|ROMANS, BOOK OF |
The most significant theological letter ever written. Augustine of Hippo (354-430), the most influential of the church fathers, was converted upon reading
Romans 13:13-14. Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, was studying Romans when he concluded that faith alone justifies a person before God. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was converted on May 24, 1738, upon reading Luther's introduction to Romans.
Where was Paul when he wrote Romans? Paul discussed his situation at the time he wrote Romans in the book itself (Romans 15:25-29), indicating that he was about to leave for Jerusalem. He stated that his purpose was to deliver the monies given by the churches in Macedonia and Achaia (the name of the Roman province embracing most of Greece, south of Macedonia) for the “poor among the saints in Jerusalem” (Romans 15:26 NIV). This information from the Roman letter corresponds precisely with what Luke reported in the Acts of the Apostles about Paul's deciding to leave Ephesus, travel through Macedonia and Achaia, go to Jerusalem, and then visit Rome (Acts 19:21). Paul spent three months in Achaia (Acts 20:2-3). Scholars generally agree that Paul's close relationship with the Corinthian church would have resulted in his staying there, and this is confirmed by Paul's mentioning that he was staying with Gaius (Romans 16:23) who was a convert in Corinth (see
1 Corinthians 1:14).
That Paul wrote Romans while in Greece and before leaving for Jerusalem establishes the limits for the dating of the letter. The fixed point for dating Paul's stay in Corinth is his appearance (on an earlier visit to Corinth) before Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia (Acts 18:12-17), who was in office between A.D. 50-54 and most likely in A.D. 51. Estimating the time from Paul's appearance before Gallio until his return to Corinth is difficult because of Luke's general statements of time—”Paul stayed many days longer” (Acts 18:18 RSV)—but most scholars would date Romans between A.D. 54 to 59, with a date of 55-56 being preferred.
Why did Paul write Romans? Paul mentioned his reasons for writing to the Roman church twice, once at the beginning and again near the end of the letter. He had for a long time had the desire to visit the Christians in Rome that “we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith” and clearly implied that now at long last he was coming (Romans 1:8-13). Paul thus wrote the Romans to announce his impending visit. His practice had been to preach in unevangelized areas (Romans 15:20), and he had run out of room in the eastern empire (Romans 15:23), having preached from Jerusalem to Illyricum (Romans 15:19), at the westernmost point of the eastern empire. Paul now planned to continue his ministry to the western limit of the empire and go to Spain (Romans 15:24). He shared his plans to stop and visit the Romans on his way and expressed the hope that they would provide support for his journey on to Spain (Romans 15:24). He probably looked for support in prayer, some financial assistance, and perhaps the designating of a Roman Christian who knew the western area to travel with Paul.
Finally, Paul urged the church to pray for him as he went to Jerusalem (Romans 15:30-31). Paul's concern was twofold. He was concerned about the Jerusalem Christians' reaction to an offering from Gentile churches and hoped that the offering would draw the Jewish and Gentile Christians together (see
Acts 15:1-35). Paul was also aware of the threat posed by the “unbelievers in Judea” (Romans 15:31) or the Jews, loyal to their ancient traditions, who were upset by Paul's proclamation of Jesus as Messiah.
Paul's description of his purpose led earlier students of the Bible to see Romans as an outline of Paul's theology, composed at greater leisure, to acquaint the Romans with his views so they would fully support him in his mission to Spain. Scholars soon realized, however, that this perception of Romans as a summary of Paul's theology was inadequate for three reasons. First, Romans does not contain any discussion or emphasis on some things Paul clearly believed strongly as we know from his other letters—such as the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-34) and the second coming of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11). Second, Paul stressed matters in Romans he does not give much attention to in his other letters, such as the wrath of God (Romans 1:18-32) and the Jewish rejection of Jesus as Messiah (Romans 9-11). Third, Romans includes materials that do not fit into the category of a summary of Paul's theology. The exhortations in
Romans 12:1-15:14 are clearly outside this category. Some of them, such as how they should relate to government (Romans 13:1-7) or those “weak in faith” (Romans 14:1-15:6) seem to reflect specific problems in the Roman Christian community. Taking these facts seriously, scholars now feel that Paul knew much more about the Roman Christians than earlier scholars realized and wrote to the church with several purposes in mind: (1) to request their prayers as he faced the threatening situation in Jerusalem, (2) to alert them to his intended visit, (3) to acquaint them with some of his understanding of what God had done in Christ, (4) to instruct them in areas where the church faced specific problems, and (5) to enlist their support in his planned missionary venture to Spain.
