Epistle to the Romans

Epistle to the Romans

The Epistle of St. Paul the Apostle to the Romans is one of the letters of the New Testament canon of the Christian Bible. Often referred to simply as Romans, it is one of the seven currently undisputed letters of Paul. It is even counted among the four letters accepted as authentic (known in German scholarship as "Hauptbriefe") by F. C. Baur and the Tübingen School of historical criticism of texts in the 19th century.

The book, according to Joseph Fitzmyer, "overwhelms the reader by the density and sublimity of the topic with which it deals, the gospel of the justification and salvation of Jew and Greek alike by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, revealing the uprightness and love of God the father." [Fitzmyer, xiii] N. T. Wright notes that Romans is "neither a systematic theology nor a summary of Paul's lifework, but it is by common consent his masterpiece. It dwarfs most of his other writings, an Alpine peak towering over hills and villages. Not all onlookers have viewed it in the same light or from the same angle, and their snapshots and paintings of it are sometimes remarkably unalike. Not all climbers have taken the same route up its sheer sides, and there is frequent disagreement on the best approach. What nobody doubts is that we are here dealing with a work of massive substance, presenting a formidable intellectual challenge while offering a breathtaking theological and spiritual vision". [ Leander E. Keck and others, eds., "The New Interpreter's Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes" (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002) 395 ]

Dating of Romans

The letter was most probably written while Paul was in Corinth, and probably while he was staying in the house of Gaius and transcribed by Tertius. [Dunn, xliv; Stuhlmacher, 5; , also lived in Corinth being the cities commissioner for public works and city treasurer at various times, again indicating that the letter was written in Corinth. [Bruce, 280-281; Dunn, xliv]

The precise time at which it was written is not mentioned in the epistle, but it was obviously written when the collection for Jerusalem had been assembled and Paul was about to "go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints", that is, at the close of his second visit to Greece, during the winter preceding his last visit to that city (, ; Bruce, 11-12] The choice of Spain would allow Paul to visit Rome, an ambition of his for a long time, particularly considering that Paul was a Roman citizen but had never visited the city of Rome. The letter to the Romans, in part, prepares them and gives reasons for his visit. [Bruce, 11-12]

In addition to Paul’s geographic location, his religious views are important. Firstly Paul was a Jew with Jewish and Pharisaic backgrounds, integral to his identity. His concern for his people is one part of the dialogue and runs throughout the letter. [Dunn, xxix-xli] Secondly, the other side of the dialogue is Paul’s conversion and calling to follow Christ in the early 30s. The resulting evangelistic activity dominated the later years of Paul’s life. The letter therefore interweaves the concerns of Paul the Pharisee and the follower of Christ. [Dunn, xli-xlii] Thirdly Paul’s missionary work caused opposition from Jews and fellow Jewish Christians. One issue was whether Jewish Christians should continue to carry out laws placed on the covenant people regarding things such as food laws. The disagreement was partly between Paul and the Jerusalem Church, including figures such as Peter and Barnabas. Paul’s upcoming visit to Jerusalem to deliver a collection from the gentiles would therefore help maintain the unity of the Christian movement. The letter to the Romans written during this time includes Paul’s hopes and fears regarding his visit to Jerusalem and the relationship between Gentiles and more traditional Jewish Christians. [Dunn, xlii-xliii]

The Church in Rome

* “The most probable ancient account of the beginning of Christianity in Rome is given by a 4th century writer known as ‘Ambrosiater’:

**‘It is established that there were Jews living in Rome in the times of the Apostles, and that those Jews who had believed [in Christ] passed on to the Romans the tradition that they ought to profess Christ but keep the law [Torah] … One ought not to condemn the Romans, but to praise their faith, because without seeing any signs or miracles and without seeing any of the apostles, they nevertheless accepted faith in Christ, although according to a Jewish rite.’ Ambrosii Works iii 373.” TIB IX 1955 p. 367

*From Adam Clarke:

