Romans 16: “Don’t Believe the Chaff”

Here we have Paul’s final thoughts and greetings in his letter to the church in Rome. It may seem strange to us, but it was quite normal for letters written during this time to include the “greeting” at the end. This is one of Paul’s most extensive greetings as he thanks a plethora of people, many, if you’re paying attention, are women workers and Deacons in the church. Wedged in this final section between the greetings and the benediction, Paul gives his final instructions to the Roman Christians. Scholars agree that this is not one of Paul’s smoothest transitions from his letters.

Romans 16:17-19 (ESV) 

Watch Out For Those Who…

There’s two main things that Paul appeals to the primarily Gentile congregation in Rome:

  1. Those who cause division
  2. Those who create obstacles contrary to the doctrine they’ve been taught

This isn’t a new problem for believers, in fact, Jesus warned that there would be false teachers who would come. Mark 13:22-23 (NLT) 22 For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. 23 Watch out! I have warned you about this ahead of time!

If we rewind even farther we can find the same issue brewing in the Old Testament between the false prophets and the prophets of God. 

Jeremiah 23:25-29 (NLT) 25 “I have heard these prophets say, ‘Listen to the dream I had from God last night.’ And then they proceed to tell lies in my name. 26 How long will this go on? If they are prophets, they are prophets of deceit, inventing everything they say. 27 By telling these false dreams, they are trying to get my people to forget me, just as their ancestors did by worshiping the idols of Baal.

28 “Let these false prophets tell their dreams,
    but let my true messengers faithfully proclaim my every word.
    There is a difference between straw (teh’·ven, “chaff”) and grain (bär, “wheat”)!
29 Does not my word burn like fire?”
    says the Lord.
“Is it not like a mighty hammer
    that smashes a rock to pieces?

Difference Between Chaff and Wheat

I intentionally chose Jeremiah 23:25-29 in order to help explain not only what it meant then, or what it meant for the church in Rome, but also what it means to us in the here-and-now. In verse 28,  Jeremiah, the true prophet, is speaking the words of God not just to his people, but also his messengers. God is basically saying, I expect those of you who know the truth to speak the truth. He then makes this interesting statement: There is a difference between straw (teh’·ven, “chaff”) and grain (bär, “wheat”)!

Here’s the Difference: There is a husk that protects the wheat called chaff, but once the wheat is harvested, the chaff becomes useless and thrown away. The harvesters would separate the chaff from the wheat by throwing it in the air allowing the wind to carry it away. What we learn is, the chaff is dead, useless, and not valuable at all.

If we were to connect these passages together, we would see that Paul is warning the Roman Christians to beware of the chaff of the false teachers. Typically Paul would write specifically which group he was referencing, like he’s done in the past with the Judaizers, but many scholars agree that Paul’s lack of specificity is to make a greater point. Basically, beware in general of any false teachings. 

Later in his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul will encourage the new believers to continue to grow in maturity as believers. He too will allude to the same principle of harvesting chaff.

Ephesians 4:14 (NLT) 14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.