What is the key concept in Romans? The theme of Romans is generally agreed to be the “righteousness of God” (see
Romans 1:16-17), but the meaning of this phrase is disputed. Some interpret it to mean the righteousness which God bestows on persons on the basis of Christ's work, understanding “of God” to mean “from God.” Other interpreters hold that “the righteousness of God” is the activity of God, understanding the term primarily from its use in the Greek translation of the Old Testament where it refers to God's acting in His saving power. This seems the better alternative—the righteousness of God is God in action, setting things right through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. See Righteousness.
The pivotal importance of understanding “the righteousness of God” as God in action in Christ will only clearly be seen when it is grasped that the same Greek word root occurs in the terms translated into English as righteousness, just, justification, and justify. Understanding what Paul meant by righteousness is therefore crucial for one's interpretation of Romans because it sets one's perception of justification as well.
Scholars have debated for centuries as to whether justification (God's action in making persons righteous) refers primarily to one's new status in Christ—justification would thus mean the bestowal of a righteous status before God—or to one's new moral character in Christ—justification would then mean God's action in one's life to enable a person to achieve high ethical standards. Protestant, and particularly Lutheran scholars, have argued that justification should be understood in the first sense and indicates God's acquitting or pronouncing the sinner righteous without any reference to moral change. Roman Catholic scholars have argued the opposite, holding that justification means God's making a person righteous or moral regeneration. In the heated debates over this issue, it has become clear that an undue stress on either alternative leads to a distorted view of Christianity. To stress justification as God's declaring the sinner righteous without regard to any subsequent change in the sinner's moral character is as wrong as to stress justification as moral achievement to the point that living by works overshadows living by faith. The best understanding of justification is one which includes both the new status of a person before God and the new life that this status demands. See Justification.
When the “righteousness of God” is understood as God's working in Christ to set things right, then it becomes clear that God declares the sinner righteous (acquits). Persons who experience this declaration at the same time repudiate sin as a way of life, enter into an intense struggle with sin, and look forward to Christ's complete victory over evil. Salvation is thus, according to Paul, both God's gift of a righteous status before Him in Christ (Romans 6:23) and God's demand to live the new life which Christ makes possible. Scholars refer to this reality as the indicative and imperative aspects in Paul's thought. Paul indicated what God has done in Christ (indicative) and then exhorted his readers to achieve it (imperative). Paul, for example affirmed the gift—”you have been freed from sin” (Romans 6:22 NRSV); but in the same context he exhorted his readers to live up to the demand—”Present your members as slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:19 NRSV). Such frequent indicative and imperative statements at first glance seem contradictory. They, however, represent the way Paul understood Christianity—what God has done for us in Christ summons us to what we ought to do for God. See Ethics; Salvation.
The salvation that the power of God brings (Romans 1:16) is, therefore, not freedom from struggle. Paul understood the center of the Christian life to be intense struggle with the power of sin in one's life. The new status before God (justification) opens one's eyes to understand reality in a new way. The one who trusts Christ experiences a revelation in understanding. In the experience of faith it is “revealed” (Romans 1:17) that God came in Christ to set people free from the enslaving power of sin by enabling guilty sinners to be declared righteous and then to achieve it.
