If you connect a few historical dots, you may (as I did) find yourself thinking that Paul was friends with the son of Simon of Cyrene, the man who carried Jesus’ cross — and, furthermore, that Paul thought of Simon’s wife as a second mother to himself.[1] I grant that what follows is not certain, but it makes more sense to me than leaving all these clues unconnected. So let’s try to connect some historical dots.

It turns out that Rufus (the “redhead”) is the key to answering this question.

Rufus? Who’s Rufus?

Paul greets a man named Rufus in Romans 16:13 with these words: “Greet Rufus, the chosen one in the Lord, and (greet) the mother of him and of me.” Rufus is apparently a friend of Paul, and he views Rufus’ mom as a kind of second mother to himself (more on that below). But how does Rufus connect to Simon of Cyrene?

The connection appears in Mark 15:21. The soldiers who took Jesus to Golgotha to crucify him, “pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene…” Mark then adds — in parentheses in many English translations: “the father of Alexander and Rufus.”

So Rufus’ father carried Jesus’ cross. But maybe you’re thinking: “Could it be a different Rufus?” That’s a good and appropriate question. Of course it could be a different Rufus. But hang with me for a moment or two. There are some reasons to pull these two Rufuses (Rufi?) together and view them as the same person.

First, Richard Bauckham has made a compelling case that when people are named in the Gospels (contrast designations like “a Syrophoenician woman”), a likely reason for including specific names is because the named person was known to the Christian community to whom a Gospel was written. That is, names were included in the Gospels because they connected readers to known eyewitnesses.[2]

Now, did you know that various early church traditions claim that the Gospel of Mark was written in the vicinity of the city of Rome — or at least in Italy?[3] If this is so, wouldn’t it explain why Simon of Cyrene’s sons, Alexander and Rufus, were mentioned in Mark 15:21? The most likely (but not certain) answer to the question of why Alexander and Rufus got included in the Gospel of Mark is that both the author and the anticipated readers of the Gospel of Mark knew Alexander and Rufus, both of whom may have been living in Rome or its vicinity. Since we know for certain that Paul’s letter to the Romans was written to Rome (Rom. 1:7, 15), and that a Christian named Rufus was in Rome roughly around the time Mark’s Gospel was written (a Gospel often dated by conservative scholars to within a few years of when Paul wrote Romans [4]), and since the Christian community at this stage in history was still small, doesn’t it make more sense to view the Rufus mentioned in the Gospel of Mark as the same person as the Rufus in Paul’s letter to the Romans than to view him as someone different?

Moreover, although both Matthew and Luke also included the incident of Simon of Cyrene carrying Jesus’s cross, only Mark named his sons, Alexander and Rufus (compare Mark 15:21 to Matt. 27:32 and Luke 23:26). If Mark was written in or near Rome, this strengthens the connection.

Furthermore, the likelihood that we’re referring to the same (well-known) Rufus increases when we notice the words Paul attached to his name. In Romans 16:13, he gets referred to as “Rufus, the chosen one in the Lord” (Ροῦφον τὸν ἐκλεκτὸν ἐν κυρίῳ). Granted, Romans indicates that all believers should be viewed as chosen by God for salvation (cf. 1:6-7; 8:33; 9:24). Rufus alone, however, in this very long list of named Christians in Romans 16 gets designated as “chosen in the Lord.” This makes me think that Paul wasn’t using a salvation-ish designation, but rather that Rufus had been publicly set apart (“chosen”) by God at some point for a particular ministry-calling, a calling that was known to all Christians in Rome. In other words, for Christians living in Rome, Rufus wasn’t just Rufus the Christian, but was Rufus the Church Leader or Rufus the Missionary. The use of the words “the chosen one” in contrast to its absence from the other people in the list also strengthens the connection between the Rufus of Romans and the Rufus of Mark.

Moreover, we know that Paul had been hoping to visit Rome for a long time to do some ministry there (Rom. 1:10, 13; 15:22-32). Despite having already planted many different churches, Paul was not the one who started the church in Rome. It looks like Christians had been there long before he arrived (cf. Acts 18:2, and maybe Acts 2:10). So where did Paul meet Rufus? Paul must have met Rufus (and Rufus’s mother—and probably almost everyone else he greets in Romans 16) during his missionary travels in either (modern named) Syria, Turkey or Greece — probably not Judea (cf. Gal. 1:22).

Of course, Paul doesn’t only greet Rufus, he greets “the mother of Rufus and [the mother] of me.” Rufus’ mom can’t be Paul’s biological mother since he almost certainly would have greeted her directly; not as Rufus’ mother!

Rather, Rufus’ mom is more likely to have been someone who at some point in the past lavished warmth (and food!) and hospitality (and food!) on Paul, the way a mother might. Besides, if she had lived in Rome before meeting Paul,[5] she must have served him lots of pizza and pasta, right?… no wonder Paul thought of her like a second mom! By the way, I absolutely love this warm and little-known shout out to Paul’s second mother. It’s one of the reasons I wanted to write this blog post in the first place — just so you could see it!

If all the strands I’ve pulled together are correct, this means that the “Cyrene” family — Simon, Simon’s wife, and sons Alexander and Rufus — possessed some financial means. Most Christians in the early years of the Christian era were poor. But notice that I’ve already referred to four geographical locations in the back-story I’ve recreated (though Simon himself may have passed away for locations 3 and 4): 1) Cyrene (ancient Libya in North Africa), which was Simon’s home region; 2) Jerusalem, where Simon carried Jesus’s cross; 3) Somewhere in Syria, Turkey, or Greece, where Paul became friends with Rufus and received hospitality (and pasta?) at the hands of Rufus’ mom; 4) and Rome, where Rufus and his mom resided at the time Paul wrote his letter to Rome and where Mark may have written his Gospel. To travel to so many places would have required substantial sums of money, so it is a reasonable inference that Simon of Cyrene’s family may have been better-to-do than most early Christians.

I will grant that this historical reconstruction is not assuredly accurate. But I wanted you to know that there is a reasonably good chance that at some point during his arduous ministry, the Apostle Paul received lavish hospitality from someone he thought of as a second mother, who very well could have been the wife of the man who carried Jesus’ cross.


  1. For first thoughts on this, see J. B. Lightfoot, Excursus on “Caesar’s Household” in Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians (New York: Macmillan, 1903), 176. For a recent affirmation of this view, including some of the lines of reasoning above, see Robert Jewett, Romans, Hermeneia (Fortress, 2007), 968-969.

  2. Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 2d. ed. (Eerdmans, 2017), chs. 3-4.

  3. Here’s one example from Clement of Alexandria (quoted in Eusebius, H.E. 6.14.6-7): “The Gospel according to Mark had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it…. This is the account of Clement.” Citation from https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/250106.htm.

  4. According to D. A. Carson, Douglas J. Moo, and Leon Morris, An Introduction to the New Testament (Zondervan, 1992), Romans was written around A.D. 57, give or take a year or two (p. 242), and Mark was written “in the middle or late fifties” (p. 96—see discussion on 96-99).

  5. Were Rufus and Mom-of-Rufus expelled along with the Jews at Claudius’s edict in A.D. 49? He and she could have returned after the death of Claudius (A.D. 54).

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