THE LETTER TO THE ROMANS



1. Who wrote the Letter to the Romans?

1.1. What does Rom 1:1 indicate about the author of the Letter to the Romans?

It indicates that the author of the Letter to the Romans was Paul.

1.2. Unlike his other letters, Paul includes a lengthy introduction of himself as an apostle. After the typical identification of himself as "Paul...called to be an apostle" (1:1), he sets forth in nuce the contents of the gospel that he is called to proclaim (1:2-4). He then adds that it was through Christ that "we received grace and apostleship for the purpose of the obedience of faith among all the gentiles." (The use of the first person plural ["we"] no doubt refers to Paul and his associates.) By the phrase "grace and apostleship," Paul probably means "the grace of apostleship," so that he understands his call to be an apostle as a bestowal of grace, insofar as it is an undeserved privilege. He says that his particular call as an apostle is to the gentiles, and his ultimate goal in relation to them is their "obedience of faith." This phrase may mean "faith's obedience," the implication being that obedience belongs to faith as its natural and expected possession or correlation, or it may mean "the obedience originating in faith," so that obedience is inseparably tied to faith as its basis and faith inevitably produces obedience. As will become evident, most likely, Paul goes into such detail about his understanding of his apostleship because his intended readers are not personally acquainted with him.

1.3. According to Rom 16:22, who was Paul's amanuensis for the Letter to the Romans?

Teritus identifies himself as the one who wrote the Letter to the Romans

The identity of this Tertius is otherwise unknown, for this is the only time his name occurs in the New Testament. His exact contribution to the letter is also unknown. It is possible that Paul dictated the entire letter to him, but it also possible that Tertius had a more creative role in its composition. Tertius wrote a personal greeting to the readers, so that presumably he knew some of them at least.

1.4. Since Paul indicates that she is traveling to Rome and he provides her with an introduction in the Letter to the Romans (Rom 16:1-2), it is possible that Phoebe carried the letter to its intended destination.


2. To whom was the Letter to the Romans written?

2.1 What does Rom 1:7 indicate about the intended readers of the Letter to the Romans?

It indicates that the intended readers of the Letter to the Romans were "all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints." In other words, they were the members of the church in Rome.

2.2. What Paul says in Rom 1:13 "Many times I have wanted to come to you but was prevented" implies that he has never been to Rome as an apostle at least. (The first time that Paul went to Rome as an apostle was as a prisoner.) If he has not been to Rome at the time of writing of his letter, Paul obviously could not have founded the church in Rome. This means that the church in Rome has come into existence independently of his apostolic work, so that he is not its founder. In later tradition, Peter is associated with the Roman church, but there is no evidence that Peter founded the church. How the Roman church began is a historical mystery. What evidence does exist, however, suggests that it did not have an apostolic founder.

2.2.1.  What might Paul's statement of his "apostolic policy" in Rom 15:20 and 2 Cor 10:15-16 imply about the origin of the Roman church?

Paul states in Rom 15:20 that he does not desire to build on another foundation in his evangelism, by which he means that he does not desire to continue the work of another apostle. Similarly, in 2 Cor 10:15-16, Paul criticizes the "false apostles," who infiltrated the church at Corinth after his departure, for infringing on his area of apostolic jurisdiction. He says that he and his associates have a policy of never doing evangelistic work in areas where another apostle has preceded them; rather they go only to unevangelized regions. Paul's "apostolic policy" may imply that the Roman church had no such apostolic foundation, or else Paul would not be seeking to go to Rome to minister there, for this would be a violation of that policy (Rom 1:11-12; see 15:22-23). It is possible that Paul sees the church in Rome as needing an apostolic foundation.

2.2.2. That the church in Rome had no apostolic foundation is implied by the fact that Paul says nothing in his Letter to the Romans about the founder of the church. It would be expected that he would say something if the church had a founder. Rather, what Paul says in Rom 1:6, 14-15 implies that he sees the church in Rome as following under his apostolic jurisdiction insofar as he is the apostle to the gentiles.

2.2.3. What relevance may the fact that there were Jews and proselytes from Rome present on the Day of Pentecost have in explaining the origin of the Roman church (Acts 2:10)?

