The Epistle to the Romans
1. Author and Time of Writing
Paul, the author of the Epistle to the Romans, mentions his name but once in chapter 1:1. He calls himself a servant (or slave) of Jesus Christ and called apostle (by divine calling). Paul’s authorship was generally recognised in the early church already. While it can be proved that earlier church fathers used the Epistle to the Romans, Irenaeus (around 140 to 202 AC) is the first one to actually mention it explicitly.
The apostle directs his epistle to “to all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called saints” (Rom. 1:7). Although Paul knew many a saint in Rome, as we see from chapter 16, he did not know the assembly in Rome as such. He had never been there. We do not have any specific details in the Word of God regarding the formation of the assembly in Rome. We do know however that on the day of Pentecost there were Jews from Rome in Jerusalem for the Jewish Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2:10: “…strangers of Rome, Jews and proselytes”). If some of these had come to believe in the Lord Jesus, there could have been the first Christians living in Rome around the year 30 AC.
We have to consider the lively traffic between the capital Rome and the various parts of the world empire, which definitely added to the spreading of the gospel. Paul will probably have come to know the many Christians to whom he sends greetings to at the close of his epistle mainly as they had been travelling outside of Rome.
In any case, there seems to have been an assembly in Rome towards the end of the 5th decade. For in the year 49 AC the Emperor Claudius published an edict that all Jews had to leave Rome. Aquila and Priscilla, who certainly were Christians already when Paul met them in Corinth (Acts 18:2; Rom. 16:3), had to leave then as well.
c) Time of Writing
Although the Epistle to the Romans is listed first of all New Testament Epistles it was not the first epistle written by Paul. The Epistles to the Thessalonians and to the Corinthians (and maybe the one to the Galatians) were written before.
Romans 15:25-28 contains an important hint as to the time of writing of the Epistle. For there Paul writes that he is on his way to Jerusalem to bring a contribution of the Christians of Macedonia and Achaia. The apostles in Jerusalem had asked Paul to remember the poor (Gal. 2:10). Paul had encouraged the Corinthians in his first epistle to this ministry of brotherly love (1 Cor. 16:1-4). And in his second epistle he again refers to this matter in the work of the Lord which was obviously important to him (2 Cor. 8 – 9). During his third journey he finally came to Macedonia and Greece (Acts 20:1-3) where he received the gifts and brought them to Jerusalem (Acts 24:17).
When Paul was writing the Epistle to the Romans he was going to go to Jerusalem. The mention of the servant Phebe from Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1-2) and of Gaius (Rom. 16:23; compare with 1 Cor. 1:14) indicate that Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans shortly before his leaving Corinth for Jerusalem. This was around the year 57/58 AC.
In his letter he mentions the desire to visit Rome and Spain also (Rom. 1:11-15; 15:23-24). But he probably never had opportunity to do this. A few years later when Paul finally came to the capital of the Roman world empire he was a prisoner of the emperor.
As usual, the inspired epistle was dictated by Paul and written by “Tertius” (Lat. “the third”) (Rom. 16:22).
2. Subject and Purpose of Writing
The Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is first listed of all New Testament Epistles for it contains the basic gospel of God (Rom. 1:1) in a systematic order . This is why the Epistle rightly holds the first place.
The Divine origin of the gospel and its relation to God’s way of acting in the OT is stressed by over 50 references to the OT or reminiscences of it. The question of Israel in chapters 9 – 11 shall make plain the link of God’s temporal plans with His eternal counsel.
After a short introduction the Apostle Paul makes clear that every human being is a sinner and for reason of his evil deeds cannot expect anything else but the just, eternal judgment of God which is damnation (Rom. 1:18 – 3:20). But then God’s righteousness is shown who sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, that whosoever believes his redemption work on Calvary can be perfectly justified before God and get peace with God (Rom. 3:21 – 5:11).