From Paul's perspective, the Christian understands the power of sin and God's action to triumph over it in a way the unbeliever does not. Paul described this new understanding and the arena of conflict it thrusts the Christian into in terms that relate to his Jewish heritage. Paul used the figures of Adam and Christ as representing the only two possibilities for human existence. Adam, the original transgressor (Romans 5:12), was the one through whom sin entered; but sin did not come alone—death is inseparably linked to sin in Paul's thought (Romans 5:12-14). These two realities—sin and death—have such great force that Paul said sin or death “reigned” (Romans 5:14,Romans 5:21). The third reality in his unholy trilogy of powers is the law which Paul felt is in itself holy (Romans 7:12). Sin's power demonstrated itself in using the law for its own purposes (Romans 7:8-11). This complex of powers, opposed to God and His purpose in creation, stands in unwavering hostility and opposition to another triad of powers (see
Romans 5:18-21) in the realm of Christ: righteousness (against sin), grace (against law), and life (against death). Paul's conception is that both of these power fields exist in our present world with unbelievers totally controlled by the evil forces and with believers constantly needing to struggle to free themselves from the hold sin has and tries to gain over them.
Paul also used other vehicles of expression to articulate his view of Christian life as focused in struggle with sin. Many persons in the first century world felt that an unalterable hostility existed between matter and spirit (thought or consciousness) with matter being the source of evil and spirit being the fountain of good. Paul made use of this kind of language but not with the dualism of Greek thought which opposed flesh (matter) to spirit. Flesh, as substance or material, is in itself neutral and has neither evil or good nature; but a person under sin's control is “in the flesh” (Romans 8:9), a contrast to life “in the Spirit” (Romans 8:9-11). In this life (in the flesh) believers must rise to the demand of God's gift to us through Christ and walk “according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4-8).
Paul alone in the New Testament explained the transition from the realm of Adam to the realm of Christ as a dying and rising with Christ (Romans 6:5-11). Our death with Christ causes us to be “united with him” (Romans 6:5) in death. This union with Christ reveals sin in all its ugliness. Believers follow God as Jesus did, repudiate sin's rule, and realize sin's end is death. Our resurrection with Christ is our rising from death with Him spiritually to live to God. This dying and rising with Christ sets us free from sin in the sense that sin's power is no longer enslaving. The Christian has the resources of God to fight sin victoriously; but intense struggle is necessary (Romans 6:11).
Dying and rising with Christ results in a person's being “in Christ.” This phrase, used more than one hundred times in Paul's letters and infrequently outside Paul's writings, is Paul's favorite way of describing salvation. To be “in Christ” is to be in the power field of grace, life, and righteousness; it is to live in the strength of our having been raised with Christ; and it is a life of trust in God which struggles with the power of sin in one's life on the basis of God's powerful presence (Holy Spirit). Paul can thus speak of the power that enables Christians to overcome as “the Spirit,” “the Spirit of God,” “the Spirit of Christ,” “Christů in you,” and “in Christ” (Romans 8:1-11).
What is the structure of Romans? Paul's letter to the Romans moves with logical precision as the theme of “the righteousness of God” is developed in its relevance for the Christians in Rome. The expertise of the inspired writer emerges clearly as Paul, although dealing with the problems of a specific group of Christians in Rome, unwaveringly elevated the discussion to a level that also addresses the needs of Christians in all places and at all times.
Paul's introduction to the letter (Romans 1:1-15) sets out the apostolic calling which qualifies him (Romans 1:1-7) and explains his reason for writing the Romans (Romans 1:8-15). After the introduction, Paul crisply stated the theme of his letter—the righteousness of God, revealed in the gospel and bringing salvation (Romans 1:16-17). Paul then supported his theme in the first major section of the letter by demonstrating that all persons need salvation (Romans 1:18-3:20), showing first that the power of sin rules the Gentiles (Romans 1:18-32) and, second, that the power of sin rules the Jews as well (Romans 2:1-3:8). Paul concluded this section with a summary statement that all humanity stands under the power of sin (Romans 3:19-20).