Acts 2:10 mentions that there were Romans (Jews from Rome or Roman proselytes) present at Pentecost. It is possible that these were only visiting Jerusalem for the festival Pentecost (Shavuot) and then returned to Rome where they founded the church.

2.3. There was a sizable population of Jews living in Rome in the first century. A little more than a century earlier, Pompey took many Jewish prisoners to Rome and resettled them there (Josephus, Ant. 14.74-79; War 1.153-58; Appian, Syr. 51; Mithr. 117; see Philo, Leg. ad. Gaium 152-61); no doubt, many of their descendants formed the nucleus of the Jewish population of the city in Paul's day. Not surprisingly, there were several synagogues in Rome. Cicero indicates that by the middle of the first century BCE, there were many Jews (multitudo Iudaeorum) in Rome, some of whom were citizens and elected to the popular assemblies (Pro Flacc. 28/66-69); Cicero himself saw the great number of Jews in Rome as a potential threat to Roman interests. (In that speech, he refers to the Jews' "barbarian superstition" [barbara superstitio].) Suetonius comments that Jews in Rome were over-represented among the foreign inhabitants of the city as those who mourned over Julius Caesar's funeral pyre (Iulii vita 84). In the year 4, more than 8,000 Jews in Rome joined a delegation of fifty from Jerusalem sent to oppose the installation of Archaleus, Herod's son (Ant. 17.299-303); later, the emperor Tiberius drafted some 4,000 Jews from Rome into military service (Ant. 18.81-84). These two large numbers indicate that the Jewish population of Rome must have been significant. Dio Cassius explains that Jews in Rome, in spite of official actions taken against them, were able to gain enough influence among the ruling class as to find protection for their religious beliefs and practices (37.17). He also reports that Claudius in 41, noticing that their number had grown to a dangerous level, did not expel them the Jews, but did forbid them from meeting together (Dio Cassius, 60.6.6). Philo claims that in the time of Augustus that Jews is Rome were so numerous that they inhabited "the great section of Rome accross the Tiber" (Leg. ad. Gaium 155-56). From funerary inscriptions found in the catacombs of Rome, it is clear that Jews in the city were divided into thirteen "synagogues," by which is meant thirteen groups or congregations; each of these was governed by a "council of elders" (gerousia), the leader of which was called the "ruler of the council of elders" (gerousiarchês) (CII l.lvi-ci).

    It seems that some of the many Jews in Rome came to believe in Jesus as the Christ. There is indirect evidence of this from Suetonius, the Roman historian. He records that the emperor Claudius (41-54) expelled all Jews from Rome. According to the fifth-century Christian historian Orosius, who quotes from Suetonius' text, the expulsion took place in Claudius' ninth regnal year (Jan. 25, 49 to Jan 24, 50) (Hist. adv. pag. 7.6.15-16). (Orosius claims Josephus as his source, but Josephus nowhere mentions the expulsion.) What is interesting is the reason that Suetonius provides for this extreme official action. He writes, "He expelled the Jews at Rome because they caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus (impulsore Chresto)" (Claudius, 25.4).  (This expulsion of the Jews from Rome is referred to in Acts 18:1-3.) It is probable that by "Chrestus" is meant "Christus," so that what Suetonius describes is a very public dispute among the Jews in Rome over whether Jesus was the Christ. (Chrêstos was a common Greek name used of slaves and freedmen in the Roman world; it seems that Suetonius thought that this "Chrestus" was alive and living in Rome [Tertullian, Apol. 3.5; Ad. nat. 1.3; Lactantius, Inst. 4.7.5].) If so, then this incident in the reign of Claudius implies that there were Jewish Christians in Rome as early as the mid-40's, since it would take some time for the dispute to escalate to the point where it was necessary for Claudius to expel the Jews from the city. (It is arguable that Claudius did not expel every Jew from Rome; rather, it may only have been those Jews directly involved in the dispute over Christ, which would have included many believing Jews.) Moreover, the fact that this religious dispute among the Jews must have been considerable in order for Claudius to take notice of it and take such a drastic action as expelling all Jews from Rome implies that there must have a significant number of Jews who believed that Jesus was the Christ in Rome at that time. (See Acts 13:50; 14:19; 17:5 for other examples of Jewish resistance to the good news spilling over into the pubic domain).

