church.
Paul does not mention Rufus’ father, Simon, in this passage in Romans. This letter was probably written a little over twenty years after Jesus’ crucifixion and Simon may have died by this point. This makes Paul’s mention of Rufus and his mother here even more significant.
As Christianity spread further and further away from Jerusalem, it was becoming more and more uncommon to find eyewitnesses and direct links to the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Palestine is a long way from Rome. Those eye-witnesses to Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection who were still alive in Palestine were not a viable resource for the believers in far-away Rome.
Rufus, however, provided them with one of those direct links back to Jesus. One can only imagine what it would have been like to hear Rufus recount what his father had told him about being forced to carry Jesus’ cross and what he had witnessed on that fateful day in Jerusalem. His eyewitness account of the crucifixion would have been something that anyone who heard it would have never forgotten.
One also wonders if perhaps Mark used Simon of Cyrene or Rufus as sources for his Gospel. As was mentioned before, most of Mark’s Gospel is thought to be a recording of Simon Peter’s testimony of his time with Jesus. During the time of Jesus’ execution, though, Peter had disappeared from the scene after denying Jesus the night before. There is no indication that Peter witnessed any of the events of the crucifixion. Perhaps it was the other Simon, the one who had been forced to carry Jesus’ cross, who provided the details of Jesus’ death to Mark. If Simon of Cyrene had passed away, then his son, Rufus, might have been the one to help Mark fill in the gaps as he wrote his Gospel.
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