The second major section deals with God's provision of righteousness through Jesus Christ on the basis of faith (Romans 3:21-4:25). Paul affirmed that God has manifested His righteousness apart from the law in the expiating blood of Jesus Christ and that God justified (declares righteous) persons on the basis of trust (Romans 3:21-26). Justification by faith excludes boasting or exulting in one's goodness achieved by works according to the law. The way God justified Abraham by faith demonstrates that trust as a way of relating to God preceded seeking to relate to Him by the works of the law, meeting the Jewish objection that God requires works for justification (Romans 3:27-4:25).
After establishing the reality of justification by faith, Paul discussed, in the third section of Romans, the impact and implication of what God does for us in Christ and focuses on how salvation results in a victorious new life (Romans 5:1-8:39). The immediate result of justification is a realization of peace with God based on the assurance coming from God's love for us and results in one's ability to rejoice in the face of difficulties because Christ has reversed the results of Adam's disobedience (Romans 5:1-21). The very heart of salvation is found in the Christian's continuing, but victorious, struggle with sin (Romans 6:1-7:25). This victorious struggle is possible because of the power of the risen Christ, experienced as Holy Spirit, who assists us to do what is right (Romans 8:1-39).
The salvation Christ brought raised profound questions among Jewish Christians about the destiny of the Jews who still felt themselves to be God's people even though they had rejected Christ. Paul dealt with this issue in the fourth section (Romans 9-11). He stressed that the righteousness of God is demonstrated in His faithfulness to all His promises—even those to Israel in the Old Testament. Paul confessed his personal grief over Israel's rejection of Christ (Romans 9:1-15) and affirmed that God has, as always, displayed His sovereignty in dealing with Israel (Romans 9:6-29). Israel's God-given freedom to choose explains the rejection of Jesus as the Christ (Romans 9:30-10:21). Paul reminded his readers that God's righteousness is displayed in His mercy on which all—both Jews and Gentiles—are dependent (Romans 11:1-36).
The final section is a summons to practical obedience to God (Romans 12:1-15:13). Christians should live transformed lives (Romans 12:1-2) and demonstrate this in a good stewardship of their spiritual gifts (Romans 12:3-21), in fulfilling their obligations to the state (Romans 13:1-7), in making love supreme (Romans 13:8-14), and in seeking to nurture others in the fellowship of the church, being particularly careful to bear with and edify the weak (Romans 14:1-15:13).
In the conclusion to the letter (Romans 15:14-16:27), Paul summarized his ministry and his plans for the future, requesting their prayers (Romans 15:14-33); then he commended Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2), sent greetings to individual Christians (Romans 16:3-24), and ended his letter with praise for God—“to the only wise God through Jesus Christ be glory for endless ages! Amen” (Romans 16:27 REB).