2.4. From what Paul says in various places in his letter, it is clear from the Letter to the Romans that the church at Rome was composed of both Jews and gentiles; many of the gentile converts may have had a previous association with one the many Jewish synagogues in Rome. In Rom 9-11, Paul instructs the gentiles not to become arrogant towards the Jews because of their acceptance by God and the temporary rejection of Israel; Paul's intention is to promote good relations between Jewish and gentile believers by discouraging undue conceit (see Rom 11:13: "I am talking to you gentiles"). Similarly, in Rom 14, in the matter of eating ritually unclean meat, he warns the "strong," which includes all gentile believers, though not exclusively, not to despise the "weak," which includes some Jews. He then exhorts both groups in Rom 15:7 to "accept one another," and explains that Christ became a servant of the circumcised in order that gentiles may glorify God because of his mercy (Rom 15:8-9). The realization of this truth will serve to unify Jews and gentiles. Furthermore, of those in the list to whom Paul sends greetings in Rom 16, Aquila is a Jew (Acts 18:2), as well as Andronicus, Junias and Herodion, whom Paul calls his "kinsmen" (suggeneis). In addition, the Maria mentioned in 16:6 is probably a Jew since her name is Jewish. The rest of the people listed, however, are probably gentiles. (Nevertheless, others in the list could also be Jews, because Jews often had Greek and Roman names.) Doubtless, the first believers in Rome were Jews, who somehow heard the gospel and believed; later gentiles believed and were assimilated into the church at Rome in great numbers.

    What needs to be determined in order to understand Paul's purpose in writing is whether, at the time that he writes his letter, the church in Rome had a majority of Jews or gentiles. The expulsion of all Jews from Rome by Claudius, including Jewish Christians, certainly would have had a negative impact on the relative number of Jews relative to gentiles in the Roman church, but his death in 54 probably resulted in the rescinding of this edict, so that Roman Jews were free to return to the city. (Priscilla and Aquila, it seems, took advantage of this change of policy towards Jews and returned to Rome [see Rom 16:3].) What can be inferred about the composition of the church in Rome from the following passages?

2.4.1. Rom 1:5-6

In Rom 1:5-6, Paul classifies his readers as gentiles, insofar as he says that his task as an apostle is to call gentiles to the obedience of faith among whom also his Roman readers are included. Paul could only say such a thing if the majority of the church in Rome was composed of gentiles.

2.4.2. Rom 1:13

Paul states his purpose in wanting to come to Rome as follows: "In order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have also had among other gentiles." The inclusion of the word "other" as a modifier of "gentiles" implies that his readers are also gentiles, and Paul could only write this if the majority of church at Rome consisted of gentiles.

2.4.3. Rom 6:19

Paul says about his readers that, "You used to offer your members in slavery to impurity and ever-increasing lawlessness." This description of his readers seems to imply that they have come from a pagan background, because it would be inappropriate to refer to most Jews as being "in slavery to impurity and ever-increasing lawlessness." This is not how one would describe the life of a Jew living under the Law. This sounds more like the debachery characteristic of many gentiles. The implication is that the preponderance of the members of the church at Rome was gentile.

2.4.4. Rom 9:3-4; 10:1-2; 11:28, 31

In each of these passages, Paul seems to be speaking to gentile believers about his own people, the Jews. In Rom 9:3-4, he says that he wishes himself accursed "on behalf of my brothers." He could only say such a thing to gentiles, because, if he were speaking to Jews, he would say something like "our brothers" or "our people." Likewise, in Rom 10:1-2, Paul seems to distinguish his readers, whom he calls "brothers," from the Israelites, for whom he prays; the implication is that the readers are not included in this latter group. Finally, Paul makes a distinction between his readers and "Israel," who are the enemies of the readers with respect to the gospel, but are still beloved by God on account of the patriarchs (Rom 11:28). It seems that Paul would not speak to Jews about unbelieving Jews in this way. Along the same lines, he distinguishes his readers, who have benefited from Israel's temporary hardening, from Israel (Rom 11:31).

