Who wrote Romans—Paul, or Tertius?


by Shawn Brasseaux

Suppose we are reading Romans in its entirety, from start to finish. It has been quite edifying, to say the least. By the time we get to the end, however, we are surprised. Chapter 16, verse 22: “I Tertius, who wrote this epistle, salute you in the Lord.” Wait! Just wait a minute! Were we not under the impression the Apostle Paul was writing Romans? Then, who is this “Tertius” fellow? Why does he “audaciously” thrust himself into a “Pauline” doctrinal treatise?

Tertius is simply a secretary, no different from an “administrative assistant” taking dictation from his or her boss. Although the mechanical writing is that of the servant, the thoughts belong to the manager. Be careful to note the authority still lies in the superior individual. In other words, the involvement of a secretary in no way diminishes the importance of the document. We would do well to notice Romans chapter 1, verse 1, begins with Paul as opposed to Tertius: Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,….” The Book of Romans carries Paul’s apostolic authority. Paul is addressing the Roman believers, although he has employed Tertius to actually hold and use the writing instrument.

Who is Tertius anyway? He appears just this once in Scripture, so we cannot say much. His name is of Latin origin and it means “third.” For example, in the series—primary (first), secondary (second), tertiary (third)—his name is related to the number three. He would have also been a Christian, present with Paul at the time of writing Romans (Acts 20:1-3?). Besides these few facts, nothing else is known about him.

By the way, the technical term for Tertius’ job is an “amanuensis,” that is, “one employed to write from dictation or to copy manuscript.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary has the following etymological information: “In Latin, the phrase servus a manu translates loosely as ‘slave with secretarial duties.’ (The noun manu, meaning ‘hand,’ gave us words such as manuscript, originally meaning a document written or typed by hand.) In the 17th century the second part of this phrase was borrowed into English to create amanuensis, a word for a person who is employed (willingly) to do the important but sometimes menial work of transcribing the words of another. While other quaint words, such as scribe or scrivener, might have similarly described the functions of such a person in the past, these days we’re likely to call him or her a secretary, or maybe an administrative assistant.”

Lastly, and most importantly, we remember the Holy Spirit “moved” the Apostle Paul to select words with which He wanted to form the Book of Romans. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Peter 1:20-21). Paul then dictated those words to Tertius, who subsequently wrote them down to produce the Book of Romans. In summary, the Holy Spirit guided Paul to speak audibly, and He superintended Tertius to write physically. Just as Paul’s connection does not take away God’s authority from Romans, so Tertius’ participation does not detract from Paul’s authority in Romans. Simple!

Also see:
» “Epistle” and “letter”—same or different?
» Can you explain Galatians 6:11?
» What was “the epistle from Laodicea?”