After this chapter 5:12 – 8:39 explains that man has not only done sinful deeds, but is a sinner by nature. This is why “the old man” is crucified and dead with Christ and therefore in the eyes of God completely put away (Rom. 6:6-8). Now the believer can walk in newness of life and is no longer under dominion of sin (Rom. 6:4.14). The Christian’s relation to the law of Moses is dealt with as well (Rom. 6:14 – 7:13). Another important part of the Epistle deals with the sad experience of those believers who have not yet grasped the full importance of Christ’s redemption work or have not yet come to know their own utter ruin (Rom. 7:15-25).
The end of the doctrinal part forms Romans 8 where we find the Christian position of the believer sealed with the Holy Spirit. Chapter 8 starts with the triumphant exclamation that for those who are in Christ (that is totally made one with Him by faith) there is no condemnation. The same chapter ends with the consoling certainty that there is no separation for the believer from the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus! All redeemed ones are children, sons and heirs of God and possess a wonderful hope and experience already now the love of God in all circumstances of life.
Chapters 9 to 11 are an insertion. They explain that God’s way of dealing in the present dispensation of grace is in accordance and in harmony with his relation to the people of Israel. Therefore God’s ways with His heavenly people, the Christians, and His earthly people of Israel are not contradictory to one another. However God has now set Israel aside for a certain time to open up the way of faith and blessing for the nations. But He intends a total restoration for the people of Israel in the future.
From chapter 12 onwards we find practical admonitions for the believers in the various circumstances of life in which they might find themselves. The correct relation to each other is stressed especially (chap. 12:5.10.16; 13:8; 14:13.19; 15:7.14). The apostle also very briefly mentions the assembly of God (chap. 12:4-8) and the blessed hope of the believer (chap. 13:11-12). These subjects however dealt with in more detail in other epistles, for example in First Corinthians and Ephesians (the church of God) and in the epistles to the Thessalonians (the Christian blessed hope).
The Epistle to the Romans contains God’s answer to Job’s question: “How should man be just with God?” (Job 9:2; 25:4). The clearly arranged and systematic representation of the teaching makes one think rather of a dissertation than of a personal letter (compare the difference to the First Corinthians).
Now let us summarize the most important teachings of this foundational epistle again:
- all men without exception are sinners by nature, but they can be justified by the blood of Christ regarding their sins.
- But more than that: the old man is crucified and dead with Christ.
- Therefore the believer is delivered, by the death of Christ, from the power of the sin which dwells in him .
- He is in Christ (that is totally one with Christ) before God to henceforth lives for Him and serves Him on earth.
- The book of Exodus gives us a beautiful picture of this salvation and deliverance. By the blood of the Pasqual Lamb (Ex. 12) the people of Israel were kept from the judgment of God. And by going through the Red Sea (Ex. 14 and 15) they were saved from the enemy and liberated from his power to furthermore serve God on the journey through the wilderness.
Men such as the church father Augustine (354 – 430 AC) and Martin Luther, the Reformer (1483 – 1546 AC), came through to faith by reading the Epistle to the Romans. This very epistle played a decisive part for the reformation in Germany.
(i) The Apostle Peter and Rome
According to old church tradition there is said to be a very close relation between the Apostle Peter and the capital of the Roman Empire. Peter reportedly was Bishop of Rome for 25 years and finally suffered martyrdom with the Apostle Paul around the year 64 AC under the Emperor Nero. The oldest but contested testimony of Peter’s martyrdom is the first Epistle of Clemens (around 95 AC). More recent excavations under St. Peter’s Church in Rome did not give any proof for the existence of Peter’s grave which, according to a legend, is supposed to be there.
The New Testament does not give any clear indication that Peter ever went to Rome. Neither he nor the Apostle Paul participated at the formation of the assembly there. Apart from that Peter was the Apostle of circumcision, that is the Apostle of the Jews (Gal. 2:8-9), while Paul was the Apostle of the Nations or the heathen.