2.4.5. Taking all the evidence into consideration, what do you conclude about the ethnic composition of the church in Rome?

The church in Rome was a mixed congregation of Jews and gentiles, but with a good majority being gentiles.

2.5. It may seem strange that Paul used Greek to write a letter to the Roman church, since its membership no doubt consisted of Latin-speaking gentiles and Jews. This is evidence, however, of how widespread Greek was as the lingua franca of the Mediterranean world (see Cicero, Pro Archia 23; Juvenal, Satire 3.60-65).


3. When was the Letter to the Romans written?

3.1. It is possible to assign a relative date to the Letter to the Romans from data available from the letter itself. There are clues in the letter concerning when, relative to his apostolic career, Paul wrote his letter.

3.1.1. Rom 15:19, 23-24

In Rom 15:19, Paul says that he has preached the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum, a Roman province northwest of  Macedonia. Since we have no record of his going to Illyricum, Paul could be referring to the regions in Macedonia inhabited by people of the Illyricum race. In any case, Paul must be writing during the second or third missionary journey, not the first, since he did not visit Macedonia during his first missionary journey. What Paul writes in Rom 15:23-24, however, allows one to delimit further the date of the composition of the letter. Paul says that it is his intention soon to go to Spain because he sees his evangelistic work in the eastern Mediterranean as complete: "Now there is no more place for me to work in these regions, and since I have been desirous for many years of coming to you, I plan to come when I go to Spain." The fact that Paul plans to move his base of operation from Antioch to the west, presumably Rome, implies that he is writing after or near the end of his "third missionary journey," because he apparently did not consider shifting his evangelistic focus to the western Mediterranean any sooner than that. Paul must also have written before his arrest in Jerusalem and subsequent imprisonment, which compelled Paul to change his plans about going to Spain immediately after his visit to Jerusalem to deliver the gift of money collected from the churches that he founded.

3.1.2. Rom 15:25-26 (1 Cor 16:1-4; 2 Cor 8-9)

The relative date of Paul's composition of his Letter to the Romans can be further narrowed down based on what Paul writes about his collection project. He writes that he is on his way to Jerusalem with a collection for "the poor among the saints in Jerusalem" from the churches in Macedonia and Achaia (Rom 15:26). The collection that Paul describes in his letter as having been completed, but not yet delivered, is probably the same one described as not yet completed in 1 Cor 16:1-4 and 2 Cor 8-9. If so, then the church in Corinth must be included among the churches from Macedonia and Achaia. It should also be noted that in 1 Cor 16:3-4, Paul has not yet decided to accompany those chosen from the Corinthian church to transport the money collected to Jerusalem ("and if it is fitting for me to go also, they will go with me"). By contrast, in Rom 15:25 he says that he plans to lead the delegation that goes to Jerusalem with the money. What is implied about when Paul wrote his letter based on what he says about the collection project in Rom 15:25-26 and his planned visit to Jerusalem to deliver the money?

Whereas in 1 Cor 16:2-4 Paul has not yet decided whether he will go to Jerusalem with those chosen from the Corinthian church, in Rom 16:25 he has determined to go. This implies that the letter was written after 1 Corinthians. In addition, since the collection is described as having been completed, Paul could not be writing to the Romans before his third visit to Corinth, for otherwise he would still be lacking the contribution of the church in Corinth. So the earliest that Paul could have written the Letter to the Romans is at the time of his third visit to Corinth. Moreover, Paul implies in Rom 15:25-26 that, although it is imminent, his journey to Jerusalem is not yet underway. So it follows that Paul wrote the Letter to the Romans just before his departure for Jerusalem, but after the completion of his collection project.

3.2. From all the above data and a knowledge of Pauline chronology, assign an absolute date or a range of dates for the composition of the Letter to the Romans. (Remember that the dating the letter must fall between the two known dates proximate to this event: the founding of the church at Corinth between 50 and 52 and Paul's arrest in Jerusalem between 55 and 58.)