**“The occasion of writing the epistle: … Paul had made acquaintance with all circumstances of the Christians at Rome … and finding that it was … partly of heathens converted to Christianity, and partly of Jews, who had, with many remaining prejudices, believed in Jesus as the true Messiah, and that many contentions arose from the claims of the Gentiles to equal privileges with the Jews, and from absolute refusal of the Jews to admit these claims, unless the Gentile converts become circumcised; he wrote this epistle to adjust and settle these differences.” A.C. 1831 VI p. 3

At this time, the Jews made up a substantial number in Rome, and their synagogues, frequented by many, enabled the Gentiles to become acquainted with the story of Jesus of Nazareth. Consequently, a church composed of both Jews and Gentiles was formed at Rome. According to Irenaeus, one of the earliest Church Fathers, the church at Rome was founded directly by the apostles Peter and Paul. [ Irenaeus, [http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103303.htm "Against Heresies", Book III,3,2] ] However, many modern scholars disagree with Irenaeus, holding that while little is known of the circumstances of the church's founding, it was not founded by Paul. ["The Expositor's Bible Commentary", (Ed. F.E.Gaebelein, Zondervan, 1976-92) Commentary on Romans (Introduction)]

Many of the brethren went out to meet Paul on his approach to Rome. There is evidence that Christians were then in Rome in considerable numbers and probably had more than one place of meeting ().


While scholars are often able to determine aspects of the context of NT writers from their letters, it is much more difficult to understand Paul's letter to the Romans. Scholars often have difficulty assessing whether Romans is a letter or an epistle:

"A letter is something non-literary, a means of communication between persons who are separated from each other. Confidential and personal in nature, it is intended only for the person or persons to whom it is addressed, and not at all for the public or any kind of publicity...An Epistle is an artistic literary form, just like the dialogue, the oration, or the drama. It has nothing in common with the letter except its form: apart from that one might venture the paradox that the epistle is the opposite of a real letter. The contents of the epistle are intended for publicity--they aim at interesting 'the public.'" [A. Deissmann, "Light from the Ancient East, 2nd ed" (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1927), 218, 220]

Joseph Fitzmyer argues, from evidence put forth by Stirewalt, that the style of Romans is an "essay-letter." [Fitzmyer, 69] Philip Melanchthon, a writer during the Middle Ages, suggested that Romans was "caput et summa universae doctrinae christianae" ("a summary of all Christian doctrine").Fitzmyer, 74] While some scholars attempt to suggest, like Melanchthon, that it is a type of theological treatise, this view largely ignores chapters 14 and 15 of Romans. There are also many "noteworthy elements" missing from Romans that are included in other areas of the Pauline corpus. [Fitzmyer, 74, who notes that the Ekklesia, Eucharist and eschatology (espeically the parousia) are not present in Romans] The breakdown of Romans as a treatise began with F.C. Baur in 1836 when he suggested "this letter had to be interpreted according to the historical circumstances in which Paul wrote it."

Paul sometimes uses a style of writing common in his time called a "diatribe". He appears to be responding to a "heckler", and the letter is structured as a series of arguments. In the flow of the letter, Paul shifts his arguments, sometimes addressing the Jewish members of the church, sometimes the Gentile membership and sometimes the church as a whole.

Purposes of writing

The main purpose of the epistle to the Romans is given by Paul in ).

The purposes of the apostle in dictating this letter to his Amanuensis Tertius (; , ) save the one who paid for all of them () and had in the past been a persecutor of Christ. These verses could also be saying that, even though Jews do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah, since they still believe in God, they will be saved. In Romans 9–11 Paul, talks about how the nation of Israel has been cast away, and the conditions under which Israel will be God's chosen nation again: when the Body of Christ (believers in Christ's payment for sin) stops being faithful (, "Wherefore, my brethren, ye are also become dead to the law by the body of Christ").

From chapter 12 through the first part of chapter 15, Paul outlines how the Gospel transforms believers and the behaviour that results from such a transformation. He goes on to describe how believers should live: not under the law, but under the grace of God. If believers live in obedience to God and to rightfully delegated authority, (, "love (ἀγάπη) worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of law".

Concluding verses

The concluding verses contain a description of his travel plans and personal greetings salutations. One-third of the twenty-one Christians identified in the greetings are women, some of whom played an important role in the early church at Rome.