In Second Timothy, which Paul wrote shortly before his death from Rome, we find no hint at all of Peter being there, although various other brothers are mentioned by name. It is surely hard to believe that Peter might have been among those that forsook Paul when he had to give his defense before the tribunal (2 Tim. 4:16)!
We know no more of the latter years of Peter’s life from the NT than what he says himself. He then was in Babylon, a city far away in the Roman Empire, where there were a great many Jews and probably also Christian meetings from an early time (compare Acts 2:9; 1 Pet. 5:13).
(ii) God’s Justice in the Epistle to the Romans
Although most readers of the Bible know that the main subject of Romans is God’s justice, this very important term is often misunderstood. This is partially true also for the great reformer Martin Luther for whom justice by faith became so vital. And yet he does not render correctly the meaning of these words as he translates: “the justice which is valid before God”. He then explains: “Your own justice is nothing but Christ’s justice only is valid before God. Of this the Gospel is speaking and of none else.”
God’s Justice (Rom. 1:17; 3:126.96.36.199.26) is His own divine justice which has been revealed, as follows:
- He has made on His Son Jesus Christ a substitute who bore all sins of those who believe in him.
- God’s justice is further revealed in that He raised Christ from the dead and exalted Him to heaven after he had fulfilled the work of redemption according to God’s full satisfaction and glorification (compare John 16:10).
- As Christ has fulfilled the work of atonement on our behalf, now God shows His righetousness by justifying him who believes in the Lord Jesus (Rom. 3:26). God’s justice, therefore, is the unchangeable, perfect faithfulness of God towards Himself and towards His word which justifies every sinner who believes in the Lord Jesus.
Justification by faith (Rom. 3:24.26.30; 4:5.25; 5:1.9.18) is linked with the above and yet a fact which must be distinguished. Justification is a legal expression saying that someone has been declared righteous - as though he had never committed the deed(s) put to his charge! Now, exactly this the just God is doing in His grace (Rom. 3:24) with those, who are conscious of their sins and trust the work and blood of Christ (Rom. 5:9) and by faith (Rom. 5:1) come to Him.
Finally the reader of Romans repeatedly finds the expression “counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:188.8.131.52.22.24) which again illustrates yet another result of the saving faith. “Abraham believed God and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:6, compare Ps. 106:31). The righteousness of Christ which is counted for righteousness to the believer is not spoken of here either. Righteousness here means the only legitimate attitude that is recognized by God. This can never occur on the basis of the works of man, but on the basis of faith only. This is also why faith only is counted for righteousness by God. Faith alone is the only lawful (permissible) attitude of man before God.
4. Overview of Contents
I. Romans 1 – 8 God’s Righteousness by Faith (Doctrinal Part)
|2.||Chapters||1:18 - 3:20||The Necessity of Justification|
|Chapter||1:18-32||The Godless Heathens – All Are Sinners|
|2:1-16||The Self-righteous Nations – All Are Sinners|
|2:17 - 3:8||The Jews – All Are Sinners|
|3:9-20||None That Does Good|
|3.||Chapters||3:21 – 5:11||Justification by Faith|
|3:27 – 4:25||By Faith Only|
|5:1-11||Peace with God|
|4.||Chapters||5:12 – 8:39||In Adam – In Christ|
|6:1 – 7:14||Grace and Law|
|8:1-39||No Condemnation in Christ|
II. Romans 9 – 11 The Problem with Israel (Dispensational Part)
III. Romans 12 – 16 Moral Consequences (Practical Part)
|1.||Chapters||12:1 - 15:13||Christian Responsibility|
|Chapter||12:1-21||Service and Life|
|13:1-14||Relation to Authorities|
|14:1 – 15:13||Strong and Weak Ones|
|2.||Chapters||15:14 – 16:27||Conclusion|
|Chapter||15:14-33||Personal Ministry of Paul|
|16:1-27||Greetings and Doxology|