Paul wrote the Letter to the Romans at the end of his third missionary journey after he had visited Corinth for the third time but before setting out for Jerusalem to deliver the money collected from his churches. This period time in Paul's career as an apostle can be dated to between 54 and 58.

3.3. Paul wrote his letter during what is known as "the five-year period of Nero" (Neronis quinquennium), the first five years of Nero's reign as emperor, between 54 and 59 (Aurelius, Caesares 5, epit. 12). This period in Roman history was considered the best period of the Roman Empire since the time of Augustus, unlike the latter part of Nero's reign (when the church was persecuted). This may explain why Paul makes no reference to any problems between the Roman believers and the civil authorities. If fact, he enthusiastically recommends that they submit themselves fully to "every ruling authority" (13:1).


4. Where was the Letter to the Romans written?

4.1. From Acts 20:1-6, 1 Cor 16:6; Rom 16:1 determine the likely place of the composition of the Letter to the Romans. (Acts 20:1-6 describes events during the last part of Paul's third missionary journey, after he left Ephesus.)

It seems that Paul was in Achaia when he wrote the Letter to the Romans, since Luke implies that, having travelled through Macedonia, Paul spent three months in Achaia. More specically, Paul probably it in Corinth, since he told the Corinthians earier that he hoped to spend the winter with them (1 Cor 16:6). The reference to Phoebe from Cenchraea also suggests that Paul was in Corinth, for Cenchraea was the eastern port of Corinth (Rom 16:1).

4.2. That Paul was in Corinth when he wrote his Letter to the Romans is confirmed by two of the people from whom he sends greeting to the church in Rome. In Rom 16:23, Paul sends a greeting from Gaius, identified as the one "who shows hospitality to me and the whole church." This Gaius is no doubt the same man mentioned in 1 Cor 1:14, whom Paul baptized on his first visit to Corinth. In addition, Paul sends a greeting from Erastus, identified as the director of public works (oikonomos) of the city. He is connected to Corinth in 2 Tim 4:20: "Erastus remained at Corinth." This man may be the same Erastus of the so-called Erastus inscription found at Corinth.

4.3. Paul was not alone in Corinth when he wrote his letter, but was in the company of Timothy, Lucius, Jason and Sosipater (Sopater), not to mention his amanuensis, Tertius, who sent their greetings to the Romans (Rom 16:21-22; see Acts 20:4; 17:6). 


5. What is the Letter to the Romans?

5.1. The Letter to the Romans more than any of Paul's other letters was intended as a compendium of Paul's teaching; although he does not touch upon every possible topic, it seems that Paul attempts to set out his understanding of Jesus' death and resurrection and the implications of these.  In so doing, he dealt with topics such as the nature of sin (Jew and Gentile), the means of being made righteous, the Law, election, and eschatology.

5.2. Outline of the Letter to the Romans

A. 1:1-17

This represents the introduction of the letter.

1. 1:1-7

This is the salutation of the letter.

2. 1:8-17

Paul offers a thanksgiving to God on behalf of the Roman Christians, and tells them that he wants to visit them in order to impart some spiritual gift.  Paul also takes the opportunity to comment on the nature of the gospel and his role as a preacher of the gospel.
 

B. 1:18-15:33

This represents the main body of the letter

1. 1:18-3:20

In this section, Paul establishes the universal need of a means of being made righteous apart from the Law, by grace through faith.

a. 1:18-32

Paul says that gentiles know God from what God has made, but have suppressed the truth in unrighteousness, having chosen to be unrighteous.

b. 2:1-16

Paul speaks in general terms about the coming judgment of all human beings on the basis of works. Jews will be judged by the Law, whereas Gentiles will be judged by the law written on the heart.

c. 2:17-3:8

Paul concedes that the Jews have been privileged by being given the Law, but says that Jews who break the law will be condemned along with Gentiles.  The true Jew is the one circumcised of heart, not of the flesh. Paul rebuts the charge that he advocates sin, since supposedly the more sin there is when God judges, the more glory God receives.

d. 3:9-20

Paul concludes by saying that both Jew and Gentile stand condemned before God.  In so doing he cites a catena of Old Testament texts to prove his point.