Protestant interpretation

Martin Luther described Paul's letter to the Romans as the "most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian's while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul". [ [http://www.ccel.org/l/luther/romans/pref_romans.html Martin Luther's Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans] cf. Luther's comments in his treatise on "The Adoration of the Sacrament" (1523) in which he refers to the words of institution of the Eucharist as being "the sum and substance of the whole gospel". "Luther's Works", American Edition, St. Louis and Philadelphia: Concordia Publishing House and Fortress (Muhlenberg) Press, [http://www.archive.org/details/luthersworksvolu008249mbp vol. 36 (Word and Sacrament II (1959))] , [http://books.google.com/books?id=FQHx9n3qBu8C&pg=PA277&ots=g5iYjZ6Hny&dq=%22the+sum+and+substance+of+the+whole+gospel%22&sig=YFKDJjhyuXrRdII_T0jrpZoA2Oo] , p.277.]

The Romans Road refers to a set of scriptures from Romans that Christian evangelists use to present a clear and simple case for personal salvation for each person.

Romans has been at the forefront of several major movements in Protestantism. Martin Luther's lectures on Romans in 1515–16 probably coincided with the development of his criticism of Roman Catholicism which led to the 95 Theses of 1517. In 1738, while reading Luther's Preface to the Epistle to the Romans, John Wesley famously felt his heart "strangely warmed", a conversion experience which is often seen as the beginning of Methodism. In 1919 Karl Barth's commentary on Romans, "The Epistle to the Romans", was the publication which is widely seen as the beginning of neo-orthodoxy.


It is often the starting point of those who argue against the Protestant understanding of Romans, specifically in regard to the doctrine of "sola fide", to point out that the same apostle who wrote Romans is also quoted in Philippians as saying "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (
*cite book | author = Dunn, J. D. G. |authorlink= James Dunn (theologian) | year = 1988a | title = Romans 1-8 |series= World Bible Commentary | publisher = Word Books, Publisher |location= Dallas, Texas | isbn =
*cite book | author = Dunn, J. D. G. | year = 1988b | title = Romans 9-16 |series= World Bible Commentary | publisher = Word Books, Publisher |location= Dallas, Texas | isbn =
*cite book |last= Fitzmyer |first= J. A. |authorlink= Joseph Fitzmyer |title= Romans |series= Anchor Bible Commentary |year= 1992 |publisher= Doubleday |location= New York |isbn=
*cite book | author = Stuhlmacher, P. | year = 1994 | title = Paul's Letter to the Romans: A Commentary | publisher = John Knox Press |location= Westminster | isbn =

External links

* [http://www.biblegateway.com "Bible Gateway 35 languages/50 versions" - GospelCom.net]
* [http://unbound.biola.edu "Unbound Bible 100 + languages/versions" - Biola University]
* [http://www.gospelhall.org/bible/bible.php?passage=Romans+1 "Online Bible" - gospelhall.org]
* [http://www.christnotes.org/bible.php?q=Romans "Romans, Online Bible" - ChristNotes.org]
* [http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/romans.html "Epistle to the Romans" - Early Christian Writings]
* [http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=56611346 "oremus Bible Browser"] (New Revised Standard Version)
* [http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=56611269 "oremus Bible Browser"] (New Revised Standard Version - "Anglicized Edition")

* [http://www.chbcaudio.org/1999/09/19/justification-the-message-of-romans/ Romans Overview by Mark Dever]
* [http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/BySeries/2/ Romans the Greatest Letter Ever Written: John Piper]
* [http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom38.toc.html John Calvin on Romans]
* [http://www.ccel.org/ccel/henry/mhc6.vi_1.i.html Matthew Henry on Romans]
* [http://wesley.nnu.edu/wesleyan_theology/theojrnl/16-20/16-04.htm A Wesleyan Interpretation of Romans 5-8 - Jerry McCant]
* [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13156a.htm Epistle to the Romans - Catholic Encyclopedia]
* [http://www.plymouthbrethren.org/passage.asp Epistle to the Romans - Biblical Resource Database]

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