I. Introduction: Qualifications and Reason for Writing (Romans 1:1-15).
A. Apostolic calling qualifies the author (Romans 1:1-7).
B. Grateful, prayerful concern for the readers motivates the writing (Romans 1:8-15).
II. Theme: The Power for Salvation and the Righteousness of God Are Revealed (Romans 1:16-17).
III. All People Need Salvation from the Power of Sin (Romans 1:18-3:20).
A. The power of sin rules among the Gentiles (Romans 1:18-32).
1. The Gentiles reject the knowledge of God (Romans 1:18-23).
2. The Gentiles experience the results of rebellion against God (Romans 1:24-32).
B. The power of sin rules among the Jews (Romans 2:1-3:8).
1. The Jews demonstrate their disobedience (Romans 2:1-16).
2. The Jews confuse privilege and responsibility (Romans 2:17-3:8).
C. All humanity—Jews and Gentiles—stand under the power of sin (Romans 3:9-20).
IV. God Provides Righteousness through Jesus Christ on the Basis of Faith (Romans 3:21-4:25).
A. God manifests His righteousness (Romans 3:21-26).
1. God's righteousness is through faith (Romans 3:21-23).
2. God's righteousness is through the blood of Christ (Romans 3:24-25).
3. God's righteousness is shown in His passing over former sins (Romans 3:25-26).
B. Justification is by faith for all persons (Romans 3:27-4:25).
1. Justifying faith excludes all boasting (Romans 3:27-31).
2. The example of Abraham confirms justification by faith (Romans 4:1-25).
V. Salvation in Christ Results in Victorious New Life (Romans 5:1-8:39).
A. Justification results in peace and righteousness (Romans 5:1-21).
1. Peace with God results in rejoicing in all circumstances (Romans 5:1-11).
2. Christ reverses the results of Adam's sin (Romans 5:12-21).
B. Christian life is a victorious struggle with sin (Romans 6:1-7:25).
1. Faith unites believers in dying and rising with Christ (Romans 6:1-11).
2. Believers are not slaves of sin, but of righteousness (Romans 6:12-23).
3. Dying with Christ sets us free from law (Romans 7:1-6).
4. Struggle with sin is defeat without Christ (Romans 7:7-25).
C. The Spirit of Christ is the power of the Christian's life (Romans 8:1-39).
1. The Spirit is the power for freedom from sin (Romans 8:1-4).
2. Life in the Spirit is the opposite of life in the flesh (Romans 8:5-11).
3. The Spirit creates and witnesses to our status as God's children (Romans 8:12-17).
4. The Spirit confers victorious life (Romans 8:18-39).
VI. God Is Faithful in All His Promises (Romans 9:1-11:36).
A. Paul grieves over Israel's rejection of Christ (Romans 9:1-5).
B. God's sovereignty is displayed in His dealings with Israel (Romans 9:6-29).
1. God's sovereignty is illustrated in His elective choices (Romans 9:6-13).
2. God's sovereignty is seen in His mercy (Romans 9:14-18).
3. God has chosen both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 9:19-29).
C. Israel's freedom to choose explains her rejection of Christ (Romans 9:30-10:21).
1. Israel chose works rather than faith (Romans 9:30-33).
2. Israel rejected righteousness based on faith (Romans 10:1-15).
3. Israel refuses to hear and obey (Romans 10:16-21).
D. God's righteousness is displayed in His mercy (Romans 11:1-36).
1. The saved remnant of Jews shows God's mercy (Romans 11:1-6).
2. The salvation extended to the Gentiles shows God's mercy (Romans 11:7-24).
3. All persons—Jews and Gentiles—are dependent on God's mercy (Romans 11:25-32).
4. God deserves praise for His judgments (Romans 11:33-36).
VII. The Saving Mercy of God in Christ Summons Christians to Obedience (Romans 12:1-15:13).
A. Theme of the exhortations: Christians need to be transformed (Romans 12:1-2).
B. Christians must be responsible members of the body of Christ (Romans 12:3-21).
1. Christians need to view themselves and others appropriately (Romans 12:3-5).
2. Christians must express their different gifts in faith (Romans 12:6-13).
3. Christian life demands love in action (Romans 12:14-21).
C. Christians must fulfill their appropriate obligations to the state (Romans 13:1-7).
D. Christians must remember the supremacy of love and the urgency of the times (Romans 13:8-14).
1. Love fulfills the law (Romans 13:8-10).
2. The critical nature of the times calls for radical commitment to Christ (Romans 13:11-14).
E. Christians must seek to edify one another in the fellowship of the church (Romans 14:1-15:13).
1. The strong and the weak in the church must realize that Christ is the Lord of both groups (Romans 14:1-12).
2. Christians should live by their own convictions, pursue harmony, and avoid making others stumble (Romans 14:13-23).
3. Strong Christians are obligated to bear with and live in harmony with the weak (Romans 15:1-6).
4. All Christians are to receive one another as Christ has received them (Romans 15:7-13).
VIII. Conclusion (Romans 15:14-16:27)
Harold S. Songer