2. 3:21-5:21

In this section, Paul explains the nature of God's saving work and humanity's appropriation of it.

a. 3:21-31

Paul says that God has provided a means of being righteous that comes apart from the law, the sacrificial death of Jesus, which is appropriated by faith.  Thus, there are no grounds for boasting in works.

 b. 4:1-25

Paul proves that being made righteous is by grace through faith by citing the example of Abraham, who believed, was pronounced righteous because of his faith and only then was given the command to circumcise. Abraham is intended to serve as a paradigm for believers.

c. 5:1-21

Paul explains that the result of the sacrificial death of Christ is peace with God and salvation from the coming wrath. Paul contrasts Adam and Christ as two representatives of humanity: whereas sin and death entered the world through Adam resulting in condemnation of all human beings, justification, the gift of God's grace, came through the second Adam, Christ, and passes to all who believe.

3. 6:1-8:39

In this section, Paul writes about the new life in Christ, the implications of being made righteous by grace for living.

a. 6:1-23

In answering to the charge that his teaching on being made righteous by grace will encourage believers to sin, Paul explains that those who are baptized into Jesus Christ, into his death, have died to sin.  Believers are no longer slaves to sin, but now slaves to righteousness.

b. 7:1-6

Paul draws the conclusion that the believer is released from the Law, having died to it.  To this end, he uses the analogy of marriage: in the same way that a woman is legally free from her marriage vow when her husband dies, so the believer is free from the Law, having died to it.  The believer is free now to serve God in the new way by the Spirit and not in the old way of the letter.

c. 7:7-25

Paul discusses the nature of Israel's life under the Law. The person under the law agrees that the Law is good and is intended to bring life, but has no power to do what the Law requires.  Deliverance from this comes through Jesus Christ.

d. 8:1-39

Paul explains that those in the Spirit do not live according to the flesh, the sinful nature. The Spirit and the flesh are two mutually exclusive modes of being.

4. 9:11-11:36

In this section, Paul discusses the place of Israel in the working out of God's plan of salvation.

a. 9:1-29

Paul takes up the problem and Israel's unbelief and consequent rejection. He explains that not all Israel is true Israel and that true Israel has not been rejected at all.  He also affirms God's prerogative to choose or reject whomever he will.

b. 9:30-10:21

Paul says that the cause of Israel's rejection was its lack of recognition of the possibility of righteousness that comes apart from the Law. They stumbled over the stone of stumbling. Interpreting Deut 30:12-13, Paul says that the righteousness by faith is available to all who will believe the Christian proclamation.  Israel, however, has refused to believe.

c. 11:1-36

Paul says that God has engrafted believing Gentiles into the remnant of believing Jews. He warns his Gentiles readers not to become arrogant about this, because God can just as easily remove the engrafted branches. Paul says that the rejection of Israel is only temporary, and holds out the promise of future restoration for the nation, citing Isa 59:20-21 and Isa 27:9 as scriptural proof of this.

5. 12:1-15:33

Based on what he has said previously, Paul exhorts his readers morally, drawing out practical implications.

a. 12:1-21

Paul gives miscellaneous exhortations, including to present bodies as living sacrifices and to make use of spiritual gifts.

b. 13:1-14

Paul explains that it is the believer’s duty to submit to all civil authorities, for God has established these.

c. 14:1-15:13

Paul deals with the problem of the conflict between Jews and Gentiles in the Roman church over the observance and food laws and the festival calendar. Paul advocates that the "strong" act out of love and not pressure the "weak" to sin by acting in unbelief. He warns that all believers must stand before the judgment seat of God.

 6. 15:14-33

Paul discusses his present situation and his future plans. He hopes to come to Rome and from there go to Spain in order to preach the gospel.
 

C. 16

This represents the conclusion of the letter.  Paul commends Phoebe to the church, sends greetings, warns them against certain false teachers and concludes with a doxology.

5.3. Some scholars hold that Rom 16 is not original to the letter, which they claim ended at Rom 15:33. The evidence marshalled for this position, however, is not conclusive.

