Tertius: Scribe to Inspiration

Tertius: Scribe to Inspiration

At the end of Paul’s massive Roman letter, a new first-person voice breaks into the text, in Romans 16:22:

I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord.

In the ancient world, almost every letter was written through dictation. This was true whether the author was literate or illiterate, rich or poor, whether writing for business or personal reasons. A scribe, also called an amanuensis, would position himself at a table, while the author of the letter spoke the words to be written (E. Randolph Richards, Paul and First-Century Letter Writing: Secretaries, Composition, and Collection).

Paul certainly followed this convention when writing his inspired letters. Paul himself only took up the pen at the end. Paul’s autograph section would serve to sign the letter. For example, in 2 Thessalonians 3:17-18, or Galatians 6:11,

I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter; this is the way I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.

Paul’s personal handwriting was one way a church could authenticate a letter as really coming from Paul. This would have been important when some forgeries were present (2 Thessalonians 2:2). Another way was to send it by the hand of a courier known to both Paul and the recipient (see Ephesians 6:21-22 and Colossians 4:7-9 for two examples).

Perhaps the autograph section also served as an opportunity for a personal touch. Like in 1 Corinthians 16:21-24 (see also Colossians 4:18, Philemon 19-20),

The greeting is in my own hand—Paul. If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Anyway, just think: all the wonderful, inspired words that Paul wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, meant to instruct and uplift not only the Christians in Rome, but all Christians everywhere and for all time, were actually put to paper in neat rows by a man who is hidden almost entirely behind the scenes.

To me, Tertius stands as an example of the hard work necessary to get the message of the gospel out to a lost and dying world, links in the chain of evangelism that goes from the original inspired Apostles to today.

Think of all the effort that must be exerted to broadcast the gospel throughout any community. Perhaps you don’t have the ability or opportunity to preach. But you can help lay out the bulletin. You can run photocopies of teaching tracts for the foyer, or collate and staple teaching material for the kids’ classes. You can build a website for the church to post sermons and articles, and keep it up to date. You can spread advertisements on social media, or pass out flyers hand to hand.

It doesn’t have to be written to share the word. In John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well had a discussion with Jesus, and became convinced that He was in fact the Christ (John 4:25).

So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and said to the men, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” They went out of the city and were coming to Him. …From that city, many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.” …And they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:28-30, 39, 42).

In like manner today, the gospel preacher likely has only a limited circle of acquaintances, which tend to be members of the church already. Effective evangelism happens when all the members of the congregation invite their friends, neighbors, family members, and acquaintances, to come and hear the gospel preached.

Tertius was not inspired. But without Tertius’s work, we wouldn’t have Paul’s inspired letter to the Romans in our Bibles. And the gospel finds its way into hearts and minds today through the faithful work of non-inspired folks who pass along the inspired word.

John Guzzetta