5.3.1. The doxology found in Rom 16:25-27 is suspected of not being original to Paul's Letter to the Romans. Not only does it appear in different positions in different manuscripts, but it is non-Pauline in its vocabulary and style. Yet it is quite possible that Paul appended a doxology to his letter and that in the transmission of the text of the Letter to the Romans it was displaced from its original position.

5.3.2. Many scholars hold that Rom 16:1-23, which for the most part is a list of greeting sent to and greeting sent from, is not original to the Letter to the Romans, but is a detached note originally sent to the church at Ephesus that later came to be appended to the wrong letter.

A. It is pointed out that, if Paul has not visited the Roman church at the time of the composition of the Letter to the Romans, he should not have known so many of the Roman believers, those to whom he sends greeting in Rom 16. Until Rom 16, Paul betrays no personal, firsthand knowledge of the Romans, except perhaps for the issue over eating ritually unclean meat (Rom 14-15), but is writing as "a stranger to strangers." But for Paul to know so many of his readers would make sense if Rom 16 were actually the ending of a lost letter to the Ephesians, because, at the time of writing, Paul had twice visited Ephesus, spending three years in the city during his second sojourn there. Yet it is possible that Paul knew individual members of the Roman church, having met them on their travels outside of Italy; this is certainly the case with Priscilla (Prisca) and Aquila.

B. Paul sends greetings to Priscilla (Prisca) and Aquila (Rom 16:3), and refers to the church that meets in their house (Rom 16:5). Paul lived and worked with this couple while in Ephesus (Acts 18:3; 1 Cor 16:19). There is such a short interval of time between Paul's departure from Ephesus, at which time, it seems, Priscilla and Aquila are still in the city (1 Cor 16:19), and his sending of his Letter to the Romans that its seems improbable that Priscilla and Aquila could have left Ephesus, gone to Rome and have a church meeting in their house in the city, as they had in Ephesus. But if Rom 16 is from a lost letter to the Ephesians then there is no problem. It is not impossible, however, that, after their exile in Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila did, in fact, return to Rome, where they resumed their lives.

C. Paul sends a greeting to a certain Epaenetus, who is said to be "the first convert in Asia" (16:5). This could be taken to mean that Epaenetus was in the Roman province of Asia, where Ephesus was situated. Yet Paul could easily have identified Epaenetus as "the first convert in Asia" for the benefit of the Roman believers among whom Epaenetus now lived.

D. Paul includes a commendation of Phoebe in Rom 16:1-2. It seems more probable that he would send such a commendation to a church that he knew and over which he exercised authority, such as the church at Ephesus, rather than the Roman church, with which Paul had no contact and with which he had little influence at the time of writing. Nevertheless, Paul could have used whatever influence he did have among the Roman believers as the apostle to the gentiles for the benefit of Phoebe, as opposed to saying nothing on her behalf.

E. The warning included in Rom 16:17-19 seems out of place in light of the rest of the letter, because Paul has said nothing of the potential danger of false teachers previously. Until Rom 16:17-19, the only potential source of disunity concerns the issue of eating meat that may have been sacrificed to idols (Rom 14-15). Yet such a warning would fit an Ephesian destination for the letter, because false teachers were lurking in the shadows there (see 1 Cor 16:8-9; Acts 20:29-30; Rev 2:2-3). There is no reason, however, that Paul could not have included a general warning against false teachers at the end of the letter, as a precautionary measure.

F. Rom 15 ends with what could be construed as a concluding benediction: "May the God of peace be with you all, Amen." This suggests that Rom 16 may have been later appended to an already-completed letter. If so, however, Rom 15:23 would be an untypical ending of a Pauline letter, for Paul usually includes a longer conclusion to his letters.


6. Why was the Letter to the Romans written?

In Rom 15:15-16, he makes his only explicit statement about why he wrote his letter:

But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you of them again, because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, in order that my offering of the gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.

This statement is, however, somewhat vague; all that one can conclude is that Paul's general purpose in writing was to instruct the Roman believers on some points of doctrine that he thought that they already knew. He did so presumably because he believed that he had a responsibility for the church in Rome since it was predominantly gentile and he was the apostle to the gentiles. It is probably impossible to know with certainty the particular reasons that Paul wrote his letter to the church in Rome, a church that he did not establish. There are, however, a few clues in the letter itself. What may the following passages indicate about Paul's purposes in writing his Letter to the Romans?

6.1. Rom 1:10-15

Paul writes to inform the Roman church of his desire to come to Rome in order to impart some spiritual gift to the Romans to strengthen them (1:11). It is not clear exactly what Paul means by this, but he could be referring to the imparting of the spiritual gifts listed in Rom 12:6-8 (see 1 Cor 12:8-10) by the laying on of hands or some other means. He also tells them he plans to come to the city in order to preach the good news to gentiles there. Perhaps, he hopes for their cooperation.

6.2. Rom 15:22-24

Paul intends to go to Spain, after having traveled to Rome. It seems that he wants the Romans to assist him in his missionary ventures into Spain. It appears that the letter is written to present to the Roman Christians Paul's theological views, in order that they may give him their approval and their financial support. He is especially concerned to state his views on topics on which he has been misunderstood, which may explain why he says little on topics such as the church, the Lord's supper and eschatology. This makes sense, if the Roman church is not one of Paul's churches, and have no obligation to him. The phrase in Rom 15:24 “to send on one’s way” (propemphthênai) is a euphemism for the supplying the needs of the traveler, such as transportation, money, food, letters of introduction, and traveling companions (see Acts 20:38; 21:5; 3 John 6).

6.3. Rom 3:8, 31; 6:1, 15; 7:7, 13; 9:1-4

In each of the these passages, Paul seems to be taking up actual accusations leveled against him by his Judaizing opponents and refuting them. In particular, his opponents have been saying that Paul's views on the Law and its relation to being made righteous leads to all sorts of ridiculous theological views and undesirable behavior. They make a caricature of Paul's theology by saying that Paul ought to teach "Let us do evil in order that good may result" (Rom 3:8). This seems to be a parody of Paul's view of universal sinfulness, because his opponents seem to be claiming that Paul is logically committed to the ridiculous view that sin is actually good because the more that a person sins the more that God is gloried because of his truthfulness, that is, because he judges sin (Rom 3:7). Paul's opponents also say that he nullifies the Law in the sense of declaring it to be void and useless (Rom 3:31) and even that the Law is sin because of Paul's teaching about the role that the Law assumes in bring sin to actuality (Rom 7:7, 13). Similarly, they also accuse him of promoting sin because the believer has no obligation to obey the Law as a condition of being declared eschatologically righteous (Rom 6:1, 15). Perhaps also Paul's Judaizing opponents are saying that Paul does not care about his own people and teaches that God has completely abandoned the Jews in favor of the gentiles, contrary to the promises made to Israel in scripture. In response, Paul explains his view of the temporary hardening of Israel. It is probable that one of Paul's purposes in writing the letter is to prove that the accusations of his opponents are unfounded before he goes to Rome. In this way he would lay aside any misgivings that they may have about him and so not be hindered their cooperation in his western evangelistic campaign.

6.4. Rom 15:30-33

Paul asks the Romans believers to pray for his imminent visit to Jerusalem in order to deliver the money for the churches in Judea that he collected from his churches. Paul's goal in this undertaking is not just to bring financial relief to Judean believers but to faciliate the unification of Jewish and gentile believers. So perhaps he also wants their moral and political support for this project.

6.5.  Rom 14

Even though he has never been to Rome, it seems that Paul knows of the problem that Jewish and gentile believers are having remaining unified. The problem is that some Jewish believers are reluctant to eat meat for fear that they would be eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols, and would thereby have become inadvertent participants in idolatry. In order to avoid all meat of idolatrous origin, they have become vegetarians. Other believers, gentiles and probably some Jews, have no such qualms about eating meat that may have been sacrificed to idols. Paul writes in order to eliminate this source of conflict. He recommends that each group act out of love; in particular, he wants the “strong” to accommodate the “weak,” and not pass judgment on them.

 

BACK TO INDEX PAGE

4


Last Modified On: